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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 8

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-4

Isaiah 8:1-4



Four words, or rather two sentences, form now the burden of this message; and they are embodied in the name of a boy.

Maher-shalal,--this first sentence means that quickly shall trophies be taken--the prophet thus seeing the army of Samaria in full and disgraceful flight. While Hash-baz, the second, tells us about booty being taken, as the Assyrian forces shall enter Damascus in 732 B.C., and help themselves to its wealth. (B. Blake, B. D.)

Unconscious testimony



God’s writing

God hath a large print in some of His books. Verily, He can write a small hand too, which men can only see through the microscope of tears. (J. Parker, D. D.)

A man’s pen

They that write for men should write with a man’s pen, and not covet the pen or tongue of angels. (M. Henry.)

A help to memory

It is sometimes a good help to memory to put much matter in few words, which serve as handles by which we take hold of more. (M. Henry.)

Naming children from passing events

In 1900 many a helpless infant was saddled for life with a name drawn from South Africa, and reminiscent of certain towns and certain individuals conquered or conquering by the might of British arms. However patriotic we may be, we feel sympathy for these little innocents with the reverse of euphonious names, for their trials in after days when they become Miss Ladysmith Tomkinson and Mr. Pretorius Simpkinson, will not be light. An additional burden for the feminine portion of this sorry community will be, that their mere names will be as definite as a census paper and as plain as a birth certificate, as a declaration of age. In the year 1926, Mr. William Smith will have no need to inquire diligently the approximate age of Miss Methuen Redvers Robinson; he will at once be able to fix the glorious year when her presence began to usher a happy springtime into this wintry world--at least, for him. Strange and unforeseen results may follow from the naming of the little children from the crimsoned fields of war. But the custom of naming the children from passing events is by no means new. The old Hebrews, with their religious intensity, and fervent patriotism, usually found names for their children that had a very distinct meaning and a very distinct message, quite unlike the stolid English, who may by chance stumble upon the fact that Irene means peace, and Theodore, the gift of God, but who never trouble themselves overmuch about such un-English things. (W. Owen.)


One very distinct difference between this old Hebrew name and any recent English battle name is this, that the latter is a cry of triumph, and the former an announcement of trial, and in this difference there may be seen a difference in the temper of these name makers. “Let us remember the past,” say the English, let us perpetuate our victories and immortalise them, but let defeat be forgotten, and let the future take care of itself.” “No, let us look onward,” said the Hebrew prophet, “let us face the facts, and realise that no past victory at the Red Sea can make us conquerors now, if we lose our faith in God.” Of course, as the result of such an utterance, Isaiah was deemed a pessimist (as is every man who is far-seeing enough to discern the cloud in the distance, even if it be no bigger than a man’s hand, and brave enough to tell what he has seen), and it was easy enough then, as now, and satisfactory enough to the majority, to label him a pessimist and then ignore him! But, on the other hand, it is not the easiest of things to listen to the men who prophesy smoothly of continual summer, while, round them as they speak, the leaves are falling in autumn, and the trees stripping themselves bare to face the unseen icy wind. There is room for the cry, “Maher-shalal-hash-baz!” (W. Owen.)

Verses 5-8

Isaiah 8:5-8

This people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly

Consolation amidst predictions of judgment

Isaiah does not find himself surrounded merely by the very wide circle of an incorrigible people ripe for judgment.

He does not stand alone, but is surrounded by a small band of believing disciples who need consolation and are worthy of it. It is to these that the promising other side of the prophecy of Immanuel belongs. Maher-shalal cannot comfort or console them; for they know that when Assyria has done with Damascus and Samaria the troubles of Judah are not over, but are only really about to begin. The prophecy of Immanuel is destined to be the stronghold of the believers in the terrible judgment time of the worldly power which was then commencing; and to turn into the light and unfold the consolation it contained for the believers, is the purpose of the discourses which now follow (Isaiah 8:5-12). (F. Delitzsch.)

Judgment and salvation

1. Vision of a terrible devastation of the country, north and south, by the Assyrian.

2. The salvation and Saviour that rise to view behind the desolation Isaiah 9:1-7). (A. B. Davidson, LL. D.)

The waters of Shiloah

The waters of Shiloah took their rise on Mount Moriah, “the hill of the Lord,” the hill on which the temple was built. Indeed, the spring is said to have risen within the very precincts of the temple, and to have supplied its courts and cisterns with the abundant water required for its innumerable washings and sacrifices. From the summit of the hill it now flows gently to its base, not along any external channel however, but through a secret tunnel which it seems to have worn for itself through the solid rock. Its waters, therefore, flow underground, running fax before they meet the light of day. And, when they re-emerge, they rise and flow without noise or turbulence. They form no brawling torrent, no swift and angry stream, sweeping away its banks and carrying havoc before it. Softly and gently they rise and fill the pool. Softly and gently they overflow into a placid stream, a stream that does not fail even in times of drought; a stream that quickens all it touches into life, and reveals its presence only by the beauty and fertility which mark its course. This is no imaginary description adapted to the requirements of the passage before us, but a description given by a traveller who stood on its margin and tracked its course only a few years since. And yet how admirably it illustrates the prophet’s words--“The waters of Shiloah that go softly”; or, as the Hebrew word also means, secretly. They do go both secretly and softly. They flow unseen for a while; and when they emerge from their rocky tunnel, they do not rush and fret and whiten in their course as most hill streams do, but lapse gently on, carrying with them a belt of verdure to the very margin of the Dead Sea. The words of Isaiah describe the waters of Shiloah as they remain to this day. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Shiloah and the Euphrates, or mercy and judgment

The history of the Jewish nation mirrors the life of the individual man.


1. They flow vivifyingly. The waters of Shiloah were the life of Jerusalem. The stream of mercy here is our life.

2. They flow constantly. The streams of Shiloah are flowing now. The stream of mercy is constantly rolling by us from infancy to our mortal gasp.

3. They flow softly. It rolls by us almost unheard.

THAT THE ABUSE OF THIS STREAM OF MIRACLES IS AN IMMENSE CRIME. The text teaches that the crime of the Jew in relation to his privileges was two fold:

1. Rejection. “They refused the waters of Shiloah,” which means, they refused to avail themselves of those means of national improvement and defence which the munificent reign of Jehovah under which they lived afforded. They refused to trust Him in their dangers.

2. Presumption. These people “rejoiced in Rezin and Remaliah’s son.” Their minds ever occupied by the failures and successes of wicked men, their hope of safety rested on the confidence they had in mere worldly alliances; they trusted in an arm of flesh. We abuse God’s mercy when we allow it not to inspire us with unshaken confidence in His protecting love and power.

THAT THIS CRIME WILL BRING ON THE TUMULTUOUS RIVER OF RETRIBUTION. “Behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many,” etc.

1. The abuse of mercy leads to retributive misery.

2. The streams of retributive misery stand in awful contrast with them of mercy. (Homilist.)

Shiloah a type of Gospel grace

There are more reasons than one why Siloam, rather than the other waters of Jerusalem, is selected by the prophet as a type of Gospel influences and Gospel grace. It filtered clear from the temple rock,--emblem of grace in its source,--and for a time ran its unseen course underground,--emblem of grace in its secrecy. Then it sparkled out and along a broad band of silver, till it reached the gardens and the vineyards, beyond, where it divided into a hundred tiny courses that covered the sward with their shining network, and filled the air with their gentle music,--emblem of grace in its power to refresh and fertilise. Add to this the fact that Siloam played a part in Jewish religion, and entered once and again into Jewish story. It was there that the temple vessels were cleansed. There, once a year, at the Feast of Tabernacles, the priests went in solemn procession, and fetched water in golden goblets, to pour as an offering to the Lord. There, in later times, dwelt virtue to heal. It was by the brink of Siloam that the impotent man lay till He of whom Siloam testified wrought the cure he had waited so long for in vain. It was in the waters of Siloam that the blind man washed and received his sight. And it was close to Siloam that our Saviour most probably stood, when He spoke of a better store than gushed from its mossy fountain, or rippled in its pebbly bed, and uttered that greatest of all Gospel invitations, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.” The figure is fruitful in striking analogies, suggesting, much as to the nature and progress of Christ’s kingdom of grace beyond the main fact of its gentleness. The Gospel of Christ as a matter that comes not by observation,--the prime and outstanding illustration of that gentleness of God which makes great,--an agency which pursues its peaceful process and accomplishes itspeaceful results, not by might nor by power, but by God’s own Spirit whose operations are generally noiseless and often unseen,--is the subject before us.

1. When we speak of the gentleness of the Gospel, it is not denied that there may be a great deal of stir in the means and the circumstances that precede and prepare for the Gospel. That, however, does not interfere with the truthfulness of the figure; the figure, on the contrary, suggests it. When you wish to dig a bed for a stream, and lead its waters through a region hitherto dry, you must be prepared for a certain disturbance. Rocks may have to be blasted, trees to be torn up, long accumulations to be removed, as rough places are made smooth and crooked places plain, and a channel prepared for the fertilising current. But the stream when it comes may flow softly all the same, gurgling gently past the seams, of the pickaxe and the stones that the powder has stained. The fact is, all God’s saving work is gentle. He may smite like the hammer, but He heals like the dew; His severities may crush, but it is the gentleness that comes after that makes great.

2. Nor, in speaking of the gentleness of the Gospel, do we forget that a great deal of stir may follow it. Most true it is that the Gospel fits a life for outward processes of activity, expenditures of effort and of energy, feats of work and of warfare, which may be far from being secret or noiseless. Just so with a stream. You may have the industry and stir of the mill on its banks, when the wheels whirl and the looms hum, as corn is bruised for man’s food, or cloth is prepared for his raiment; and you may have at the same time the quiet of the stream that turns it, whose current flows softly, and whose ripple is all but unheard as it steals brimming through the lush, level meadows, or hides beneath the overarching elms. Yes, the outcome of the Gospel may mean stir. But the Gospel itself, the secret and spring of it, that is always as the waters of Shiloah that flow softly.

3. Nor, once more, when we speak of the gentleness and equality of the grace and influences of the Gospel, do we fail to remember that even the Gospel itself has its periods of quickening and enlargement. Every now and then the stream of its influences is more copious, and the evidence of its existence more visible and obtrusive. Again the figure fits in at this point,--for Siloam was intermittent. Every few hours or so the calmness of its surface was broken, the speed of its current was hastened, by a richer jet of water from its spring. But no perception of the good to be gained at such epochs is to blind our eyes to the fact that the blessing may exist, and exist to fertilise and enrich at other times, when the course of God’s dealings is more ordinary, and their effects more regular and unseen. After all, the waters of Shiloah flow softly, and, even when stillest and most secret, they are visible enough for thirsty souls to discover their existence, abundant enough for them to dip their pitchers, and drink. (W. A. Gray.)

The choices of life

Are we not all more or less in the position of the Jews whom Isaiah addresses, with perils surrounding us, and with the need of protection and assistance pressed home on us? Have we not all, too, an alternative of the same kind presented us,--between Gospel grace and Gospel influences on the one hand, and worldly advantages and alliances on the other,--between the waters of. Shiloah that go softly, whose very silence and secrecy may offend us, and the noisier rapids of earth, which attract, like the Euphrates in the prophet’s figure, only to disappoint or betray? Every man’s life yields an opportunity for choosing, and every man’s life is shaped and conditioned by the choice which he makes.

