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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 8

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-4


Isaiah 8:1-4. Moreover, the Lord said unto me, Take thee a great roll, &c. [823]

[823] In the first chapter of Hosea occurs a like instance of symbolic names given by a prophet to his children, and in Habakkuk 2:2, we have mention of the practice of writing a prophecy on a tablet in easily legible characters, and hanging it up in the Temple, market-place, or other public resort. And most modern commentators prefer to think that Isaiah now merely inscribed “HASTE PLUNDER, SPEED SPOIL,” in large letters on a metal or waxed tablet, the לִ which the Authorised Version translates “concerning,” being the Lamed inscription is, as in Jeremiah 49:1; Jeremiah 49:7; Jeremiah 49:23; Jeremiah 49:28; Ezekiel 37:16; though it may be observed that the direction to “tie up and seal the testimony,” in Isaiah 8:16, is in favour of the older version, which understands him to have made a record of his expectation of the birth of the child, and of the significance of that birth, at some length. He wrote “with a man’s pen,” or “style,”—a phrase not unlike our “common hand” or “popular style;” and he took as credible witnesses that the record had preceded the event, Uriah the high priest at the time (2 Kings 16:10), and Zechariah, who was not improbably the father-in-law of Ahaz and a Levite (2 Kings 18:2; 2 Chronicles 29:1; 2 Chronicles 29:13). He calls his wife “the prophetess,” as the wife of a king is called a queen (says Vitringa), though she does not reign, and in some old ecclesiastical canons the wife of a bishop “episcopa,” and of a presbyter “presbytera;” and he thus claims for her a place with her husband and children (see Isaiah 8:18) in the holy and symbolic family, who are for “a sign in Israel.” She gave birth to a child, and his name was called, in accordance with the writing, “Haste-plunder, Speed-spoil,” that the people might understand that before he was old enough to utter the words “father” and “mother,”—that is, within a short but somewhat indefinite period such as we should express by “in a year or two from his birth,”—the spoils of the plundered cities of Samaria and Damascus, the capitals of the nations now invading Judah, shall have been carried before the Assyrian conqueror in triumph.

In order to realise the practical impressiveness of such symbolic acts and names upon Isaiah’s contemporaries, we must remember that Jerusalem was a very small town for size and population compared with the notion we insensibly get of a capital from our own vast London; and also that there was as little in the ways of thinking and living of that age and country as in the extent of the city to effect such a separation between a public man’s political and private life as exists in England. We respect the domestic reserve of our neighbours, and we fortify ourselves in the like reserve, by our habit of learning what they are doing that concerns us through the newspaper which we read by our own fireside. With no newspapers, and a climate which encouraged an out-of-door life, the people of Jerusalem would become as familiar with that personal demeanour of Isaiah in the market-place or elsewhere which he made a part of his public ministry, as we are with the mental habits and political conduct of Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Disraeli, though the greater part of us would recognise neither of them by sight, and still fewer know anything of their personal and private life.—Strachey.

This singular record reminds us,

I. How marvellously varied are the means which God employs to bring men to the knowledge and belief of saving truth. That which God’s ancient people needed to save them from their mistakes and miseries was real faith in the elementary truth that God is the only safe counsellor, for this simple reason, that He alone sees the end from the beginning. All their circumstances, interpreted by merely human wisdom, seemed to point to the desirableness of an alliance with Assyria, the very thing which God by His prophets emphatically forbade. That it might be easier for them to believe what seemed so incredible, namely, that the Assyrian alliance would be a calamity and not a blessing to them, God gave, in addition to the testimonies of His prophets to this effect, a prophecy of an event seemingly as incredible, namely, that the great power of the two nations, Israel and Syria, from which they had suffered so much, and which seemed so likely to be permanent, and on account of which they sought Assyrian help, should be utterly broken, and that speedily. God predicted this in words (chap. Isaiah 7:4-9), and He condescended to a symbolic act that He might impress this truth more vividly on their minds. It is of that symbolic act that we have the record here. Now that God took so much trouble for such a purpose is a fact worth thinking about. As a matter of fact, it is but one instance of His constant method of dealing with men. He is so bent on bringing them to a knowledge and belief of truth that to them would be saving, that He shrinks from no trouble at all likely to secure this result (Jeremiah 7:13; Jeremiah 7:25; Hebrews 1:1; Luke 20:10-13). Illustrate, e.g., how various are the methods by which He endeavours to awaken a careless soul to anxiety, and to effect its conversion! What is the explanation of this versatility and ingenuity of methods in dealing with us? It is the tenderness of His love for us; it is His yearning solicitude for our welfare.

II. How mercifully clear are the warnings by which God seeks to turn men from ruinous courses. The tablet [826] on which Isaiah was to write was to be large, and he was to write upon it “with a man’s pen,” an obscure expression, but yet at least meaning this, that the writing upon it was to be easily legible (Habakkuk 2:2). It is true that though the words on the tablet were easily legible, their meaning was obscure. But that very obscurity was of a kind to excite inquiry (Daniel 5:5-7), and that inquiry earnestly and honestly conducted would have led God’s ancient people to a saving knowledge of truth. Thus it is with all the warnings contained in God’s Word (H. E. I. 602–606).

[826] A great roll. Rather, a large tablet: of wood or metal, covered with a smooth surface of wax; which, when written upon, was hung up in public for all to read (cf. Jeremiah 32:11; Jeremiah 32:14).—Kay.

III. How important it is that God’s servants should be prudent as well as zealous. After the prophecy was fulfilled, unbelief might have questioned whether it had ever been given, and therefore Isaiah, acting under divine direction, selected two witnesses whose testimony could not be gainsaid [829] Probably that which they were required to testify was, that the prophecy, and its interpretation, was delivered to them on a certain day; the interpretation embracing both the facts, that to the prophet another son would be born, and that while still in his infancy the two nations of which Judah stood in dread should themselves be conquered. Isaiah was thus acting on the general principle given by our Lord for the guidance of His people (Matthew 10:16). Now, as then, His prophets, while loyally obedient to His directions, should maintain a constant wariness and prudence, in order that the testimony they bear for Him should be placed beyond cavil and dispute.

[829] Faithful witnesses. Or, sure witnesses; whose testimony none would be able to gainsay: partly, because of their rank, but still more, it would seem, from their being adherents of Ahaz. For “Uriah the priest” can scarcely be any other than the one who made the Syrian altar after the description sent him from Damascus by Ahaz (2 Kings 16:10-16); thereby (as Mr. Birks notices) furnishing incontrovertible evidence of the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prediction. Zechariah may have been Ahaz’s own father-in-law (2 Chronicles 29:1).—Kay.

