Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 21

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

Verses 1-17

Twilight and Trembling

Isaiah 21:4

You all know that the twilight is a great wizard. I do not know whether you have ever thought to analyse its subtle power. If you have, I think you will have found that the spell of the twilight lies quite as much in what it hides from us as in what it reveals. It casts a filmy veil of indistinctness over all things we see softening their hardness, dealing gently with their defects, making such beauty as they possess more suggestive and idealistic.

The twilight hour is the one merciful hour in the day the hour when there is just enough light to see by, but when criticism has to be suspended. This hour, one feels, is in the beautiful fitness of things. There is a sense in which the whole span of our human life is but the twilight hour that ushers in the bright eternal day. God has set a merciful limit to our seeing.

I. There is a twilight that God giveth, that God willeth a merciful limitation of light. But this is not the twilight of which the Prophet speaks. There is a twilight not of God's willing but of man's desiring, that brings the spirit of trembling into men's lives. 'The twilight that I desired.' Here is the picture of a man who is afraid to look life in the face; who does not want to see things as they are. He wants to limit his own vision to see things less plainly. He is seized with a desire to shirk the responsibilities and pains of life's larger knowledge. He is desirous for the moment of laying aside his powers of insight and discrimination and delicate judgment and keen appreciation of life's ever-changing situation. He is willing to forgo the power of introspection.

The awful drama of pain and misery is being played out before our very eyes. We live in a suffering world. The outlook at times is unutterably pathetic, tragic, and saddening; and I am afraid that so long as these things do not cut their way into our own lives we try to ignore them, to live as if they were not.

II. The secret of quiet confidence in a world that furnishes us with the sight of so many sad things does not lie in shutting our eyes. That is the expedient of the cowardly and the faithless. It lies in looking at things as they are, and letting the sad vision force us back upon the mercy and power of God. If only we have the courage and faith to look into these things that pain the heart and try the spirit and lay rough hands on life's sensitiveness, we shall learn more of the patience and tenderness of God than ever gladness alone could have taught us; and we shall find awaiting us among these things a ministry of help in the offering of which God shall perfect our hearts in the knowledge of Himself and the love of the brethren.

III. 'The twilight that I desired hath been turned into trembling unto me.' The man who shuns the light forfeits his own final peace of heart. He who refuses to face his worst forfeits the possibility of finding his best He does not solve the question of his sinfulness; he shelves it. It is there, gathering darker meaning and more bitter consequence. Every day twilight and trembling go together. You cannot build the house of peace on the foundation of self-deceit. Darkness hides wrong, but it does not alter it. There is no salvation among the shadows of moral delusion. There is no quietness in uncertainty. There are some who deliberately refuse to look at their own spiritual position their relation to God the Saviour and the kingdom of peace and the promise of life lest they should find it unsatisfactory. They live their lives in the vague hope that things will be well with them by and by. They do not desire anything more illuminating than the twilight of a hopeful speculation. That is, at the best, but an indefinite postponement of the day of trembling.

P. Ainsworth, The Pilgrim Church, p. 138.

References. XXI. 11. R. H. McKim, The Gospel in the Christian Year, p. 72. W. Landels, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 133. E. M. Geldart, Echoes of Truth, p. 222. XXI. 11, 12. F. W. Farrar, ibid. vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 17. G. Campbell Morgan, ibid. vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 40. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. i. p. 19. D. Rowlands, The Cross and the Dice-Box, p. 217. W. C. Magee, Growth in Grace, p. 26. W. Laing, The Dundee Pulpit, 1872, p. 57. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 336. J. A. Craigie, The Country Pulpit, p. 31. XXI. 12. J. Milne, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 409.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 21". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.