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THE BURDEN OF BABYLON. The series of prophecies which commences with this chapter and continues to the close of Isaiah 23:1-18; is connected together by the word massa, burden. It has been argued that the term "burden" is an incorrect translation of massa, as used by Isaiah and later prophets (Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1; Malachi 1:1); and that "utterance," or "prophecy," would be more suitable (comp. Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1, where massa is thus rendered in the Authorized Version). But the facts remain that massa means a "burden" in the ordinary sense, and that the prophecies to which it is prefixed are generally (in Isaiah always) of a denunciatory character. The translation may therefore be allowed to stand—at any rate in the present chapter.
It is remarkable that Babylon heads the list of the Church's enemies in the present catalogue. Dr. Kay supposes the term "Babel" to be equivalent to "Asshur-Babel," and to designate "the Assyro-Babylonian Empire." He thinks that "Babel" heads the list on account of Assyria's position, under Tiglath-Pileser and Shalmaneser, in the van of Israel's adversaries. But neither Isaiah nor any other sacred writer knows of an Assyro-Babylonian kingdom or empire. Assyria and Babylonia are distinct kingdoms in Genesis (Genesis 10:8-12), in 2 Kings (18-20.), in 2 Chronicles (2 Chronicles 20:12.), in Isaiah (36-39.) and in Ezekiel (23; 30; 31.). They had been at war almost continuously for above seven centuries before the time of Isaiah. Assyria had, on the whole, proved the stronger of the two, and had from time to time for a longer or a shorter period held Babylonia in subjection. But the two countries were never more one than Russia and Poland, and, until Tiglath-Pileser assumed the crown of Babylon in 729 B.C; they bad always been under separate monarchs. Individually, I can only account for the high position here given to Babylon by the prophet, on the supposition that it was thus early revealed to him that Babylonia was the great enemy to be feared—the ultimate destroyer of Judah and Jerusalem, the power that would carry the Jewish people into captivity.
Which Isaiah … did see (comp. Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1, etc.). Isaiah always "sees" his prophecies, whether they are of the nature of visions (as Isaiah 6:1-13.) or the contrary. The word is probably used to express the strong conviction that he has of their absolute certainty.
Lift ye up a banner; rather, a standard—"an ensign," as in Isaiah 5:26 : Isaiah 11:12. "Ensigns" were used both by the Assyrians and the Egyptians. "Banners," or flags, do not seem to have been employed in the ancient world. Upon the high mountain; rather, upon a bare mountain—one that was clear of trees, so that the signal might be the better seen from it. God's army having to be summoned against Babylon, the summons is made in three ways:
(1) by a signal or ensign lifted up on a high hill;
(2) by a loud call or shout; and
(3) by waving or beckoning with the hand.
The whole description is, of course, pure metaphor. That they may go into the gates of the nobles. Either that they may enter into the palaces of the grandees in Babylon, or that they may take the towns of the tributary princes.
I have commanded my sanctified ones. The pronoun "I" is emphatic—"I myself." Not only will an external summons go forth, but God will lay his own orders on them whom he chooses for his instruments, and bid them come to the muster. All who carry out his purposes are, in a certain sense, "sanctified ones" (comp. Jeremiah 22:7; Jeremiah 51:27; Zephaniah 1:7, etc.). Here the Modes and Persians are specially in. tended (see Isaiah 13:17). For mine anger; i.e. "for the purpose of executing my anger." Even them that rejoice in my highness; rather, my proudly exultant ones (Cheyne, Rosenmüller, Gesenius). AEschylus calls the Persians ὑπερκόμπους; Herodotus, ὑβριστάς (1. 41). The high spirits, however, natural to gallant soldiers on going out to war, rather than any special haughtiness or arrogancy, are intended.
The noise of a multitude in the mountains. I do not know why Isaiah should not have been "thinking of his geography" (Cheyne). As soon as the Greeks knew anything of the Persians, they knew of them as a mountain people, and attributed their valor and their handy habits to the physical character of their country (Herod; 9. ad fin.). Jeremiah connects the invading army which destroyed Babylon with mountains, when he derives it from. Ararat (comp. Genesis 8:4), Minni (Armenia), and Ashchenaz (Jeremiah 51:27). At any rate, the mention of "mountains" here is very appropriate, both Media and Persia being, in the main, mountainous countries. A great people; or, much people—not necessarily of one nation only. The host of the battle; rather, a host of war; i.e. a multitude of men, armed and prepared for war.
They come from a far country (comp. Isaiah 46:11). Both Media and Persia were "far countries" to the Hebrews, Persia especially. There is no indication that they knew of any countries more remote towards the East. Hence the expression which follows, "from the end of heaven"—the heaven being supposed to end where the earth ended. Isaiah, like the other sacred writers, conforms his language on cosmical subjects to the opinions of his day. Even the Lord. With a most effective anthropomorphism, Jehovah is made to march with the army that he has mustered (verse 4) against the land that has provoked his wrath—i.e. Babylonia. The weapons (comp. Isaiah 10:15; Jer 1:1-19 :25; Jeremiah 51:20). To destroy the whole land. Many critics would render ha-arets by "the earth" here. It may be granted that the language of the prophecy goes beyond the occasion in places, and passes from Babylon to that wicked world of which Babylon is a type; but, where the context permits, it seems better to restrict than to expand the meaning of the words employed.
Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand (comp. Joel 1:15); literally, the expression used in both passages is a day of Jehovah. The idiom would not, however, allow the use of the article, so that the phrase is ambiguous. "The day of Jehovah" is properly "that crisis in the history of the world when Jehovah will interpose to rectify the evils of the present, bringing joy and glory to the humble believer, and misery and shame to the proud and disobedient" (Cheyne). But any great occasion when God passes judgment on a nation is called in Scripture "a day of the Lord." "a coming of Christ." And so here the day of the judgment upon Babylon seems to be intended. It shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. Isaiah is thought to quote from Joel (Joel 1:15) here; but perhaps both prophets quoted from an earlier author. Shaddai (equivalent to "Almighty') is an ancient name of God, most rarely used by the prophetical writers (only here, and in Ezekiel 1:24; Ezekiel 10:5; Joel 1:15), and never elsewhere by either Isaiah or Joel. It has generally been said to mean "the Strong One;" but recently the theory has found favor that it meant originally "the Sender of storms," from the Arabic sh'da—jecit, effudit. However this may be, the word is certainly used in the later times mainly to express God's power to visit and punish, and the present passage might perhaps be best translated, "It shall come as a destruction from the Destroyer (k'shod mish-Shaddai yabo')."
Therefore shall all hands be faint (comp. Jer 1:1-19 :43; Ezekiel 7:17; Zephaniah 3:16). There shall be a general inaction and apathy. Recently discovered accounts of the capture of Babylon by Cyrus show a great want of activity and vigor on the part of the defenders. Every man's heart shall melt (comp. Deuteronomy 20:8; Joshua 2:11; Joshua 5:1, etc.). The general inaction will spring from a general despondency. This statement agrees much better with the recently discovered documents than does the statement of Herodotus, that, safe within their walls, the Babylonians despised their assailants, and regarded themselves as perfectly secure.
They shall be afraid; rather, dismayed. Pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; literally, they shall take hold of pangs and sorrows. They shall be amazed; rather, look aghast. Their faces shall be as flames. I know no better explanation than that of Dr. Kay, that a sudden transition is intended flora despondency to extreme excitement.
The day of the Lord (see the comment on Isaiah 13:6). Cruel; i.e. severe and painful, not really "cruel." To lay the land desolate. As in Isaiah 13:5, so here, many would translate ha-arets by "the earth," and understand a desolation extending far beyond Babylonia. But this is not necessary.
