Zec_2:8. He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.
GOD makes use of the wicked as his rod, wherewith to chastise his own children. But while he accomplishes his own gracious ends with respect to them, he is not indifferent to the conduct of his agents, who unwittingly fulfil his will; he notices their motives, and will call them into judgment for the dispositions they have manifested [Note: Isa_10:5-7; Isa_10:12.]: and because they exceed their commission, and seek the destruction, rather than the benefit, of his people, he will vindicate the cause of the oppressed, and recompense upon their own heads the wickedness of their oppressors [Note: Isa_47:6-9.]. This assurance the prophet gave to those who yet remained in Babylon after that the greater part of the captive Jews had returned to Jerusalem: he exhorted them instantly to come forth from that wicked city; for that God had tenderly sympathized with them in the midst of all his chastisements, and had determined to visit with very signal judgments the Babylonish nation for the needless and excessive severities they had exercised towards them [Note: Zec_1:15; Zec_2:6-8.].
From these remarkable words we may observe,
God sympathizes with his people in all their troubles—
No terms can more strongly convey this idea than those used in the text—
[The eye is the tenderest part of the whole body; it not only is susceptible of injury from the smallest accident, but it feels most acutely any injury it may sustain. What exquisite concern then must God feel for his people, when their afflictions pierce him in so deep a manner; yea, when even that, which is but as a slight “touch” to them, inflicts on him so severe a wound! Can our imagination conceive a more expressive image, a more astonishing declaration?]
Nor is there any truth more abundantly confirmed in the Holy Scriptures—
[Look we for examples of it? how pitifully did he regard the afflictions of his people in Egypt [Note: Act_7:34.], and how was “his soul grieved for the misery of Israel” (though they were but ill-deserving of such mercy) when the Ammonites came up to fight against them [Note: Jdg_10:16.]! Nor does he sympathize with them under temporal troubles only, but still more under spiritual afflictions. When Ephraim bemoaned his guilty state, how attentively did God listen to his complaints, and how compassionately did his bowels yearn over him [Note: Jer_31:18-20.]! Look we for promises of similar regard? how does God represent himself to us as “the comforter of them that are cast down,” yea, as a “God of all comfort [Note: 2Co_1:3; 2Co_7:6.]!” He calls himself the “God that pleadeth the cause of his people [Note: Isa_51:22.]:” He assures us that he pitieth them even as a father pitieth his own children [Note: Psa_103:13.], and he illustrates his compassion by the most tender image that the whole universe affords, even by that of “a mother dandling upon her knee her suckling child,” and striving by all possible methods to soothe and please it [Note: Isa_66:12-13.]. Nor is he ever more ready to hear and answer our petitions, than when we plead like the Church of old, “Where is thy zeal, and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels, and of thy mercies towards me? Are they restrained? doubtless thou art my father, though Abraham be ignorant of me, and Israel acknowledge me not [Note: Isa_63:15-16.].”]
This truth, glorious as it is, is far from comprehending the full extent of God’s love to his people; for,
He has communion with them in all their interests—
God considers himself as altogether one with his people—
[There is an union subsisting between him and them; yet not merely such as exists between a husband and wife, or a vine and its branches [Note: Rom_7:4. Joh_15:1.], but one far closer; for he is the head, and his people are his members [Note: Eph_4:15-16.]; he dwelleth in them, and they in him [Note: 1Jn_4:12-16.]; he is one with them, and they with him; in short, they are so united, as to be one body [Note: 1Co_12:12; 1Co_12:27.], and one spirit, with the Lord [Note: 1Co_6:17.]. And when our Lord himself was pleased to illustrate this subject, in order, if possible, to convey to us some adequate idea of it, he set forth the union of the different persons of the Godhead as the truest pattern of that which subsists between himself and his people [Note: Joh_17:21.].]
Hence he participates in every thing which relates to them—
[Are any of them relieved? he acknowledges the kindness as shewn to him [Note: Mat_25:40.]. On the other hand, are they despised? he does not scruple to declare, that he will consider himself as the object of that contempt which is poured on them [Note: Luk_10:16.]. We have a memorable example of this in the account which St. Paul gives us of his own conversion: he was going with a commission to Damascus to extirpate, if possible, the Christian name: and, if be bad been asked, Who were the objects of his rage? he would doubtless have branded the Christians with some odious name, and affirmed, that he was treating them as they deserved. Little did he think that the Lord of Glory himself was the person at whom his shafts were hurled. But Jesus stopped him in his mad career, and asked, “Saul, Saul, why persecutes! thou me [Note: Act_9:4.]?” Thus at this day every thing done to the Lord’s people is done to God himself; or, as the text expresses it, “Whoso toucheth them toucheth the apple of his eye.”]
Nor is his a mere inactive sympathy; for,
He will avenge every injury inflicted on them—
Often has he interposed to rebuke and confound their enemies—
[What signal vengeance did he take on the Egyptians in ten successive plagues, and in the destruction of Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea! And with what righteous severity did he command the Israelites to blot out the very remembrance of Amalek from under heaven, on account of the cruel ties they had exercised towards them forty years before [Note: Deu_25:17-19.]! Nor is it injurious treatment only that God notices, but even a neglect to succour them: he denounceth the bitterest curses against Meroz for refusing to help them, and bestows the highest encomiums on Jael for her exertions in their favour [Note: Jdg_5:23-24.]. Indeed the Jews at this hour are a living monument of the indignation which God will manifest against all who hate his Christ, and persecute his people.]
And he will still plead their cause against all that injure them—
[Doubtless “the blood of his saints is as precious to him” as ever. And he accounts his own justice and holiness as pledged to render tribulation unto their persecutors [Note: 2Th_1:6.]. Let those who revile and ridicule the Lord’s people well consider this. He makes use of this as an argument why his people should forbear to avenge their own cause, namely, that vengeance will one day be executed on their enemies by himself, and that too in a more equitable and more effectual manner than it could be by an arm of flesh [Note: Rom_12:19.]. Nor will he punish only the positive evils that may be inflicted on them; he will mark also an inattention to their wants, and treat as despisers of himself, those who did not actively administer to their necessities [Note: Mat_25:41-42.].]
How low are our conceptions of God’s love to man!
[How little are any of us able to realize the idea in the text! how little can we comprehend the heights and depths of such unsearchable love! Still is he dealing with us as with his people of old [Note: Deu_32:9-12 and Isa_63:9.]. Yet we, like little infants, are almost unconscious of our Father’s love. But O that every heart might “praise the Lord for his goodness, and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!”]
How tender ought to be our concern for God!
[In general we think but little of his honour in the world. But shall he be so mindful of us, and we be forgetful of him? Shall he be so concerned for our welfare, and we be indifferent about his glory [Note: See the conduct of Moses, Exo_32:11-13 and of Joshua, Jos_7:9.]. Shall not sin, the accursed thing which he hates, be a source of pain and anguish to our minds? Could we see the eye of an earthly parent pierced, and be unconcerned about it? Let “rivers of waters then run down our eyes because men keep not God’s law [Note: Psa_119:136.].”Let us especially weep over the sins of his professing people [Note: Php_3:18.]. And above all, let us lothe and abhor ourselves for all the evils of our hearts and lives. Let us feel, as it becomes us, our obligations to God, and labour to requite his kindness by a suitable deportment. Yes, while we entreat him to “keep us as the apple of his eye [Note: Psa_17:8.], let us keep his “law as the apple of our eye [Note: Pro_7:2.],” and, “whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, do all to his glory [Note: 1Co_10:31.].”]
How strong a motive have we to beneficence!
[If God be so sensible of any injuries we receive, surely he cannot be regardless of any benefits conferred upon us: if he avenge the one, surely he will also reward the other. Nor is this an uncertain deduction of human reason: he himself tells us, that at the last day every kindness that was shewn to us shall be recorded as shewn to himself, and a suitable recompence be awarded for it [Note: Mat_25:34-35.]; nor shall even a cup of cold water given to one of his disciples lose its reward [Note: Mat_10:42.]. Shall not then this thought stimulate us to acts of beneficence? Has “Christ so pitied us as to give himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour,” and shall not we endeavour to shew love to him [Note: Eph_5:1-2.]? Can I, in administering to the poor, relieve him who is my Lord and my God? Can I assist him, who, as my great High Priest, is yet daily and hourly touched with the feeling of all my infirmities [Note: Heb_4:15.]? O let no opportunity then be lost; nor let me ever think much of any thing that I can do for such a tender Friend, such an adorable Benefactor!]