World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
“Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed,
and found a city on iniquity!”
Judgment Predicted; Judgment of the King of Babylon. (b. c. 600.)
5 Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people: 6 Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay! 7 Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them? 8 Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein. 9 Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! 10 Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul. 11 For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. 12 Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity! 13 Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity? 14 For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
The prophet having had orders to write the vision, and the people to wait for the accomplishment of it, the vision itself follows; and it is, as divers other prophecies we have met with, the burden of Babylon and Babylon's king, the same that was said to pass over and offend, ch. i. 11. It reads the doom, some think, of Nebuchadnezzar, who was principally active in the destruction of Jerusalem, or of that monarchy, or of the whole kingdom of the Chaldeans, or of all such proud and oppressive powers as bear hard upon any people, especially upon God's people. Observe,
I. The charge laid down against this enemy, upon which the sentence is grounded, v. 5. The lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life, are the entangling snares of men, and great men especially; and we find him that led Israel captive himself led captive by each of these. For, 1. He is sensual and voluptuous, and given to his pleasures: He transgresses by wine. Drunkenness is itself a transgression, and is the cause of abundance of transgression. We read of those that err through wine, Isa. xxviii. 7. Belshazzar (in whom particularly this prophecy had its accomplishment) was in the height of his transgression by wine when the hand-writing upon the wall signed the warrant for his immediate execution, pursuant to this sentence, Dan. v. 1. 2. He is haughty and imperious: He is a proud man, and his pride is a certain presage of his fall coming on. If great men be proud men, the great God will make them know he is above them. His transgressing by wine is made the cause of his arrogance and insolence: therefore he is a proud man. When a man is drunk, though he makes himself as mean as a beast, yet he thinks himself as great as a king, and prides himself in that by which he shames himself. We find the crown of pride upon the head of the drunkards of Ephraim, and a woe to both, Isa. xxviii. 1. 3. He is covetous and greedy of wealth, and this is the effect of his pride; he thinks himself worthy to enjoy all, and therefore makes it his business to engross all. The Chaldean monarchy aimed to be a universal one. He keeps not at home, is not content with his own, which he has an incontestable title to, but thinks it too little, and so enjoys it not, nor takes the comfort he might in his own palace, in his own dominion. His sin is his punishment, his ambition is his perpetual uneasiness. Though the home be a palace, yet to a discontented mind it is a prison. He enlarges his desire as hell, or the grave, which daily receives the body of the dead, and yet still cries, Give, give; he is as death, which continues to devour, and cannot be satisfied. Note, It is the sin and folly of many who have a great deal of the wealth of this world that they do not know when they have enough, but the more they have the more they would have, and the more eager they are for it. And it is just with God that the desires which are insatiable should still be unsatisfied; it is the doom passed on those that love silver that they shall never be satisfied with it, Eccl. v. 10. Those that will not be content with their allotments shall not have the comfort of their achievements. This proud prince is still gathering to him all nations, and heaping to him all people, invading their rights, seizing their properties, and they must not be unless they will be his, and under his command. One nation will not satisfy him unless he has another, and then another, and all at last; as those in a lower sphere, to gratify the same inordinate desire, lay house to house, and field to field, that they may be placed alone in the earth, Isa. v. 8. And it is hard to say which is more to be pitied, the folly of such ambitious princes as place their honour in enlarging their dominions, and not in ruling them well, or the misery of those nations that are harassed and pulled to pieces by them.
II. The sentence passed upon him (v. 6): Shall not all these take up a parable against him? His doom is,
1. That, since pride has been his sin, disgrace and dishonour shall be his punishment, and he shall be loaded with contempt, shall be laughed at and despised by all about him, as those that look big, and aim high, deserve to be, and commonly are, when they are brought down and baffled.
2. That, since he has been abusive to his neighbours, those very persons whom he has abused shall be the instruments of his disgrace: All those shall take up a taunting proverb against him. They shall have the pleasure of insulting over him and he the shame of being trampled upon by them. Those that shall triumph in the fall of this great tyrant are here furnished with a parable, and a taunting proverb, to take up against him. He shall say (he that draws up the insulting ditty shall say thus), Ho, he that increases that which is not his! Aha! what has become of him now? So it may be read in a taunting way. Or, He shall say, that is, the just, who lives by his faith, he to whom the vision is written and made plain, with the help of that shall say this, shall foretel the enemy's fall, even when he sees him flourishing, and suddenly curse his habitation, even when he is taking root, Job v. 3. He shall indeed denounce woes against him.
(1.) Here is a woe against him for increasing his own possessions by invading his neighbour's rights, v. 6-8. He increases that which is not his, but other people's. Note, No more of what we have is to be reckoned ours than what we came honestly by; nor will it long be ours, for wealth gotten by vanity will be diminished. Let not those that thrive in the world be too forward to bless themselves in it, for, if they do not thrive lawfully, they are under a woe. See here, [1.] What this prosperous prince is doing; he is lading himself with thick clay. Riches are but clay, thick clay; what are gold and silver but white and yellow earth? Those that travel through thick clay are both retarded and dirtied in their journey; so are those that go through the world in the midst of an abundance of the wealth of it; but, as if that were not enough, what fools are those that load themselves with it, as if this trash would be their treasure! They burden themselves with continual care about it, with a great deal of guilt in getting, saving, and spending it, and with a heavy account which they must give of it another day. They overload their ship with this thick clay, and so sink it and themselves into destruction and perdition. [2.] See what people say of him, while he is thus increasing his wealth; they cry, "How long? How long will it be ere he has enough?" They cry to God, "How long wilt thou suffer this proud oppressor to trouble the nations?" Or they say to one another, "See how long it will last, how long he will be able to keep what he gets thus dishonestly." They dare not speak out, but we know what they mean when they say, How long? [3.] See what will be in the end hereof. What he has got by violence from others, others shall take by violence from him. The Medes and Persians shall make a prey of the Chaldeans, as they have done of other nations, v. 7, 8. "There shall be those that will bite thee and vex thee; those from whom thou didst not fear any danger, that seemed asleep, shall rise up and awake to be a plague to thee. They shall rise up suddenly when thou are most secure, and least prepared to receive the shock and ward off the blow. Shall they not rise up suddenly? No doubt they shall, and thou thyself hast reason to expect it, to be dealt with as thou hast dealt with others, that thou shalt be for booties unto them, as others have been unto thee, that, according to the law of retaliation, as thou hast spoiled many nations so thou shalt thyself be spoiled (v. 8); all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee." The king of Babylon thought he had brought all the nations round about him so low that none of them would be able to make reprisals upon him; but though they were but a remnant of people, a very few left, yet these shall be sufficient to spoil him, when God has such a controversy with him, First, For men's blood, and the thousands of lives that have been sacrificed to his ambition and revenge, especially for the blood of Israelites, which is in a special manner precious to God. Secondly, For the violence of the land, his laying waste so many countries, and destroying the fruits of the earth, especially in the land of Israel. Thirdly, For the violence of the city, the many cities that he had turned into ruinous heaps, especially Jerusalem the holy city, and of all that dwelt therein, who were ruined by him. Note, The violence done by proud men to advance and enrich themselves will be called over again (and must be accounted for) another day, by him to whom vengeance belongs.
(2.) Here is a woe against him for coveting still more, and aiming to be still higher, v. 9-11. The crime for which this woe is denounced is much the same with that in the foregoing article—an insatiable desire of wealth and honour; it is coveting an evil covetousness to his house, that is, grasping at an abundance for his family. Note, Covetousness is a very evil thing in a family; it brings disquiet and uneasiness into it (he that is greedy of gain troubles his own house), and, which is worse, it brings the curse of God upon it and upon all the affairs of it. Woe to him that gains an evil gain; so the margin reads it. There is a lawful gain, which by the blessing of God may be a comfort to a house (a good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children), but what is got by fraud and injustice is ill-got, and will be poor gain, will not only do no good to a family, but will bring poverty and ruin upon it. Now observe, [1.] What this covetous wretch aims at; it is to set his nest on high, to raise his family to some greater dignity than it had before arrived at, or to set it, as he apprehends, out of the reach of danger, that he may be delivered from the power of evil, that it may not be in the power of the worst of his enemies to do him a mischief nor so much as to disturb his repose. Note, It is common for men to pretend it as an excuse for their covetousness and ambition that they only consult their own safety, and aim to secure themselves; and yet they do but deceive themselves when they think their wealth will be a strong city to them, and a high wall, for it is so only in their own conceit, Prov. xviii. 11. [2.] What he will get by it: Thou hast consulted, not safety, but shame, to thy house, by cutting off many people, v. 10. Note, An estate raised by iniquity is a scandal to a family. Those that cut off, or undermine, others, to make room for themselves, that impoverish others to enrich themselves, do but consult shame to their houses, and fasten upon them a mark of infamy. Yet that is not the worst of it: "Thou hast sinned against thy own soul, hast brought that under guilt and wrath, and endangered that." Note, Those that do wrong to their neighbour do a much greater wrong to their own souls. But if the sinner pleads, Not guilty, and thinks he has managed his frauds and violence with so much art and contrivance that they cannot be proved upon him, let him know that if there be no other witnesses against him the stone shall cry out of the wall against him, and the beam out of the timber in the roof shall answer it, shall second it, shall witness it, that the money and materials wherewith he built the house were unjustly gotten, v. 11. The stones and timber cry to heaven for vengeance, as the whole creation groans under the sin of man and waits to be delivered from that bondage of corruption.
(3.) Here is a woe against him for building a town and a city by blood and extortion (v. 12): He builds a town, and is him-self lord of it; he establishes a city, and makes it his royal seat. So Nebuchadnezzar did (Dan. iv. 30): Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom? But it is built with the blood of his own subjects, whom he has oppressed, and the blood of his neighbours, whom he has unjustly invaded; it is established by iniquity, by the unrighteous laws that are made for the security of it. Woe to him that does so; for the towns and cities thus built can never be established; they will fall, and their founders be buried in the ruins of them. Babylon, which was built by blood and iniquity, did not continue long; its day soon came to fall; and then this woe took effect, when that prophecy, which is expressed as a history (Isa. xxi. 9), proved a history indeed: Babylon has fallen, has fallen! And the destruction of that city was, [1.] The shame of the Chaldeans, who had taken so much pains, and were at such a vast expense, to fortify it (v. 13): Is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people who have laboured so hard to defend that city shall labour in the very fire, shall see the out-works which they confided in the strength of set on fire, and shall labour in vain to save them? Or they, in their pursuits of worldly wealth and honour, put themselves to great fatigue, and ran a great hazard, as those that labour in the fire do. The worst that can be said of the labourers in God's vineyards is that they have borne the burden and heat of the day (Matt. xx. 12); but those that are eager in their worldly pursuits labour in the very fire, make themselves perfect slaves to their lusts. There is not a greater drudge in the world than he that is under the power of reigning covetousness. And what comes of it? Though they take a world of pains they are but poorly paid for it; for, after all, they weary themselves for very vanity; they were told it was vanity, and when they find themselves disappointed of it, and disappointed in it, they will own it is worse than vanity, it is vexation of spirit. [2.] It was the honour of God, as a God of impartial justice and irresistible power; for by the ruin of the Chaldean monarchy (which all the world could not but take notice of) the earth was filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, v. 14. The Lord is known by these judgments which he executes, especially when he is pleased to look upon proud men and abase them, for he thereby proves himself to be God alone, Job xl. 11, 12. See what good God brings out of the staining and sinking of earthly glory; he thereby manifests and magnifies his own glory, and fills the earth with the knowledge of it as plentifully as the waters cover the sea, which lie deep, spread far, and shall not be dried up until time shall be no more. Such is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ given by the gospel (2 Cor. iv. 6), and such was the knowledge of his glory by the miraculous ruin of Babylon. Note, Such as will not be taught the knowledge of God's glory by the judgments of his mouth shall be made to know and acknowledge it by the judgments of his hand.