The stars of heaven … shall not give their light. Nature sympathizes with her Lord. When he is angry, the light of the heavens grows dark. So it was at the crucifixion of Christ (Matthew 27:45); so it will be at the end of the world (Matthew 24:29). So it is often, if not always, at the time of great judgments. The constellations; literally, the Orions. Kesil, the Fool, was the Hebrew name of the constellation of Orion, who was identified with Nimrod, the type of that impious folly which contends against God. From its application to this particular group of stars (Job 9:9; Job 38:31; Amos 5:8), the word came to be applied to constellations in general. The Baby-Ionians very early marked out the sky into constellations.
I will punish the world for their evil. Here the prophecy certainly goes beyond the destruction of Babylon, and becomes a general warning to the wicked of all court-tries. Each country is to feel that its turn will come. Punishment will fall especially on the unjust, the proud, and the haughty (comp. Isaiah 1:28; Isaiah 2:11-17, etc.).
I will make a man more precious than fine gold (comp. Isaiah 4:1). Population shall he so diminished that man shall be the most highly esteemed of commodities. The more scanty the supply of a thing, the greater its value. The golden wedge of Ophir; rather, pure gold of Ophir. Ophir is mentioned as a gold-region in 1 Kings 9:28; 1Ki 10:11; 1 Kings 22:48; 1 Chronicles 29:4; 2Ch 8:18; 2 Chronicles 9:10; Job 22:24; Job 28:16; Psalms 45:9. Its locality is uncertain. Gold of Ophir appears to have been considered especially pure.
I will shake the heavens (comp. Joel 3:16; Haggai 2:7; Matthew 24:29). In general, this sign is mentioned in connection with the end of the world, when a "new heaven and a new earth" are to supersede the old (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; Revelation 21:1). Isaiah may, perhaps, pass here from signs connected with the fall of Babylon to those which will announce the last day—each "day of the Lord" being, as already observed, a type of the final and great day (see the comment on verse 6). Or, possibly, the allusion may be to some "shaking" by God of a supra-mundane kingdom as preliminary to his passing judgment on Babylon (so Dr. Kay; comp. Isaiah 24:21).
It shall be as the chased roe. When the visitation comes on Babylon, there shall be a loosening of all ties between her and the subject nations. Her armies shall disband themselves, the pressed soldiers from foreign countries deserting, and hastening with all speed to their several homes. A flight of the foreign traders and visitors may also be glanced at. As a sheep that no man taketh up; rather, as sheep with none to gather them.
Every one that is found … every one that is joined unto them; i.e. all the population, both native and foreign.
Their children also shall be dashed to pieces. In the barbarous warfare of the time, even children were not spared (see Psalms 137:9; Nahum 3:10; Hosea 13:16). When a town was taken by assault, they were ruthlessly slaughtered. When spared, it was only to be dragged off as captives, and to become the slaves of their captors in a foreign land. Assyrian sculptures often illustrate this latter practice. Their wives ravished (comp. Lamentations 5:11; Zechariah 14:2).
Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them. Isaiah's knowledge that the Medes should take a leading part in the destruction of Babylon is, no doubt, as surprising a fact as almost any other in the entire range of prophetic foresight, or insight, as set before us in Scripture. The Medes were known to Moses as an ancient nation of some importance (Genesis 10:2); but since his time had been unmentioned by any sacred writer; and, as a living nation, had only just come within the range of Israelite vision, by the fact that, when Sargon deported the Samaritans from Samaria, he placed some of them "in the cities of the Medes" (2 Kings 17:6). The Assyrians had become acquainted with them somewhat more than a century earlier, and had made frequent incursions into their country, finding them a weak and divided people, under the government of a large number of petty chiefs. Sargon had conquered a portion of the tribes, and placed prefects in the cities; at the same time planting colonists in them from other parts of the empire. That, when the weakness of Media was being thus made apparent, Isaiah should have foreseen its coming greatness can only be accounted for by his having received a Divine communication on the subject. Subsequently, he had a still more exact and complete communication (Isaiah 21:2). Which shall not regard silver. The Medes were not a particularly disinterested people; but in the attack on Babylon, made by Cyrus, the object was not plunder, but conquest and the extension of dominion. The main treasures of Babylon—those in the great temple of Bolus—were not carried off by Cyrus, as appears both from his own inscriptions, and from Herodotus.
Their bows (comp. Jeremiah 1:9, Jeremiah 1:14). Both the Medes and the Persians were skilled archers. Herodotus tells us that every Persian youth was taught three things—"to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth". At Persepolis, Modes and Persians are alike represented as carrying bows and quivers. AEschyius regards the contest between the Persians and the Greeks as one between the arrow and the spear.
Babylon, the glory of kingdoms. The "glory" of Babylon consisted:
1. In her antiquity. She had been the head of a great empire long before Assyria rose to power.
2. In her origination of literature, architecture, and the other arts, which all passed from her to Assyria, and thence to the other nations of Asia.
3. In her magnificence and the magnificence of her kings, which provoked the admiration of the Assyrians themselves. As time went on, she grew in wealth and splendor. Perhaps it was granted to Isaiah to see her in ecstatic vision, not merely such as she was in the time of Sargon under Merodach-Baladan, but such as she became under Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest of her kings, who raised her to the highest pitch or glory and eminence. The beauty of the Chaldees' excellency. The Kaldi appear to have been originally one of the many tribes by which Babylonia was peopled at an early date, From the expression, "Ur of the Chaldees," which occurs more than once in Genesis (Genesis 11:28, Genesis 11:31), we may gather that they were inhabitants of the more southern part of the country, near the coast. The same conclusion may be drawn from the Assyrian inscriptions, especially those of Shalmaneser II.—the Black Obelisk king. The term never became a general name for the Babylonian people among themselves or among the Assyrians; but, somehow or other, it was accepted in that sense by the Jews, and is so used, not only by Isaiah, but also by the writers of Kings and Chronicles, by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Habakkuk. As when God overthrew Sodom. Equally sudden and complete as that destruction.
It shall never be inhabited. This part of the prophecy did not receive its fulfillment till many centuries had gone by. From the time of Cyrus to that of Alexander the Great, Babylon was one of the chief cities of the Persian empire. Alexander was so struck with it, and with the excellence of its situation, that he designed to make it his capital. It first began seriously to decline under the Seleucidae, who built Seleucia on the Tigris as a rival to it, and still further injured it by fixing the seat of government at Antioch. But it had still a large population in the first century after our era (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 18.9, § 8); and is mentioned as a place of some consequence in the time of Trajan (Die Cass; 68.27), and even in that of Severue (Die Cass; 75.9). But after this it went rapidly to decay. Under the Sassuntans it disappears from sight; and when Benjamin of Tudela, in the twelfth century, visited the spot, there was nothing to be seen of the mighty city but those ruins of the Kasr, or palace, which still arrest the traveler's attention. The site had become, and has ever since remained, "without inhabitant." Neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there. A superstitious feeling prevents the Arabs from encamping on the mounds of Babylon, which are believed to be the haunts of evil spirits. Neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. The nitrous soil of the Babylonian mounds allows them to produce nothing but the coarsest and most unpalatable vegetation. The shepherds consequently do not feed their flocks on them.
Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there. It is not quite clear what particular wild beasts are intended. Those actually noted on the site of Babylon are lions, jackals, and porcupines. These sometimes make their lairs in the ruins. Doleful creatures; in the original, okhim. What animal is meant we cannot say, as the word occurs only in this passage. Mr. Cheyne translates it by "hyenas." Owls shall dwell there; literally, daughters of the owl (as in Le Isaiah 11:16; Deuteronomy 14:15; Job 30:29; Jer 1:1-19 :39; Micah 1:8; and infra, Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 43:20). Mr. Rich says, "In most of the cavities of the Babil Mound there are numbers of owls and bats." Sir A. Layard," A large grey owl is found in great numbers, frequently in flocks of nearly a hundred, in the low shrubs among the ruins of Babylon". Satyrs shall dance there. The word translated "satyr" is, etymologically, "hairy one," and ordinarily means "a goat." Some have supposed "wild goats" to be here intended, but they are not found in Babylonia. The translation "satyr" is defended by many, who think Isaiah might draw upon current beliefs for some features of his description. Dr. Kay gives "baboons," since the Moko—a kind of baboon—is known in Babylonia.
