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Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,

foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;

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The Office of the Messiah; The Prosperity of the Church. (b. c. 706.)

4 And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.   5 And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your ploughmen and your vinedressers.   6 But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.   7 For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them.   8 For I the Lord love judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering; and I will direct their work in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.   9 And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed.

Promises are here made to the Jews now returned out of captivity, and settled again in their own land, which are to be extended to the gospel church, and all believers, who through grace are delivered out of spiritual thraldom; for they are capable of being spiritually applied.

I. It is promised that their houses shall be rebuilt (v. 4), that their cities shall be raised out of the ruins in which they had long lain, and be fitted up for their use again: They shall build the old wastes; the old wastes shall be built, the waste cities shall be repaired, the former desolations, even the desolations of many generations, which it was feared would never be repaired, shall be raised up. The setting up of Christianity in the world repaired the decays of natural religion and raised up those desolations both of piety and honesty which had been for many generations the reproach of mankind. An unsanctified soul is like a city that is broken down and has no walls, like a house in ruins; but by the power of Christ's gospel and grace it is repaired, it is put in order again, and fitted to be a habitation of God through the Spirit. And they shall do this, those that are released out of captivity; for we are brought out of the house of bondage that we may serve God, both in building up ourselves to his glory and in helping to build up his church on earth.

II. Those that were so lately servants themselves, working for their oppressors and lying at their mercy, shall now have servants to do their work for them and be at their command, not of their brethren (they are all the Lord's freemen), but of the strangers, and the sons of the alien, who shall keep their sheep, till their ground, and dress their gardens, the ancient employments of Abel, Cain, and Adam: Strangers shall feed your flocks, v. 5. When, by the grace of God, we attain to a holy indifference as to all the affairs of this world, buying as though we possessed not—when, though our hands are employed about them, our hearts are not entangled with them, but reserved entire for God and his service—then the sons of the alien are our ploughmen and vine-dressers.

III. They shall not only be released out of their captivity, but highly preferred and honourably employed (v. 6): "While the strangers are keeping your flocks, you shall be keeping the charge of the sanctuary; instead of being slaves to your task-masters, you shall be named the priests of the Lord, a high and holy calling." Priests were princes' peers, and in Hebrew were called by the same name. You shall be the ministers of our God, as the Levites were. Note, Those whom God sets at liberty he sets to work; he delivers them out of the hands of their enemies that they may serve him, Luke i. 74, 75; Ps. cxvi. 16. But his service is perfect freedom, nay, it is the greatest honour. When God brought Israel out of Egypt he took them to be to him a kingdom of priests, Exod. xix. 6. And the gospel church is a royal priesthood, 1 Pet. ii. 9. All believers are made to our God kings and priests; and they ought to conduct themselves as such in their devotions and in their whole conversation, with holiness to the Lord written upon their foreheads, that men may call them the priests of the Lord.

IV. The wealth and honour of the Gentile converts shall redound to the benefit and credit of the church, v. 6. The Gentiles shall be brought into the church. Those that were strangers shall become fellow-citizens with the saints; and with themselves they shall bring all they have, to be devoted to the glory of God and used in his service; and the priests, the Lord's ministers, shall have the advantage of it. It will be a great strengthening and quickening, as well as a comfort and encouragement, to all good Christians, to see the Gentiles serving the interests of God's kingdom. 1. They shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, not which they have themselves seized by violence, but which are fairly and honourably presented to them, as gifts brought to the altar, which the priests and their families lived comfortably upon. It is not said, "You shall hoard the riches of the Gentiles, and treasure them," but, "You shall eat them;" for there is nothing better in riches than to use them and to do good with them. 2. They shall boast themselves in their glory. Whatever was the honour of the Gentiles converts before their conversion—their nobility, estates, learning, virtue, or places of trust and power—it shall all turn to the reputation of the church to which they have joined themselves; and whatever is their glory after their conversion—their holy zeal and strictness of conversation, their usefulness, their patient suffering, and all the displays of that blessed change which divine grace has made in them—shall be very much for the glory of God and therefore all good men shall glory in it.

V. They shall have abundance of comfort and satisfaction in their own bosoms, v. 7. The Jews no doubt were thus privileged after their return; they were in a new world, and now knew how to value their liberty and property, the pleasures of which were continually fresh and blooming. Much more do all those rejoice whom Christ has brought into the glorious liberty of God's children, especially when the privileges of their adoption shall be completed in the resurrection of the body. 1. They shall rejoice in their portion; they shall not only have their own again, but (which is a further gift of God) they shall have the comfort of it, and a heart to rejoice in it, Eccl. iii. 13. Though the houses of the returned Jews, as well as their temple, be much inferior to what they were before the captivity, yet they shall be well pleased with them and thankful for them. It is a portion in their land, their own land, the holy land, Immanuel's land, and therefore they shall rejoice in it, having so lately known what it was to be strangers in a strange land. Those that have God and heaven for their portion have reason to say that they have a worthy portion and to rejoice in it. 2. Everlasting joy shall be unto them, that is, a joyful state of their people, which shall last long, much longer than the captivity had lasted. Yet that joy of the Jewish nation was so much allayed, so often interrupted, and so soon brought to an end, that we must look for the accomplishment of this promise in the spiritual joy which believers have in God and the eternal joy they hope for in heaven. 3. This shall be a double recompence to them, and more than double, for all the reproach and vexation they have lain under in the land of their captivity: "For your shame you shall have double honour, and in your land you shall possess double wealth, to what you lost; the blessing of God upon it, and the comfort you shall have in it, shall make an abundant reparation for all the damages you have received. You shall be owned not only as God's sons, but as his first-born (Exod. iv. 22), and therefore entitled to a double portion." As the miseries of their captivity were so great that in them they are said to have received double for all their sins (ch. xl. 2), so the joys of their return shall be so great that in them they shall receive double for all their shame. The former is applicable to the fulness of Christ's satisfaction, in which God received double for all our sins; the latter to the fulness of heaven's joys, in which we shall receive more than double for all our services and sufferings. Job's case illustrates this: when God turned again his captivity, he gave him twice as much as he had before.

VI. God will be their faithful guide and a God in covenant with them (v. 8): I will direct their work in truth. God by his providence will order their affairs for the best, according to the word of his truth. He will guide them in the ways of true prosperity, by the rules of true policy. He will by his grace direct the works of good people in the right way, the true way that leads to happiness; he will direct them to be done in sincerity and then they are pleasing to him. God desires truth in the inward parts; and, if we do our works in truth, he will make an everlasting covenant with us; for to those that walk before him and are upright he will certainly be a God all-sufficient. Now, as a reason both of this and of the foregoing promise, that God will recompense to them double for their shame, those words come in, in the former part of the verse, I the Lord love judgment. He loves that judgment should be done among men, both between magistrates and subjects and between neighbour and neighbour, and therefore he hates all injustice; and, when wrongs are done to his people by their oppressors and persecutors, he is displeased with them, not only because they are done to his people, but because they are wrongs, and against the eternal rules of equity. If men do not do justice, he loves to do judgment himself in giving redress to those that suffer wrong and punishing those that do wrong. God pleads his people's injured cause, not only because he is jealous for them, but because he is jealous for justice. To illustrate this, it is added that he hates robbery for burnt-offering. He hates injustice even in his own people, who honour him with what they have in their burnt-offerings, much more does he hate it when it is against his own people; if he hates robbery when it is for burnt-offerings to himself, much more when it is for burnt-offerings to idols, and when not only his people are robbed of their estates, but he is robbed of his offerings. It is a truth much to the honour of God that ritual services will never atone for the violation of moral precepts, nor will it justify any man's robbery to say, "It was for burnt-offerings," or Corban—It is a gift. Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, to do justly and love mercy better than thousands of rams; nay, that robbery is most of all hateful to God which is covered with this pretence, for it makes the righteous God to be the patron of unrighteousness. Some make this a reason of the rejection of the Jews upon the bringing in of the Gentiles (v. 6), because they were so corrupt in their morals, and, while they tithed mint and cummin, made nothing of judgment and mercy (Matt. xxiii. 23), whereas God loves judgment and insists upon that, and he hates both robbery for burnt offerings and burnt-offerings for robbery too, as that of the Pharisees, who made long prayers that they might the more plausibly devour widows' houses. Others read these words thus: I hate rapine by iniquity, that is, the spoil which the enemies of God's people had unjustly made of them; God hated this, and therefore would reckon with them for it.

VII. God will entail a blessing upon their posterity after them (v. 9): Their seed (the children of those persons themselves that are now the blessed of the Lord, or their successors in profession, the church's seed) shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation, Ps. xxii. 30. 1. They shall signalize themselves and make their neighbours to take notice of them: They shall be known among the Gentiles, shall distinguish themselves by the gravity, seriousness, humility, and cheerfulness of their conversation, especially by that brotherly love by which all men shall know them to be Christ's disciples. And, they thus distinguishing themselves, God shall dignify them, by making them the blessings of their age and instruments of his glory, and by giving them remarkable tokens of his favour, which shall make them eminent and gain them respect from all about them. Let the children of godly parents love in such a manner that they may be known to be such, that all who observe them may see in them the fruits of a good education, and an answer to the prayers that were put up for them; and then they may expect that God will make them known, by the fulfilling of that promise to them, that the generation of the upright shall be blessed. 2. God shall have the glory of this, for every one shall attribute it to the blessing of God; all that see them shall see so much of the grace of God in them, and his favour towards them, that they shall acknowledge them to be the seed which the Lord has blessed and doth bless, for it includes both. See what it is to be blessed of God. Whatever good appears in any it must be taken notice of as the fruit of God's blessing and he must be glorified in it.