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Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees
Crime under colour of law
The prophet has described the sins of Ephraim in a general manner; but on the mention of Judah he proceeds to denounce what we know from the whole tenor of his discourses he felt to be the worst form of the guilt of his own people, with a particularity which it is perhaps not fanciful to attribute to his thoughts being now directed homewards.
The Ten Tribes were far more ferocious and anarchical than the men of Judah; there are more indications in the latter of that national respect for law which so characterises the English, that it has been observed (by Lord Campbell), that though history attributes to us our share in national wickedness, our crimes have almost always been committed under colour of law, and not by open violence,--as in the series of judicial murders in the reigns of Henry VIII, Charles II, and James II. And thus Isaiah, recurring to Judah, denounces the utmost severity of God’s wrath in the day in which He, the righteous Judge, shall come to visit “an hypocritical nation,” whose nobles and magistrates decree, and execute, unrighteous decrees,--“to turn aside the needy from judgment,” etc. (verse 2). They are satisfied, that they are safe in their heartless selfishness, with peace at home and protection abroad restored by their statecraft and their alliance with Assyria. But while they thus rejoice at home, “desolation cometh from afar.” To whom will they fly for help when God has abandoned them? Under whose protection will they leave their wealth, their dignities, their glory, which they have been heaping up for themselves? Captivity or death are the only prospects before them. And yet, as though no judgments could sufficiently condemn and punish their utter wickedness, me prophet repeats--“For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand stretched out still.” (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
God against all unrighteousness
The Lord’s voice is always for righteousness, What is it that is denounced? It the very thing that is to be denounced evermore. There is nothing local or temporary in this cause of Divine offence. The Lord is against all unrighteous decrees, unnatural alliances, and evil compacts. This is the very glory of the majesty of omnipotence, that it is enlisted against even form of evil and wrong. Then, “Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed”--scribes or registrars who preserve all the forms of the court, and keep their pens busy upon the court register, writing down every case, and appearing to do the business correctly and thoughtfully; and yet, all the while, these very registrars were themselves plotting “to take away the right from the poor, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless.” The court of law was turned into a means of robbery, as it is in nearly every country under the sun. The scribes who wrote down the law were men who secretly or overtly broke it; the judge used his ermine as a cloak, that under its concealment he might thrust his hand farther into the property of those who had no helper. “For all this His auger is not turned away.” Blessed be His name! Oh, burn Thou against us all; mighty, awful, holy God, burn more and more, until we learn by fire what we can never learn by pity. The Lord speaks evermore for the poor, for the widow, for the fatherless, for the helpless. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Oppressors of the poor and needy
I. THE INDICTMENT drawn up against these oppressors (Isaiah 10:1-2). They are charged--
1. With making wicked laws and edicts. Woe to the superior powers that devise and decree these decrees; they are not too high to be under the Divine check; and woe to the inferior officers that draw them up, and enter them upon record, “the writers that write the grievousness,” they are not too mean to be within the Divine cognisance. Principal and accessories shall fall under the same woe.
2. With perverting justice in the execution of the laws that were made. No people had statutes and judgments” so righteous as they had; and yet corrupt judges found ways to turn aside the needy from judgment, to hinder them from coming at their right.
3. With enriching themselves by oppressing those that lay at their mercy, whom they ought to have protected.
II. A CHALLENGE given them, with all their pride and power, to outface the judgments of God (Isaiah 10:3). Will there not come a desolation upon those that have made others desolate? Perhaps it may come from far, and therefore may he long in coming, but it will come at last. Reprieves are not pardons.
1. There is a day of visitation coming, a day of inquiry and discovery, a searching day which will bring to light, to a true light, every man and every man’s work.
2. The day of visitation will be a day of desolation to all wicked people, when all their comforts and hopes will be lost and gone.
3. Impenitent sinners will be utterly at a loss, and will not know what to do in the day of visitation and desolation.
4. It concerns us all seriously to consider what we shall do in the day of visitation--in a day of affliction, in the day of death and judgment, and to provide that we may do well.
III. SENTENCE PASSED UPON THEM, by which they are doomed, some to imprisonment and captivity. (Matthew Henry.)
I. MAGISTRATES AND RULERS ARE ANSWERABLE TO GOD.
II. THEIR DECISIONS WILL BE REVISED.
III. THEIR DECISIONS WILL IN MANY INSTANCES BE REVERSED.
IV. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR INJUSTICE WILL RETURN BACK UPON THEMSELVES. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
(Taxation of Henry VIII):--In every county a tenth was demanded from the laity and a fourth from the clergy by the royal commissioners. But the demand was met by a general resistance . . . A revolt actually broke out among the weavers of Suffolk; the men of Cambridge banded for resistance; the Norwich clothiers, though they yielded at first, soon threatened to rise. “Who is your captain?” the Duke of Norfolk asked the crowd. “His name is Poverty,” was the answer, “for he and his cousin Necessity have brought us to this doing.” There was, in fact, a general strike of the employers. Cloth makers discharged their workers, farmers put away their servants. “They say the king asketh so much that they be not able to do as they have done before this time.” Such a peasant insurrection as was raging in Germany was only prevented by the unconditional withdrawal of the royal demand. (J. R. Green’s English People.)
And what will ye do in the day of visitation?
The day of visitation
In Scripture style the season in which God is pleased to draw near to a person or people, that He may accomplish various important purposes, is called a day of visitation.
1. Sometimes His visitation is intended to afford deliverance and consolation to the oppressed, by extricating them from servitude and misery, and introducing them into a happy and comfortable condition. In this sense the Lord is said to have visited His people Israel, when He delivered them from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 4:31); and to have visited and redeemed His people when He bestowed upon them the greatest mercy (Luke 1:68).
2. Sometimes it is designed to manifest His tender care and constant inspection of His people, over whom He exerciseth the most vigilant attention, that He may effectually promote their best interests (Psalms 89:32). Such times are indeed days of visitation, wherein God sensibly draws near with the proofs of His kindness and favour, which He most undeservedly confers; and in which He appears with His rod of correction, that He may administer necessary chastisements, and restore those who had forsaken His laws from their wanderings.
3. At other times, God visits those who have not profited by the many warnings they have received, nor repented of the sins they have committed, notwithstanding the repeated corrections that He hath administered, to execute upon them desolating judgments and terrible vengeance Jeremiah 5:9). In this last sense, I suppose, the day of visitation is here meant. (R. Macculloch.)
The day of visitation
So far from God having abandoned the world, He is continually calling it to account. Not only has He fixed in His eternal mind a period of final visitation, but days of visitation are repeatedly coming. And who knows how many may come to us?
I. THE SOLEMN PERIOD SPOKEN OF. God is said to “visit” men when He comes to them, or reveals Himself, either in mercy or judgment. Christ Himself calls the days of His ministry among the Jews the day of their visitation--their Gospel day of mercy. But the term, as used in our text, is to be understood in the contrary sense, to denote a period of judgment. There are several periods which are days of Divine visitation.
1. The day of trouble.
2. The day of affliction.
3. The day of death.
4. The day of judgment.
II. THE SOUL-AWAKENING APPEAL MADE. ‘What will ye do? To whom will ye flee for help?” This language implies that something has need to be done--that help will be required. Self-sufficient as we may wish to thinkourselves when all is bright, whenever either of the days of Divine visitation comes, we shall find that “help” will be needed in order to stand the trial well. If so, what will you do?
1. What in the day of trouble? Many are then overwhelmed thereby; in these circumstances many die in despair, fade away in melancholy, or lay violent hands on themselves. When every draught of life’s cup is the very gall of bitterness, where will ye go for sweetness?
2. Should afflictive visitations come on, what then will ye do? You may flee to the physician, but he can do no more than the God means may permit him.
3. And then, when the day of dissolution, that awful day of “visitation” comes, what will ye do? Will you send for your minister to pray for you? But what avail his prayers, if your do not pray for yourself?
4. And when the last great day--that day of all days--comes, oh, what then shall we do? And where shall we flee for help? Now, bring all this to a point.
(1) Settle it in your minds that days of visitation will come.
(2) How necessary, now in the time of our merciful visitation of Gospel offers and encouragements, to make the Almighty God our friend by faith in Christ.
(3) If we do not, must we not expect to be abandoned and left to everlasting ruin, without help or hope? (Essex Remembrancer.)
What will ye do in the day of visitation?
However wicked men may flatter themselves, or be flattered by others, God will not do it.
I. Let us notice TWO OR THREE PARTICULARS CONTAINED IN THE TEXT, before we pursue the principal inquiry.
1. The persons originally addressed were the children of Israel, a rebellious people; but the words are applicable to sinners of every description.
2. For the people of Israel “a day of visitation” was appointed, and the same may be said of us. There are days Of visitation to individuals as well as to whole nations.
II. PURSUE THE PRINCIPAL INQUIRY: “What will ye do?” etc.
1. Will you plead and expostulate with God? At a throne of grace the sinner may indeed plead with God, but what arguments will avail at the tribunal of His justice?
2. Will you attempt to resist Him!
3. Will you fly from Him! Whither?
4. Will you harden yourselves against Him; and seeing you cannot escape punishment, endeavour to support yourselves under it as well as you can; saying, with impenitent Israel, “Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it”? Jeremiah 10:19). “Who can stand before His indignation?” (JoelNa 1:2-6).
5. Will you cast yourselves at His feet, and adopt the humble and submissive language of David: “If He say, I have no delight in thee, here am I; let Him do to me as seemeth good in His sight”? This certainly would be highly proper, before the decree is gone forth, and such humiliation would be accepted; but it cannot be done afterwards, or if done, it would not avail Propose then to yourselves another question: What shall I do before this day of visitation come, that I may avoid the tremendous consequences? (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The day of visitation and preparation for it
I. A DAY OF VISITATION IS COMING UPON ALL MEN.
II. IT IS OF THE GREATEST IMPORTANCE TO BE PREPARED FOR THIS DAY.
1. Because your happiness, when the day of visitation comes, will depend upon it.
2. It will be positive misery to be unprepared.
3. You have an invaluable treasure in peril.
4. If you come to judgment unprepared it will be too late forever.
III. GOD IN HIS MERCY PRESSES THIS SOLEMN QUESTION UPON OUR SERIOUS AND DEVOUT CONSIDERATION.
1. It appears clear that God does sincerely desire the happiness of all men.
2. His thus pressing this solemn thought upon men’s consideration shows that they are unwilling to obey God.
3. Man’s want of happiness is entirely with himself and not with God. (N. M. Harry.)
Where will ye leave your glory?--
The vanity of earthly glory
The principal word in this short question seems, by its very sound, to bring before the mind indistinctly, a vision of something great and magnificent, yet unsubstantial and vain. When we bring our thoughts upon it more distinctly, we recognise it as the most conspicuous favourite term of heathenism. We mean a heathenism of all times and countries; that action and passion of the human mind, by which notions and feelings of greatness, transcendent value, have been attached to certain things of but imaginary worth; which things have been coveted, adored, toiled for, fought for, lived for, died for--as glory. “Glory,” therefore, has been the name of vanity turned into a god. And how vast the dominion of this idolatrous delusion! What it consists of--the world’s glory--is readily apprehended. That a man be conspicuous among and above his fellow mortals; be much observed, admired, even envied as being that which they cannot be.
I. Where will ye LEAVE your glory? It is, then, after all, not really united to the man. He expends the ardour of his soul to combine it with his being--to make it his very substance--but it is extraneous still! He may have to go where it will not accompany him.
II. And WHERE will they leave their glory? Where, that it can in any sense continue to be theirs--theirs, for any beneficial or gratifying effect to them? What will it be to them how it falls to other mortals? Nothing is more mournful than parting with what is passionately loved, under a perfect certainty of possessing it no more.
III. As the concluding part of these meditations, let us briefly APPLY THEM TO SEVERAL OF THE FORMS OF THIS WORLD’S GLORY. There is presented a Christian, a heavenly, an eternal glory. When the lovers of glory are invited to this, and scorn it, and reject it, what is it that they take?
1. The most common form of the idolised thing is--what may be called the material splendour of life; that which immediately strikes the senses. But they must leave their glory.
2. It is, in part, a different and additional form of the world’s glory, when we mention elevated rank in society. All know how vehemently coveted and envied is this glory,--how elated, for the most part, the possessors of it feel. But the thought of leaving it! With what a grim and ghostly aspect this thought must appear, when it will sometimes intrude!
3. The possession of power is perhaps the idol supreme; to have at control, and in complete subjection, the action and the condition of numbers of mankind; to see the crowd, whether in heart obsequious or rebellious, practically awed, submissive, obedient. But it is not that voice that is long to command!
4. We might have named martial glory,--the object of the most ardent aspiration, and of the most pernicious idolatry. There is often an utter delusion in this expectation.
5. In the last place might be named intellectual glory,--that of knowledge, talent, and great mental performance. If, in that passion for renown, you have exerted great powers of mind to do fatal mischief--to overwhelm truth--to corrupt the morals--to explode religion--to degrade the glory of the Redeemer--what then? If you can, in that world, have any vital sympathy with your fame, your influence remaining in this, the consequence would but be a quick continual succession of direful shocks, conveyed to your living spirit from what your works are doing here. Contrast with all them forms of folly, the predominant aim of a Christian--which is “glory” still; but a glory which he will not have to leave; aglory accumulating for him in the world to which he is going. (John Foster.)
“Ho Asshur,” the name both of the people and its national god.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
The judgment of the world power
The leading idea of the passage is the contrast between the mission assigned to Assyria in the scheme of Jehovah’s providence, and the ambitious policy of universal dominion cherished by the rulers of that empire, Assyria was the instrument chosen by Jehovah to manifest His sole Deity by the extinction of all the nationalities that put their trust in false gods. But the great world power, intoxicated by its success, and attributing this to its own wisdom and resource, recognises no difference between Jehovah and other gods, but confidently reckons on proving His impotence by the subjugation of His land and people. Hence, it becomes necessary for Jehovah to vindicate His supreme Godhead by the destruction of the power which has thus impiously transgressed the limits of His providential commission. And this judgment will take plebe at the very moment when Assyria seeks to crown its career of conquest by an assault on Jehovah’s sanctuary on Mount Zion, the earthly seat of His government. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Assyria an instrument of vengeance
We must not omit the reflection that this was a terrible thing for Assyria. What man likes to be an instrument through which righteousness will punish some other man! Who would willingly accept a calling and election so severe? (J. Parker, D. D.)
Nations instruments in the hands of God
What are the nations but instruments in the hands of Him who made them? So we are puzzled and perplexed by many an imperial policy; we do not like it, and yet still it proceeds to work out all its mysterious issues--now severe, now beneficent. We are in tumult and darkness and perplexity, thick and that cannot be disentangled; and how seldom we realise the fact that all this may be a Divine movement, clouding of the Divine presence, and an outworking of Divine and eternal purposes. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Our Assyria may be the world
Our Assyria may be the world in Christ’s sense, that flood of successful, heartless, unscrupulous, scornful forces which burst on our innocence, with their challenge to make terms and pay tribute, or go down straightway in the struggle for existence . . . It is useless to think that we common men cannot possibly sin after the grand manner of this imperial monster. In our measure we fatally can. In this commercial age private persons very easily rise to a position of influence which gives almost as vast a stage for egotism to display itself as the Assyrian boasted. But after all the human Ego needs very little room to develop the possibilities of atheism that are in it. An idol is an idol, whether you put it on a small or a large pedestal. A little man with a little work may as easily stand between himself and God as an emperor with the world at his feet. Forgetfulness that he is a servant, a trader on graciously intrusted capital--and then at the best an unprofitable one--is not less sinful in a small egoist than in a great one; it is only very much more ridiculous than Isaiah, with his scorn, has made it to appear in the Assyrian. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Our Assyria may be the forces of nature
Our Assyria may be the forces of nature, which have swept upon the knowledge of this generation with the novelty and impetus with which the northern hosts burst across the horizon of Israel. Men today, in the course of their education, become acquainted with laws and forces which dwarf the simpler theologies of their boyhood, pretty much as the primitive beliefs of Israel dwindled before the arrogant face of Assyria. The alternative confronts them either to retain, with a narrowed and fearful heart, their old conceptions of God, or to find their enthusiasm in studying, and their duty in relating themselves to, the forces of nature alone. If this be the only alternative, there can be no doubt but that most men will take the latter course. We ought as little to wonder at men of today abandoning certain theologies and forms of religion for a downright naturalism--for the study of powers that appeal so much to the curiosity and reverence of man--as we wonder at the poor Jews of the eighth century before Christ forsaking their provincial conceptions of God as a tribal Deity for homage to this great Assyrian who handled the nations and their gods as his playthings. But is such the only alternative? Is there no higher and sovereign conception of God, in which even these natural forces may find their explanation and term? Isaiah found such a conception for his problem, and his problem was very similar to ours. Beneath his idea of God, exalted and spiritual, even the imperial Assyrian, in all his arrogance, fell subordinate and serviceable. The prophet’s faith never wavered, and in the end was vindicated by history. Shall we not at least attempt his method of solution? We could not do better than by taking his factors. Isaiah got a God more powerful than Assyria, by simply exalting the old God of his nation in righteousness. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Howbeit he meaneth not so
Man proposes, but God disposes
“He meaneth not so.
1. The wise God often makes even the sinful passions and projects of men subservient to His own great and holy purposes.
2. When God makes use of men as instruments in His hands to do His work, it is very common for Him to mean one thing, and them to mean another; nay, for them to mean quite contrary to what He intends Genesis 50:20; Micah 4:11-12). Men have their ends, and God His; but we are sure “the counsel of the Lord that shall stand.” (M. Henry.)
God’s use of evil men
As in applying of leeches the physician seeketh the health of his patient, the leech only the filling of his gorge, so is it when God turneth loose a bloody enemy upon His people; He hath excellent ends, which they think not on. (J. Trapp.)
It is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few
The significance of Isaiah 10:9 appears when the dates of the events alluded to are considered . . . The application to Jerusalem is obvious . . . It is true the conquests alluded to in Isaiah 10:9-11 are not those of Sennacherib, and Isaiah 10:13, etc., would be in his mouth an exaggeration; and hence the prophecy has been referred by some to the period of Sargon. But the subject in Isaiah 10:7-11 is “Assyria” (see Isaiah 10:5), and though Isaiah may have regarded the king (verse 12) as being here the speaker, yet verses 5, etc., show that he speaks, not with reference to his personal achievements, but as an impersonation of the policy of his nation. And this policy Sennacherib in 701 was truly maintaining. The language of these verses does not, therefore, in reality militate against a date which in other respects is in entire accordance with the contents of the prophecy. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, having enlarged his dominions by the conquest of Macedonia, was bent upon subduing Italy, and adding it to his empire. Asking the advice of his counsellor Cineas, he inquired of the prince what he meant to do after he conquered Italy? “Next,” said he, “I mean to invade Sicily, which is a rich and powerful country and not far off.” “When you have got Sicily,” said Cineas, “what then?” “Africa,” replied the king, “containing many fine kingdoms, is at no great distance, and through my renown and the valour of my troops, I may subdue them.” “Be it so,” said the counsellor, “when you have vanquished the kingdoms of Africa, what will you do then!” Pyrrhus answered, “Then you and I will be merry to make you and me merry: had you all the world you could not be more merry, nor have better cheer.” (R. Macculloch.)
When the Lord hath performed His whole work upon Mount Zion
God’s two-sided providence
God designed to do good to Zion and Jerusalem by this providence. When God lets loose the enemies of His Church and people, and suffers them for a time to prevail, it is in order to the performing of some great good work upon them; and when that is done, then, and not till then, He will work deliverance for them.
2. When God had wrought this work of grace for His people, He would work a work of wrath and vengeance upon their invaders. (M. Henry.)
Stoutness of heart
The “stout heart” here threatened is entirely different from true magnanimity or greatness of mind, arising from good principles and accompanied with other virtues, which excites to the most laudable and renowned actions. It is an odious, stubborn disposition, which acts in direct contrariety to lowliness of mind and poverty of spirit, whereby people are inclined to think modestly of their abilities and performances; it proceeds from pride, is strengthened by external grandeur and dignity, and discovered by vain self-conceit and foolish boasting of past exertions and successes, and future intended enterprises. The fruit of the king of Assyria’s stout heart was a daring expedition against Jerusalem, undertaken in proud contempt of the true God, and accompanied with blasphemous insults, repeatedly offered to the Most High over all the earth. (R. Macculloch.)
Penalty in apparent success
When the scum is at highest, it falls in the fire. (J. Trapp.)
For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it
The ungodliness of worldly pursuits
Let us reflect on the total forgetfulness of God, and the unwillingness to recognise His power and presence, with which objects of human interest and ambition are frequently prosecuted and enjoyed.
2. Let us dwell on the spirit with which worldly men engage in the pursuit of their favourite objects, the temper and disposition of mind with which they encounter disappointment, and the kind of happiness which they derive from the success of their enterprises.
(1) The ardour with which they prosecute these is virtually a declaration that they are determined to be happy independently of God; the firmness and perseverance with which they struggle with adversity, and labour to retrieve their losses, are so many attempts to dispute with Him the determination of events, and to wrest from His hand the government of the universe; and when they have been successful almost or altogether to the extent of their expectations, and when they contrast the success that has rewarded them with the failure and disappointment that have befallen others in similar circumstances,--the principle which lies at the foundation of all their enjoyments, and gives zest to every other gratification, is substantially that which is expressed in our text, “By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent.”
(2) It is not, however, to those only who place their chief good in a given portion of this world’s wealth, that these observations are applicable. They will be found to hold equally true in the case of those who can find in the exercise of high intellectual endowments a gratification which mere worldly wealth never could furnish,--but who have not yet acquired any capacity for the purer and more permanent happiness of a growing conformity to the Divine image in this world, and the enjoyment of eternal communion with God in the world to come. Elevated as such pursuits may be, and profound as is the homage of respect which the world is called upon, and readily consents to pay to them, yet, wherever they constitute the only portion that the soul seeks after, and occupy that place in the affections which God claims as His own, then they bear upon them the same impress of ungodliness which characterises the schemes of worldly aggrandisement, and may ultimately be traced to the very same principle.
(3) The same remark is applicable also to the man who, by the benevolence of his character and the irreproachable regularity of his life, has secured the world’s respect, and who builds with confidence on his many virtues as a sure foundation of hope for the future; for when such a man contrasts his own character with that of multitudes around him, it will be with feelings of self-complacency.
3. It would be easy, by entering on the detail of particular cases, to show how the principle in the text pervades all the business and the pleasures of an unregenerate world.
4. The sentiment is as foolish with regard to the sinner, as it is impious with respect to the Almighty; for as well might it be supposed that the movements of the material universe would remain undisturbed, though the principle that is essential to its stability were annihilated, as that an intelligent and moral creature could be permanently blessed, if released from the law of dependence on his Creator. (R. Gordon, D. D.)
“Remover of boundaries”
A title assumed by the Assyrian kings. They claimed to be king of kings, and lord paramount or superior. (B. Blake, B. D.)
Great conquerors are many times no better than great robbers. (Matthew Henry.)
And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people
A proud boast of utter subjugation
The Assyrian conqueror has gathered all the earth as one gathers the eggs from which he has first driven off the terrified hen bird.
But she would hover round her rifled nest and its plunderer with a trepidating flight and piercing cry, than which no movements and sounds in the brute creation express more anguish; while these spoiled nations dare not show even such instinctive signs of a broken heart, but know a depth beyond that depth--“there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or chirped.” (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
“I have taken by my might the riches of the people, with as great ease as a countryman takes young birds out of a nest; yea, as one taketh and gathereth eggs which the bird hath forsaken”--which is easier than to take birds. (W. Day, M. A.)
Strange that ever men, who were made to do good, should take a pride and take a pleasure in doing wrong or doing mischief to all about them without control, and should reckon that their glory which is their shame. (M. Henry.)
Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?
The Divine supremacy
All the various orders of creatures, natural and supernatural, animate and inanimate, are under the control of the Divine Being, who uses them for the accomplishment of His own purposes. The Assyrians were not conscious of being the Lord’s servants; it was, therefore, no virtue in them to be employed in His service. Mark the speech of the king of Assyria, it is vain and fulsome enough. Here observe--
I. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD.
1. This is a doctrine of Scripture.
2. The term sovereignty is suitable here, since it is significant of the supremacy of the Divine Being. Where shall we go for manifestations of the Divine sovereignty?
(1) To creation.
(2) The moral government of the world furnishes the most striking illustration of the Divine sovereignty.
II. THE SUBJECTION OF MEN.
1. Man is not a merely passive instrument, but an active being, dependent upon and under the control of his Maker.
2. Man is a voluntary agent, has in possession a power which we call will, and an awful power it is either for good or evil. It imports responsibility.
3. Still, whatever may be said about the will of man, or the will of a nation, considered as a power, it must be allowed that man and his circumstances, that nations with all their complicated affairs, are under the control of the Divine Being.
4. The Divine Being is still at the head of the nations of the earth, directing and controlling all their affairs, for the accomplishment of His own ends; just as a man directs and controls the mountain stream, for the working of his mill, or the watering of his lands.
III. THE SIN OF SLIGHTING THE DIVINE BEING.
1. It is obvious that man has no choice as to whether or no he will have to do with his Maker. Man’s choice is as to whether or no he will pursue a line of conduct befitting the relation in which he stands to God; whether he will obey or disobey, honour or slight God.
2. It is in the very nature of a creature to be dependent; man is a creature, and therefore dependent upon God for everything essential to his temporal welfare; and certainly not less so for everything essential to his spiritual welfare.
3. It is therefore irrational, and indeed grossly sinful, for those who excel others in station, in fortune, in respect to anything that may be justly deemed an advantage, to ascribe the difference altogether, or even mainly to their own skill and efforts; as though there were no God, or as though
He were unable, or unwilling, to interfere with human affairs (1 Corinthians 4:7).
4. God is jealous of His honour. He cannot give His glory to another.
5. The case of Nebuchadnezzar, as recorded in Daniel 4:1-37, furnishes a remarkable illustration of the supremacy of the Divine Being, and of the sin of alighting it. We infer--
(1) That it is the will of God that there should be various distinctions among men with regard to circumstances; that some should be above others.
(2) It is the imperative duty of man, whatever his rank or position in society, to acknowledge the Divine Being uniformly and constantly.
(3) The Divine supremacy ought to be cheerfully acknowledged in every, household.
(4) Let the nations of the earth acknowledge the Divine authority.
(5) The Church especially is bound to honour God. (W. Winterburn.)
The worker and his tools
These words describe one of the common temptations of strong men in every sphere of action. Pointing to power in the sphere of human industry, we say, “Shall the earn boast itself against him that heweth therewith?”
I. THE REAL CONNECTION OF HUMAN INDUSTRY WITH GOD. Useful and fine art belongs to the original idea of man as a working being. Man is conformed to the design of his nature when muscle and nerve, mind and heart, are taxed in the productions of human industry.
1. This is made evident by the constitution of man. Sinfulness does not belong to the Divine ides of man. Hence man’s inward nature does not approve of sin. But industry produces no such stress and confusion in the soul.
2. This is further seen in the kind of world which God has made our present home. Some things He has hidden, and others so constituted that we must search, discover, adapt, apply, and manufacture, before we can get from the earth (although full of God’s riches) what we really need. The toil and sorrow which are now connected with labour do not pertain to the original ordinance of labour. But even this discipline is merciful. In prison labour the criminal is sometimes required to turn a wheel connected with a loaded crank. The power is applied to no useful purpose, but is merely intended to weary the prisoner, and thus to punish him. And one bitter element in this correction is this, the prisoner knows that his labour produces nothing. Now, God has superadded toil to work, but with toil He has connected increase.
3. The mode in which Scripture speaks of the arts sustains the doctrine we now propound. Not one word is written in the Bible against the highest development of human industry. On the contrary, much is to be found in the Scriptures of the nature of sanction. When the desire to possess the products of industry becomes lust, and when the possession involves pride, then the creations of art assume a position and sustain a relation which is of the world, and not of the Father. But this shows that the evil is in the excess, and not in the thing itself. The New Testament confirms our remarks. Jesus Christ was the reputed son of an artisan, and, though He chose a condition of poverty, He did not clothe Himself in sackcloth nor refuse to partake of the luxuries of the rich. Not a word did He say against human industry, although He reprobated and denounced every vice and feller of His times, and at the time of His death He was wearing an entire woven coat, for which Roman soldiers cast lots. The apostles trod in the steps of the Saviour. Paul does not require Lydia, a seller of purple, to change her occupation. Let us learn to separate human handiwork from human sin. Art is safe when God is recognised in it.
II. THE DISCONNECTION OF INDUSTRIAL PURSUITS FROM GOD IN THE MINDS OF MEN GENERALLY. Men have either excluded God entirely from art, or they have worked as if on Divine sufferance. And because God has not been in their thoughts, they have felt that God was not in their craft, and they have taken to themselves all the glory. While idolaters have had a God for every art and for all important branches of human enterprise, Christians have too often thought that they must call art the world, and while they use and enjoy its varied products, verbally abuse them. We do not so read human nature. We do not so read Divine providence. We do not so read our Bible. And we are warned against this spirit by the words before us. Man is made a producer; and when he produces by his labour he fulfils one part of his mission. Now in this shall God be forgotten! God! whose earth this is? God! whose are the precious and the useful metals, and to whom belong the trees of the forest and the cattle upon the hills? Shall God be forgotten? God! we are His workmen; we use His tools; we employ His materials, and we labour in His factory. God forgotten? How unseemly and ungrateful is this!
1. The evil complained of in the text may exist either in a negative or a positive state. Say that God is not in the thoughts. There is no rejection of God, but God is not present. The man thinks of himself--he does not think of God.
2. The sources of this evil are religious ignorance and alienation from God.
3. The forms in which this evil is developed are such as these--God’s law is not applied to human labour. Work is not performed in a devotional spirit. God’s honour is not sought thereby. And you have one of two things--a man in appearance everywhere irreligious, or a man in appearancereligious everywhere but in his business. And then what have you? A whited sepulchre, a man-lie, or a rebel, open and avowed, against God the Creator. Trace this to its results. Banish religion from human industry, and you remove the chief salutary restraint! Then man will hold his brother in slavery; then men will cheat and lie and overreach and keep back the hire of the labourer.
4. The doctrine of what is commonly termed Justification by faith, has a most intimate connection with this subject. The substance of that doctrine is, that when a sinner truly repents and believes in Jesus Christ, God, instead of putting him upon a probation, immediately receives him to childlike communion. This shows that a Christian may at once have communion with God on every subject that concerns him.
5. Pride, covetousness, oppression, and cruelty are the four transgressions, chiefly named as God’s reason for the overthrow of Nineveh and Babylon, Egypt and Tyre. Without true religion the progress of art fosters these evils.
6. The duties especially incumbent upon the Christians of this land, in connection with their daily labour, are, the unfailing recognition of Divine providence, humility, justice, and kindness. There are no colours so brilliant, no forms so graceful, no combinations so complete, no products so perfect and abundant as those which exist apart from human skill and toil. Man, in comparison with the Great Worker, has done nothing.
7. You will not have failed to mark God’s calling the mightiest by this name, “axe and saw”; also God’s intimating the uselessness of all boasting, “as if it were no wood”; and God’s threatening to teach the axe and saw their real position; and you will take this lesson--if we do not make God of infinitely more consequence than man, He will make us feel how much lower than man His curse can sink us; and then, when like
Nebuchadnezzar, we feel less and lower than man, we may, in this severe school, “learn to praise, and extol, and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and all whose ways are judgment, and who is able to abase those that walk in pride.” (S. Martin.)
Proud boastings not overlooked by God
God keeps an account of all men’s proud and haughty words, with which they set heaven and earth at defiance. They that speak great and swelling words of vanity shall hear of them again. (Matthew Henry.)
Oh what a dust do I maker said the fly upon the cart wheel, in the fable. What destruction do I make among the trees! saith the axe. (Matthew Henry.)
God to be honoured
Bengel, when a tutor, addressing a letter to an old pupil, said, “Either refrain, dear Reuss, from writing to me, or do not apply to me such superlative expressions. I should quietly, like a fond father, place it all to the account of your love, were I not afraid that my allowing it will bring upon me a heavy responsibility. For the same reason I wish it were not said here at daily prayers ‘our most reverend tutors.’ I believe that if Herod had been displeased with the acclamation, ‘It is the voice of a god and not of man,’ he would not have been struck dead in such a horrible manner. God’s honour is an awfully tender thing, and may be injured before we are aware.”
Napoleon Bonaparte’s presumption
When Bonaparte was about to invade Russia, a person who had endeavoured to dissuade him from his purpose, finding he could not prevail, quoted to him the proverb, “Man proposes, but God disposes”; to which he indignantly replied, “I dispose as well as propose.” A Christian lady, on hearing the impious boast, remarked, I set that down as the turning point of Bonaparte’s fortunes. God will not suffer a creature with impunity thus to usurp His prerogative. It happened to Bonaparte just as the lady predicted. His invasion of Russia was the commencement of his fall. (J. Whitecross.)
And the light of Israel shall be for a fire
The light of Israel
A name of Jehovah, who was represented by the Shekinah glory.
(B. Blake, B. D.)
The collapse of the Assyrian enterprise
Isaiah’s genius supplies him with a splendid figure under which to depict the collapse of the Assyrian enterprise. The serried battalions of Assyria appear to his imagination as the trees of some huge forest, irresistible in their strength and countless in their number; but the Light of Israel kindles majestically into a flame; and at the end of a single day a child may count them. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
They shall be as when a standard bearer fainteth
A different rendering
“As the pining away of a sick man,” better suits a connection in which there is no reference to battle.
Assyria shall be utterly consumed. Thorns and thistles, lordly woods and fruitful fields shall alike perish; or, if any remain, they shall waste away as a man smitten by an incurable disease. (Talbot W. Chambers, D. D.)
The Christian standard bearer
Let me endeavour to present to you one or two features by which a leader in the Christian army ought to be distinguished.
I. THERE MUST BE FIXED AND STRONG PRINCIPLE. The man who is to bear the standard in any army must be devotedly attached to the cause for which the army is contending. The man who is to be a guide and leader in the Christian Church ought certainly to have very definite convictions as to what Christianity is, and as to what the Church is. There are other qualities which may be of eminent service to him--a capacity to take a broad view of all questions, a ready sympathy with all who are struggling after truth, though they may be at present in darkness.
II. THE SECOND QUALIFICATION OF A STANDARD BEARER IS COURAGE. A true standard bearer may be described in a single epithet, taken from one of the prophets, as “valiant for the truth.” That means that truth is his law. Truth is not with him a thing to be toyed with. It is not so much his possession, but rather he is possessed by the truth; it has laid hold of his reason, enthralled his affections, quickened and inspired his conscience.
III. THERE IS A STILL HIGHER ELEMENT, A STILL NOBLER, MIGHTIER FORCE BY WHICH THE STANDARD BEARER IN THE CHRISTIAN ARMY IS DIRECTED AND GOVERNED, AND THAT IS PERSONAL DEVOTION TO CHRIST. Christ is to him the truth, and Christ only is his law. The most illustrious of the standard bearers of the Christian army, I suppose it would be universally confessed, was the apostle of the Gentiles; and if we study his life and character, we shall perhaps arrive at the best and truest conception of an ideal leader in the Christian army. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
A standard bearer
In a sermon on the death of the Rev. G.M. Murphy preached by the Rev. P.J. Turquand, Mr. Turquand said: He carried--
1. The standard of the Cross.
2. The standard of temperance.
3. The standard of education.
4. The standard of justice. (Christian World Pulpit.)
The remnant shall return
“A remnant shall turn”
(Isaiah 10:21):--Thus shall be fulfilled the prophecy embodied in the name of Isaiah’s son, Shear-jashub.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
A happy conversion
I. WHAT IS SAID OF THEIR FORMER ERROR. When it is said that they “shall no more stay upon him that smote them,” it surely implies that they had done this before: this was their error.
1. They had exercised an improper dependence.
2. Their dependence had been disappointed.
3. Their folly was to be corrected by their Sovereign.
II. WHAT IS SAID OF THEIR RENEWED EXPERIENCE. “Shall stay upon the Lord,” etc.
1. It is an enlightened confidence. It is foolish to trust without inquiry, and to refuse to trust the trustworthy.
2. Their confidence is very extensive. It covers all times; all events that can awaken our anxiety; all that appertains to life and godliness, etc.
3. It is a blessed confidence.
III. THE REALITY OF THEIR CHANGE. “In truth.” That is the important thing. This confidence is distinguishable--
1. From mere pretensions.
2. From imaginary confidence. (W. Jay.)
Adversity may reach the hard heart
The four seasons once determined to try which could quickest reach the heart of a stone. Spring coaxed the stone with its gentle breezes, and made flowers encircle it, and trees to shoot out their branches and embower it, but all to no purpose. The stone remained indifferent to the beauties of the spring, nor would it yield its heart to its gentle caresses. Summer came next, and caused the sun to shine on the stone, hoping to melt its obdurate heart; but though the surface of the stone grew warm it quickly became cold again when not under the influence of the summer sun’s rays. Summer thus being unable by any degree of warmth to penetrate the flinty nature of the stone, gave place to autumn. Believing that the stone had been treated with too much kindness, the autumn withered the flowers and stripped the trees of their leaves and threatened and blustered; but still the stone remained impassive. Winter came next. First it sent strong winds which laid the stone bare; then it sent a cold rain, and next a sharp frost, which cleaved the stone and laid hare its heart. So many a heart which neither gentleness, warmth, nor threats can touch is reached by adversity. (Nye’s Anecdote.)
God’s two-fold work on Judah
The prophet had said (Isaiah 10:12), that “the Lord would perform His whole work upon Mount Zion and upon Jerusalem,” by Sennacherib’s invading the land. Now here we are told what that work should be, a two-fold work--
I. THE CONVERSION OF SOME, to whom this providence should be sanctified, and yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness, though for the present it was not joyous but grievous. This remnant of Israel is said to be such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, such as escaped the corruptions of the house of Jacob, and kept their integrity in times of common apostasy. Therefore they escape the desolations of that house.
1. This remnant shall come off from all confidence in an arm of flesh; this providence shall cure them of that; they “shall no more again stay upon him that smote them.” “Sufferings teach caution.” They have learned, by dear-bought experience, the folly of leaning upon that staff as a stay to them which my perhaps prove a staff to beat them (Hosea 14:3).
2. They shall come home to God, to the Mighty God, one of the names given to the Messiah (Isaiah 9:6), to the Holy One of Israel. They shall return to God and shall stay upon Him. Those only may with comfort stay upon God that return to Him.
II. THE CONSUMPTION OF OTHERS. They shall be wasted away by this general decay in the midst of the land. Observe--
1. It is a consumption of God’s own making.
2. It is decreed, not the product of a sudden resolve. It is particularly appointed how far it shall extend, how long it shall continue, who shall be consumed by it and who not.
3. It is an overflowing consumption, that shall overspread the land, and like a mighty torrent or inundation, bear down all before it.
4. Though it overflows, it is not at random, but in righteousness. (Matthew Henry.)
The remnants of society
Did you ever ponder the disintegrations that are going on in human society? The number of those who fall out of the ranks of society is infinitely greater than the number of those who ever fell out of any army that was gathered on the field of battle. We usually take statistics of the prosperous men in society. But who stands to take an accurate account of all the weak? Who cares for the remnants of society? God does. Let us look at some of these remnants.
1. Those who are broken in health, and are utterly turned away, by that reason, from all that they sought. They count as ciphers. The only thing they seem to be good for is to serve as memorials of a mother’s patience, of a sister’s goodness, or of a wife’s fidelity. How many men are like a man-of-war, that is staunchly built of the best material, but that on its first voyage is so handled by the winds and waves that it becomes unmanageable, and makes haste to come to port again, and anchors at the navy yard, and is an old receiving hulk for the rest of its days!
2. Then, how many remnants there are in society on account of the misapplication of their powers and their utter failure therefrom. How many second and third-rate men there are who undertake to perform functions which require the exercise of the faculties in their best estate.
3. Then there are remnants from the overtaxing of men who are adapted to their work, but have not the endurance which their circumstances require. There are some men who, when they break down, are like those who ride in low waggons, and who if the waggon breaks do not fall far, but can get up and mend it, and go on; but there are other men who when they break down are like those who cross a dark chasm on a high bridge, and who, if the bridge break, fall a great distance into the stream below, and have no power to get backs, and repair the damage and proceed on their journey.
4. A great many more persons break down from a secret mismanagement of themselves. I see men who use more wind to waft a cookie boat across a pond than would be required to carry a man-of-war across the sea.
5. Besides these, who are perpetually breaking down and falling in the rear, are those who violate the laws of society; who are detected, and convicted, and branded with shame. I think the most piteous thing in the world is to see a man, no worse than we are, who, under the influence of company, or through temptation, has committed s great wrong, and has been branded by society. His life is not worth anything after that. For the laws of society are like the laws of a fort, which when a man is inside defend him against all attack, but which when he is outside open all the artillery of the fort upon him if he attempts to get back. Many men have a conscience under a prison jacket. God judges with the justice of love, and not with the injustice of hatred. To all those who are cast down and suffering, I say, There is a God that is sorry for you. Beware, then, of desperation. If you have failed for this life, do not fail for the other too. There is very much that my yet be done, even in the afternoon and twilight of men’s lives, if they are hopeful and active. (H. W. Beecher.)
