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SECTION VI. GOD'S GENERAL JUDGMENTS UPON THE EARTH (Isaiah 24-27.).
GOD'S JUDGMENTS ON THE WORLD AT LARGE. From special denunciations of woe upon particular nations—Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, Moab, Syria of Damascus, Egypt and Ethiopia, Arabia, Judea, Tyre—the prophet passes to denunciations of a broader character, involving the future of the whole world. This section of his work extends from the commencement of Isaiah 24:1-23. to the conclusion of Isaiah 27:1-13, thus including four chapters. The world at large is the general subject of the entire prophecy; but the "peculiar people" still maintains a marked and prominent place, as spiritually the leading country, and as one in whose fortunes the world at large would be always vitally concerned (see especially Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 25:6-8; Isaiah 26:1-4; Isaiah 27:6, Isaiah 27:9, Isaiah 27:13).
Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty. Several critics (Lowth, Ewald, Gesenius, Knobel) prefer to render, "maketh the land empty;" but the broader view, which is maintained by Rosenmüller, Kay, Cheyne, and others, seems preferable. The mention of "the world" in Isaiah 24:4, and of "the-kings of the earth" in Isaiah 24:21, implies a wider field of survey than the Holy Land. Of course the expression, "maketh empty," is rhetorical, some remarkable, but not complete, depopulation being pointed at (comp. Isaiah 24:6). Turneth it upside down (comp. Ezekiel 21:27). Scattereth abroad the inhabitants. The scanty population left is dispersed, and not allowed to collect into masses.
It shall be, as with the people, so with the priest, etc. There shall be "no respect of persons"—no favor shown to men of any particular rank or station. All shall suffer equally. The author is obliged to take as examples distinctions of rank known to him; but he carefully selects such as are of almost universal occurrence. There was scarcely any nation of antiquity in which there were not "priests and people," "masters and slaves," "buyers and sellers," "lenders and borrowers," "takers and givers of usury." By "usury" is meant, not exorbitant interest, but interest simply, of whatever amount.
The land; rather, the earth. The same word is used as in Isaiah 24:1 (arets). Utterly spoiled; i.e. "wasted by rival armies, which have carried fire and sword over the whole of it." Compare the declaration of our Lord, "Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.; all these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:6-8).
The earth … fadeth away. As a flower that fades and withers up (comp. Isaiah 1:30; Isaiah 28:1, Isaiah 28:4; Isaiah 34:4, etc.; Psalms 1:3; Psalms 37:2). The world. Tabel has never any narrower sense than the entire "world," and must be regarded as fixing the meaning of arets in passages where (as here) the two are used as synonymous. The haughty people; or, the high ones. All the great are brought down, and laid low, that "the Lord alone may be exalted in that day" (cf. Isaiah 2:11-17).
The earth also is defiled. Hitherto the prophet has been concerned with the mere fact of a terrible judgment to be sent by God upon the whole world. Now he sets forth the cause of the fact. It is the old cause, which has reduced so many lauds to desolation, and which in the far-off times produced the Flood, viz. the wickedness of man (Genesis 6:5-13). The earth is "defiled" or "polluted" by the sins of its inhabitants, and has to be purged from the defilement by suffering. They have transgressed the laws. Apart from both Judaism and Christianity, all mankind have been placed by God under a double law:
1. The "law written in their hearts" (Romans 2:15), which speaks to them through their consciences, and lays them under an obligation that cannot be gainsaid.
2. The law of positive commands, given to the entire human race through the common progenitors, Adam and Noah, which is obligatory upon all to whom it has been traditionally handed down; but which has been only very partially handed down, and it is not generally felt as obligatory. Mankind has in all ages largely transgressed both laws, and both would seem to be pointed at in the present passage. The transgression of the "law written in the heart" is doubtless that which especially calls down God's vengeance, and makes him from time to time execute wrath on the whole world. Changed the ordinance; rather, broken, violated. Transgression in act is intended, not formal abrogation of the Divine ordinances. Broken the everlasting covenant. Mr. Cheyne supposes an allusion to the covenant made with Noah (Genesis 9:16); but it seems better to understand that "everlasting covenant" which exists between God and man, in virtue of the nature wherewith God has endowed man, and of the laws which he Ires impressed upon man's con. science. Sophocles well says of these laws, that they are
ὑψίποδες οὐρανίαν δι αἰθέρα
τεκνοθέντες ὧν ̓́Ολυμπος
πατὴρ μόνος οὐδέ νιν θνατὰ
φύσις αηνέρων ἔτικτεν οὐδὲ
μήν ποτε λάθα κατακοιμάσει
"Laws that walk on high, begot and bred
In upper air, whose only sire is Heaven;
Nor did the race of mortals give them birth,
Nor will oblivion ever cause them sleep."