Wild beasts of the islands. In the Hebrew, iyyim, which means "wailers" or "howlers," probably "jackals." The Revised Version gives "wolves." In their desolate houses; or, in their castles (Cheyne). And dragons; i.e. "serpents." These have not been observed recently; but one of our old travelers notes that "the lande of Baby-lone," in his day, "was fulle of dragons and grote serpentes, and dyverse other veney-mouse ecstes alle abouten". Near to come. About one hundred and eighty years elapsed between the utterance of this prophecy and the fall of Babylon—a short period in the lifetime of a nation.
The fall of Babylon a type of the general punishment of the wicked.
Scripture deals with history altogether in the way of example. Whether the subject be Assyria, or Syria, or Egypt, or Babylon, or even the "peculiar people of God," the object is to teach men by the facts adduced what they have to expect themselves. In Isaiah 10:1-34. Assyria, here Babylon, is held up as a warning to sinners. The absolute certainty that punishment will overtake them at God's hands is the main lesson taught; but, beyond this, something is also taught concerning the method and (so to speak) economy of the Divine punishments; as, for example, the following:—
I. THAT GOD PUNISHES BY MEANS OF INSTRUMENTS, WHICH ARE GENERALLY PERSONS. God has two sets of instruments—natural agents, such as storm, lightning, blight, pestilence, etc.; and intellectual and moral agents, or persons. It depends entirely on his own will whether he will employ agents of the one kind or of the other. In dispensing good to man he employs largely natural agents, "making his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sending rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). But in punishing men he seems to make use, to a greater extent, of persons. Now he raises up a tyrannical and oppressive king, like Rameses II. or Nebuchadnezzar, to carry out his sentence of suffering; now he allows a democratic assembly to establish a reign of terror in a sinful ]and; anon he uses the arrows of savage hordes, or the guns and bayonets of disciplined hosts, to chastise an offending people. Once only has he ever used his power to strike with sudden death on a large scale, and even there he employed a spiritual agent; it was "the angel of the Lord," who "went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and fourscore and five thousand" (2 Kings 19:35).
II. THAT THE INSTRUMENTS ARE FOR THE MOST PART QUITE UNCONSCIOUS THAT GOD IS USING THEM. We are told this distinctly of Assyria. "I will give him a charge … howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so" (Isaiah 10:6, Isaiah 10:7). And it was, no doubt, equally true of Babylon. The "hammer of the whole earth" (Jer 1:1-19 :23) did not know that she was being used to "break in pieces the nations, and to destroy kingdoms" (Jeremiah 51:20). She too "meant not so," but was only seeking her own aggrandizement. Even the Medes and the Persians, though "called from a far country to execute God's counsel"(Isaiah 47:11), were unconscious of their call-blind instruments in the hand of Jehovah, as much as if they had been an army of locusts. But this only shows the power of God the more, who can make not only good men serve him, but had; not only angels, but devils.
III. THAT GOD'S PUNISHMENTS COME SUDDENLY AND TAKE MEN BY SURPRISE. Neither Assyria nor Babylon bad much warning of their fate. Each seemed well-nigh at the zenith of its power when the final blow came. "I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken, O Babylon," says Jehovah, "and thou wast not aware"(Jer 1:1-19 :24); and again we are told, "Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed" (Jeremiah 51:8). God's punishments are apt to come, even on individuals, suddenly. When a man says to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry," then comes the sentence of God, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee" (Luke 12:19, Luke 12:20). Job's example is an extreme one (Job 1:13-19); but modified instances of men crushed by quick blows of unexpected calamity are within every one's experience. Destruction comes upon God's enemies generally "at unawares" (Psalms 35:8).
IV. THAT ON FINDING THEMSELVES THE OBJECTS OF DIVINE PUNISHMENT, MEN ARE FILLED WITH TERROR AND DESPONDENCY. The terror and despondency of the Baby-Ionians are strongly marked in the descriptions both of Isaiah and Jeremiah; e.g. "Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man's heart shall melt: and they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrow shall take bold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another" (Isaiah 13:7, Isaiah 13:8). "The land shall tremble and sorrow … The mighty men of Babylon have forborne to fight; they have remained in their holds … they became as women" (Jeremiah 51:29, Jeremiah 51:30). Some such feelings come upon all who are conscious that the hand of God is laid upon them, not for chastisement, but for punishment.
V. THAT DIVINE PUNISHMENTS SELDOM STOP AT THEIR IMMEDIATE OBJECTS, BUT PASS ON AND AFFECT OTHERS ALSO. Partly, this would seem to be inevitable from the interconnection of man with man, and of nation with nation; but partly, also, it appears to be the result of the Divine will, which is set on punishing sin, and wherever it finds sin must punish it. Let Israel have to be punished for certain sins, Judah will be found to have committed the same sins; Judah must therefore participate in the punishment. When God arises to judge one nation, he, in a certain sense, arises to judge the whole earth; there must be equity in his dealings. If he has punished Babylonia, and Egypt is as bad, he must punish Egypt; if Egypt is no worse than Ethiopia, he must punish Ethiopia. The sin of Sodom brought destruction on all the cities of the plain—that of the Canaanitish nations on them, and on many of their neighbors. A Jehoram provokes God by his idolatry, and is deservedly smitten (2 Kings 9:24). An Ahaziah, far less guilty, but still guilty, shares his fate (2 Kings 9:27). The punishment of Babylon led on to the punishment of the "world for its evil" (Isaiah 41:11), and to such a general depopulation of Western Asia as made a man more precious than the gold of Ophir (Isaiah 13:12).
VI. THAT DIVINE PUNISHMENTS ARE OFTEN COMPLETE AND FINAL. It was said of Assyria, "There is no healing of thy bruise" (Nahum 3:19). And a similar finality attaches to most judgments upon nations. Babylonia, though she made some desperate efforts to throw off the Persian yoke, never recovered herself. Egypt, a few years later, sank finally under foreign dominion. The ten tribes lost their separate existence after their captivity, and became merged in Judah. Judah's nationality was obliterated by Titus. The history of the world is a history of nations whom God has punished for their sins by final destruction. And the punishment of individuals, too, is often final. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram "went down quick into hell" (Numbers 16:30). Uzzah was smitten with sudden death for touching the ark (2 Samuel 6:7). Ananias and Sapphira tell dead for uttering lies (Acts 5:5, Acts 5:10). The question of punishments in another world is not here at issue. What the example of Babylon teaches is, that God's punishments, so far as this world is concerned, are often final.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Oracle concerning Babylon.
I. APPROACH OF THE WARRIORS OF JEHOVAH. On the bare mountain the banner is upraised, and with loud cry and commanding gesture of the hand a host of warriors is summoned from all sides. As in verse 26, Jehovah is viewed by the poet as a mighty Battle-Leader, Lord of hosts. His voice is heard, "I have given commission to my anointed ones, have called my heroes for my work of punishment, my proudly rejoicing ones!" And then a noise is heard in the mountains as of a great multitude, for Jehovah is mustering his forces from the remotest parts, and preparing with the weapons of his wrath to destroy the earth. A cry of terror will be heard through the land; men's hands will droop, their hearts will melt, for the day of judgment is near. Horror will be depicted on every face. The lightning, the fire that burns up the stubble (Joel 2:6), will be flashed back, as it seems, from the amazed eyes. In prophetic thought every great epoch of calamity and ruin is a judgment, a "day of Jehovah." For wrath and clemency are the two opposite sides of the unity of his being and character. No spring-time is ushered in without storms; no epoch of fruitful manhood is gained without struggles, within or without; no mischief departs from society, no false power is overthrown, without violence. Well for us if, stayed by religious faith, we can see the day of Jehovah shown amidst the darkest times, and when nations are perplexed with fear of change to be able to say, "The Lord reigneth." If he is a living God, then his will must be felt in political change. Nothing good can pass away; only falsehood must be overthrown.
