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Woe to Ariel
The simplest meaning of “Ariel” is “lion of God”; but it also signifies “hearth of God” when derived from another root.
In the former sense it comes to mean “a hero,” as in 2 Samuel 23:20; Isaiah 33:7;and in the latter it occurs in Ezekiel 43:15-16 for the brazen hearth of the great altar of burnt offerings, thence commonly called “the brazen,” though the rest of it was of stone. There is no doubt that Jerusalem is pointed out by this enigmatical name; and the immediate context, as well as the expression in Isaiah 31:9 --“Jehovah, whose fire is in Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem”--makes it probable that Isaiah intended to involve both meanings in the word, as though he had said, “Woe to the city of heroes, woe to the city of sacrifices: it shall now be put to the test what God and what man think as to both.” (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
Jerusalem, “the lion of God”
David, that lion of God, had first encamped against Jerusalem, and then made it the abode of his royal house, and the capital of his kingdom; so that it became itself an Ariel, the lion of God, in the land (Genesis 49:9-10). (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
Jerusalem, “the hearth of God”
By David’s pitching his camp and then bringing the sacred ark there, Jerusalem became God’s hearth. (F. Delitzsch.)
The Rabbins combine the two explanations of the Hebrew word by supposing that the altar was itself called the lion of God, because it devoured the victims like a lion, or because the fire on it had the appearance of a lion, or because the altar (or the temple) was in shape like a lion, that is, narrow behind and broad in front. (J. A. Alexander.)
In either case applied as a symbol of hope. “But she shall be unto Me as an Ariel,” i.e., in the extremity of her need I will enable her to verify her name (Cheyne). (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Woe to Ariel
After the vicissitudes of 300 years, and in the midst of present dangers, the people of Jerusalem were still confident in the strength of their “lion of God,” and year by year came up to the public festivals to lay their accustomed offerings on the “altar of God”; though with little remembrance that it was not in the altar and the city, but in Jehovah Himself, that David put trust, and found his strength. Therefore Jehovah will bring Ariel low; the proud roar of the lion shall be changed for the weak, stridulous voice, which the art of the ventriloquising necromancer brings out of the ground; and the enemies of Jehovah shall be sacrificed and consumed on the hearth of this altar. First, His spiritual enemies among the Jews themselves, but afterwards the heathen oppressors of His people; and the lion shall recover his God-derived strength; and thus, both in adversity and in success, “it shall be unto Me as Ariel.” (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
Woe to Ariel
The prophet has a very startling message to deliver: that God will besiege His own city, the city of David! Before God can make her in truth His own, make her verify her name, He will have to beleaguer and reduce her. For so novel and startling an intimation the prophet pleads a precedent: “City which David” himself “beleaguered.” Once before in thy history, ere the first time thou wast made God’s own hearth, thou hadst to be besieged. As then, so now. Before thou canst again be a true Ari-El I must “beleaguer thee like David.” This reading and interpretation gives to the enigma a reason and a force which it does not otherwise possess. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
“The city where David dwelt”
We consider it every way remarkable that David should be mentioned in connection with the woe about to be uttered. If it had been, “Woe unto Ariel, the city where flagrant sins are committed, the city which is overrun with idols, and filled with all kinds of abomination,” we should have seen at once the force of the sentence, and must have felt the wrath warranted by the alleged crimes. But why bring it as a chief accusation against Jerusalem--indeed, as the only charge that was to justify God in pouring out His vengeance--that it was the city where David had dwelt? We can hardly think that the definition is meant as nothing more than a statement of fact. David had long been dead; strange changes had occurred, and it would be making the essential term too insignificant to suppose it to contain only a historical reference to an assertion that no one doubted, but which is quite unconnected with the present message from God. We must rather believe that the city is characterised, “where David dwelt,” in order to show that it deserved the woe about to be denounced. This is evidently mentioned as aggravating the guiltiness of the city. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Good men increase the responsibility of a community
We seem warranted in concluding that, its having been made eminent by the piety of the servants of God, by their zeal for God, and by their earnestness in preserving the purity of their worship, entails a weighty responsibility on a city or country; so that if, in any after time, that city or country degenerate in godliness, and become, by its sins, obnoxious to vengeance, it will be one of the heaviest items in the charge brought against it, that it was dwelt in by saints so distinguished. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE WOE OF JERUSALEM AND JERUSALEM BEING THE CITY WHERE DAVID DWELT. There are other considerations, over and above the general one of the responsibility fastened on a people by the having had a king of extraordinary piety, which go to the explaining why the woe upon Jerusalem should be followed by a reference to David. David was eminent as a prophet of the Lord; he had been commissioned to announce, in sundry most remarkable predictions, the Messiah, of whom, in many respects, he was, moreover, an illustrious type. It was true, there had been others of whom the prophet might think. There is a peculiar appositeness in the reference to David, because his writings were the very best adapted to the fixing themselves on the popular mind. These writings were the national anthems; they were the songs to be chanted in those daily and annual solemnities which belonged to the Jews in their political as much as in their religious capacity, in which the princes were associated with the priests, so that the civil was hardly to be distinguished from the ecclesiastic. So beloved as David was of God, he must have bequeathed a blessing to the nation: for righteous kings, like righteous fathers, entail good on a nation. Indeed, it is evident, from other parts of Isaiah, that the memory of David was still a tower of strength at Jerusalem, so that, for his sake, was evil averted from the city. When Sennacherib and his hosts encamped against the city, and the heart of Hezekiah was dismayed, it was in terms such as these that God addressed Israel, “I will defend this city, to save it for Mine own sake, and for My servant David’s sake.” Was it not like telling the Jews that they were no longer to be borne with for the sake of David, to pronounce, “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt”? Was it not declaring, that the period was drawing to a close, during which the conservatism of the monarch’s piety could be felt? The prophet might be considered as showing both how just and how terrible those judgments would be. He showed their justice, because the having had amongst them such a king and prophet as David, made the Jews inexcusable in their wickedness: he showed their severity, because it was the city of David which God was about to punish.
II. MAKE AN APPLICATION OF THE SUBJECT. We pass at once to the Reformation, and substitute the reformers for David, and England for Ariel. We must consider what it was that the reformers did for us; from what they delivered us; and in what they instructed us. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
“It will be to Me as an Ariel” (Isaiah 29:2), i.e., through My help it will prove itself a hearth of God, consuming its enemies like a fiery furnace, or these enemies finding destruction in Jerusalem, like wood heaped on an altar and set ablaze. (F. Delitzsch.)
Love and chastisement
The Lord has never spared the elect. Election gives Him rights of discipline. We may inflict punishment upon those who are ours, when we may not lay the hand of chastisement upon those who do not belong to us. Love has its own law court. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Add ye year to year; let the feasts come round (R.V.)
Links in a golden chain (from R.V.)
Speaking of the gay temper of the Greeks, Quinet describes them as “a people who count their years by their games.” In a more serious spirit the Jews counted their years by their religious festivals, We have a Christian year whose festivals celebrate the great events in the life of our Lord. We are adding year to year, the feasts come and go, and it behoves us to inquire what we are doing with them, what they are doing for us.
