From Horae Homileticae, Discourse 1106 (1832)
The promises of God to his church are not infrequently connected with (and, as it were, made to arise out of) his judgments denounced against his enemies. Of this we have a very striking example in the chapter before us, where the very images, which are used to represent the guilt and punishment of the king of Judah, are employed to prefigure the establishment and increase of the church of Christ.
To understand the text aright, the preceding context should be considered. The prophet was commanded to deliver a riddle or parable that should set forth the conduct of the Jewish people in a mysterious, but just, light; and then, lest it should not be fully understood, he was to give them the true interpretation of it.
Nebuchadnezzar, having taken Jeconiah king of Judah and all his princes captive to Babylon, would not entirely destroy Jerusalem, but made Mattaniah (whom he named Zedekiah) king in the place of Jeconiah his uncle, and allowed him to enjoy all the rights and honors of royalty, on the express condition of his holding them, not as an independent sovereign, but as tributary to the king of Babylon. All this was quite a gratuitous act, and it lay Zedekiah under the strongest obligations to fulfil towards his benefactor all the engagements that he had entered into, more especially as they were confirmed by a solemn oath. But Zedekiah, unmindful of his oaths, sought the aid of the king of Egypt, that so he might be delivered from what he considered as a disgraceful vassalage, and enjoy a sovereignty independent and uncontrolled. This treachery is represented by God under the image of a twig, cropped off a lofty cedar by a great eagle, and planted by him in a fruitful field, and growing so as to be highly respectable, though inferior in grandeur to the parent stock. This young cedar, dissatisfied with its state, spreads its roots towards another great eagle, (the king of Egypt), in hopes that through his influence it shall attain a far greater eminence and fertility.
But God, whose oath was thereby violated, declared that the attempt should not prosper, but that, on the contrary, the perjured monarch, who was thus described, should bring ruin, irreparable ruin, on his own head. From hence it might be supposed that David’s throne should never be re-established; but God promises, under precisely the same figure that had been employed to represent these things, that he will restore the kingdom of David, partly under Zerubbabel, but principally under the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ…
We propose to consider this prophecy, as already accomplished; the Church, though low in its origin, has become exceeding great… During the whole time of his sojourning on earth, Christ existed in a state of the deepest humiliation, and his church which he established consisted only of himself and a few poor fishermen. However, this twig, being planted in the height of Israel, grew, and “brought forth boughs, and bare fruit, and speedily became a goodly cedar.”
Great and vehement were the storms which menaced its existence, but it withstood them all; and in a little time it spread its branches throughout all the Roman empire. Then “birds of every wing (that is, Jews and Gentiles) came to dwell under its shadow,” and to be nourished by its fruits. At this hour its growth is visible from year to year, and in due season it will fill the whole earth, and be the one center of union, and source of happiness, to all mankind… The Church will doubtless be yet more widely extended through the earth… then shall God be more abundantly glorified in it…
Viewing now the Lord Jesus Christ, or rather his holy religion, as this goodly cedar, let us, in conclusion, come and rest under his shadow and, secondly, give him the glory of all the rest we enjoy… Let us in particular remember, that by the law of faith, that is, by the Gospel, “boasting is, and must forever be, excluded.” For the Savior that he has given, for the inclination and ability which we have to trust in him, and for all the grace that we have derived from him, we must say, “Not unto me, O Lord, but unto your name be the praise.”
Let us remember, that by covenant and by oath we are bound to trust in Christ alone; let us not then, like Zedekiah, be bending our roots towards any other or be looking to any other confidence; but let us seek to please him only whose servants we are, and to glorify him only who has done so great things for us.
Charles Simeon (1759-1836) was an English cleric, the most prominent evangelical Anglican leader of his time. He served Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge for 43 years, converting thousands of students, and inspiring many to ordained ministry, especially in the mission field. He helped to organize the Church Missionary Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society. His great work was the Horae Homileticae, a sermonical commentary on the whole Bible. He is commemorated on November 12 on the calendars of several Anglican churches.