The prophecy begun in Isaiah 9:8 terminates with this stanza, which contains a warning against injustice and oppression, addressed to Israel and Judah equally, and accompanied by the threat of a "day of desolation," when those who have refused to make God their Refuge will have no resource, but to go into captivity with the "prisoners," or to perish with the "slain." A foreign conquest, accompanied by slaughter, and the deportation of captives, is not obscurely intimated.
Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees (comp. Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 1:20, Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 5:23, etc.). The perversion of judgment from the judgment-seat is the sin rebuked. It was certainly prevalent in Judah, it may also have been practiced in Israel. And that write grievousness, etc. Translate, and unto the writers that enregister oppression. The decrees of courts were, it is clear, carefully engrossed by the officials, probably upon parchment, every outward formality being observed, while justice itself was set at naught.
The poor … the widow … the fatherless. These were the classes who were the chief sufferers by the perversion of justice (comp. Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 1:23). They were exactly the classes for whom God had most compassion, and whom he had commended in the Law to the tender care of his people (see note on Isaiah 9:17).
What will ye do in the day of visitation? "The day of visitation" is the day when God reckons with his servants, and demands an account from each of the work done in his vineyard, being prepared to recompense the good and punish the bad (comp. Hosea 9:7). It is oftenest used in a bad sense because, unhappily, so many more are found to deserve punishment than reward. The desolation which shall come from far; rather, the crashing ruin (Cheyne). It is sudden, and complete destruction, rather than mere desolateness, that is threatened. Previous prophecies, especially Isaiah 7:17-20, had informed the Jews that it was to "come from far," "by them that were beyond the river." To whom will ye flee? The prophet speaks in bitter irony. Is there any one to whom ye can flee? any one who can protect you from the wrath of God? Ye well know there is no one. Where will ye leave your glory? With whom will ye deposit your riches, your magnificence, your jewels, your grand apparel? You cannot save them. They will all make to themselves wings, and "fly away like a bird" (Hosea 9:11).
Without me. That this is a possible rendering of the word used seems proved by Hosea 13:4. But here it scarcely suits the context. God does not speak directly, in the first person, elsewhere in the entire prophecy (Isa 9:8-10:4), but is spoken of in the third person throughout, as even in the present verse, where we have "his anger," "his hand." It is better, therefore, to give the word its ordinary meaning—"unless," "except." Have they anywhere to flee to, unless they shall crouch amid the captives that are being carried off, or fall amid the slain? In other words, there is no escape for them; they must either submit to captivity or death. For all this, etc. Even when the two kingdoms were destroyed, and the captivity of both was complete, God's wrath was not fully appeased, his anger was not wholly turned away. Both peoples suffered grievous things in their captivity, as appears from the Book of Daniel (Isaiah 3:1-26; Isaiah 6:1-13.) and other places. It took seventy years for God's anger to be appeased in the case of Judah (2 Chronicles 36:21), while in the case of Israel it was never appeased. Crushed beneath the iron heel of their conquerors, Israel ceased to exist as a nation.
SECTION V. PROPHECIES OF WOE UPON FOREIGN NATIONS (Isaiah 10:5-23)
ASSYRIA, AFTER BEING GOD'S INSTRUMENT TO PUNISH ISRAEL, SHALL HERSELF BE PUNISHED IN HER TURN. The wicked are a sword in the hand of God (Psalms 17:13), wherewith he executes his judgments; but this fact is hid from them, and they imagine that they are successful through their own strength and might. So it was with Assyria (Isaiah 10:5-14), which its long career of victory had made proud and arrogant above measure. God now, by the mouth of Isaiah, makes known his intention of bringing down the pride of Assyria, and laying her glory in the dust, by a sudden and great destruction (verses 15:19), after she has served his purposes.
O Assyrian; literally, Ho! Asshur. "Asshur" is the nation personified, and is here addressed as an individual. The transition from Isaiah 10:1-4 is abrupt, and may be taken to indicate an accidental juxtaposition of two entirely distinct prophecies. Or Assyria may be supposed to have been in the prophet's thought, though not in his words, when he spoke of "prisoners" and "slain" in the first clause of Isaiah 10:4. The rod of mine anger (comp. Jeremiah 51:20, where it is said of Babylon, "Thou art my battle-axe and weapons of war; for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy the kingdoms"). So Assyria was now the "rod" wherewith God chastised his enemies. The true "staff" in the hand of Assyria, wherewith she smote the peoples, was "God's indignation."
I will send him against an hypocritical nation; or, against a corrupt nation. Israel in the wider sense, inclusive of Judah, seems to be intended. The people of my wrath; i.e. "the people who are the object of my wrath." Will I give him a charge. In 2 Kings 18:25 Sennacherib nays, "Am I come up without the Lord (Jehovah) against thin, lace, to destroy it? The Lord (Jehovah) said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it" (compare below, Isaiah 36:10). It has been usual to consider Sennacherib's words a vain boast; but if God instructed Nebuchadnezzar through dreams, may he not also by the same means have "given charges" to Assyrian monarchs? To take the spoil, and to take the prey; rather, to gather spoil, and seize prey. The terms used carry the thoughts back to Isaiah 8:1-4, and to the symbolic name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. And to tread them down; literally, to make it a trampling. "It" refers to "nation" in the first clause.
Howbeit he meaneth not so. "Assyria," i.e; "does not view the matter in this light—is not aware that she is merely God's instrument in working out his will. On the contrary, it is in her heart to destroy the nations for her own advantage, and she imagines that she is doing it by her own strength."
Are not my princes altogether kings? One mark of the superiority of Assyria to other countries was to be seen in the fact that her king had not mere officers, but vassal kings under him. Hence the title "king of kings" assumed by so many Assyrian monarchs. While conquered territories were by degrees and to a certain extent absorbed into the empire and placed under prefects (see the 'Eponym Canon'), an outer zone of more loosely organized dependencies was always maintained by the Assyrians; and these dependencies continued ordinarily to be administered by their native monarchs. These are the "princes" who were "altogether kings."
Is not Calno as Carehemish? A further proof of superiority, and ground of confidence, lay in the further fact, that the strongest cities had, one and all, succumbed to the Assyrian arms, and been laid in ruins to punish them for offering resistance. Six such cities are mentioned—Calneh, probably Niffer, in Lower Mesopotamia; Carchemish, on the right bank of the Euphrates in Lat. 36° 30' nearly; Hamath, the "great Hamath" of Amos (Amos 6:2), in Coelesyria on the routes; Arpad, perhaps Tel-Erfad, near Aleppo; Damascus, and Samaria. Calneh was one of the cities of Nimrod (Genesis 10:10), and, according to the LXX; was "the place where the tower was built." It may have been taken by Tiglath-Pileser in one of his expeditious into Babylonia. Amos (Amos 6:2) speaks of it as desolate in his day. Carchemish (Assyrian Gargamis) was a chief city of the Hittites, and has been called "their northern capital." Long confounded by geographers with Circesium at the junction of the Khabour with the Euphrates, it has recently been proved to have occupied a far more northern position, and is now generally identified with the ruins discovered by Mr. George Smith at Jerabis or Jerabhs. It was conquered by Sargon in B.C. 717, when "its people were led captive, and scattered over the Assyrian empire, while Assyrian colonists were brought to people the city in their place; Carchemish being formally annexed to Assyria, and placed under an Assyrian governor". Hamath was originally a Canaanite city (Genesis 10:18). By the time of David it had become the scat of an independent monarchy (2 Samuel 8:9, 2 Samuel 8:10), and so continued until its reduction by the Assyrians. We find it leagued with the Hittites, the Syrians of Damascus, and the Israelites against Assyria about B.C. 850. About B.C. 720 it was taken by Sargon, who beheaded its king, and probably reduced it to ruins. The name remains in the modern Hamah, where many curious inscriptions have been recently dug up. Arpad was attacked by Tiglath-Pileser in the early part of his reign, and reduced to subjection. It revolted in conjunction with Hamath from Sargon, and was severely punished ('Ancient Monarchies,' l.s.c.). Is not Samaria as Damascus? This mention of Samaria among the subjugated and ruined cities may undoubtedly be prophetic; but the connection with Carchemish, Hamath, and Arpad all of them towns reduced by Sargon within the years B.C. 720-717—points rather to the verse being historical, and would seem to indicate that the date of the entire prophecy—verses 5-19—is subsequent to the capture of the cities, and so not earlier than B.C. 716.