Let me exemplify the alternative before us by a reference to THE EXAMPLE WE FOLLOW. Our example has been given us. It is the example of one whose existence while here was a living embodiment of the figure of the text It ran its course through this earth of ours like the waters of Shiloah that go softly. The stream of Shiloah was a picture and a prophecy of Christ. The mystery lies wrapped in the very name, and John, the evangelist, who was ever quick in discerning such references, and ever ready in expressing them, intends the analogy to be marked when he says: “The pool of Siloam, which is by interpretation, Sent.” And was not the sending of Christ, to begin with, and His life all throughout, characterised by the aspect of the text! What of His youth? For thirty long years, His life ran its hidden course,--through a self-restraint that may well be called marvellous, making music and greenness, no doubt, in the mountain retreat where it flowed, but known nowhere besides; scarcely recognised, as it seems, even there. And when solitude and secrecy had accomplished their work, and His hour for disclosure had come, and the stream that had hitherto hid itself took its way through the glare of publicity, as He wrought and spoke among men, was it otherwise? Still, as before, His life, like the waters of Shiloah, flowed softly. Take His mien and bearing among men. Popularity did not elate Him; difficulty did not bewilder Him; insult did not ruffle Him. He was never unquiet; He never made haste; He was never surprised. Or take the nature of His kingdom and His sway. It was a powerful sway that He exercised even while on earth, but how was it manifested, and to what did it owe its might? No flaunt of banner nor beat of drum accompanied His progress. Victor and King though He was, He did not cry nor lift up His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He did not break; the smoking flax He did not quench. Whatever of tumult and confusion He experienced, it was in His circumstances and not in His life. Have you found your ideal of life in a picture of purity, of charity, of self-restraint and self-sacrifice such as this? If your heart’s real creed is, Blessed are the rich, blessed are the joyful, blessed are the self-aggrandising, blessed are they of whom all men speak well,--your choice is the choice of the Jews; you have pitched by the rivers of Assyria, with their treacherous waves for protection, and their turbid stores for supply.

We pass from the examples men follow, to THE PRINCIPLES AND THE AGENCIES THEY RELY ON, and try to illustrate how the alternative holds there. And the choice is just as before, between such agencies as are unobtrusive and gracious, and those that are pretentious and human; between the aids of religion and the aids of the world. Most men have an eye to success; especially have the young; and how often do they, in the choice of the agencies they depend on and the means they adopt, choose wrong. The thought applies to communities and to Churches as well as to individuals.

Let us apply the principle of the text to THE MODES OF RELIGION WE ADOPT. There, too, there is the difference between what is unobtrusive on the one hand and what is ostentatious on the other; between what is satisfying and secure and what is disappointing and unsafe; between what is true and what is false. “The waters of Shiloah that go softly”; does not the phrase remind us--

1. Of the Gospel’s simplicity.

2. Of its secrecy and noiselessness?

Phases of religion may come and go, and those who imagine that religion is real only where its instrumentalities are special, and its outward manifestations demonstrative, may have their hopes dashed and their faith staggered, as they watch these manifestations disappear. But religion itself, the kingdom which cometh not by observation, may be pursuing its quiet course, and extending its beneficent influences notwithstanding, and that in ways and in quarters which are unseen and unguessed of now, but which the last great day will in due time declare. (W. A. Gray.)

“By cool Siloam’s shady rill”

Not only because of their usefulness had the waters of Shiloah endeared themselves to the heart of Israel. There were other and more hallowed associations which they suggested.

The waters of Shiloah represented to the Jew the idea of FATHERLAND. Both Israel and Judah were in danger of forgetting the true ideal of patriotism which David had fostered, and were fast degenerating into a spurious imitation of it, a mere feverish militarism. How are we to translate this message into the English of the twentieth century? Does it not mean that the springs of our national greatness are not the matters which bulk most largely in our newspapers, are not the doings of courts and kings, of diplomatists and statesmen, of generals and armies, though these have an influence on a nation’s destiny, and often one not to be despised? But far more important are the more unobtrusive factors of a nation’s greatness; its care for the moral nurture and intellectual equipment of its children, its fostering of the arts and sciences and industrial training, the quality of its manufactures and the honesty of its commerce, its care for the moral and material condition of the workmen who produce its wealth, the freedom of its subjects, the equity of its laws, the purity and loftiness of its literature, the respect for religion, for home, for marriage bonds,--these are the things that make a nation great, though they are as “the waters of Shiloah that go softly” little seen and regarded The penalty for refusing these softly flowing waters of Shiloah is obvious to Isaiah’s mind. The instinct of the statesman in him, apart from any predictive faculty, would be quite sufficient to show him the inevitable end of such fatuity. The king of Assyria, at first invited to interfere in Judah’s interest, would be sure finally to interfere in his own, and both Israel and Judah, weakened by mutual jealousy and strife, and by internal dissensions, would fall an easy prey. So do God’s retributive providences ever fall on the nation which forgets the true sources of its greatness, relies on the arm of flesh while inward corruption is working unheeded at its vitals, forsakes an enlightened patriotism which strives to be great for a spurious one which labours to appear so.

These waters of Shiloah suggested to the Jew, not only his Fatherland, but his RELIGION. It was a sacred stream, for it rose in a spur of Mount Zion, near the temple. And at the Feast of Tabernacles, on “the last great day of the feast,” a priest brought water from the Pool of Siloam in a golden vessel, and poured it on the altar amid the rejoicings of the people. It was on this annual occasion that the Immanuel prophesied by Isaiah stood and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” Judah, in Isaiah’s time, was fast deserting the religion so closely associated with this stream. Such apostasy from God brings its own retribution before long, whether on the nation or the individual that practises it. Some such loosening of moral fibre is often seen, not only in the man who loses his hold on religion itself, but who loses his loyalty to the Church which nurtured him.

The waters of Shiloah also represented to the Jew the sanctities of HOME, and the prophet here reproves him because he had rejected these sanctities and beauties of religious family life for polygamy and foul idolatry, which broke up the family, and embittered and destroyed its hallowed relationships. The word “home” is one in which we English have a special heritage. Be careful where you go outside the home for your enjoyments. Do not cast aside the healthful restraints of home, and reject those quiet waters, lest there rise upon you “the waters of the river, strong and many,” remorse and unavailing repentance, self-contempt, lost character, and a hopeless future. (C. A. Healing, B. A.)

God’s gentle care

The brook which flowed by the base of Mount Zion, and down by the side of the temple-covered Moriah, was an emblem of the help and defence which the God of Zion and of the temple supplied to His people in Jerusalem. And it was no angry or noisy torrent, but water that flowed softly. So for communities and individuals now who trust in Him, there is a quiet but most potent protection from the Lord. Let us show this in the case of an individual.

TROUBLE WITHOUT. Say that gloom or pain, or both together, fall upon you. Your heart, like that of the king and people referred to by the prophet Isaiah, is agitated “as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.” You seek God in your affliction: you hearken to His prophets; you look to Him for deliverance. And from some unexpected quarter help arises. Your burden is lightened; your disaster is retrieved. Do not call it good fortune. You do well to seize what helps and remedies are brought within your reach; but give the glory to God. It is His secret will, His noiseless care that has been your true defence. You are not hurt because of “the waters of Shiloah that go softly.”

TROUBLE WITHIN. The spiritual life is invaded and endangered by unseen foes and spiritual wickednesses; and against such adversaries the appeal to God may still be made--“Strive Thou, O Lord, with those that strive with me: fight Thou against them that fight against me.” In such cases of spiritual temptation, God knows how to help. But do not look for any mere show of power. It is the enemy that “comes in like a flood.” Yet far greater than the power of the enemy is the power of Him who is to His people as cool Siloam’s shady rill.” Fussy Christians are feeble. The calm and strong are they who trust God simply and fully, and are content with “the waters that go softly.” The Lord will beautify the meek with salvation. In new covenant faith and privilege we are come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God the heavenly Jerusalem. It becomes us to be calm, because that Living One is our defence. (D. Fraser, D. D.)

The Jewish temptation to a false trust

All the Hebrew prophets, and Isaiah among them, use the kingdoms of Syria and of Assyria as types of the great world power, of those external forces of every kind in which it is our constant temptation to trust rather than in the Maker of heaven and earth. To the Jewish people, dwelling in their scattered village communities, with their self-elected judges and leaders--to this people, who were held together by religious rather than by political ties, the vast organised despotisms beyond their borders were a strangely impressive and terrible spectacle. It is impossible to read the inspired prophecies and chronicles without perceiving that the national imagination was dominated, that it was now attracted and now daunted, by the immense power of these great instruments of conquest and oppression; without perceiving that in the minds both of prophets and of the people these despotisms came to stand for all the hostile and seductive forces of that world which is without God and even opposes itself against Him. (S. Cox, D. D.)

A virtual renunciation of the Consolation of Israel

In preferring the alliance of Syria and Assyria to the help of God, these men were virtually renouncing their special prerogative, the peculiar hope and consolation of Israel For just as those ancient despotisms were prophetic types of the forces of the outward world, so the son of Isaiah was a type of the true Immanuel, and the waters of Shiloah a type of the quickening and cleansing ministry of Him who was sent of God to take away the sin of the world. To refuse the waters of Shiloah for the sake of Rezin and Remaliah’s son, to pay so little heed to the promises and significance of the birth of Immanuel, was virtually, therefore, to reject the God whom they professed to worship, and to renounce the hope to which they had been called. It was to prefer man to God. It was to be conformed to the world, and alienated from the Christ. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Choice and its consequences

If we refuse gracious ministries we must encounter judicial judgment. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Wise and unwise choices

Let us be vest pleased with the waters of Shiloah, that go softly, for rapid streams are dangerous. (M. Henry.)

Christ the true Shiloah

No sooner has St. John told us (John 9:1-41) that Jesus declared Himself to be “sent” of the Father, than he also tells us that Siloam means “sent”; the implication being that just as Christ was sent, so also the waters of Siloam were sent by God, and were His gift to the world. The commentators are agreed that the apostle adds this parenthesis in order to teach us that the cleansing, healing spring, which gave sight to the blind and kept the temple pure, was a symbol of the Messiah and of His cleansing and enlightening ministry. He tells us that Siloam meant “sent of God” in order that we may recognise in Christ the true Siloam - Him by whose virtue the sick are healed and the service of God is sanctified. So that, in fine, to refuse the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and to dread or to glory in Rezin and Remaliah’s son, is, in the last resort, to put our trust in the forces of this visible and passing world, instead of trusting in Christ, the Sent One of God and the Saviour of the world. A very beautiful and suggestive meaning is thus reached. For the passage, so obscure at first, sets Christ before us--

I. AS THE SENT ONE OF GOD, the true Siloam. He is the Fountain of Life in the spiritual temple.

IN THE MIGHT OF HIS GENTLENESS. The waters of Shiloah go softly, secretly. In like manner, Jesus did not strive nor cry, nor make a home in the streets. His course through life, like that of the sacred hill stream, was to be traced by the blessings He shed around Him, the added life and fruitfulness He carried to prepared and fertile hearts, the new life and fruitfulness He carried to barren hearts.

AS REJECTED BY HIS OWN. They refused the waters of Shiloah--refused them precisely because they ran softly. Had Jesus come to reveal His power instead of to display His mercy, blazing fierce wrath upon His enemies and smiting hostile nations to the earth, the Jews would probably have received Him and rejoiced in Him. But He came not with observation. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Verses 11-15

Isaiah 8:11-15

For the Lord spake thus to me

God’s overpowering hand

The hand is the absolute Hand which, when it is laid upon a man, overpowers all his perception, feeling, and thinking.

(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)

“With strength of hand”

(Isaiah 8:11):--That is, seizing him and casting him into the prophetic trance (2 Kings 3:15; Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 8:1). (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)

Warning and encouragement

The cry in Judah had been, “There is a conspiracy against us, a formidable combination, which can only be met by a counter-alliance with Assyria” (such appears to be the best interpretation of this difficult verse): Isaiah and his little circle of adherents had been warned not to join in it, not to judge of the enterprise, or probable success, of Rezin and Pekah, by the worldly and superficial estimate of the masses. A truer guide for action had been revealed to them. “Do not,” such is the lesson which he has been taught, “do not follow the common people in their unreasonable alarm” (verse 12): “Jehovah of hosts, Him shall ye count holy; and let Him be your fear, and Him your dread,” i.e., in modern phraseology, “Do not be guilty of a practical abandonment of Jehovah; do not sacrifice principle to expediency. If you do not lose faith, “He will be for you a sanctuary” (verse 14), i.e., (apparently) He will be as a sanctuary protecting the territory in which it is situated, and securing for those who honour it safety and peace; “but” (it is ominously added) “a cause of stumbling and ruin to both the houses of Israel,” to you of Judah not less than to those of Ephraim, to whom alone you think that the warning can apply. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)

Principle and expediency

Translated into modem language, the prophet’s lesson is this--that those who in a time of difficulty and temptation sacrifice principle to expediency, sad abandon the clear path of duty for a course which may seem to lead to some greater immediate advantage, must not be surprised if the penalty which they ultimately have to pay be a severe one. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)

Verses 12-14

Isaiah 8:12-14

Neither fear ye their fear.

Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself

Sanctifying the Lord

To sanctify Jehovah is in mind and in practice to recognise Him as the holy God, the Lord who is absolute, free from the limitations which hinder all other beings from carrying their wills into full operation; and to believe with the whole heart that God can and does govern all things according to the counsel of His own will, and that what He determines does certainly come to pass, however probabilities and appearances may be against the belief. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)

God should be a sailor’s supreme regard

Isaiah’s--or rather the Divine--policy was one of non-alliance and non-intervention. It did not forbid kindly commercial and literary intercourse with foreign nations. On the contrary, it ever looked hopefully forward to a time when all kings and their subjects should acknowledge Jehovah, and flow into His house. It was a policy of justifiable and absolute trust in the protecting care of the living God, who holds the nations in the hollow of His hand. It was a policy of the highest and truest patriotism, because it first insisted on the internal purification of the nation from sin and disobedience, from idolatry, drunkenness, oppression of the poor, unrighteous trading, luxury and lust, from hypocrisies and shams of ceremonial religion; and then, upon the uselessness and irrationality of standing armies and warlike weapons. (F. Sessions.)

The true remedy against fear

SPEAK AGAINST GIVING WAY TO FEAR. In periods of alarm the reports that are spread always much outstrip the truth. Fear is a very inventive passion; it creates to itself many causes of alarm which have no existence, and greatly magnifies those which really exist.

POINT OUT THE PROPER AND ONLY SUFFICIENT REMEDY AGAINST DISQUIETUDE. There is no rationality in being free from fear, or relieved from fear, otherwise than by true piety towards God. “Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself,” etc.

SHOW HOW COMPLETE THIS RELIEF OUGHT TO BE. And in doing this, I shall place before you a few passages of Holy Scripture showing what is proposed to you, what may be hoped for and ought to be aspired after. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower,” etc. The perfections of God are our never-failing resource and security. “Come, My people, enter into thy chambers,” etc. (Isaiah 26:20). “Be careful for nothing,” etc. “Cast thyburden on the Lord,” etc. Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace, etc. They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion,” etc. (J. Scott, M. A.)

The fear of God

THE WHOLE SUBJECT OF GODHEAD IS ONE OF AWE, and if of awe, then “dread.” The more you know of God, the more you feel the unfathomableness of the mystery of Godhead. And all mystery is awe. It is a rule of our being, that we must tremble when we stand on the margin of the unknown. Therefore they who know most of God will most “fear,” not His anger, but simply His amazing greatness.

THE SENSE OF MERCY AND BENEFITS HEAPED UPON US HAS AN OVERWHELMING INFLUENCE UPON THE MIND. Do not you know what it is to tremble at a danger when you have escaped it, much more than you did when you encountered it? That is exactly the “fear” and the “dread” of a pardoned sinner. It is the contemplation of a thundercloud which has rolled over your head.

REVERENCE IS THE GREAT LESSON WHICH OUR AGE HAS TO LEARN. Be suspicious of the love which is without awe. Remember that our best acquaintance with God only shows us more the immensity of the fields of thought which no mind can traverse.

“HE SHALL BE FOR A SANCTUARY.” Do you recoil at the idea of dreading God? That which makes the dread makes the hiding place. To those who fear, He shall be for a sanctuary.

1. To a Jewish mind, the first idea of the sanctuary would be refuge.

2. The sanctuary of safety becomes the home of peace. “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.”

3. God is the fountain of your holiness. The Shechinah shines you become familiar with the precincts of that holy you catch some of its rays, and reflect its glory. (J. Vaughan.)


AN EVIL PRACTICE PROHIBITED. “Fear not their fear, neither be afraid.” Sinful fears are apt to drive the best men into sinful compliances and indirect shifts to help themselves. Their fear may be understood two ways--

1. Subjectively. A fear that enslaved them in bondage of spirit, a fear that is the fruit of sin, a sin in its own nature, the cause of much sin to them, and a just punishment of God upon them for their other sins.

2. Effectively. Let not your fear produce in you such mischievous effects as their fear doth; to make you forget God, magnify the creature, prefer your own wits and policies to the almighty power and never-failing faithfulness of God.

AN EFFECTUAL REMEDY PRESCRIBED. “Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself,” etc. The fear of God will swallow up the fear of man, a reverential awe and dread of God will extinguish the slavish fear of the creature, as the sunshine puts out fire, or as one fire fetches out another. When the Dictator ruled at Rome, then all other officers ceased; and so, in a great measure, will all other fears, where the fear of God is dictator in the heart.

A SINGULAR ENCOURAGEMENT PROPOSED. “He shall be for a sanctuary.” (J. Flavel.)

Fear and it, remedy



Different kinds of fear

There is a threefold fear in man, namely--

NATURAL, of which all are partakers that partake of the common nature. It is the trouble or perturbation of mind, from the apprehension of approaching evil or impending danger.

1. To this natural fear it pleased our Lord Jesus Christ to subject Himself in the days of His flesh (Mark 14:33).

2. This fear creates great trouble and perturbation in the mind; in proportion to the danger is the fear, and in proportion to the fear, the trouble and distraction of the mind; if the fear be exceedingly great, reason is displaced.

3. Evil is the object of fear, and the greater the evil is the stronger the fear must needs be; therefore the terrors of an awakened and terrified conscience must be allowed to be the greatest of terrors, because in that case a man hath to do with a great and terrible God, and is scared with apprehensions of His infinite and eternal wrath, than which no evil is or can be greater.

4. Yet evil, as evil, is rather the object of hatred than of fear. It must be an imminent or near approaching evil that provokes fear.

5. All constitutions and tempers admit not the same degrees of fear.

SINFUL. Not only our infelicity but our fault. The sinfulness of it lies in five things.

1. In the spring and cause of it, which is unbelief (chap. 30:15-17).

2. In the excess and immoderacy of it; for it may be truly said of our fears, as the philosopher speaks of waters, it is hard to keep them within bounds.

3. In the inordinacy of it. To exalt the power of any creature by our fears, and give it such an ascendancy over us as if it had an arbitrary and absolute dominion over us, or over our comforts, to do with them what it pleased--this is to put the creature out of its own class and rank into the place ofGod. To trust in any creature as if it had the power of a God to keep us, or to fear any creature, as if it had the power of a God to hurt us, is exceedingly sinful (Matthew 10:28).

4. In the distracting influence it hath upon the hearts of men, whereby it discomposes and unfits them for the discharge of their duties. Under an extraordinary fear both grace and reason, like the wheels of a watch, wound above its due height, stand still, and have no motion at all.

5. In the power it hath to dispose and incline men to the use of sinful means to put by their danger, and to cast them into the hands and power of temptation (Proverbs 29:25; Isaiah 57:11). There is a double lie occasioned by fear, one in words and another in deeds; hypocrisy is a lie done, a practical He, and our Church history abounds with sad examples dissimulation through fear.

RELIGIOUS. This is our treasure, not our torment; the chief ornament of the soul; its beauty and perfection. It is the natural passion sanctified, and thereby changed and baptized into the name and nature of a spiritual grace. This fear is prescribed as an antidote against sinful fears; it devours carnal fears, as Moses’ serpent did those of the enchanters.

1. It is planted in the soul as a permanent and fixed habit; it is not of the natural growth and production of man’s heart, but of supernatural infusion and implantation (Jeremiah 32:40).

2. It puts the soul under the awe of God’s eye. It is the reproach of the servants of men to be eye servants, but it is the praise and honour of God’s servants to be so.

3. This respect to the eye of God inclines them to perform and do whatsoever pleaseth Him and is commanded by Him; hence, fearing God and working righteousness, are linked together (Acts 10:35; Genesis 22:12).

4. This fear engageth, and in some degree enableth, the soul in which it is, to avoid whatsoever is displeasing to God (Job 2:3). (J. Flavel.)

The use of natural fear

If fear did not clap its fetters upon the wild and boisterous lusts of men, they would certainly bear down all milder motives, and break loose from all bonds of restraint. Men would become like the fishes of the sea (Habakkuk 1:14), where the greater swallow up a multitude of the smaller fry alive at one gulp; power and opportunity to do mischief would measure out to men their lot and inheritance, and consequently all societies must disband and break up. It is the law and fear of punishment that keeps the world in order; men are afraid to do evil because they are afraid to suffer it. If the severest penalties in the world were annexed to, or appointed by, the law, they could signify nothing to the ends of government without fear. This is that tender, sensible power or passion on which threatenings work, and so brings men under moral government and restraint (Romans 13:3-4). (J. Flavel.)

The use of sinful fear

The Lord knows how to overrule this in His providential government of the world to His own wise and holy purposes. And He does so--

1. By making it HIS scourge to punish His enemies. If men will not fear God they shall fear men. There is scarce a greater torment to be found in the world than for a man to be his own tormentor, and his mind made a rack and engine of torture to his body. It is a dreadful threatening which is recorded in Deuteronomy 28:65-67. When fear hath once seized the heart, you may see death’s colours displayed in the face.

2. By fear God punishes His enemies in hell.

3. Providence makes use of the slavish fears and terrors of wicked men to scatter them, when they are combined and confederated against the people of God (Psalms 78:55, and Joshua 24:11-12. See also Psalms 9:20). (J. Flavel.)

The use of religious fear

1. By this fear the people of God are excited to and confirmed in the way of duty (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Jeremiah 32:40).

2. Another excellent use of this fear is, to preserve the purity and peace of our consciences by preventing grief and guilt therein (Proverbs 16:6; Genesis 39:9; Nehemiah 5:15).

3. A principal use of this fear is, to awaken us to make timely provisions for future distresses, that whensoever they come, they may not come by way of surprise upon us (Hebrews 11:7; Proverbs 14:16). (J. Flavel.)

The causes of sinful fear

The sinful fears of most good men spring out of their IGNORANCE; all darkness disposes to fear, but none like intellectual darkness. You read Song of Solomon 3:8) how Solomon’s lifeguard had every man his sword upon his thigh, “because of fear in the night.” The night is the frightful season, in the dark every bush is a bear; we sometimes smile by day to see what silly things those were that scared us in the night. So it is here; were our judgments but duly informed, how soon would our hearts be quieted! There is a fivefold ignorance out of which fears are generated.

1. Ignorance of God. Ignorance and inconsiderateness lay at the root of the fears expressed in Isaiah 40:27.

2. Ignorance of men. Did we consider men as they are in the hand of our God we should not tremble at them as we do.

3. Ignorance of ourselves and the relation we have to God (IsaGe 15:1; Nehemiah 6:11). O that we could, without vanity, but value ourselves duly according to our Christian dignities and privileges, which, if ever it be necessary to count over and value, it is in such times of danger, when the heart is so prone to sinking fears.

4. Ignorance of our dangers and troubles. We are ignorant of--

(1) The comforts that are in them. Paul and Silas met that in a prison which made them to sing at midnight, and so have many more since their day.

(2) The outlets and escapes from them (Psalms 68:20; 2 Peter 2:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13).

5. Especially ignorance and inconsiderateness of the covenant of grace.

Another cause of sinful fear is GUILT UPON THE CONSCIENCE. No sooner had Adam defiled and wounded his conscience with guilt, but he trembles and hides himself (Proverbs 28:1; Isaiah 33:14). To this wounded and trembling conscience is opposed the spirit of a sound mind 2 Timothy 1:7). An evil conscience foments fears and terrors three ways.

1. By aggravating small matters. So it was with Cain (Genesis 4:14), “Every one that meets me will slay me.” Now every child was a giant in his eye, and anybody he met his over-match.

2. By interpreting all doubtful cases in the worst sense that can be fastened upon them. If the swallows do but chatter in the chimney, Bessus interprets it to be a discovery of his crime; that they are telling tales of him and saying, Bessus killed a man.

3. A guilty conscience can and often does create fears and terrors out of nothing at all (Psalms 53:5).

No less is the sin of UNBELIEF the real and proper cause of most distracting fears (Matthew 8:26). Fear is generated by unbelief, and unbelief strengthened by fear, as in nature there is an observable circular generation, vapours begetting showers and showers new vapours.