I. THERE IS AN UNSATISFACTORY WAY OF SPENDING THE YEARS. The implied complaint of the text is that the inhabitants of Jerusalem failed to benefit by their recurring privileges, and that the lapse of time brought them nearer to destruction. The trumpet of the new year in vain called them to a new life; the day of atonement passed leaving them with uncancelled sin; the Feast of Tabernacles and that of Pentecost awoke in them no love, constrained them to no obedience to the Giver of the harvest. Is this not true of thousands of those over whom pass the festivals of the Christian year? They are, indeed, all the worse for the lengthening days and multiplying Opportunities.
II. THERE IS A TRUE WAY OF SPENDING THE YEARS, and that is in enjoying and improving this life in the fear of God and in the light of eternity. Victor Hugo speaks of an old man as “a thinking ruin.” Paul the aged was such a “ruin,” and he had something grand to think about. (W. L. Watkinson.)
As a dream of a night vision
The visions of sin
There are two grand truths of a most stirring import unfolded in the text.
1. That wicked men are frequently employed to execute the Divine purpose. The Almighty determined to humble Jerusalem, and He employed Sennacherib as the engine of His justice. “He makes” the wrath of man to praise Him. What a revelation is this of His absolute command over the fiercest and freest workings of the most depraved and rebellious subjects!
2. That whilst wicked men execute the Divine purpose, they frustrate their own. Sennacherib worked out the Divine result, but all his own plans and wishes were like the visions of the famished traveller on the Oriental desert, who, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, lies down and dreams, under the rays of a tropical sun, that he is eating and drinking, but awakes and discovers, to his inexpressible distress, that both his hunger and thirst are but increased. Hell works out God’s plans and frustrates its own; Heaven works out God’s plans, and fulfils its own. Let us look at the vision before us as illustrating the visions of sin.
I. IT IS A DREAMY VISION. It is “as a dream of a night vision.” There are waking visions. The orient creations of poetry, the bright prospects of hope, the appalling apprehensions of fear--these are visions occurring when the reflective powers of the soul are more or less active, and are, therefore, not entirely unsubstantial and vain. But the visions which occur in sleep, when the senses are closed, and the consciousness is torpid, and the reason has resigned her sway to the hands of a lawless imagination, are generally without reality. Now, the Scriptures represent the sinner as asleep. But where is the analogy between the natural sleep of the body and the moral sleep of sin?
1. Natural sleep is the ordination of God, but moral is not.
2. Natural sleep is restorative, but moral is destructive.
3. In both there is the want of activity. The inactivity of the moral sleep of the sinner is the inactivity of the moral faculty--the conscience.
4. In both there is the want of consciousness. With the sinner in his moral slumbers--God, Christ, the soul, heaven, hell, are nothing to him.
II. IT IS AN APPETITIVE VISION. What is the dream of the man whom the Almighty brings under our notice in the text, who lies down to sleep under the raging desire for food and water? It is that he was eating and drinking. His imagination creates the very things for which his appetite was craving. His imagination was the servant of his strongest appetites. So it is ever with the sinner: the appetite for animal gratifications will create its visions of sensual pleasure: the appetite for worldly wealth will create its visions of fortune; the appetite for power will create its visions of social influence and applause. The sinner’s imagination is ever the servant of his strongest appetites, and ever pictures to him in airy but attractive forms the objects he most strongly desires.
III. IT IS AN ILLUSORY VISION. The food and water were a mirage in the visionary desert, dissipated into air as his eye opened. All the ideas of happiness entertained by the sinner are mental illusions. There are many theories of happiness practically entertained by men that are as manifestly illusive as the wildest dream.
1. Every notion of happiness is delusive that has not to do more with the soul than the senses.
2. Every notion of happiness is delusive that has not more to do with the character than the circumstances.
3. Every notion is delusive that has not more to do with the present than with the future. He that is preparing intentionally for happiness is not happy, nor can he be: the selfish motive renders it impossible. “He that seeketh his life shall lose it.” Heaven is for the man that is now blessed in his deeds, and for him only. The present is everything to us, because God is in it, and out of it starts the future
4. Every notion is delusive that has not more to do with the absolute than the contingent.
IV. IT IS A TRANSITORY VISION. In the text, the supposed dreamer was led to feel the illusion which his wayward imagination had practised upon him. “He awaketh, and his soul is empty.” Every moral sleeper must awake either here or hereafter; here by disciplinary voices, or hereafter by retributive thunders. (Homilist.)
As the army of Sennacherib were dreaming, literally or figuratively, of a conquest which had no real existence, so are there multitudes of persons now dreaming that they are accomplishing the great object of their existence who are no more doing so than if they lay wrapped in the slumbers of the night. I propose to speak of them under three heads.
All three are capable of being substituted, and often are substituted, for the real and proper business of life.
1. How comes it to pass that people can live such lives, dreaming all the while that they are fulfilling the true purpose of their existence, or, at least, without any uneasy sense that they are criminally failing to do so?
(1) One cause of it is that the thing in question is pleasure. “Nothing succeeds like success.”
(2) Another explanation is, that many of the pleasures for which men live make great demands on their exertions. Some kinds of play are harder than work. Men, therefore, feel it difficult to believe that what bears so near a resemblance to work is not work, and that very work which they were sent into the world to do.
(3) A great many of the pleasures of life are enjoyed in association with others. And amidst the exhilaration of spirits, the brisk laughter, the friendly encounters, it is very difficult to believe that a life made up largely of such occupations is not the life we were intended to live.
(4) Then, a great deal of the pleasure is intimately associated with fashion.
(5) The alleged innocence of the pleasures indulged in contributes also to the deception.
(6) Again, it is sometimes said that, however censurable a life of pleasure may be for those in advanced life, it is innocent and even suitable for the young.
2. But it may be said, What is there to show that such a life is only a dream-like substitute for our real life?
(1) It leaves our best faculties unused.
(2) A life of pleasure, moreover, is a selfish life.
(3) A life of pleasure also exposes to temptation.
(4) A life devoted to pleasure, too, unfits men for another world.
II. WORK. By “work” is meant some secular occupation by which money, or its equivalent, is gained. The Bible praises work. Work keeps us from being dependent on others. It tends to the benefit of those dependent on us.
And work is good as furnishing a man with the means of helping his neighbours, and of contributing to the support of the great movements in operation for lessening the suffering and the sin of the world. And work is good, as giving a man influence by means of the wealth it produces. It is also in favour of a life of diligent employment, that it keeps from much evil. And yet neither is work, any more than pleasure, the great end of man; and those who deem it so are indulging in a baseless dream. The moral value of work is to be measured by its motive and its influence. A life of excessive devotion to work is hostile to the higher life of a man. It leaves but little time for those exercises which are found so essential to a life of godliness. It indisposes for such employments. It shuts out the other world by the undue prominence it gives to this. It banishes God from the thoughts. It is a practical neglect of the soul. Others suffer also. Such a life makes us indifferent to the interests of others.
