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Come down, and sit in the dust
Dirge on the downfall of Babylon:
Babylon is pictured as a royal lady, dethroned, led in captivity over the streams to a distant land, and there made the meanest slave behind the millstones.
(A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
Thy nakedness shall be uncovered
Mental and moral nakedness
Every person hath somewhat which may properly be called his nakedness or shame, in a figurative sense--such as a weak judgment, imprudence, inconsideration, injustice, cruelty, avarice, poverty, or contempt of religion.
Over that he studiously endeavours to throw a veil, that it may be preserved from public observation. Now, when the covering is taken away by which any of these things were concealed, then people’s nakedness or shame is laid open to the inspection of those who possess penetration and discernment. (R. Macculloch.)
A fearful meeting
I. “THY NAKEDNESS SHALL BE UNCOVERED.” Man practises deceit. He imposes upon himself, and, as far as possible, upon his fellows. He cloaks his sins, his motives, his evil ways. He is not sincere in his professions, not open in his conduct, not honest in his judgments. Sin itself is a monstrous deceit and lie. The author of sin is a “liar.” And so with the children of the devil. There is nothing in them--in their hearts, lives, characters--that will stand the light of the throne. The truth will flash the sunlight into the chamber of the soul, and into every transaction of life, and lay bare to the eye of God and the quest of the universe the true real state and status of the moral man. Then “thy nakedness shall be uncovered.” The awful sight of a rational and immortal soul, steeped in guilt, lost to virtue and to God, and deceived to its eternal undoing, will shock the very heavens.
II. “YEA, THY SHAME SHALL BE SEEN.” The shame of wanton rebellion against the great God, our Heavenly Father; the shame of sinning unto death against the Cross of the loving and dying Christ; the shame of consummating a character of incorrigible wickedness, and a doom more awful than that of sinning angels, under all the light and influences of the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. To look upon such shame in the judgment day will shock and confound the sinner himself, and fill all heaven with loathing and indignation.
III. “I WILL TAKE VENGEANCE, AND I WILL NOT MEET THEE AS A MAN.” The vengeance of God! Who can stand before it? The partial displays of it in this life, where wrath is restrained and clemency bears rule, are fearful tokens of what is in store for those who refuse offered mercy and exhaust God’s long-suffering goodness in the world of retribution. It is awful to face an angry man whom we have grievously wronged. It is more fearful still to confront a stern judge, who, as minister of the law we have broken, makes inquisition upon us. But oh, to stand face to face before the offended Majesty of heaven, now risen up to take “vengeance” upon the despisers of His grace, is a thought that may well fill us with the profoundest concern. (Homiletic Review.)
I will not meet thee as a man
“I will not meet thee as a man”
The sense is very obscure. (Skinner.)
“I will run against no man,” namely, that I should need to give way to him. (Stier.)
“I will not intervene as a man.” (Ruetschi.)
“I shall not meet a man, so depopulated will Babylon be.” (Hahn.)
“I shall encounter no one who can resist Me.” (Cheyne.)
It means to encounter, meet, hit upon one, not only in a hostile, but also, as here and Isaiah 64:5, in a friendly sense; so I will befriend no one, pardon no one. (Delitzsch.)
“Vengeance I take, and strike treaty with none.” (G. A. Smith.)
Possibly, “I will take vengeance, and will not spare, saith our Redeemer.” (A. B.Davidson, D. D.)
Independently of these minuter questions, it is clear that the whole clause is a laconic explanation of the figures which precede, and which are summed up in the simple, but terrific notion of resistless and inexorable vengeance. (J. A. Alexander.)
“I will not meet thee as a man”
“I will not meet thee as a man,” whose compassion may induce him to show ill-judged forbearance and clemency, but thou shalt have judgment without mercy, who hast showed no mercy: I will not meet thee with the justice of a man, that may be perverted, but with that impartial equity which can neither be corrupted nor evaded. I will not meet thee with the anger of a man, which for certain reasons may be concealed or deferred, but with my fierce wrath that shall inevitably consume thee. I will not meet thee with the strength of a man, that may be opposed or vanquished, but clothed with omnipotence that cannot be resisted, so that it shall appear that it is not the vengeance of man, but of God. (R. Macculloch.)
God meeting sinners as a man
His threat is a threat of departure from His usual course. Thus, the expression is resolvable into a statement, that there is a human character about God’s dealings with men, and that it is an evidence of His not having given them up to vengeance, that He continues to meet them “as a man.” Let us consider the evidences which we have, that as a God of love, God meet us “as a man.”