As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols. "Found" here means "reached," "punished … subjugated." It is quite in accordance with Assyrian ideas that the conquered countries should be called "kingdoms of the idols" (literally, "no gods"). The Assyrian monarchs regarded their own gods as alone really deserving of the name, and made war very much with the object of proving the superiority of their deities over those of their neighbors. Hence their practice of carrying off the idols from the various cities which they conquered, or else of inscribing on them "the praises of Asshur." And whose graven images; rather, and their graven images. Did excel. In preciousness of material or in workmanship, or both. The Assyrians went near to identifying the idols with the gods themselves. Those of Jerusalem and of Samaria. The chief Samaritan idols were the golden calves at Dan and Bethel; but, in addition to these, "images and groves were set up in every high hill and under every green tree" (2 Kings 17:10), images of Baal, and Ashtoreth, and perhaps Beltis, and Chemosh, and Moloch. Even in Judah and in Jerusalem itself there were idols. Ahaz "made molten images for Baalim" (2 Chronicles 28:2). The brazen serpent was worshipped as an idol at Jerusalem until Hezekiah destroyed it; and probably, even after the reformation of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4), many Jews retained privately the images, which he required them to destroy (2 Chronicles 31:1). Isaiah had already declared, speaking of Judah rather than of Israel, "Their land is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made" (Isaiah 2:8).
Shall I not … so do to Jerusalem and her idols? The speaker ignores the fact of any difference in kind between the religion of Judaea and that of the neighboring countries. He speaks as if he knew nothing of any religion without idols. No doubt Assyrian ideas on the subject of the religion of the Jews were at this time, as they were even later (2 Kings 18:22), exceedingly vague and incorrect.
Wherefore; rather, but. The final result shall be such as "the Assyrian" little expected. When the Lord hath performed his whole work. The "work" assigned to Assyria was the destruction of the kingdom of Israel, and a share in the trial, punishment, and discipline of Judah. The last task seems to have been the humiliation of Manasseh, which brought about his repentance (2 Chronicles 33:11-13). Soon after this the troubles began which led to her destruction. I will punish. The sudden change from the third to the first person is harsh and abnormal, but not without parallels in other passages of Isaiah (see Isaiah 3:1-4; Isaiah 5:3, Isaiah 5:4, etc.). The fruit of the stout heart; i.e. the actions, language, etc; which flowed from the stoutness of heart—such language, e.g; as that of verses 8-11 and 13, 14. Of the King of Assyria. The menace is not leveled against any one particular king, as Sargon, or Sennacherib; but against the monarchy itself, which from first to last was actuated by the same spirit, and breathed the same tone, of pride, selfishness, and cruelty. (See the royal inscriptions, passim, which become more revolting as time goes on.)
For he saith. Neither this speech nor that in Isaiah 10:8-11, nor again that given in Isaiah 37:24, Isaiah 37:25, is to be regarded as historical in the sense of being the actual utterance of any Assyrian monarch. All are imaginary, speeches, composed by the prophet, whereby he expresses in his own language the thoughts which Assyrian kings entertained in their hearts. I have removed the bounds of the people; rather, of peoples. Assyrian monarchs take as one of their titles "the remover of boundaries and landmarks". And have robbed their treasures. The plunder of conquered countries is constantly recorded by the Assyrian monarchs as one of the most important results of each successful expedition. It is not infrequently represented in the sculptures. I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man. The passage is obscure; and many different renderings have been given. Perhaps the best is that of Mr. Cheyne, "I have brought down, like a mighty one, those that sat on thrones." Abbir, however, the word translated "a mighty one," as often means "a bull" (see Psalms 22:12; Psalms 50:13; Psalms 68:30; Isaiah 34:7; Jeremiah 1:11).
My hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people; rather, of the peoples. The Assyrians are fond of comparing their enemies to birds; but the exact metaphor here used does not, I believe, occur in the inscriptions. The nations' treasures are like eggs found in deserted nests, which the hunter gathers without any, even the slightest, risk. All the earth. Oriental hyperbole. Assyrian monarchs often say that they "have subdued all the races of men," or "carried the glory of their name to the ends of the earth," or "overthrown the armies of the whole world in battle." Peeped; rather, chirped (see note on Isaiah 8:19). None of the inhabitants offered even such feeble resistance as a bird makes when its nest is robbed.
Shall the axe boast itself? Here the prophet takes the word, and rebukes Assyria for her folly in forgetting, or not perceiving, that she is a mere instrument, like an axe, a saw, a rod, or a stuff. The saw … him that shaketh it; rather, him that moveth it to and fro. The action of sawing is alluded to. As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up; rather, as if a rod were to move them to and fro that lift it up. For Assyria to assert herself as if she were independent of God is like a rod attempting to sway the hand that holds it. It is a complete inversion of the natural order of things. Or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood. Translate, or as if d staff should lift up that which is not wood; i.e. "as if a staff should take action and lift up its holder, who is not wood, but flesh and blood."
Therefore shall the Lord … send among his fat ones leanness. A continuation of Isaiah 10:12, showing what the nature of Assyria's punishment shall be. The prophet expresses it by two images—first, that of a wasting sickness; and secondly, that of a fire. The first image expresses that gradual decay of national spirit which saps the vital strength of a nation; the second is more suited to denote some external attack under which the weakened nation should succumb. There are traces, in the later history of Assyria, both of increasing internal weakness through luxury and effeminacy, and of violent external attacks culminating in the combined Median and Babylonian invasion, before which her power collapsed.
The light of Israel. A new name of God. The idea on which it is based may be found in the Psalms (Psalms 27:1; Psalms 84:11), and again in Isaiah (Isaiah 60:19). God enlightens his people, cheers them, comforts them spiritually, as the light of the sun enlightens, cheers, and comforts men physically. Christ, as true God, is "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9). Shall be for a fire. As the same material fire which gives light, warmth, and comfort may burn and destroy, so the spiritual light, finding fit material, scorches and consumes. The fire which devours Assyria is to be kindled by God. His Holy One; i.e. "the Holy One of Israel" (see Isaiah 1:4). It shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers. The destruction of Assyria shall resemble that of Israel, in which Assyria was the instrument (Isaiah 9:18). It shall be as complete, as terrible, and as final. In one day. Scarcely "in one battle" (Cheyne); for the destruction of Assyria was effected by many battles, many sieges, and much exhausting ravage. "In one day" rather means "at one and the same time," "within a brief space." It is not to he taken literally.
Forest … fruitful field. "Forest" and "fruitful field" (carmel) are sometimes united together, sometimes contrasted. Literally, they denote wild and cultivated woodland. Used symbolically, as here, they are not so much intended to designate different parts of Assyria's glory, as to convey the idea that the destruction will be universal. Both soul and body. Here metaphor is suddenly dropped, and Isaiah shows that he is speaking of the Assyrian people, not of the land or its products. Their destruction, wicked as they were, would be one both of body and soul. As when a standard-bearer fainteth; rather, as when one that is faint fainteth. Utter prostration and exhaustion is indicated, whichever way the passage is translated.
The rest of the trees; i.e. these that escape the burning—shall be few; literally, a number; i.e. so few that their number shall be apparent.
CONSOLATION FOR THE FAITHFUL IN ISRAEL. The destruction of Assyria shall be followed—how soon, is not said—by the return of a "remnant of Israel," not so much to their own land, as to God (Isaiah 10:20, Isaiah 10:21). The remnant, however, shall be but a remnant—judgment shall have overtaken the balk of the people (Isaiah 10:22, Isaiah 10:23). Still, there is reason for the faithful to take courage and be of good heart; Assyria will shortly receive a check (Isaiah 10:24-27)—when her armies swoop upon Jerusalem, God will swoop down on her (Isaiah 10:28-34).
In that day; i.e. "at that time"—the time of the destruction of Assyria. The remnant of Israel (see Isaiah 1:9). Isaiah had indicated his firm belief in the existence of this faithful remnant and its return, in the name which he had given to his son, Shear-Jashub (see note on Isaiah 7:3). The escaped. Those who escape from the destruction to be caused by the Assyrian invasion. Shall no more again stay upon him that smote them. We are told in the Second Book of Chronicles (Isaiah 28:23) that Abaz "sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which smote him"—and we know that he also trusted to Tiglath-Pileser, who "distressed him and strengthened him not" (2 Chronicles 28:21). Among the "remnant" there shall be no such mistaken confidences. But shall stay upon the Lord; i.e. "shall put their trust in God; and him only".
The mighty God (comp. Isaiah 9:6). The name is not, however, Messianic in this place.
Isaiah 10:22, Isaiah 10:23
These verses are exegetical of the term "remnant," and bring out its full force. The promise had been made to Abraham that his seed should be "like the sand of the sea for multitude" (Genesis 22:17). This promise had been fulfilled (1 Kings 4:20); but now the sins of the people would produce a reversal of it. It would be a remnant, and only a remnant, of the nation that would escape. Judah would have to make a fresh start as from a new beginning (see Ezra 2:64).
The consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness; rather, the consummation (Daniel 9:27) determined on is one that overflows with righteousness (comp. Isaiah 28:22). The prophet means that God is about to visit the land in such a spirit of severe justice that it cannot be expected that more than a remnant will survive the awful visitation.
The Lord … shall make a consumption; rather, a consummation—a final and decisive end of things. Even determined; i.e. "determined on beforehand." In the midst of all the land. "Throughout the entire land," not merely in some portions of it.
O my people … be not afraid. God now addresses those who are faithful to him among the people; they have no need to fear—he will bring them safely through all the coming troubles. He shall smite thee; rather, if he smite thee; or, though he smite thee. After the manner of Egypt; i.e. as the Egyptians did in the oppression that preceded the Exodus. The yoke of Assyria was heavy even upon the nations that submitted to her. She claimed to march her armies through their territories at her pleasure, and probably pressed men and cattle into her service. She exacted a heavy tribute, and otherwise "distressed" her many vassals.
The indignation shall cease; rather, there shall be an end of wrath; i.e. "my wrath against Israel shall come to an end"—Israel having been sufficiently punished. And mine auger in their destruction; rather, and my anger shall be to their destruction; i.e. to the destruction of the Assyrians.
The Lord … shall stir up a scourge for him; or, lift up a scourge over him. Isaiah uses the metaphor of the "scourge" again in Isaiah 28:16, Isaiah 28:18. It is rare in Scripture, though common among the Greek and Latin writers. According to the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb (comp. Isaiah 9:4). The "slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb" was that great destruction of the Midianites which was begun by the three hundred under Gideon, and completed by the men of Ephraim, whereof we have an account in 7:19-25. Its counterpart in Assyrian history would seem to be the destruction of Sennacherib's army, as related in 2 Kings 19:35. As his rod was upon the sea. An allusion to the drowning of Pharaoh's host in the Red Sea. This was a nearer parallel to the destruction of Sennacherib's army than the slaughter of the Midianites, since it was wholly miraculous. By "his rod" we may understand the rod of Moses, endued by God with miraculous powers (Exodus 4:3, Exodus 4:4; Exodus 14:16, Exodus 14:27). After the manner of Egypt; i.e. "after the manner of his action in Egypt."
The yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing; literally, before the oil; i.e. "the Anointed One"—primarily Hezekiah, "the anointed of the Lord" (2 Samuel 19:21; 2 Kings 11:12; Lamentations 4:20) for the time being, but with a further refer-once to the Messiah, who breaks all the bands of the wicked asunder, and casts away their cords from him (Psalms 2:2, Psalms 2:3); and who is represented by each prince of the house of David, as he was by David himself.
This graphic portraiture of the march of an Assyrian army on Jerusalem is probably not historic, but prophetic. Isaiah sees it in vision (Isaiah 1:1), and describes it like an eye-witness. There are at present no sufficient means of deciding to what particular attack it refers, or indeed whether the march is one conducted by Sennacherib or Sargon. Sargon calls himself in one inscription "conqueror of the land of Judah" (Layard, 'Inscriptions,' Isaiah 33:8), and the details of the present prophecy, especially verse 9, suit the reign of Sargon rather than that of his son, so that on the whole it is perhaps most probable that some expedition of Sargon's is portrayed.
He is come to Aiath. "Aiath" is probably Ai (Joshua 8:1-28), with a feminine termination. It lay about three miles south of Bethel, which had become Assyrian with the conquest of Samaria. If an Assyrian army mustered at Bethel, it would naturally enter Judaean territory at Ai. He is passed to Migron; rather, he has passed through Migron. "Migron" is mentioned as a village in the territory of Gibeah of Benjamin (1 Samuel 14:2); but the Migron of this passage must have been further to the north. He hath laid up his carriages; i.e. "has left his baggage-train." Michmash was about seven miles nearly due north of Jerusalem. The heavy baggage might conveniently be left there, especially as it was difficult of attack (1 Samuel 14:4-13), while a lightly equipped body of troops made a dash at Jerusalem.
They are gone over the passage. The "passage of Michmash" (1 Samuel 13:23)—the deeply sunken valley, called now the Wady Sutveinit, between Michmash (Mukkmas) and Geba (Jeba). They have taken up their lodging at Geba; or, at Geba they rest for the night. Having crossed the wady, they bivouac on the crest of the hills enclosing it on the south. Ramah … Gibeah of Saul. Ramah is, no doubt, Er-Ram, a village on an eminence, as the name implies, about six miles north of Jerusalem, and on the direct road from Beitin. Gibeah of Saul is thought to have occupied the site of the modern Tuleil-el-Ful, two miles nearer Jerusalem. It is certainly a distinct place from Geba. The inhabitants evacuate these two places during the night.
Lift up thy voice, O daughter of Gallim. Gallim and Laish must have been villages between Geba and Jerusalem; but it is impossible to fix their site. Anathoth (now Aaata) obtains mention in Joshua as a city of refuge in the territory of Benjamin (Joshua 21:18). It was Jeremiah's birthplace (Jeremiah 1:1). Gallim was the birthplace of the man who became the second husband of Michal, Saul's daughter. Laish is not elsewhere mentioned. Cause it to be heard unto Laish; rather, hearken, O Laisha.
Madmenah …Gebim. These are, like Gallim and Laisha, villages otherwise unknown. They must have been within a mile or two of Jerusalem, towards the north. Their inhabitants fly as the Assyrians approach.
As yet shall he remain at Nob that day; literally, yet that day (is he) at Nob to halt. The Assyrians pitch their camp at Nob, the priestly city destroyed by Saul (1 Samuel 22:19), 1 which was evidently within sight of Jerusalem. Major Wilson's conjecture, that it occupied the site of the later Scopus, is probable.
The Lord … shall lop the bough with terror. A check to the Assyrian arms is intended, but of what nature is not clear. The "lopping of the bough with terror" might indicate a panic, such as that which seized the Syrians and made Benhadad II. raise the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 7:6, 2 Kings 7:7). But the expressions used later on," hewn down," "cut down," "shall fall," rather imply a defeat.
He shall cut down; or, one shall eat down; Jehovah being, no doubt, intended. Lebanon (comp. Ezekiel 31:3, "Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon"). Here the comparison is enlarged, and Assyria appears as Lebanon itself with all its cedar woods. By a mighty one; rather, a glorious one (comp. Isaiah 33:21, where the word here used—adir—is an epithet of Jehovah).
God is man's only sure Refuge in the day of calamity.
"God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof" (Psalms 46:1-3). So sang the psalmist, and so Israel and Judah felt, so long as they clung to the worship of Jehovah, and served him, and strove to keep his laws. As their fidelity wavered, and they grew cold in his service, and allowed themselves to be attracted by the sensuous religions of the nations around them, their trust in Jehovah departed, and they could no longer look to him as a Refuge. Whither, then, should they look? Should it be to the gods of the nations? or to foreign alliances? or to their own strong arms and dauntless hearts?
I. FALSE GODS NO SURE REFUGE. Ahaz at one time "sacrificed to the gods Of Damascus which smote him" (2 Chronicles 28:23), thinking to obtain help from them; but "they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel." Other kings of Judah and Israel trusted in Baal, or Chemosh, or Moloch, or Beltis, or Ashtoreth. But none found any of them a" sure refuge." Indeed, how should false gods help, when they are either fictions of the imagination, mere nonentities, or else evil spirits, rebels against the Almighty, cast down by him from heaven? If the former, they can have no power at all, for how should something come out of nothing? If the latter, they are powerless, at any rate against God, who has proved their inability to resist him, and could at any time annihilate them by a word.
II. THE KINGS OF THE EARTH NO SURE REFUGE. "Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man, for there is no help in them" (Psalms 146:3). Hoshea trusted in Shebek of Egypt (So), Hezekiah in Tirhakah, Zedekiah in Pharaoh-Hophra; but all were equally disappointed. Even Ahaz obtained no real advantage from his appeal to Tiglath-Pileser, who "distressed him, but strengthened him not" (2 Chronicles 28:20). Foreign aid is always a poor thing to trust to; for the foreigner necessarily consults mainly his own interest, which he may find to conflict with ours at any moment. Let all go well, and an obligation is incurred, which it may cost us more than we bargained for to repay. Let things go ill, and we experience perhaps the fate of the horse when he called in man's aid against the stag. In the best case, foreign powers can help us only against man, not against God. They can never be a "sure refuge." "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (Isaiah 2:22).