III. RELIGION. And this time, you will perhaps say, they are likely to be right. On the contrary, there is more danger of their going wrong here than in either of the previous cases. And for this reason--that the sacred name of religion disposes men to think all is as it should be if they can persuade themselves that they are religious. Religion assumes a great variety of forms, and some of them not only worthless, but pernicious.
1. Can it be questioned that a great deal of the religion of England now is nothing more than amusement, and often amusement of the most childish nature?
2. If religion in other cases seems to go deeper, it is too often only another name for superstition, where chief importance is attached to the conventional sanctity of the persons who officiate, the garments they wear, the sacraments they administer, the postures they adopt, the seasons they observe.
3. Then there is the religion of sentiment, of which the chief object is to awaken certain emotions.
4. There is also a religion in which the intellect performs the principal function.
5. We might speak of that religion which is hereditary, where a man adopts a particular faith or worship because his ancestors did so before him.
6. We might speak of the religion of fashion, where the fashionable gathering forms the great attraction.
7. We might speak of the religious observances in which men engage to fill up time which they are forbidden by custom to employ in secular pursuits; or of the religion which is only occasional and spasmodic; or of that which consists in bustle and superficial activity. These religions all agree in being good for nothing. Some of them do harm. Religion is a life. Religion has two sides. On the one it turns toward God, on the other toward man. But all dreams must come to an end. There is a dread awaking in prospect. Think of the disappointment that will attend the awaking! Let us not be deceived by the apparent reality of the life we are leading. What can seem more real than a dream? yet what more unsubstantial? With the feeling of disappointment will be mingled one of contempt. As a dream when one awaketh, so, O Lord, when Thou awakest, Thou shalt despise their image.” We experience a sort of resentment on finding that we have been so deceived by that which had no reality. Will there be nothing like this on awaking from a life wasted in trifling? (D. P. Pratten, B. A.)
The disappointments of sin
The general truth taught by these words is this: wrong-doing promises much, but it certainly ends in bitter disappointment. The good to be gained by sin is seen and tasted and handled only in dream. It is never actually possessed, and visible disappointment is the bitter fruit of transgression.
I. THE VERY NATURE OF SIN SUGGESTS THIS FACT.
1. Sin is a wandering from the way which God has appointed for us--the way which was in His mind when He made man--the only way which has ever been in His mind as the right way. There is no adaptation in man’s real nature to any way but one, and that is obedience to a Father in Heaven, the result and fruit of true love for that Father.
2. Sin is a practical withdrawing from the protection of Divine providence. It thus wounds, sometimes instantly, and always eventually, the transgressor himself. It is as when a hungry man dreameth, and awaketh, and behold, he is faint.
II. LOOK AT A FEW RECOGNISED FACTS ABOUT SIN.
1. The angels who kept not their first estate left their own habitation. So far as we can understand the matter they sought freedom, but they found chains. They sought light; they found darkness. They sought happiness; they found misery,--as when a hungry man dreameth and eateth, and awaketh and finds himself famishing.
2. Our first parents, in yielding to the first temptation, soughs equality with God; but they soon found themselves fallen below the natural human level
3. The general history of sin is found in epitome in the life of every sinner. In families and Churches and nations, in societies of all kinds, we see illustrated the truth that sin everywhere, by whomsoever committed, is the occasion of most bitter disappointment. (S. Martin.)
Life a dream
Lord Brougham relates an occurrence which strikingly shows how short a thing a dream is. A person who had asked a friend to call him early in the morning, dreamed that he was taken ill, and that, after remedies had been tried in vain by those about him, a medical man was sent for who lived some miles away, and who did not arrive before some hours had elapsed. On his arrival he threw some cold water upon the face of the patient. Thereupon the sleeper awoke. The water was, in fact, applied by his friend, for the purpose of awaking him. The inference is that this apparent dream of hours was the affair of a moment. Such is human life. (D. P.Pratten, B. A.)
The figure of the dream is applied in two ways.
1. Objectively, to the vanishing of the enemy.
2. Subjectively, to his disappointment. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
(Isaiah 29:8):--A more vivid representation of utter disenchantment than this verse gives can scarcely be conceived. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
No sooner had I shut my eyes than fancy would convey me to the streams and rivers of my native land. There, as I wandered along the verdant bank, I surveyed the clear stream with transport, and hastened to swallow the delightful draught; but alas! disappointment awakened me, and I found myself a lonely captive, perishing of thirst amid the wilds of Africa. (Mungo Park’s Journal.)
Stay yourselves, and wonder, they are drunken, but not with wine
By spiritual drunkenness (Isaiah 29:9) we are probably to understand unsteadiness of conduct and a want of spiritual discernment.
(J. A. Alexander.)
Spiritual drunkenness worse than bodily, and more prevalent
Drunkenness in itself is a horrible vice, and it is the mother of innumerable more. But besides this there is a spiritual drunkenness.
I. This worse drunkenness, says the text, is SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS, SPIRITUAL INSENSIBILITY, OR INSANITY. In this respect it resembles the other drunkenness. The man who is drunk has eyes, but he cannot see; ears, but he cannot hear; a heart that has not ceased to beat, but he cannot understand. He mistakes one person and thing fur another. So it is with the spiritual sort in regard to the spiritual world. Look at a few of the varieties. Drunkenness--
1. From ignorance of the truth.
2. From perversion or profanation of the truth.
3. From rejection of the truth.
II. WHAT IS THE QUALITY OR CURSE OF THIS SPIRITUAL DRUNKENNESS, compared with the other? Compare it--
1. In regard to the drunkard’s intelligence or powers of perception.
2. In regard to the drunkard’s life, affections, passions, habits.
3. In regard to the drunkard’s state before God, the salvation of soul and body. What shall we say, if we discover the terrific truth?
(1) That the spiritual is more besotting and blinding to the spirit.
(2) That it is more maddening and brutalising to the drunkard’s life. What crime will the drunkard not perpetrate? But what is the life of the spiritual drunkard who goes on in his wickedness? One lifelong defiance of God.
(3) That it is a drunkenness still more infernal, more devilish, and more deadly to both soul and body. (R. Paisley.)
The Jews are represented as given over by God to a judicial blindness. Now, we regard it as a fixed principle in the interpretation of Scripture that God never does more than leave men to themselves; doing nothing directly to harden them in wickedness, or to place them out of the reach of forgiveness. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Drunken, but not with wine
Are there, then, other forms of insobriety and resultant demoralisation distinct from that of the familiar cup? The phrases which suggest this abnormal state are continually in our mouths. Thus, we speak of people being intoxicated with delight, with fanaticism, with political excitement, or with the spirit of gambling. Wendell Holmes speaks of people who become intoxicated with music, with poetry, with love, with religious enthusiasm. He remarks how convalescents are sometimes made tipsy by a beef steak. It is said of one that he was too intoxicated with certain good news to be able to imbibe anything else. Indeed, it is told of certain company that it was so intoxicating that some of the circle were compelled to drink to keep themselves sober. (J. J.Ingram.)
What are the main characteristics of intoxication? The drunken man is one who has lost his power of self-control, one to whose eye and thought the proportions and relationships of life have become disordered, one whose vigour, both physically and mentally, has become enfeebled and inefficient. He is a man who for the time being loses his true relation to the things of outer life. He is abnormal. His appetites are deranged, his engrossments disproportionate, his views beclouded or oblique. (J. J. Ingram.)
For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep
The spirit of a deep sleep
“The Lord hath poured out,” etc. That is an appalling judgment. What have been the steps which have led up to so terrible a consummation? Men do not lose their moral sensitiveness by a stroke; it is the ultimate issue of a process. Drowsiness precedes sleep; the twilight ushers in the night. We do not reach moral abysses by a precipice; we reach them by a gradient. We do not drop into bondage; we walk into it.
1. Here are the men of my text; what was the first step in the degradation? We have it clearly indicated in the thirteenth verse. If we take the thirteenth verse, and place it before Isaiah 29:9, we have unfolded before us the process of degeneracy, which is re-enacted in multitudes of lives in every succeeding age. The first step towards moral benumbment is the evisceration of religious worship. Take the heart out of worship, and you will take the life out of morals. “And their fear of Me is a commandment of men which has been taught them.” What does that mean? The man-made has supplanted the God-born. And what does that further mean but the intrusion of the casuist into religion? The casuist is he who turns a shining principle into a dull maxim, who makes breaches and loopholes of escape in the great moral law, who changes the searching inwardness of religion into an easy external ordinance, who removes the fearful sense of the eternal, and makes us feel perilously at home in the small demands of his own commandments.
2. Now let us mark the progress of the degeneracy. Religious formalism issues in moral laxity. Note the analysis of the process which is given in the ninth verse. First there is dimness of moral vision. “Tarry ye and wonder.” The figure is that of a man who pulls himself up in bewilderment. He does not remember quite clearly whether this is the way, or whether he should take the next turning. Moral law does not stand out in clear bold relief. His conscience does not act readily. There is hesitancy. He “tarries”! There is confusion He “wonders”! “Take your pleasure and be blind.” With dimness there comes wilfulness. The little truth they saw they resented. The people liked the restfulness of the dulness. There was nothing searching or self-revealing in the adulterated light. They preferred the twilight in which they can partially hide. Let us go on with the analysis. Moral dimness; moral wilfulness; what is the next step in the degeneracy? Moral stupor. “They are drunk, but not with wine. They stagger, but not with strong drink.”
3. Now let us proceed to the third step in the appalling gradient. When a man has eviscerated his religion, changing its inwardness to a thin superficialness, and from this proceeds to moral laxity, I am told by the words of my text that by a judicial act of God his stupor becomes fixed. If a man will not, he shall not! Ye have taken the cup of wilfulness, and drugged yourselves into sin, and “the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep.”
4. What is the next step in the awful gradient? “And all vision is become to you as a book that is sealed.” The great writings of the great books have no illuminating message. The books are sealed! What books? There is the book of conscience. “Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.” That book is sealed. There is the book of experience, the teachings of yesterday, the witness of history. “Ask now of the days that are past.” That book is sealed. There is the book of nature. The book of nature began to be read by William Wordsworth when the atmosphere of English life had been warmed by the evangelical revival. When the evangelical is dead nature’s inner significance is concealed. Let us therefore watch, with intensest vigilance, against the intrusion of all insincerity into our worship. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed
The universality of spiritual blindness
What is affirmed in these verses holds so strikingly true of God’s general revelation to the world, that we deem the lesson contained in them to be not of partial, but permanent application.
I. There is A COMPLAINT uttered in these verses
(1) by the learned,
(2) by the unlearned.
1. If a book be closed down by a material seal, then, till that seal be broken, there lies a material obstacle even in the way of him who is able to read the contents of it. Is there any hindrance in virtue of which the critics, and the grammarians, and the accomplished theologians of our age, are unable to reach the real and effective understanding of the words of this prophecy? Yes, and it is wonderful to tell, how little the mere erudition of Scripture helps the real discernment of Scripture. The learned just labour as helplessly under a want of an impression of the reality of this whole matter, as the unlearned; and if this be true of many a priest and theologian, with whom Christianity is a science, and the study of the Bible the business of their profession, what can we expect of those among the learned, who, in the pursuits of a secular philosophy, never enter into contact with the Bible, either in its doctrine or in its language, except when it is obtruded on them? To make the wisdom of the New Testament his wisdom, and its spirit his spirit, and its language his best-loved and best-understood language, there must be a higher influence upon the mind, than what lies in human art, or in human explanation. And till this is brought to pass, the doctrines of the atonement and of regeneration, and of fellowship with the Father and the Son, and of a believer’s progressive holiness, under the moral and spiritual power of the truth as it is in Jesus, will, as to his own personal experience of its meaning, remain so many empty sounds, or so many deep and hidden mysteries: and just as effectually, as if the book were held together by an iron clasp, which he has not strength to unclose, may he say of the same book lying open and legible before him, that he cannot read it, because it is sealed.
2. As for the complaint of the unlearned, it happily, in the literal sense of it, is not applicable to the great majority of our immediate countrymen, even in the very humblest walks of society. They can read the book. There may remain a seal upon its meaning to him, who, in the ordinary sense of the term, is learned, while the seal may be removed, and the meaning lie open as the light of day to him, who in the same sense is unlearned. In pressing home the truths and overtures of Christianity on the poor, we often meet with the very answer of the text, “I am not learned.” They think that there is an ignorance which necessity attaches to their condition, and that this should alleviate the burden of their condemnation, in that they know not God. Now we refuse this apology altogether. The Word of the Lord is in your hands, and you can at least read it. The Gospel is preached unto you as well as unto others--and you can, at least, attend to it.
II. Let us now proceed to EXPLAIN A CIRCUMSTANCE which stands associated in our text with the incapacity both of learned and unlearned to discover the meaning of God’s communications--that is the spirit of deep sleep which had closed the eyes of the people, and buried in darkness and insensibility the prophets, the rulers, and the seers, as well as the humblest and most ignorant of the land. The connection between the one circumstance and the other is quite palpable. If a peasant and a philosopher were both literally asleep before me--and that so profoundly, as that no voice of mine could awaken them--then they are just in the same circumstances, with regard to any demonstration which I addressed to their understandings. Neither would it at all help the conveyance of my meaning to their mind, that while dead to all perception of the argument which issued from my lips, or even of the sound which is its vehicle, the minds of both of them were most busily alive and active amongst the imagery of a dream--the one dreaming too, perhaps, in the style of some high intellectual pursuit, and the other dreaming in the style of some common and illiterate occupation. Such, it is possible to conceive, may be the profoundness of this lethargy, as to be unmoved by the most loud and terrifying intimations. That the vast majority of the world are, in truth, asleep to all those realities which constitute the great materials of religion, may be abundantly proved by experience. Now, the question comes to be, how is this sleep dissipated? Not, we affirm, and all experience will go with us, by the power of natural argument--not by the demonstrations of human learning, for these are just as powerless with him who understands them, as with him who makes his want of learning the pretence for putting them away. There must be a something equivalent to the communication of a new sense, ere a reality comes to be seen in those eternal things. It is true, that along the course of our ordinary existence, we are awake to the concerns of our ordinary existence. But this is not a wakefulness which goes to disturb the profoundness of our insensibility as to the concerns of a higher existence. We are in one sense awake; but in another most entirely, and, to all human appearance, most hopelessly and irrecoverably asleep. We are just in the same condition with a man who is dreaming, and so moves for the time in a pictured world of his own. And the transition is not greater from the sleeping fancies of the night to the waking certainties of our daily business, than is the transition from the daydreams of a passing world to those substantial considerations which wield s presiding authority over the conduct of him who walketh not by the sight of that which is around him, but by the faith of the unseen things that are above him, and before him. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The voices of life
Here, we find the picture of the two great classes of excuses men make today, when duties are urged upon them.