1. Unbelief weakens the assenting act of faith, and thereby cuts off from the soul, in a great measure, its principal relief against danger and troubles Hebrews 11:27).

2. Unbelief shuts up the refuges of the soul in the Divine promises, and by leaving it without those refuges, must needs leave it in the hand of fears and terrors.

3. Unbelief makes men negligent in providing for troubles before they come, and so brings them by way of surprises upon them.

4. Unbelief leaves our dearest interests and concerns in our own hands; it commits nothing to God, and consequently must needs fill the heart with distracting fears when imminent dangers threaten us (1Pe 4:19; 2 Timothy 1:12; Proverbs 16:3).

Many of our fears are raised by THE PROMISCUOUS ADMINISTRATION OF PROVIDENCE in this world (Ecclesiastes 9:2; Ezekiel 21:3; Habakkuk 1:13). The butcheries of the Albigenses, Waldenses, etc.

1. We are apt to consider that the same race and kind of men that committed these outrages upon our brethren are still in being, and that their malice is not abated in the least degree. Cain’s club is to this day carried up and down the world, stained with the blood of Abel, as Bucholtzer speaks.

2. We know also that nothing hinders the execution of their wicked purposes against us but the restraints of providence.

3. We find that God hath many times let loose these lions upon His people. The best men have suffered the worst things.

4. We are conscious how far short we come in holiness of those excellent persons who have suffered these things, and therefore have no ground to expect more favour from providence than they found. The revolving of such considerations in our thoughts and mixing our own unbelief with them, creates a world of fears, even in good men, till, by resignation of all to God, and acting faith upon His promises (Romans 8:28; Ps Isaiah 27:8; Revelation 7:17), we do, at last, recover our hearts out of the hands of our fears again, and compose them to a quiet and sweet satisfaction in the wise and holy pleasure of our God.

OUR IMMODERATE LOVE OF LIFE AND THE COMFORTS AND CONVENIENCES THEREOF may be assigned as a proper and real ground and cause of our sinful fears, when the dangers of the times threaten the one or the other (Revelation 12:11; Acts 20:24-25).

1. Life is the greatest and nearest interest men naturally have in this world, and that which wraps up all other inferior interests in itself (Job 2:4; Genesis 25:32).

2. That which endangers life must, in the eyes of the natural man, be the greatest evil that can befall him.

3. Though death be terrible in any shape, yet a violent death by the hands of cruel and merciless men is the most terrible form that death can appear in.

Many of our sinful fears flow from THE INFLUENCES OF SATAN upon our phantasies. By putting men into such frights he weakens their hands in duty, as is plain from his attempt this way upon Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:13), and if he prevail there, he drives them into the snares and traps of his temptations, as the fisherman and fowler do the birds and fishes in their nets, when once they have frighted them out of their coverts. (J. Flavel.)

Effects of slavish and inordinate fear


1. Hereby Satan will cut off the freedom and sweetness of our communion with God in duties.

2. So distracting fears cut off the soul from the reliefs it might otherwise draw from the promises.

3. We lose the benefit and comfort of all our past experiences (Isaiah 51:12-13).

DISSIMULATION AND HYPOCRISY. Abraham (Genesis 20:2; Genesis 20:11); Genesis 26:7); Peter (Matthew 26:69, etc.)

1. By these falls and scandals religion is made contemptible in the eyes of the world.

2. It greatly weakens the hands of others, and proves a sore discouragement to them in their trials, to see their brethren faint for fear, and ashamed to own their principles.

3. It will be a terrible blow and wound to our own consciences.

THE STRENGTHENING OF TEMPTATION IN TIMES OF DANGER Proverbs 29:25). Aaron (Exodus 32:1-35) ; David (1 Samuel 21:12). It was fear that prevailed with Origen to yield so far as he did in offering incense to the idol, the consideration of which fact brake his heart to pieces.

1. Sinful fear drives men out of their place and duty.

2. Fear is usually the first passion in the soul that parleys with the enemy, and treats with the tempter about terms of surrender. “The castle that parleys is half won” (French proverb), e.g., Spira.

3. Fear makes men impatient of waiting God’s time and method of deliverance, and so drives the soul into the snare of the next temptation.

PUSILLANIMITY AND COWARDICE. You find it joined frequently in the Scriptures with discouragement (Deuteronomy 1:21; Deuteronomy 20:3, etc.).

APOSTASY. It is not so much from the fury of our enemies without, as from our fears within, that temptations become victorious over us Matthew 24:9-10).

GREAT BONDAGE OF SPIRIT. Sinful fear makes death a thousand times more terrible than it would otherwise be (Hebrews 2:16).

1. Such a bondage as this destroys all the comfort and pleasure of life.

2. It destroys our spiritual comforts.

3. It deprives us of the manifold advantages we might gain by the calm and composed meditations of our own death. (J. Flavel.)

The security of the righteous under national calamity

A CAUTION (Isaiah 8:12).

1. It will be necessary to explain the emotion against which the caution is directed. Taking the caution in its comprehensive import, it is addressed to men, not to submit the government of the soul to the influence of excessive terror, arising from the approach of temporal calamity and distress. It is an universal disposition, among the children of men, in the prospect of evil, to admit such fears and such emotions as these. The thought, for example, of national distresses, such as those which were now about to be poured out on the people of Israel; the thought of personal trials in the common relations of life, from domestic distress, from disease, from bereavement and death, are causes that often inspire the emotion we contend against, as existing in former ages, and which we are aware is often witnessed now.

2. We must consider also, the reasons on which the propriety of this caution is founded.

(1) The origin of this emotion of fear is always degrading and improper, proceeding, as it invariably does, from ignorance or forgetfulness, or a disbelief of God as a God of providence and grace.

(2) Its workings always fill the mind with unnecessary agitation, alarm, and anguish, and disturb it from, and entirely unfit it for, the right and adequate performance of the existing and the varied duties of life.

(3) It opens the way for the entrance of many dark and dreadful temptations, and thus drives men to seek a shelter in those means which are forbidden by God; to propose an alliance, on any terms whatever, with adversaries whom, as idolaters, and the avowed and open enemies of God, they ought entirely to have foiled.

(4) It is often directed to means of increased danger and trial, or to resort to those refuges which are but the means of increasing calamity. Thus, when we find that a confederacy of this unholy description, under the influence of slavish fear, had been formed by Israel with the people of Egypt, that very plan was the means of their downfall. God, at the commencement of the thirty-first chapter of Isaiah, exclaims, “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help,” etc.

A RECOMMENDATION. “Sanctify,” or select and set apart, “the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him,” so selected and set apart, “be your fear, and let Him be your dread.”

1. In this recommendation there is a call upon man to honour Jehovah, by recognising the presence and the action of His perfections in the various calamitous visitations which He permits or sends. His knowledge, His power, His holiness, His justice, His wisdom--

2. Here is a call upon men to honour Jehovah by repenting of their past transgressions, and by devoting themselves to a practical obedience to His commandments. It is remarkable to observe, especially in the Old Testament, how often the fear of God is connected with repentance, and with obedience to God.

3. Here is a call upon men to honour Jehovah by resorting and trusting to His mercy, as that which will grant spiritual blessings, and give final salvation to their souls.

A PROMISE. “He shall be for a sanctuary.” The ordinary meaning which is ascribed to the word “sanctuary” is simply a place of religious worship; in this case, however, as in many others of the sacred writings, it signifies a place of religious worship, devoted also as a place where endangered persons may receive security. Amongst the heathen, religious temples were places of refuge; and when men endangered by misfortune or even crime ran within the threshold of the place called holy there was no possibility of grasping the offender; so long as he remained in the sanctuary he was safe. So it was amongst the Jews. When it is said that “God shall be for a sanctuary,” it is intended that God shall be as a holy building where men endangered by temporal calamity may find shelter and repose. The instances are singularly numerous in which God is presented in the character of a refuge (Psalms 18:1-2; Psalms 46:1; Psalms 46:11; Proverbs 18:10; Isaiah 4:6; Isaiah 26:1; Isaiah 26:3; Isaiah 26:20).

1. God shelters those who resort to Him as their sanctuary from the perturbation of slavish fear. The fear of God is strictly what is called an expulsive emotion; it banishes from the mind of man a vast quantity of other modifications of feeling, from which he could derive only sorrow and anguish and pain (Proverbs 14:26).

2. The Lord of hosts shelters those who resort to Him as their sanctuary from temporal judgments. There is provided, on behalf of the righteous, a remarkable exemption from those temporal calamities and judgments which God inflicts upon men directly as the consequence of sin. And if it sometimes does happen that the righteous suffer in those judgments as well as the wicked, it is not because of failure in the promises of God, but because the righteous will not come out and be separate. If a man will stay in Sodom when God has threatened to devour it with fire, the man who so stays must be destroyed. But when there is a separation from all the ungodly confederacies of the world, and a solemn and determinative sanctification to the Lord, by causing Him to be our fear and dread, the Scriptures plainly state that there shall, as the result, be an exemption from all those calamities which fall upon the world for sin (Ezekiel 9:4-6).

3. With regard to those calamities which are the common allotments of life, we are not to say that from these there is an exemption; they must suffer death in its most sudden, and its most awful power. But there is a Spirit that “guides the whirlwind and that rides upon the storm”; there is a hand of mercy in these calamities of providence, transforming them into a new class of blessings.

4. The Lord of hosts shelters those who resort to Him as their sanctuary from the perils and perdition of final ruin. (James Parsons.)

The Lord a sanctuary

THE DUTY. “Sanctify the Lord of hosts,” etc.

THE PROMISE. “He shall be for a sanctuary.” Consider the preciousness of this promise in the time when all human help will be vain. We refer to the last day, when Christ shall come “to judge both the quick and the dead.” (W. Horwood.)

The true sanctuary, and how to get there

THIS PASSAGE TELLS US WHAT TO DO WITH OUR NATURAL FEARS. God is in the believer’s life as He is not in the life of another. He has come to him in the wilderness to be his guide, into the storm to be his pilot, into the battle to be his captain. All difficulties are nothing before Divine wisdom, all opposition nothing against Divine strength. The Christian’s great danger is unbelief or unfaithfulness to God, which would make him lose for a time the means of safety and victory. He is like one closely following a guide in the darkness over pathless mountains, whose one concern is to keep him in sight who will thus secure to him a safe and successful journey; and again he k like a child who does not burden himself with any cares, but that of pleasing the father whose love and power have supplied all his need in the past and will supply all in the future. It is thus that the Christian fears his foes, only as the possible causes of the one misfortune of estrangement from his God. The treacherousness of his own heart and the subtlety of those enemies who are ever seeking to break the union which makes him too strong for them, exercise his thoughts and his feelings, but all in relation to God, so that He alone may be truly said to be the fear of HIS people. All this is true for a Church as it is true for the individual Christian.


THIS PASSAGE OFFERS THE MOST EXALTED NOTION OF A SANCTUARY. Man dwelling in God is the realisation of our happiness and of the Divine glory. It speaks to all of purity, safety, peace, but it speaks of much more, according to the spiritual capacity of those to whom it is made known. But few among the thousands of Israel knew anything of abiding in that house of God, which, whether they knew it or not, represented Jehovah Himself.

Most of them visited it at intervals more or less rare, and left to the priestly family the duty and privilege of regarding it as their home. And in this the great mass of professors are aptly represented by the nation of Israel. They seek the Divine sanctuary as a house of defence or a place for pardon, when specially pressed by trouble or a sense of sin; but, if they would be Christians indeed, they should remember that the Church of Christ is the spiritual priesthood; that the members of it are expected to “offer the sacrifice of praise continually”; that to do this they must “dwell in God,” they must “abide in Christ”; and that no less close and no less constant union than this can be natural to faith which has learnt that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.”