III. MEN'S OWN STRONG ARMS AND STOUT HEARTS NO SURE REFUGE. Better certainly to trust to these than to false gods or fickle princes. In many a strait, these will help us a long way. But let there come a time of serious trouble, of overpowering hostile force pressing upon a nation, or deep grief or dangerous sickness upon an individual, and their weakness and insufficiency is at once shown. In the one case, the strong man has met with a stronger, and all his struggles do but add to his sufferings. In the other, the heart and hands fail when the call is made on them. The stalwart frame is bowed down with grief or illness; the heart is "withered like grass" (Psalms 102:4), or become "like wax that is melted" (Psalms 22:14). Man discovers under these circumstances that he has no strength an 'himself,' and, unless he can find an external, refuge, is lost absolutely. Happy they who at such times can feel with David, The Lord is my Rock, and nay Fortress, and my Deliverer; nay God, nay Strength, in whom I will trust; my Buckler, and the Horn of nay salvation, and nay high Tower" (Psalms 18:2). "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Psalms 23:1-4).
Assyria, a notable example of pride and its punishment.
History furnishes no better example of pride and its punishment than that of Assyria. The pride of the Assyrians is equally apparent in Scripture and on the native monuments.
I. ASSYRIA'S PRIDE AS SHOWN FORTH IN SCRIPTURE.
1. In Rabshakeh's embassy 2 Kings 18:19-35) Rabshakeh not only scoffs at the military power of Judaea and Egypt, but ridicules the idea that Jehovah can deliver Jerusalem if the Assyrians attack it. "Hearken not unto Hezekiah," he says, "when he persuadeth you, saying, The Lord will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the King of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand? Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?"
2. In the words by which Isaiah expresses what was in the heart of Assyrian kings, in Isaiah 10:8-11, Isaiah 10:13, Isaiah 10:14, and Isaiah 37:24, Isaiah 37:25.
II. ASSYRIA'S PRIDE AS INDICATED BY THE MONUMENTS. Here we may note:
1. The titles assumed by the kings, which are such as the following: "the great king ", "the powerful king," "the king of kings," "the lord of lords," "the supreme monarch of monarchs," "the favorite of the great gods," "the illustrious chief who is armed with the scepter and girt with the girdle of power over mankind," and the like.
2. The contempt poured upon adversaries, who are "wicked people," "impious heretics," "enemies of Asshur," "traitors," and "rebels."
3. The claim to a series of uninterrupted successes, without notification of a single defeat, or even check, as ever suffered by the Assyrian arms. Their pride forbids the monarchs to allow that they ever experience a reverse.
III. ASSYRIA'S PUNISHMENT. The downfall of Assyria is sudden, strange, abnormal. She seems at the zenith of her power, stretching out her arm on the one side to Ethiopia, on the other to Lydia and the coasts of the AEgean, when, almost without warning, her glory suffers eclipse. A wild nation from the north, previously almost unknown, invades her land, devastates her fields, threatens her towns, destroys her material prosperity. Scarcely has this visitation passed by, when she is attacked from the east. An old enemy, long contended with and long despised, has in some wonderful way increased in strength, and assumes a menacing attitude. She trembles, but she puts on a bold face and confronts the danger. Summoning to her aid the forces of her subject allies, she retires within the strong walls of her capital city, and there awaits attack. But the chief of the subject allies deserts her standard, leagues itself with her main enemy, and joins in the siege of Nineveh. After a stubborn defense the city falls, and with it the empire, which has lasted nearly seven centuries. The downfall is strange, sudden, tragic, astonishing. Scripture alone reveals its cause. Scripture puts it before us as God's doing—his judgment on Assyria's pride, his predetermined and distinctly predicted punishment. Because "the axe boasted itself against him that hewed therewith, and the saw magnified itself against him that moved it" (Isaiah 37:15), "therefore the Lord, the Lord of hosts, sent among Assyria's fat ones leanness, and under her glory kindled a burning like the burning of a fire," and she was consumed, "soul and body," and ceased to be a nation.
The warning may well be taken to heart by modern countries, which set themselves against God; by modern scientists, who in the pride of their intellect deny God; and by the irreligious generally, who practically deny and defy him.
Blessings through the anointing.
Blessings come to men "through the anointing" in a twofold way:
I. THROUGH THE ANOINTING OF JESUS. The anointing of Jesus was that complete sanctification of his human nature by the Holy Spirit, which resulted from his most close and perfect union with the other Persons of the ever-blessed Trinity, whereby his human nature was never left an instant without the Spirit's gracious influence, but was ever, as it developed itself, sanctified in every part to the highest degree possible.
1. Hence comes to us the blessing of having a perfect Pattern, and that a personal one. Abstract standards of virtue are all more or less imperfect, and are weak to move us; they create no enthusiasm; they draw forth no love. We need a personal standard—an example whom we may imitate, a master whom we may admire, a friend whom we may cherish in our heart of hearts. Ancient philosophers told men who were striving to be good, to look out for the most virtuous man whom they could find, and then imitate him. But every merely human model was imperfect; each led his followers more or less astray. It is our happiness to have a perfect Model—a real Person; One whose character is so clearly depicted that we cannot mistake it; One whom we may feel to be indeed a Friend; One whom we may at once revere and love.
2. We have, further, through the anointing of Jesus, the blessing of a full and complete satisfaction and atonement for all our sins. No atonement for the sins of others could be made but by a spotless sacrifice. Jesus was spotless, "through the anointing." It is thus "through the anointing" only that we have our perfect confidence in reconciliation having been made for us, our sins blotted out, and our pardon obtained from an offended God, who will receive us in his Son and for his Son's merits.
II. THROUGH MEN'S OWN ANOINTING. "We have an unction from the Holy One" (1 John 2:20), if we are Christians at all, and through that unction obtain more blessings than we can enumerate; as
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Assyria the rod of Jehovah.
I. A WARLIKE POWER MAY BE THE PENAL INSTRUMENT OF PROVIDENCE. Assyria is here described as the "staff of Jehovah's anger," the "rod of his wrath," appointed to march against a people who have excited the Divine indignation. As he plunders and spoils, and proceeds on his devastating way, he may be in effect like Attila, the "scourge of God," destined like a wholesome tempest to purify the moral air of a corrupt age, and to prepare for a better sanitary state.
II. YET HE WHO IS BUT AN INSTRUMENT OF ANOTHER WILL MAY IGNORE HIS OFFICE AND WORK. The Assyrian's thoughts are bent on destruction. His motive is personal ambition. In haughty pride he not only overvalues his power, but mistakes its nature. His courtiers, he vaunts, are equal to kings. All foreign lands without distinction are to meet the same doom from him. As the heathen kingdoms of the north have been subdued by him, powerful and many as the gods had been, so the little kingdom of Judah, with its few gods or idols, will not be able to withstand him. As a heathen, the Assyrian recognizes, though in a mistaken way, the power of religion as the mainstay of a state. The idols or fetishes are to him the signs of a real supernatural power residing in the nation.
III. DIVINE DENUNCIATION OF VAIN-GLORY. When Jehovah executes his judgments at the right time, this insolent pride will be punished.
1. Its folly exposed. The prophet reads the heart of the vain-glorious conqueror. He is saying to himself, "It was the strength of my hand, it was the clearness of my own intelligence, that accomplished these victories, that cast down my powerful foes. I was like a boy pillaging a deserted nest."
2. Its fallacy rebuked. It is as it' the axe should boast that it does the work of the hewer, or as if the saw were to brag against the sawyer, or the staff were to boast that it swings the hand of him who holds it—that the lifeless instrument raises the living hand. How deeply do these thoughts run through the lore of Israel down to Paul, who uses the image of the potter and the clay in a similar manner! Says Lord Bacon, "It was prettily devised of AEsop; the fly sat upon the axletree of the chariot-wheel, and said,' What a dust do I raise!' So there are. stone vain persons, that whatsoever goeth alone or moveth upon greater means, if they have ever so little hand in it, they think it is they that carry it." But
"All service ranks the same with God—
With God, whose puppets, best and worst,
Are we; there is no last nor first."
Judgment and conversion.
