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Bible Commentaries

Parker's The People's Bible

Isaiah 8

Verse 19

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"Should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?" Isa 8:19

Isaiah was surrounded by people who could not rid themselves of the delusion that they ought to consult the soothsayers. In Isaiah's time soothsayers were numerous and popular. Why should they not be consulted as to the fortunes awaiting themselves and others? What were soothsayers for if they were not to be consulted? Thus the supply has a very definite bearing upon the demand. When we have opportunities why should we not avail ourselves of them? The soothsayer can do us no harm if he can do us no good, therefore why not consult him? This is the vicious reasoning of the vain heart. To all such reasoning Isaiah would oppose great doctrines that men should seek unto their God, and seek only for such knowledge is is good for them. It has been pointed out that the latter part of the question is abruptly elliptical; probably it ought to be read thus: " Are men to seek on behalf of the living to the dead? " Isaiah was no believer in spirit-rapping. He asks why the dead should be recalled. He seems to suggest that even if they were recalled they would know no more than the living. Possibly they might not know so much. Isaiah seems to regard the state of the departed not as one of annihilation, but of dormant powers or powers partially disabled, powers that might be revived so as to be made use of in the calculation of human fortune. Isaiah sets himself against all appeals to the dead on behalf of the living. Does the prophet leave the people without a court of appeal? He not only directs them to the living God, but he points "to the law and to the testimony." By this; we are to understand the word of Jehovah which was actually spoken to the prophet himself. Isaiah was conscious of being in immediate and vital contact with the Source of life and power, and as he stood before the people he stood as an embodied revelation. Revelation brings with it conscious identification with God. When a man is speaking what may be called the greater truth, or the truth in its larger relations, he is perfectly aware that he is not speaking out of his own vanity but out of knowledge that has been spiritually communicated to him. Isaiah would have the people turn to this revelation, whether written or whether personified. He would have all soothsayers and. all their victims tested by the higher standard. If there is any light in them they will speak according to the word of God, and if they speak otherwise it is because they have mistaken darkness for light. Probably men will be driven from their soothsaying and other vanities to the true law. The prophet would seem to argue that men will come to the true revelation when all other sources of supposed information and inspiration are closed against them. When men look up into heaven and there is no light, and round them upon the earth and there is no dawn, when they wait for the coming of the sun in heaven, and when through all the darkness they can see no shining of the stars, then Isaiah would seem to say they will turn to the word and to the testimony, that is, to the true revelation of God. No man need be in any difficulty as to duty, as to the course of right, as to the discharge of all his highest responsibilities; the Bible, whatever else may be said about it or even in disparagement of it, utters no uncertain sound as to the culture of the soul and the obedience of the whole life to the divine sovereignty. If men say they are willing to receive light if they could only get it, they are deceiving themselves so long as the Bible lies unopened, unread, or unappreciated. Everything needful for the salvation of the soul, the culture of the spirit, and the most blessed destiny of the life, is revealed in the volume which we hold to be inspired. We are to test all prophets by this book. We are not to be deceived by the glamour of their poetry, or by the passion of their rhetoric; we are to test everything by the law and by the testimony. Thus the soul is pointed in the direction of sureness and is led into the sanctuary of rational as well as pious contentment. We are not to dwell upon isolated texts, or upon out-of-the-way words and phrases; we are to judge everything not by some partial text but by the entire spirit of the Bible. That spirit is symbolic of light, charity, all manner of spiritual greatness; nothing that is little, mean, contracted, or contemptible is endorsed or sanctioned by the word of the living God. The age needs to be continually cautioned against the quotation of texts or the citation of passages torn from their surroundings. Above all things, learn that there is a Biblical spirit as well as a Biblical letter.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 8". Parker's The People's Bible. 1885-95.