THIS PASSAGE PREPARES US FOR WHAT OTHERWISE WOULD HAVE SEEMED INCONSISTENT WITH THE BLESSEDNESS IT SPEAKS OF--the sight of others stumbling at that which has become our glory, finding Jehovah Himself to be a rock of offence. How is this? A very simple law will answer. We stumble through ignorance. It is not what we know, but what we do not know that offends us. The rock of offence is a thing misunderstood, for which our philosophy had not prepared us. Now nothing is more misunderstood than goodness among the bad, than God among those who have fallen from the knowledge of Him. He Himself has said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.” This stumbling of the natural mind at God may be seen in all His manifestations. Men deny His government because they do not see in it what they think worthy of His hand; they grumble or rage at His distribution of goods; they reject or explain away His revelations of the future; and, above all, they refuse to believe in salvation through His crucified Christ. But in all this they are fulfilling His sure Word of prophecy, and while they continue to exhibit the depravity of fallen man, and so the riches of Divine grace, they do not prevent humble, believing souls from sanctifying God in their hearts and proving Him to be their sanctuary. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)

The fear of God steadying the soul in worldly loss

Augustine relates a very pertinent and memorable story of Paulinus, Bishop of Nola, who was a very rich man both in goods and grace: he had much of the world in his hands, but little of it in his heart; and it was well there was not, for the Goths, a barbarous people, breaking into that city, like so many devils, fell upon the prey; those that trusted to the treasures which they had were deceived and ruined by them, for the rich were put to tortures to confess where they had hid their monies. This good bishop fell into their hands, and lost all he had, but was scarce moved at the loss, as appears by his prayer, which my anther relates thus: Lord, let me not be troubled for my gold and silver: Thou knowest it is not my treasure; that I have laid up in heaven, according to Thy command. I was warned of this judgment before it came, and provided for it; and where all my interest lies, Lord, Thou knowest. (J. Flavel.)

The fear of God delivers from the fear of death

Mr. Bradford, when the keeper’s wife same running into his chamber suddenly, with words able to have put most men in the world into a trembling posture: “Oh, Mr. Bradford! I bring you heavy tidings; tomorrow you must be burned, and your chain is now buying”! he put off his hat, and said, “Lord, I thank Thee; I have looked for this a great while, it is not terrible to me; God make me worthy of such a mercy.” (J. Flavel.)

True courage

The following prayer was found in the desk of a schoolboy after his death: “O God, give me courage to fear none but Thee.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)

The exaggerations of guilty fear

The rules of fear are not like the rules in arithmetic, where many nothings make nothing, but fear can make something out of nothing. (J. Flavel.)

Verse 14

Isaiah 8:14

And He shall be for a sanctuary

Sanctuary in God

I suppose that what all of us mourn over most in a bustling age, is a loss of sacredness in life.

We have no wish to secure the false-sacred--that which is merely ascetic; nor that which is merely solemn-sacred--the dull monotony of darkened church or gloomy retreat. We naturally say, if this is God’s world; if civil and civic duties, social and relative responsibilities, are all God-ordained ones, it is likely, at least, that here, we may be able to secure a heavenly citizenship amid earthly cares and customs. God will not call us to the wear and worry, the strain and temptation, of a life in the world, and leave our souls without sacred home and spiritual retreat in Himself. How often this idea recurs in the sacred writings. God is our refuge and rest--our hiding place, our dwelling place.

THE SACREDNESS THAT A REVERENT HEART DESIRES. Our Lord lived and worked amongst men, dined with the Pharisee, dwelt with the quiet family at Bethany, consecrated the marriage feast, and went to the publican’s home. We, too, may secure sacredness for our lives.

THE SACREDNESS THAT MAKES SANCTUARY IN GOD HIMSELF. This is so beautiful: He shall be for a sanctuary. He whom wicked men dread and flee from--flee from, indeed, because He is a sanctuary; for, as of old, darkness cannot dwell with light, nor irreverence with reverence, nor mammon worship with devotion to God. We may carry very bad hearts into very beautiful places. Place is easily made unsacred. But the Divine nature must be spiritual Into fellowship with God there can enter nothing that is false or worldly or vile.

1. Sanctuary in a person. Yes; for even here, in this dim sphere of earthly friendship, our best sanctuaries, apart from our Saviour Himself, have been those who bear His likeness, and who do His will. If asked where the fountains of our reverence have been best nourished, and where the noble thoughts that make us men indeed, have been most wondrously fed, we should think of friends that have received us into the sanctuary of their love and friendship, and helped to diminish the dross of our character and to brighten the gold of our faith.

2. We abide in Him who says, “I am He that liveth, and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore.” And if by His own Divine nature He is a sanctuary, He is so by experience too. He has been tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. “He suffered, being tempted.”

THE SACREDNESS OF ALL THE FUTURE DAYS. “He shall be.” Names vary concerning what God is to suit need and experience. We translate the want, and then God’s name is translated to meet it. I am hungry, He is Bread; I am thirsty, He is Water; I am faint, He is Wine; I am heated in the way, He is a Rock Shadow in the weary land. We can suppose, therefore, that the word “sanctuary” meets special wants. Life is not always a seeking for a refuge, but it is so especially at certain times and in strange and desolate experiences. In 1 ooking forward, therefore, ourselves to life’s future seasons, we see what the soul within us cannot do in itself, and what nature can never perfectly be to any of us. Christ, and He alone, will be now and forever--a sanctuary.

THE SACREDNESS OF PERSONAL LIFE IN GOD. We cannot say, as mediaevalism said, Enter the Church and be saved. We want to obey God’s sweet will--to seek more and more for union with Himself through Christ Jesus. (W. M. Statham.)

Verse 16

Isaiah 8:16

Bind up the testimony

“Bind up the testimony”

There is evidently a reference in the text to wares or merchandise which are very valuable, and which must be bound up and sealed, to preserve them from being injured or lost, and to convey them in safety to those to whom they belong.

The meaning of the text is, that we should, by searching the Scriptures, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, ascertain what truths and duties are contained in them, and carefully preserve and maintain these like that which is bound up and sealed. In acting in accordance with the instructions given in the text, the once bearers of the Church should take the lead, to encourage and direct the people of Christ; and His people must concur with them in binding up the testimony and sealing the law. Brad up the testimony, seal the law among, or along with, My disciples.

IN WHAT MANNER the testimony must be bound up, and the law sealed, among Christ’s disciples.

1. By their faith in His Word.

2. By their profession of the faith.

3. By obeying the truth.

4. By suffering for the truth.

5. By religious covenanting.

FOR WHAT ENDS the testimony is bound up and the law sealed among Christ’s disciples.

1. For their preservation.

2. For their transmission to posterity. (Original Secession Magazine.)

Divine revelation

It is a great instance of God’s care of His Church and love to it, that He hath lodged in it the invaluable treasure of Divine revelation.

1. It is a testimony and a law.

2. This testimony and law are bound up and sealed, for we are not to add to them or diminish from them.

3. They are lodged as a sacred depositum in the hands of the disciples (2 Timothy 1:13-14). (M. Henry.)

Verse 17

Isaiah 8:17

And I will wait upon the Lord

Waiting upon the Lord

In the practice of this becoming resolution, Jehovah is the object of--


Intense desire.

2. Diligent attention.

3. Earnest expectation.

4. Constant dependence.

In this all-important exercise, humility and hope, patience and perseverance, are happily combined with an agreeable serenity of mind, which stands in direct opposition to turbulence of spirit and uneasy emotions of soul. It cheeks every opposite passion, and preserves the mind in a pleasing tranquillity, satisfied with the sovereign good pleasure of God, and attentive to the diligent improvement of all the means appointed for attaining the end in view. In every change, affliction, and trial it disposes wholly to rely upon God, for all the blessings He hath promised to bestow, in the season He sees most proper to confer them. Hence, in the last clause of this verse, the same resolution is thus expressed, “I will look for Him.” (R. Macculloch.)

Waiting on the Lord in desertion and gloom




Verse 18

Isaiah 8:18

Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me

Names as signs

The Hebrews, like most Eastern races, were very quick to see the omen in the nomen, the sign or portent in the name.

(“Niger in Expositor.)

Isaiah and his children as signs

If one of these names implied judgment, three of them implied mercy. The omen in the name “Speed-spoil Hasten-booty” was doubtless full of terror; for the Assyrians were the most fierce and cruel race of ancient times, and would sweep through the land like a destructive storm; but, if this one name was so terribly ominous and suggestive, all the others speak of an untiring and inalienable compassion. “Shear-jashub” predicted that God would bring back a faithful remnant even from the cruel bondage of Assyria; “Immanuel” assured them that God would be with them in all their perils and reverses; while the name of Isaiah himself pointed to the end of all Jehovah’s dealings with them--“salvation” from all evil. (“Niger in Expositor.)

Christian nurture

There are some things which if we can give them place and power in our own lives, win lucre great influence in enabling us to carry through our work as parents to a blessed issue of success.

FAITHFULNESS. The meaning of this word is explained by the resolve of the Psalmist when he says: “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way; I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” Always when we try to do good to others we are thrown back upon ourselves; we are reminded that high work must have fit instruments, and that our influence is likely to be as our character is. As the man is so will be his strength. This is peculiarly the case as between us and our children. They know us much better than others, are much nearer to us, see us more clearly. For our children’s sakes we are bound to be the best we may. Nothing that we can say or do will have half the force of that invisible and almost irresistible power which comes right from our souls, and goes at once and straight into theirs. This power, issuing from the depths of our own being, is an involuntary thing on our part. We cannot make it this or that by an act of will. This sincerity on our part ought to take as one of its forms a firm, steady family rule--an exercise of wise parental authority. On the other hand, parents mar their own influence, hinder their prayers, and injure their children, although they are very far from meaning it, by over-indulgence. They never command--never rule calmly and firmly--all is softness, liberty, or even license. Such parents tell us in defence of their system: “It is not for us to command; our best influence is, as has been said, that of personal character; if that be not right, commands from us will be of little use.” On the same principle it might be said that God does not need to command; that He only needs to reveal to His creatures what He is, and they will love and serve Him. He has revealed Himself to us. And yet this same God, this Father of mercies, commands, legislates, and duly brings penalty upon those who do not obey. Law and love, these make the whole revelation of God.

TENDERNESS. A mother’s tenderness! It is one of the continual wonders of the world. It is really a greater thing than a father’s constancy, a soldier’s courage, or a patriot’s love. Yet the world is full of it.

Such feelings will lead to PRAYER. In prayer for our children we are putting ourselves in the line of God’s laws. “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” It is not our nurture, it is His, and in prayer we cast it over on Him.

We are thus naturally led to the last word--HOPEFULNESS. We ought to cherish a feeling of cheerful confidence in God as to the result of our endeavours for our children’s good. Discouragement, and despondency even, will come to us soon enough, and darkly enough, if we will permit them. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)

“I and the children”

Turn to the New Testament and the text will be no mystery to you; its key hangs on its proper nail (Hebrews 2:18). We have evidence that it is our Lord who speaks, and speaks of His people as His children. This clue we will follow. The context sets forth, as is most common throughout the whole of Scripture, the different results which follow from the appearance of the Saviour. He is rejected by many, and accepted by others.

Here is A REMARKABLE RELATIONSHIP. Jesus is called a Father. This is not according to precise theology, or according to the more formal doctrinal statements of Scripture.

1. Still, the title of Father is very applicable to our Lord Jesus Christ for many reasons.

(1) Because He is our federal Head. We speak correctly of “father Adam,” and Jesus is the second Adam who heads up our race anew, and is the representative man of redeemed mankind.

(2) Our Lord is also Father of the golden age of grace and glory.

(3) There is a sense in which Christ is our Father, because by His teaching we are born unto God. Just as the minister who brings a soul to Christ is said to be the spiritual parent to such a soul, and is, indeed, instrumentally so, so the Lord Jesus, as the author of our faith, is our spiritual Father in the family of God.

2. Now, let us see whether there is not much of teaching in this metaphor by which we are called children of the Lord Jesus. The expression denotes--

(1) That we derive our spiritual life from Him as children take their origin from their father.

(2) They have a likeness to His nature.

(3) The text has in it very clearly the idea of charge and responsibility. Children are a charge always; a comfort sometimes. Wherever conscience is lively, fatherhood is regarded as a solemn thing.

(4) In our relationship towards our children there is involved very often a great deal of care and grief.

(5) The possession of children involves a very near and dear love.

