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THE ONLY COUNSELLOR
Isaiah 31:1-3. Woe to the rebellious children, &c.
These words were spoken by the prophet at a time when the Jewish nation was in great and imminent danger. They were addrest to the rulers of the nation, who were endeavouring to ward off the danger: and their purpose is to rebuke those rulers for the measures they were taking with that view, by entering into alliance with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, in the hope that he would deliver them out of it. But we should make a great mistake if we imagine that there is nothing in them that concerns our duty as individuals. God’s reproofs of nations are such as we may all take home to our hearts, ponder, and learn from; for they contain principles of righteousness which, like the sun which shines at once upon half the world and ourselves, are intended for the guidance both of nations and of individuals. Of this truth a striking example is afforded by our text. Its object is to rebuke the Jewish rulers for the line of policy which they were taking with the view of defending their country from her enemies. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was marching against Judah, with the intent of conquering it, and reducing the people to slavery, as Israel had already been conquered and enslaved a few years before by Shalmaneser. The danger was very great. What was King Hezekiah to do? How was Judah to stand against Assyria? If you were to ask any of the politicians who are wise in the wisdom of this world, they would all say, there could be no question about the matter; that the only way of saving Judah was to obtain the alliance and aid of some powerful nation, whose succour might render her more nearly a match for the armies of the invader. This is exactly what the rulers of Judah set about doing. They entered into an alliance with the king of Egypt, with the view of gaining assistance from him, which might enable them to cope with Sennacherib in the field. This is just what a statesman, who plumed himself on his wisdom in these days, would do. Yet it is for doing this very thing that the prophet Isaiah in the text reproves and denounces woe against them. Their conduct, therefore, must have been sinful. Let us try to discover in what their sin lay.
1. They were making use of human means alone, to ward off the danger which threatened. It is not sinful to use such means; the sin lies in fancying they can help us without the blessing of God, and in not seeking that. This was what Isaiah denounced, and what we do. When any danger threatens us, we forthwith take counsel—of ourselves, or of our friends, forgetting that all our counsel in the first instance ought to be taken of God, by searching His law with the purpose of discerning what He wills us to do, and by praying Him to enlighten our understandings, that we may be enabled to discern His will. So too we are ever seeking to cover ourselves with a covering, to find some protection or other whereby we may be preserved from danger: only the covering we should cover ourselves with is the covering of the Spirit of God. We should make Him our shield and buckler; and then we need not fear what man can do unto us.
Our unwillingness to take counsel of God can only proceed from an evil heart of unbelief  and it is as unwise as it is undutiful. None but God’s counsel is infallible, and only His covering is sure. But we choose to have a covering of our own making, and send up mists and clouds to hide the covering of God’s Spirit from us, thus “adding sin to sin.”
 From that unbelief which loses sight of and forgets the Ruler and Lawgiver of the world, and which is prone to worship whatever dazzles the senses and flatters our carnal nature. What should we say if a child, in a time of doubt or danger, would not run to ask its parents what to do, but were to run away from its parents and ask a stranger, or were to ask its own ignorance, or its own whims, or the ignorance of its playfellows—yea, were to ask its toys? Surely such conduct would be-speak a loveless, undutiful heart, and a silliness such as could only be excused during the faint early dawn of the mind. So is it a proof of a loveless, undutiful heart not to seek counsel of God; nor is such conduct less unwise than undutiful. For what do we want in a counsellor except wisdom and foresight—wisdom to know the principles and laws of things, and foresight to discern their consequences? Now, neither of these faculties can we find in any earthly counsellor, except in a very low degree. For, not to speak of the numberless accidents which warp and bias our own judgments and those of our fellow-men, and lead them awry, even at best man’s understanding, unless so far as it is enlightened from above by a knowledge of heavenly laws, can only reckon up what is wont to be, without any insight into what must be; and his eyes are ever so hoodwinkt by the present that he cannot even look forward into to-morrow. Whereas everything that God ordains must be right and true, and must stand fast for ever, even after heaven and earth have past away. He knows what we ought to do, and He will bear us through in doing it. Yet we choose rather to be led by the blind than by the Seeing.… Herein the very heathens condemn us. For they, though they know not the true God, yet believed there were powers in the heavens far wiser and longer-sighted than man; and so believing, they acted accordingly. Rightfully distrusting themselves, they sought to ascertain the will and purpose of those powers by searching it out according to the means whereby they imagined it would be revealed.—J. C. Hare.