II. THE DAY OF JEHOVAH. Its description is borrowed:
1. From the most fearful phenomena of nature. The stars are hidden, the sunrise is overclouded, the light of the moon is withdrawn. A universal trembling seems to fill the air, while the earth would bound from its place. So close is the sympathy of the human spirit with nature, its dark or bright aspects seem to be the aspect of the God of nature in wrath or in kindness to man.
2. From the most fearful scenes of war. In a few bold lines the picture is struck out. Fugitives are seen flying in every direction, like frightened gazelles, or like a flock of sheep without its shepherd. Those overtaken are pierced by the spear, or struck down by the sword. Children at the breast are dashed to pieces, houses plundered, women outraged. More horrible is the spectacle of a battle-field than that of Nature in her wildest uproar. It is the opening of the hell in the heart of man.
3. Its moral purpose defined. There is, then, some light to be found even here. The God of justice and holiness is "searching home for evil on the face of the earth, and for the guilt of the unrighteous."
"Ever and anon some bright white shaft
Burned thro' the pine-tree roof-here burned and there,
As if God's messenger thro' the close wood screen
Plunged and replunged his weapon at a venture,
Feeling for guilty thee and me."
The thought that God holds inquisition for evil and evil-doers is deeply stamped in Bible lore. There are heresies which he cannot and will not tolerate. They are not identical with what some call heresies. These are often departures from our fashions of life and of thought; but it is only disagreement with him and his law of inward right that is the condemnable dissent. Again, it is his object to bring down the pride and arrogance of the haughty. How deeply marked, again, is this thought of overstepping our proper limits as the essence of sin, from the Fall onwards! It is fixed in the word "transgression." The "lust to seem the thing we are not" is at the root of display, of ambition, of domineering over others. The prophets saw in the bloated dominion of great states like Egypt and Assyria the effects of these unbalanced lusts, which must sooner or later topple the tyrants into ruin. And thus the purpose of judgment resolves itself into that of sifting mankind—to make the people "rarer than fine gold, and men than Ophir's treasures." When ill weeds are cleared away, there is a chance for good plants to flourish; and when a mass of human evil has disappeared, room is made for something of another quality, to renew the tradition of the Divine in man.
III. THE FINAL DEVASTATION. (Isaiah 13:17-22.) Here is a picture of the Medes—a horde of savages, who despise civilization, and who will pour in upon Babylon, as in later days Attila came with his hosts to tread on the necks of the Romans. The dread memory of the cities of the plain can alone furnish a parallel to what will be seen on the site of Babylon. Where now the sounds of luxury and mirth are heard in proud palaces, soon not a nomad tent will be pitched, nor a shepherd's fold; but only the cries of wild creatures will be heard, and satyrs hold their obscene dances. This magnificent picture of the overthrow of human greatness and pride springs, let us observe, from conscience. And none can study such pictures or visit the ruins of ancient cities without a quickening of the pulse of conscience. Such glimpses as we can gain of ancient life in. those proud cities of the Orient bear out the views of the prophet. It was a life which overpassed life's restrictions, and which ended in death. Mournful is the inscription on Sardanapalus's tomb, "Let us eat, drink, and love; for the rest is of little worth." We may learn the lesson that, when men so speak of life, they have abused it; and while we believe that there is a sacredness in human life and in the grand products of human life, this is only so as long as they reflect the purposes of God. Out of such scenes as those the prophet depicts, a solemn voice seems to speak, declaring that human life and glory are held cheap in comparison with those profound and, from us, half-hidden, half-revealed ends towards which the whole creation moves.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
"Faint." A common experience enough this. Some people pride themselves on the speciality of their experiences, just as they consider their physical ailments to be altogether peculiar and unique. Faint! Who amongst us does not understand that? Why, we do not know. Care is like the atmosphere; its pressure is enormous, but the thing itself is invisible. "Light as air," some say; but many temperaments could say, "heavy as air," which depresses all the nerve-functions of the body. Faint! We like to know not only that it is common, but that greatly heroic spiritual natures have felt it! Read at your leisure Luther's letter where he says of the evil one, "He lies closer to me than my Catharine," and where in one part of his diary he is so desolate and disheartened that he suggests, if God wishes the Reformation to go on, he must come and take it in hand himself. Faint! If lousy men feel it, women feel it sometimes more—thinking about the children; having the worry of household management; finding it so difficult to preserve elevation of thought amid the cares of common life.
I. WE ARE FAINT IN OUR FAILURES TO REACH OUR OWN IDEAL OF THE DIVINE LIFE. Our ideals have been beautiful. They have charmed our meditation, inspired our purposes, I am not speaking of spiritual excitements or emotions, No, my friend! Rather quiet and meditative hours. When we verily and indeed feel that piety is more than safety, when we feel that we would not do without religion if we could, we are fulfilling all the noblest aspirations within us. And these have been noble. In gazing on the image of Christ we have desire to be conformed to that image. But our condition here, you say, is one in which we have to do with such mean things—it is such a battle to live at all! Mean things? No, my friend. Nothing is mean that Christ can shine through. We can dignify common life, or God would not have given us common life to dignify. Christian life is beautiful, but it is difficult. It is detail that casts down men and women too. When we read Stanley's last journey through the dark continent, we find a week's desolation is crowded into ten lines of print; but it must have been very wearisome sometimes, and now and then all seemed nearly over. Yet the motto was "Onward!" You may have an idea or two—but try and write a book. It is completeness that tries. You may have looked at the Christian life with aesthetic admiration. But now you are in it. God help you, as he will. Be diligent. Gird up the loins of your mind. Be sober. Hope to the end. The ideal shall be realized some day. Not destroyed. You will be without fault before the throne.
II. WE ARE FAINT IN RELATION TO THE MORAL STATE OF THE WORLD. Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he gazed on the city that was doomed, for its own denial and rejection of himself. We are not one whit nearer solving the mystery of moral evil. No one can give us the why of sin. Some of the Germans have tried hard at a philosophy of that, but have failed. It cannot be educational only, or we should never have the sense of guilt. But here it is, and we have it in ourselves. Even now sin exists, if it does not reign. And here it is around us everywhere. We have a mighty Savior, and we want men to love him, to trust him. But they are often so besotted, so blinded, so hardened, that they prefer their slavery. What wonder we are faint-hearted! You tell us that Christ is the same in heaven that he was on earth—the same in all sensitive care and love and desire. Yes. And I believe that the world's sin grieves him still—pains him always. "Ye crucify the Son of God afresh" is not to be frittered away as a mere metaphor! What did Christ say after his ascension to the persecuting Saul? "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Not "My Church" merely. The Head felt with the members. Fainti spoke of great men just now. Did not Moses shatter the tables of the Law in sad and bitter disappointment? Did not Paul find fickleness in his converts? Did not the Judaizers hamper his work? Did not some of his companions desert him? Was not sin still mighty within him, as well as around him? But Christ, the Conqueror of sin and death, was his Lord. The Holy Ghost gave him inner might.
