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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Isaiah 28

Verses 1-29

The Verifying Faculty

Isaiah 28:12

The Bible is always talking in our mother tongue. The oldest and greatest of the Prophets spoke in language which almost children can understand and appreciate. Take such words as 'weary'; the child knows what it means when it sees its father returning from the fields and stretching himself in token of fatigue. And 'rest,' the little word needs no translation; and 'refreshing,' the very word which an apostle uses in later times when he speaks of 'times of refreshing,' new showers, larger rains, food in the wilderness, water among the rock. 'This is the rest, this is the refreshing:' it is undoubted, it brings its own evidence along with it, it needs no witnesses and no certificates and no chemical tests. It makes its gospel known, and the world says, Well, master, thou hast said the truth; this is right, the heart feels it, the inmost soul is grateful for such proclamations.

We have in the text an exercise of what may be called the verifying faculty. The Bible alone gives you the all-sufficing answers to the all-including enigmas. Why fool away our time by asking adventurers and empirics to give us answers, when the Bible overflows with them, and our verifying faculty takes up the answers one by one and says, This is right, this is the voice of God, this is the outlined kingdom of heaven?

I. Take for example the question of consolation. You are told that you live in a system of law, that you are encaged or enmeshed in a great scheme of fatalism, and that things come and go, and we must accept them either in their going or their coming. Are you satisfied? You say to such visitors from faraway countries, miserable comforters are ye all! Away with you! for my soul loathes this evil meat which you set before it in its hunger. Who told you that these conceptions were wrong? You told yourself; the verifying faculty within you said, All that may in a certain measurable and momentary sense be more or less true, but it does not touch my hunger, my thirst, the sore of my heart, the agony that looks death into me. I believe in inspired experience; there comes a time when life so pulses and suns itself before a man's consciousness and a man's imagination that he himself has within his very soul the pleading and illuminating and solacing Spirit of God.

II. Now take it in the matter of repentance. The Prophet was offering this people in the context a very great offer. They were all drunk, they were all babbling mockers.

Yet the Lord made a great offer to them, He offered to teach them knowledge and to understand doctrine; He said to them, I will give you another opportunity: this is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest repentance, be sorry in your soul's soul on account of your sin. We know at once that the answer is right. Only repentance can touch sin; it is not something on the surface that can be removed by a mechanical act; sin is in the soul, sin is so to say in the very tissue of the spirit; it is a grief against God and a grief in God's own heart, and God's only answer to sin is creating the possibility of true, profound, poignant, and sufficient repentance.

III. Take it in the matter of obedience. Obedience is God's way to refreshing; obedience opens the fountains, obedience points the way that will conduct you to the living wells of the living water. This is the rest repentance; this is the refreshing obedience; go back to God and find what you want. When you have lost your jewel you must find it.

IV. Then we take it, finally, at the very grave itself. We come to that awfullest of all sights, the descent of the coffin, the moment of intolerable agony, the dumb farewell, the speechless withdrawal; and there comes a loving voice which says of those who are interred in the hope of the Christian resurrection, This is the rest whereby He causes the weary to rest: he, she, is going to rest, to the last sleep, the holy slumber, out of which only one voice can awake her: this is the rest, this deep cold hideous thing, the grave, this is the rest. Then the soul catches the fire of God; it says in words that cannot be heard, O grave, where is thy victory, thou cruel monster, thou terrible thing? It has no victory; she has found in thee the pillow on which she can rest her weariness. And this is the refreshing; this tomb is not a grave only, it is a well, a well of living water, and in a mysterious, ideal, but not the less influential and effective sense, those who go down into the grave in the spirit of Christ and in the spirit of His Cross find below it the rockspring of which, if a soul drink, it shall thirst no more.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. III. p. 83.

References. XXVIII. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1593. XXVIII. 14. F. D. Maurice, Christmas Day and Other Sermons, p. 105.

The Leisure of Faith

Isaiah 28:16

I. Of course, it is very necessary for clear thinking to distinguish the haste of our text from strenuous speed. Every one who is at all in earnest about things feels the push and the pull to get his lifework done; but a strenuous and resolute forwardness such as that is very different from the spirit of haste. 'Unhasting but unresting' should be the motto on every Christian's coat of arms.

1. I like to apply our text to hasty judgments. He that believeth shall not make haste to judge. In all disparagement there is a lack of faith. In every hasty summing up of character what is really revealed is our own want of trust.

2. Again, I think our text is full of meaning for those who are in a great hurry to enjoy, and perhaps the haste to be rich and taste life's pleasures was never so markedly felt as it is now. Life has not been given us to enjoy, life has been given us to use.

3. Again, I keep whispering this text within my heart when I observe our common haste to see results. The man who believes in himself and in his message is never in a hurry to see results. What I feel is that if the Church of Christ really believes in her mission and her message, she must not be feverish about results.

II. Now when we turn to the dealings of God with men there is one thing that impresses us very deeply. It is the slowness of all God's procedure in guiding and blessing our humanity. In all God's dealings with the human race, and in all God's dealings with the human soul, there is purpose, urgency, infinite persistence; but I think no man will detect hurry there.

Now take our text and let it illuminate that thought. It is because God believes in man that He refuses to hurry His development. We speak a great deal about our faith in God. Never forget God's glorious faith in us.

And when I pass to the earthly life of Jesus, I am arrested by the same procedure there. He was leisurely, just because He trusted men.

G. H. Morrison, Sun-Rise, p. 196.

Faith and Haste

Isaiah 28:16

'He that believeth shall not make haste.' That does not mean he that believeth shall never be hurried. This matter of haste is not a purely personal matter. We live in a hasting world a world full of conditions that we did not make and must accept. In the heart of a swaying crowd it is nonsense for a man to say, 'I will not be swayed'. The crowd settles that matter for him. But he can say, 'I will keep calm and collected,' and can make good his word.

Jesus understood life completely. He was more human than we are, because He was Divine, and His Divinity took hold of all that is essential in humanity. And that was the secret of the quietness of the life of Jesus. It was a life lived for the essential things.

I. It is missing these things that turns life into a rush and a whirl and a selfish struggle. The world is in a mighty hurry, not because its life is so full though that is the way it always accounts for its haste but because it is so empty; not because it touches reality at so many points, but because it misses it at all points. The more we hurry the less we live. Life is not to be gauged merely quantitatively. There is a qualitative measurement. The length of life is found by measuring its depth. It goes inward to the core of the soul. It takes its meaning there and carries that meaning out into the eternity of God.

It is true that under favourable circumstances selfishness may seem to live without haste. A man may take life quietly because he does not take it seriously. He may be quiet because he is asleep. But that is not the quietness of faith. Let not this selfish sluggard claim a place among the disciples of a quiet life. In the eyes of faith life in all its concerns grows ever greater, and the greater a thing life becomes in a man's eyes the more disposed does he become, and the more able to live it out quietly. Haste is the product of a low and mistaken view of life. It is the outcome of a vast delusion concerning the things that matter and the things that last. Faith discovers the delusions, and lays hold upon the few great simple things that really count in life's long reckonings the clean heart, the good conscience, justice, mercy, sympathy, and the service of love.

II. And, further, the haste of the world is the result of the short view of life. The world is in such a desperate hurry because it has no plan, no toil, no aspiration which the nightfall will not blot out. Unbelief has no tomorrow. Worldliness has no time to live. We often say, 'I wish I had more time,' meaning, of course, that we wish we could dispose of the hours of the day more in accordance with our personal desires. But our real need in life is not more time but more eternity. Instead of saying, 'Now or never,' Christ teaches us to say, 'Now and for ever'. He that believeth shall find the eternal meaning and the eternal issues of these fleeting hours. He shall know that he has time in which to do his best because the highest faith of his soul, the deepest desire of his heart, the most real significance of his daily toil, goes on for ever into the eternity of God.

P. Ainsworth, The Pilgrim Church, p. 168.

References. XXVIII. 16. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 138. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. 1901, p. 123. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 294. D. Coster, Christ a Sure Foundation, Sermons, 1842-79. XXVIII. 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1501. C. G. Finney, Sermons on Gospel Themes, p. 119.

Man's Schemes

Isaiah 28:20

Two things we are asked to consider in this text concerning man's plans and schemes: (1) Their insufficiency, and (2) their insecurity.

I. Their Insufficiency. Man's plans do not reach far enough, they are too short, he cannot stretch himself out upon them, and consequently it were folly for him to repose in them. Now the chief concern of man in this life is, or should be, the formation and maintenance of character. God alone can compass true character. God alone can conceive the plan which, being independent of all external and worldly circumstance, can build up and maintain a true all-round character. And has He not done this in the person and work of Jesus Christ?

II. Their Insecurity. Man's plans are not only found to be insufficient, but also insecure. 'The covering is narrower than that a man can wrap himself in it.' As Israel found their plans to be insecure, a narrow covering indeed, so shall we find our earth-born plans, whereby we would protect our characters before God and man, fail us. As the house built upon the sand may stand well and look well whilst the sun is shining and there is calm all around, but will be utterly destroyed when the wind begins to beat upon it and the rain to fall, so our characters built upon our own feeble, insufficient plans will in like manner fall when the wrath of God shall descend upon the children of disobedience.

J. Gay, Common Truths from Queer Texts, p. 83.

References. XXVIII. 20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 244. Hugh Black, University Sermons, p. 164. W. W. Battershall, Interpretations of Life and Religion, p. 31. XXVIII. 21. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah, p. 147. W. L. Watkinson, The Transfigured Sackcloth, p. 221. XXVIII. 23-29. Ibid. p. 150. XXVIII. 24-29. P. N. Waggett, Church Times, vol. xlix. 1903, p. 459. XXVIII. 25. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1626. XXVIII. 29. Ibid. vol. xii. No. 711. XXIX. 11, 12. W. M. Taylor, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 191. XXIX. 13. P. H. Hall, The Brotherhood of Man, p. 79.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 28". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.