I. Let us begin with those OPERATIONS OF THE HOLY GHOST, through which God may emphatically be said to “meet” us, to come in contact with us. There is much of mystery around these operations; we recognise them by their effects. Not only are these operations hidden from others, but the very party himself, within whose breast they are making themselves felt, can give little or no account whence they come, or how they work. He resolves whatever he experiences into the strugglings of his own mind, and the wrestlings of his own conscience. Would it be for our advantage, that, in meeting us, God should meet us as a God, and not “as a man”? We could not have borne that God should have spoken with us by unearthly voices, and warned us by unearthly spectacles, and approached us through unearthly avenues. Hence, the evidence that God has dealt lovingly with us, when we observe the appointed method in which the Spirit operates it is, that Divinity may be said to identify itself with humanity.
II. The mind turns naturally to THE GREAT SCHEME OF REDEMPTION, and finds at once in that scheme full material of demonstration. Does it not commend itself to us as an arrangement beautifully indicative of the tenderness of God that the “great High Priest of our profession,” who was essentially Divine,-was, at the same time, “a man”? I the Divine nature had entered union with the angelic so that God had met us, not “as a man,” but as a cherub or seraph, we should have had no power, comparatively, of estimating what had been done on our behalf. We have little or no knowledge of higher orders of being, and there could consequently have been nothing which came home to the heart in the tidings of a Mediator, who, though essentially God, had assumed, for our sake, the likeness of one of those ranks. But when, in order to the meeting us in love in place of vengeance, God has become man, we can judge, we can feel the stupendousness of this humiliation.
III. WHEN CHRISTIANS COME TO DIE, how are they accompanied through the dark valley and across the dark waters? God still meets them “as a man.” “Thy rod and Thy staff” a sheperd’s implements, a man’s implements--“they comfort me.”
IV. What shall we say to THE JUDGMENT SEAT, occupied by One so terrible in His splendour that the very earth and heavens flee away at His presence? This is the last great display of the mercy of that appointment through which a man has been given as a Mediator. How could an angel, with all his purity and his equity, make due allowance for human infirmity, or place himself in our circumstances, so as to decide with reference to our powers and opportunities, and thus throw into his verdict that consideration for our trials and temptations, without which, if there may be the strictness of justice, there can scarcely be the admixture of mercy? But the Man who hath “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” this is the Being who is to gather all nations before Him, and determine the eternal condition of each individual.
V. We may draw one more striking illustration of the text from THE APPOINTED MEANS THROUGH WHICH THE GOSPEL IS PROPAGATED. In the great work of gathering in the nations, and shrining the religion of Christ in the households and hearts of the human population, the Almighty makes not use of lofty angels, who have “kept their first estate,” but of persons who are themselves in peril, themselves but wrestlers for immortality. God, in the person of His ambassadors, might have met us as an angel, and not “as a man.” You could not, as you listened to the angel, or reflected on his preaching, put from you the feeling that he knew nothing experimentally of your trials, nothing of your difficulties--that he had no evil heart to struggle with, no mighty foes to withstand him in a course of obedience; and very easy you would think it, for one pure as this exalted creature to urge upon men the practice of righteousness, and to declaim with lofty vehemence on the vanity and worthlessness of the best earthly pleasures; very easy to recommend that to which he is prompted by his nature, and to denounce that for which he has neither inclination nor capacity. And this feeling would tell quickly and fatally on the moral hold which he might gain on an audience; making them suspicious that he spake on a matter of which he was no fair judge, and giving to the whole discourse the aspect of an airy speculation. Therefore is it in love to you that God meets you “as a man.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever
THE CAUSE OF THEIR SECURITY. They did not lay this to heart (Isaiah 47:7), did not apply it to themselves, and give it due consideration. They lulled themselves asleep in ease and pleasure, and dreamed of nothing else but that “to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.” They did not “remember the latter end of it”--the latter end of their prosperity, that it is a fading flower and will wither; the latter end of their iniquity, that it will be bitterness; that the day will come when their injustice and oppression must be reckoned for and punished.