IV. How certain of accomplishment are the prophecies involved in God-given names. The prophecy contained in the name bestowed on this child of Isaiah’s was fulfilled [832] So already had that implied in the name bestowed on the child previously born to him, Shear-jashub, “a remnant shall return” [835] As it was with the sons of Isaiah, so is it with the Son of God. The names bestowed on Him are not merely glorious but empty titles. He is in very truth JESUS and IMMANUEL (Matthew 1:21-23). He is JESUS because IMMANUEL. On the promises involved in these great names we may lay hold with joyful confidence, for they also shall be fulfilled.

[832] Isaiah’s interview with Ahaz (chap. 7), the preparation of the tablet, the birth of Isaiah’s child, and the conquest of Syria and Israel by the Assyrians under Tiglath-pileser all took place within the year 743–739 B.C.
[835] See Dr. Kennicott’s remarks on Shear-jashub in preceding paper: THE VIRGIN’S SON.

Alexander remarks on Isaiah 8:4 :—“Samaria is here put for the kingdom, and not for the capital city. But even if the name be strictly understood, there is no reason to doubt that Samaria was plundered by Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29), although not destroyed.… The carrying away of its wealth does not necessarily imply anything more than such a spoiling of the capital as might be expected in the course of a brief but successful invasion.”

Verses 5-8


Isaiah 8:5-8. Forasmuch as this people refuseth, &c.

For “rejoice in Rezim and Remaliah’s son,” read “rejoice concerning Rezim and Remaliah’s son,” i.e., rejoice in the disaster which had befallen the allied powers who had inflicted such disasters upon Judah, and had threatened it with utter destruction.

We have here a prophecy given in symbols. One of them is explained by the prophet himself. He explains that by “the river” he means the King of Assyria. Commentators are generally of opinion that by “the waters of Shiloah” is meant the Davidic dynasty, which God, on certain conditions, had pledged Himself to maintain. But this put them to hard shifts to explain the rejoicing of the people. It is better to regard “the waters of Shiloah” as symbolical of the help which God offered His people. The contrast then becomes intelligible. Because that help was unseen—apprehensible only by faith—it seemed to the multitudes, when compared with that which the King of Assyria was visibly rendering them, in the overthrow of Syria and Israel, to be as little worthy of consideration as is the little stream of Shiloah [838] in comparison with that mighty river, the Euphrates [841] We have, then, here the case of men who are rejoicing in a success that is godless, that has been obtained by the rejection of God; and we are here told what the end of that success must be. Thus we find a theme that bears upon our life to-day.

[838] All accounts combine in asserting that the waters of the two pools of Siloam, as well as that of the many fountains of the “Mosque of Omar,” proceed from a spring or reservoir of water beneath the Temple vaults. There was no period of its history when such a provision would not have been important to the Temple for the ablutions of the Jewish, no less than of the Mussulman, worship; or to the city, which else was dry even to a proverb. It was the treasure of Jerusalem, its support through all its numerous sieges, the “fons perennis aquæ” of Tacitus, the source of Milton’s
[841] The Euphrates, i.e., the good and abounding river. The Euphrates is the largest, the longest, and by far the most important of the rivers of Western Asia. It rises from two chief sources in the Armenian mountains … they meet at Kebben-Maden, nearly in the long. 39° E. from Greenwich, having run respectively 400 and 270 miles. Here the stream formed by their combined waters is 120 yards wide, rapid, and very deep.… The entire course is calculated at 1780 miles, nearly 650 more than that of the Tigris, and only 200 short of that of the Indus; and of this distance more than two-thirds (1200 miles) is navigable for boats, and even, as the expedition of Colonel Chesney proved, for small steamers. The width of the river is greatest at the distance of 700 or 800 miles from its mouth, that is to say, from its junction with the Khabour to the village of Werai It there averages 400 yards.… The annual inundation of the Euphrates is caused by the melting of the snows in the Armenian highlands. It occurs in the month of May.… The Tigris scarcely ever overflows, but the Euphrates inundates large tracts on both sides its course from Hit downwards.—Rawlinson.

Considered in a commercial respect, as well as with regard to its uses in agriculture, the Euphrates manifestly stood in the same relation to Babylon and the surrounding region that the Nile did to Egypt; it was the source, to a large extent, of its prosperity, and the most important element of its greatness. It is in this relation that the symbolical use of the Euphrates in Scripture proceeds, and by keeping it in view the several passages will be found to admit of an easy explanation. Contributing so materially to the resources and wealth of Babylon, the river was naturally taken for an emblem or representative of the city itself, and of the empire of which it was the capital. In this respect a striking application is made of it by the prophet Isaiah (chap. Isaiah 8:5-8), where the little kingdom of Judah, with its circumscribed territory and its few earthly resources, on the one hand, is seen imaged in the tiny brooklet of Shiloah; while, on the other, the rising power of Babylon is spoken of under the emblem of “the waters of the river, strong and many, even the King of Assyria and all his glory.” And he goes on to expose the folly of Israel’s[Judah’s] trusting in this foreign power on account of its material greatness, by declaring that in consequence of this mistaken trust, and in chastisement of it, the mighty stream would, as it were, desert its proper channel, and turn its waters in a sweeping and desolating flood over the Holy Land.—Fairbairn.

“Brook that flowed
Hard by the oracle of God.”

But, more than this, it was the image which entered into the very heart of the prophetical idea of Jerusalem (Psalms 46:4; Psalms 87:7; Isaiah 12:3). It is the source of all the freshness and verdure of the vale of Hinnom. In Ezekiel’s vision the thought is expanded into a vast cataract flowing out through the Temple rock eastward and westward into the ravines of Hinnom and Kedron, till they swell into a mighty river, fertilising the desert of the Dead Sea. And with still greater distinctness the thought appears again, and for the last time, in the discourse, when in the courts of the Temple, “in the last day, that great day of the feast”[of Tabernacles], “Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me … out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”—Stanley.

The expression in Isaiah, “waters of Shiloah that go softly,” seems to point to the slender rivulet, flowing gently, though once very profusely, out of Siloam into the lower breadth of level, where the king’s gardens, or “royal paradise,” stood, and which is still the greenest spot about the Holy City, reclaimed from sterility into a fair oasis of olive groves, fig-trees, pomegranates, &c., by the tiny rill that flows out of Siloam. A winter-torrent, like the Kedron, or a swelling river like the Euphrates, carries havoc with it by sweeping off soil, trees, and terraces; but this Siloam-fed rill flows softly, fertilising and beautifying the region through which it passes.—Bonar.

1. Whatever be our life-work, there are two ways of seeking success in it—with God, or without God.
2. If we take God to be our ally, we must do our work on His terms and plans. But these are frequently contrary to our natural expectations, and opposed to what the world calls “common sense.” As helps to a speedy and great success, they seem to most men as despicable as the little stream of Shiloah in comparison with the broad river Euphrates.

3. Consequently the vast majority of men reject them, and seek for success without God, and contrary to His methods (H. E. I. 4198).
4. In this way, they frequently speedily attain to a success which appears to be a complete justification of the wisdom of their policy. When the prophecy contained in our text was uttered, the forces of Syria and Israel were being swept away by the triumphant Assyrian host, and no doubt Ahaz and His court felt they could afford to laugh at Isaiah, who had steadily opposed the alliance which appeared to have been so advantageous.
5. But the triumph of the wicked is short. The unholy success in which bad men rejoice contains within itself the seeds of peril and pain, of retribution and ruin (H. E. I. 4609, 4612). The ally in whom Ahaz had trusted presently became his oppressor; it was a verification in actual life of the fable of the horse that took a man for its ally. So is it to-day with all who prosper without God and against God. Their prosperity is, strictly speaking, unnatural, and everything that is unnatural speedily brings on disorder. For example, a family has been enriched by godless plans; to those who have no fear of God in their hearts, there is nothing so perilous as wealth; it is used for the gratification of the baser passions; by this gratification health is broken down; when the physical frame is shattered, conscience, that has been suppressed, breaks forth into freedom and activity, and remorse turns the gilded palace into a hell. The illustrations of the working of this great law are endless.


1. In the conduct of daily life, as well as in our spiritual concerns, let us walk by faith, not by sight. God’s help, though it may seem inconsiderable as Shiloah’s stream, is yet, like that stream, constant. Our reliance upon it will never issue in disappointment. By means of it we shall certainly attain to all the prosperity that would be for our real welfare (H. E. I. 3984–3986, 5059, 5060).
2. Let us not envy the prosperity of the wicked (H. E. I. 4943–4948, 4961–4966). It is short-lived, like the mighty flood of Euphrates itself. Out of that very prosperity heart-aches innumerable will spring. The rejoicing that is so exultant and scornful to-day, to-morrow will be turned into lamentation and woe. Then those who triumphed without God will find that in defeat they are without Him: this will be their description, “Without God, and without hope in the world.”

3. When Jesus of Nazareth was called to choose between the stream and the river, His decision was prompt and unhesitating (Matthew 4:8-10). Up to the very end of His life His choice seemed to have been a foolish one (Matthew 8:20); on Calvary it seemed to have been madness: but all history since has been a vindication of its wisdom (Philippians 2:9-10).

Verses 6-8


Isaiah 8:6-8. Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, &c.

Reminded, I. That the peaceful blessings of the people of God appear in lovely contrast to the false and tumultuous pursuits and pleasures of the world (H. E. I. 1080–1084, 4163–4168). II. That those who despise and neglect God’s promised blessings expose themselves to His severe displeasure.—Samuel Thodey.

I. The state of mind referred to: A disposition to reject God’s promises of salvation, and rest on the hopes, promises, and resources of the world. We see it manifested,

1. In the systems of religion men prefer.
2. In the schemes of worldly aggrandisement they pursue.
3. In the sources of consolation to which they betake themselves (H. E. I. 174). II. The consequence of continuance in this state of mind.

1. Mental darkness and sorrow of heart.
2. Providential chastisements.—Samuel Thodey.

Verses 11-15


Isaiah 8:9-10. Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces, &c.

This is a shout of triumphant defiance which Ahaz and his people might have raised, had they listened to Isaiah’s counsels, and turned to the Lord with full purpose of heart. Then they might have been threatened by foes numerous, powerful, determined, and confederated, but they would have been safe. Its doctrine clearly is, that it matters not who may be against us, if God be with us. This has been the faith of God’s people in all generations.

I. On what ground does it rest?

1. On what may be regarded as a settled conviction of the human mind, that this world, disordered as it is, is really governed by a righteous Ruler, omnipotent and all-wise, and that it must be well with those who have Him on their side.

2. On the declarations of God’s Word (Genesis 15:1; Psalms 34:7; Isaiah 54:17, &c.)

3. On the experience of His people as recorded in His Word. The promise to Abraham was kept; David (1 Samuel 17:37); Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:32-35); Daniel and his companions (Daniel 6:22; Daniel 3:28); Peter (Acts 12:7). On these accounts His people have felt and expressed the utmost contempt for, and defiance of, their foes (Psalms 27:1-6; Micah 7:8-10). Old as these utterances are, they express the confidence of countless thousands to-day. But, II. Let us look at the grounds that might cause us to hesitate to receive it.

1. There is the undoubted fact that we are living in a world in which many things happen that are contrary to what we would have expected; and it would be only one more contradiction of our à priori expectations if a good man, or a number of good men, were utterly destroyed by a number of bad men.

2. As a matter of fact, this has often happened. Who were “the noble army of martyrs,” but good men who suffered intolerable wrongs, and were put to cruel deaths? If Peter was delivered, James, his fellow-apostle, was left to his fate (Acts 12:2); yea, Peter himself at last died by the hands of the executioner, as did nearly all the Apostles. See what a terrible record of the sufferings of righteous men we have in Hebrews 11:35-37.

III. How are these two sets of facts to be harmonised? How account for it that, notwithstanding the latter set, which are obvious and not denied, it is still the settled conviction of pious and otherwise sensible men, that it shall be well with the righteous?

1. This is undoubtedly true, on the whole. We see what is the teaching of experience, taken on any considerable scale, in the familiar proverb, “Honesty is the best policy.” Deadly as is the conflict between the powers of good and of evil, on the whole, the victory is on the side of goodness, of righteousness, of truth. The world grows better, not worse (H. E. I. 1161, 1162). And it is manifest that “godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well of that which is to come.”

2. The exceptions to which our attention is directed are necessary. Without them the difficulties in the way of the existence and growth of virtue would be immensely increased. If those who served God ran no risk in doing so, it would be as difficult for them to show that they loved Him for His own sake, as it would be for soldiers to prove their bravery, if it were possible to send them forth to battle in absolutely impregnable armour. If the safety assured to God’s people were absolute and without exceptions, there would be no room for the exercise of faith and loyalty.
3. This life is not all. It is but the prelude to our real existence; and for whatever we suffer in God’s cause here, we shall be abundantly compensated hereafter. So that, with Sir Thomas More, we may say, “They may take off my head, but hurt me they cannot.”

This is a plain and sober statement of the facts of this great problem. What are the practical inferences to be drawn from it?

1. Let us dismiss from our minds all fears for the cause of truth and rightcousness. That is safe (2 Corinthians 13:8). God’s Church and God’s Word will survive all the assaults that are made upon them (H. E. I. 642–645, 1246–1251, 2449).

2. Let us not be greatly concerned as to what may happen to ourselves. If God pleases, He can deliver us from any danger that may threaten us. If He is not pleased to do so, He knows how to make our sufferings promote the cause we have at heart. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (P. D. 2421, 2422, 2426).

3. If we are called to suffer, let us rejoice (Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:9; P. D. 2419).


Isaiah 8:11-15. For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, &c. [844]

[844] There was a general panic among the people: “their heart was moved as the trees of the wood are moved by the wind,” when they heard that Syria was confederate with Ephraim; their cry was everywhere, “A confederacy has been made against us, and we must meet it by a counter-alliance with Assyria;” and the prophet says that he too should have fallen under the influence of this panic, if Jehovah had not laid hold of him with a strong hand, to keep him in the way of dependence on Himself, and if He had not taught him to escape the fear which possessed his fellow-countrymen, by making the Lord of hosts his fear and his dread, by sanctifying Him himself, as he now in His Name calls on them to do. To sanctify Jehovah is in mind and practice to recognise Him as the holy God, the Lord who is absolute (absolutus), free from the limitations which hinder all other beings from carrying their wills into full operation, and to believe with the whole heart that God does and can govern all things according to the counsel of His own will, and that what He determines does certainly come to pass, however probabilities and appearances may be against the belief (Numbers 20:12; Deuteronomy 32:51; Isaiah 29:23). To the nation which thus sanctifies Jehovah, He (says Isaiah) will be their sanctuary—their protection against all their enemies. Such was His original covenant with both the houses of Israel, and it still holds good. If, therefore, they will break and renounce it, it becomes a stumbling-block to them. When their statesmen endeavour to remedy present mischief and secure future prosperity, by craftily playing off against one another the nations whom they cannot hope to match by force, they are attempting to go counter to the whole plan of Jehovah’s government, and they will do it only to their own confusion.—Strachey.

God’s people are to be “a peculiar people.” Their whole life is to be governed by divine principles.

1. By these principles they will be saved from the grievous practical heresy of abstention from public life [847] Civilised life, especially in a free community, is a partnership, and no man has a right to take all the advantages of a partnership and evade all its labours and obligations. “Owe no man anything.” We are bound to labour as well as pray, that God’s will may be done on earth as it is done in heaven. The result of abstention on the part of Christian men from public life is the domination of bad men, and the employment of the resources of the community for evil purposes (Psalms 12:8). If we need example in this matter, we have the example of the prophets, who were much more than preachers of a monastic piety: they were active politicians, and yet politicians of an utterly unworldly type.

2. By these principles they will be guided and kept amid all the duties and difficulties of public life. They will be uplifted above party spirit in all its narrow and debasing forms. Theirs will be that true patriotism which consists in a steady loyalty to truth, and righteousness, and mercy.

[847] H. E. I. 4137–4139.

If we are to be Biblical politicians, and this is the duty of every man among us,

I. We shall not necessarily be found on the side of the majority (Isaiah 8:11). How often God’s people have been called to stand in what is called “a miserable minority!” (Exodus 23:2.)

II. We shall not necessarily adopt as our own the popular cries (Isaiah 8:12, [850]). Vox populi is often far other than Vox Dei.

[850] The prophet, and such as were on his side, were not to call that kesher which the great mass of the people called kesher (cf. 2 Chronicles 23:13, “She said, Treason, treason! Kesher, kesher!); … the reference is to the conspiracy, as it was called, of the prophet and his disciples. The same thing happened to Isaiah as to Amos (Amos 7:10) and to Jeremiah. Whenever the prophets were at all zealous in their opposition to the appeal for foreign aid, they were accused and branded as standing in the service of the enemy, and conspiring for the overthrow of the kingdom.—Delitzsch.

III. We shall not necessarily share in the prevalent feelings of our time, whether they be those of fear or of hope (Isaiah 8:13). We shall know that no permanent hurt can be done to our nation while it is in pursuit of righteousness, and that no real advantage can be gained by methods that will not bear the divine scrutiny.

IV. Our supreme desire will be, not to conciliate men, but to please God (Isaiah 8:13). We shall consider all public questions, and vote for, or withhold our vote from, all public men, as in His sight (Hebrews 11:27). This may cause us often to cut ourselves off from our “party,” but this will not trouble us. Hostility may thus be excited against us—will be excited against us, for such “impracticable men” are the abhorrence of mere politicians; but then God Himself will be to us “for a sanctuary” [851]

[851] Mikdash generally means the sanctified place or sanctuary, with which the idea of an asylum would easily associate itself, since even among the Israelites the Temple was regarded and respected as an asylum (1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28).… Mikdash is really to be taken in this sense, although it cannot be exactly rendered “asylum,” since this would improperly limit the meaning of the word. The Temple was not only a place of shelter, but also of grace, blessing, and peace. All who sanctified the Lord of lords He surrounded like temple walls; hid them in Himself, whilst death and tribulation reigned without, and comforted, fed, and blessed them in His own gracious fellowship (chap. Isaiah 4:5-6; Psalms 27:5; Psalms 31:20).—Delitzsch.

V. We shall never lose sight of the fact that the penalty of ungodliness in public life is ruin (Isaiah 8:14-15). The real Ruler of the world is God, who governs it according to a plan of truth, righteousness, and mercy; and every human “policy” which is not consistent therewith, though it may win for its authors a short-lived triumph, will inevitably plunge those who accept it into disaster. From those who fight against God, utter defeat cannot be far off.

When these facts are inwrought into the understandings and consciences of God’s people, and have become influential in their public and political life, much will have been done to usher in the millennium for which we daily pray, and of which Isaiah himself has given us such glowing pictures (chaps. Isaiah 2:4, Isaiah 32:16-17; Isaiah 60:17).

Verse 13


Isaiah 8:13. Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, &c.

I. What is it to “sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself”? It is,

1. To fill our minds with right thoughts concerning Him [854]

2. To fill our hearts with right feelings towards Him (P. D. 1492–1526).

[854] See note (α) to preceding outline: BIBLICAL POLITICIANS.

II. How is this to be done? By frequent, devout, prayerful, intense meditation on the revelations of Himself which He has been pleased to give (H. E. I. 3507–3514).

III. What will be the effect of doing it?

1. All other fear and dread will vanish from our minds (1 Samuel 14:6; 1 Samuel 17:37; Jeremiah 32:17; 1 Peter 3:14-15).

2. Thus we shall unconsciously and inevitably attain to that heroism of which some of us dream (Psalms 16:8; Daniel 3:16-18; Acts 4:19-20).

3. Thus we shall be qualified for the noblest service of God and man (Hebrews 11:24-27; 1 Corinthians 4:3-4).

4. Thus a divine peace and joy will fill our whole being, as a mighty tide fills every nook and cranny of a wide-stretching bay (Psalms 104:34). We shall rejoice in God as a soldier rejoices in a mighty fortress in which he feels secure from all assaults (2 Samuel 22:2-3).

Verse 14


Isaiah 8:14. And He shall be for a sanctuary.

Not a few mourn, in the midst of a busy, bustling age, a loss of sacredness in life. Not the false “sacred”—that which is merely ascetic separation from life and duty; nor that which is merely solemn “sacred”—the dull heavy monotony of gloominess.
We naturally say that if this is God’s world, if civil and civic duties, social responsibilities, are God-ordained, it is likely, at least, that here we may be able to secure a heavenly citizenship amid earthly cares and customs. This is exactly what God reveals in the text. Sanctuary, He says, is not in mere place; not in separation from manly duty: I open up my very nature to you. How often this idea recurs in the Scriptures! God is our refuge and rest, our hiding-place, our dwelling-place.

I. THE SACREDNESS THAT A REVERENT HEARTDESIRES. Something within us asserts its dignity when society is frivolous and gay, and when the routine of life brings us into association with lives where the light even of conscience burns low, when the reverent wonder that filled even Pagan hearts has given place to scientific explanations of every spiritual function. When we are brought into contact with all this, then it is that we find how the high tides of the world cover the little green knolls of devotion, and sweep away alike the altar of prayer and the harp of praise. In all earnest natures there comes, at times, resentment at all this. We believe the divinity within us. We believe the high call of seer and prophet to nobler ends; we believe, above all, that Lord of life and light who tells us that the life is more than meat, and who fed His own life by the mountain prayer and the garden solitude. We should seek to secure the sacredness we feel we need, not in morbid methods, but in ways that are human, and ways that are Divine because they are human. Christ lived and worked amongst men. We, too, may secure sacredness for our lives; we may carry in our mien and breathe in our converse the springs of hope and faith and love which flow still from Zion’s sacred hill.

II. THE SACREDNESS THAT MAKES SANCTUARY IN GOD HIMSELF. “He shall be for a sanctuary.” He whom wicked men dread and flee from; for, as of old, darkness cannot dwell with light, nor irreverence with reverence, nor mammon-worship with devotion to God. We may carry very bad hearts into very beautiful places. Place is easily made unsacred, but into fellowship with God there can enter nothing that is false, or worldly, or vile. “Sanctuary in a person?” Yes; for even here, in this dim sphere of earthly friendship, our best sanctuaries, apart from Christ, have been men and women,—those who bear His likeness, and who do His will. “Sanctuaries?” Yes; for with them we are ashamed of unworthy motive, of impure thought, of unsacred aim. Take Christ with you, and every place is sacred. This is our living sanctuary; we abide in Him who says, “I am He that liveth, and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.” And if by His own Divine nature He is a sanctuary, He is also by experience too. How much the human sanctuary of friendship is beautified when there is oneness of feeling about the battle and burden of life! Is it nothing, then, that when we speak of sanctuary in Christ we should mean “sympathy,” all that belongs to a brother born for adversity—to Him who, as a “Man of Sorrows,” was “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 63:9)? We know indeed but little of the realities of religion unless we have found such a living sanctuary in Christ Jesus the Lord (H. E. I. 968–975).

III. THE SACREDNESS OF ALL THE FUTURE DAYS. “He shall be.” Names vary in interpreting what God is to suit need and experience. We translate the want, and then God’s name is translated to meet it. I am hungry—He is Bread; thirsty—He is water, &c. The word “sanctuary” meets special wants. Life is not always a seeking for a refuge, but it is so especially at certain times and in strange and desolate experiences. We are alone in a strange city. The child must leave home to teach, to toil, to live; the weakness will come which presages decline and death; the soul does feel that some lights are lost to faith and that others are growing dim. He shall be for a sanctuary. Let the hours come: He will come too. Who can make retreat into his own heart and find perfect sanctuary there? Christ alone could do that. We cannot. Nature cannot afford us the sanctuary we need; she has healthy anodynes of atmosphere that afford us deep and quiet retreats, but sanctuary, in the highest sense, she has not. Christ, and He alone, will be now and for ever a sanctuary (H. E. I. 2378–2387).

IV. THE SACREDNESS OF PERSONAL LIFE IN GOD. We can have no safety or rest in Churches as such. They are helpful; they are houses of fellowship and centres of usefulness. But we cannot say, as Mediævalism said, “Enter the Church and be saved.” The soul’s relation to God is personal and individual. Whether the relation of faith is real, vital, each soul can attest for itself; and that living relationship is all that can ever make life sacred to any man. When the life is hid with Christ in God, all is well, for all is sacred; and nothing that He has created us to do or to enjoy is common or unclean. So may God help us to keep a sacred life which finds sanctuary in the Saviour, until we find it where there is no temple, but where there is sanctuary in God (Revelation 21:22-23).—W. M. Statham: Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii. pp. 131–133.

Verses 16-18


Isaiah 8:16-18

In Hebrews 2:13 the commencement of Isaiah 8:18 is quoted as an utterance of the Messiah. This opens up questions concerning the New Testament quotations from the Old which cannot be fully discussed in this commentary. It may suffice to remark that the Spirit inspiring Isaiah was the Spirit of Christ, and that therefore Isaiah’s utterances generally may be regarded as the utterances of Christ; and further, this is especially true in those cases in which there is a close similarity in the position occupied by the great prophet of the Messiah and the Messiah Himself. At times Isaiah appears to be merely the spokesman of the Messiah; but in others, while his words had their ultimate and highest fulfilment in Christ, they were primarily true of himself, and this appears to be the case here.

There are times when a nation goes utterly wrong, politically, socially, and, as the root of all the evil, religiously. God is forgotten, and the people give themselves over to purposes of ambition or of sensual pleasure. It is a time of formalism and pharisaism, of infidelity and blasphemy, of luxury and vice. So strong is this current of evil that it seems a hopeless and foolish thing for any man or body of men to resist it. What, then, is the prophet or faithful preacher to do? Prudence counsels compliance with the prevailing temper (2 Chronicles 18:12), or at least a temporary silence. Shall he listen to prudence, and bid principle wait for a more fitting season? Nay, but—

I. Let him betake himself in prayer to God (Isaiah 8:16). Let him pray especially that Divine truth may be kept in the hearts of the few who have been led to receive it [863]

[863] I agree with Vitringa, Drechsler, and others in regarding Isaiah 8:16 as the prophet’s own prayer to Jehovah. We “bind”—tie together—what we wish to keep from getting separated and lost; we “seal” what is to be kept secret, and only opened by a person duly qualified. And so the prophet here prayed that Jehovah would take his testimony with regard to the future, and his intimation, which was designed to prepare for the future that testimony and thorah which the great mass, in their hardness, did not understand, and in their self-hardening despised, and lay them up well secured and well preserved, as if by bond and seal, in the hearts of those who received the prophet’s words with loving obedience. For it would be all over with Israel unless a community of believers should be preserved, and all over with the community if the word of God, which was the ground of their life, should be allowed to slip out of their hearts.—Delitzsch.

