“And lambs graze as (in) their pastures and deserts (where the flocks got) fat will sojourners (nomad shepherds) consume” (v. 17, Heb.). 1. Here the second woe ends, the longest of them all. The literal fulfillment of this we see today where modern Jerusalem, about thirty-five feet above the ancient Jerusalem, is a Mohammedan city, and much of Palestine is pasture land for Arab shepherds. Sheep graze over the ruins of Jerusalem as their pasture. (Once Jehovah’s vineyard, now a pasture!) These sheep are God’s people from among the Gentiles. By nature these sheep were aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of the promise, Christ’s other sheep, not of the Israelite fold. These feed on the pastures where Judah’s flocks had once gotten fat but were left desolate by rulers, elders, scribes and Pharisees, pastors who would not feed the flock. 2. Deliberate enslavement to sin. “Woe to those who draw iniquity with the cords of evil, and the sin as cords of the cart” (v. 18, Heb.). Not so much drawn away by and to sin as their toilsomely tugging it along after themselves by tempting temptation, soliciting the illicit and dragging it all out by perverse persistence in the evil ways of bold contempt of God and His warnings. Sin lashed and drove them as teamsters did their nags, yet “Ephraim was a young trained heifer loving to tread the threshing floor” (Hos. 10:11, MLB).
This is the third woe, pronounced against the apostate church. The first woe was against covetous, insatiable Mammon worshipers; the second against hedonistic debauchees, the third, here, against supposedly strong minded men, free-thinkers, naturalistic rationalists; the fourth against teachers of “new morality,” moral perverts; the fifth against the bacchanalian ways of government men. There is nothing but woe for the wicked and the apostate church.
The picture here is of a draw-horse, a work-horse, a hack-horse. It is hitched with the cords of vanity. The traces are lighter than air, yet they are as heavy as a cart-rope. The hack-horse is thus harnessed and enslaved to sin with froth, fiction and sham with a cobweb righteousness. It is a picture of the folly of sin, the slavery of sin, the exceeding deceitfulness of sin. Solomon’s vanity and hobby was that he collected women, yet he was not a Don Juan nor a Rudolph Valentine. He was a hack-horse to sin! In man’s own view he sees himself entangled only with a gossamer thread, but in God’s view, he is held in check with a cart rope heavy harnessed to a wagon-load of iniquity and sin. He is a willing slave, drudge, lackey, and hack-horse for sin.
The picture is of a thin, scrawny, worn out equine bag of bones locked in harness to a .huge wagon loaded with granite boulders. It is the picture of a man under the influence of the gospel who is a sermon-taster for the purpose of criticizing the minister’s pronunciation, his grammatic structure, even the theme and divisions of his discourse. He is a spiritual trifler, like the courtier who stands before the king playing with a feather. On Pentecost Sunday he draws pictures of cloven tongues of fire on his thumb nail, which curiosities he shows off to his idle friends. He is known by his friends: Talkative, Short-wind, Sleepy-head, and No-heart, along with his girl-friend, Dull. These have no interest in the gospel, no concern to’ hear the preaching of the word, or to read and study Scripture. They despise that which they trifle with. They are butterfly religionists. They react to the things of God and to life itself with one perpetual giggle. Yet they easily develop into malicious scoffers. They had better break these cords of vanity, these strings of soap bubbles which characterize their life, before they become cart-ropes, before these silly sheer threads become steel cables, before they become wrapped up in a hawser like an over-wound mummy.
How did they become so frivolous? They began by questioning the truth. They questioned the doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture, questioned limited atonement, efficacious grace, effectual redemption, the doctrine of creation, of election and reprobation, in fact, they questioned the Reformed Confessions. To those who remain faithful to these things they say, “You amateur theologians! you think all truth is hammered out on your anvil!” They say, “The truth is too broad and too complicated that we can be sure of its meaning.” So they question it. Take a statement like that in Acts 13:48, “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” They question that. If the statement had been the opposite, they would have questioned that, too. But they will make it say the opposite, anyway, as though the Lord had said, “As many as believed were ordained to eternal life.” They think it smart to question or twist Scripture. They will take either side to refute the other, and neither side to defend. To their sophisticated mind there is no up or down; they like to compromise, and hang somewhere in between. Their “hang-up” is their being “in betweenites.” For them, there is no true or false, no concept of black or white, no right or wrong; they prefer subtleties and subterfuges. They are like Janus, or Mr. Facing-both-ways. They have no “yes” or “no” except as they are regulated by the clock, the weather, and the pocket book. They will not be catechized, for they would catechize Christ. Like the skeptic, they are sewed up tight with truthdenying cords.
This poor, decrepit hack-horse drags along pulling the fear of man behind him. Someone startles him with, “You go with that Reformed bunch in the little white church!” To which the answer may be, “I’m too old to change,” or, “my parents make me.” When it is further demanded, “How do you stand a sermon for a whole hour?” (or for forty-five minutes!), he is nearly ready to apologize to Satan. The hack-horse will let one pull one ear this way and the other that. He is more concerned with the smile of a frivolous friend or a fool’s opinion than seeking first the kingdom of God. So a young woman may be bound by the cords of vanity to win a vain, empty, brainless man; and a young man may deny the faith to be known as a free-thinker or a man of culture. Both the young woman and the young man may be slaves of custom, style, the passing fad, of what other people think, slaves of the crowd. They pull the rickshaw now, but soon will be staggering to haul Juggernaut. They think themselves hung about with daisy chains, but will find them iron shackles, and that they love them.
The load of sin always increases, as in the days of the horse-drawn garbage wagons the weight increased as the day wore wearily on, while the poor nags struggled to keep on with their toil. So it is with those who make long pilgrimages on their knees or wash in the Ganges, the world’s most horribly polluted river. The National Geographic Magazine once showed Hindu holy men with their backs pierced so a thong could be drawn through the skin, thus to hitch them to heavy loads which they pulled, parading their pitiful “piety.” Self destruction also becomes a game in the name of Bacchus, god of the bottle, or in the name of Aesculapius, god of the syringe. Demons gloat over such fools. Slaves to sin drag their dreadful loads as though it were a great sport.
Then the road worsens. The load becomes heavier, the way stonier, the ruts deeper, the grades steeper, the pot-holes boggier. The cup of sin; at first, is like a bubble-headed goblet of champagne, but they who drink it must do so to the very dregs of gall. The old nag, after fifty years of hauling the load of sin, looks like an old hag chased by fifty howling wolves. Harnessed and harassed by sin, loaded down with it, driven by it, they are finally wrecked by it. Then the cords of sin eternally hold the sinner. The unjust remains unjust still, and the filthy, filthy still (Rev. 22:11a). Judas enmeshed with threads of Utopia became bound with cables of unavailing remorse. Samson entangled in the nylon net of a woman’s wiles was soon captive to a Philistine tow-rope to his undoing. He was Delilah’s hack-horse before he became the Philistine’s blind mill-horse. A man is a slave to lust before he is a slave to the devil.
In the end, the load finally crushes the hack-horse. The devil drives him onward and downward pell-mell along the precipitous slope where it is impossible to turn back or aside; then the load itself overtakes and crushes him. They who engage in joint worship with Romanists and Modernists are hack-horses for the pope. Adherents to the ecumenical movement are pack-horsing for Antichrist. The devil is not finished yet, driving such abjects as Belshazzar the drunkard, Dives the glutton, Ahasuerus the lecher, Demas the Mammon-lover, and Gehazi and Judas the greedy.
This old, bony, sway-backed, tottering clod-hopper is ready to fall to pieces. But at day’s end it cannot be taken from harness, nor removed from the traces for fear the miserable, ancient carcass could never be hitched up to get going again. It stands trembling, dozing, and fitfully dreaming until awakened at dawn with the sharp crack of the hard-taskmaster’s whip. Who can break this slave out of its bondage? Who wants to? Helplessly and hopelessly bound, it perishes in its slavery.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself was bound with our sins. At Gethsemane He was bound with chains. Before Pilate and Herod He was bound. So when He was scourged and while bearing the cross of Golgotha. He was bound with nails. Our sins riveted Him to the gibbet. There He was our Substitute. He took the place of condemned bondslaves. Because He was so bound we are able to overcome the devil, bind the strong man, spoil his house and trample him vanquished under our feet. Then we go to sing the song of the soul set free! Hallelujah!