The curse; rather, a curse. God has pronounced a curse upon the earth on account of man's perversity; and hence the calamities which the earth is about to suffer. Are desolate; rather, are held as guilty. Are burned; or, scorched—shriveled up by the "burning anger" (Isaiah 30:27)and "fiery indignation" (Hebrews 10:27) of Jehovah.
The new wine mourneth. Even when the joyous time of the vintage comes round, the earth is still sad, cannot shake off its depression or wake up to merriment. Even those most disposed to be "merry. hearted," under the dismal circumstances of the time can do nothing but "sigh."
The mirth of tabrets … of the harp ceaseth (comp. Isaiah 5:12). The feasting, and the drinking-songs, and the musical accompaniment, common at the vintage season, are discontinued. All is dismay and wretchedness—desolation in the present, worse desolation expected in the future.
They shall not drink wine with a song. Men will still drink; they will seek to drown their care in wine; but they will not have the heart to attempt a song as they drink. Even in their cups they will be silent. Strong drink shall be bitter. By "strong drink" (shekar) seems to be meant any intoxicating liquor whatever, including wine. Many such liquors were drunk in Palestine. All were more or less pleasant to the taste; but they would taste bitter to those who were warped and soured by the calamities of the time, which would prevent all enjoyment.
The city of confusion is broken down. No special city seems to be intended. "Est urbis nomen collective capiendum" (Rosenmüller). Chaos (tohu) reigns in the cities, where there is no civic life, no government, no order, nothing but confusion. Every house is shut up; bolted and barred against intruders. There is no confidence, no friendly intercourse, no visiting.
There is a crying for wine in the streets. Wine, though still manufactured (see Isaiah 24:7, Isaiah 24:9) is scarce, but is much sought after. Men clamor for it at the doors of the wine-shops, but are unable to obtain it. They crave for its exhilarating effects, or perhaps for the oblivion which it brings when drunk to excess. If they could obtain it, they would act as the Jews in the siege of Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:13). But they cannot. Hence even the factitious merriment, which wine is capable of producing, is denied now to the inhabitants of the earth, with whom all joy is darkened, from whom all mirth is gone.
The gate is smitten with destruction. The very gates of the towns, generally guarded with such care, are broken down and lie in ruins.
When thus it shall be; rather, for so shall it be. In the time described the condition of the earth shall be like to that of an olive-ground when the beating is done, or of a vineyard when (he grapes are gathered. That is, a small and scattered remnant of inhabitants shall alone be left, like the few grapes and olives that were the portion of the gleaners (cf. Isaiah 17:6). There shall be. These words are not needed, and should be erased. The nexus is, "so it shall be as the shaking [rather, 'beating'] of an olive tree."
They shall lift up their voice. Even in this time of depression and ruin there shall he a "remnant," which will be faithful to God, and which, from the midst of the sufferings and calamities of the period, will "lift up its voice," in songs of adoration and praise, to Jehovah, and sing, or "send forth a cry." This chorus of praise will go forth—to a large extent—from the sea; i.e. from the Mediterranean.
Wherefore glorify ye the Lord in the fires. The reading baiyyim, "in the fires," is doubtful. If it be regarded as sound, we must understand the "fiery trials" which were coming on the faithful remnant. But the LXX. seems to have had the reading baiyyim, "in the islands" or "in the coasts;" and so Lowth, Hitzig, and Mr. Oheyne.
Glory to the righteous. The righteous remnant perceive that the calamities which have come upon the earth are ushering in a time of honor and glory for themselves; and they console themselves by making this fact the burden of some of their songs. Their honor, it must be remembered, is bound up with God's glory; which will not shine forth fully till their salvation is complete, and they "reign with him" in glory (2 Timothy 2:12). But I said, My leanness. The thought of this joyful time, when the saints shall reign with their Lord in a new heaven and a new earth, recalls the prophet (contrast being one of the laws of the association of ideas) to the misery of the present, and his own participation therein. A time of suffering, of wasting, and pining away must be endured—for how long he knows not—before the joyous consummation, towards which he stretches in hope and confident expectancy, can be reached. This is the period of his "leanness." The treacherous dealers, or ungodly of the earth, will bear sway during this period, and will deal treacherously and cruelly with God's saints, persecuting them incessantly in a thousand ways. Have dealt. The perfect of prophetic certainty.
Fear, and the pit, and the snare, are upon thee. Man will be like a hunted animal, flying from pursuit, and in danger at each step of falling into a pit or being caught in a snare (comp. Jeremiah 48:43, Jeremiah 48:44, where the idea is borrowed from this place, and applied to a particular nation).
The noise of the fear; i.e. the sound of the pursuers. Hunters pursued their game with shouts and cries. The windows from on high are open (comp. Genesis 7:11). It is not actually another flood that is threatened, but it is a judgment as sweeping and destructive as the Flood.
The earth is utterly broken down. The material globe itself breaks up and perishes. It is "the crack of doom." Mr. Cheyne remarks that "the language imitates the cracking and bursting with which the present world shall pass away." The Authorized Version is very feeble compared to the original.
The earth … shall be removed like a cottage; rather, sways to and fro like a hammock, Rosenmüller observes, "Alludit ad pensiles lectos, quos, metu ferrarum, in arboribus sibi parare solent, istis in terris, non custodes solum hortorum camporumve, sed et iter facientes." The transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; i.e. the earth perishes on account of men's sins. It shall fall, and not rise again. The present earth is to disappear altogether, and to be superseded by "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1).
THE SUPRAMUNDANE JUDGMENT, AND FINAL ESTABLISHMENT OF GOD'S KINGDOM. Upon the destruction of the world there is to supervene a visitation of those who have been specially instrumental in producing the great wickedness that has brought the world to an end. These most guilty ones are classified under two heads: they consist of
(1) the host of the high ones that are on high (literally, "the host of the height in the height"); and
(2) the kings of the earth upon the earth. These are to be "gathered together in the pit," and "shut up in the prison," and finally, after a long imprisonment, punished (Isaiah 24:21, Isaiah 24:22). Then the visible reign of the Lord of hosts is to be established "in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem," and he is to rule in the presence of his "ancients" in glory (Isaiah 24:23).
In that day. About that time—in connection with the series of events just related. The Lord shall punish the host of the high ones. It is generally allowed that these high ones, set m contrast as they are with the "kings of the earth," must belong to the class of supramundane intelligences, spiritual beings of a high order. Some have inclined to identify them with the "patron-spirits of nations," spoken of by Daniel (Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:20, Daniel 10:21); but those "patron-spirits" are among the elect and unfallen angels; they protect nations, but do not lead them into sin or wickedness; they have no need to be "visited," and will certainly not be "shut up in prison" with the wicked kings of the earth. The spirits here spoken of must belong to the class of fallen spirits—they must be included among those "principalities and powers," of whom St. Paul speaks (Ephesians 6:12), whom he calls "the rulers of the darkness of this world," and to whom he ascribes "spiritual wickedness in high places." The punishment of such spirits is, perhaps, shadowed forth in the eighty-second psalm; it was distinctly taught in the Book of Enoch; and it is glanced at by St. Jude in his Epistle (Jude 1:6). And the kings. Kings, especially kings in the Oriental sense, have an enormous influence over the nations which they govern, and therefore a heavy responsibility. The kings of the nations are viewed here as having brought about the general corruption and wickedness which has necessitated the destruction of the earth.
In the pit; literally, in a dungeon. Mr. Cheyne suggests that sheol, or "hell," is meant; but the context points to some narrower confinement. In the prison; rather, in prison. After many days. In the Revelation (Revelation 20:2) Satan is bound "a thousand years;" i.e. an indefinite term. The imprisonment of the present passage is scarcely the same, but it is analogous. God's purposes require sometimes long periods of inaction. Shall they be visited; or, published. The word is the same as that translated "punish" in verse 21. "Visiting" for good is scarcely to be thought of.
The moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed. Some interpret this in the light of Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12, as pointing to that physical change, real or phenomenal, in the shining of the sun and moon, which is to be one of the antecedent signs of Christ's coming at the last day. But the expressions used suggest rather a contrast between the dazzling splendor of Christ's actual appearance and the normal brightness of sunlight and moonlight. The greater and lesser lights will "pale their ineffectual fires" before the incomparable brightness of the "Sun of Righteousness" (Malachi 4:2). When the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem. The spiritual Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem can alone be meant, since the earth is no more (verse 20). (On these, see Revelation 21:1-27; Revelation 22:1-21.) Before his ancients; or, his elders. Four and twenty elders, clothed in white raiment, with crowns of gold upon their heads, are represented in the Apocalypse as sitting round about the throne of God perpetually (Revelation 4:4), and worshipping God and the Lamb (Revelation 4:10; Revelation 5:8, Revelation 5:14).
God's final judgment upon the earth.
In striking contrast with man's self-complacent theories of continual progress and improvement in the world, resulting in something like the final perfection of our race, is God's prophetic announcement that, as the years roll on, mankind will go from bad to worse, plunge deeper and deeper into wickedness, bring calamity after calamity upon themselves, and finally so provoke him that he will destroy the very earth itself as "defiled' by its inhabitants (Isaiah 24:5), causing it to "fall, and not rise again" (Isaiah 24:20). The judgment, as set forth in this chapter, is—
I. PROGRESSIVE. It begins with wars, which spread from country to country, until all nations are involved in them. Territories are wasted (Isaiah 24:3); cities are thrown into confusion (Isaiah 24:10); the population of the earth rapidly diminishes; the "few men left" (Isaiah 24:6) are scattered widely over the face of the globe; there is general desolation; and there is general sadness and misery (Isaiah 24:7-12). All classes suffer (Isaiah 24:2); the haughty especially are brought down (Isaiah 24:4). If men escape one calamity, they are overtaken by another (Isaiah 24:18). Treachery is at work (Isaiah 24:16), and each man feels like a hunted animal, sure sooner or later to be the prey of the destroyer (Isaiah 24:17). The judgment passes on from man to the material fabric which he inhabits; man's transgression lies heavy upon the earth (Isaiah 24:20); it totters and trembles from its foundations (Isaiah 24:18), reels to and fro (Isaiah 24:20), is broken up and shattered (Isaiah 24:19); finally, falls from its place.
II. FINAL, AS FAR AS THIS DISPENSATION OF THINGS IS CONCERNED. "The inhabitants of the earth are burned" (Isaiah 24:6); the earth is "utterly emptied" (Isaiah 24:3); the remnant that has previously escaped necessarily disappears with the earth that is their habitation; and that earth is "utterly broken down," "clean dissolved," "fallen" so as never to rise again (Isaiah 24:19, Isaiah 24:20).
III. YET NOT UNCHEERED BY SOME RAYS OF HOPE. In the midst of the gloom, and the sadness, and the desolation, and the confusion, there are yet cheerful voices heard. All flesh has not corrupted its way before the Lord. There are still those who "lift up their voice, and sing for the majesty of the Lord" (Isaiah 24:14), who "glorify the Lord" in the midst of the "fires" of affliction, and pour forth songs whereof the burden is "Honor to the righteous." They constitute, it may be, a small minority; but they are not dismayed. "God," they know, "is on their side;" and they "do not fear what flesh can do unto them." They bear witness for God to the last; and when the final crash comes they are those blessed ones who "meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:17), and are translated to the heavenly kingdom, without passing through the gates of death, there to "be forever with the Lord."
Isaiah 24:21, Isaiah 24:22
A sorer punishment reserved for the authors and instigators of evil than for others.
The kings of the earth to a large extent lead their subjects into sin. Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, by the setting up of the golden calves at Dan and Bethel, "made Israel to sin," and was the original and main cause of that lapse into idolatry which brought down destruction upon the Israelite nation. Ahab, by his marriage with Jezebel, and introduction of the Baal-worship, intensified the evil, and hastened the final overthrow. Manasseh "seduced Judah to do more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel" (2 Kings 21:9), and brought upon Judah a fate similar to that which had befallen the sister kingdom (2 Kings 24:3, 2 Kings 24:4). The blood-thirstiness and cruelty of the heathen nations were encouraged by their kings, who were forever engaging in unjust wars, and looking for success to the terror they inspired by the fierceness of their soldiers, who were instructed to be savage and unsparing. Hence, when the day of reckoning came, it was just that the kings should be reserved for special retribution, and punished with special severity. We must not too closely press the details of the prophetical announcement. "The pit," "the prison," are wonted phrases in the imagery of Divine retributive justice. What is intended to be taught is that exact justice will be meted out; wherever lies the main guilt of the evil done under the sun, there will be the main severity of punishment. Where kings have been in fault, kings will suffer; where nobles and prime ministers, on them will fall the heaviest woe; where leaders sprung from the ranks, theirs will be the sorest suffering. "God is not mocked." God will know who are the really guilty ones, and will execute his special vengeance upon them, however exalted they be. Nor will he spare the instigators of evil who belong to the spiritual world. Fallen spirits are ever tempting men to sin, suggesting lines of sin, egging their victims on, aiding them so far as they are permitted, and conducting them to depths of sin and wickedness whereof they would have had no conception had they been left to themselves. It is just that these spirits, who are the primary movers in the widespread conspiracy of crime, should suffer the most. St. Jude tells us of those evil angels who are "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jud Jude 1:6). St. John saw in the Apocalyptic vision that "the devil who deceived the nations" was at length "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are," and was "tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 20:10). These, too, have their deserts. Inexorable justice requires for so much sin so much suffering. The law is absolute, imperative, universal. And the whole redounds to the honor and glory of the great Ruler of the universe. "For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other we are the savor of life unto life" (2 Corinthians 2:15, 2 Corinthians 2:16). The thought is overwhelming, and the apostle with reason exclaims, "And who is sufficient for these things?"
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Prophecy of judgment.
The difficulties, historically considered, of this chapter must be left to the exegete. We concern ourselves with the larger sense it contains of a prophecy of a judgment upon the whole world.
I. THE APPROACHING DESOLATION. (Isaiah 24:1-3.) The figures of emptying, draining, are employed to denote the utter depopulation and impoverishment of the earth; also that of turning upside down, to denote disorganization and demoralization in every civil and religious institution, while the people will be driven as chaff before the wind by the scattering hand of the invader. All ranks will be alike affected and confused together in the coming calamity. "Distinction of rank is highly necessary for the economy of the world, and was never called in question but by barbarians and enthusiasts." A variety of interests and feelings is represented in the different orders of society. Each contributes an element of wealth or of culture to the commonwealth. The untutored instincts of the mass have a certain wisdom in them; but they need to be checked and guided by the intelligence of far-seeing minds. The instinct for progress only safely operates when it is met by a counter sentiment of conservatism. The minister of religion is a necessity in society, and equally necessary the free spirit of the people to check his usurpations. The theory of society is that of a complicated organism, where all the parts are mutually dependent, and each on the whole. If the servant is necessary to, the master, not less so the master to the servant; the lender to the borrower, and the reverse. One of our chief blessings is regular government and good order. How marvelous is the immense, all-teeming, yet quiet and ordered life of London! The slightest menace of disturbance to it makes us feel, or ought to make us feel, keenly the greatness of the privileges so long preserved to us. "We ought," says Calvin, "not only to acknowledge the judgment of God, but also lay it to the blame of our own sins, whenever he breaks down order and takes away instruction and courts of law; for when these fall, civilization itself fails along with them?" Again, God in his judgment is no respecter of persons. No rank is spared, not even the most sacred. On the contrary, to whom much has been given, of them much will be required. The higher the rank the deeper the fall, and the sorer the punishment where there has been ingratitude and unfaithfulness. It is secret disloyalty to the Eternal and his laws which saps the root of life, and causes in the end the mournful sight of a nation mourning, its vigor ebbing away, its great men hanging their heads like drooping flowers. The thought of many cities and Lands once flourishing, now like a flower withered down to the bare stalk, should remind us of the constancy of moral laws, of the fact that "Jehovah hath spoken the word."
II. THE REASON OF THE JUDGMENT. It closely follows upon the guilt of men. And this guilt has polluted the earth. "Blood profanes the land; The land is polluted with blood" (Numbers 35:33; Psalms 106:38). This may be taken literally or generally. Kingdoms and empires have often been "founded in blood" (cf. Isaiah 26:21). And this was a transgression of Divine commandment—the violation of a Divine statute, the breach of a standing covenant of God with men. The allusion may be to the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:16). But if the prophecy refers to mankind in general, then we must think of the "Law written on the heart"—the Divine teaching within. "It was with the whole human race that God concluded a covenant in the person of Noah, at a time when the nations had none of them come into existence" (Delitzsch). "Therefore hath a curse devoured the earth." There is an awfulness in the logic of the Almighty; there is nothing arbitrary in his conduct, nor meaningless in his words. No curse "causeless comes." The premises of sin contain the conclusion of punishment; and from the fact of curse the fact of "blood-guilt," or of sin in general, may be certainly inferred. "All Israel have transgressed thy Law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the Law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him" (Daniel 9:11). The simple and sublime reasoning of the prophets should ever be laid to heart by us and pressed upon the conscience of others. "The land mourns;" trade is dull, taxation is heavy, wars are rife; there is murmuring and discontent. Why? The prophets are ever ready with a because—because of swearing or other falsehood, because of adultery or other impurity, because of the iniquity of statesmen, priests, or prophets, the pleasant places are dried up (cf. Jeremiah 23:10).
III. THE DESCRIPTION OF THE CAUSE. It is conceived as personal. As in Zechariah 5:3 it is said to "go forth over the face of the whole earth," or to be "poured upon" men (Daniel 9:11), so here it is so said to "devour the earth." The Divine anger burns (Isaiah 30:27), and the God of judgment is as a "consuming fire." And under this terrible doom Nature betrays her silent sympathy with the fortunes of man. The drooping grape and the languishing vine seem to reflect the sadness of the people, and visibly to mourn in response to their sighs. And that popular music which charms away the pain of excessive toil, and expresses the fund of health and mirth which lies at the heart of man and the world, ceases; timbrel and lute are hushed, and the merry shouts of the laborers no longer rise from the vineyards. "Jerusalem was uninhabited as a desert. There was none going in and coming out of her children; and the sanctuary was trodden down, and the sons of foreigners were in her high place, a place of sojourn for Gentiles. Delight was taken out of Jacob, and the flute and the lyre ceased" (1 Macc. 3:45). This passage in the prayer of Judas the Maccabee is thought by Vitringa to allude to the fulfillment of the prediction. It is the doom which follows upon the abuse of the gifts of God. Abuse consists either in excessive indulgence or in oblivion of the Giver. He knows how in chastisement to insert a bitter flavor into the most favorite pleasures. The cup will be dashed from their lips, or a want of relish will be felt for it. A mind clouded by remorse will "darken the ruby of the cup and dim the glitter of the scene." If the time comes when a man is compelled to say of even innocent social pleasures, "I have no pleasure in them," can there be a keener mark of judgment on past excess or abuse? Better the crust and the draught from the spring, with healthy appetite and clean conscience, than the repast of luxury and the brimming wine-cup turned to gall on the lips by the secret chemistry of guilt. The city is chaos and the houses are closed, and in the fields, instead of the vintage shouts, are heard the howls of those who miss the sweet wine (cf. Joel 1:5). It seems that the sun of joy has gone down, and the bright spirit of gladness has fled from the earth. The olive, as the vine, is a speaking symbol of fatness, plenty, wealth, and prosperity. But the land will be like an olive stripped and bared of its fruits—a vineyard when the gleaning is over. Still a few will be left (cf. Isaiah 17:5, Isaiah 17:6); for never does God suffer his Church to become extinct, the spiritual life of mankind utterly to fail, or his work to come to a standstill. Dark as every cloud of judgment is, it will yet pass, and crushed hearts will be healed and voices now dumb burst forth anew into song. It is at least glimpses of such a future which sustain the prophet's heart under the "burden of the Lord."
IV. RUMORS OF BETTER THINGS. A cry is heard from the sea, from the Mediterranean; it must be from some of that sacred remnant acknowledging Jehovah, extolling loudly his majesty, Israel's God! "He follows out and increases the consolations which he had briefly sketched; for having formerly (Isaiah 10:19-22) said that out of that vast multitude a few drops would be left, which would nevertheless overflow the whole world, in like manner he now says that the small number of the godly, who shall be left out of an abundant vintage, will nevertheless rejoice and utter a voice so loud that it will be heard in the most distant lands. This was done by the preaching of the gospel; for as to the condition of Judaea, it appeared to be entirely ruined by it—the national government was taken away, and they. were broken clown by foreign and civil wars in such a manner that they could never rise above them. The rest of the world was dumb in singing the praises of God, and deaf to hear his voice; but as the Jews were the firstfruits, they are here placed in the highest rank" (Calvin).
1. God can in a moment recreate and restore his Church, as it were, out of nothing. From death he brings life, out of the solitude can cause songs of praise to resound, and converts the scene of mourning into one of joy.
2. Worshippers are fitly employed in extolling God's perfections, and not their own claims to approbation. His benefits should excite our gratitude, and we testify it by singing his praises.
3. The time is to be looked forward to when all nations will call upon the true God. To call upon the Name of Israel's God means the spread of true religion through the world. The knowledge of him merely as the wrathful and avenging God must strike man with dumbness; the knowledge of him as Redeemer must open the heart and unloose the tongue for praise.
4. True religion and human blessedness are coincident. "Honor for the righteous!" wilt be the burden of the song; "Hope to the pious!" the LXX. render. The Jews are meant in the first place, as the chosen people; then probably the elect of all nations, as typified in them. "When the prophet predicted these things, how incredible might they appear to be! for among the Jews alone was the Lord known and praised (Psalms 76:2). To them destruction is foretold, and next the publication of the words and the celebration of the praises of God; but how shall these things be done, when the people of God had been destroyed? Hence we may infer that there were few who believed these predictions. But now that these events have taken place, it is our duty to behold with admiration so great a miracle of God, because, when the Jews had been not only beaten down, but almost annihilated, still there flashed from them a spark by which the whole world was enlightened, and all who were kindled by it broke forth into a confession of the truth" (Calvin).
V. REVULSION OF FEELING. Before this spiritual restoration can come about, an interval of misery must be passed through. A cry of intense pain escapes the prophet's heart: "Wasting away is for me! wasting away is for me!" He sees and feels, with realizing imagination and sympathy, the barbarous oppression from which his people will suffer. Wave upon wave of calamity seems to roll in from the horizon. To escape from the "terror" is to fall into the "pit," to come up from the "pit" is only to be taken in the snare. The windows of heaven will be opened, and a new deluge will cover the earth, which will tremble as with universal shock. Then Jehovah will "hold visitation upon the host of the highest in the height, and upon the kings of the earth upon the earth." They will be imprisoned and shut up in the prison of the lower world. Then there will be a visitation after many days: whether for the purpose of punishment or pardon, the prophet does not say, and commentators are divided. Amidst the obscurity of the passage, some truth that may be used for edification appears to glimmer. All that takes place on the earthly sphere has reference to a supernatural world. There are in a sense "angels" of nations and of men. The rabbinical saying runs that "God never destroys a nation without having first of all destroyed its prince; i.e. the angel who, by whatever means he first obtained possession of the nation, has exerted an ungodly influence upon it. "Just as, according to the scriptural view, both good and evil angels attach themselves to particular men, and an elevated state of mind may sometimes afford a glimpse of this encircling company and this conflict of spirits; so do the angels contend for the rule over nations and kingdoms, either to guide them in the way of God, or to lead them astray from God; therefore the judgment upon nations will be a judgment upon angels also. The kingdom of spirit has its own history running parallel to the destinies of men" (Delitzsch).
VI. FINAL APOCALYPSE OF DIVINE GLORY. The moon blushes and the sun turns pale, and Jehovah of hosts reigns royally upon Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and the elders or representatives of the people are permitted to gaze upon his glory (cf. Exodus 24:9; Exodus 34:29). The glory of nature fades before the surpassing glory of the spiritual and eternal. Our noblest sense is that of vision, and its exercise involves that of imagination. The bright heavenly bodies delight us in part because they are significant and symbolic of light in the intellectual and moral sphere, of him who set them yonder, and who is the Light of the world. We can think of nothing more glorious than the light of the sun, except the glory of the Sun of Righteousness. That must be seen in the soul, in the conscience. And to come finally to the beatific vision; in purity of heart to see God; to close with the great Object who lies behind all the finite objects of our intellectual research; to enjoy that reposeful contemplation of the eternal beauty, of which every imperfect flash and hint reminds us in this twilight of life;—this is the goal of spiritual aspiration in every time, as it was of the prophet's wishful thought, piercing through the darkness of the future.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Songs from afar.
"From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous." Beautiful music that! For music has often been set to unworthy ends—to the praise of pride and power, to war and wrong. It has been said of one, "I care not who makes a nation's laws, if I may make their songs." A strong antithetical way of putting, in an exaggerated way, a great truth. The songs of a people are always with them—in the field and at home, in toil and in rest.
I. THE SUBJECT OF THE SONGS. "Glory to the righteous." How could this otherwise end, than in glory to God? For he is the righteous God, and there is no word by which the Psalms oftener describe him. Thus in praising the righteous we are led onward to praise the righteous God, as the God who inspires righteousness in the hearts of others. Thus we read that "in every nation he that worketh righteousness is accepted of God." No word reaches deeper. We may sing songs to the valiant, and the heroic, and the patriotic, and the brave; but righteousness speaks, not only of courage, but of conscience too.
II. THE DISTANCE FROM WHICH THEY COME. "From the uttermost parts of the earth." Prophecy of the time when all nations shall call Christ blessed, and when his praise shall be heard from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof. We have this sound from the distant places, because in the end all true lovers of righteousness will hail Christ, when he is revealed to them, as containing all the fullness of God.
III. THE GLORY OF WHICH THEY BREATHE. There are divers kinds of glory. But God's glory is the glory of the cross! There is an empty glory of self-righteousness, but that is not the glory of the righteous. Far from it. The glory of strength is to help the weak. The glory of wisdom is to enlighten the, ignorant. The glory of righteousness is to shape into order that which is wrong or wrung," from which idea of being twisted and bent from the straight course the word "wrung" comes. Yes. Glory to the righteous! For they are the salt of the earth, the safety of the nation. The Lord our Righteousness is revealed in Christ, whose holy life was not for our admiration only, or for our honor and worship, but was "lived" for us and "laid down" for us, that we might be filled with his strength, and become holy as God is holy.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The charge and the calamity.
These words give a vivid and a terrible picture of calamity that should befall the people of God. It is suitably called "the curse" (Isaiah 24:6), for it should prove an evil of the severest kind; and it would be other than a national misfortune—it would be the penalty of sin: therefore, because of the sins charged against the nation (Isaiah 24:5), these multiplied sorrows would overtake and overwhelm them; "for the Lord hath spoken this word" (Isaiah 24:3).
I. GOD'S CHARGE AGAINST HIS PEOPLE. (Isaiah 24:5.) This is threefold.
1. Disregard of his spoken Word. "They have transgressed the laws." Those plain statements of the will of God which had been revealed in "the Law" had been deliberately disobeyed—requirements unfulfilled, prohibitions set at naught.
2. Perversion of Divine truth. "Changed the ordinance." The Jews were subtle and sinful enough to appear to keep the Law when they were habitually breaking it. This they did by changing or perverting it, by making it mean something different from the Divine intention, by taking the heart out of it, by minimizing and dwarfing it (see Matthew 15:3-9).