III. FAINT IN RELATION TO THE DISCIPLINE OF SORROW. We need it. But "no affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous" Faint! You may have left one at home who used to come and drink of the brook by the way at church, who is frail and ill now. You remember some who have had a dire discipline of trial through kith and kin, who have cast the crown of honor into the dust. You would not think much of them if they had not been cast down. Superficial people who say, "Make an effort!" "Cheer up!" only worry the nerves; they-do not really ease trouble, because we cannot be "merry" with a heavy heart. You must lift up with a wise hope, a real trust, a child's confidence. "Show us the Father," then we can endure; then we can "rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him." But you say, "Faintness depresses us." Mind what you say, because you reveal character. It is just like saying, "Music must always be made for me; I won't be made sad; I won't enter an atmosphere of depression." Human hearts cannot always smile. Faint people must be in a world like this, but it will be only for a season; it will lead them to him who can raise up, who will lay beneath them his own everlasting arms, who will "not destroy," Never. "Chastened, but not destroyed"—tested, but not destroyed. At such times do not rest in "moods" or feelings, but look out of yourselves to Christ,
IV. WE ARE FAINT IS RELATION TO OUR INFLUENCE OVER OTHERS. We had hoped so much to send such bright rays over the dark sea from the lighthouse of our faith; to give the emerald beauty of a new spring to so many sterile places. We have not been such guides, such comforters, as we hoped to be. And the fault has been, not in lack of doing, but in want of being. To live has not been Christ. We have not been watchful enough either, against inimical forces in our fields. The Red Indians come when we are asleep or on a journey, and stamp out our corn. We are "faint" too because arrest will so soon be laid on our powers. But is it not right to rejoice that we have been able to do some good? Certainly. We have been unprofitable servants at the best, but it would be not only unreal, but wrong, to forget what God may have accomplished through us. Paul said, "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ." We are not as the men of this world, cast down into the loss of joy and hope—and in despair. No, it is only for a season. We are Christ's. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The burden of the Lord.
"The burden of Babylon" (see Isaiah 15:1; Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 19:1, etc.). The use of the word "burden," to signify a message and its subsequent expansion into the phrase "the burden of the Lord" (see Jeremiah 23:33), suggest to us—
I. THAT TO ALL MEN EVERYWHERE BELONGS THE SACRED DUTY OF CARRYING THE MESSAGES OF GOD. The term here used may simply signify this—the bearing of the Word of God to those for whom it was intended. This is a work which belongs to every filial son, to every faithful servant. Possessed of it ourselves, and experiencing its exceeding preciousness, we are to convey it to all who are in need of it. We can all carry to the souls of men "the will of God concerning them in Christ Jesus, "his Divine desire that they should turn from all iniquity, should believe in his Son, their Savior and Lord, and should follow him in every path of purity, integrity, love.
II. THAT ON SOME MEN THERE SOMETIMES DEVOLVES THE PAINFUL DUTY OF DELIVERING BURDENSOME MESSAGES FROM GOD. This was notably the case with the Hebrew prophets. They were frequently commissioned to convey unpleasant, unpalatable truths to men and nations, such as few cared to announce and none liked to receive; e.g. the message of Moses to Pharaoh, of Nathan to David, and of Elijah to Ahab; such, also, as these "burdens" to Babylon, Moab, Egypt. The faithful parent, teacher, minister, has often a message to make known which is a burden in this sense; it is that which is likely to weigh heavy on the heart of him that receives it; it is
(1) the condemnation by the Righteous One of some form of sin and wrong;
(2) it is the purpose of him who is the True One to visit persistent folly and impenitence with the marks of his Divine displeasure both in the body and in the spirit, both here and hereafter.
III. THAT ON THOSE IN WHOM IS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST, SACRED TRUTH BESTS AS A BURDEN, from which they can only be delivered by faithful utterance. So was it with the Savior himself (Luke 12:50); and so with the prophets (Psalms 39:3; Job 32:18; Jeremiah 20:9); and so with the apostles (1 Corinthians 9:16). So should it be with us. We ought to feel burdened with a sense of the sin and sorrow of the world, together with the fact that we have in our minds the knowledge of those truths which are divinely suited to destroy that sin and to disperse that sorrow. This is "the burden of the Lord," resting on the man in whom is much of the Spirit of Christ—a burden which will only be lifted from him when he has spoken his most earnest word and done his most devoted work, to teach, to heal, to save.—C.
The kingdom of God.
These stirring, eloquent words of the prophet describing the gathering of the hosts at the summons of Jehovah speak to us of—
I. THE EXCEEDING BREADTH OF THE DIVINE CLAIM. All things, all nations, are Jehovah's; all these hosts that are to be gathered together are "my sanctified ones;" they are "my mighty ones." They did not know him, but, notwithstanding, God claims them as belonging to himself. He does claim all nations and peoples as his own; not only those who own their allegiance, but those also who are ignorant of his Name, and are worshippers at other shrines.
II. THE COMPREHENSIVENESS OF THE DIVINE PURPOSE. God has his purposes
(1) regarding the various nations of the earth. He had a certain work for his own people, Israel, to accomplish. But his "wise designs" covered a far wider area than any Holy Land; they embraced Syria, Assyria, Babylonia, Media, Persia, Egypt, Rome, Greece, etc. He arranged for them a part to play in his great redemptive scheme. But though this large aspect is a true one, and Isaiah, in prophetic vision, heard the "noise of a multitude … like as of a great people, a noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together," coming "from a far country," yet is it equally true, and it is a truth of at least equal value, that God has his purposes
(2) respecting each humble individual life. The Christian minister has the right, without special vision, to declare to every man that God has a purpose to be fulfilled in his particular life, and that he is marshalling events and mustering "forces" in order that it may be carried out. It ought to raise our estimate of the sacredness and value of the life God has given us to live on the earth when we remember that "every man's life is a plan of God," and that by it he desires and designs to accomplish some especial end.
III. THE GREATNESS OF DIVINE POWER.
1. We understand that God has unlimited power over unresisting, inert matter.
2. We have a larger view of his omnipotence when we realize that he controls all sentient life, making every living creature to praise and serve him.
3. Our thought rises far higher as we consider how he is directing the activities of his obedient children, his voluntary servants, in all worlds.
4. We reach the largest and loftiest conception of Divine wisdom and power, in marvelous cooperation, when we dwell on his overruling energy. Jehovah so turns the selfish and ungodly projects of kings and armies to his own Divine account, that he can speak of Medes and Persians as "his sanctified ones," or as those set apart by him for this especial work; that he can represent them as "rejoicing in his highness" when they were eagerly bent on their own purposes; that he can designate them "the weapons of his indignation."
(1) We little think how, under Divine interposition, we are contributing to one cause when we are absorbed in another.
(2) How immeasurably preferable is the service which is voluntary and conscious to that which is involuntary and unconscious! It is only the former which gives pleasure to the Supreme, and which will secure approval and reward for the human worker.—C.
The day of the Lord.
We may truly speak of every day as a "day of the Lord." For when does the morning come on which we cannot say, "This is the day which the Lord has made' (Psalms 118:24)? Every day brings with it fresh tokens of his presence, new proofs of his power. The refreshment and invigoration of sleep, the provisions of the table, the enjoyment of the hearth, the activities of outward life, the continuance of mental power, etc.,—do not all these daily mercies make each returning portion or' our time a "day of the Lord?" But there is a peculiar sense in which the time of special visitation is to be so regarded. For that is the day on which—
I. GOD REVEALS HIS NEARNESS TO US AND HIS INTEREST IN US. We are in danger of imagining that God has withdrawn into a remote solitude, in which he takes no heed of the passing events of his outlying creation; that he is too great and high to concern himself with our "poor affairs." It is a conception unworthy of him and most injurious to us. When God "arises to judgment," so that it is as if all visible nature were disturbed and disordered (Isaiah 13:10, Isaiah 13:13), and the hearts of men are filled with consternation (Isaiah 13:7, Isaiah 13:8), "in the day of his fierce anger" (Isaiah 13:13), these false imaginings are scattered, and God is found and is felt to be a God at hand and not afar off—a God who has much to do with us, and with whom we have everything to do (Hebrews 4:13).
II. GOD REVEALS HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS TO US. Such events as these (Isaiah 13:9-11) are "terrible things in righteousness." The anger or "wrath" of the Lord (Isaiah 13:9, Isaiah 13:13) is thus revealed "against all unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). God is "destroying the sinners" (Isaiah 13:9) in order that he may set his seal against the sin which they have committed; he is humbling the proud that their "arrogancy may cease" (Isaiah 13:11), and that human haughtiness may receive his powerful condemnation. In such a "day" as this, the Lord is making his thought concerning iniquity very clear to the children of men.