II. THE GROUND OF THEIR SECURITY. They trusted in their wickedness and in their wisdom (Isaiah 47:10).
1. Their power and wealth, which they had gotten by fraud and oppression, was their confidence.
2. Their policy and craft, which they called their wisdom, was their confidence.
III. THE EXPRESSIONS OF THEIR SECURITY. Three things this haughty monarchy said in her security.
1. “I shall be a lady for ever.” She looked upon the patent of her honour to be, not during the pleasure of the Sovereign Lord, the fountain of honour, or during her own good behaviour, but to be perpetual to the present generation, and their heirs and successors for ever (Revelation 18:7).
2. “I shall not sit as a widow,” in solitude and sorrow; shall never lose that power and wealth I am thus wedded to. The monarchy shall never want a monarch to espouse and protect it, and to be a husband to the State; nor shall I “know the loss of children.”
3. “None seeth me” when I do amiss, and therefore there shall be none to call me to account. It is common for sinners to promise themselves impunity because they promise themselves secrecy in their wicked ways.
IV. THE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR SECURITY. It shall be their ruin.
1. A complete ruin; the ruin of all their comforts and confidences (Isaiah 47:9).
2. Sudden and surprising. The evil shall come in one day, nay in a moment. “Thou shalt not know from whence it riseth,” and therefore shalt not know where to stand upon thy guard. Babylon pretended to great wisdom and knowledge, but with all her knowledge cannot possess, nor with all her wisdom prevent, the ruin threatened.
3. Irresistible (Isaiah 47:11). (M. Henry.)
Earthly honour fleeting
Saints shall be saints for ever, but lords and ladies will not be so for ever. (M. Henry.)
Afflictions in perfection
(Isaiah 47:9):--Afflictions to God’s children are not afflictions in perfection; widowhood is not to them a calamity in perfection, for they have this to comfort themselves with, that their Maker is their husband. Loss of children is not, for He is better to them than ten sons. But on His enemies they come in perfection. (M. Henry.)
The utterance of proud Babylon is identical with that of the vain and self-confident in all ages. The delusion prosperity produces in such men or nations is always of this sort. This expression suggests that lengthened prosperity in the case of the ungodly leads to--
1. False security.
2. Presumption. “A lady for ever,” i.e in my own right; “no contingency can arise to deprive me of any title and wealth.”
3. Boasting. The vernacular of pride--“a lady,” superior to others.
4. Self-satisfaction. “A lady.” “I am that now. None will dispute it” Revelation 3:17).
5. Abandonment to luxury. “A lady for ever.” I mean to be at ease, to enjoy life.
6. Spiritual blindness. Prosperity dazzles the eye; the future is willfully disregarded. Conclusion--Remember the desolation of self-confident Babylon-widowhood, childlessness, poverty, famine, shame, disease, insanity, exile, death. (R. A. Griffin.)
Thou didst not lay these things to thy heart
God warns before He strikes.
I. THE COURSE OF CONDUCT CONDEMNED. “Thou didst not lay,” &c. This insensibility to the threatened judgments of heaven is--
1. Very common.
2. Very sinful.
3. Very foolish.
4. Very dangerous.
II. THE FEARFUL JUDGMENT DENOUNCED--a type on a large scale of the overthrow of sinners.
1. The certainty of it (Isaiah 47:8-9).
2. The suddenness of it. “In a moment” (Isaiah 47:9).
3. The retributory character of it.
An exact proportionment of the punishment to the crime. No undue severity shown even to Babylon (Isaiah 47:6; James 2:13; Revelation 18:5-6). Nor even to the chief of sinners. Always a just recompense of reward.
4. The utter hopelessness of those on whom it comes (Isaiah 47:12-15). (S. Thodey.)
Thou hast said, None seeth me
THIS NOTION HAS GREAT INFLUENCE UPON THE CONDUCT OF MAN. Such a notion is convenient. Concealment is the helpmeet of wrong. It is not necessary that this be formulated. It is sufficient if the mind accustoms itself to question whether God sees. The sinner will take advantage of a doubt.
II. THIS NOTION IS UTTERLY UNTRUTHFUL AND DELUSIVE.
III. GOD HAS OFTEN, IN HUMAN EXPERIENCE, SHOWN THE DELUSIVENESS OF THIS NOTION, AND THE TIME IS FIXED FOR THE COMPLETE DEMONSTRATION OF ITS DELUSIVENESS.
1. Character is often seen through by man.
2. Retribution often follows man’s deeds in the present world.
3. The future state will show what God saw. (Pulpit Analyst.)
Practical atheism and genuine piety
(with Genesis 16:13):--
I. PRACTICAL ATHEISM. “Thou hast said, None seeth me,” i.e. God is indifferent to our conduct. This is the practical denial of Divine omniscience. This haughty language suggests a sad tendency in human nature. The causes of this tendency are--
1. Dislike of God.
2. Dread of God.
II. GENUINE PIETY. “Thou God seest me.”
1. The very nature of God implies this.
2. The Bible teaches it.
III. GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS which this subject conveys.
1. It warns the wicked.
2. It should restrain from evil.
3. It should incite to a beautiful and useful life.
4. It should comfort and strengthen the people of God amid the duties and conflicts and trials of life. (A. Tucker.)
“None seeth me”
Graceless men, having hid God from themselves, think also to hide themselves from God. (J. Trapp.)
Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee
I. EXAMINE AND VINDICATE THIS DECLARATION.
1. Of what wisdom and knowledge does Isaiah thus speak? It was human wisdom and science in the highest perfection! To this Babylon even the sages of Greece came as learners.
2. Against this wisdom and knowledge the Scriptures bring the charge of perverting men’s minds in morals and religion (text; Ezekiel 28:3-7; 1Co 1:21-27; 1 Corinthians 3:18-20; Romans 1:22-23).
3. That this testimony is not overcharged, all history proclaims.
4. All this is accounted for by the Scriptural account of the fall of man. Intellectual blindness is upon the heart of man; all his rational faculties are incapable of just conclusions on any religious subject, except they be assisted by a supernatural power.
5. Hence it inevitably follows that the cultivation of the intellectual parts of man can of itself have no tendency towards moral or spiritual good. If all the mental powers of man be in themselves depraved, the increase of his intelligence can only increase his faculty of evil; so that secular education, apart from religious and moral control, must be in itself a curse and not a blessing. It may create a generation of philosophic sceptics and apologists for vice, or even praters about virtue, but a moral and religious people it never has produced, and never can.
II. THE REMEDY WHICH GOD HATH PROVIDED AGAINST ALL THESE INTELLECTUAL EVILS.
1. The supreme need is instruction in the wisdom and knowledge which are of God, above those which are of men.
2. This wisdom and knowledge must be imparted by those means which God has appointed. The Bible. Preaching. The instruction of children in Divine truth. (F. Close, M. A.)
Therefore shall evil come upon thee
The predicted calamity is represented as a great storm, which suddenly arises in eastern countries, and blows with such violence as to Spread devastation and ruin wherever its fury extends.
False securities: an exposure and a challenge
Can you find a solitary instance in which God approved iniquity? Was ever His sword sheathed in presence of evil? This constancy of judgment upon corrupt ways is itself an argument. One act of moral hesitation would have destroyed God! Time cannot modify Divine judgments. What was wrong in Babylon is wrong here: what was right in the most ancient time will be right on the world’s last day. We should remind ourselves of these elementary principles; for their very simplicity may cause us to neglect their claims. We shall regard the solemn denunciations as if spoken to our own city.
I. LOOK AT THIS PICTURE OF UTTER AND MOST PAINFUL BEWILDERMENT. “Evil shall come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know.” There are times when the wind seems to be blowing from all quarters at once. There are times when all things seem to have a controversy with us. We set down our feet, and, lo, they are fastened to the ground: we put forth our hand, and an invisible weapon smites it: we look round, and behold the path is ploughed up, so that there is no way of retreat. We lose our own sagacity. Our wit fails us. Once our mind was quick, now it is dead or helpless. We lose confidence in ourselves; substances become shadows; the strongest of our fortresses melt away; and in our friend’s face there are discovered lines of suspicion or of mortal hate. This is the necessary and inevitable result of sin.
1. We have been warned of it.
2. A way of escape has been made.
II. HEAR THE DIVINE CHALLENGE ADDRESSED TO THE FALSE POWERS IN WHICH WE HAVE TRUSTED. “Stand now with thine enchantments,” &c. (Isaiah 47:12). Think that we are now called upon to set out in order the false securities in which we have trusted! There is one,--Money; there is two,--Chance; there is three,--Self-confidence; there is four--Atheisticspeculation. Now let them do for us all they can. God has challenged them!
1. They ought to be most useful when most needed.
2. They should show their sufficiency by their fearlessness. It is a challenge. I hear the whirlwind coming,--get out your money. You thought something would happen--something is happening,--God’s judgment is descending; where is your God Chance? You have confidence in yourself; be it so; make bare your arm,--see, it is but lightning,--it is but flood upon flood,--it is but world dashing against world, &c. “Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.” There is to be a great collision. In that collision only the true can stand.
III. SEE THE DOOM OF FALSE SECURITIES. “Behold, they shall be as stubble,” &c. (Isaiah 47:14).
1. Let no man complain of want of opportunity of observing the value of his moral securities.
2. Let no man complain of having been allowed to live unwarned.
3. Think of so living that at last a man shall be left without a coal at which to warm himself! This is the end of sin,--this is the worthlessness of false gods! So far as we have had experience of life, we have seen the terrible failure of all false things. We have seen the judgment of God in parts. It is not all left to be revealed. We are entitled to reason from the past to the future; and when our own experience has, as a matter of fact, confirmed the revelation of God, we may know that future to be a terrible one to the servants of unrighteousness. What is the duty of man as dictated by mere common sense? It is to seek and trust that which is true.
(1) We cannot escape the trial of our securities.
(2) If we set ourselves against God, we challenge all the forces of His creation, fire, wind, flood, pestilence, &c. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
(Isaiah 47:13):--The special reference is to the preparation of monthly almanacs (based on astrological calculations) in which coming (disasters were foretold, lucky and unlucky days pointed out, &c. A specimen of these almanacs is translated by Sayce in Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archeology. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Behold, they shall be as stubble
God’s judgment as consuming fire
The flame is no comfortable fire for warmth, no hearth-fire (Isaiah 44:16) to sit in front of; but, on thecontrary, consuming, eternal, i.annihilating flames (Isaiah 33:14). (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The portion of the ungodly
I. With reference to the FIRST SENTENCE.
1. One of the most striking thoughts which it conveys to the mind is this, that the punishment of the wicked will be easily inflicted. “They shall be as stubble.” Nothing can be more easy than to kindle stubble when it is fully dry. Oh, ungodly and impenitent man, there is that in thyself to-day which, let alone and permitted to ripen, will bring a hell upon thee. Thou hast in thyself the power of memory, and that power shall become a vehicle of sorrow to thee. Thou hast, beside thy memory, a conscience; a con science which thou hast striven to silence; but, even drugged and gagged as it is, it sometimes makes thee feel unhappy. You will then find that you cannot palliate the guilt of sin. Thy memory and thy conscience shall be as two great millstones grinding thee to powder. Then, added to thy memory and to thy conscience, there shall come thy increased knowledge. Thou knowest enough now to leave thee without excuse, but then thy knowledge shall increase so as to leave thee without pretence of apology. Thou shalt then perceive the craft of the tempter who deluded thee. Thou shalt then see the blackness and the filthiness of sin as thou dost not see it now. Then shalt thou understand the greatness and the goodness of the God whom thou hast despised; thou shalt then discern the glory of the heaven which thou hast lost; thou shalt then begin to get an idea of that eternity which shall roll over thy head for ever. Beside, think of thy companions. Shut up fifty drunkards and profane men together, and would they not soon make a hell for themselves without any interposition of Divine power? What will it be when they are bound up in bundles; when the tens of thousands of those who obey not Christ shall find themselves in their own place?
2. This punishment shall be most searching and terrible. The metaphor of fire is used in Scripture because it is that which of all things causeth the most pain, and is the most searching and trying. As fire consumes, and so reaches to the very essence of things, so shall the wrath to come reach to the very essence and subsistence of the soul.
3. This destruction will be most inevitable. “They shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame.” There is hope now; there shall be no hope then. The Lord Jesus, though the most loving of spirits, was the most awful of preachers; and in His sermons, while there is everything that could melt and woo, there is no lack of the great and terrible thunderbolt, and the sounding forth of wrath to come, and the judgment which must await the impenitent.
II. BUT OUR TEXT NOW CHANGES ITS FIGURE. “Thus saith the Lord, There shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it”; by which is meant that there shall be nothing in hell that can give the sinner a moment’s comfort; nothing.
III. And now our text bids us “BEHOLD,” therefore I pray ye turn not away your eyes from this meditation.
1. Children of God, behold it; it will make you grateful. Does not the thought of the misery from which you have escaped make you love your Saviour? And oh, will it not make you love poor sinners too?
2. But specially, you that are unconverted, the text says, “Behold.” It is a gloomy subject for you to think upon, but better to think of it now than to think of it for ever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 47". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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