Before answering this question I should point out that this is not one of the questions handed in at the question hour after my recent lecture in First Church on “Why Are We Protestant Reformed?” My plan is to try to answer all of those questions in the June issue. The present question is one which has been in the Question Box for some time. It, along with some others, came from a reader in Jenison, Michigan who informs me that he had a discussion about this passage. The passage occurs at the end of the chapter in which the Lord Jesus pronounces woes upon the scribes and Pharisees. ‘It reads as follows: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The question concerns especially the words, “how often would I have gathered thy children together . . . and ye would not. ”
We cannot very well confine ourselves to these particular words, but must say something about the whole passage.
1. There is suffering expressed in these words on the part of the speaker. It is not, however, the suffering of wounded and rejected love, as is erroneously claimed by those who see here proof that the will of man is victorious in opposition to the will of God, who see in this text proof that God would gather, but that man successfully opposes Him. The nature of the suffering is expressed by the figure of the mother-hen and her chicks. The figure is one of a watchful mother-hen who spies the enemy about to destroy her young ones. She raises her wings and calls her chicks to seek refuge under them. But as her chicks hear her calling voice and would run for safety, a third party intervenes and would not that they should flee for refuge under the protecting wings of their mother. Hence, the suffering is not the suffering of a wounded love of that enemy that prevents her from gathering together her young ones, but of an awful anxiety lest her chicks be destroyed! Any love involved is a love of the chicks. Thus it is with the Lord Jesus. The Speaker is pictured in that hen. The chicks are the children of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem is the enemy that interferes and would not that the children of Jerusalem should be gathered under the wings of the Messiah. For this reason she always killed the prophets and stoned them that were sent unto her. For this she shall be left desolate: for the cup of her iniquity is full, and the vials of wrath are about to be poured out upon her.
2. Jerusalem is the very center of the church of the old dispensation, the Old Testament Church Institute, with throne and temple and king and priesthood and altar and sacrifice — designed to foreshadow the Christ, Who would gather the children of that Jerusalem unto Himself, that they might be saved from sin and death. All through the old dispensation, through all the shadows of the old dispensation, Christ stood in the midst of Jerusalem, calling Jerusalem’s children unto Himself, even as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wings. This accounts for it, too, that Christ here says “How often . . .” He is not merely referring to His own, brief, public ministry. Moreover, it was the calling of Jerusalem’ king and priests and prophets to minister unto the Christ of the shadows, in order that the children of Jerusalem might come to Him.
3. Jerusalem’s children are the seed of the covenant. They are not merely the citizens of earthly Jerusalem; nor are they children because they dwell in the Holy City. But they are the true Israel of God, the holy seed according to the promise, those whom the Father gave to Christ. Them Christ purposed to gather together: for them He loves. And remember, too, that it is the Father’s will that He should lose none of them.
4. But Jerusalem would not. Notice that the Lord does not say: “How often I would gather you, and ye would not.” But: “How often would I gather your children, and ye would not that I should gather them.” The Lord is addressing wicked, apostate Jerusalem, whose spiritual name is Sodom and Gomorrah. For due to that fact that not all is Israel that is called Israel, due to the fact that the carnal element gains control of Jerusalem’s throne and priesthood and temple and altar, etc., Jerusalem becomes Sodom and Gomorrah. And always its wicked kings and priests and prophets take away from the children of the covenant the Christ of the Scriptures. They would prevent the chicks from finding refuge under the wings of their anxiously calling mother. Notice that this plainly the idea of Jerusalem in the text: it is the Jerusalem that kills the prophets and that stones them that are sent to her, and that presently would crucify the Christ.
5. Finally, we must remember that the text does not teach that the children are not gathered; nor does it suggest this. Christ’s will; which is the will of the Father, certainly prevails — even when presently they crucify Him. In fact, their very crucifixion of Him must serve ultimately the gathering of Jerusalem’s children, the seed of the covenant.
These are a few condensed thoughts as to the meaning of this passage. I hope they will serve to indicate to my questioner the line to be followed in understanding the passage.