I. FIGURES OF JUDGMENT. The Assyrian is viewed under the image of a stout, well-fed body, into which a wasting disease comes by. Divine judgment. Again, that judgment is depicted as a flaming fire, kindling and devouring thorns and making a swift end to the towering beauty of the forest trees, the smiling pleasantness of the fruitful field. The remnant of the host will soon be counted "on one's fingers," as a boy might count the still standing stems in a wood devastated by the fiery element. The decline of a sick man, lastly, may represent the falling away of a nation's power. At best, what is humanity but a flower fading in its pride? As we read in the 'Prometheus' of AEschylus, "Its strength, is it strong; its beauty, is it fair? What hope have they, these dying briers, living one day long? How like a dream they go, this poor blind manhood, drifted from its end!" And in the light of moral disapproval, of Divine judgment, a declining nation seems to be under a blight, whose ravages cannot be checked. Where are the ancient civilizations, Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, Rome? Their root was long ago cankered, and their blossom went up as dust. The explorer, digging out a statue here, or there deciphering an inscription, helps us to construct the picture of cities that were magnificent poems in stone, of a life to which no secret of pleasure or of power was denied. Were such heights in vain reached for mankind? Were yonder works of mighty kings the efforts of giants who fought against God? Rather let us say that it is he who both raises up and sets down—raises up to illustrate the greatness of the spirit of man, his breath; casts down to show the bitterness of human pride and the vanity of human ambitions. As we survey the remains of the "cloud-capp'd towers and gorgeous palaces" of Nineveh and Persepolis, we are reminded that all earth's splendor is but a dream, from which we must again and again awake anew, to find in the spiritual the only eternal; in the right the only enduring throne of potentates; in the sweet happiness of millions, not in the multitude of armed men, the mirror of God's will on earth.
II. CONVERSION THROUGH JUDGMENT. It was false reliances that corrupted Judah and Israel As faith in the true objects of faith is nothing but strength, so the illusion which tempts us to trust where there is nothing in reality to lean on, must betray us. Men under such illusions will confide in their deadly enemy as a bosom friend; will invite the point of the weapon aimed at the heart; will "stay themselves upon them that smite them." We are limp, drooping creatures. Rare is he who walks with head quite erect, with eye undauntedly fixed on the unseen, with heart bound up in principle alone. If we crave countenance in our foibles, much more in our serious projects. And never was there craze, weakness, silliness, or sin, for which abettors may not be found. Never have we so sought confirmation in views that should never have been entertained, but the hour of disenchantment has come, soon or late. The reed breaks, the cistern leaks; the soft foundation gives, and the ominous crack appears in our dwelling. And then we return to "stay ourselves on the Holy One of Israel with faithfulness." Or so the prophet forecasts the effect of his people's disenchantment. "The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob to the Hero-God." He the only Head, the only Battle-leader, as the only Prince of Peace, will be found again in the day of adversity, at least by a few. As in the olden time but a few were saved in the ark from the great flood, so from these overflowing judgments which are to descend, a few, though only a few, will be able to escape. A public end and decision of these controversies between Jehovah and his people is to be made, and it cannot be delayed nor averted.
1. To the prophetic consciousness it seems, at any epoch, that "the whole world lies in wickedness," and that the righteous are but a very small remnant.
2. Historically, such a view seems to hold good. At critical epochs, England has probably been saved by the virtuous, the Christian, the self-denying few.
3. But history is too profound for any mortal reading or rendering. If nations have passed away notwithstanding that they had a core of true hearts among them; if Israel still remains, though her lamp has been removed from its stand, there is, doubtless, a deeper meaning in the prophet's words. It is the "remnant" which has given us our Hebrew Scriptures. From the caldron of suffering, exile, external sorrow, came forth the fine gold of the great prophet of the Captivity, and of many of the psalmists. Every nation that leaves noble and Divine thoughts for the possession of mankind forever; every individual who, out of the wreck of life's mistakes, bequeaths some legacy of truth to posterity, fulfils in a way the prophecies of the recovery of the remnant.—J.
The mighty laid low.
I. ENCOURAGEMENT AGAINST FEAR. Let not Judah fear the Assyrian, who, like the Egyptian in the days of yore, wields over her the rod of the slave-driver. In a short time, the hot tide of Divine wrath will pass from Israel, and the Assyrians will in turn feel it. The scourge that was laid in the ancient time on the back of the Egyptian oppressor will be brandished over the heads of the Assyrians. Their burden will fall from Judah's shoulder, from Judah's neck the yoke. The proverb says, "A youth is ruined by fat," and so will the swollen bulk of the Assyrian body melt away. There is a play in the Hebrew on the words "yoke" and "youth." The prophet in a word-picture paints the onward march of the great host. Swiftly he comes on, spreading trembling and causing flight before him. Panic-struck clamors sound through the vales, and from hill to hill the alarum is given. Fugitives pour in through the gates of the city. Already the invader is at Nob, near Jerusalem, and has his hand lifted on high, as it were, to smite the sacred hill with a fatal blow. Then suddenly his own crown is cleft by the hand of Jehovah; the lofty crested warriors fall as the trees in the forest before the woodman's axe. This Lebanon of warlike spears, this moles lelli, is prostrate before the "majestical One" whose seat is on Zion.
II. GENERAL LESSONS. There was an anointed king in Zion, the representation of Jehovah's majesty, then; there are spiritual forces, representative of Divine might and will, ruling in the world now. There were moments of prophetic insight in which the hollowness of worldly might, the doom of kingdoms that were not kingdoms of righteousness, were clearly seen. Them are such moments now. What is force without justice, numbers without principle? One breath from the lips of eternal Truth shall suffice to drive them away. All that has fixed the eye of the people in fascinated terror, filled their ears with tumult, their hearts with commotion, dismayed, not the prophet. He seems to look above, his feet securely planted upon a cliff, on the boiling surge below. There is a hand that can stay these waves, a voice that can command, "Thus far and no further; here shall thy proud billows be stayed." Then shall these hosts become such "stuff as dreams are made of," these onward-rolling columns melt into wreaths of cloud, become thin air, and "leave not a wrack behind."
"The might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!"
Our cares and troubles may be to us personally as the invasion of an Assyrian host. If we would know the prophetic confidence, we must live the prophetic life; the ear attent, the heart obedient—"fixed, trusting in the Lord." Nothing can bring us peace, lift us out of the degradation of fears that unman, but faith in our principles. They must triumph in the end; in them alone is strength, freedom, victory.—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The helplessness of man under the wrath of God.
The anger of the Lord is here expressly declared against the oppressor. We are again reminded:
1. That God judges those who are in authority over men; that however these may be placed above the reach of human justice, they will not escape Divine retribution.
2. That God especially requires an account of our treatment of the suffering and the dependent. Whoso wrongs the widow or the orphan must expect a fearful reckoning with the pitiful and righteous One (Matthew 18:6). But the special truth which is provided for us in this passage is the utter impotence of man, and the certainty and severity of his doom when God "arises to judgment." We learn—
I. THAT SIN IS MOVING ON TO A DAY OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. "The day of visitation" (Isaiah 10:3) is sure to come. The desolation that is in store may have to "come from far;" it may be out of sight now; it may come "as one that travelleth," may be hidden by intervening days and weeks; but it is on its way. Not more surely does the sun move to the western sky, does the spring move toward the summer, does youth move toward manhood and manhood toward age and death, than does sin move on to a day of wrath, of Divine visitation. All sin takes this sad course; not only such daring and presumptuous sin as that of the text—cruel wrong at the hand of those appointed to administer justice—but all departure from the revealed will of God, and also the deliberate and persistent refusal to enter his service.
II. THAT IN THAT DAY SIN WILL LEAN IN VAIN ON ITS OLD SUPPORTS. Not only will national alliances fail the nation which God is visiting with his displeasure, but all the supports and consolations with which individual souls have surrounded themselves will prove to be of no avail then. "To whom will ye flee for help?" (Isaiah 10:3). What human arm will arrest the uplifted hand of God? Of what avail then human friendships, abundant "resources," magnificent estates, royal or princely patronage, the devices of the cunning counselor? How will these be brushed away by the tempest of his holy indignation!
III. THAT SIN WILL THEN BE EXPOSED TO A THREEFOLD PENALTY.
1. Irreparable loss. "Where will ye leave your glory?" (Isaiah 10:3). Our earthly treasures, our bodily powers, our worldly honors and positions,—these are things which God's punitive providence will take away from us; and where is the custodian to whose hands we can confide them? Who will receive them from us and restore them to us?
2. Spiritual bondage. "They shall bow down under the prisoners," or "bow down among the captives" (Isaiah 10:4). Sin leads down to a cruel bondage. Evil dispositions, bad habits, shameful lusts, "have dominion over us" (Romans 6:16).
3. Spiritual death. "They shall fall under the slain." We add the welcome truth, not stated or even hinted here, but elsewhere revealed—
IV. THAT THERE IS AN UNFAILING REFUGE NOW FOR THE PENITENT AND BELIEVING SPIRIT.—C.
Man in his folly and God in his righteousness.
We have a graphic picture here of—
I. MAN IN HIS FOLLY. Under the dominion of the folly which is born of sin, man.
1. Indulges in designs which are beyond his strength. (Isaiah 10:7.) It is "in his heart" to do much greater things, often to work much greater wickedness, than he has power to execute. Under sin, men indulge in great-and even gross self-exaggeration; guilt is an infatuating thing.
2. Looks with dangerous complacency on his little triumphs. (Isaiah 10:8, Isaiah 10:9.) He has the "stout heart" and the "high looks" (Isaiah 10:12) which come from a consciousness of success, and which are the sure precursors of further folly. Few men can stand even the smaller triumphs, and still fewer the greater ones. When a man finds himself indulging the spirit of complacency he had better question himself severely, for he is walking on a "slippery place."
3. Attributes to himself what is his only in a very slight degree. (Isaiah 10:13; vide 1 Corinthians 4:7.) Man can only work with the materials which he has received from God, under the conditions which God determines, within the limits which God imposes. "All our springs are in him." The attitude of arrogant authorship is as preposterous as it is offensive.
4. Comes to hasty and ignorant conclusions. (Isaiah 10:10, Isaiah 10:11, Isaiah 10:14.) The blind Assyrian ignorantly associated the idols of other lands with "the idols of Jerusalem." He was either ignorant of Jehovah's Name, or he placed him on a level with other gods. He was going forth in a blind confidence that should be rudely shaken, that should be completely shattered. Man in his guilty folly assumes many things to be true which are absolutely false; he fails to make inquiry, and his ignorance utterly and fatally misleads him. And there is nothing in regard to which this is so true as the nature, the character, and the will of God.
5. Is blind to the end and issue of his doings. "He meaneth not so," etc. (Isaiah 10:7). Under the sway of sin man moves along a path which he thinks will lead to honor, enjoyment, success, triumph; but "the end of that way is death." Selfishness has its own purpose in view, and confidently reckons on achieving its end; but behind or above it is a Power which it is unable to resist, and which turns it to another anti very different end.
II. GOD IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Everywhere present, sleeplessly watching, mightily interposing, is the righteous Ruler of all.
1. He punishes his own people when they go astray. "I will send him against a hypocritical nation," etc. (Isaiah 10:6); "When the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion" (Isaiah 10:12). Judgment often "begins at the house of God," with the people of God. Whom the Lord loves he chastens. God has a gracious purpose in his visitations; he desires and designs repentance and restoration, but he does not spare. He speaks of his own people as "the people of his wrath" (Isaiah 10:6). Let no "Christian nation, "or" Christian Church," or Christian man wrap itself (himself) up in imaginary security. God may have a rod in his hand even for Judah as well as for Assyria.
2. He will overwhelm with humiliation those who impiously oppose themselves to his holy will. (Isaiah 10:15-19.)
3. He will use the ungodly as instruments in his hand of righteousness and power. (Isaiah 10:5-7.) Sennacherib should be the rod with which the hand of God would smite. God can make and will make the wrath and the ambition of men to serve the high purpose which he has in his mind. Thus he used Pharaoh, Cyrus, Pilate, and many others, who thought that their own aims were the ultimate issue that was being wrought out.
Departure and return.
The passage suggests—
I. THAT THOSE WHO KNOW GOD WELL MAY BE INDUCED TO FORSAKE HIM. Israel had been well taught of God; had been carefully and constantly instructed in Divine truth; had received some lessons which might well have been deeply planted in the mind. Yet Israel forsook Jehovah; ceased to trust in his delivering arm, and sought alliance with Assyria. So we, who should know much better, forsake the Lord, of whose power, faithfulness, and love we have learned so much. Instead of finding our joy and our heritage in his service and friendship, we resort to the fascinations of a seductive world; instead of relying on his promised succor, we have recourse to human help or to material securities.
II. THAT EVERY EARTHLY REFUGE PROVES TO BE PRECARIOUS. Resting on Assyria, Israel was only "staying upon him that smote them." The staff on which they leaned proved to be a rod that bruised them. So has it been, again and again, with national and political alliances. So is it with our individual confidences in earth rather than in heaven. The material securities fail us; the ship sinks, the bank breaks, the mine is exhausted, the company is defrauded and has to be wound up, trade declines, and our earthly prop is gone. The human help we built upon disappears; our friend sickens, or he is killed in the fatal accident, or he is himself stripped and helpless, or he is estranged from us and discards us. Our hope becomes our disappointment, our pride becomes our shame; we have been staying on that which smites us (see Jeremiah 17:5; Psalms 118:6-9; Isaiah 31:1).
III. THAT GOD AWAITS THE RETURN OF HIS PEOPLE TO HIMSELF. "They shall stay upon the Lord;" "The remnant shall return unto the mighty God" (Isaiah 10:20, Isaiah 10:21). Not only was God not unwilling that his people should return unto him, but he sent them their adversity in order that they might see their folly and incline their hearts unto himself.
1. God is grieved at our departure from himself, but he is willing to welcome us back.
2. He sends the adversity which is suggestive of our return. When the dark hour comes, when the soul sits desolate, when our heart is wounded by the very hand which we hoped would help and heal us, in that day may we hear the voice of the Father we have forsaken, calling to us and saying, "Return unto me;" "I will heal your backslidings, I will love you freely."—C.
Rout and re-establishment: Divine interposition.
I. THE APPEARANCE OF OVERWHELMING POWER ON THE SIDE OF SIN. The prophet gives a vivid description in Isaiah 10:28 -38 of the triumphant march of the Assyrian. Everybody and everything yields at his approach; opposition melts before him; his adversary is in his power; already his hand is on the prize he seeks. Sin often seems to be on a march that is irresistible, and to be secure of victory. Numbers, wealth, learning, rank, riches, custom, habit,—the most powerful forces make up its conquering host. Must not truth, virtue, piety, capitulate at its summons and leave their treasures to its impious hands? So was it with sin generally when the Savior appeared, to lift up the standard of the cross against its power. So has it been, again and again, with the forces of superstition, skepticism, vice, ungodliness, as these have assailed some Church of Christ or some servant of God.
II. ITS ARREST AND OVERTHROW BY DIVING POWER. Irresistible as the invading army seemed, its victorious course should be arrested and its confident anticipations dashed (verses 26, 33, 34). The hand of the boastful warrior, outstretched in scornful threatening (verse 32), should be smitten down and hang helpless. The smiter should himself be scourged, the proud palm disbranched, the great forest felled. Arrogant impiety should be humiliated, and "by the way that he came he should return." So has it been and thus shall it be, on still more serious and critical occasions, God will say to the spiritual adversaries, "Thus far … and no further." He will raise up the prophet—the Samuel, the Elijah, the John, the Paul, the Luther, the Wesley—or he will introduce the spiritual awakening and moral power which will encounter and defeat the worst efforts of sin and wrong, and impending defeat shall be changed into glorious victory.
III. THE RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Verse 27.) The burden shall be removed from the shoulder, the yoke taken from the neck; there shall be comfort and freedom for the people of God, that they may walk again in the paths of righteousness, that they may serve again in the vineyard of the Lord. We learn three lessons:
1. That successful sin may well hesitate on its way and tremble for the issue. However appearances may favor it, and though the spoils may seem already in its hand, there is a Power to be reckoned with which will arrest its march and consume its hopes.
2. That threatened uprightness may be reassured. It need not be afraid of any Assyrian (verse 24), if it continue in or return to its spiritual integrity. God's love for the faithful will remain; his indignation toward the erring who are the penitent will cease (verse 25).
3. That the removal of sinful servitude must be contemporary with the acceptance of holy and happy service. (Matthew 11:28-30).—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The Divine avenger of the poor.
The idea of a goel, or avenger, belongs to the primitive conditions of society. When there was no settled government, no police, and no magistracy, each individual had to guard his life, liberty, and property as best he could. The first and simplest form that mutual protection took was "the family," and the principle was established that the nearest of kin to an injured or murdered person should avenge the injury or death. As this led to feuds among families and tribes lasting for generations, and as it was a kind of rough justice which often became injustice, Moses set the old custom under limitations, appointing proper courts for the settlement of disputes, and protecting the manslayer from the avenger until due examination could be made into the circumstances of his crime. In fully civilized society a regular system of law and magistracy is organized; the individual commits his right of personal avengement to the recognized authorities It is, therefore, of supreme importance to the welfare of any nation that justice should be free to all, should be perfectly fair, and should be a practical avenger of the poor, the distressed, and the wronged. The nature which Isaiah sets before us in this passage reveals a most perilous condition of society. "All the formalities of justice were observed punctiliously. The decision of the unjust Judge was duly given and recorded, but the outcome of it all was that the poor, the Widow, and the fatherless got no redress." "No people had statutes and judgments so righteous as they had, and yet corrupt judges found ways 'to turn aside the needy from judgment,' to hinder them from coming at their right and recovering what was their due, because they were needy and poor, and such as they could get nothing by nor expect any bribes from." "There is no surer sign of the misery of a people than is found in the corrupt administration of justice." And it may be added that a country is on the borders of revolution, or of calamity, when righteousness has forsaken its judgment-seats, and there are no avengers of social wrongs.
I. THE STATE OF SOCIETY IN WHICH THE POOR FIND NO HELP IN MAN. Two cases are suggested.
1. Failure to obtain just judgment.
2. The painful condition of widows.
Where there is wealth and luxury there is sure to be poverty in marked and terrible features close beside it, as may be illustrated from the great and rich European cities of our day. Wealth has a tendency to go in the direction of classes; it drains away from some classes, and so alienates and embitters them, especially as the result of self indulgence is to harden a man's heart against his neighbor. The condition of widows in the East is an extremely painful one, because they have no rights in their husband's property, no social status, and are the prey of designing and wicked men. The retired life they lead unfits them for contending on behalf of their own rights, or those of their children. The picture of a national life in which the wronged have no judge, the poor no helpers, and the widows no friends, is an exceedingly painful one. Self-seeking, luxury, and class prejudice must have catch the heart out of such a kingdom.
II. IN SUCH A STATE OF SOCIETY THE POOR HAVE HELP IN GOD. This may be illustrated along the following lines. God will help them by:
1. The working of his judgment-laws. In Greece despised helots multiply, and become at last a destructive force, for a time breaking up society. Slaves learn at last to combine, and take their own avengements on their persecutors. Down-trodden races heave awhile, like slumbering earthquakes, and presently burst forth in revolutions that are, in reality, Divine judgments.
2. By the orderings of Divine providence, which bring the nation into such a condition that reformation of its wrongs becomes immediately necessary to secure its continued existence.
3. By the raising up of human helpers. Men who plead the cause of the poor, and make their voice and their condition to be heard even in the high places of a land. At once thought turns to such men as Wilberforce, the friend of the slave, and Howard, the friend of the prisoner.
4. By special Divine consolations. The poor have their ameliorations, and even their superior advantages; and not the least of them is this—they have little prejudice hindering the reception of Divine truth. To "the poor the gospel is preached," and in every age it is found true that "the common people heard Christ," and hear of Christ, "gladly."—R.T.
The Divine overrulings.
The figure of Assyria as an aggrandizing power is here set before us. "About B.C. 1100, the rule of Assyria, under Tiglath-Pileser I had stretched from Kurdistan to the Grecian Archipelago, including the whole of Lebanon and Phoenicia. But a strong league of the Hittite kings of Syria had effectually humbled it, and torn away from the successors of the great king all his dominions on this side the Euphrates. After a hundred and fifty years of obscurity, Assyria once more, in the middle of the ninth century B.C under its warlike king, Assur-Nazirhabal, entered on a career of conquest, and cleared its home territories of their Babylonish garrisons. He was succeeded by his son, Shalmaueser II; who proved the Napoleon of his day. After conquering Babylonia, he marched in triumph to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and exacted tribute from the petty kings of Chaldaea. But these triumphs only kindled his military ardor. He now determined to extend his empire to the ancient grandeur it had obtained under Tiglath-Pileser I. The kingdom of Damascus and the states of Palestine were thus in imminent danger. A new era of mortal struggle had come to them—a struggle only to end, after an agony of more than a hundred years, in the destruction of Damascus and Samaria, and the degrading vassalage of all the nations from the Euphrates to the Levant. Henceforth all Western Asia trembled at the name of Assyria. The heavens were black with tempests, driving, with only momentary lulls, across the whole sweep of Syria and Palestine" (Dr. Geikie). Fixing attention on Assyria, we observe—
I. SELF-WILLED ASSYRIA, CARRYING OUT ITS OWN PLANS. Describe the historical facts. The poet seems to be watching this aggrandizing king determined to push his conquests to the Mediterranean, and become master of the world. The career and spirit of the first Napoleon are full of effective comparisons. The lust of conquest ever grows with success, and the Assyrian king had no more thought of God than Napoleon had. He simply meant to serve his own ends. These great world-conquerors are prominent examples of "taking life into our own ordering, and resolutely fashioning it to our own ends;" and they are examples, too, of the curse to all around, and the ruin to the man himself, of every self-willed life.
II. OVERRULED ASSYRIA CARRYING OUT GOD'S PLANS. What a supreme humiliation for conquering Assyria was this prophetic declaration! Assyria was, in actual fact, only carrying out the purpose of Jehovah, who was known to the Assyrians but as the God of one of the little states which they would be obliged to overrun. Assyria and its proud king were only Jehovah's rod and staff, executing for him the fierceness of his indignation. Assyria was now as much the servant of God judging and punishing Syria and Israel, as the Hebrews had been the servants of God in exterminating the Canaanites, whose cup of iniquity had become full, and was running over. God makes "the wrath of man praise him, and the remainder of wrath he restrains."
III. THERE IS EVER CONSOLATION FOR GOD'S PEOPLE IN GOD'S OVERRULINGS. We should always try to look beyond man's little plan, and see how things fit into God's great plan. We may never be satisfied with what things look like, we should ask God to teach us what they are. There are no forces working in the moral or intellectual world of today which are out of God's range. We need never be despondent. The purposes of grace are overmastering purposes. It is always true that "man proposes, and God disposes." As practical appeal, show how important for us it is that we should be kin with God, fit into his purposes, and do his will, not just by his overruling and mastery, but by our own spirit of surrender, submission, and joyous service; never saying, "What shall I do?" but ever looking up to God and saying, "Lord what wilt thou have me to do?"—R.T.
God's judgments on pride.
"These are the sentiments and boastings of Sennacherib, a proud Assyrian monarch, who viewed and treated cities just as we in Africa viewed and treated ostrich-nests, when they fell in our way; we seized the eggs as if they had been our own, because we had found them, and because there was no power that could prevent us. So did Sennacherib seize and plunder cities with as little compunction as we seized the eggs of the absent ostrich; never thinking of the misery for life which he thereby brought on many peaceable families, who had done nothing to injure or offend him" (Campbell). Assyria did more than other conquering kingdoms in merging independent nationalities into one great empire. To be a "remover of boundaries and landmarks" was the title in which an Assyrian king most exulted.
I. THE PERIL OF SUCCESS IN LIFE IS PRIDE. Illustrated in Nebuchadnezzar, Solomon, etc. See the boastings in this passage.
II. PRIDE, KEPT WITHIN LIMITS, MAY BE CORRECTED BY ORDINARY AGENCIES. Such as failure, disappointment, falls into temptation, seasons of affliction. There is some measure of pride in us all, bringing us under God's chastening hand.
III. WHEN PRIDE COMES TO TAKE THE HONOR THAT IS DUE TO GOD ALONE, IT MUST BE OPENLY HUMBLED. As in the cases of Nebuchadnezzar, Herod at Tyre, etc. And if God seems to delay in his humblings, we may be sure it is only that the proud man may get finished the work which, all unknown to himself, God is making him do. Then we may well learn to be always thankful for grace received, talents entrusted, opportunities given, and achievements won; but never boast, never either think or say, "I have done it;" "My arm hath gotten me this victory." Boast, if you must boast, like Paul, of what God has wrought in you and by you; but never boast of what you have wrought, for it is an ever-working and necessary law that "pride must have a fall" and the "Lord alone shall be exalted in that day."—R.T.
Man, the instrument of God.