II. Let him wait upon God with immovable confidence that His truth shall yet prevail in the earth (Isaiah 8:17). Thus did the Primitive Christians, the Puritans, and the Covenanters in the evil days in which they lived.

III. Let him recognise and glory in the position he occupies (Isaiah 8:18). He and his spiritual children are God’s witnesses (Isaiah 44:8); what position could be more honourable? Let them not shrink from its conspicuousness (Philippians 2:15); let them not be disheartened by the singularity it involves (H. E. I. 1042–1045, 3906, 3914; P. D. 1188). Amid all that is depressing and threatening in the position to which they have been Divinely called, let them remember their Lord’s declarations (Matthew 10:32; Revelation 3:5).

Verse 17


Isaiah 8:17. And I will wait upon the Lord, &c.

I. The characteristic appellation of Jehovah. “The God who hideth Himself” [866]

[866] For details and suggestions under this division, see outline: THE HIDDEN THINGS OF GOD, chap. Isaiah 45:15.

[867] For details and suggestions under this division, see outline: THE HIDDEN THINGS OF GOD, chap. Isaiah 45:15.

[868] For details and suggestions under this division, see outline: THE HIDDEN THINGS OF GOD, chap. Isaiah 45:15.

II. The implied mysteriousness of His dealings with His people. It is not merely from Babylon or Egypt, from Tyre or Nineveh, that He hides His face, but from “the house of Jacob.”

1. The persons referred to may be regarded as typical of the Church. Though descended from Abraham, they were called “the house of Jacob,” to denote that they were a chosen people—a praying people (this at least was true of the best men among them)—a people in whom God delighted.

2. With these persons He dealt in a manner contrary to what we should have expected. Looking only at the relation in which He stood to them, we should have expected that the light of His countenance would have gladdened them continually. Yet He hid Himself; and He frequently hides himself not only from the world, but from the Church; not only from the wicked man, but from the believer. Yet here is a difference: in the one case it is total and constant, in the other it is but partial and temporary. In the one case it is in anger, in the other it is in love (Revelation 3:19).

3. The modes in which He hides Himself.

(1) In the cloud of providential darkness—affliction, bereavement, &c. (Isaiah 1:10).

(2) In the withholding of the conscious enjoyment of religion (Job 15:11; Job 22:2) [869]

[869] For various suggestions and illustrations, see H. E. I. 200, 1644–1659, and P. D. 815.

III. The resolve of the believer under this visitation. In nothing does the grace of God shine more unmistakably than in the way in which the Christian bears trouble. “Behold, this evil is of the Lord; why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” said a wicked man of old; but “I will look unto the Lord, and will wait for Him,” is the prophet’s resolve.

1. As to looking for Him.

(1.) For whom do we look? For our God—our Father—our Friend—our Deliverer.

(2.) Where shall we look for Him? He is near, though concealed. Then look for Him in Christ, in whom He is reconciling the world unto Himself, in whom He is well pleased even with us. Look for Him in His promises—in His ordinances—in your closet.

(3.) How shall we look for Him? With faith—zeal—energy—determination (Job 35:10; Jeremiah 29:13).

2. As to waiting for Him. This is a state of mind frequently enjoined and commended in the Bible. Waiting implies faith—desire—patience (P. D. 2643). When you have found Him, fall at His feet and confess your unworthiness. Resolve to follow Him fully. Cleave to Him with purpose of heart Pray, “Abide with me!”—George Smith, D.D.


Isaiah 8:17. And I will wait upon the Lord, &c.

Believers are in the Scriptures abundantly encouraged to wait upon God (Psalms 37:14; Isaiah 25:9). In Psalms 62:5, it is suggested that this waiting upon God is connected with hopeful expectation of receiving a blessing. The same truth is taught us by our Lord in His parable on prayer (Luke 18:1-8). However long God delays, we must wait expectantly. In our text, however, we have the idea of waiting upon God while He is hiding His face from His people. The very possibility that He should assume this attitude towards us is depressing, and not unfrequently in our religious exercises we are haunted by the fear that this is the attitude He has assumed towards us. Through fears and doubts that intercept our vision of Him, we look up to see the face of our Father, and behold only a cloud! In such a case our faith needs quickening, that our hopes may be raised and our courage renewed. The following thoughts may conduce to this end. I. God does not hide His face from us because His blessings have diminished (Isaiah 40:26-31; Jeremiah 2:13; Jeremiah 17:13). II. God does not hide His face from us on account of any weariness in His love (John 13:1; Isaiah 49:15). III. God does not hide His face from us because of any caprice in His nature (James 1:16-17). IV. If God does hide His face from us, it is only on account of our sinfulness. This is the dark atmosphere in which God becomes lost to us (chap. Isaiah 49:1-2). V. Consequently, if God’s face is hidden from us, it is at once our only hope and our positive duty to wait upon Him (James 4:8). Let us wait for Him and look for Him.

1. Penitently.
2. Believingly.
3. Patiently. Then will the Lord turn us again; He will cause His face to shine upon us, and we shall be saved.—William Manning.

Verses 19-22


Isaiah 8:19-22. Seek unto them, &c.

As bearing upon the doctrine of necromancy, an exhaustive discussion of these verses would involve the following points:

1. Under the instigation of a prurient curiosity, or under the pressure of affliction, godless men are wont to seek knowledge and help from the spirits of the dead.
2. Hence, in every age of the world and in every nation of universal history, there have been necromancers, wizards, &c., known by various names, practising various arts of divination and legerdemain; playing with the credulity of men and women, and claiming access to supernatural knowledge and power. The spirits of modern times are the latest species of this genus of necromancers.
3. This passage implies irresistibly that God frowns upon and condemns necromancy in whatever form.
4. The expostulations, rebukes, and threatenings of the Lord, through His prophet in this passage, assumes it to be impossible for man to get knowledge or help for the living from the dead. The power of God to send back to earth the spirits of the dead is quite another thing; yet as to this the practical question is—Does He see fit to use it?

5. Hence, to discard the light of God’s revealed Word and to seek light and help from the dead, is to hurl oneself against the impermeable and impassable wall with which God has shut in the living of our world, and involves both positive conflict against God and contemptuous rejection of His Divine Word.
6. As Satan has a natural sympathy with everything abhorrent to God and ruinous to man, we ought to look for his hand in these agencies of necromancy, to whatever extent God may give him scope and range for action. What these limits may be, who can tell? It is man’s wisdom to keep himself utterly aloof from the sphere of Satan’s agencies and temptations.
7. Necromancers and spirits practically league themselves with Satan against God, and should be aware that his lot must be theirs, and their end be as their works, no dawn of day ever breaking forth on the midnight of their gloom.—Henry Cowles, D.D. Commentary on Isaiah, pp. 68, 69.

Verse 20


Isaiah 8:20. To the law and to the testimony, &c.

This was one of the watchwords of the Reformation, and since then it has been a favourite text with Protestants. The noble Sixth Article of the Church of England [872] is but an expansion of it. It assumes that there is one standard of truth, one infallible oracle, to which in all their moral perplexities and spiritual difficulties, it is the wisdom, if not the duty, of all men to appeal. And we are persuaded that we have this standard, this oracle, in the Bible (H. E. I. 543). If men neglect it,—if they strive to construct a creed or direct their conduct without it, two things are certain:

1. They lack the knowledge and wisdom essential to success in life. Their neglect of it shows that they have no light in them [875]

2. There await them disappointment, disaster, and despair. This is the teaching of the other beautiful translation which many eminent scholars have adopted: “To the teaching of God, and to the testimony! If they do not according to this word, they are a people for whom no morning dawns” (H. E. I. 641).

[872] “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”
[875] Just as it would be conclusive proof of ignorance of geology if a prospecting party of miners left unexplored the very spot concerning which the character of the rocks and soil cried loudly, Gold! Or if some professional man, perplexed by a serious and embarrassing case, should leave unconsulted the standard works containing the solution of the problem.

Here also may be quoted the declaration of the Westminster Assembly of divines:—
“VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are so ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded or offered in some scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.…
X. The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”—The Confession of Faith.

Here also may be quoted the declaration of the Westminster Assembly of divines:—
“VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are so ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded or offered in some scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.…
X. The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”—The Confession of Faith.

Here also may be quoted the declaration of the Westminster Assembly of divines:—
“VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are so ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded or offered in some scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.…
X. The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”—The Confession of Faith.

“But all who consult the Bible do not obtain from it sure guidance: the proof of this is the differences among those who consult it, both as to belief and practice. In support of the most absurd doctrines and the most pernicious practices, the authority of Scripture is claimed.” True, but the error lies not in “the law,” but in the men who refer to it [878] If the Bible is to be really helpful to us, we must consult it honestly (H. E. I. 573, 574, 4854). Humbly (H. E. I. 387–389, 562–567, 587, 599). With a constant recognition of our help of the Holy Spirit (H. E. I. 622, 623, 2877–2882). Prayerfully (H. E. I. 570, 571, 598, 4856). Diligently (H. E. I. 576–580; P.D. 315). Intelligently

(1) In regard to the subjects concerning which we seek instruction (H. E. I. 540–542, 558–560).
(2.) In regard to our interpretation [881] and application of its utterances (H. E. I. 544–550, 568, 569). The man who thus uses the Bible [884] will be cheered as he advances in life by a dawn that will brighten and broaden into perfect day. He will be led by it to Christ, “The Light of the world,” and following Him in loving obedience and unswerving loyalty, he will find the declaration for ever true, “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

[878] Lawyers and doctors, professedly consulting the standard works of their profession, have misled their clients and killed their patients; but the fault has not been in those standard works, but in the men who failed to use them aright. Bradshaw’s Railway Guide is not a safe guide in the hands of every traveller.
[881] The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.—The Confession of Faith.

[884] The Holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that He only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence and atention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.—The Larger Catechism.

Verse 21


Isaiah 8:21, and Isaiah 9:13. And they shall pass through it, &c.

I. Sin leads to suffering.

1. This is true of individuals (H. E. I. 4603–4612). But because there is another life and a future retribution, the full results of sin are frequently not seen in this life. Nay, the sinner often appears prosperous even to the end (Psalms 73:3-5).

2. But in the case of nations, which as such have no immortality, it is otherwise (P. D. 2544); it is more prompt; it is often exceedingly terrible. This fact should make those who have any love for their children hostile to any national policy that is unrighteous, however politically “expedient” it may seem.

II. There is in suffering no sanctifying power. God may use it as a means of arresting the careless, or of making good men better, but there is in it no certain reformative energy. On the contrary, it may harden men in iniquity [887]

[887] See outline: MORAL OBDURACY, p. 16.

III. Suffering does nothing in itself to abate God’s anger against sinners. We, when we are wronged, often yield to a passion of vindictiveness, which is sated when we have succeeded in inflicting a certain amount of pain on the wrong-doer. But God’s anger is not vindictive, but righteous (H. E. I. 2288–2294); hence its terribleness. As it does not thirst for suffering, it is not satisfied by suffering. As long as the sinner holds to his sin, God’s anger will burn against him, irrespective altogether of the suffering he may have endured. Nothing will turn away that anger but a genuine repentance (Isaiah 9:13).

1. In the hour of temptation, let us think of sin not as it then presents itself to us, but as it will certainly appear to us when its results are manifested (H. E. I. 4673–4676).
2. When suffering has come upon us, let us regard it as God’s summons to repentance (H. E. I. 56–59); and let us obey it with thankfulness that God is willing to deal with us in the way of mercy.

(Missionary Sermon.)

Isaiah 9:2-7. The people that walked in darkness, &c.

The prophecies contained in this text are of a mixed kind; they are partly fulfilled and partly unfulfilled. We have the authority of the Evangelists to apply the passage to Gospel times, and to prevent it from being restricted to the Jews (Matthew 4:14-16; Luke 1:79; Luke 2:32). Let us consider—

I. The view taken by the Prophet of the moral state of the world previous to the glorious change which makes the subject of his prophecy.

1. The people are represented as walking in darkness. Darkness is an emblem of ignorance and error; and an emblem the most striking [890]

2. But darkness alone appears to the mind of the Prophet only a faint emblem of the state of the heathen: he adds, therefore, “the shadow of death.” In Scripture this expression is used for the darkness of that subterranean mansion into which the Jews supposed the souls of men went after death. Figuratively, the expression is used for great distress; a state of danger and terror. It is an amplification, therefore, of the Prophet’s thought. The predominant idea is that of a sense of insecurity, accompanied by fear. Darkness increases danger and fear at the same time. Such is the state of the heathen. The religion of the heathen has ever been gloomy and horrible.

3. The Prophet adds another note of the state of the heathen: Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy [893] He beholdeth them increasing in number only to multiply their misery [896] Universal experience proves that misery is multiplied when God and truth are unknown. In this case there is no redeeming principle; the remedy is lost; despair completes the wretchedness of the people, and were it not for the prospects opened by the Gospel, that despair would be final and absolute. Here, however, the text breaks upon us with a glorious and cheering view. The Prophet beholds a light rising in obscurity; a great light dispels the heavy gloom; comfort, joy, and salvation dawn upon the earth (Isaiah 8:2).

[890] As the pall of darkness is drawn over the world, the fair face of nature fades from the sight; every object becomes indistinct, or is wholly obscured, and all that can cheer the sight or direct the steps of man vanishes. So the gradual accumulation of religious errors, thickening with every age, banished the knowledge of God and His truth from the understandings of men, till all that was sublime in speculation, cheering to the heart, supporting to the hopes, or directive to the actions of men, passed away from the soul, and left the intellectual world like that of nature when deprived of light. The heaven of the soul was hung with blackness, and “their foolish heart was darkened.”—Watson.

[893] Alexander and several other modern scholars read: “Thou hast enlarged the nation, Thou hast increased its joy,” understanding the Prophet to mean that the true Israel had been increased by the calling of the Gentiles, and that this increase had been a cause of great gladness.

[896] If the Prophet speaks of the Jewish people, he declares a fact remarkably striking. One of the blessings promised to their founder, Abraham, was, that his seed should be multiplied as the stars of heaven and the sands of the sea-shore. But that which was designed as a blessing, and is described as such in the promise, was made a curse by the wickedness of the Jews. For what end, in the former periods of their history, did they multiply, but to furnish food for captives, slaughter, and oppression? In later times, they have multiplied, and spread themselves over the world; but their joy has not been increased. Degraded in character, and despised by the nations where they sojourn, without a country, a temple, or a sacrifice, they bear, like Cain, the marks of God’s curse, are vagabonds in the earth, preserved to warn us of the just severity of God.
There is nothing, however, in the connection to induce us to suppose that the Prophet particularly contemplated the Jewish nation. The same thing must be affirmed of every nation that abandons itself to wickedness. When nations are multiplied, their political strength is increased; and happiness would be multiplied too, were it not for sin. But in wicked nations the “joy is not increased.” This negative expression signifies the misery is increased. God has not added His blessing; and there is no joy.—Watson.

II. On this blessed visitation we would now fix your attention.

1. As darkness is an emblem of the religious sorrow which had overcast the world, so light is an emblem of the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is “light.”

(1.) This marks its origin from heaven.
(2.) This notes its truth. It is fitting that what is truth, without mixture of error, should be compared to what is the most simple substance in nature.
(3.) It is called “light” because of its penetrating and subtle nature.
(4.) Because of the discoveries which it makes.
(5.) Because it is life and health to the world.
2. As in the vision light succeeds to darkness, so also joy succeeds to fear and misery (Isaiah 8:3). The joy here described is no common feeling; it is the joy of harvest, the joy of victory. The effect of the diffusion of the Gospel in producing joy is a constant theme of prophecy (chap. Isaiah 24:16; Psalms 98:8; Luke 2:10). True joy, as yet, there is none upon a large scale; of sorrow and sighing the world has ever been full; and as long as it remains in this state, even sighs might fail rather than cause to sigh. Even that which is called joy is mockery and unreal, an effort to divert a pained and wounded mind; it gleams like a transient light, only to make men more sensible of the darkness. As long as the world is wicked it must be miserable. All attempts to increase happiness, except by diminishing wickedness and strengthening the moral principle, are vain. The Gospel is the grand cure of human woe. When it has spread to the extent seen by the Prophet, a sorrowing world shall dry up its tears, and complaint give place to praise (Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 32:17). They shall joy as in victory, for the rod of the grand oppressor shall be broken; Satan shall fall, his reign be terminated; and one universal, transporting “Hallelujah” ascend from every land, to the honour of Him by whom the victory is achieved.

III. So vast a change must be produced by causes proportionably powerful; and to the means by which this astonishing revolution is effected, the Prophet next directs our attention (Isaiah 8:4-5). These words speak of resistance and a struggle. He that expects the conversion of the world without the most zealous application and perseverance among God’s agents, and opposition from His enemies, has not counted the cost. In the conduct of this battle two things distinguish it from every other contest: The absolute weakness and insufficiency of the assailants [899] and their miraculous success. A remembrance of these things encourages us in our missionary operations. If our plans had been applauded by the wisdom of this world, there would have been too much of man in them, and we might have doubted the result (Judges 7:2). The victory shall be eminently of God. For the battle shall be, not “with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood, but with burning and fuel of fire.” The demonstration of the Spirit, the power of God, is here compared to fire. The Spirit, in His saving operations, is always in Scripture compared to the most powerful principles in nature—to the rain and dew, to wind, to thunder, to fire. All these images denote His efficiency and the suddenness of the success; and the extent of the benefit shall proclaim the victory to be the Lord’s. We have seen the effect of this vital influence at home; and we may, in some degree, conjecture what will be done abroad. Yet perhaps something very remarkable may take place, as is intimated in the text; some peculiar exertion of the Divine power upon the mind of the world.

[899] The weakness and insignificance of the instruments used in breaking the rod and yoke of the oppressor is sufficiently marked by the allusion to the destruction of the host of Midian by Gideon and his three hundred men. The family of Gideon was poor in Manasseh, and he was the least of his father’s house; the number of men assigned him was contemptible; their weapons were no better than an earthen pitcher, a torch, and a trumpet; the men who dreamed of Gideon dreamed of him under the image of a barley-cake. All this meanness was adopted that the deliverance of Israel might appear to be the work of God; and this is the manner in which He has ever wrought in the revival and spread of godliness in the world. Who were the instruments of spreading true religion in the Apostolic age, we know; they were the despised fishermen of Galilee. Feeble and unpromising instruments have also been employed in subsequent revivals; and from the conformity of the present missionary system of this model we augur well of future success.—Watson.

IV. But it may be said, “Is not all this a splendid vision? You speak of weak instruments effecting a miraculous success; of the display and operation of a supernatural power touching the hearts of men and changing the moral state of the world, but what is the ground of this expectation? This natural and very proper question our text answers (Isaiah 8:6-7). In these verses we have the grounds of that expectation of success which we form as to missionary efforts. The plan of Christianising the world is not ours; it was laid in the mind of God before the world was. The principal arrangements of the scheme are not left to us, but are already fixed by the infinite wisdom of God. The part we fill is very subordinate; and we expect success, not for the wisdom or the fitness of the means themselves, but because they are connected with mightier motives, whose success is rapid, and whose direction is divine; because God has formed a scheme of universal redemption, to be gradually but fully developed; because He has given gifts to the world, the value of which is in every age to be more fully demonstrated; and because He has established offices in the person of Christ, which He is qualified to fill to the full height of the Divine idea (text).

Our text has set before us the moral misery of the human race; the purpose of God to remove it by the diffusion of His truth and grace; the means chosen for this purpose; and the ground of that certain success which must attend the application of the prescribed means under the Divine blessing. It now only remains for me to invite you to such a co-operation in this great work as your own ability and the importance of the enterprise demand.—Richard Watson, “Works,” vol. iv. pp. 206–224.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/isaiah-8.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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