(6) Children, when they behave aright, bring to the heart of their parent sweet solace and dear delight.


1. The Lord owns His children Sometimes they are ashamed to own Him; and He might always be ashamed to own them, but He never is.

2. He glories in them as being God’s gift to Him. “Whom Thou hast given Me”; as if they were something more than ordinary children.

3. He challenges inspection. “Behold! look at them, for they are meant to be looked at; they are set ‘for signs and wonders’ throughout all generations.”

4. And do notice again--for it affects my mind much more powerfully than I can express, “Behold, I and the children.” I can understand a mother speaking thus about herself and children, but for Christ the Lord of glory to unite His glorious name with those of such poor worms of the dust is very wonderful. Now, if Jesus owns us so lovingly, let us always own Him: and if Christ takes us into partnership--“I and the children”--let us reply, “Christ is all.” Let Him stand first with us; and let our name be forever joined with His name.

A COMMON FUNCTION. Christ and His people “are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts which dwelleth in Mount Zion.” Both Christ and His people are set for a purpose.

1. They are to be “signs and wonders” by way of testimony.

2. By way of marvel. Genuine Christians will generally be reckoned by the world to be singular people.

3. When the believer’s testimony for good becomes marvel, it is not wonderful if he afterwards becomes an object of contempt. Hold on, brother t and hold out to the end; be humbly and quietly faithful Do not try to be a wonder, but be a wonder. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Children have a mission

Infancy is the perpetual Messiah which comes to the arms of men and pleads with them to return to Paradise. (R. W. Emerson.)

Verses 19-20

Isaiah 8:19-20

And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits


Wizards and “they that have familiar spirits,” are what we should now call “mediums,” through whom the dead speak.

(A. B. Davidson, D. D.)

Wizards that peep and mutter

“Peep” (i.e., chirp) and “mutter” refer to the faint voice, like that of a little bird, which antiquity ascribed to the shades of the departed: “The sheeted dead did squeak and gibber in the streets of Rome” (see Isaiah 29:4). The LXX suggests that the voice of the ghost was imitated by ventriloquism, which is not unlikely. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)

Religion and superstition

Religion and superstition contrasted (Isaiah 8:19-20). (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)

Should not a people seek unto their God?--

Gripping old truths and seeing new visions

We must learn to recognise the friends and foes of our life even when they are presented to us in an Oriental and old-world dress.

WE HAVE HERE A PLEA FOR THE LIBERTY AND INDEPENDENCE OF THE LIVING PRESENT. “On behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead?” Such is the sarcastic question that the disciples of the great prophet are required to ask the people when the latter desire to resort to wizards and witches to help them out of their straits. The retort goes much further than merely striking a blow at the silly superstition of seeking by enchantment to bring back and question the shades of the dead. It contains a principle which lies at the very foundation of the world’s development,--a principle the reverent recognition of which will enable us to work out unfettered the full mission of our lives, and give us unbounded faith in the future of the race which Christ has come to redeem. Every new generation has its own special mission to fulfil; it is a new life charged with the duty of working out its own salvation. It is a new stage in the manifestation of the Divine through the human. The living present claims for itself a dignity and a mission, and, if we are lax in upholding the former, we are likely to fall short of fulfilling the latter. There is a way of worshipping the past, and of appealing to it which puts the present in chains, or, at least, compels it to be stationary. Has human life in very deed exhausted the thought of God? Surely the very history of the past itself ought to teach us the essential liberty and power of life. What epochs of the past are those that call forth our highest admiration and homage! Not such a period as that of the middle Ages when the living fortified and entrenched themselves in the sepulchres of the dead; but rather such times as those of the Lutheran reformation, when men felt the holy freedom of their own life, cast away the swathings of the past, and fearlessly took a new step in the name of God. I believe that God reigns through the rich movements of life, and not through traditional and external fetters. Given an earnest generation, awake to the responsibilities of its own life, and I can trust God to direct the flowing tide to a sacred shore. We cannot assert that an active and earnest generation will not make any mistakes. Every age has its own peculiar dangers, the vices which are the excess of its virtues. There are shallow lives that lose their gravity with the slightest movement, and dash themselves into thin vapour around the deeper movement of the time. And there are the men that pride themselves upon being fearless spirits in the realm of thought; which often means that they take advantage of a new movement to rush into one-sided and extreme conclusions upon the most precarious basis--conclusions which a truer judgment will anon reverse or correct. And even the most earnest and reliable spirits find it difficult to discover the golden mean between the bondage of the old and the violence of the new.

THAT THE TRUE LIFE OF THE PRESENT CAN BE ATTAINED ONLY BY LIVING CONTACT WITH THE LIVING GOD. The prophet’s message has not ended with the declaration that life is essentially movement and a force, having a Divine right to cast off the encrusting forms of the dead past. In order to prevent this awful liberty from being abused, and this vast movement from being misdirected, he must supply it with a guiding Spirit, and a directing force. It is a dangerous thing for men to become suddenly conscious of a vast and unused power unless they at the same time feel the grip of the eternal principles along which this power should move. Every movement of life presupposes an appointed orbit, without which it runs wild, and ends in a crash. The prophet, therefore, directs the people to root and ground their liberty in living contact with God--“Should not a people seek unto their God?” In examining, therefore, any particular case of movement in the moral and religious sphere it is all-important to inquire whether it exhibits the living energy of the Divine life in the human, whether it enriches men with a profounder apprehension of the beating, quickening life of God here in our very midst; in fine, whether the movement is marked with the sacred brand of living contact with the living God. Every true life movement brings God nearer--never drives Him further away. Let us apply this test in one particular and crucial case--the great question of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. Perhaps our formal deflations may undergo a slight change; but of this I feel sure--that it will never be necessary or rational for me to accept a theory of inspiration which will make the Bible less Divine than I hold it to be at present. There is no truly onward movement which is not also upward. Life’s true mission is fulfilled and life’s true path pursued, only in proportion as a people seek to their God.

So we are led to our last thought: THAT THE TRUTHS WHICH WERE THE ESSENTIAL BASIS OF THE BEST LIFE OF THE PAST MUST BE THE BASIS OF THE ENLARGING LIFE OF THE PRESENT. “To the law and to the testimony. If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them.” So the cycle of thought is completed. True progress and true conservatism are not opposed to one another, but are rather supplementary. The only true liberty is that which runs along the lines of eternal law. The world was not begun yesterday, and we have not been deputed to lay its foundations anew. So Isaiah’s last position is not only consistent with his first; it is necessarily involved in it. The living, says the prophet, need not consult the shades of the dead, for they have a living God to guide them and to give them ever larger supplies of power. True; but God is one. He does not change with each new generation. The great principles by which He ennobles human life are well known, for they have been writ large in His self-manifestations in the past. God will not reveal Himself in the present to those that are too blind to recognise His glory as revealed in the past. God has revealed Himself to the world long ago. If we would have more light in the present, we must be true to the radiance that lights up the history of the past. (J. Thomas, M. A.)

God to be sought by nations

The history of our own coronary coincides with the record which the Holy Spirit has given of the history of Judah and of Israel, in illustrating the important fact that God in the dispensations of His providence, deals with nations in their collective capacity according to their faithfulness in His service. The condition of Judah in the time of Isaiah demanded this remonstrance. There prevailed much of avowed irreligion and immorality.

IN WHAT MANNER CAN WE PERSONALLY INFLUENCE THE CHARACTER AND CONDUCT OF THE NATION AT LARGE? The nation is made up of the aggregate of its individual members. Each person, therefore, may justly consider his own character and conduct in a two-fold view: as it affects himself, and as it affects the whole country. The influence of each distinct member on the whole community, as contributing to the formation of its character, whether for good or for evil, is a subject of deep importance. In this respect, indeed, the more prominent the station in which a man is placed, the greater is his responsibility. But the religious character of the nation does not rest with these alone: piety or impiety in all other men of influence, of wealth, of talent, are likewise the constituent parts of the nation’s excellence or the nation’s, guilt, while they are also productive of a corresponding character in the various subordinate ranks of life. Nor is there any single person, however subordinate his station, who does not in the same manner contribute towards the formation of the general character of the nation of which he constitutes a part.

IN WHAT DOES THIS SEEKING UNTO GOD CONSIST? Nations and individuals seek unto the Lord--

1. By applying to Him for true knowledge and instruction (verse 20; John 5:39).

2. By taking refuge in Him as their confidence and hope.

(1) Nationally, we have examples of this confidence in God, in the sacred records concerning Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah, in sevens of public alarm, and difficulty.

(2) Every man is called on to seek to the Lord for the foundation of his personal hope and comfort, not merely as to the concerns of this life, but in reference, also, to his eternal welfare. And, according as the hope of the people in general is well or ill grounded, will be the state and condition of the Church or of the nation professing the religion of Christ.

3. By following His guidance as to their character and conduct. (J. Hill, B. D.)

The duty of seeking unto God


1. We should seek to Him for light and guidance in perplexity and doubt. No state is more painfully trying to man than to have the mind tossed and agitated like a bark on the stormy waves, without chart and compass. There is an eager impatience in such a state, which lays men open to imposition. They become the easy dupes of crafty deceivers. Hence magicians and necromancers, in an age of ignorance and credulity, gamed such an ascendency over the vulgar. You have read what history records of the oracles of Greece, and the sibyls of Italy. But a superstition, very similar, prevailed over all Asia, and at times penetrated into Judea. Now all such practices were dishonouring and forsaking Jehovah. The mind of a sincere believer may, both on points of faith and practice, be in a state of doubt and suspense. And to whom should he look, but to the Father of lights who can scatter every cloud?

2. For support and consolation in sorrow and distress (Job 5:8; Psalms 50:15).

3. For protection and defence amidst difficulties and dangers.

4. For strength to fit us for all the active duties of life and religion.


1. By diligently and impartially consulting His revealed will in the Holy Scriptures.

2. By constantly and seriously frequenting the public ordinances of His house.

3. By carefully marking and observing the openings and leadings of Providence. “In particular cases,” says Mr. Newton, “the Lord opens and shuts for His people, breaks down walls of difficulty which obstruct their path, or hedges up their way with thorns, when they are in danger of going wrong, by the dispensations of His providence. They know that their concernments are in His hand; they are willing to follow whither and when He leads, but they are afraid of going before Him.”

4. By offering up humble sad earnest petitions at the throne of His heavenly grace. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)

From light to darkness: from darkness to light

(Isaiah 8:18-22; Isaiah 9:2):--The experience of Israel is here described in three pictures, eachmarking a distinct stage in that experience--

ISRAEL REJECTING THE LIGHT. The prophet comes with a Divine message to his people. The people will not believe--

1. From inability, being unused to exercise simple trust in God.

2. From pride, for the mingling of judgment with mercy in Isaiah’s message offends them.

3. Disbelieving Isaiah, and finding no help in human wisdom, they turn like Saul in his extremity, with the proverbial credulity of unbelief, to the oracles of necromancy. The old watchword, of religion, “To the law and to the testimony!” “Should not a people, seek unto their God?” are forgotten. “For those who act thus,” says Isaiah, “there is no morning dawn,” for they wilfully turn from the light.

A TIME COMES WHEN ISAIAH’S WARNINGS ARE FULFILLED. Calamity, famine, distress drive the people to despair. Them is no voice of hope from their wizards and soothsayers. Haunted by the memory of the time when the watchword of faith might have saved them, they feel that they have grieved the Spirit and He is gone! “Hardly bestead and hungry they pass through the land and curse their king and their God.”

IN THE MIDST OF THEIR DESPAIR THEY LOOK UPWARDS, SCARCE KNOWING WHY. All other helpers failing, they direct towards heaven a despairing glance, as if hardly daring to think of God’s help, and then at last light shines through the gloom.

SUCH ALSO MAY BE THE EXPERIENCE OF AN INDIVIDUAL SOUL. First, the Divine warning is despised, and the Word of God neglected, set aside as a worn-out superstition. The voice of religion seems to have lost its hold upon such a soul. Then all manner of refuges are tried, alliance with the world power--immersion in secular business; the superstition of unbelief, agnosticism, etc. All in their turn fail to alleviate the weary heartache which prompts the cry, “Who will show us any good?” The whole universe seems out of joint, and the soul hardly bestead and hungry curses its king and its God, the whole order of things in the world, and every form of religion the fake and the true. At length, in very despair, as if feeling it is no use, “for me there is no morning dawn;” the soul looks upwards. The darkness is past, the true light now shineth, the soul that walked in darkness and the shadow of death sees the salvation of the Lord. (Hugh H. Currie, B. D.)


In the years which preceded the French Revolution, Cagliostro was the companion of princes--at the dissolution of paganism, the practisers of curious arts, the witches and the necromancers, were the sole objects of reverence in the known world; and so before the Reformation, archbishops and cardinals saw an inspired prophetess in a Kentish servant girl; Oxford heads of colleges sought out heretics with the help of astrology; Anne Boleyn blessed a bason of rings, her royal fingers pouring such virtue into the metal that no disorder could resist it; Wolsey had a magic crystal, and Thomas Cromwell, while in Wolsey’s household, “did haunt to the company of a wizard.” These things were the counterpart of a religion which taught that slips of paper, duly paid for, could secure indemnity for sin. (A. Freud)

Verse 20

Isaiah 8:20

To the law and to the testimony

The written Word of God the only standard of truth


CONSIDER THE PRINCIPLE LAID DOWN IN THE TEXT, namely, that we are to take the Scriptures, the inspired Word of “the true and living God,” as the only standard of truth.

SEE HOW SADLY THE CHURCH OF ROME, BOTH IN DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE, HAS DEPARTED FROM THIS PRINCIPLE. At the Council of Trent, where the Pope, bishops, and other ecclesiastics were assembled, in the middle of the sixteenth century, to put into definite form the articles of their Church, it was unanimously decreed, that traditions should be received as “of equal authority with the Scriptures”: and at the same Council it was also agreed to make all the books, apocryphal as well as others, “of equal authority.” The reason of their adding traditions to the Scriptures is given by Pope Plus IV, in these words: “all saving truth is not contained in the Holy Scriptures, but partly in the Scripture and partly in unwritten traditions; which whosoever doth not receive with like piety and reverence as he doth the Scriptures, is accursed.” We have a reasonable instance of their readiness to set aside the Bible, in order to establish their own opinions at the Council of Augsburg. It was there that the Protestant confession of faith, drown: Up by Melanchthon, was presented to the Emperor. After the reading of it, the Duke of Bavaria, who was on the Popish side, asked Eckius, one of his party, whether he could overthrow the doctrines contained in it, by the Holy Scripture. “No (replied Eckius), we cannot by the Holy Scriptures, but we may by the fathers.”

SEE HOW THE ACTING ON THIS PRINCIPLE, IN OPPOSITION TO THE CHURCH OF ROME, LED TO THE REFORMATION, and produced those blessed consequences which we are now reaping the advantage of. It is not a little remarkable that the art of printing, about the year 1450, very greatly contributed to the work which followed. It revived the study of classical literature; and thus the Bible, which even clergymen and others acquainted with learning, had been very little used to read before, was now studied by them; and it was that that led in the first instance to a discovery that the religion in which their fathers had been brought up could not be proved by the New Testament.

TEST THE REFORMED RELIGION BY THIS SCRIPTURAL RULE, AND PROVE THEREBY THE SOUNDNESS OF ITS PRINCIPLES. The Reformation has not founded a new Church, it has corrected an old one; and the religion which we now profess is the religion of primitive Christianity. See, in our sixth article, how the Church of England places herself on the ground of the Scriptures. She says, against the Church of Rome, that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” (W. Curling, M. A.)

Holy Scripture, without tradition, man’s sufficient guide to salvation

This passage embodies the truth that in the difficulties and questions that arise in the Christian Church, and which are frequently presented to the mind of Christian persons, the Holy Scriptures are the last appeal to which the Christian shall have recourse. This subject branches out into a vast variety of inquiries; but we shall consider it in connection with the sixth article of our Church of England.

THE AFFIRMATIVE PROPOSITION which asserts the sufficiency of Holy Scripture in all things requisite or necessary to salvation To men who have read the Holy Scriptures, it will seem strange that there ever should have arisen a question, as to their sufficiency in things requisite to salvation. They see that the Holy Scriptures are large and full, that they develop innumerable truths of mighty magnitude--that they unfold mysteries beyond the grasp of the human intellect--that they propound a series of the most pure and hallowing precepts--that they narrate the history of God’s dealings with His people, so far as they are known to human knowledge--and that they enter upon an ample detail of all those things which God hath revealed of His future purposes for mankind. They see that the Scriptures unfold the fall of man, God’s purpose to save a people to Himself, God’s love in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ in order to save them, the incarnation of the Word, the atonement of the Cross, the resurrection and triumph over death, the ascension into heaven, the descent of the Holy Ghost, the judgment of the last day, and the everlasting glories that shall follow. They see that the Holy Scriptures contain all this; and still further, that they contain all those rules and principles that should govern man in his duty to God and in his duty to his fellow man, and entering rote such detail of relative duties, of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, princes and subjects, that every honest man, from the monarch to the peasant, shall find in the Holy Scriptures a sufficient guide and enlightener in the duties of a Christian life. But in the spirit of the words of our text, let us “to the law and to the testimony.” Let us take counsel of our God, and ask of Him in the record of His own Word, whether the Holy Scriptures be sufficient unto salvation (Deuteronomy 11:16-21; Deuteronomy 31:11; Deuteronomy 13:12; Psalms 119:9-11; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 1:1-4; John 5:39; John 20:30-31 Acts 17:10-12; 2 Timothy 3:14-17). The Romanists reply to these Scriptures in a body by stating that they prove too much, inasmuch as they prove either that the Old Testament Scriptures are sufficient, or that one or more Gospels are sufficient for our salvation. We reply, that, if this be true, then, a fortiori, if a part of the Scriptures contain sufficient unto salvation, the whole of the Scriptures as a matter of course must be admitted to contain all things necessary to salvation.

THE NEGATIVE PROPOSITION in the article, namely, that “whatsoever is not read in Holy Scripture, nor may he proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” The position upon which the Romanists have erected their whole system has been, that besides the written Word them is also an unwritten word--that besides the Holy Scriptures them is another vehicle for conveying religious truth, and that other vehicle they have named tradition. The nature of tradition is this. They state that our Lord Jesus Christ taught many things to His apostles and disciples, which they did not commit to writing in the sacred Scriptures, but, instead of committing them to writing, they committed them by oral communication to those men whom they appointed as bishops throughout the Church universal; they add that those bishops have in a similar manner communicated these doctrines and practices to the bishops and priests that wore to come after them, and that thus there is a mass of floating doctrine and practice pervading the Church universal, partly written in the books of Romish priests and partly deposited in the breasts of Romish bishops. There are certain difficulties and objections to this system.

1. A historical objection derived from the history of God’s dealings with His people. The original revelation made to our first parents, being dependent upon tradition, soon became corrupted and lost. And this inefficacy of tradition is the more remarkable, when we consider that the life of man in the ante-diluvian world was extended far beyond the life of man in the post-diluvian world. Nor is this the whole of the historical argument or objection against tradition, because after the waters of the deluge had rolled away, the first fact that is narrated is that man had so lost the knowledge of the true God again, that he built the tower of Babel; and the next fact we read is that the world was so sunk in ignorance that it was necessary that God should choose Abraham and elect one family to Himself, in order that in that family He might take certain steps, by which to secure forever the remembrance of His name in the earth.

2. A Scriptural objection. This is founded upon a conversation narrated in the Gospel history (Mark 7:1-9). Our Lord states that His disciples were justified in rejecting the traditions of the elders because they made the law of God of none effect.

3. An objection arising out of the nature of tradition. With the most anxious desire only to speak the truth, the best men will sometimes vary in their narrative of facts--there is a defect in human memory; there is in the colouring of the minds of men, and there is in the degree of knowledge or ignorance of various men, that which leads to their varying more or less in their statements of fact. Now, if this be the ease in reference to fact, how much more is it the case in reference to abstract doctrines! In order to show that this difficulty still more exists in reference to doctrine, we have but to reflect how few there are in the world, who agree in all things precisely in the same views of doctrine. We regard, therefore, everything that is purely traditionary as necessarily unsound. (M. H. Seymour, M. A.)

The rule of faith

There is a strong tendency in man to flee from the voice of his Maker. Whey should any of us be afraid to hear the voice of God, or to have either our principles or actions judged by His Word Conscience makes us afraid; it tells us that neither the one nor the other will square with the Divine law. Therefore, man forsakes the Word of his God and has recourse to those who will speak to him “peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Isaiah 8:19).

OUR POSITION is, that Holy Scripture is the only standard whereby to judge of controversies in matters of faith.

We now proceed to ESTABLISH THIS POSITION. It is proved by a two-fold line of argument,--negative, by denying the claims put forward on behalf of the addition to this rule; positive, by bringing evidence in favour of the rule itself.

1. The negative evidence.

(1) God’s design in furnishing His Word in writing was to guard us against the uncertainty of tradition, and lead us, through the truth revealed in that Word, to eternal happiness.

(2) Tradition is an incompetent channel for the conveyance of truth.

(3) In all our Lord’s discourses, whether to the people or to His apostles, or in His disputation with His adversaries, He never made a single appeal to tradition.

(4) Our Lord not only never appealed to tradition, but He expressly condemned it, and that in the most unqualified manner.

2. The positive evidence.

(1) The Scriptures contain the superstructure that is reared upon faith. They contain exhortations to every possible good word and work. Faith is the means, the foundation, the source of every good word and work.

(2) The Scriptures assert their own sufficiency as a rule.

(3) Whenever the written Word has been laid aside, everything has gone astray; and whenever a reformation has taken place, all has been restored in accordance with the written Word (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Kings 23:2; 2 Kings 23:21). Take yet another instance--the re-establishment of the worship of God after the rebuilding of the temple. By perusing the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah you will find that everything was done in accordance, not with any tradition preserved among them, but with the written Word.

(4) The greatest question which can concern the human race has ever been decided by an appeal, not to tradition, nor to the priesthood, but to the written Word. The greatest question that can concern us is, whether Jesus is the true Messiah (Matthew 11:2-6). It was as if our Lord had said, Let John bring these, My actions and My preaching to the written Word, and he cannot be mistaken. He will there find whether I am the Messiah or Acts 17:2; Acts 17:11; Acts 18:27-28).

(5) The denial of this truth, that the Scripture is the only rule whereby to judge of controversies in matters of faith, has been the cause of grievous errors and many heresies.

(6) The end for which this new rule is pretended is, to say the very least, more than presumptive evidence against it, and consequently in favour of our rule.

I proceed now to notice A FEW OBJECTIONS that are brought against our position.

1. “If the Scripture be your rule of faith, there could be no rule of faith, consequently no faith and therefore no salvation, until the canon of Scripture was complete. But for sixty years after the death of Christ the canon was not complete; therefore for sixty years after the death of Christ there could have been no salvation in the Church of God.” This plausible; but the reply is simple. We will try the soundness of the argument upon their own principles. If Scripture and tradition be, as they say, their rule of faith, there could not have been a rule of faith until this one was complete. The argument is as good one way as the other. The sophism lies in this,--that, because God may give more light at any particular period, therefore there was no adequate light before!

2. It is objected that controversies cannot be determined by our rule of faith. But, if the Word of God be not competent or sufficient to decide controversies, we ask one simple question--How, then, shall the controversies concerning the Church be determined?

3. “The Scriptures are (say they) difficult and liable to be misunderstood and perverted.” We may say the same respecting Scripture and tradition. “But,” says Dr. Milner, “we have an unerring judge of controversy” (i.e., they bring in the infallibility of their Church)

“to decide in the matter, and he must be understood.” But how can he be understood! We must, as Chillingworth remarks, have an infallible interpreter to expound his interpretation, and so on ad infinitum. But this infallible interpreter has never yet spoken. Then, further, if Scripture be so difficult, the interpretation of the judge is not less so; for the decrees of councils and popes cannot possibly be more intelligible than those writings which were read in the hearing of men, women, and children; than the sermons which were addressed by our blessed Lord to the simple and ignorant; than that Word of which we read that it is so plain that a wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein. (J. R. Page, M. A.)

The Word of God the only rule of faith and practice

When men are in some measure impressed with the nature and importance of the end for which they have been made, and when they see that this end respects matters which do not come under the cognisance of their senses and observation, that it has reference mainly to God and to eternity, they will naturally inquire whether any certain rule of standard exists which, when rightly used, and faithfully followed, may guide them to the attainment of this end. Writings possessed of such a character, proceeding from such a source, and resting on such an authority, it must, of course, be most important for us to know, that we may be enabled rightly to apply them for our direction. There are many who profess to regard the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing a revelation of God’s will, and of course us being so far a rule to guide us in matters connected with our highest interests, who yet deny that they constitute the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God. There are other rules which they would exalt to a co-ordinate place with the Word of God.

(1) The adherents of the Church of Rome add to the Old Testament the apocryphal books, as if they too were inspired. They also believe that oral tradition has conveyed to us truths taught, and observances enjoined, by Christ and His apostles, which are not mentioned in the sacred Scriptures.

(2) Those who call themselves rational Christians, practically take their own reason as the chief, if not the only, rule to guide them in matters connected with God and eternity; because, while they may profess to admit that the Scriptures are the Word of God, they practically set up their own reason not only as the instrument of interpreting Scripture, but as entitled to judge of the truth of its doctrines, and to determine what statements of Scripture may be received as true, and what as being irrational and incomprehensible, must be explained away, or virtually denied. There are two general observations deserving of attention, as affording strong presumption against the pretensions which have been put forth.

1. If the Bible be the Word of God, we have no need of any other rule. The Bible is able to make men wise unto salvation.

2. The attempts which have been made to set up other rules as co-ordinate with the Word of God, have generally had the effect of superceding practically the sacred Scriptures; and this constitutes a fair and legitimate presumption against them.

THE APOCRYPHAL BOOKS are certain writings composed in the interval between the time of Malachi and our Saviour’s appearance in the flesh. They were not written in the Hebrew language, like the books of the Old Testament Scriptures, and exist only in Greek. The Jewish Church never acknowledged them as inspired; and when the apostle says (Romans 3:2), “that unto the Jews were committed the oracles of God,” he seems to intimate, not merely that the possession of the sacred oracles was conferred on them as a privilege, but that the custody and preservation of them was imposed upon them as a duty, so that they being, as it were, the authorised depositories of the oracles of God, their testimony as to their authenticity is to be regarded as essentially important, if not of itself absolutely conclusive. The authority of these books was not in any instance acknowledged, directly or by implication, by our Saviour or His apostles, while they plainly acknowledged the authority of the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, the three classes into which the Jews usually distributed the canonical Scriptures. There is not a vestige of evidence that these books were composed by men who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, or that their authors were regarded in that light by any of their contemporaries. There are not a few statements in these books which, by no skill and learning, can be reconciled with each other, and which, therefore, cannot have proceeded from one and the same Spirit of truth.

The Church of Rome further professes to receive and venerate APOSTOLICAL TRADITIONS with equal piety and reverence as the written Word. In support of the authority of tradition, Papists commonly refer to the injunction of the apostle (2 Thessalonians 2:15), “to hold fast the traditions which they had been taught, whether by word, or by his epistle.” Of course, it was the duty of the Thessalonians to hold fast all that they had been taught by the apostle, whether orally or by writing. And our answer to Papists, when they urge from this passage the authority of tradition, is just this, that if the Church of Rome will put us in the same situation with regard to her pretended traditions as the Thessalonians were in regard to the traditions to which the apostle refers; i.e., if she will give us as good evidence as the Thessalonians had that these traditions really came from an apostle, and were delivered by him as public instruction to the Churches, we will implicitly submit to them, but not otherwise.

Let us now advert to the claims which some who call them selves rational Christians put forth in behalf of HUMAN REASON, to be received along with the Word of God as a rule of faith and practice. Men are certainly bound to exercise their reason most fully upon a matter so momentous as the end for which they were made. It is by their reason alone that they come into contact with truth, so as to discover, to apprehend, and to establish it. When the Bible is pressed upon their attention, as containing a revelation from God, they are bound to bring their whole faculties to bear upon the examination of the evidence on which its claim to that character rests, and to come to a clear and decided determination upon that point. If they come to the conclusion that the Bible does contain a revelation from God, then they are further bound to use their reason in discovering the meaning and import of its statements, and in ascertaining from them what is the standard of belief and practice which they ought to follow. And here in right reason the province of reason ends. There can be no more satisfactory reason for believing any doctrine, no more conclusive evidence that it is true, than the fact that God has revealed it. This is a position to which the reason of every rational man assents, and it plainly supersedes the mere unaided efforts of our own reason upon any point on which God has made known to us His will. Men have no right to regard their own reason as the measure or standard of truth, or to suppose that they are capable of discovering much, by its unaided efforts, in regard to an infinite God and an invisible world. (W. Cunningham.)

Is conscience the supreme rule of life?

There is, indeed, another notion very prevailing in the present day, which seems to hold up conscience as the supreme rule by which men ought to be guided in regard to religion, although it has scarcely been propounded as a distinct and definite doctrine. This is evidently a mere fallacy, although we fear it produces extensively very injurious affects. When men talk of their own conscience as being the rule which they are bound to follow, they can mean by their conscience only the opinion which they sincerely entertain, and seem to forget that while, in a certain sense, they may be bound to follow their own conscientious convictions, and while it is undoubtedly true that God alone is Lord of the conscience, that is, is alone entitled to exercise jurisdiction over their opinions, or to require them to believe and act in a certain way merely because they are so required, it may still be a question, whether their conscience is well or ill informed, whether the opinions they conscientiously entertain are well or ill founded. Now this very obvious consideration shows that there must be a higher standard than conscience by which men should try all their opinions, however conscientiously they are held, and that therefore conscience cannot be regarded as a standard of opinion and practice in any such sense as to interfere with the supreme and exclusive authority of the Word of God, or to release men from the obligation to regulate their whole opinions and practice by its statements. (W. Cunningham.)

Search the Scriptures


1. The ideas engendered in you by your early training.

2. The preachers of the Gospel.

3. There is another class of men. These men are their own preachers; they believe no one but themselves.

4. Just do the same with all books that you read.

THE GOOD EFFECTS that you will derive from a careful study of the law and testimony of God.

1. Unless you study the Word of God you will not be competent to detect error.

2. When you are in a matter of dispute you will be able to speak very confidently.

3. Search the Scriptures, because in so doing you win get a rich harvest of blessing to your own soul.

OTHER REASONS. Many false prophets are gone forth into the world. There is a solemn danger of being absolutely misled. Read your Bibles to know what the Bible says about you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The evils resulting from false principle of morality

There are three erroneous principles of morality prevalent among ourselves, expediency, honour, and custom.

1. Expediency, borrowed from the storehouse of sceptical philosophy, and placed, by its wisest defenders, as nearly as might be done, on a Christian foundation, pronounces that an action is right or wrong according as it tends to promote or to diminish general happiness. Whatever is expedient is right. Every moral precept is subject to exceptions. And of the expediency of regarding or disregarding the precept every man is in every case to judge for himself.

2. Honour, as a principle of action, refers to the estimation of the class of society in which the individual moves, and especially to the sentiments of the higher ranks, whose opinions will ever be of the most preponderating influence. Its concern respecting moral actions is limited to such as are useful in fashionable intercourse: and is particularly bestowed on those which have somewhat of splendour, commonly of false splendour, in their exterior appearance.

3. Custom is the general guide of those persons who give little thought to the investigation of principles, and take their moral opinions upon trust from others. No one of these is the Scriptural standard of conduct. They all depart from “the law and the testimony.” “They speak not according to this word”: therefore “there is no tight in them.” Let us now advert to their effects.

One effect will be this: THE MORALITY PRODUCED WILL BE UNCERTAIN AND VARIABLE. From a survey of the variable morality produced by these false principles of morals, turn to the morality of the Scriptures. Behold it firm, consistent, immutable: not committing its precepts to the jurisdiction of man, and investing him with a dispensing power to suspend or to abrogate them at his discretion; but commanding him universally to be faithful in obeying them, and to leave consequences with God.

Another effect of the erroneous principles under examination is, that THE MORALITY PRODUCED IS LOW IN DEGREE. From the view of the debased morality originating in false principles direct your eyes again to the Word of God. Behold the morality which it teaches, worthy of Him, suited to man I Behold it manifesting itself by its holiness to be a transcript of the holiness of God! Behold it as a branch of that “godliness,” which “has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come”: behold it conducing to the happiness of men, present no less than future. Behold it not partially confining its benefits to select classes of society; but with outspread arms showering them down upon all. Behold it displaying from age to age its hallowed truths, uncorrupt, unsullied, as the source from which it flows. Behold it exemplified in the fulness of perfection, by, Him who is the cornerstone of Christian morality; by the incarnate Son of God, even by Him who was “God manifest in the flesh.”

THE MISCHIEF PRODUCED BY FALSE PRINCIPLES OF MORALITY WILL BE BEYOND MEASURE EXTENSIVE. it is on moral dispositions and moral conduct that these principles operate. And it is in the government of moral dispositions, and in the exercise of them in moral actions, that much of the employment of life consists. If religion be weakened in one point, it is weakened in all points, it is endangered in all. Ii then you are anxious, in discharging the duties of morality,” faithfully” to follow the. Divine commandments, and to tread in the steps of your Lord, “search the Scriptures. By them shall every moral deed be tried at last: by them let it be directed now. (T. Gisborne.)

The best guide book

When Sir David Wilkie was setting out for an artistic tour in the Holy Land, he was asked what guide book he was taking with him. He held out the Bible, saying, “This is the best guide book.” We are pilgrims to the heavenly Canaan. What guide book will be so helpful to us as the Bible? It will shed light on our way. (Gates of Imagery.)

The Bible and superstition

After Henry the Eighth’s rupture with the Pope the following order was issued, to counteract if possible” the advance of sacerdotal superstition: Every parson or proprietary of every parish church within this realm, shall provide a book of the whole Bible, both in Latin and in English, and lay the same in the choir, for every man that will to read and look therein; and shall discourage no man from reading any part of the Bible, but rather comfort, exhort, and admonish every man to read the same, as the very Word of God and the spiritual food of man’s soul.” (H. O. Mackey.)

Verses 21-22

Isaiah 8:21-22

And they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry

Unsanctified suffering



THERE IS IN SUFFERING NO SANCTIFYING POWER. It may harden men in iniquity.

SUFFERING DOES NOTHING IN ITSELF TO ABATE GOD’S ANGER AGAINST SINNERS. Nothing will turn away that anger but a genuine repentance Isaiah 9:13). (R. A. Bertram.)


He reads the doom of those that seek to familiar spirits, and regard not God’s law and testimony. There shall not only be no light to them, no comfort; or prosperity, but they may expect all horror and misery.

1. The trouble they feared shall come upon them. They shall pass to and fro in the land, unfixed, unsettled, and driven from place to place by the threatening power of an invading enemy.

2. They shall be very uneasy to themselves, by their discontent and impatience under their trouble.

3. They shall be very provoking to all about them, nay, to all above them. When they find all their measures broken, and themselves at their wits’ end, they will forget all the rules of duty and decency, and will treasonably curse their king, and blasphemously curse their God.

4. They shall abandon themselves to despair, and, which way soever they look, shall see no probability of relief. They shall look upward, out heaven shall frown upon them; they shall look to the earth, but what comfort can that yield to those whom God is at war with? (M. Henry.)

Hardly bestead

Embarrassed with difficulties, oppressed with anxieties, distressed with bitter reflections and desponding thoughts, not knowing what to do or whither to go. (R. Macculloch.)


Destitute not only of necessary provision |or their personal support, but of the Word of the Lord, which is the nourishment of the soul Amos 8:11-12). (R. Macculloch.)


Through hunger and poverty is indeed a great calamity, yet fretfulness of spirit is a still greater one; and when both are united, it is evident that the mind is as empty of spiritual good as the body is of necessary provision. (R. Macculloch.)

No good without God

Them that go away from God, go out of the way of all good. (M. Henry.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/isaiah-8.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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