III. GOD MANIFESTS HIS POWER TO US. Sin is apt to think itself triumphant; it is arrogant, haughty (Isaiah 13:11); it says, "Who is the Lord?" etc. (Exodus 5:2); it says, "How does God know?" (Psalms 73:11); it says, "Let us break asunder the bands of the Lord" (Psalms 2:3). In "the day of the Lord," the nation, the confederacy, the individual man, sees that human bands are nothing but thinnest thread in the hands of almighty power. Then man knows his nothingness in the presence of his Maker; his spirit is subdued (Isaiah 13:8), and he acknowledges that God is greater than he (Daniel 6:26).
IV. GOD ATTESTS HIS FAITHFULNESS AND HIS GOODNESS. God has given many promises to his people that he will appear some day on their behalf. Often his coming seems to be long delayed (Revelation 6:10). But "in the day of the Lord" this his Divine word is redeemed; then the enslaved nation is freed from its bondage; then the persecuted Church is delivered from its oppressor; then the wronged family or the injured man is saved from the wrong-doer, and walks in peace and in prosperity. Hence the many utterances of thanksgiving for the "judgments" of the Lord. The outpouring of his wrath, which seems "cruel" (Isaiah 13:9) to the guilty, shows itself to his suffering people as the long-awaited proof of his fidelity to his word and pity for his people.
1. Let the afflicted wait in hope; their cause will be espoused, their prayers heard and answered.
2. Let the guilty tremble; the day of the Lord will come, a day of darkness and confusion, a day of terror and overthrow for them; even when they may be most confident of continuance in power and sin, the coming of God in judgment may be "at hand."—C.
The price of a man.
The aim of the prophet is to show the extent of the disaster which, in the indignation of God (Isaiah 13:5), should overtake the guilty city. One feature of the ruin should be wholesale slaughter (Isaiah 13:15). And the result of this would be a terrible reduction of the male population. Men, usually so prevalent, so "cheap" in Babylon, should become scarce and precious; so precious should they be that it might be said, speaking figuratively, that a man would be more precious than gold, even than "the golden wedge of Ophir." What might thus be affirmed of man, in figurative language, in the day of God's wrath, shall become true of man, in simple fact and truth, in the day of Divine grace. Under Christ the day will come when the worth of a man shall be felt to be wholly irreducible to terms of gold and silver; that "no mention shall be made of pearls" when it is attempted to form an estimate of the value of a human spirit.
I. UNDER THE INFLUENCE AND DOMINION OF SIN WE HAVE SADLY LOWERED OUR ESTIMATE OF OURSELVES.
1. Men have treated their fellows as nothing worth. They have either treated their sufferings with callous indifference, or they have looked on their neighbors as related in no other way than through the wages market; or they have actually bought and sold them—their sinews, their intelligence, their honor—for so much gold.
2. Men have pitifully undervalued themselves. They have acted as if they were nothing better than intelligent machines for making money, or than creatures capable of so much enjoyment, or than office-holders who might attain to certain dignities for a few passing years.
II. UNDER CHRIST THE VALVE OF A HUMAN BEING HAS BEEN IMMEASURABLY RAISED. Jesus Christ by his teaching, by the illustration in his own person of what a Son of man can be, by the great purpose of his life and death, has liked up to an altogether different level our conception of mankind. Now, we know:
1. That God made every man for himself—for his layout, his friendship, his likeness, his service.
2. That God is earnestly desirous that every child o! his, however far he may have wandered from his side, should return to the Father's home (Luke 15:1-32.).
3. That for every child of man a Divine Savior suffered and died (Hebrews 2:9).
4. That before every man who will accept Jesus Christ as his Redeemer there is a holy life on earth and a blissful, glorious immortality. Instructed, inspired by these high truths, we have come, or are coming, to look on every human spirit as possessed of a value which money does not in any degree represent, which cannot be told in "golden wedges." It behooves us all
(1) to recognize our own individual worth, and to act on that true Christian estimate;
(2) to recognize in everyone around us, into whatsoever depths of evil he or she may reclaimed and restored, and who may become inexpressibly dear to the Father and Savior of men.—C.
The overthrow of evil.
The minuteness of detail with which this prophecy has been fulfilled goes far to prove that holy men of old did speak "as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." The prediction is profoundly interesting in this light; it is also instructive as foretelling the entire extinction of a world-power which, at the hour of utterance, appeared to rest on immovable foundations. There are great powers—national, ecclesiastical, dynastic, institutional, social—which are as Babylon in Isaiah's time, and which need to be extinguished for the happiness and well-being of the race. Respecting the overthrow of evil, we see—
I. ITS APPARENT IMPOSSIBILITY OR DISHEARTENING DISTANCE. How utterly impossible, or at least how hopelessly remote, must the day of Babylon's overthrow have seemed to the Jews in the time of the prophet! To those of a scoffing spirit, or to the constitutionally incredulous or despondent, the words of Isaiah doubtless seemed visionary, if not altogether wild and vain, So vain may seem to us now the-hopes which are held out of the fall and ultimate extinction of existing evils—the despotic empire; the usurping and corrupt Church; the huge, wasteful, war-inciting military and naval organizations; strongly entrenched social habits which dishonor and enfeeble the community; venerable systems of erroneous belief which have lasted for centuries and deluded millions of minds, etc. It seems to us desirable, beyond all reckoning, that these things should receive their death-blow, and should be numbered among the things of the past. But how can we venture to expect their defeat and their disappearance? All strong things are in their favor; the majority of mankind favor them; pecuniary interests, deep-rooted habits, social customs, inveterate prejudices, powerful societies, are sustaining them. How hopeless it seems that powers so fortified can be successfully assailed and absolutely demolished!
II. ITS ARRIVAL IN DUE COURSE. Babylon did fall; it was taken and re-taken and taken again, and finally deserted, until it became what is here foretold. Every evil thing shall share its fate. Everything which exalts itself against God, everything which is hostile to the truth, everything which is actually harmful to mankind, shall one day be defeated and destroyed. As the little living seeds dropped into the crack of the huge temple become the upspringing plants which push their way through the strong masonry and at length overturn the tall columns and the massive walls and lay the whole structure on the ground; so the seed of Divine truth, inserted in the temple of error, of vice, of tyranny, of idolatry, of iniquity, shall spring and grow, and thrust and overturn, until the frowning walls have fallen and the structure of sin is a harmless ruin. The great Babylon of sin itself shall one day lie waste and have no inhabitant.
III. ITS MORAL.
1. It is a wretched thing to be on the side of wrong. First and most of all, because it is the wrong side we are espousing, and it ought to be an insufferable thing to us that we are thinking, speaking, working on behalf of that which is evil in the sight of God and hurtful to the truer interests of man. But also because we are certain to be defeated in the end.
2. It is a blessed thing to be engaged on the side of righteousness. First and most, because it is the cause of God, of man, of truth, on which we are leagued; and also because we are sure to win at last. The wise and the good may meet with many a check, but they will gain the victory; the unholy and the evil-minded may snatch many an advantage, but the end shall be a miserable disaster, an utter overthrow, a dragon-haunted desert. Let us see to it that we are fighting on God's side, and, once sure that we are, let us strike our blow for truth and wisdom, confident that, however strong and high stand the towers of sin, its citadel will be taken, its day will descend into darkness, its million-peopled streets become a doleful desert.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The Lord's sanctified ones.
This term is used of an army, regarded as being consecrated by the sacrifices which were offered at the beginning of the campaign. The assertion made by the prophet is that the Persian army was not really consecrated to Ahura-Mazda, but to Jehovah. Whatever might seem to be the bet, the fact really was that the Persians would fulfill Jehovah's will and carry out Jehovah's judgments, A "sanctified one" is, properly, one separated from self-interests and from other people's concerns, in order that he might carry out God's will. "Set apart by the purposes and providence of God, disengaged from other projects, that they might wholly apply themselves to something God would have clone: such as were qualified for that to which they were called, for what God employs men in, he does in some measure fit them for." We learn from this expression, and its connection, that we too may be set apart for God, we may be the Lord's sanctified ones; and yet, on the one hand, the fact may be unrecognized, or, on the other, the fact may bring to us impulse and honor and the unspeakable joy of service.
I. SET APART FOR GOD WITHOUT OUR KNOWING IT. As of Cyrus, the Lord's anointed, it is said, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." But in this ease there can be no proper rewards, since the will of the man is not in harmony with the Divine will. God may use his creature man, just as he uses clouds and winds and waves, to fulfill his purposes, and there is no more to be said about it. We are the Lord's tools, his rod, his staff. Willingly or unwillingly man must do the Lord's bidding.
II. SET APART FOR GOD WITH OUR OWN GLAD CONSENT. Then we come into the position of willing, loving servants; and then there can be rewards which take three forms. Such willingly sanctified ones
(1) are honored with yet further and higher trusts;
(2) are personally cultured by the doing of their life-work under such conditions; and
(3) are sure to receive, now in their hearts, and by-and-by in some open manner, the Master's "Well done, good and faithful servants," the smile and the word of gracious approval. And such rewards are altogether independent of the particular character of the work for which we are set apart. It may be most trying and painful work, even work of judgment or retribution. No matter; the Divine recognition is ever of willingness and faithfulness. God rewards the true man, not the particular form the man's service must take.—R.T.
The day of the Lord.
This expression is employed for that crisis in the history of the world when Jehovah will interpose to correct the evils of the present. Such great crises are called "days" in antithesis to the ages of Divine long-suffering. In Christian thought the term is associated with the coming day or time of judgment, and mainly with that in view we dwell on the words. Isaiah was one of a class of prophets to whom God disclosed, in visions, the scenes of the ever-nearing future. Maybe in the quietness of their homes, as they meditated on the condition of the world, and the purposes of God concerning men, they were rapt in vision, and, with various degrees of dimness or of dearness, they saw pass before their entranced view, now the scenes of battle and bloodshed, now the scenes of famine and pestilence; now they beheld the desolation of those nations that oppressed their own people—Nineveh and Babylon buried out of sight, Tyre a place for the fisher's nets; and now they seemed to hear the wild shout of the foes of Israel, as they burst through into the sacred city; and soon, in smoke and flames, they watched her very temple perish. And yet again, in dimmer lines, as though further on in the march of ages, they seemed to see the last great scene of human history—a world arraigned, the thrones set, the books opened. These visions often prostrated those prophets in the intensity of excitement; but they were given to them that they might set them on record, for the sake of their own people and the whole Church of the redeemed, that we all might learn to live in the view of that future, with the infallible decisions of the future ever in our thought, and reminding us that "he which soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." There is much that is most solemnizing in the expression, "the day of the Lord," if we read it from the Christian standpoint, and see it to mean the day of the Lord Jesus.
I. Our LORD has HAD:
1. His day of humiliation, when he stepped down from his heavenly throne, laid aside "his most Divine array," and entered our world as the poor man's babe, born in a stable, laid in a manger, because there was no room for him in the inn.
2. He has had many a day of toil, and patience, and pleading, and prayer among men. Year after year he tarried in the flesh, proving his Divine power to save, and winning men to himself by the tender sacrificings of his love.
3. He has had a day of suffering and anguish for men. "Behold, and see if there ever was sorrow like unto his sorrow, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted him" for our sakes.
4. He has had many a day of inviting grace, when, in the power of his Spirit, he has called us to yield ourselves unto him; when, in the leadings of his providence and the ministry of his Word, he has cried, "My son, give me thy heart;" "Come unto me … and I will give you rest." He has had many a day of patience, of waiting, of long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish.
II. BUT THE DAY OF THE LORD, THE DAY OF DAYS, IS YET TO COME.
1. The day of the Lord's glory, when the multitudes of the redeemed shall crown him with many crowns—shall crown him Lord of all.
2. The day of the Lord's vindication, when he shall break down the rebellion of lost souls with the proofs of his forbearance and the memory of his repeated calls.
3. The day when the "wrath of the Lamb" must be revealed, and he shall come in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of his Son. There must be an end of this dispensation of redemption, there must be a closing up of it; there must be the "day of the Lord." For us all that day cometh as a thief in the night.
III. THE DECISIONS OF THE DAY OF THE LORD. The Scriptures do not satisfy our questionings upon the terms of decision on that day. So far as we can gather, there will be a general term, and a more particular one. The more general term may be thus expressed: "No condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus." "Condemned already," because ye believe not on the Son of God. The more particular term is thus expressed: "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." How these are to fit into each other it is beyond any human power to explain, because the Bible does not afford us the means of explanation. We can, however, settle two separate facts very clearly. Our life, in its minutest acts, carries eternal issues. Everything we do, beyond its bearing on our present character, has its bearing on our eternal destiny, because on our eternal character. And we are tested by our relation to Christ. The test of the great coming day is first this—In Christ, or out of Christ. The answer to that settles all else—whether you shall be in the fold or out of it, in the everlasting peace or out of it, in heaven or out of it.—R.T.
God as El Shaddai.
It will at once come to mind that this is the name used for God by John Bunyan in his 'Holy War,' but it is an unfamiliar one, and one that needs explanation. It is translated in Scripture by the term "the Almighty," but that properly represents the Hebrew El Gibbor. Cheyne says, "Wherever it occurs (Joel 1:15; Ezekiel 1:24; Ezekiel 10:5), it appears to express the more severe and awful side of the Divine nature. Though used as a mere synonym for El, or Elohim, it must at least be clear that force, and specially force as exhibited in a dangerous aspect in some natural phenomena, is the original meaning of the word, a meaning suitable enough to the earliest stage of biblical religion (see Exodus 6:3)." Gesenius thinks that, originally, before it was adopted into biblical religion, Shaddai meant, "God the Sender of storms." The connection of this physical figure with the term "Almighty" is very plain, for the Controller of the heavenly forces can surely do everything: the greater implies the less, and the great of which we know is so great that the mastery of it assures to us that there must be ability to master what we do not know.
I. THE TERM "MOST MIGHTY" AS APPLIED TO EARTHLY KINGS. It is quite the usual form in which the worth-ship of subjects is presented, and it was especially used of the monarchs of vast Eastern kingdoms, who ruled by an absolute authority. It was not, however, a mere high-sounding title; it gathered up the very various sides of kingly greatness, and put them into a single term. We may illustrate how it found expression for
(1) supreme rank,
(2) exalted dignity,
(3) vast extent of dominion,
(4) ready and hearty allegiance of subjects,
(5) strength of forces,
(6) and absoluteness of will.
It may also have embraced administration of august character.
II. THE TERM "ALL-MIGHTY" AS APPLIED TO THE KING OF KINGS. The term "almighty" rises above "most mighty," and can be truly applied to God alone. The above divisions may be taken, in which great earthly kings are said to be "most mighty," and, as applied to God, they may help us to realize the senses in which he is "all-mighty." And occasion may be made for urging the reverence which is due to him; the awe he claims, which should make "all the earth keep silence before him." It may be well also to meet the difficulty, that God cannot do absolutely everything, by showing that he can do everything which is not, under the conditions of human thought, absurd in the statement, such as make two straight lines enclose a space, or two and two count five.—R.T.
The preciousness of man.