2. Observe, the princes of Judah were not merely taking counsel of man, instead of God, and covering with a covering which was not of the Spirit of God: but the arm they were trusting to was the arm of Egypt. Now Egypt had from the first been the deadly enemy of the Israelites, and of their God. Egypt was the source from which all manner of idolatrous abominations flowed in upon them: out of Egypt they had been called; and they were no longer. Therefore the prophet goes on to forbid their seeking help from Egypt, and to predict that the help of Egypt would end in their confusion. If we are guilty of their sin, we shall not escape their woe. When trials come upon men to-day, they are apt to listen to Satan’s assurance that in that particular emergency he can help them better than God can. They listen; they sin, and the one sin leads to other sins; and ere long they are ruined (H. E. I., 173–175).
Still it is wo to those who take counsel of anything earthly! In times of difficulty it is of God alone that we must seek and take counsel. He alone can give us such counsel as will never fail us even in this life: and the wisdom of His counsel, which we now see only through a glass darkly, will become brighter than the sun at noon, when the veil of this world is drawn away from before it.—Julius Charles Hare, M.A.: Sermons Preacht in Herstmonceaux Church, pp. 305–323.
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE DIVINE NATURE
Isaiah 31:3. “The Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit.”
Among the sins to which the ancient Israelites were addicted, one of the most prevailing was a disposition, in seasons of invasion or calamity, to place confidence in the power of surrounding nations, and to seek the assistance of their sovereigns, instead of trusting in the living God. Egypt, being the largest monarchy in their immediate neighbourhood, was frequently their refuge in times of distress and difficulty. Remonstrance (Isaiah 31:1-2).
In the text an important and infinite disparity between God and man, which rendered the Egyptian monarch infinitely inferior to Him in the qualities which entitle to confidence and trust. The spirituality of the Supreme Being is the contrast.
I. The spirituality of the Deity is intimately connected with the possession of that infinite, unlimited power which renders Him the proper object of entire confidence.
There is a prejudice in favour of matter and against spirit, as if the former were possessed of greater force than the latter. It arises from our mistaking secondary and remote effects for causes, instead of ascending to God the supreme cause. Thus we think of the elements of nature and of mechanical forces. We have no power of operating on the objects immediately around us, but by means of our bodies. But it is mind alone which is the seat of power. The power by which all changes are effected through the instrumentality of the body resides immediately in the mind. It is that mysterious principle called Will. Whatever motions the mind wills instantly take place. This is an illustration of the control which the Deity exercises over the universe. The Divine Being has only to will the most important changes and they are instantly accomplished. It is impossible to give any account of innumerable changes continually taking place in the visible world, without tracing them up to mind.
II. The spirituality of God stands in close and intimate connection with His Invisibility.
1 Timothy 6:15-16. Were He the object of sight, He must be limited. He cannot, therefore, be figured out by any art or skill of man (Acts 17:24-29; Deuteronomy 4:15; Exodus 20:4-5). Hence the great impiety of those who have attempted to paint and figure out the persons of the Trinity. The necessary effect of any attempt to represent the Deity to the human senses, by pictures or images, must be to degrade, to an incalculable degree, our conceptions of Him. Hence images of angels, the Virgin Mary, and saints of inferior character.
III. The spirituality of God is inseparably connected with His Immensity and Omnipresence (Jeremiah 23:23-24; Psalms 139:7-12).
1. It is necessary that matter should have some figure. But figure is circumscribed within a certain outline. To conceive of the Divine Being as material would involve absurdity.
2. If matter were unlimited there would be no possibility of motion.
3. If the Divine Being were material, He would render impossible the co-existence of created beings. Two portions of matter cannot occupy the same space. But the infinite Spirit is present with every part of His creation.