I. The first great answer of human nature to the call of duty--the first and readiest excuse which the easy-going, self-indulgent life has to offer--is this first excuse of the men of Jerusalem to the unpleasant vision of the future. It is as a book which is sealed, and he who is able to read it does not read it, simply because it is closed, or sealed. Here we have a definite excuse given, which looks plausible enough, but which only means, after all, the lack of will power, which so frequently lodges behind some prominent excuse. POWERLESSNESS OF WILL! Who does not make this excuse in life?
II. The other great excuse which is so freely given is the LACK OF OPPORTUNITY. He who has the will has not the one requisite, the one condition of success, the longed for opportunity. The poor man with his tastes envies the rich their command over the forces of life. The struggling student by his midnight lamp, with his book borrowed from the library, sighs as he sees the elegantly bound but unopened volumes of those who have abundant opportunities but no appreciation of their hidden treasures, or will to read them. The invalid upon the bed of pain, whose life is a dream of impossible realities, cherishing noble yearnings for the strife, sees life passing by, padlocked and bound, with every aspiration chained and fettered by the hopeless impossibility of ever achieving anything. Practical lessons--
1. This very incompleteness of our nature shows us the soul’s rightful demand for another life without these limiting human conditions.
2. Right in the midst of these voices of life, these excuses for our failure, from whatever source these excuses come, the religion of Jesus Christ appears as a new creation of power.
3. Just when we feel that our motive power is failing us, or that we are helpless in our surroundings, and are lacking an opportunity for the exercise of our suppressed faculties, the Spirit of God, who is the Comforter of the sanctified heart of man and the Inspirer of his better nature, appears with His Divine mission, and opens the way out of dead levels and land-locked vistas, into new and unforeseen stretches of existence. What a power there is in this thought of the soul’s higher deliverance by the interposing hand of the Spirit of God, lifting us out of our poor everyday life! (W. W. Newton.)
Bible neglect reproved
The general division of “the learned” and “the unlearned” is introduced as offering an excuse for the not understanding the revelation of God. There is diversity, indeed, in the excuse itself, but there is thorough agreement upon the point, that, from some reason or another, the Bible is unintelligible; the one class taking refuge in the alleged obscurity of Scripture, and the other in their own defective education. None are represented as actually throwing scorn upon the book, but all render it a kind of involuntary homage. And we believe that no truer description could be given of the great body of men, considered relative to the light in which they view Scripture. If there were anything like a general suspicion that the Bible is not what it professes itself--a revelation from God, there would be nothing to surprise us in the general neglect with which it is treated; we should quite expect that if there were doubt as to the origin there would, for the most part, be indifference as to the contents; but with the great body of men its origin is no more brought into question than is the duty of preparing for eternity. And here we have a manifest inconsistency, to be accounted for only on the supposition that men have provided themselves with some specious apology.
I. We shall consider, therefore, THE CASE AND APOLOGY OF THE LEARNED. There is something of truth in the representation that the Bible is a sealed book. We always regard it as a standing proof of the divinity of the volume, that it is not to be unfolded by the processes which we apply to a mere human composition, and that every attempt to enter deeply into its meaning, without the assistance of its Author, issues in nothing but conjecture and confusion. But in all these excuses, however specious, and however, in a certain sense, grounded on a truth, there is nothing to warrant that refusal to examine Holy Writ which they are invented to justify. We know of no conclusion which can be fairly drawn from the confessed mysteriousness of Scripture, and the consequent need of a superhuman interpreter, but that the volume should never be approached in our own wisdom, and never without prayer for the teaching of God’s Spirit. If it would be our duty to study the volume were it not sealed, it must be equally our duty to study it when, though sealed, the way is prescribed in which it may be opened. We have only to bring this consideration into the account, and there is an end of all arguing from the obscurity of the study of Scripture.
II. THE CASE AND APOLOGY OF THE UNLEARNED MAN. Here, again, the excuse is based on a truth, but nevertheless, it in no degree justifies neglect. It is of vast importance that the poor be set right in this matter, and that they be taught that there is no necessary connection, as they seem to suppose, between scholarship and salvation. It is easier for the educated man to become, what is called a skilful divine, but it is not one jot easier for him to discover and follow the narrow path of life. Indeed, if there be advantage at all, it is on the side of the unlearned. If the understanding the Bible, so as to become morally advantaged by its statements, depend on the influences of the Holy Ghost, it is clear that the learned may read much and gain no spiritual benefit, and the unlearned read little and yet be mightily profited. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Learned and unlearned
The passage is interesting as illustrating the diffusion of literary education in Isaiah’s time (Jeremiah 5:4-5).(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Sir Joshua Reynolds says that when he first visited Italy to make the acquaintance of the celebrated masterpieces of art he was much cast down. The renowned masters maintained towards him quiet and dignified silence; they refused to confide to him their thoughts. He gazed steadfastly at the wondrous pictures whose fame had filled the world, and could not behold their glory. Persevering, however, in his studies, the pictures gradually began, one after another, to raise their veils and permit him to have an occasional peep at their rare beauty; they softly whispered to him a few of their secrets; and as he continued unwavering in his devotion, they at last flung away their reserve, showed themselves with an open face, and revealed to him the wealth of beautiful ideas that was lodged in them. (J. C. Jones.)
The Holy Spirit the Illuminator
I remember to have heard from one who was a spectator at the time, of his having once seen a little child playing upon a headland over the sea, who took a telescope from the hand of one near him, and handed it to a blind old sailor who was sitting on the cliff, and the child asked the blind man to sweep the far horizon and tell him with the glass what ships were them. The old man, however, could only turn bitterly towards the child with those sightless eyes of his; and, it seems to me, that you might as well give a telescope to a sightless man as to give the Bible to a man whom you do not suppose to possess the guidance of the Spirit. (Bp. W. Alexander.)
This people draw near Me with their mouth
When any form so obtrudes itself as to be a hindrance instead of a help to the worshipper, that is ritualism.
(Rt. Hon. W. E. Gladstone.)
All vice is said to be an abuse of virtue; all evil, good run mad. Generosity may become extravagance. So formalism really consists in the abuse of that which, up to a certain point, is absolutely necessary, which, up to a further point, may be helpful, but which, carried to an extreme, becomes a snare and a sin. (D. Jones Hamar.)
Formalism in doctrine and life
That we may see clearly who the formalist is, think of this truth: that there are formalism of doctrine, and formalism of life and practice, distinguishable and yet connected.
1. Formalism of doctrine--what is that? In one of its lowest phases we frequently meet with it. Have you not come across men who say “Yes” to every assertion of truth that you make; men who make you almost angry by their persistency in declaration of agreement? There are very few of all the thousands who are not, and know they are not, servants of Christ, who take the pains to deny what they nevertheless do not really accept. What can you say to such men? You cannot argue, for they agree with you already. You cannot appeal to them, for their creed seems to compass all that you hold as true.
2. There is such a thing as formality of worship and life. Just as truth must be put into words, but the word is not the truth, so worship has to be put into some expression, but the expression is not the worship. Isaiah’s great charge against the people was that they had reversed the thing entirely. (D. JonesHamar.)
What must be the creed of the formalist in worship and in life! This: that what is said to be the means of grace is grace itself; that the mechanical reading of the Bible, without any reverent, hungering spirit, communicates in some mysterious fashion heavenly truth; that the prostration of the body, while another offers prayer, brings blessing; that to sing a hymn, be its meaning felt or not, is an expression of praise; that these things, with the enduring of the infliction of half an hour’s sermon, constitute Christianity. There is too much of formalism in the best of us. What is the creed of the formal worshipper This: “God doth not know, neither is there knowledge in the Meet High”; that He who receives the humble adorations of archangels will accept from men not only the imperfect praises they can render, not only the scarce articulate waiting of the troubled spirit, panting forth its prayer for help, but the sound of song without the spirit, the utterance of petition without desire; that He who searches all hearts is deceived, as men prostrate their bodies, and accepts that as homage; or that He cares for nothing, and to mock His presence is no insult. Does that creed shape itself in accordance with your ideas of God? Yet it is just an interpretation of the practice of the man whose worship is nothing more than a form. And as it affects yourself is it satisfactory? Does it do you any good? The sin in the heart is not to be cured by any sort of outward observance. The truth of God is not to be reached by any sort of mechanical contrivance. This Book has no mysterious sanctity in its paper and print, or in the sound of its words. It is the meaning and the spirit that alone are valuable. Our faith passes on the wings of the things that are seen and temporal, up to the things that are unseen and eternal, through the word to catch the revelation, through prayer and praise to hold communion with God. Why trifle with your nature’s deepest wants? Why mock the everlasting love? There is a reality in prayer. There is an expression of gratitude which Inspires praise. There is a Saviour of sinners. Come to Him. He only, appearing and speaking through the means He has appointed, can take away the burden and the sting of sin, and give to the weary rest. (D. Jones Hamar.)
The danger of formal worship
The best commentary on our text is just the history of the reigns during which Isaiah prophesied.
I. IT WAS NO SLIGHT CRIME WITH WHICH THE PEOPLE OF JUDAH WERE ACTUALLY CHARGEABLE--it Was, indeed, a denial of God’s sovereignty, although by that very sovereignty it was that they and their fathers had for seven hundred years been in possession of the land of Canaan. Though they might make an outward profession of respect for the ordinances of God, yet the spirit by which they were actuated was essentially an atheistical spirit, inasmuch as with all the outward observance of Divine ordinances they looked for continued prosperity or deliverance from adversity, not to the wisdom of God, but to their own counsels, and the help promised to them by their idolatrous allies.
II. THE JUDGMENT THREATENED. Was in accordance with the nature and manifestation of their sin. They were not to be overwhelmed with irresistible calamity, in order to punish their flagrant idolatry; but they were to be left to the effect of their own devices. They were to work by their own skill, and in so doing to be working their own ruin: and when all their plans were brought to their completion, the effect was to be to bring utter desolation on the land (verse 14).
III. MANKIND, WITH ALL THEIR VARIETIES OF CHARACTER, ARE ESSENTIALLY SO MUCH THE SAME IN ALL AGES, and the Scriptures do, on the one hand, so graphically portray the leading features of human nature, and, on the other, set forth so clearly the great unchangeable principles of the Divine administration, that none who read that book with soberness and attention, and look around them on the world with ordinary observation, can fail to see that the sins of individuals or of nations there reproved are, with some modifications it may be, the same sins which are still prevalent, and that, if unrepented of and unforgiven, their consequences must in the end be the same. No nation, it is true, is precisely in the same circumstances with the kingdom of Judah, but still the great principles of the Divine government are unchangeable and eternal. It is one of these, that sin is the reproach of any people. If there be among us, possessing as we do a full revelation of the will of God, a disposition to deny or overlook His supremacy as Sovereign Disposer of all events, and to trust to the wisdom of human counsels for national deliverance or prosperity, without any devout recognition of absolute dependence upon Him, are we not chargeable with the very sin with which Judah of old was charged, and which was the source of all their multiplied offences? And if, along with this, there be a profession of faith--an external compliance with the ordinances of the Gospel, are we not in the condition of drawing near to God with our months, and honouring Him with our lips, while our heart is far removed from Him? (R. Gordon, D. D.)
A wrong religious attitude
This spiritual insensibility of the people is the outcome of its whole religious attitude, which is insincere, formal, and traditional. (J. Skinner, D. D.)
Let us use these words (Isaiah 29:13) as Jesus Christ used them in Matthew (Matthew 15:7). There are three points--
1. The importance of plain speaking on all questions affecting the interests of truth. Jesus Christ was preeminently a plain speaker.
2. The far-seeing spirit of prophecy. Jesus Christ said to the men of His day, “Esaias prophesied of you.” Observe the unity of the moral world; observe the unchangeableness of God’s laws; see how right is ever right and wrong is ever wrong; how the centuries make no difference in the quality of righteousness, and fail to work any improvement in the deformity of evil. If any man would see himself as he really is, let him look into the mirror of Holy Scripture. God’s book never gets out of date, because it deals with eternal principles and covers the necessities of all mankind let us then study the Word of God more closely. No man can truly know human nature who does not read two Bibles,--namely, the Bible of God as written in the Holy Scriptures, and the Bible of God as written in his own heart and conscience. Human nature was never so expounded as it is expounded in holy writ.
3. The high authority of the righteous censor. When Jesus Christ spoke in this case He did not speak altogether in His own name. He used the name of Esaias. All time is on the side of the righteous man; all history puts weapons into the hands of the man who would be valiant for truth. The righteous man does not draw his authority from yesterday. The credentials of the righteous man are not written with ink that is hardly dry yet. It draws from all the past. (J. Parlor, D. D.)
The power of a petition is not in the roof of the mouth, but in the root of the heart. (J. Trapp.)
Panchcowrie, a Hindu convert, thus spoke one day in the market: “Some think they will avert God’s displeasure by frequently taking His name on their lips, and saying, ‘O excellent God!’ ‘O Ocean of Wisdom!’ ‘O Sea of Love!’ and so on. To be sure, God is all this; but who ever heard of a debt being paid in words instead of rupees!” (Sunday at Home.)
The best treasure
A rabbi, who lived nearly twenty years before Christ was born, set his pupils thinking by asking them, “What is the best thing for a man to possess?” One of them replied, “A kind nature”; another, “A good companion”; another, “A good neighbour.” But one of them, named Eleazer, said, “A good heart.” “I like your answer best, Eleazer,” said the master, “for it includes all the rest.” (Christian Age.)
“I met in India an intelligent Sikh from the Punjab, and asked him about his religion. He replied, ‘I believe in one God, and I repeat my prayers, called Japji every morning and evening. These prayers occupy six pages of print, but I can get through them in little more than ten minutes.’ He seemed to pride himself on this rapid recitation as a work of increased merit.”
Fashionable church going
M. went to church because it was the right thing to do: God was one of the heads of society, and His drawing rooms had to be attended. (G. Macdonald, LL. D.)
Their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men
A fear of God taught by the precept of men
I. THERE IS A FEAR TOWARDS GOD WHICH IS TAUGHT BY THE PRECEPT OF MEN. It is unquestionable that, although it is nothing but the recklessness of infidelity which would speak of religion as an engine of state policy, still no state policy can be effective which looks not to religion as an auxiliary. If there could be taken off from a community those restraints which are imposed on it by the doctrine of the soul’s immortality, and of a future dispensation of rewards and punishments, there would be done more towards the introduction of a universal lawlessness and profligacy than if the statute books of the land were torn up and the courts of justice levelled with the ground. But if religion be thus susceptible of being employed with advantage as an auxiliary, there is a corresponding risk of its being resorted to as a human engine and not as a Divine. All inculcations of religion which are dictated by the consciousness that it is politic to stand by religion would turn into inculcations of infidelity the moment it should appear that it would be politic to stand by infidelity. It is a possible case that rulers might do on the political principle what Hezekiah did on the God-fearing principle--they might busy themselves with exacting from their subjects attention to the laws of the Almighty, and so might bring round great outward conformity to many commands of the Bible. The result in the two eases might be similar: the tokens of the absence of God’s fear might be swept from the land; and there might, on the contrary, be seen on the whole outspread of the population, appearances of the maintenance of that fear. What is to be said of that fear of God which seems to discover itself in its attention to ordinances, but which is only dictated by habit--or respect for appearances--or concern for religion as an engine of state! If we could mark each individual, as he enters the house, who is only brought hither by custom--by the feeling that it is decorous to come--by the sense that it is right that old institutions should be upheld, why, since in the whole assemblage of such motives there is no real recognition of the authority of Jehovah, we should be bound to say of all those who thus render to God a spurious and inferior homage, that their fear towards Him was “taught by the precept of men.” The motive or sentiment which is the prime energy in producing that fear towards God which is not according to His word is the opinion of merit, the attachment of worth to this or that action, which is ordinarily described as self-righteousness. The cases of the fear towards God, which is taught by the Precept of men, might be further multiplied. If you went the round of even the religious world you would find much of a restless endeavour to bring down godliness to something of the human standard.
II. THE FEAR TOWARDS GOD, TAUGHT BY MAN’S PRECEPT, IS MOST OFFENSIVE IN THE SIGHT OF THE ALMIGHTY. We conclude the fact of the offensiveness from God’s express determination of punishing the Jews with a signal punishment. Our simple business is therefore to search after the reason of this offensiveness.
1. The fear must be a defective fear. If you take your standard from aught else than the Bible, you will necessarily have a standard which is low and imperfect; and although you may act unflinchingly up to this standard, where it is the standard of other men’s opinions or long practice or custom, you stand accountable for the adoption of the standard.
2. This fear involves a contempt of revelation; and on this account as well as on the former most peculiarly incurs the wrath of Jehovah. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
“Their fear toward Me” R.V.
“Their fear of Me,” i.e., their piety, religion. “Is taught by the precept of men.” Better as R.V. “is (or, “has become”) a commandment of men which hath been taught”;--a human ordinance learned by rote (Matthew 15:1-9). This pregnant criticism expresses with epigrammatic force the fundamental difference between the pagan and the biblical conceptions of religion. Religion, being personal fellowship with God, cannot be “learned” from men, but only by revelation Matthew 16:17). (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord
The folly of acting separately from God
THEIR POLITICS DESCRIBED (Isaiah 29:15). The consultations they had about their own safety they kept to themselves, and never asked God’s advice concerning them. See what foolish, fruitless pains sinners take in their sinful ways; they seek deep, they sink deep, to hide their counsel from the Lord, who sits in heaven and laughs at them. A practical disbelief of God’s omniscience is at the bottom both of the carnal worship and carnal confidences of the hypocrites (Psalms 94:7; Ezekiel 8:12; Ezekiel 9:9).
II. THE ABSURDITY OF THEIR POLITICS DEMONSTRATED (Isaiah 29:16). Your inverting the order of things, and thinking to make God’s providence give attendance on your projects, and that God must know no more than you think fit, which is perfectly “turning things upside down,” and beginning at the wrong end,--“it shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay”; i.e., God will turn and manage you, and all your counsels, with as much ease, and as absolute a power, as the potter forms and fashions his clay. They that think to hide their counsels from God--
1. In effect deny Him to be their Creator.
2. Or, which comes to the same thing, deny Him to be a wise
Creator. (M. Henry.)
Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field
The fruitful field and the forest
The comparison is evidently not between the high and the low, but between the cultivated and the wild, the field and the forest.
(J. A. Alexander.)
The first last and the last first
The only natural interpretation of the verse is that which regards it as prophetic of a mutual change of condition, the first becoming last and the last first. If the previous context has respect to the Jews under the old dispensation, nothing can be more appropriate or natural than to understand the verse before us as foretelling the excision of the unbelieving Jews and the admission of the Gentiles to the Church. (J. A. Alexander.)
Jew and Gentile
I. I shall show HOW THE LORD HAS BEEN PLEASED TO VERIFY THIS SCRIPTURE GENERALLY.
II. THE SIGNS THAT MUST ACCOMPANY THE WORK IN THESE LATTER DAYS.
1. The deaf shall hear the words of the book.
2. The blind shall see out of obscurity and darkness.
3. “The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord,” etc.
III. IMPROVE THE SUBJECT. (F. G. Crossman.)
The deaf . . . the blind . . . the meek . . . the poor
The Gospel day
We may regard these words as containing A DESCRIPTION OF THE STATE IN WHICH THE GOSPEL FINDS THOSE TO WHOM IT IS ADDRESSED. The epithets are designed to be descriptive of their spiritual character.
II. THE PLEASING INTIMATION WHICH THE TEXT CONTAINS OF THEIR RECOVERY TO A BETTER AND HAPPIER CONDITION. “In that day the deaf shall hear, and the blind shall see.” That is, the spiritual ignorance and insensibility of men shall be subdued, and the delusion and stupidity of idolatrous Gentiles in particular, shall be succeeded by a clear and saving knowledge of the truth.
1. This prophecy may be considered as receiving its fulfilment, impart in every instance in which an individual is savingly converted to God.
2. But the prophecy refers to something on a more extensive and general scale.
3. The words, besides intimating the fact of their recovery, appear also to intimate the means by which their recovery shall be effected. “They shall hear the words of the book.” What is “the book” the hearing of whose “words” is connected with results so wondrous and delightful?
(1) Is it the book of nature? Alas, that book, all radiant as it is with the Divine glory of its Author, conveys little or no instruction on spiritual subjects to those whom sin has covered with its dark and stupefying shade.
(2) Or is it the book of human philosophy and arts and sciences? The history of all past ages, to say nothing of the present times, laughs to scorn all such pretensions on the part of “the wisdom of this world.”
(3) An inspired apostle tells us that “the mystery” of God is to be “made known to all nations for the obedience of faith, by the scriptures of the prophets”; and “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth: to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
(4) And though not designed, perhaps, to intimate so much, yet does not the expression “they shall hear the words of the book” serve to remind us of the mode in which, chiefly, this “book” is intended to diffuse among mankind the experimental knowledge of the “truth and grace” which it reveals? Does it not remind us that, for that purpose, it is to be proclaimed by the oral teaching of a living ministry?
III. These latter words we may suppose to be descriptive of CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES WITH WHICH THE SPIRITUAL RECOVERY OF MEN IS FOUND TO BE CONNECTED.
1. As well as the preceding words, they are applicable to cases of individual conversion. In this view they remind us of the state to which the sinner’s heart is humbled when, having heard “the words of the book,” he is made to tremble under the threatenings which it thunders forth against the guilty and impenitent; and when, having begun to “see out of obscurity and out of darkness,” he discovers the tremendous ruin on the brink of which he has been standing.
2. But then, besides describing the state to which the sinner’s mind is humbled in the first instance, these words remind us also of the blessedness of that state to which, when he is once made truly meek and poor in spirit, he is designed to be exalted. For the “meek shall increase their joy in the Lord.” At first, indeed, this joy may not be anything beyond the joy of hope. But this joy he “shall increase.” It shall grow “brighter and brighter to that perfect day” in which it shall become a “fulness of joy” at God’s right hand for evermore.
3. If these words be more extensively applied, as having reference to those nations and communities of men amongst whom the Gospel is already known, or as having reference to the whole of that world throughout whose wide extent it must ultimately be proclaimed, they still point out the circumstances under which this Gospel shall be “the power of God unto salvation,” and the delightful effects which shall ensue on its reception, in the increase of human happiness, and in the turning of men from a vain confidence in “lying vanities,” to faith in the one living and eternal God.
4. It would appear also to be intimated, that these delightful results of evangelical instruction should be especially exemplified in the case of the most despised and degraded of mankind. For they are “the poor amongst men,” who shall especially “rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”
5. These things are delightful to contemplate; but let us not forget, in the pleasure of such contemplations, the personal and practical interest which we are called to take in them. (J. Crowther.)
The poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel
Reasons why the poor may rejoice in God
One of the most striking proofs of the Divine origin of Christianity is its universal adaptation to the condition and the wants of the whole family of men.
It is not designed to be the religion of a sect or an age, but the religion of the whole world. The universality of its character proves that it comes from Him who sustains all, preserves all, feeds and blesses all. We propose to assign reasons why the poor may well “rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”
I. BECAUSE CHRIST IN HIS HUMILIATION CONDESCENDED TO BE POOR AND THUS HONOURED AND HALLOWED THE CONDITION OF THE POOR. Who of all the legislators, moralists, and teachers that have appeared in the world ever conferred such honour on humanity, or displayed such regard for the poor? Who, after this, shall dare to look down upon honest poverty! Who, after this, shall dare to convert want into a crime? Let the poor, then, “rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” He can enter into your sorrows, and feel for your wretchedness.
II. BECAUSE THE BLESSINGS OF CHRIST’S SALVATION ARE PROVIDED AND BESTOWED GRATUITOUSLY, AND ARE THUS PECULIARLY ADAPTED TO THE CONDITION OF THE POOR.
1. Money has been paid down for the imperial purple of Rome,--the empire of the Caesars has been sold to the highest bidder; but were salvation only to be purchased with money, or did it require resources in man himself, black despair might seize and petrify the heart of every poor man.
2. Or were salvation a work that required expensive and tedious elaboration at home,--were it like the erection of a palace, or the building of a pyramid, or the construction of such vast works as those by which you cross a gulf or span a sea,--alas for the poor! for then their souls must perish. But let the poor among men rejoice, for the salvation which the
Holy One of Israel provides and bestows is a salvation “without money and without price.”
3. There is another circumstance which ought mightily to enhance these Gospel blessings in the estimation of the poor; namely, the exclusion from many earthly privileges to which poverty subjects them. It is very true that many of the simpler, purer, and more exquisite pleasures of life are as free to the poor as to the rich. But in this world poverty does exclude from some privileges. But, oh! how does my heart, as that of a poor man, exult in the free salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ! Here, in the Gospel of Jesus, is full compensation for all the contumely and scorn cast on humble poverty.
III. BECAUSE, IN ADDITION TO ALL THAT HE HIMSELF HAS DONE FOR THEM, HIS AUTHORITY, AS A LAWGIVER, ENJOINS SPECIAL ATTENTION, CHARITY, AND SYMPATHY TOWARDS THE POOR.
IV. BECAUSE THE CONDITION OF POVERTY IS MORE FAVOURABLE THAN THAT OF RICHES TO THE RECEPTION OF CHRIST AND TO THE DISPLAY OF RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLE. The Saviour’s language seems fully to warrant this sentiment when He says, “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!”--and again: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Poverty seems to be the favourite element in which religious principle k produced and nurtured. It is in the atmosphere of the Poor that the light and heat of Divine truth love to radiate. (J. French.)
For the terrible one is brought to nought
Scorners and their punishment
Observe what had been the wickedness of these scorners, for which they should be cut off.
1. They ridiculed the prophets and the serious professors of religion. They despised them, and did their utmost to bring them into contempt; they were scorners, and sat in the seat of the scornful.
2. They lay at catch for an occasion against them. By their spies they watch for iniquity, to see if they can lay hold on anything that is said or done that may be called an iniquity. Or, they themselves watch for an opportunity to do mischief, as Judas did to betray our Lord Jesus.
3. They took advantage against them for the least slip of the tongue; and if anything were never so little said amiss, it served them to ground an indictment upon. They made a man, though he were never so wise and good a man, though he were a man of God, an offender for a word, a word mischosen or misplaced, when they could not but know that it was well meant. They cavilled at every word that the prophets spoke to them by way of administration, though never so innocently spoken, and without any design to affront them. They put the worst construction upon what was said, and made it criminal by strained innuendos.
4. They did all they could to bring those into trouble that dealt faithfully with them and told them of their faults. Those that reprove in the gates, namely, reprovers by office, that were bound by the duty of their place as prophets, as judges, and magistrates to show people their transgressions, they hated these, and laid snares for them. It is next to impossible for the most cautious to place their words so warily as to escape such snares.
5. They pervert judgment, and will never let an honest man carry an honest cause; they “turn aside the just for a thing of nought,” i.e., they condemn him, or give the cause against him upon no evidence, no colour or pretence whatsoever. They run a man down, and misrepresent him by all the little acts and tricks they can devise, as they did our Saviour. But wait a while, and God will not only bring forth their righteousness, but cut off and consume these scorners. (M. Henry.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 29". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter