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SECTION II. DENUNCIATION OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS UPON HIS PEOPLE (CH. 2-5.).
TITLE OF THE CHAPTER. It is generally allowed that the heading belongs, not to this chapter only, but to a section of the work, beginning here and ending at the close, either of Isaiah 4:1-6. or of Isaiah 5:1-30. It is probable that the section was originally published separately.
PROPHECY OF THE LAST DAYS. The resemblance of this prophecy to Micah 4:1-3 is so close as to necessitate the conclusion either that one of the two prophets copied from the other, or that both copied from an earlier document. The latter view, which is that taken by Rosenmüller, Maurer, De Wette, Meier, and Mr. Cheyne, seems preferable.
In the last days; literally, in the sequel of the days; but generally used of a remote future (Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 4:30, etc.). The mountain of the Lord's house; i.e. the Church, the true Zion, which is to be the antitype of the existing Zion, and is therefore given its material attributes. Spiritually, it would be a "mountain," as "a city set on a hill," which "could not be hid" (Matthew 5:14); and again, as occupying a position from which it would command the whole earth. In the top of the mountains; rather, at the head of the mountains; i.e. with pre-eminence over them. The metaphor is drawn from the common physical fact of a high mountain range culminating in a single supreme eminence. So Mount Hermon towers above the rest of the Antilibanus, Demavend over Elburz, Rowandiz over Zagros. The "mountains" above which the true Zion shall tower are the kingdoms, or perhaps the religions, of the earth. All nations; literally, all the nations; i.e. "all the nations of the earth" (comp. Psalms 72:11). Shall flow; or, stream. A constant accession of converts from all quarters is intended. These are represented as continually streaming upward into the holy mountain of God's house.
Many people; rather, many peoples. Shall go; or, set forth. The prophet means to represent the nations as encouraging one another on the way. There is no jealousy among them, for the "mountain" can hold them all. He will teach us. The nations feel their ignorance of God, and their need of "teaching." God alone can teach them concerning himself (Romans 11:33, Romans 11:34; 1 Corinthians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 2:11); and "he will teach" them, either directly, as the Incarnate Son, or indirectly through those whom he has appointed to be "teachers" (1 Corinthians 12:28). Of his ways; i.e. "some of his ways," not "all of them;" for at present "we know in part" only (1 Corinthians 13:9), and the greater portion of his ways are "past finding out" (Romans 11:33). The "ways" here spoken of are, no doubt, rules for the conduct of life, which are practically inexhaustible. God, however, will teach every man, who honestly seeks to learn, enough to enable him to "walk in his paths." Out of Zion shall go forth the Law; rather, instruction, or teaching. The word (torah) is without the article. The instruction intended is that of the Church of God.
He shall judge among the nations. This is clearly not yet fulfilled. How God shall ultimately "judge among the nations," or rather "between nation and nation," is a mystery which only the future can reveal. It has been supposed that "by his providential retributions he will decide those international questions out of which war ordinarily springs" (Kay). But it would seem to be at least as likely that he will bring the nations to such a pitch of wisdom and moderation, that they will voluntarily discard war, and agree to decide any disputes that arise by means of arbiters. The arbiter would then, like other judges, represent God, and "by him decree justice" (Proverbs 8:15). Shall rebuke. Rosenmüller translates, "Arbiter pacts sit;" Cheyne, "shall arbitrate." Here again, as in Isaiah 2:3, "people" should be "peoples." They shall beat, etc. On a sudden call to war, nations "beat their ploughshares into swords, and their pruning-hooks into spears" (Joel 3:10). They will do the reverse "in the latter days," when God shall have "made wars to cease" (Psalms 46:9) and "speak peace unto the nations" (Zechariah 9:10).
THE CONTRAST OF THE PRESENT WITH THE FUTURE. Having shown to Israel the vision of a far-distant future, when holiness and peace would reign upon the earth, and "the mountain of the Lord's house" would draw all men into it, the prophet returns to things as they are—first exhorting Israel to "walk in the light of Jehovah' (Isaiah 2:5), and then showing how far they have withdrawn from the light;
(1) by magical practices (Isaiah 2:6);
(2) by commercial greed (Isaiah 2:6, Isaiah 2:7);
(3) by ostentation and luxury (Isaiah 2:7);
(4) by idolatry (Isaiah 2:8).
Such being the case, punishment must come—mean and great must be equally brought low (Isaiah 2:9)—the people must fly to their cave-fastnesses (Isaiah 2:10), and hide themselves; they must be humiliated to the uttermost (Isaiah 2:11).
O house of Jacob. "House of Jacob" is the common expression in Isaiah, instead of "house of Israel" (see Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 14:1; Isaiah 29:22; Isaiah 46:3; Isaiah 48:1; Isaiah 58:1). It has no particular force, merely signifying "Israelites." Come ye, and let us walk. The same words as those of the "nations" in verse 3, "Come ye, and let us go up." As the nations will invite each other "in the last days," so the prophet now invites his countrymen to walk with God.
Therefore; rather, for. The prophet, in calling upon Israel to "walk in the light of the Lord," implies that they are not so walking. He then proceeds to give the reasons of this. They are not, "for God has forsaken them, or, cast them off." The first reason is because they be replenished from the east (Revised Version, "they be filled with customs from the east); i.e. they have adopted a number of Syrian, Assyrian, and Ammonite superstitions; e.g. high places, images, and "groves," the burning of their children in honor of Moloch, the use of divination and enchantment, etc. (2 Kings 15:4; 2 Kings 16:3, 2Ki 16:4; 2 Kings 17:10-12, 2 Kings 17:16, 2 Kings 17:17, etc.). Most of these practices reached the Israelites from Syria, though many had their origin either in Assyria or Babylonia. Soothsayers, like the Philistines. The "diviners" of the Philistines are mentioned in 1 Samuel 6:2. By the word here employed, it would seem that they foretold the future from observations on the clouds and the general appearance of the sky. During the reign of Uzziah, the Israelites had been brought into closer contact with the Philistines than usual, through his conquest of several of their cities (2 Chronicles 26:6). They please themselves in the children of strangers; literally, strike hands with the children of strangers (comp. Job 27:23). This is thought to refer to striking hands upon a bargain (Cheyne), and to be an allusion to the commercial activity of the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham (2 Kings 14:22; 2 Kings 16:6). But perhaps it does not mean more than familiarity.
Full of silver and gold. The results of the commercial activity—not evil things in themselves, but probably acquired by sharp dealing, and leading to undue softness and luxury. The Law had given a warning against "greatly multiplying silver and gold" (Deuteronomy 17:17). For the fact of the vast abundance of the precious metals in Judaea at this time, see 2 Kings 14:16; 2Ki 20:13; 2 Chronicles 32:27; and compare Sennacherib's inscription on the Taylor Cylinder. Full of horses … chariots (comp. Micah 5:10). There is no reason to believe that the Jews or Israelites ever possessed (unless it were under Solomon) any considerable cavalry or chariot force. But from the time of David horses and chariots were imported for convenience and for show by the kings, the princes, and the nobles (see 2Sa 15:1; 1 Kings 4:26; 1 Kings 10:28, 1Ki 10:29; 1 Kings 22:31; Ecclesiastes 10:7). Like the silver and the gold, they were signs of luxury and ostentation.
Full of idols. The historians declare that both Uzziah and Jotham maintained the worship of Jehovah and disallowed idolatry (2 Kings 15:3, 2 Kings 15:34; 2 Chronicles 26:4; 2 Chronicles 27:2), so that we must regard the idol-worship of the time as an irregular and private practice. (It is, perhaps, alluded to in 2 Chronicles 27:2; and the fact of its prevalence is stated in Amos 2:1; Micah 5:13.) Perhaps Bishop Lowth is right in regarding it as mainly a continuation of the old private teraphim worship.
And the mean man boweth down, etc. So Ewald and Kay; but most other commentators render, "Therefore shall the mean man be bowed down, and the great man brought low, and thou shalt not [or, 'canst not'] forgive them" (Rosenmüller, Lowth, Gcsenius, Knobel, Cheyne). The transition from narrative to threatening comes best at the beginning of the verse.
Enter into the rock. The limestone rocks of Palestine are full of extensive caverns, to which the Israelites often betook themselves in times of danger (see Judges 6:2; 1 Samuel 13:6; 1 Samuel 22:1, etc.). The prophet exhorts them to flee thither now, but without stating what exactly is the peril (comp. Isaiah 2:19, Isaiah 2:21). Hide thee in the dust. Not "the dust of humiliation" (Kay), but "the dust of the earth" (Genesis 2:7), put here for the earth itself, as in Isaiah 2:19. For fear of the Lord; rather, from before the terror of Jehovah. Some awful manifestation of Jehovah's power is intended, its nature being still kept back and shrouded in darkness.
The effect of the judgment which, in Isaiah 2:9, was said to be the humiliation of high and low alike, is here declared with special reference to the high-minded and proud, whom it will humble more than others. The Lord alone shall be exalted; like a lofty and strong tower (comp. Isaiah 12:4; Isaiah 33:5).
THE DESCRIPTION OF THE DAY OF THE LORD. The prophet, now, having announced that God is about to visit his people in anger (Isaiah 2:10, Isaiah 2:11), proceeds to describe in highly rhetorical language the visitation itself,
(1) as to its object, which is to bring down all that exalts itself against God (Isaiah 2:12);
(2) as to its scope—it is to be upon trees, mountains, hills, towers, walls, ships, pleasant pictures, idols (Isaiah 2:13-18);
(3) as to its practical effect, which will be to alarm and terrify, to make men fly and hide themselves, and to produce contempt of the idols in which they have so long trusted (Isaiah 2:19-21).
For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one; rather, For the Lord of hosts shall have a day upon everything. The passage is exegetical of "that day" in the preceding verse. A "day"—or time—is certainly coming which shall be emphatically "the Lord's"—a day on which he will descend to judgment. Proud … lofty … lifted up (comp. Isaiah 2:11). "The ideas of eminence, pride, and opposition to God melt into each other in the Old Testament" (Cheyne). And he shall be brought low; rather, that it may be brought low (so Gesenius and Cheyne).
Upon all the cedars of Lebanon. It is usual to take this metaphorically; and no doubt men are often compared to trees in Scripture (Psalms 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8; Job 8:16, Job 8:17), and "cedars of Lebanon" especially are symbols of the great and proud ones (Ezekiel 31:3). But it has been well observed that either all the details of the description in the text must be taken literally, or all of them metaphorically, and that the mention of such objects as "ships of Tarshish" and "pleasant pictures" pleads strongly for a literal interpretation. The day of the Lord was upon the cedars when Sennacherib "with chariots upon chariots came up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon, and cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof" (Isaiah 37:24); and similar devastation accompanied, it is probable, the other invasions of the Assyrians. Upon all the oaks of Bashan. The "oaks of Bashan" are celebrated also by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:6) and by Zechariah (Zechariah 11:2). It is quite likely that the Assyrians cut timber in Bashan, as they did in Lebanon and Amanus.
Mountains … hills. It is Sennacherib's boast that he "came up to the height of the mountains" (Isaiah 37:24).
Upon every high tower. Uzziah and. Jotham had, both of them, paid much attention to fortifications, and had especially "built towers," both at Jerusalem and in other parts of Judaea (2 Chronicles 26:9, 2 Chronicles 26:10; 2 Chronicles 27:4). Isaiah means to pour contempt on these indications of "trust in an arm of flesh," and to say that they will be of no avail when the time of calamity arrives. Every fenced wall. "On the wall of Ophel" Jotham had "built much" (2 Chronicles 27:3). Hosea (Hosea 8:14) and Micah (Micah 4:11) also notice the trust of Judah in her fortresses, and threaten their destruction.
All the ships of Tarshish. "Ships of Tarshish" meant originally "ships built to sail to Tarshish;" but was used by the later writers for ships of a certain class or size (1 Kings 22:48; Psalms 48:7; Ezekiel 27:25). Tarshish was Tartessus, in Spain, and voyages thither were regarded as long and dangerous (Herod; 1.163). Consequently, the ships which were built for the Tartessian trade were of unusual size and strength. Uzziah had "built [i.e. rebuilt] Elath," in the eastern arm of the Red Sea, early in his reign (2 Kings 14:22), and no doubt maintained a fleet there, as Jehoshaphat had done (1 Kings 22:48). Elath remained in the possession of the Jews till the reign of Ahaz, when it was taken by Rezin, and restored to Edom (see 'Speaker's Commentary' on 2 Kings 16:6). Upon all pleasant pictures; Revised Version, all pleasant imagery. The exact word hero translated "pictures" does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament; but a cognate word is not uncommon. From the passages in which this cognate word occurs (especially Le Isaiah 26:1; Numbers 33:52; Proverbs 25:11; Ezekiel 8:12), it is concluded that works of art, of some sort or other, are intended. More than this can scarcely be determined. Dr. Kay thinks the term to include "sculptures and fresco-paintings." Mr. Cheyne translates "all delightful works of imagery." The sentiment is that the judgment of God will fall on the most valued contents of palaces and grand houses, no less than upon the forests and the mountains, the fortified places, and the national navy. All wilt be involved in one sweeping destruction.
The loftiness of man. This verse interrupts the sequence of the thoughts somewhat awkwardly. It is a sort of refrain (see Isaiah 2:11; and for the use of refrains in Hebrew poetry, see Exodus 15:1, Exodus 15:21; Psalm evil. 8, 15, 21, 31), and perhaps comes in for rhythmical reasons, to the detriment of the sense.
And the idols he shall utterly abolish; rather, and the idols shall utterly pass away. While the visitation shall fall only partially on the other objects precious to Israel—the cedars, the oaks, the terraced mountains and hills, the strongholds, the ships, and the works of art—the idols shall be wholly swept away by it. It is impossible to say what visitation exactly was in the prophet's mind; but if we may suppose that the Babylonian captivity came within the range of the prophetic vision, we must pronounce the prediction to have received a very remarkable fulfillment in this matter, since that calamity did put an entire end to the idolatry of the nation.
They shall go into the holes of the rooks, etc.. On the abundant caves of Palestine, see note on the former passage. To shake terribly the earth; literally, to affright the earth. It is not said in what way he will affright it. The cognate Arabic verb has the meaning "to shake;" but it is not clear that the Hebrew one has ever this sense.
In that day a man shall cast, etc, When the idols disappoint their worship-pets, and prove to be unable to save them, they are treated with scorn and ignominy. The African beats his fetish on such occasions. The Israelites would fling theirs to the moles and the bats. Idols of silver … idols of gold (comp. Exodus 20:23; Psalms 115:4 : Psalms 135:15; Isaiah 30:22; Isaiah 31:7; Hosea 8:4; Hosea 13:2). A passage of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:19) shows that sometimes the main bulk of the idol was of stone, which was overlaid with a coating of one or other of the two precious metals; but it would seem that ordinarily the entire image was either of gold or silver (comp. Exodus 32:4, Exodus 32:24; 1 Kings 12:28). No doubt it was thought that the god worshipped through the image was more honored, and therefore better pleased, by the more costly material. Which they made each one for himself; rather, which they (i.e. the manufacturers) have made for him. Idol-making was a trade, as we see by the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 19:24-27). To the moles; literally, to the dig-holes. The metaphor must not be pressed. They would throw the idols into holes and corners, pits and caverns, where moles and bats might be expected to be the only visitants. Some idea of the blindness implied in any regard for idols may have prompted the imagery.
To go into; or, as they go into; i.e. "as they make their escape, they shall fling the idols away." The clefts of the rocks (comp. Exodus 33:22, the only other passage of Scripture where the word occurs). The tops of the ragged rocks; rather, the rents, or crevices. The idea of hiding themselves from the awful majesty of God is kept up throughout (cf. Isaiah 2:10 and Isaiah 2:19; and see also Luke 23:30).
Cease ye from man. This verse is regarded by many as a late marginal note, which has accidentally crept into the text (Diestel, Studer, Cheyne). It is omitted in the Septuagint, and interrupts the sequence of Isaiah 3:1-26. on Isaiah 2:1-22. somewhat awkwardly. If retained, it must be regarded as an appeal to Israel on the part of the prophet to give up their trust in man, whence had flowed all their other errors. Whose breath is in his nostrils; i.e. "whose life is a mere breath; who, if he ceases to breathe, ceases to live." For wherein is he to be accounted of? or, for of what account is he? Surely, of no account at all.
Hope and fear to be both called out as motives by the preacher.
Already in the first chapter Isaiah has appealed to both motives, and while for the most part denouncing Israel's sins, and declaring their coming punishment, has taken care to intersperse among these warnings announcements of a more cheerful character (see particularly verses 9, 19, and 25-27). Now, being about to devote almost two whole chapters to denunciations, he prefaces them with one of the most glorious and joy-inspiring of all his prophecies, thus setting forth a light which not all the gloom of the succeeding sections can wholly obscure, but which casts some portion of its radiance into their darkest places. The reasons for thus intermingling light and darkness, joy and sorrow, warning and promise, would seem to be—
I. ON ACCOUNT OF THE INTERMIXTURE OF GOOD AND EVIL IN THE WORLD. Tares are always mingled with the good seed. In no nation, in no state of society, is the whole mass utterly corrupt. There is always "a remnant" (Isaiah 1:9). Nay, more—in no man is the character wholly evil, absolutely without redeeming points, altogether wicked. The preacher has to take care lest he "break the bruised reed," or" quench the smoking flax" (Matthew 12:20). He must tenderly nurture what there is of good in a corrupt society or character; and this can only be done by comforting announcements, cheerful views, words of' promise. On the other hand, never is there any state of society or human character without some defilement of evil, some darker shades, some blemishes (to say the least) and imperfections. Never, therefore, can the preacher dispense with the motive of fear. Never must he give himself up wholly to "speaking smooth things," else will he assuredly "prophesy deceits" (Isaiah 30:10).
II. ON ACCOUNT OF THE DOUBLE DANGER OF DESPAIR ON THE ONE HAND, AND OVER-CONFIDENCE ON THE OTHER. If all that is preached is denunciation of sin, declaration of God's wrath against sinners, and threatenings of his vengeance, the soul may be made sad whom God has not made sad—the timid may be scared, and the penitent "swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" (2 Corinthians 2:7). Nay, absolute despair may be produced, and the soul lost which we sought merely to rouse. To prevent such a result, it is needful constantly to set forth, not only God's judgments, but his mercies; not only his wrath, but his loving-kindness. On the other hand, if these alone are set forth, if his justice is ignored, if the severity of his judgments upon sinners is concealed, a feeling of overconfidence is apt to be produced, and then carelessness and general laxity of life follow. The wise preacher will steer clear of both dangers, will avoid alike Scylla and Charybdis. He will make his appeal in all cases to both motives, but will dwell upon the one or upon the other, as the circumstances of the case require. If he has reason to suspect over-confidence, which is the more usual peril, he will enlarge on the "terrors of the Lord;" if, on the contrary, he has to deal with tender consciences and souls too timid and distrustful, he will choose topics of a cheerful character, and make his comfortable assurances preponderate over his warnings.
National judgments the result of national sins.
God's dealings with Israel are to be viewed as a pattern of his dealings with nations generally. He has not two standards of right and wrong, or two rules of action under like circumstances. He is "no respecter of persons." As he dealt with his own peculiar people, so will he deal, so has he always dealt, with the other nations of the world.
I. EVERY NATION HAS ITS PROBATION. God proved Israel during the space of above seven hundred years by the laws which he gave them, and the circumstances in which he caused them to be placed (Exodus 15:25; Exodus 16:4; Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2, Deuteronomy 8:16; Judges 2:22; Judges 3:1, Judges 3:4, etc.). He chastened them by foreign enemies, comforted them by deliverances, warned them by his prophets, afflicted them by famine and pestilence, gave them "times of refreshing." So long as there was any hope of their repentance and reformation, he bore with them, forgave their transgressions, prolonged their time of trial, "destroyed them not." It was only after all the resources of his mercy had been exhausted, and there was "no remedy" left (2 Chronicles 36:16), that the destruction fell, and the nation ceased to exist. And so it was with the other nations of the earth. God raised them up, set each a work to do, gave them laws, if not by revelation, at any rate through their conscience, and proceeded to "prove them," whether they would work his will or no. Each fell in its turn because it rebelled against God, and persisted in its rebellion, until God could suffer it no more. (See the example of Assyria in Isaiah 10:5-19.)
II. THE PROBATION IS CARRIED ON PARTLY BY THE BESTOWAL OF FAVORS. Peace, prosperity, good seasons and rich harvests, a succession of capable monarchs or ministers, and, again, success in war, victories, conquests, and the wealth that sometimes flows in through conquests, are, all of them, blessings which God bestows on nations with the object of trying them. Will they be thankful? Will they make a good use of the favors granted them? Will they maintain their equanimity, and not, like Assyria, be unduly puffed up? The discipline of prosperity is exceedingly trying; and under it nations almost invariably wax wanton and proud. Israel was thus tried in the times of David and Solomon, and also under Uzziah and Jotham (2 Chronicles 26:6-16; 2 Chronicles 27:3-6). Assyria underwent the probation for many centuries, from the time of the king contemporary with Ahab to the great blow received under Sennacherib. Egypt in early days, and Rome in later ones, had even longer periods of unmixed prosperity, and became proportionally "lifted up." It is rarely, indeed, that we find any nation improve under this kind of probation. Almost invariably there is a rapid change for the worse.
III. THE PROBATION IS FURTHER CARRIED ON BY THE INFLICTION OF JUDGMENTS. God has many arrows in his quiver, many plagues whereby he can punish nations, as he showed in Egypt (Exodus 7-12.); but three of these stand out from the rest as the especial instruments of his wrath—the sword, famine, and pestilence. (See 2 Samuel 24:13; 1 Chronicles 21:12; Ezekiel 34:17. In Ezekiel 14:12-21, "four sore judgments" are mentioned; but "the noisome beast" is clearly not on a par with the other three.) On the employment of the sword to chastise Israel, see Exodus 22:24; Le Exodus 26:17-33; Judges 3:8, Judges 3:12; Judges 4:2; Judges 6:1; Judges 13:1; 2Ki 17:20; 2 Chronicles 36:17; of famine, see Le 2 Chronicles 26:19, 2 Chronicles 26:20, 26-29; Deu 28:22-24; 1 Kings 18:1-18; Joel 1:4-20; Joel 2:3-11; of pestilence, see Numbers 16:46-49; 2 Samuel 24:15; Ezekiel 14:19; Ezekiel 38:22. Of these three, famine and pestilence are the minor scourges, and are employed to warn, to terrify, to arouse; war has sometimes the same object, but is especially used to destroy. War destroyed Assyria (Nahum 3:2-15), Babylon (Jer 1:2 -37; Jer 2:1 -58; Daniel 5:30, Daniel 5:31), Media, Egypt (ibid; Ezekiel 3:11-13), Persia (Daniel 8:3-7, Daniel 8:20, Daniel 8:21), Greece, Rome. War is still God's last, most terrible scourge, and will remain such until the happy time, described by Isaiah in verses 24, arrives.
The terrors of the day of the Lord.
Every visitation of man by God is typical of his coming to judgment. "That day" is, in its deepest and truest sense, the day whereon Christ shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. Of "that day and that hour knoweth no man" (Matthew 24:36); and the terror is increased by the mystery. The prophet sees God descend to judge Israel. The particular features are local; but through them may be discerned without much difficulty the characteristics which are recurrent, and which belong especially to the last and great day, viz.—
I. ABASEMENT OF THE PROUD. Earthly distinctions come to naught when the earth itself comes to an end. Rank, titles, dignities, fail. The "mean man" and the "great man" (Isaiah 2:9), the highest and the lowest in earthly rank, are upon a par, when all have to appear before their Judge. And spiritual pride is equally brought low. None but must then feel himself a miserable sinner, a suppliant for mercy at God's feet, with hope only through the merits and intercession of the incarnate Son. "The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" (Isaiah 2:17).
II. DESTRUCTION OF THE GRANDEST OF HUMAN WORKS. Towers, walls, palaces, are shattered and overturned at the great seasons of national judgments, and will fall with a crash everywhere at the final judgment-day. The great navies of the world will perish in the "fervent heat;" the works of art, the "pleasant pictures," and all the "delightful works of imagery," will shrivel like parchment scrolls. The accumulated civilization of millennia will be brought to naught. Egypt's pyramids and temples, Persia's palaces, Greece's lovely fades, Rome's amphitheatres, Christendom's magnificent cathedrals,—all will totter to their base and be overthrown. Nothing will stand that human skill, contrivance, energy, has constructed; all will disappear, and—
"Like the baseless fabric of a vision,
Leave not a wrack behind."
III. DESTRUCTION OF GRAND OBJECTS IN NATURE. The taint of man's sin has passed upon nature itself. Pride and vanity have employed natural products for self-glorification; the precious metals have been prostituted to sinful uses; selfishness has turned natural beauties into private property, and either made a gain of them, or jealously secluded them from the intrusion of ordinary humanity. Therefore Nature, as she now is, has become unfit for the habitation of man in his regenerate condition; and "the first earth" has to "pass away," and to be succeeded by the "new heaven and new earth" of the Apocalyptic vision (Revelation 21:1). What the exact amount of change will be, we do not know. Many features of the existing earth may remain—pure snowy summits that the foot of man has never trod; blue glacier caves that have escaped his prying eyes; deep forest glades preserved from the desecration of his presence by thorny jungle or impenetrable wealth of undergrowth; but much of that with which man is most familiar will disappear—perhaps all that could recall acts or thoughts of sin—and the "new heaven and new earth," that God will create, will to such an extent supersede the old, that "the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind" (Isaiah 65:17).
IV. GENERAL ALARM, ESPECIALLY OF THE SINNER AND THE WORLDLY. They of Israel fled into "the holes of the rocks, and the caves of the earth, from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty" (Isaiah 2:19). At the last day, "men shall say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us" (Luke 23:30);" Hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16). The brightness of his presence will be intolerable to those who have "loved darkness rather than light; 'and they will desire, at any rate, to flee from it. Alas! flight will be impossible, concealment will be impossible; no rocks will offer hiding-places to the ungodly from the presence of God. One only refuge is possible that to that men must have fled before, with the heartfelt, earnest cry-
"Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee!"
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The golden age.
I. THE BLESSED OR GOLDEN AGE A SUBJECT OF EARLY PROPHECY. It is believed that we have in these verses a very ancient oracle, first delivered by the earlier prophet Joel (see Joel 3:10), and from him repeated by Isaiah and Micah (Micah 4:1-4). An eternal hopefulness lived in the heart of the great prophets, like a light shining in a dark place, amidst all the scenes of national sin and depression. What has been said of true poetry is to be said of prophecy—it is the "light that never shone on sea or shore; the inspiration and the poet's dream."
II. A REVIVAL OF RELIGION WILL USHER IN THE GOLDEN AGE. The mountains were earliest seats of Divine worship, both amongst Jews and Gentiles. One of the seats of the great god of the Greeks, Mount Lycaeos in Arcadia, commanded, Pausanias tells us, a view over nearly the whole Peloponnese. Zion was a small and lowly mount, but it is to become a peak that shall overtop all mountains, the "joy of the whole earth" (Psalms 48:2), unrivalled in the majesty of its Divine associations (Psalms 68:16). The Gentiles will make pilgrimages to this holy mountain. All this poetically describes the commanding influence of true religion.
1. The revival of religion means the revival of morality. When the conscience is really awakened, the inquiry will ever be—What must we do? What are the ways and paths of God? What are the principles of a true, a just, and a blessed life?
2. It means social unity. In the vision the Gentiles are seen converging with the Jews to one point—to Zion. The more deep religion is, the more do men feel that truth is but one, thought one, spiritual worship one. The love of God solves all differences in itself.
3. True religion is a self-diffusive power. It goes forth like light, like heat, like a fame and rumor insensibly stealing through the air.
III. JUSTICE AND PEACE WILL BE THE EFFECTS OF TRUE RELIGION. We can clearly see that it is so from the course of history. With the progress of Christianity, the administration of justice within the sphere of each nation has become milder, because more thoughtful, more respectful of the value of the individual life. Not only so, the idea of international justice has gained ground. Whatever a certain school of Politicians may say, conscience does gain ground in the dealings of nation with nation. Wrong cannot be done to the weak without censure. Nations as well as individuals are more alive to the voice of public opinion, and more sensible of shame. In our own time, "justice" has again and again been the watchword of our politics, and has gained attention and overcome the clamors of the bellicose and the sneers of the cynical. Let us-be thankful for these things. Best of all, peace and its occupations replace war and its waste, as true religion prevails. In this beautiful picture, or slight sketch of a picture, we see the soldier going back to his fields, that he may turn the murderous steel into the hoe, the share, the pruning-knife, while the arsenals and military schools are closed (see the touch added by Micah 4:4; cf. Psalms 46:9; Hosea 2:20; Zechariah 9:10). It is the picture of an ideal and a future, not yet nor soon perhaps to be converted into an actual present, except in the delightful world of holy dreams which makes the best of our life. But for every one who works and lives in the true Christian spirit, the picture ever more nearly tends to coincide with the reality.
IV. REFLECTIONS OF THIS PROPHECY AMONG THE GENTILES. Doubtless a large collection might be made of passages of similar scope from the lore of other nations. Best known are those from the Roman poets. Virgil, like Joel (Joel 3:10), reverses the imagery. When right and wrong are confused, wars prevail and all manner of crimes. The plough receives no honor; the fields run to weeds, because the farmers have gone to serve as soldiers, and the curved sickles are turned into the rigid sword ('Georg.,' 1.506, sqq.). So Ovid: in time of war the sword is apter than the plough; the toiling ox gives way to the war-horse, while hoes and rakes are turned into javelins ('Fast.,' 1.697, sqq.). He further sketches the picture of peace bringing back the ox to the yoke, and the seed to the ploughed land. For "Peace nourishes Ceres, and Ceres is the foster-child of Peace." We must reserve the further pictures of the perfection of the golden age in the Gentile poets until we come to Isaiah 11:1-16. In their way they, too, recognized that so happy a state of things could only be brought about by religion—by the returning of men to obedience to Divine laws.
V. MODERN LESSONS. Let us "come and walk in the light of the Eternal." In that light the hideousness of war and of the national discords, which lead to it, are clearly seen. No sound understanding can ever look upon war as other than an occasional and dread necessity. Preaching against war may do a certain good. But practically to walk in the light and lead others to it is better. All sides of the subject need to be better understood by the popular mind. The most serious fallacies prevail. Were the energies now employed in preparing for and carrying on war devoted to exploring, breaking up, and cultivating new regions, how truly blessed the result! In fighting with the stubbornness of nature man may find an outlet for all his pugnacious energy. The poets should sanctify their art to glorifying the ideals of peace rather than those of war. None can read these lines without being enkindled—
"Ah, when shall all men's good
Be each man's rule, and universal peace
Lie like a shaft of light across the land,
And like a lane of beams athwart the sea,
Thro' all the circle of the golden year?"
And let every earnest toiler in whatever sphere for the good of man, for the glory of God, take these words to heart—
"Unto him who works, and feels he works,
This same grand year is ever at the doors."
Purgation by judgment.
The blessed age cannot yet come in. If we suppose the prophet to have been reading the previous oracle as a sabbath lesson out of the elder prophet Joel's scroll, he adds the exhortation, "Let us walk in the light of Jehovah!" Then a sudden pause. For he calls to mind the present corrupt condition of the nation. They cannot pass over to that new and happy condition of things as they now are. Peace can only be the fruit of righteousness. God cannot impart blessings for which the heart makes no room.
I. THE REASONS OF DIVINE REJECTION. The nation's practices and fashions are inconsistent with the religion of Jehovah.
1. Wizardry, magic, soothsaying, and augury prevail. These are distinctly heathen, Philistine, practices. The Law repudiated every kind of magic (Leviticus 19:26; Exodus 22:17). Such arts are described under various names in Deuteronomy 18:10, Deuteronomy 18:11. The principle was in every case the same—the attempt to gratify human curiosity and desire by unlawful means. Modern "spiritualism" springs from the same root. The path of true science is above-ground and full of light; that of false science is subterranean and dark. The methods of sound knowledge may be explained to all. The worker of good comes to the light, and hates occult procedure which can give no account of itself. The magical spirit still works against true Christianity, which is the "light of the Eternal." Christian ministers become magicians if they teach that changes can be wrought or blessings secured by the mere administration of sacraments; or by the mere repetition of a formula, such as "I do believe, I will believe;" or by the artificial putting on of a particular frame of mind. Obedience, not the mimicry of it, purity, not the representation of it, is required by God.
2. Ill-gotten wealth and luxury. The people were immoderately money-loving. Like Tyre, they heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the mire of the streets (Zechariah 9:3).
"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay."
The excess of accumulation ever does mean the waste of manhood. A nation is only healthy when the vigor of its masculine intellect goes to promote the ulterior ends of existence. Those ends are spiritual. Wealth should be prized for the sake of leisure, and leisure for the sake of culture. When leisure hangs heavy on the business man's hands, it is a sign that he has been overtrained in one direction. 'Tis a sad failure to be found fit only for grinding at the money-making mill. Such a man cannot enjoy wealth when he has got it. We need a larger conception of the true conduct of life. Men often lose more morally in their rest-time than they can recover in their worktime. No unjust trading can produce real prosperity. England has gained by every act of righteous policy, such as the abolition of the corn-laws, the slave-trade. Whatever is gain to the health of the national conscience is permanent. Every just act is a tonic to the soul.
3. They are full of the materials for war, Their reliance is on horses and chariots. When a nation places confidence on physical force only, it is another symptom of moral enervation. How often has this been seen in history! The very existence of a great armed force is a constant provocative to war. It breeds a martial imagination and a bellicose spirit. National jealousies are roused, and the slightest occasion may set a continent aflame. The people must learn that Jehovah delights not in the legs of men, i.e. in serried battalions, and that in proportion as they lean on armies they are faithless to God. They must learn to say, "Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy" (Hosea 14:3).
4. They are full of idols. This is perhaps the worst feature of their state. The prohibition of idols is grounded in the nature of our thought. The idol defines and narrows what ought to be left indefinable. The Phoenician and other idols introduced into Israel brought down the Divine to the forms and dimensions of the human being, and all human passions the most sensuous could be projected upon them. And when man sees only his idealized self before him in the sculptor's work, he falls to self-adoration. It was quite otherwise with the grand music and religious poetry of the prophets and psalmists. Lofty poetic images by their very vagueness and suggestiveness lead the mind to the truth beyond and behind them. High music and poesy we ever need in worship; but too definite forms fetter the flight of the devout imagination. In general idolatry means self-love, and must ever be antagonistic to pure religion. "Thus man lowers himself, becomes unworthy to appear before Jehovah, and belong to his people." And judgment is inevitable; there can be no escape from it now!
II. TERROR AT THE APPROACH OF THE JUDGE. "Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, fleeing before Jehovah's terror, and the splendor of his majesty." The soul living in falsehood as its element shrinks away from the coming truth which must annihilate it. Men's fears represent to them at last their follies and their sins.
"Like bats and vermin hurrying from the sudden light.
Our sordid vices far from God would take their flight."
The eyes that were not cast down in prayer, the mien of profane impudence that laughed at Heaven, are now shriveled, prone in the dust now before the lonely sublimity of the eternal Holiness. Those who made naught of God must learn that naught can exist which does not exist in God.
"At last we hear a voice upon the slope
Cry to the summit, Is there any hope?
To which an answer peals from that high land,
But in a tongue no man can understand;
And on the glimmering limit far withdrawn,
God makes himself an awful rose of dawn."
The day of judgment.
Here follows a grand picture, in which a few simple thoughts are set.
I. THE DAY OF JEHOVAH. This stands for any and every epoch of clearer light which reveals the relative worth of things. False estimates of life and its objects have become by custom fixed. The imagination has been under a delusion. A false idea of greatness and goodness has become so fixed that nothing but a revolution will subvert it. The criticism of words may be defied; but the criticism of facts, of results,—against this there is no appeal. There is no reversal of the judgment of events. A great day of judgment was, for example, the French Revolution of a century ago. The falsehood of generations was then expiated in blood. Social institutions which were bad, inhuman, yet which those who had grown up in them regarded as impossible to alter, were effaced in that terrible outpouring of the wrath of God. The sense amidst great wrong that the judgment of God cannot long be delayed, is expressed in the common saying, "Things must take a turn before long." In the life of the individual, every stopping-point or turning-point at which a false way of life terminates, may be viewed as a day of judgment and a day of Jehovah.
II. THE DAY BRINGS WITH IT A SHOCK TO HUMAN IMAGINATION. The prophet piles up images to represent the reversal of all human ideals of greatness and loftiness. The gigantic trees of Lebanon and Bashan, the mountains and hills, the towers and the high ramparts, the tall ships sailing Tarshish-wards (Psalms 48:8), the turrets of villas and houses of pleasure, draw down upon them the violence of the storm. The vast and lofty in nature and in works of art are not of more value in the eyes of God than the small and lowly. They are hints of the greatness of the spirit, and if we give such objects an independent greatness, we are suffering from an illusion. The greatness and the beauty are in the seeing mind. There is not so much to be seen of the work of God in a mountain as in a moth. "Life apparent in the smallest midge is marvelous beyond dead Atlas' self." The palaces, the streets of a great city, are signs of the human soul and its greatness, but not the truest signs. It is a common error to look for the tokens of a people's greatness in their buildings and mechanical achievements. But from what source does material creation and production come? That is the ultimate question. Our works of art are works of the flesh and of pride, or works of the spirit wrought in humility and the love of truth. A few such works in plastic stuff of stone, or on canvas, or in poetic words, endure through all change. That which is untrue must fall sooner or later beneath the criticism of God and be exposed. And in the downfall of human works the eternal God is again manifested in his supreme greatness and glory. It is our own false imaginations which hide him from us.
III. THE ABANDONMENT OF THE IDOLS. For the idols cannot help their worshippers, who must run to hide themselves. Yet at first they cling to them. But soon in alarm they cast them away into any corner, any refuse-heap, any filthy haunt of bats and moles. "To cast to the bats" is as proverbial an expression in the East for throwing clean away as rejected rubbish, as "throwing to the dogs" with us. There comes a time when men will be willing to get rid of their most precious objects so that they may but save themselves. A secret terror haunts the false conscience, which in moments of clear revelation of truth rises to an acme and becomes a panic. The true heart longs for more of God's light, the false can only exist behind an artificial veil or screen. In every time larger light is appearing, truths for the conduct of life are coming into currency; in short, the Divine Critic of our life is making his censure felt. Alas for those who rush into any cave at hand, plunge into obscurantism rather than face the worst, which thus faced will prove the best!
IV. THE MORAL. "Cease ye from man." If in any such day of revelation all the proud ideals of human society may be discovered false, and cast aside as worthless; if the time of revelation shows that we have been resting upon rotten shams; if we have an uneasy consciousness that it is always so;—how vain is all confidence in human wit and work! The bitter words seem to cast contempt upon every species of beast and satisfaction. A poet of our time has written a great work to show that "our human speech is naught, our human testimony false, our fame and human estimation words and wind" (Browning,' Ring and Book'). But how can we cease from man? We can only know the true and the eternal through some form of human experience. The answer is—Man merely as man, an independent fact, is naught; he and all his pass away. In living for himself as if there were no truth, no good, beyond, he becomes a lie. If we see man only we see the false; if God working in and through man and his history, we find the true in the false. Working through the false shows of sense, we may reach the spirit of things, the mind of God. We leave our hold on the fugitive human fact, false if we try to stereotype it, that we may plant our foot on the constant. The Divine
"Truth is forced
To manifest itself through falsehood; whence divorced
By the excepted eye, at the rare season, for
The happy moment, truth instructs us to abhor
The false, and prize the true, obtainable thereby."
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Real religious revival
"Many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob." Here is the tide of national feeling, no longer on the ebb, but on the flow. God is "to teach them his ways, and they are to walk in his paths;" for they have found out that pleasure gained by sin is peace bartered. Elevation of the truest kind is to be theirs now. This is the image of their uplifted state. They are to go up to the mountain of the Lord's house—the consecrated height of holiness and peace.
I. THERE IS SPONTANEITY OF LIFE. "Come, let us go." It is no mere fashion, or custom, or compulsion of obedience. Life always says, "Come." I read delight here. For what we enjoy we invite others to see. When we ascend to the mountain-top, and see the winding river, like a streak of silver, and the village-dotted plains, we cry "Come!" to others, that they too may delight in the loveliness of the scene. So an earnest Christian not only says "Come!" because of the urgency of the salvation, but also because of the beauty and blessedness of religion. "Oh taste and see," he says, "that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him."
II. THERE IS SACRED FELLOWSHIP. "Let us go up." For religion is intensified in its experiences by mutual faith and joy. The interaction of mind on mind and heart upon heart in a great congregation is wonderful. "Let us go up." And beautiful were those spectacles in Hebrew history, when the pilgrims went to tabernacle or temple. "Thither the tribes go up," The festal caravans met each other from distant parts, as they merged at last into one common road to time-beloved Jerusalem. At the Feasts of Pentecost and Passover, as in the days of our Savior, the interest felt in these upgoings to Jerusalem was both human and Divine. Old friends met again, whilst youths and maidens set eyes for the first time on the city and temple of their fathers. On their way they sang the songs of Zion, till in noblest worship the gathered tribes lifted up their praise to the Lord God of Israel.
III. THERE IS SUBLIME PROPHECY. "Many shall go," Yes, and in these Christian days, Greek and Jew, bond and flee, have been united in one common song of deliverance. Missionary societies have founded Churches and schools on well-nigh every shore. "Many shall corns." Verily, unto Christ shall the gathering of the people be. "All nations shall call him blessed." How verified the words have been! "For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The promised future: a missionary sermon.
I. THAT DIVINE TRUTH WILL KNOW A TIME OF GLORIOUS ELEVATION. The "last days" (Isaiah 2:2) may be distant days, may be "afar off" still, but they are coming; we are steadily advancing to them. The "mountain of the Lord's house" may be low down today, but it will rise; it may be but as a hill of sacred truth obscured among the mountains of error. But God's high purpose shall surely be fulfilled in time; the day will dawn when they who gaze upon the spiritual scenery of the world will see Zion lifting up its head far and high above all those little hills into which the proud peaks of falsehood will have diminished. There is a power that can raise the hills and that can "thresh the mountains" (Isaiah 41:15).
II. THAT ITS POWER SHALL HAVE THE WIDEST POSSIBLE EXTENSION. "All nations shall flow unto it." The river of human thought, faith, hope, shall set in a strong current to this high mountain. Divine truth shall not only gain a formal triumph over the idolatries, superstitions, infidelities of the world, but human hearts everywhere will rejoice in its salvation.
III. THAT ONE SIGN OF ITS EXALTATION AND EXTENSION WILL BE A PREVALENT SPIRIT OF RELIGIOUS INQUIRY. (Isaiah 2:3.) Men will be convinced of the hollowness of their old faiths; of the unsatisfying character of their present pleasures; of the insufficiency of the light in which they have been walking to lead them into wisdom and blessedness. And they will turn to the one and only source of illumination and joy; they will say, "Let us go up," etc. (Isaiah 2:3). The hungry heart will cry out for the Bread of life; the thirsting soul will pant for the living streams. When men have round—and are they not finding more and more largely?—that the errors into which they have wandered are but ashes in their mouth, they will seek and they will accept the bountiful provision which awaits them in the "Father's house," in the gospel of the grace of God.
IV. THAT ONE RESULT OF IT WILL BE THE PREVALENCE OF THE SPIRIT AND OF THE INSTITUTIONS OF PEACE. (Isaiah 2:4.) The love of war, the institutions of war, the readiness to have recourse to war, the pride and glory in military achievements which even Christian nations are not ashamed to own,—this will disappear as the will of God takes its due, its exalted place among mankind. The sword will give place to the ploughshare, not only in the use of the nation's metal, but in the honor and estimation of the people's mind. And instead of a country wasting its strength and lavishing its energy in the cultivation of the science and in the construction of the enginery of war, it will devote its mental power to the acquisition of those arts which heal and bless and raise.
V. THAT ONE CONTRIBUTION TO ITS COMING WILL BE FOUND IN OUR OWN FAITHFULNESS. (Isaiah 2:5.) If we would be sure of the dawn of this blessed future, let us take our part, however humble it may be, in the work of enlightenment; let us walk in the light of the Lord. It is the critical and the censorious whose faith fails them; it is they who have no bright visions of a coming day of glory; they are only conscious of the clouds, and see no light in the far horizon. But those who study the will of God as revealed in his Word, who make haste to keep his commandments, who live the Master's life, and illustrate his Word by deeds of helpfulness and love,—it is they who have the assurance in their hearts that "the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established, "that the day will come when truth will be crowned, and "universal peace" shall
"Lie like a shaft of light across the land,
And like a lane of beams athwart the sea,
Thro' all the circle of the golden year."
For it is
"Unto him who works, and feels he works,
This same grand year is ever at the doors."
The wisdom of walking in the light.
The prophet inserts a parenthesis which evidently expresses the deepest and strongest feelings of his heart. He is oppressed with a sense of the folly of those who deliberately go astray in the darkness, when they might walk on in the light of Divine truth toward the goal of human blessedness; hence his fervent exclamation, "O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us," etc.
I. THE TRUTH OF GOD THE LIGHT OF THE HUMAN SOUL. Light is "that which makes manifest" (see Ephesians 5:13). And as the sunshine makes clear to us our own persons, shows us all surrounding nature, and enables us to find our way to the objects of our desire, so the truth of God
(1) enlightens us as to our own selves, revealing our spiritual nature and our actual character;
(2) shows us the relation in which we stand to our fellows and to our Divine Maker, revealing to us human life and human destiny; and
(3) enables us to walk in the way of eternal life, becoming that which pleases God, and doing that which is right and good in his sight.
II. THE SUPREME WISDOM OF WALKING IN ITS LIGHT. Well may the man of God exclaim with even passionate earnestness, "Come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord." For:
1. It is the one right course to take; any other must be one of error and of sin.
2. It is the path of progress, leading up to heights of strength, prosperity, sanctity.
3. It is the way to abiding joy; other paths, though they may open temptingly enough and may promise keen delights, will conduct ultimately to sorrow, shame, and death. This way, in which the light of the Lord leads us, may be entered upon with spiritual struggle (Luke 13:24), may be attended with much self-denial (Matthew 16:24); but it is a path of purest and noblest joy (Romans 5:11; Philippians 3:1; Philippians 4:4; 1 Peter 4:13), and it ends in everlasting glory (1 Peter 1:3, 1 Peter 1:4).—C.
Retribution and its results.
In this noble prophetic passage, as charged with poetic grandeur as it is full of religious zeal, we have our thought directed to—
I. Two HEINOUS SINS WHICH BELONG TO EVERY AGE AND CLASS. They are these:
1. Disobedience. The divination to which reference is made (Isaiah 2:6) is expressly prohibited in the Law (Deuteronomy 18:10-12); alliance with strangers (Isaiah 2:6) is also forbidden (Exodus 34:12; Dent; Exodus 7:2); the multiplication of silver and gold and of horses (Isaiah 2:7), however unobjectionable it may seem to us, was disallowed to the Hebrew nation (Deuteronomy 17:16, Deuteronomy 17:17). The Jews would be under strong temptation to disregard these prohibitions; many of the lower ambitions of our nature would urge them to transgression. But the clear, unmistakable "Law of the Lord" pronounced against these things. And as every fact, both of a brighter and a darker kind, admonished them "to obey the voice of the Lord their God," they were "verily guilty" in their disobedience. God requires of men, of every age and land, that they should obey him. He will accept nothing of any kind as a substitute (1 Samuel 15:22; Matthew 7:21). Our ignorance of his purpose in commanding is no excuse for our disregard of his will. How can such little children as we are expect to fathom the wisdom of the Infinite Father? When we set our poor judgment against his perfect knowledge, our mistaken wishes against his holy will, we fall into the most serious sin. Our obedience is to be intelligent and not mechanical, cheerful and not grudging, instant and not tardy, or it will not be obedience at all.
2. Idolatry. This sin, so grievous in the sight of God, is found in one of three forms.
(1) In its most gross and degrading form, as in Judaea at this period (verB. 8, 9), when both the "mean" and the "great" prostrated themselves before the image made with hands; or
(2) in the less gross but still degrading form of superstition in "Christian" rites; or
(3) in that which constitutes its essence, viz. the giving to the creature the thought, the affection, the energy, which are due to the Creator. In this last form we are all under condemnation. We withhold from him whose we are and to whom we owe ourselves and all we have, the devotion and the tribute which we reserve for our neighbors or expend upon ourselves. This is essentially idolatrous.
II. DIVINE RETRIBUTION. Here are four features of it.
1. It begins in the withdrawal of Divine favor, "God forsakes his people" (Isaiah 2:6). He ceases to make the light of his countenance fall on them; their prosperity wanes, their joy diminishes, their power declines.
2. It may well be dreaded as certain to arrive in time. "Therefore thou wilt not forgive them" (Isaiah 2:9). God cannot and will not pardon the repentant, and those who are disobedient or idolatrous may count on the coming of his judgments as the most certain of all future things.
3. It is such that the boldest may well shrink from it. "Enter into the rock, and hide thee … for fear of the Lord," etc. (Isaiah 2:10, Isaiah 2:19).
(1) When God makes the sins of a man's life to bring forth their natural and fitting fruits (intemperance, dissoluteness, dishonesty, etc; working themselves out in penury, disease, contempt, etc.);
(2) when God causes special enormities to be followed by extraordinary calamities; or
(3) when he makes the hardened sinner to confront death, judgment, and eternity;—then does he come as One who is in "the glory of his majesty, shaking terribly the earth;" then does he manifest his will and his power in such wise that the boldest and most fearless may well shrink and shudder at his appearing. However valiant sin may show itself while the righteous Lord delays to speak and strike, there is an hour coming when it will "call to the rocks to hide it, and to the hills to cover it," when it will tremble and cower at the touch of the hand of the Holy One.
4. It is that which nothing can escape.
(1) No man. "The day of the Lord … every one that is proud," etc. (Isaiah 2:12); not only the humble, but the haughty; not the defenseless only, but the strong and well fortified, even those who think themselves most secure, will feel the keen edge of the avenging sword (Isaiah 2:17).
(2) Nothing. The cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan, the mountains and the hills, the treasure-laden ships and the pleasant pictures and even the trusted idols,—all shall feel the blow of the mighty hand; nothing too high or too strong to be beyond its reach (Isaiah 2:13-18).
III. THE ISSUE. The end of Divine judgment is:
1. The humiliation of that which is false and evil. The idols which had been so honored are to be cast to the moles and to the bats (Isaiah 2:20). When God appears in judgment there is a great reversal and overthrow. That which was first becomes last; that which was highest in esteem becomes the object of derision and contempt.
2. The exaltation of the Lord himself. "The Lord alone shall be exalted," etc. (Isaiah 2:17). And, though we do not gain the thought from these verses, we may add:
3. The salvation of the penitent and the faithful. There is one Rock in which, if we seek its gracious shelter now, we shall then be able to hide, and in whose shadow we shall be safe;" for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."—C.
Trusting in man.
I. OUR STRONG TEMPTATION. We are very strongly tempted to "put our trust in man," to "make flesh our arm;" for:
1. We see signs of strength in man. And that which is visible has most influence on our human nature. "If a man loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 John 4:20). In like manner we far more readily trust the man who is before us with visible signs of health, riches, power about him, than any unseen force which may really be more reliable.
2. Human affection invites trust in man. There are loving hearts around us, enclosing our spirits in the embrace of their affection; it is natural to us to respond to their kindness, and to offer them the full confidence of our souls. We love those who love us; and whom we love we trust.
3. Confidence is often directly offered to us and urged upon us. Those who wish—perhaps for their own purposes—to secure our confidence in them know how to employ successful arts to win our assurance. They virtually say to us, "Trust me, I will ensure your good, I will lead you in the path of honor, of enjoyment, of prosperity;" and it is all too likely that their blandishments or their importunity will prevail.
4. Trust in man is contagious. We find our fellows on every hand, in every circle, leaning the whole weight of their well-being upon the arm of men, confiding wholly in their friends and neighbors, risking everything on their integrity; and what others do we are tempted to do also. The frosts may have been very few and the ice may seem very thin, but many are skating on its surface, and we think that where they have gone we also may go with impunity.
II. OUR WISDOM IN ITS PRESENCE.
1. We should never trust man absolutely. We are to "cease from man;" he is "not to be accounted of" in such way as to be worthy of our implicit trust. Of this we may assure ourselves if we will remember:
(1) His liability to mistake. The cleverest, the most learned, the most thoughtful, the most esteemed, are wrong in some things, are often found wrong in great and grave things; there is no man whose judgment is always sound.
(2) His spiritual insecurity. The man who is held in highest regard may be overtaken by a storm of temptation in which even he will make shipwreck. Men have fallen on whose security their companions counted with unbounded certainty. Before the friend whom we honor above all others, there may prove to be a course which will end in spiritual declension, or even in moral degradation. The painful facts of life pierce our theories while they break our hearts.
(3) His physical fragility. "Man, whose breath is in his nostrils." Hale, strong, capable of noble work to-day, he may be brought down to utter weakness and incapacity to-morrow; nay, before the sun goes down he may have drawn the last breath of life!
2. We should trust the only One who is trustworthy—even him who is the "Truth," who is the "Holy One," who is the "Immortal One."—C.
The attractions of the gospel Church.
The earthly Jerusalem, which was thought of as a mountain surrounded by mountains, but superior to them all, is in the prophet's mind, and it gives form to his thought of the Gospel times—the setting up of the Christian Church, and the planting of the Christian religion in the world. Christianity shall then be the "mountain of the Lord's house," or the "Lord's mountain house," exalted above all other religions, and made the rendezvous of all the spiritual seed of Abraham. "The prophet sees the Church permanently placed in a conspicuous position, so as to be a source of attraction to surrounding nations. To express this idea, he makes use of terms which are strictly applicable only to the local habitation of the Church under the old economy. Instead of saying, in modern phraseology, that the Church, as a society, shall become conspicuous and attract all nations, he represents the mountain upon which the temple stood as being raised and fixed above the other mountains, so as to be visible in all directions" (J. A. Alexander). T.K. Cheyne notices an "old belief in Eastern Asia that there was a mountain reaching from earth to heaven, on the summit of which was the dwelling of the gods. The prophet is, perhaps, alluding to this belief, which he recognizes as true in substance, though attached by the heathen to a wrong locality." The text may be illustrated by the custom of the Israelites to journey from all parts of the country for the yearly feasts. Keeping the figure of the prophet, we observe—
I. THE GOSPEL CHURCH IS LIKE A MOUNTAIN, Illustrate from the conspicuous position of Jerusalem, or of Safed. A mountain rises up out of the plain; so the gospel Church is right in the midst of the world and the people. A mountain towers up above the plain, within sight of all; and so the gospel Church is such a striking and impressive thing that all eyes must be turned to it. Men cannot be blind to it; men dare not ignore it. Like the mountain, it is an indestructible fact, of which men must take account. The buildings erected for its worship are the symbols of itself; in every village, town, and city, the church tower and cathedral spire rise above the buildings of the people, well in everybody's sight. Show that however men may think to dispel the so-called myths that have gathered round the historic Christ, they must deal with this mountain-fact, the gospel Church exists; it must have had a source; it must have a mission at the heart of it. Surely it is the witness of the truth of Christ.
II. THE GOSPEL CHURCH IS FIGURED AS ON THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAINS, Other religions, other social and philanthropic schemes for the elevation of the race, may be figured as mountains. But let them all be gathered together, and it will be found that Christianity towers high above them all. Its origin, its character, its provisions, make it the most conspicuous, the most important of them all. Comparisons may be instituted
(1) with man-made religions, paganism, Buddhism, etc.; and
(2) with previously given Divine religions, such as patriarchism, Mosaism, etc. The points of superiority are such as these:
1. Revelation of God to man under the figure of Father.
2. Manifestation of God in the person of his Son as a fellow-man.
3. Redemption of man by the intervention of Divine love.
4. Perfect provision for the needs of man, as a spiritual being.
5. Adequate and final mastery of all man's moral foes and evils.
Show that other religions touch some of man's needs. Christianity is at the "top of the mountains," because it reaches them all, and deals with them efficiently.
III. THE GOSPEL CHURCH ATTRACTING ALL NATIONS. They will be drawn, not forced into it. One shall tell another of it. One shall invite another to journey to it. They shall flow to it as streams flow to the sea. "There is an Eastern fable of a great mountain of lodestone, out in the middle of the sea, that attracted, to their destruction, all the ships that came near it. This mountain of the Lord's house is a great spiritual magnet, and it draws souls, not to destruction, but to everlasting life" (Dr. Edmond). Illustrate—
(1) from the various nations attracted by the preaching of the early Church;
(2) from the power of the preached gospel in various heathen lands now;
(3) from its proved fitness to meet the needs of all sinners and all sufferers. Jesus said, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."—R.T.
War no more.
It seems that the reign of Uzziah was famous for the invention of new weapons of war (2 Chronicles 26:11-15). Isaiah, observing this, contrasts with it the good time coming, when righteousness rules the relations of kings and kingdoms; and when Messiah, the Prince of righteousness, and therefore Prince of peace, judges among the nations. If Christ really reigned, and held the allegiance of every man and of every nation, all disputes could be settled by arbitration; if each man, and each nation, only wants what is right and what is kind, there need be no more war. Matthew Henry well says, "The design and tendency of the gospel are to make peace and to slay all enmities. It has in it the most powerful obligations and inducements to peace, so that one might reasonably have expected it should have this effect; and it would have had it if it had not been for those lusts of men from which come wars and fightings." Christianity has, in some measure, already triumphed over war and the war-spirit.
I. THE HORRORS OF WAR ARE RELIEVED. Certainly they are so far as concerns civilized and Christian nations. Compare ancient and modern warfare in respect
(1) of giving no quarter;
(2) of unbridled license on taking a city;
(3) of the treatment of captives;
(4) of provisions for the care of the wounded;
(5) of the respectful burial of the dead.
"So far as the teaching of Christ has influenced international polity and law, he has been the supreme Arbitrator of their disputes." "It is undeniable that Christianity has greatly contributed to ameliorate the political condition of mankind, by diminishing the horrors of war, promoting mutual intercourse, and advancing the useful arts."
II. THE IMPLEMENTS OF WAR ARE DEVOTED TO OTHER USES. The expression, "beat their swords into ploughshares," is figurative, and what it represents is met by the fact that commerce and manufactures advance faster than the making of war-tools. Time was when men and energies were given to the manufacture of weapons and implements of war, and when kings lived to make war. That is all past and gone. Only a small fringe of human labor is related to war material; and kings have discovered that national prosperity and national peace go together hand in hand. Contrast the life in England under the Edwards, and under Victoria. "In such states of society as that among the Hebrews, the peasantry, when summoned to the field, are obliged to provide their own weapons. When, therefore, they were poor, and material for weapons was too expensive for their resources, it would be an obvious thought to turn the ploughshare, which was thin, long, and light for such an instrument, into a sword, which was short and thick as compared with our sword. When the war was over, the change might easily be made back again. A sword would, of course, with equal facility, be changed into a ploughshare. Pruning-hooks may include anything employed in reaping or mowing; such as a sickle or scythe, as well as the long knives used for trimming vines." Show that commerce, knitting lands together by mutual interest, is a handmaid to Christianity in her work of peace.
III. THE WASTE OF TIME AND POWER IN LEARNING WAR ARE CHECKED, Illustrate from the formation of our volunteer army, the members of which give their best energies to peaceful pursuits, and only their leisure to learning the art of war. Note the growing feeling that the soldier-class is almost a useless class; that the money expended on them is a waste; and that the nation suffers by having so much of her young manhood idle, and getting into the moral mischiefs of the idle. The results we thus can recognize have been attained by the triumph of the great Christian principles, of peace, brotherhood, and care for others rather than for self. But we may not rest with any present attainments; we must witness and work for that glorious coming time, when the ideal king is to "judge among the nations," and in reliance on his wisdom and equity, the nations will refer their disputes to his decision, instead of the arbitrament of war.—R.T.
Walking in the light.
That is in the path of present duty on which the light of revelation shines. The text is part of a spirited address to the Jews to avail themselves of the privileges they had. The prospects of a glorious peace-time must not keep them from fixing their thoughts on their immediate and pressing duty. It is right for us to cheer our souls by the look away to rest and heaven; but we must not lose the present opportunity in idle dreamings. The real way to win the heavenly is to live in righteousness, in truth, and in charity—to "walk in the light of the Lord." We remark, in unfolding this "light" in which we are invited to walk, that—
I. GOD GIVES LIGHT BY GIVING COMMANDMENTS. Illustrate from the great natural laws written in men's consciences and hearts. The Decalogue was in existence as unwritten law before the finger of God traced it on the tablets. Also from the ten commandments, as elaborated by Moses, and made to cover all the minutest details of a Jew's life and relations. And also from the commandments given by the Lord Jesus, and elaborated in detail by the apostles, so as to apply to all the circumstances and relations of the early Christians.
II. GOD GIVES LIGHT BY REVEALING PRINCIPLES. These underlay Mosaism, and were discovered by the more devout and thoughtful Jews. These were brought out to view by the later prophets. It is the great characteristic of Christianity that it is a religion of principles rather than of commands; and makes its appeal to the purposes and the motives rather than to the mere ordering of the conduct. The renewed man, in whom the Holy Ghost dwells, should rule life by the light of holy principles.
III. GOD GIVES LIGHT BY MANIFESTING HIMSELF. In the person of his Son, who is the "Light of the world;" "the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world." God shows us his glory in the face of Jesus Christ; and to walk in obedience to Christ, in dependence upon Christ, in fellowship with Christ, and in full purpose to serve, honor, and glorify' Christ, is the way to "walk in the light of the Lord."—R.T.
Isaiah 2:10, Isaiah 2:11
Shame for the sinner.
We can more easily bear suffering than shame. Man has great powers of physical endurance. But we dread shame as we dread nothing else. There was the keenest distress in that old and cruel way of treating some criminals. They were put in the pillory. They were lifted up on a stage in the market-place. A frame was fastened round the neck and wrists, which left the head and hands exposed. Crowds gathered below, and scorned the poor man, throwing at him all manner of vile things, and then raising the laugh at his soiled and bemired face. The shame of such a punishment must have been very hard to bear. The chapter before us intimates that this intenser kind of punishment, this shame and humiliation, awaits all who forsake or neglect the living God, and serve the idols of their own pleasure. The Law of God must indeed rise up to vindicate its claims and execute its sanctions; it must lift up its hand to smite. But there is something more solemn than that; the Law shall come to the sinner himself one day. It shall look upon him with its look of inward purity and outraged love; it shall be the look of his God. That will be a flash of the eternal light; it will reveal to him the blackness of his heart, and pride will be, once for all, crushed; vain confidences will drop out of his hands, and, putting those hands on his face, he will cry m his shame, "O rock, hide me from the fear of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty." The fear of coming shame ought to deter men from evil.
I. RIGHT AND WRONG ARE READILY CONFOUNDED IN THIS WORLD. "Woe unto those who call evil good, and good evil," disturbing thus the foundations of morals, and confusing the testimony of men's consciences. Evil and good are opposites, contradictories; they meet nowhere, they blend no how. Few men question the distinction between right and wrong, but many ask on what ground the distinction rests; and "Is it possible for us men clearly to recognize the distinction?" Are there no finer shades of circumstance which occasion difficulty and confusion? In this complicated state of society do we not need some very clear, sharp, precise test? And is there any such? There is. The right, the true, is everything with which we can associate the presence and inspection of God, without feeling either sense of unfitness or fear. In order to discover the contents and qualities of a substance, the chemist will add some testing fluid to it, and by the effect produced he learns the qualities. That we can do to test the rightness or wrongness of any act of life. Add the thought of God to it. But the fact stares us in the face that good and evil are now sadly confounded.
1. It is often so when the movements of life are made without befitting consideration. Into so many undertakings we are simply borne by the press of social customs, the example of our neighbors, or the influence of excitement; and we have actually stepped over the borderland of the right before we have quite realized our position.
2. It is often so because the false can put on such appearances as will suffice to deceive us. "Even Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light."
3. And it is often so because the wrong bias of our souls even makes us willing to see fancied goodness in the false. So often the wrong offers a present gratification of passion, and so stills opposition and effects its evil design.
II. SOONER OR LATER THE FALSENESS OF THE FALSE, AND THE TRUTHFULNESS OF THE TRUE, MUST BE MANIFESTED; and that manifestation must prove an overwhelming shame to all who have served the false. The time of the manifestation is called "the day of God." In some sense the present is man's day. His voice is loud now; his will is strong now; his pleasures abundant; and God seems to be still. Wrong riots, and God seems to hold aloof. Sin rules, and in forbearance God restrains himself. And yet the truth is that God's day is an eternal now; it is always close at hand. It may be shown that God's day comes
(1) in the time of our conversion;
(2) in the humbling of our first sight of the cross;
(3) in the time of the sinner's remorse;
(4) in the time of national calamity;
(5) and in what is spoken of in Scripture as "the day of judgment."
Men may do in this twilight time of earth, deceiving themselves, and being deceived, in this dim, uncertain light, this mingled shade and shine. If they want to do wrong, it is only to push it a little further into the shadow, and then they cannot well see what it is. But men would blush to do their wrongs in the full blaze of day. They will hide their heads in shame when God dispels the shadows, and makes the revealing light of his day rest on their lives.—R.T.
The Lord's day for the proud.
Any time of specific judgment or mercy is in the Scriptures called a "day of the Lord." The day of the Lord has come for the antediluvian world, for Sodom, for the Canaanites, for Babylon, for Israel. It is ever coming to nations, in the corruption or the calamity that follow on national sin. It will come as long as the world endures; that is, so long as God needs, by external judgments, to mark the evil of sin. The sin of all others that calls for a "day of the Lord" is pride, self-confidence, rebellious self-assertion; and this was precisely the sin of the times in which Isaiah wrote. Man is made for God; he was ruined when he broke relations with God, and in self-will separated himself from God. And there is no hope of restoration until pride is humbled. Therefore for this humbling of self God pleads, and to secure this God sends judgments. Henderson says, "These verses contain a specification of several of the most distinguished objects of nature and art, in order, metaphorically, to represent the different persons or orders of men elevated by the dignity of orifice, or rendered notable by their riches, or the elegance and luxury of their establishments, whom the judgments of God would, in a more remarkable manner, hurl into ruin." It has been also observed that the emphatic iteration of "lifted up" is noticeable as indicating that the prophet sees in that self-assertion the root-evil of his time, that which was most destructive of the fear of the Lord, and most surely brought down judgment on the offender.
I. ONE DAY GOD HUMBLES THE PROUD NATION. Illustrate from Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself, and took all the glory to himself, and Belshazzar followed him in the same willfulness; but a day of darkness and terror came for Babylon, of which the handwriting on the wall gave awful warnings. Or take Jerusalem as representing the kingdom of Judah. Puffed up with self-confidence, willfully resisting the Divine lead, a day of vindication and judgment at last came; her enemies poured in like a flood; the holy city lay in ashes, and her people were either slain or captive. And it is not without good reason that we find modern illustration of God's day for nations in Napoleonic France. Napoleon claiming both to "propose and dispose," and overtaken by God's avenging day at Moscow and Waterloo.
II. GOD'S DAY HUMBLES THE PROUD INDIVIDUAL. That day comes in such forms as these.
1. A slip from integrity brings disgrace and ruin.
2. Masterfulness and arrogance bring hatred, which finds occasion to injure.
3. Riches take to themselves wings and flee away.
4. Mind becomes unsettled, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar.
5. Sickness and bereavement come in his family. Sooner or later a day dawns in which the haughty, self-reliant, God-despising man is touched on his sorest, tenderest place. No man can ever be permitted to exalt himself against God and permanently prosper. Give instances from modern life of the downfall of pride, such as the closing years of Squire Beckford's life.
III. GOD'S HUMBLINGS, FOR NATIONS OR FOR MEN, MAY BE MELTINGS, OR THEY MAY HAVE TO BE CRUSHINGS. The result of them depends upon the way in which they are met and responded to. That which is designed to melt may harden; and a judgment that bruises only may be so abused, that it must be followed by a judgment that breaks. Israel would not be humbled by calamity after calamity graciously tempered, so it must be made overwhelming; and Samaria was taken, and the distinct life of Israel, as a nation, crushed out forever. It is a thought full of painful seriousness, that the quality and degree of our troubles depend on cur response to those God has sent, as chastenings, in earlier times. God's hand may be heavy on us, because we have so long resisted his pleadings and his humblings. Judgment is his strange work, mercy is his delight; but if we resist him, further and heavier judgments are demanded by very "mercy."—R.T.
Man's disgust at his idols.
In Isaiah 2:8 the prophet had observed that one characteristic of the times was prevailing idolatry. The men who had, in their self-will and pride, turned from the living God, had taken up with idols, deities of their own imagining, which answered to the devices and desires of their own hearts, and allowed them to keep their self-will even in their religion. Divinely revealed religion and man-made religions differ in this—the first demands the surrender of self-will, the second finds expressions for, and strengthens by expression, man's self-will. That is the real reason why men constantly fall into idolatry; it keeps them in the" self-sphere." The prophet recognizes this by saying, "Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made." Then, when Jehovah arises to vindicate himself, man is humbled, and one sign of that humbling is sure to be, that his trust in his helpless, self-fashioned idols is broken. He finds out their uselessness when God's testing day comes upon him, and in disgust he is ready to cast them to the "moles and to the bats," creatures of the darkness. "God can make men sick of those idols that they have been most fond of, even the idols of silver, and the idols of gold, the most precious. The idolaters here throw away their idols because
(1) they are ashamed of them, and of their own folly in trusting to them, or
(2) because they are afraid of having them found in their possession when the judgments of God are abroad; as the thief throws away his stolen goods when he is searched for or pursued." Idolatry is a delusion, and when that is suddenly dispelled, the idols will be "thrown away in haste, terror, shame, and desperate contempt by those who had worshipped them and trusted in them." It should be kept in mind that the prophet's words apply to the characteristic idolatries of civilized and modern, as well as of heathen and ancient, times. "Covetous men make silver and gold their idols." Worldly men make pleasure or fame their idols. Parents make children their idols. All will be cast away when God arises to vindicate himself, and his sole claim to man's trust and love and life. The immediate reference of the prophet probably is to the terrible earthquake that took place in Uzziah's reign, and the fright which it occasioned.
I. IDOLATRY IS DELUSION. The calm onlooker sees that the description of idols given in Psalms 115:1-18. is strictly and perfectly true. But the worshipper cannot see this. He believes his idols can really help him, and prays to them with passionate intensity. So the man whose idol is money is deluded. He thinks his money can help him in whatever circumstances he may be placed. But sickness comes, danger comes, plague comes, earthquake comes, shipwreck comes, fire comes, death comes, and it is quite plain that he was deluded. Money is a helpless idol; it cannot aid its votaries in God's day. Point out that the root of the delusion is self-trust; a man wants to rely on something that he has, or that he has done, or that he has made. Blessed only is that man whose trust is in the Lord his God.
II. SOONER OR LATER THE DELUSION IS DISPELLED. Awakening days are sure to come for us all. The apostle teaches that all our trusts and all our works must be tried by fire;" the day shall declare them." Illustrate the dispelling of the delusions of idolatry:
1. By the proved helplessness of the idols. Baal's priests and worshippers had their eyes opened at Carmel, when there "was none that heard, nor any that answered."
2. By advancing intelligence. Illustrate from the influence of education on the natives of India. Science and geography have made it impossible to believe in the legends of their gods. The delusion is in great measure expelled, but a first result is infidelity. Christianity alone can satisfactorily take the place of discarded idolatry.
3. By Divine judgments. Illustrate by such scenes as the earthquakes at Java and Ischia, or the destruction of Pompeii. Or take a visitation of cholera or plague in an idolatrous land. Churches, temples, idols, are forsaken; public helplessness and despair prepares the way for an extension of the evil. He only can be calm whose trust is in the living God. Impress by the contrast of the calmness and confidence of the pious psalmist (Psalms 91:1-16.): "Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my Refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling."—R.T.
The unreliableness of man.
Some think this verse should commence Isaiah 3:1-26.; but it is an exhortation naturally following on the humbling of all human pride and the destruction of all human glory. Man at his best estate is altogether vanity, therefore do not rely upon man. God is from everlasting to everlasting, therefore trust him. The counsel is elsewhere given in Scripture, "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited' (Jeremiah 17:5, Jeremiah 17:6). "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." Quick-passing breath is the symbol of fleeting life (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 7:22); and the sentence of the text would better read, "Cease from man, in whose nostrils is a breath." Trusting man was the sin of Isaiah's age. Compare, later on, the afflicted nation Booking succor from Egypt rather than from God, and therefore coming under the prophet's reproach. But man-trusting is a characteristic sin of our age; and we also need to learn that there is—
I. NO TRUSTING IN MAN'S POWER. That is within very narrow limits. "Let not your eye be to the power of man, for it is finite and limited, derived and depending; it is not from him your judgment proceeds. Let not him be your fear, let not him be your hope; but look up to the power of God, to which all the powers of men are subject and subordinate." There is so much that man can do, we fail to realize, as we should, that he fails us just at the points of our extremest need, at the times when trouble overwhelms, heart fails, and fears are on every side. The man came to Christ with confidence that he could help, but doubting his will. We may seek our fellow-men in our troubles, confident of their good will, but full of fears as to their ability.
II. NO TRUSTING IN MAN'S KNOWLEDGE. That, indeed, is vast and wonderful; and it is ever-increasing. And yet it is uncertain; we cannot make any foundations of it. What men call facts of knowledge are again and again disproved by the discovery of other facts; and what men call theories give place to new theories, as fresh minds work upon the old data, and gather new. Apart from revelation men have never found out reliable truth respecting God, man, sin, redemption, or the future.
III. NO TRUST IN MAN'S CHARACTER. The most humiliating thing in human life is the failure from righteousness of those whom we have admired, trusted, and loved. Character, built on self, is uncertain, and in peril whenever temptation draws nigh. In middle life the honorable man so often fails from either
(2) dishonesty, or
that we have sometimes felt we could say, in a moment of excitement, as David did, "All men are liars."
IV. NO TRUST IN MAN'S EXAMPLE. It is always imperfect; it never can be an absolute model. Only one man set us an example that we should follow his steps, and he was the Divine man. We can follow no other man wholly. We can only follow one of our fellows so far as he follows Christ, and so we really only follow the Christ in him.
Where, then, are we to trust? "Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." "None of them that trust in him shall be desolate."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter