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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Isaiah 51

Verses 1-23

The Pentateuch Genesis

Isaiah 51:1-2

Today we begin to examine the early books of the Old Testament. The first five books stand together by themselves. Sometimes they are called the Pentateuch, which means only 'the book of five volumes '. First we must attend to the place which these five books hold in the history of the Jews. Speaking roughly, we may say that they tell us the beginning of the Jewish people. The early steps and stages by which they become a people.

I. We see at the beginning of all things God Himself, making all things. He is not the earth or the heavens, or anything that is therein: He is distinct from them all: He made them all: He was before them all. Last of all came man. Man was a part of the world, and was meant to remember that. The next step brings us into the state into which sin has entered. Here I wish you to notice especially two things. First the Bible does not begin with sin, it begins with innocence and goodness. Secondly observe that the first evil is distinctly religious evil. The temptation comes through the fruit; but the great force of the temptation lies in impatience of the restraint which God for good reason ordained; in trying to be independent of Him, in other words of being as Gods. Then the outward curses follow. The earth is no longer a garden but a place of thorns for those who have become estranged from its Maker and their own. Estrangement from God leads to estrangement between men even members of the same family. The husband becomes the accuser of the wife. The elder brother is jealous of the younger brother, and his jealousy has its natural fruit in murder. As mankind multiplies so does crime. The earth we are told was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. Then the just anger of God went forth, and used the power of the world for the punishment of man. A flood of waters overwhelmed the sinful race, and only one small family was preserved. To these survivors, to Noah and his family, God renewed the blessing which He had given to Adam. Immediately, however, evil sprung up afresh. It showed itself in a shameful want of respect in one of Noah's sons towards his father. Presently we hear of men joining together to build a high tower whose top might reach to heaven. This was evidently done out of pride against God; but He scattered them abroad on the face of the earth, and with the scattering came the beginning of different languages, so that henceforth the different branches of the same race became foreign to each other. Such are the chief points in the first part of Genesis.

II. At this point the new life begins, which was to go on growing till it reached its full height in the person of Christ. God called on an old man named Abram to leave his country and go into a land which He should show him, promising to make him a great nation, and in him to bless all the families of the earth. This was the seed of the Jewish people: here we have in a few words the plan of the whole Bible, God making Himself known to a chosen few, that through them the whole race may be partakers in the blessed gift.

F. I. A. Hort, Sermons on the Books of the Bible, p. 24.

References. Leviticus 1:2 . W. J. Knox-Little, The Journey of Life, p. 103; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. 1898, p. 134.Leviticus 2:0 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1633.Leviticus 2:3 . Ibid. vol. xxvii. No. 1596. Leviticus 3:0 . H. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 215.Leviticus 4:0 . S. R. Driver, Church Times, vol. 1. 1903, p. 173; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 104.Leviticus 8:0 . A. Murray, The Children for Christ, p. 192.

The Needs of the Age

Isaiah 51:9

Who can be the speaker of this interesting passage? Is it the Prophet himself? Is it the cry of the Church of God? Or is it the Great Intercessor Himself Who speaks? Is it the Servant of Jehovah Who came in the fullness of time to bear our sins and to work out for us an everlasting righteousness? I am disposed to take this third view, partly because it seems to explain most simply and faithfully the whole passage, and partly because whatever of reality there is in the intercession either of an individual servant of Christ on earth or in the Church of Christ herself here below, as a whole, the strength and value of such pleading are entirely dependent on the work of the great High Priest and Intercessory Himself. It is the call of the Divine Intercessor, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Servant of Jehovah, addressed to God Himself on behalf of the present needs of the Church. What more powerful appeal could be made than by Him? When He speaks, surely He must prevail. It might have appeared sufficient if He had simply urged his personal claim, but He grounds the appeal upon an historical fact; He refers to the past. A pledge for help in the present is taken up from the help given in the past.

What are some of our great needs?

1. There is needed a higher standard of Christian teaching. There is a superficial knowledge of Divine truth in many directions, but those who are to reach the intellect, and heart, and conscience of men must make it plain that they have a distinct message, that they are conscious that this message is of supreme importance.

2. We want the prophetic spirit in our ordained ministers; men who have a witness for God that they must deliver, and if they cannot deliver it they must die. 'O arm of the Lord, awake,' and send us such prophets as these!

3. The masses can be won by holier living on the part of the Church of Christ. Example tells everywhere. A holy life is a searching sermon, a holy life is a homily that cannot be rejected or neglected, and the holy life is not to be lived by the minister alone; it is to be lived by those to whom he ministers, and who are gathered round him as disciples round a teacher. Are you fully aware of the fact that unless you live a holy life for God the kingdom of Christ cannot extend? You may be a stumbling-block in the way of your fellow-men if you make a profession of Christ and do not come up to that profession. A holy Church, men and women that are living according to the mind of Christ, with His example always before them, are an army irresistible. No force of evil can stand against such a power as that.

4. We want more fervent intercession for our great cities. We want a cry to God to go up day by day from the hearts of those who love the Lord, that these places may be given to Him for His inheritance.

5. We want more generous and ready self-sacrifice. We live in an age of great pleasure-seeking, an age of materialism, an age in which the race seems to be one day for the amassing of wealth and another day for the expending of the wealth so amassed upon the pleasures of this life. Will not the spirit of self-denial ever be granted to us again? Will not men put aside this seeking after self-indulgence in order that by sacrifice of this kind they may have time, and energy, and wealth to give unto the Lord?

6. If England is to be won for Christ, those who are in authority as Christ's ministers must pay much more earnest heed to the question of visiting from house to house those who are ignorant about Divine things. The sympathizing touch, the sympathizing look of a servant of Christ in some miserable so-called 'home' is of infinite value. O, if all who have this sympathy in their heart were to go out, give of their best, and touch with the hand of love those who seem cut off from all the joy of this life or the life to come, and who say, 'No man has cared for my soul'.

References. Leviticus 9:0 ; Leviticus 1:0 . A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah XLIX.-LXVI. p. 51.Leviticus 9:10 . G. H. Wilkinson, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 214.

The Fear of Man and the Fear of God

Isaiah 51:12-13

Man is here represented as standing between two powers God and his fellow-man each claiming to influence his life; and God calls upon him to consider whether, being what he is, his conduct should be influenced by the fear of man, or by the fear of God. I. Man is first to consider what he is to look into himself. And what does he find? Two things weakness, and therefore dependence. Man is as grass, which groweth up in a day and withereth; and man is dependent for the preservation of his life, and for the supply of his needs, to some extent, upon his fellow-man, but far more upon God. That which a man knows of himself that he is weak and unable to stand alone this he knows also of his fellow-man. Why, then, should he live in continual fear of the world, which is made up of men like himself, weak and dependent, whilst he forgets God, Who is All-Powerful and absolutely independent?

How wonderfully this passage brings before us the folly of moral cowardice! It is an anticipation of the teaching of our Blessed Lord, Who said, 'Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell'. Not only is our own life in God's hands, but the life of those who oppose us. Not only can He give us strength to meet the difficulties put in our path by others, but He can remove those difficulties.

There is another way in which this fear of man affects our life. It robs our Spiritual life of all definiteness and power. The man whose words are inspired, whose actions are directed by mere human respect, the fear of what men will say or think, is never likely to dare anything noble for love of God.

II. Consider what forgetfulness of God carries in its train:

1. It results in loss of faith.

2. Loss of hope, for hope depends largely on memory.

3. Loss of love.

III. What does God promise if, instead of fearing man, we fear Him? We find it in the first words: 'I, even I, am He that comforteth you', Life is full of sorrows; the world is not a congenial environment for those who love and fear God; but God says to such, 'I, even I, am He that comforteth you'. The reiteration of the pronoun emphasizes the greatness of the Comforter.

A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part i. p. 126.

References. LI. 12,13. J. Martineau, Hours of Thought, vol. ii. p. 150. Leviticus 15:16 . H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 49. Leviticus 16:0 . J. Hamilton, Faith in God, p. 112. LII. Rutherford Waddell, Behold the Lamb of God, p. 81.Leviticus 1:0 . S. Martin, Rain Upon the Mown Grass, pp. 72, 83. J. Martineau, Hours of Thought, vol. ii. p. 334.Leviticus 2:3 . J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 196. Leviticus 3:0 . A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah XLIX.-LXVI. p. 71.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 51". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.