IV. The spirituality of God enables His infinite Wisdom.
This seems a necessary property of that Being who is present to all His creatures at all times. His infinite acquaintance with His creatures is a necessary consequence of His presence. Every one is as much within His survey at one moment as at another. We judge of men’s character by their actions, He by their motives. And His judgment is always according to truth.
V. The spirituality of God establishes an intimate relation between Him and all His intelligent creatures.
Their dependence on Him is absolute; their subjection to Him constant and incessant; but in a special manner is He the Father of spirits. The body has a tendency to separate us from God, by the dissimilarity of its nature; the soul unites us to Him by those principles and faculties which are congenial to His own. To estrange ourselves from God is to be guilty of a most enormous kind of offence: it is forgetting our proper parent, the author of our existence. To love Him, to seek union with Him, is to return to our proper original.
VI. The spirituality of God renders Him capable of being the satisfying Portion, the Supreme Good, of all intelligent beings.
He is the source and spring of all happiness (Lamentations 3:24-25; Psalms 73:25-26).
1. That which constitutes the felicity of the mind must be something out of it. Whoever retires into his own mind for happiness will be miserable. God is qualified to be the everlasting and inexhaustible spring of happiness.
2. He who can always confer happiness on another being must be superior to that being. To be the source of happiness is the prerogative of God.
3. That in which the happiness of a rational and mental creature consists, must be congenial to the nature of that creature.
4. That which forms the principle of our felicity must be something that is capable of communicating itself to us. God, as He is a Spirit, is capable of communicating Himself to the spirits of His rational creatures. These communications will constitute the felicity of heaven. Even while they continue on earth, it is the privilege of the faithful to enjoy union with the Father of spirits through His Son.
1. Let us raise ourselves, in contemplating the Divine Being, above what is sensible, visible, and corporeal.
2. Since God is a Spirit, there must be an everlasting connection established between Him and us, on which will depend our destiny for ever. Hence Jesus Christ has come. What movements are in your minds towards this great object?—Robert Hall: Works, vol. vi., pages 1–32.
A CALL TO THE REVOLTED
Isaiah 31:6. Turn ye unto Him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.
Had mankind adhered to the divine idea, no such word as this would have been necessary. Divine communications would have consisted probably of counsels, directions, predictions, progressive revelations of truth. The demand that man turn shows that he has gone astray. All divine communications suppose the existence of sin and the need of salvation. Happily for us, they show the way in which salvation may be obtained. The parts of the human race are as the whole. The people God distinguished by separating them from the nations, with special connection to Himself, followed the universal tendency to wander from Him. They forsook His law. When trouble came, they sought help anywhere. At the time of this prophecy they were looking to Egypt instead of to the Lord. The prophet remonstrates, and invites them to make a friend of God against Assyria. The text may be addressed to sinners now. Here is—
I. A SERIOUS ACCUSATION.
God was the King of Israel. Departure from His laws was a national revolt. Man’s revolt from God consists in—
1. Disaffection. When love to the sovereign departs, the way is prepared for any act of hostility circumstances may favour. The disaffection of man to God is inbred. From the original fall man derives a mysterious tendency to depart from God (H.E.I., 3390–3397). Human nature dislikes the divine holiness; dislike of the divine holiness is the root from which grow men’s evil deeds. So deep is the revolt that man has no desire to return.
2. Disobedience. You may say it is natural to sin, and we cannot be held responsible for it. Do you judge of, and deal with your fellow-men in that way as to their conduct to you? If they injure, defraud you, do you say they have a natural inclination to fraud and wrongdoing, and therefore are not responsible? When a son who has been carefully trained develops tendencies and inclinations to evil, attaches himself to bad companions, &c., do you exonerate him from blame because it is his nature? You say he ought to have resisted the evil inclinations and cultivated such as were good. You are right. But why should there be a difference when the object of the wrongdoing is God? The dislike of God’s holiness inherent in human nature develops itself in the indulgence of sinful passions and disobedience to God’s commands. Does the fact that it was your nature free you from responsibility? Are you not possessed of reason and conscience? Do not these constitute responsibility? Is not the fact that you decline the help God offers for the subjugation of evil sufficient to throw on you the entire blame of your continued revolt?
3. Distrust. A large part of the revolt of ancient Israel from God consisted in distrust. When man withdraws his love from God and abandons himself to disobedience, he is sure to lose faith. You will soon cease to trust the friend whom you persistently wrong and disregard. Is not this the explanation of much of the unbelief among men? They are unhappy in their severance from God, yet unwilling to return. Then they expunge from their beliefs His declarations concerning sin and its punishment. Truth after truth disappears. Then Himself disappears. They persuade themselves that there is no need of Him, then that He does not exist. The wish is father to the thought. Because the heart and life have revolted from Him, the intellect labours to sweep Him out of the world which He has made.
II. AN EARNEST CALL.
“Turn ye unto Him.” From the folly of the intellect; from the perversity of the heart; from the disobedience of the life in which your revolt has manifested itself. God is. He is a living person, with all the feelings of one, as well as a supreme ruler clothed with governmental authority. He is worth turning to.
2. In the gospel, He invites you to repent, to turn. It is a complete change of your heart and life. You can examine and reflect upon the truth. You can consider the righteousness of His claim. You can consider the motive that is furnished by His offer of a free pardon and a full salvation procured for you by the death of His Song of Song of Solomon 3:0. Do you feel yourself weak? He will help you to turn.
4. Turn from the wrong path to the right one.
(1.) Turn to the trust which He encourages. Bring your sin and need to Jesus.
(2.) Turn to the obedience He demands. There must be a complete surrender. All sin must be relinquished, even the dearest. Choose the way of holiness.
(3.) Turn to the love He deserves. It comes indeed into the heart with submission and faith.
5. Think of the danger of continued revolt; of the wrongfulness of revolt; of the blessedness of return.—J. Rawlinson.
THE FIERY ORDEAL OF THE CHURCH
Isaiah 31:9. The Lord, whose fire is in Zion, and whose furnace is in Jerusalem.
There is a variety of purposes for which fire is used. One of them was of old for the sacrifice, the burnt-offering; another was for incense, to keep it always smoking. Furnaces were used by the workers in metals.
I. THE FIRE. “Whose fire is in Zion.” Without the sacred fire there would have been no burnt-offering, no clouds of incense; and therefore God commanded that it should be kept ever burning. In this sense, the fire is the emblem of life divine, the Holy Spirit’s work. May it be for ever burning! Where it burns strongly, what clouds of incense of praise and prayer ascend to heaven!
II. THE FURNACE. “Whose furnace is in Jerusalem.” It is there for the purpose of accomplishing God’s designs with regard to His people. A furnace is nothing without fuel, and the fuel may be of various kinds. God heats His furnace with different kinds of fuel—sometimes with bodily afflictions, sometimes with losses of various kinds, sometimes with bereavements, sometimes with persecutions, sometimes with all these combined. Oh, the vast importance of viewing every trial of a temporal kind as sent on purpose to constitute a little fuel for God’s furnace! God is doing three things with His furnace. He is melting, He is manifesting, He is making useful.
1. He is melting. We are so hard and stubborn, so full of dross, that nothing less than the fire will serve (Isaiah 1:25).
2. He is manifesting. The fire tests both us  and our work (1 Corinthians 3:13). In this way God manifests the difference between His people and the false professor, and shows who are His own (Zechariah 13:9).
3. He is making useful. Take a lesson from the very vessels you use at table every day; they would have been of no use at all, had they not passed through the fire.
 Upon one occasion, like the prophet Jeremiah, I visited the potter’s house. I admired his ingenuity and the beauty of his work on the wheels. But after a little while, I found there was really no reliance to be put on the results of his labour and ingenuity. When put into the furnace, some of the vessels were marred and rendered good for nothing; they cracked and went to pieces. Did not the potter shape them aright? Did he not make them of the same clay? Did he not take the same pains with them? Then what was the defect? They would not stand fire.—Irons.
Conclusion. The trials of God’s people tend
(1) to exercise and develop their spiritual excellence;
(2.) To demonstrate the Divine love and faithfulness;
(3.) To prepare them for the enjoyment of Himself at last Joseph Irons: Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. 7:109–120.
 H. E. I., 116–142.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 31". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14