Think a moment of what is meant by “a remnant.” It does not mean simply a few; neither does it mean merely the last things; though it includes both of these ideas. When one has cut out a garment from a web of cloth there is a selvedge, there ate the side pieces, of curious shapes, and there is at last the tail piece--a little hit left. The main and best parts have been taken out and used. Although they are of as good substance as the rest, there are these edges, the intermediate bits, and the final remaining part; and all these are called “the remnants.” They are not exactly waste, but they are parts that are left over after the good has been principally taken out. Out of no carpenter’s shop does the timber ever come as large as it went in. The chips, the shavings, the slabs, the edges, the intermediate pieces--they are the remnants of the carpenter’s work--the parts which have not been used up for commercial objects. Look in upon a household after all the children have been fed, after all the servants have eaten, and the table is cleared off, and see what is left. See the hones; the gristle; the scraps of meat that are stringy and not easily chewed; the bits of potato; the pieces of confection; the heap of fragments. These are the remnants of the meals. Look at the remnant in the harvest--all those stray stalks of wheat in the blackberry edges of the uncomely farm; all those that have fallen by the way; the gleanings; the refuse of the field. So, in all the phases of society--in the army, in the navy, in business circles, in the household, everywhere--there is a remnant constantly coming up. It is the portion which is left after the better or more favoured has been culled out and used. (H. W. Beecher.)
Society’s treatment of the weak
Who thinks of the poor and fallen? Society! The most bungling work society ever does in this world, it does when it attempts to be merciful Society is a machine, at best of patches and expedients. When men fall out of their places, and need to be tenderly dealt with, then the hands of society are clumsier to deal with than a lout’s, a yeoman’s hand, in the field, is clumsy to take care of the newborn babe. (H. W.Beecher.)
O My people, that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian
It is against the mind and will of God that His people, whatever happens, should give way to that fear which has torment and amazement.
They that dwell in Zion, where God dwells, and where His people attend Him, and are employed in His service, that are under the protection of the bulwarks that are round about Zion, need not be afraid of any enemy. Let their souls dwell at ease in God.
1. The Assyrian shall do nothing against them but what God hath appointed and determined. “He shall smite thee” by the Divine permission, but it shall be only with a rod to correct thee, not with a sword to wound and kill. Nay, “he shall but lift up his staff against thee,” threaten thee and frighten thee, and shake the rod at thee, “after the manner of Egypt,” as the Egyptians shook their staff against your fathers at the Red Sea, when they said, “We will pursue, we will overtake,” but could not reach to do them any hurt. We should not be frightened at those enemies that can do no more than frighten us.
2. The storm will soon blow over (Isaiah 10:25). God’s anger against His people is but for a moment; and when that ceaseth, and is turned away from us, we need not fear the fury of any man, for it is impotent passion.
3. The enemy that threatens them shall himself be reckoned with. The rod with which He corrected His people shall not only be laid aside, but thrown into the fire. The prophet, for the encouragement of God’s people, quotes precedents; and puts them in mind of what God had done formerly against the enemies of His Church that were very strong and formidable, but were brought to ruin. It is good to observe a resemblance between God’s latter and former appearances for His people, and against His and their enemies.
4. They shall be wholly delivered from the power of the Assyrian, and from the fear of it (Isaiah 10:27). (M. Henry.)
According to the slaughter of Midian
Assyria and Midian
As the hand of God was seen in the slaughter of the Midianites, so it was in the slaughter of the Assyrians.
2. As the Midianites were slain without loss of any of the Israelites, so were the Assyrians without any loss of the men of Judah.
3. As the whole army of the Midianites was overthrown, so was the whole army of the Assyrians.
4. As the Midianites were overthrown on a sudden, when their thoughts mind at the highest, so was the whole army of the Assyrians. (W. Day, M. A.)
His burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder
A picturesque representation of the invasion of Judah
(Isaiah 10:28-34):--The description here given, when looked at aesthetically, is one of the most picturesque and magnificent representations that human poetry has ever produced.
“He comes upon Ayyath, marches through Migron, in Michmash he leaves his baggage. They march right across the ravine;--let Geba be our night quarters! Ramah trembles; Gibeah of Saul flees; scream loud, O daughter of Gallim! O only listen, Laysha! Poor Anathoth! Hurries Madmena, the inhabitants of Gebim rescue. Today he still makes a halt in Nob,--swings his hand over the mountain of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem. Behold, the All-Lord, Jehovah of hosts, lops down the branches with terrible force, and those of towering growth are hewn down, and the lofty are laid low. And He fells the thickets of the forest with the iron; and Lebanon, by a majestic One it falls.” (F. Delitzsch.)
The actualities of faith
The prophetic confidence in a Divine must be leads to the description of it as an actuality. Faith sees not the difficulties that reason emphasises; but laughs at impossibilities, saying, “It shall be done.” (B. Blake, B. D.)
God’s providence critical and retributive
This is the providence, then, under which we live. Facts prove it. We are under law and criticism of a moral kind: our conduct is examined, our motives are inquired into and pronounced upon by the just One; every morning is as a white throne set in the heavens; every noonday is as an eye of fire watching the ways of men; every night is a pavilion of rest, or an image of despair. The axe of heaven is lifted up against all the thick trees that suppose themselves to be independent of God. All moral loveliness is cherished as the pearl greater in value than all others. This is the economy under which we live! We are not left without law, judgment, supervision, criticism; every one of us must give an account of himself to God. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing.” If for a few years we grow towards strength, we soon turn the growing point, and go down into old age and weakness, that we may know ourselves to be but men. Life is a great triumph up to middle age, because the man may be always wen; he may grow in strength and in prosperity, and he may represent himself as a successful fowler; but after that grey hairs are here and there upon him, and he knoweth it not, and presently men may say as he passes by, He stoops a little more; his memory will begin to be a little blurred and clouded, and though he can keep good reckoning, yet he must trust to paper more than he ever trusted before. If we plant vineyards and forests, and subdue wildernesses by generous culture, we die whilst we gaze on our success, and are buried under the very flowers which have rewarded our toil. This is the economy under which the nations have ever lived, and under which every little life works out its little day. (J. Parker, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29