This passage is most humbling to that pride of man which leads him to say, "I am my own; I can do as I please with my own powers and life." That pride it breaks down by saying," Not so; you are not your own; you are God's; he made you; he gives you all; he uses you for his own high purposes." The proudest, wealthiest, mightiest man on earth may seem to be something. In reality, what is he? An axe, a saw, a staff in the hands of God, to work out his will. How foolish for the axe to boast against the workman, or the staff to resist the living man who uses it! The truth which we propose to illustrate is, that man can never be other than the instrument of God, used by him for the accomplishment of his Divine purposes. We can find nothing else that God has created which is without a purpose and end for its being. Winds and waters, metals and rocks, flowers and trees, sunshine and showers, summer and winter, day and night, disease and death, all are God's tools. Not one insect hums in the summer evening but has received its commission from the Lord of heaven and earth. Not a flower opens its tinted bosom in the hedgerow but is obeying the voice of God. Not a bird fans the air with its waving wing but hastens to do the Lord's bidding. The world is full of tools in the hands of God. As we ascend in the scale of creation we only find that higher beings have higher work to do; they are more subtle tools, set to do more skilful work, but they never cease to be tools. Man may be the crown of creation, but he is only a creature, and set to do God's most delicate and particular work. So far as we can understand the history of our world, we can see that great nations have been raised up to do certain things for God, and they have done them, either with their wills or against them. Egypt was raised up to educate the childhood of God's chosen people. Assyria was raised up, as we see in this chapter, to be the rod of God wherewith he might punish his people for their sin. Babylon was commissioned to guard the years of Jewish captivity. Greece was exalted to show the world that "the beautiful" is not, of necessity," the good." Rome proved to the world that "restraint of law" can never take the place of the" liberty of righteousness." The Gothic nations were commissioned to overthrow a debased and worn-out civilization. France shows how the passion for "glory" can lead men astray. America illustrates the principles of self-government. England tells what can be achieved under the inspiration of duty. Every prominent man, who stands conspicuously out from his fellows, is a tool of God. Of Pharaoh it is said, "For this cause have I raised thee up, to make known my power in thee." Of Cyrus, who was appointed to arrange the return from captivity, it is said, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." Every man's individuality is precisely arranged for God's purpose in him. It becomes a most oppressive thought that each one of us is not only a tool, but a tool of a specific kind, and shape, and weight, and force, and keenness, adapted and attempered for that precise work which God wants to do by us. What, then, shall we do with this fact, that man is the instrument of God? In what relation shall we stand to it?
I. WE MAY DENY THE FACT, AND MAKE THIS SUPPORT OUR REBELLION. Perhaps no one ever did, soberly and thoughtfully, say, "There is no God." Men say it in the bragging of their pride, as excuse for their wrong-doing; and by the self-pleasing of their lives; but Scripture reveals their secret when it says, "They do not like to retain God in their thoughts." The difficulty is moral, not intellectual. Even a bad man would hardly dare to say, "Even if there be a God, he has no rights in me; I am my own; I rule myself; I shall take care of myself forever." And yet many a man's life does, in effect, say, "I am no axe, no saw, no staff, of God's; I will not be." "The axe boasteth itself against him that heweth therewith, and the saw magnifies itself against him that shaketh it." Scripture refers to such men. Nebuchadnezzar; Jonah; Assyria; Herod at Tyre. And what must always follow when the "potsherd strives against its Maker?"
II. WE MAY ACCEPT THE FACT, BUT PERVERT IT, AND SO MAKE OURSELVES INDIFFERENT TO MORAL DISTINCTIONS. A man may say, "Yes, I am a tool of God's; my life is all planned out for me; it is all fore-ordained where I shall be, what I shall do; therefore there can be no real difference between right and wrong; whatever I do I cannot help doing, I was intended to do; I am only the axe or the saw; the virtue lies only in him who uses me, and whose power I cannot resist." We are all exposed to the temptation of treating this sublime fact of God's relation to us in this most mournful and mistaken way. Losing the distinction between right and wrong out of our lives, we are in peril of losing God altogether as a moral Being, and transforming him into the "cloud-compelling Jove" of whom the pagans dreamed. Cannot we see that when God speaks of men as his axe or his saw, it is as using a symbol, which answers only in part? Man is not according to the nature of the axe or the saw; but his intelligence, his powers, his will, come into a relation of dependence on God and service to him, just as the saw does to man. God's higher will takes into account man's will, and would even work out its gracious plans through that human will.
III. WE MAY RECEIVE THIS FACT, AND MAKE IT NOURISH A DAILY OBEDIENCE. Was the life of the Apostle Paul a free, noble, blessed life? He was but a tool in the hands of God. "Go thy way; thou art a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my Name before the Gentiles." He did not resist; he did not let the fact that he was God's tool lead him to indifference. He cheerfully accepted God's will for him; he fitted his will to God's will, and said, "Yes, the very best thing for me is just the thing that God requires of me, that I should go and preach to the Gentiles." Is there moral glory in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth? It comes out of the fact that even he, in his earthly manifestation, was a tool in the hands of God, and liked to be a tool. He fitted his mind into the mind of God so as to say, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God;" "My meat and my drink is to do the will of my Father who is in heaven." The truth before us, in this our text, staggers and crushes us if we attempt to resist it. It is one rich indeed in comfort and help if we will accept it, fit our will and pleasure into God's will and pleasure for us, and say, "God's plan for me is my plan for myself. God's place, God's work, God's difficulties, God's sorrows, God's helps for me, are the very things that I would have chosen for myself, if I had wisdom enough to choose." The truth of the text will be a stumbling-block to us until we truly know God. Then it becomes to us a glory and a boasting. Why should the infant of a day be set to steer the vessel when the Lord of winds and seas is on board? Why should a stranger lead himself through the trackless forests of life when the all-seeing, all-knowing Father-God offers the guiding hand? What can be better for us than to be axe, saw, staff, in the hands of him who is good, wise, loving, strong, our Almighty Father?—R.T.
Staying upon the Holy One.
"The remnant of Israel, and the escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no longer rely upon smiter, but shall rely upon Jehovah, Israel's Holy One, in faithfulness" (Cheyne's translation). The point of the verse is that the remnant of Israel is thoroughly weaned from its false confidences, and returns to the true God. The only hope for preserving the liberties of Judah, Israel, and Syria was for them to combine against the growing power of Assyria. But, instead of that, Israel and Syria combined against Judah, and so both weakened their own hands, and drove Judah to seek the help of Assyria, which inevitably hastened the overthrow of all the three kingdoms. However politic the appeal of Judah to Assyria might seem to be, it was utterly unworthy of the people of Jehovah, who had so often proved his faithfulness and power; so they had, by bitter experience, to learn that they should "cease from man," and trust wholly in the living God (Jeremiah 17:5-8). "Their experience of the failure of that false policy should lead them to see that faith in God was, after all, the truest wisdom." From this we learn for ourselves that the sanctified experiences of our life will bring about the same results; self-trusts, and trusts in man, will be wholly broken down, and trust in God will be fully established. We may dwell on the following stages in the experience of life.
I. I CAN. This expresses the spirit of confidence, conscious strength, and hopefulness which characterizes youth. Nothing seems to be impossible. Life must yield its best to energy.
II. I WILL This is man's first effort to meet the sense of failure. Things will not go just as he wishes. He cannot attain all he can desire. But at first he will not admit this. So he calls on will to buttress ability, and make united effort to master disability. The very energy of man's will is a half-confession of man's weakness.
III. I CANNOT. This is the issue of the strife, sooner or later, for every man. Strength and will try hard to shape life otherwise than God appoints; and however cheering temporary successes may prove, every year brings its disappointments and its distresses, and at last the cry rises, more or less bitterly, "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."
IV. I CAN, THROUGH HIM WHO STRENGTHENETH ME. This is the right issue of human experience. The great life-lesson. The teaching of God's Spirit. The meetness for the heavenly service. Untried trust is only profession. Experience brings us to "staying upon the Holy One."—R.T.
The power of the anointing.
This verse is an exceedingly difficult one, because containing a poetical figure which modern associations do not readily explain. Literally, it seems to read, "The yoke shall be destroyed from before the oil," or "the fat." For various explanations see the Expository portion of the Commentary. What is clear is, that the yoke referred to is the bondage of Assyria laid on the house of David. This yoke shall be presently removed. The deep reason for the removal is that on the house of David lies the oil, the anointing oil which consecrated it to Jehovah. Jehovah will surely deliver those who are in covenant relations with him (comp. Isaiah 37:35). The reference may be
The passage which best explains the figure of the text is 1 John 2:27 : "But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." Taking the above as the view of the passage, the subject set before us is this: A man's consecration to God is a constant consideration shaping the Divine dealings. Israel was an anointed race, the house of David was an anointed family, therefore for them no calamity could be overwhelming; all must be subject to gracious Divine mitigations, and all must be made remedial in their influence.
I. TO THE "ANOINTED" BURDENS AND YOKES MUST COME.
1. Because they are not perfect.
2. Because they are being perfected.
3. Because such burdens and yokes are precise and efficient moral agencies in the work of perfecting. (For the Christian setting of this truth, see Hebrews 12:4-11.)
II. ON THE "ANOINTED" BURDENS AND YOKES CANNOT STAY, Because, having a definite object, they have also a limited time. They would become unmitigated and useless evils if they remained after their moral purpose had been wrought. This may be applied to all the calamities and afflictions of life. The degree, the time, the form, are all in strict Divine control. In fact, all affliction is "but for a moment."
III. FOR THE "ANOINTED" THERE IS HELP IN BEARING BURDENS AND YOKES WHILE THEY MUST STAY. God is with all loyal Hebrew youths when they are in the fires. "When thou passest through the water, I will be with thee." When thorns pierce, "my grace is sufficient for thee." "Therefore we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear what man can do unto me."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 10". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany