Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?
The day of the Lord cometh!
Judgment is nigh at hand!
It shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low!
It shall be upon all the proud cedars of Lebanon and upon all the oaks of Bashan!
Upon every high tower! Upon every fenced wall! Upon all the ships of Tarshish! Upon all the pleasant pictures!
All the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low!
The idols, the work of men’s hands, the man-created gods—He shall utterly abolish them!
The Lord alone shall be exalted in that day!
And men, great and small, of high and of low degree, shall be brought low! They shall fear before the face of the Lord! Their lofty looks shall be humbled, and their haughtiness shall be brought down!
Into the holes of the rocks they shall crawl, and into the caves of the earth they shall creep! To the hills and to the mountains they shall cry out, “Cover us! Hide us from the wrath of the Lamb!”
Such is man—man in the light of the coming day of the Lord!
Cease ye from him!
For wherein is he to be accounted of?
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man . . . His breath is in his nostrils!
O church of our God, people of God’s covenant, it is better to trust in Jehovah! Better far! Better absolutely!
But then: cease ye from man, who is nothing to be accounted of!
Man! Great man!
He appears to be able to do great things!
He builds his fortifications and strengthens himself with armies. He counts his nuclear warheads, and stores up his inter-continental ballistic missiles. He builds his ships, and strengthens his navies and his merchant marine. He traverses sea and land. He rides the lightning. He cleaves the depths of the sea. He subjects to himself the power of the atom, and puts it into his service. He soars away into space, and probes the distant reaches of the universe. With his science he investigates all the secrets of creation, and he puts all the resources of nature to his use. He builds great kingdoms, and he aims at world dominion. He cleans up his environment, and will make the world a better place in which to live. He conquers disease, and he boasts of learning the secret of life. He boasts that peace among the nations is a goal within his reach, yes, even peace with justice!
He also makes his own gods, and bows down before them!
Man! Is he not to be regarded?
Does he not give reason for esteem?
Would you not have some expectation of him?
Has he not in the past accomplished great things? Is there not reason, on the basis of past performance, that the goals of which he boasts he shall also attain? Will he not build his “great society?” Will he not achieve the ideal state? The golden hopes of justice and equality, of peace and prosperity, of a humanity free from want and from drudgery, free from sickness and disease, from famine and pestilence, from war and violence—are they not within the bounds of human achievement?
The great men of the earth—should we not esteem them?
The pioneers into space—should we not hail them?
The humanitarian leaders—should we not look to them for deliverance?
The champions of human rights and of civil rights—should we not follow them?
The world’s giants of knowledge—can we not expect solutions from them?
Or—if we cannot and may not esteem them very highly—ought we not to regard them with fear and trembling?
Man! Powerful man!
Is he not able to subdue nations? Is he not able to wipe out whole cities with one blast? Is he not able to fill the earth with violence—even more so than in the days of Noah? Is he not able to control the economy, so that without his consent you can neither buy nor sell, neither eat nor drink? Is he not able to accept you into his society or exclude you there from? Is he not able to allow you freedom or to cast you into prison? Is he not able to decide your life or your death? Does he not have it within his power to prescribe your whole manner of living? Can he not provide you a job, or withhold from you employment? Can he not allow you freedom to educate your children in the fear of the Lord, or deprive you of that freedom? Can he not decide whether your churches shall be open or shut, whether you shall have the right to own the Scriptures or not, whether you may worship and whom you may worship? Can he not insist that you shall have the mark of the beast in your forehead or in your right hand? Can he not insist—on penalty of torture and death—that with all the world you shall wonder after the beast?
Is there, then, not reason—real reason—to be afraid of him, to regard him with fear and trembling?
Thus saith the Lord: Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm!
Thus saith the Lord: Cease ye from man! He is nothing to be accounted of!
The day of the Lord cometh! Then it shall be revealed! Then it shall become plain in the ultimate sense that man is not, that he never was anything to be accounted of. Then it shall be revealed that man’s breath always was in his nostrils. Then it shall be ultimately clear, clear to the full, clear with finality, that man is but an infinitesimally, speck of dust, like the dust of the balance, like a drop—not in—but of the bucket.
Hear, O Israel! Hearken, O church of our God!
Be not deceived!
Neither be intimidated!
The danger is there, and the temptation is not at all unreal. For you, too, are but men, sinful men, weak men, in yourselves.
It was thus in Isaiah’s time. That was a time of affluence and prosperity. It was the days of Uzziah and Jotham. For a time the kingdom of Judah attained to new power and glory. The nations round about them were subjugated once again. Jerusalem and the cities of Judah became strong once more. The army was powerful. Business and commerce flourished. The land was rich. Men gained name and fame for themselves. But along with all this, the world forced its way into the church of that day. Of this the prophet speaks in this chapter. He tells of the riches, of the gold and the silver, the treasures, the wealth, the horses and chariots in great number. But he speaks also of the idolatry and the enchantments of the heathen which had been imported into the land, He speaks of the fact that they pleased themselves in the children of strangers, of the wickedness of the countries of the east which had attracted them, of the fact that the land was full of idols, the work of their own hands. And against these the prophet was commissioned to warn: Cease ye from man!
And is it any different, principally, in our day? No, I speak not of America in general, but of thechurch in our land and in our times! It is an age of affluence. It is an age of human achievement and power. It is an age when, in certain respects, it is tremendously easy to become enamored of the world, to be attracted by its riches, by its glamour, by its achievements, by its pleasures, by its humanistic ideals, by its hopes and promises of solutions for the ills of mankind. Or, in other respects, it is a time when one’s heart can fail him for fear when he contemplates the dreadful possibilities of the future. And yet, again, when fear of the enemy fills one’s soul, is not that the moment when the temptation to fix one’s eye upon horses and chariots, on men, on an arm of flesh, is sometimes the greatest?
Be exhorted, O church! Be warned, O children of God!
Cease ye from man!
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help!
Insignificant man! Puny little speck of dust!
His breath is in his nostrils!
That is a very concrete way of expressing, in the first place, that man is dependent, utterly dependent, in all his existence. He lives a derived, a dependent, existence. He is dependent upon all things round about him. This is true not only of his breath, but also of all other things that are essential to his existence. Dependent he is upon bread and water and milk and wine and oil and clothing, upon cold and heat, upon rain and drought. Dependent is he in all his existence and upon all his environment. The Lord our God is not thus: He has life in Himself. His life is one with His Being. No one and nothing can deprive Him of His life. He is life. But man exactly is not life in himself. His life is a derived life. It must be supplied him.
True this is, most of all, with respect to his very breath. We are accustomed to that breath. We give no thought to it. We inhale and we exhale, moment by moment, and may be occupied with many other things. Our breath—we think—is automatic. But fact is that our earthly existence is just exactly dependent upon our breath from moment to moment. Literally we walk around every moment of our life continually gasping for air!
Such is man! He is dependent: a constantly needy, help-requiring creature.
But our God is in the heavens! He is the Self-existent and Living God! The Self-sufficient One! The absolutely Independent One!
Not only that, but man’s existence is uncertain, brief, swiftly passing away!
His breath is in his nostrils!
He cannot retain, cannot hold his breath. It is continually in his nostrils. He inhales, but only in order to exhale.
In this regard, too, man is dependent for his brief existence on many other things, and that, too, constantly. He must have bread, and he must have water, and he must have clothing. Without them he quickly perishes. But how much more emphatically true this is of man’s breath! A man can sometimes eat a large quantity of bread, and then live for days without eating again. His bread is not continually in his mouth. If he cannot eat for a day, this is not fatal. But puny little man can only get one noseful of breath at a time; and that one noseful he must have! He can live only a few seconds on it. And if then he is fortunate enough to get more air immediately, then it is well; but if not, he dies! Perhaps that is one reason why there is never any warfare about air!
His breath is in his nostrils! His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish!
But our God is the Eternal One!
Wherein, then, is he to be accounted of?
The question is a rhetorical one, and the answer is perfectly obvious. It is an emphatic, “Nothing!”
The question is a challenge to mention anything whatsoever in which man might be esteemed. And the challenge cannot be met!
Remember, the subject is Man. Man as he is in himself! Man apart from God! Man as he cuts himself loose from God in his wanton pride and in the vain imagination of his heart!
Remember, too, that that “man” includes ourselves as we are by nature! What are you and I to be accounted of? If we consider ourselves by ourselves, apart from God,—apart not only from His providential upholding and sustaining of our existence, but apart from His grace, the grace of Him to live apart from Whom is death?
Nothing! Vanity! A fleeting shadow! A dream that passeth! An insignificant speck of dust that gasps for thirty seconds of life!
If you buy a bouquet of flowers, then you know that you at least can have them in your house and enjoy them for a few days. But if you would buy a man, you would not even know whether the next second you would still have anything!
Such is man!
Such are all men! Men at their best, at their greatest! In all their works they are bound to the breath that is in their nostrils! If God—so to speak—pinches man’s nose shut, then that man and all his gifts and powers and labors are gone! Instantaneously!
And the day of the Lord cometh! For man!
Then it shall be fully revealed! Then he shall have to admit that he is nothing! And is not the very greatness of his boasting and of his scoffing a reminder of the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord? Presently man—great but puny man—will become greater and more boastful and more wanton than ever before, in the Antichrist’s final kingdom. Then the Lord shall come! And even that great Antichrist shall call to the hills and to the rocks to cover him and hide him from the wrath of the Lamb!
Do not regard, esteem, that man!
Cease from him—whether to put your confidence in him or to be afraid of him!
Can the wisp of straw save the drowning man in the swift current of the mighty Niagara? Can a man save us?
Or can a man, who is utterly dependent and who lives but thirty seconds at a time—can that little man harm us?
Trust ye in Jehovah, the Eternal God, the I AM, Whose counsel shall stand forever!
He has loved you and loves you! He has revealed that love in the Son of His love, our Lord Jesus Christ!
He purposes to glorify you, and all His people, with everlasting life! To His purpose friend and foe, men and angels, the wicked and the devils of the abyss—yea, all creatures—are subject!
Cease ye from man!
It is better—far better—absolutely better—to trust in Jehovah!