Verse 4. "O Lord God of Hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?" How long shall the smoke of thy wrath drown the smoking incense of our prayers? Prayer would fain enter thy holy place, but they wrath battles with it, and prevents its entrance. That God should be angry with us when sinning seems natural enough, but that he should be angry even with our prayers is a bitter grief. With many a pang may the pleader ask, "How long?" Commander of all the hosts of thy creatures, able to save thy saints in their extremity, shall they for ever cry to thee in vain?
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 4. "Lord God of hosts." All creatures are mustered, and trained, and put into garrison, or brought forth into the field, by his command. Which way can we look beside his armies? If upward into heaven, there is a band of soldiers, even a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, Luke 2:13 . If to the lower heavens, there is a band of soldiers, Genesis 2:1 ; it was universa militia caeli, to which those idolaters burnt incense. On the earth, not only men are marshalled to the service; so Israel was called the "host of the living God;" but even the brute creatures are ranged in arrays. So God did levy a band of flies against the Egyptians; and a band of frogs that marched into their bed chambers. He hath troops of locusts, Proverbs 30:27 , and armies of caterpillars. Not only the chariots and horsemen of heaven to defend his prophet; but even the basest, the most indocible, and despicable creatures, wherewith to confound his enemies. If Goliath stalk forth to defy the God of Israel, he shall be confuted with a pebble. If Herod swells up to a god, God will set his vermin on him, and all the king's guard cannot save him from them. You have heard of rats that could not be beaten off till they had destroyed that covetous prelate; and of the fly that killed Pope Adrian. God hath more ways to punish than he hath creatures. "The Lord God of Hosts" is not properly a title of creation, but of Providence. All creatures have their existence from God as their Maker; but so have they also their order from him as their Governor. It refers not so much to their being as to their marshalling; not to their natural but militant estate; not only as creatures do they owe him for their making, but as they are soldiers for their managing. Their order is warlike, and they serve under the colours of the Almighty. So that here, God would be respected, not as a creator, but as a general.
His anger, therefore, seems so much the more fearful, as it is presented to us under so great a title: "the Lord God of Hosts" is angry. They talk of Tamerlane that he could daunt his enemies with the very look of his countenance. Oh! then what terror dwells in the countenance of an offended God! The reprobates shall call to the rocks to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. Revelation 6:16 . If ira agni doth so affright them, how terrible is ira leonis, the wrath of the lion? It may justly trouble us all to hear that the Lord, "the Lord God of Hosts," is angry; in the sense whereof the prophet breaks forth here into this expostulation: "O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry with thy people that prayeth?" Thomas Adams.
Verse 4. "Angry against the prayer of thy people." There may be infirmities enough in our very prayers to make them unacceptable. As if they be Exanimes, without life and soul; when the heart knows not what the tongue utters. Or Perfunctoriae, for God will have none of those prayers that come out of feigned lips. Or Tentativae, for they that will petere tentando, tempt God in prayer, shall go without. Or Fluctuantes, of a wild and wandering discourse, ranging up and down, which the Apostle calls "beating the air," as huntsmen beat the bushes, and as Saul sought his father's asses. Such prayers will not stumble upon the kingdom of heaven. Or if they be Preproperae, run over in haste, as some use to chop up their prayers, and think long till they have done. But they that pray in such haste shall be heard at leisure. Or sine fiducia; the faithless man had as good hold his peace as pray; he may babble, but prays not; he prays ineffectually, and receives not. He may lift up his hands, but he does not lift up his heart. Only the prayer of the righteous availeth, and only the believer is righteous. But the formal devotion of a faithless man is not worth the crust of bread which he asks. Or sine humilitate, so the pharisee's prayer was not truly supplicatio, but superlatio. A presumptuous prayer profanes the name of God instead of adoring it. All, or any, of these defects may mar the success of our prayers. Thomas Adams.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 4. What prayers they are which make God angry.