Matthew Henry gives very clearly the first ideas and associations of the passage. "There shall be so great a slaughter as will produce a scarcity of men. You could not have a man to be employed in any of the affairs of state, not a man to be enlisted in the army, not a man to match a daughter to, for the building up of a family, if you would give any money for one." Such a comparison of man with gold would only be suggested to persons familiar with the sale and purchase of slaves. The irony, or satire, in the comparison lies in the over-estimate of gold in a luxurious age. It is a sad sign for any nation when its "gold of Ophir" is valued more than its men. The second clause having the more general term "human being," we are reminded that it is man as man, and not man in view of his learning, position, manners, or wealth, that the prophet regards as of incomparable value. The position of Ophir is disputed, but J. A. Alexander points out that "whether the place meant be Ceylon, or some part of continental India, or of Arabia, or of Africa, it is hen named simply as an Eldorado, as a place where gold abounded, either as a native product or an article of commerce." The older idea of the word rendered "precious" was making dear or costly; the modem idea is making rare or scarce. The expression may fittingly introduce the general topic of the value of men, for only in view of their value can their scarcity be treated as a matter of anxiety. That value may be set forth as to be recognized—
I. IN HIS MORAL NATURE. He differs essentially from the material and animal creations. Not in possession of mind, but in capacity to apprehend the distinction between right and wrong, and in power to will the right and refuse the wrong. This is what we mean by a moral nature. The animal may decide its action upon some sort of consideration of the consequences, pleasurable or painful, that may attend on its conduct. Man does not merely act in view of consequences; he estimates the character of the action, judging it in the light of what he apprehends of God, as, to him, the ideal of righteousness. As a moral being, then, man transcends all creatures, and there can be no possible comparison of him with any material thing, even the finest gold of Ophir. This moral nature belongs to all men everywhere, and cannot be overlaid, or crushed, wholly out, by any poverty, ignorance, or debasement of vice. The man is always a man, and to his moral nature God, and his fellow moral beings, may always hopefully appeal.
II. IN HIS POSSIBILITIES FOR GOOD OR EVIL. He must be a precious being who can rise to be as saintly as some have become, and can sink to be as Satanic as others have become. Dr. Horace Bushnell has a fine sermon in 'New Life,' p. 16, entitled, "The Dignity of Human Nature shown from its Ruins." After speaking of many who "magnify the dignity of human nature, by tracing its capabilities, and the tokens it reveals of a natural affinity with God and truth. They distinguish lovely instincts, powers, and properties allied to God, aspirations reaching after God," he undertakes to "show the essential greatness and dignity of man from the ruin itself which he becomes;" and then he says, "Nor is it anything new, or a turn morn ingenious than just, that we undertake to raise our conceptions of human nature in this manner, for it is in just this way that we are accustomed to get our measures and form our conceptions of many things; of the power, for example, of ancient dynasties, and the magnificence of ancient works and cities, such, for example, as Egypt, Rome, Thebes, Karnac, Luxor, or Nineveh. So it is with man. Our most veritable, though saddest, impressions of his greatness, as a creature, we shall derive from the magnificent ruin he displayed. In that ruin we shall distinguish fallen powers that lie as broken pillars on the ground; temples of beauty, whose scarred and shattered walls still indicate their ancient, original glory; summits covered with broken stones, infested by asps, where the palaces of high thought and great aspiration stood, and righteous courage went up to maintain the citadel of the mind—all a ruin now—archangel ruined." We estimate the value of raw material by "what can be made of it." On that condition man is seen to be more precious than aught else; he may be changed into the Divine image, from glory to glory.
III. IN HIS IMMORTALITY. Man's natural immortality is gravely disputed in these days, but an opinion on that difficult subject is not necessary in the treatment of this subject from our present point of view. It is possible for man to become immortal, and that stamps his incomparable value. Continuity is a common sign of value; but, further than that, the being who can be immortal must have capacity for immortal spheres. In conclusion, it may be shown that the preciousness of man, or the sanctity of human life, is the foundation of social order, and the inspiration of human brother hoed and self-denial.—R.T.
The fall of pride.
The type of pride, in Scripture, is Babylon; to the grandeur of it the Chaldees pointed in self-admiring triumph. "The words of this text paint the impression which the great city, even in Isaiah's time, made upon all who saw it. So Nebuchadnezzar, though his work was mainly that of a restorer, exulted in his pride in the greatness of the city of which he claimed to be the builder (Daniel 4:30). So Herodotus describes it as the most famous and strongest of all the cities of Assyria, adorned beyond any other city on which his eyes had ever looked." God's dealings with nations are illustrations, in the large, of his dealings with families and individuals. The evil recognized as characteristic of a nation may be equally characteristic of a family and of an individual, on whom, therefore, the appropriate Divine judgments will be sure to fall. Nations stand forth prominently in the world's eye, and keep their lessons in history for the instruction of all the ages. This may be illustrated from the Babylonian kingdom of the ancient days, and from Napoleonic France of modern times. The following points will readily suggest illustration from history, and from the circle of our actual experience.
I. PRIDE OF CONQUEST HAS NEVER PROVED LASTING. See the stories of Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, Tamerlane, Charlemagne, Buonaparte, and others. It is equally true of cases of private acquisition. The man who grasps his neighbor's property, and joins field to field, has to learn that God hateth the proud. The riches gathered fly away, or the son that follows him squanders it all.
II. PRIDE OF SOCIAL GRANDEUR HAS NEVER PROVED LASTING. Beckford thought to outrival all country mansions with his Fonthill Abbey, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof. Grant thought to build a palace in the west of London, grander than all around him, and it has passed under the hammer of the auctioneer.
III. PRIDE OF COMMERCIAL PROSPERITY HAS NEVER PROVED LASTING. Venice and Genoa and the Holland ports illustrate this. God's providence brings round the judgment when the pride has become overwhelming. God holds a limit beyond which he never permits a nation, a family, or an individual to go. As soon as pride begins to take the honor due to God, stability is over, our foundations begin to shift, and the night of the first wild storm all that we have raised so anxiously lies about us in ruins. There is a day of God always near at hand for the proud.—R.T.
Isaiah 13:21, Isaiah 13:22
Literal fulfillment of prophecy.
The language of modern travelers illustrates the fulfillment of the prediction. Layard says, "Owls start from the scanty thickets, and the foul jackal stalks among the furrows." "It is a naked and hideous waste." Dr. Plumptre says, "The work was, however, accompanied by slow degrees, and was not, like the destruction of Nineveh, the result of a single overthrow. Darius dismantled its walls, Xerxes pulled down the temple of Belus. Alexander contemplated its restoration, but his designs were frustrated by his early death. Susa and Ecbatana, Seleucia and Antioch, Ctesiphon and Bagdad, became successively the centers of commerce and of government." By the time of Strabo (B.C. 20) the work was accomplished, and the "vast city" had become a "vast desolation." In illustrating the literal fulfillment of this prophecy, the dean further says, "The Bedouins themselves, partly because the place is desolate, partly from a superstitious horror, shrink from encamping on the sites of the ancient temples and palaces, and they are left to lions, and other beasts of prey. On the other hand, Joseph Wolff, the missionary, describes a strange weird scene—pilgrims of the Yezidis, or devil-worshippers, dancing and howling like dervishes amid the ruins of Babylon." It is interesting to note the following passage from the Itinerary of Benjamin Bar-ions, given by Matthew Henry. "This is that Babel which was of old thirty miles in breadth; it is now laid waste. There are yet to be seen the ruins of a palace of Nebuchadnezzar, but the sons of men dare not enter in, for fear of serpents and scorpions, which possess the place." For further indications of the precision of fulfillment, encyclopedias and books of Eastern travel should be studied. We point out here that prophecy is usually poetic, and, rather, vaguely descriptive and suggestive, than precise or minute. Sometimes, however, for the verifying of all prophecies, some portions are made precise, and are literally fulfilled, as in the case el Baby]on; and the two following points may be usefully illustrated:—
I. LITERAL FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY CONFIRMING THE DIVINE WORD.
II. GENERAL FULFILMENTS THEREBY SHOWN TO BE EQUALLY CONFIRMATORY. When once the principle is established, we are freed from all bondage to demands for exact and minute agreements, and can freely read Scripture prophecy as full of poetical figure and imagery.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension