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A falling Empire
11. Thou also shalt be drunken: thou shalt be hid, thou also shalt seek strength because of the enemy. The cup of wrath is put to the lips of the proud city. She has to
drink and drain it to the dregs. Once this cup was put to my Saviour's lips and He had to drink it, though His human nature shrank from it. This cup brings numbness of heart ; godly as well as ungodly have to drain it; it saps the strength and turns peace to bitterness. Glory is quelled with pain; securest strongholds crumble to dust. I am but man, and therefore liable to man's reverses.
12. All thy strong holds shall be like fig trees, with the firstripe figs : if they be shaken, they shall even fall into the mouth of the eater. 13. Behold, thy people in the midst of thee are women : the gates of thy land shall be set wide open unto thine enemies: the fire shall devour thy bars. thee waters for the siege, fortify thy strong holds: go into clay, and tread the morter, make strong the brickkiln. For strong forts read figs just ready to fall from the tree. For strong
men read frail, weeping women. For strong gates read portals that will not close, and whose bars and bolts are burnt off. Preparations are made, cisterns filled, bricks got ready ; but in vain. Nothing can resist the devouring foe. If these mighty, solid walls, disciplined guards, united efforts at defence, availed nothing in the day of need, I may yet remember that my God is a strong tower, a firm defence to those who trust in Him. By His grace weak souls become strong. His protection is a wall of fire round His servants. Walls built on Him stand fast in the day of trial.
15. There shall the fire devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off, it shall eat thee up like the cankerworm : make thyself many as the cankerworm, make thyself many as the locusts. 16. Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven : the cankerworm spoileth, and fleeth away. 17. Thy crowned are as the locusts, and thy captains as the great grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges in the cold day, but when the sun ariseth they flee away, and their place is not known where they are. The host of locusts come, pillage, and are gone. In the cold morn
ing they load the hedges, but as the sun grows warm they fly away. So rapidly are gone the great host of Assyrian grandees, such as those who came to Jerusalem and threatened King Hezekiah's ministers (2 Kings xviii. 28). It is winter now, and
Heaven scatters Earth's Devices
this world's hedges bow beneath the weight of human grandeur, dressed in a little brief authority.' But when the sun of another world rises, hedges and locusts alike vanish. Their place is not known. Their name has passed. Charity alone remains then, never fails, is never destroyed.
18. Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria: thy nobles shall dwell in the dust. thy people is scattered upon the mountains, and no man gathereth them. 19. There is no healing of thy bruise ; thy wound is grievous : all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually ? O great King, thy trusted officers sleep in death. Thy people fly,
and there is none to collect them. Thou art wounded, and no healer appears. Thou passest away, and none grieves. Such is the Prophet's elegy over the tyrant's fall. But how is it that Nahum did not see that when Nineveh was gone Babylon would take its place and prove a deadlier foe? How is it that he did not discern the profound corruption of God's own people, whose sins were drawing judgment down ? How is it that he gave no expression to the hope of a Redeemer? Do not blame him. He gave utterance to the message that God gave him. He saw the vision that God unveiled to him. His task was to proclaim the approaching ruin of Nineveh, whose arrogance and cruelty had weighed on subject nations for many centuries. All her strength, authority, glory, is rotten and false. It will be destroyed, and that speedily. So said he, and it came true.
HE burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.
Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear ! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save ! "The burden' which weighed on this Prophet was the prevalence
of injustice. He saw around him wrong practised without redress. He was one of those tender and sympathising souls on whom the weight of the world's wrong bears heavy; they expostulate with God and man; they strive by tears and prayers to get wrong righted. How opposite to this is the selfish heart that enjoys life's gifts and heeds not who else may lack them! Lord, I cry unto Thee, I cast my burden into Thy hands, I cease not to lament the unfairness of life. Then let me take urgent care not to augment what is amiss by any selfishness of my own. Let me show tender readiness to bear my brethren's burdens. Thus, if I do not arrive at a full solution, I shall at least see enough to guide my own steps.
3. Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance ? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. 4. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth : for the wicked doth compass about the righteous ; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth. Here is God's Holy Law, but it is paralysed ; its decisions are not
put in force. Here is the righteous, but he is put down ; the wicked encompass and prevail against him. How topsy-turvy all things seem, even in God's own nation, even among those who profess to know His way! The Prophet (like Asaph in Ps. Ixxiii.) feels the great problem of the prosperity of the wicked. He feels it, but casts it upon God. He explains his perplexities to the Most High, asking indeed 'why,' and not finding a full Ver. 10.]
answer; but waiting in humility, aware that God's ways are incomprehensible. Many thinkers, seeing the contradiction between the facts of life and the Word of God, lose their faith, or condemn the Most High. Be it mine rather to adore His Sovereign Majesty and wait humbly for an answer to my difficulties.
5. Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously : for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. A strange, inscrutable work. Who would have supposed
that God Who had lately repelled Sennacherib from the walls of Jerusalem should now be sending Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the Holy City? Who would have thought, who would have believed that God's covenant with His Church should be undone, that His people's sins would reverse His ancient promises ? S. Paul uses this same verse (Acts xiii. 41) of despisers in his own day. They could not believe in the rejection of the Jews. What, that God's own people should throw away His offer of salvation and others step into the place! Was such a thing possible? Alas, man has depths of folly, God depths of judgment, quite beyond the gaze of our fancied wisdom !
6. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling-places that are not theirs. 7. They are terrible and dreadful : their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. 8. Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves : and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. 9. They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. 10. And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them, they shall deride every strong hold ; for they shall heap dust, and take it. Here are the avengers. They come to punish injustice. Who can
describe their fierceness, swiftness, invincible might? When they appear, earth's dignities and strongholds crumble into dust. Yet these visible hosts of evil represent to us a more terrible host, the angels of darkness, the spirits of remorse and discontent, which seize on the unjust in the midst of their exultation, and rob them of the happiness they dreamt of finding.
11. Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god. These instruments of wrath disclaim their Lord and Employer. It
is He who calls and marshals them, but they make their violence and pride into a god and recognise no other. Keep me, O Lord, from the snare of pride. Let me always remember that I am unutterably vile and foolish. I can of myself do no good work, achieve nó lasting profit for a single soul; my own folly spoils all that I undertake. The abyss of my littleness cries out to Thee Who art my upholder. It would then be unjust if I were to claim praise for myself. Indeed, all success belongs to my Lord and should be rendered back to Him by thanksgiving.
12. Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O Lord, thou hast ordained. them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. Faith awakes and considers God's eternity. Injustice cannot last,
for God lives and rules. After all, worlds and empires are God's work, omnipotent sovereigns His creatures, seeming chances are wrought by His wise Providence. Faith humbly submits to God's chastening Hand, but knows that He cannot utterly forsake His servants. I look up from creatures to God's almighty power and guiding wisdom, and then what is out of order here below does not seem so hopeless. If He is indeed my God, then
'Afflictions may press me, they cannot destroy.'
13. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity : wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he ? makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them? In this wherefore' is nothing impious. The Prophet humbly
expostulates with God that He has seemed to give the earth over to a tyrant's empire. Those who have meditated on the promises of God, the faithfulness of God, His mercies of old, His achievements for His people, are confounded when they look around them in this present time, and find that God keeps Himself hidden, makes no sign. Why are all things so contrary in life to what is taught us of them by faith? Now these very questionings are stirred up by God : they are His way of leading souls to redress wrong; they are meant to make us look further for a solution of difficulties. Wherefore, O Lord, are all things here below subject to the oppressor, except that Thy reward is above,