3. Violation of his will as revealed in our common human nature. "Broken the everlasting covenant." This covenant is well summarized in Psalms 34:15, Psalms 34:16; it has fallen into grievous and guilty disregard. Men refrained from righteousness and "did evil," yet they shrank not from the accusing eye and the uplifted hand of God (see Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15). The people of God will do well to ask themselves whether they are not in danger of being obnoxious to the same charge; whether they are not neglecting the will of God as expressly revealed in the words of Christ and his apostles; or are not changing, by radical misconstruction, the purpose of their Lord; or are not setting aside some of the first principles written in their nature by the Father of spirits.
II. THE CALAMITY WHICH ATTENDS DISOBEDIENCE. This is manifold, as indicated in the text.
1. Desolation. Emptiness, waste, dispersion (Psalms 34:1), inaccessibility (Psalms 34:10; see also Psalms 34:3, Psalms 34:6, Psalms 34:12).
2. Degradation. The land "turned upside down," so that what was meant for higher ends is employed for baser ones (Psalms 34:1); "utterly spoiled" (Psalms 34:3); defilement (Psalms 34:5); resort to stimulants for false courage (Psalms 34:11).
3. Enfeeblement. The land "fadeth away," "languisheth" (Psalms 34:4); the strength of the city is gone, for even the gate (the strong place) is "smitten with destruction" (Psalms 34:12).
4. Abject misery. (Psalms 34:7, Psalms 34:8.) Even that which usually excites with pleasure has lost its charm (Psalms 34:9).
5. Completeness and commonness of the scourge (Psalms 34:2). Such, in various manifestations, according to the nature of the subject and the character of the guilt, is the calamitous issue of disobedience; so heavy is the devouring curse (Psalms 34:6) when Divine laws are disobeyed and the Divine claims denied. The land, the Church, the family, the individual life, is desolate, is degraded, is enfeebled, is rendered joyless. The best companions are dispersed, and life is lonely; the loftier and worthier ends of existence are surrendered for those less worthy, and ultimately for those which are positively base; the strength of righteousness and virtue gives place to the feebleness of folly and to the degeneracy of vice; song dies into silence and then into a wail.
(1) Beware of spiritual and then moral decline.
(2) Seek and find, in repentance and faith, a way up even from the dark depths of ruin.—C.
The voice of the chastened.
I. THAT GOD TEMPERS JUDGMENT WITH MERCY. (Isaiah 24:13.) There will be some fruit spared, though the olive tree be terribly shaken, though the grapes have been gathered. All will not be taken from the holy land; a remnant shall be left. Though God strip a man or a nation of his (its) resources, yet will he leave him (it) a remainder, something to console him, something with which he may start anew. A starry night succeeds a stormy day; a calm and quiet age closes a life of struggle and of sorrow;, "the old familiar faces" have disappeared, but a few faithful souls still linger who can go back with us in thought and sympathy to early days.
II. THAT FROM THE LIPS OF THE CHASTENED THERE OFTEN COME SWEET AND EVEN TRIUMPHANT STRAINS. (Isaiah 24:14.) Those who have been visited in Divine wrath, and have seen their compatriots carried away into captivity, shall not give way to despondency; they shall learn to honor and to rejoice in the majesty of Jehovah; they "shall lift up the voice," "shall sing," "shall shout" (exult). Something (it does not appear what) in the Divine character will appear to them so majestic, so glorious, so beneficent, that their sweetest and strongest accents will be called forth. To those who stand outside it often seems wonderful and incomprehensible that those who are inside a great affliction should find such occasion for thanksgiving. But it is certainly true that the sick in their sickness, the poor in their poverty, the bereaved in their loneliness, often find more reason for thankful song than do the strong in their strength and the wealthy in their riches. And the song they sing is not one in which submission struggles with complaint, but rather, as here, the happy outpouring of perfect acquiescence in the Divine will,—the voice of sacred joy.
III. THAT GOD WILL BE GLORIFIED BY THOSE FURTHEST OFF AS BY THOSE NEAR TO HIS SANCTUARY. (Isaiah 24:15.) "Glorify ye the Lord" in the east ("in the fires"); in the west ("the isles of the sea "); "from the uttermost part of the earth," etc. (Isaiah 24:16). Under the chastening hand of the Lord Israel went into exile; in exile the truth of God was made known as it otherwise would not have been. In other ways the judgments of God led, and still lead, to the circulation of his truth and to the magnifying of his Name. A cleansed and purified Church will be a missionary Church, through whose instrumentality the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will be known and sung on every hand.
IV. THAT THE RECOGNITION OF THE DIVINE RIGHTEOUSNESS IS THE FOUNDATION OF ALL RELIGIOUS SERVICE. "Glory to the Righteous One" (Isaiah 24:16). Ill indeed would it be for the land in which the piety of the people lost its hold on the righteousness of God. In the absence of righteousness from his character, there would be nothing worth calling goodness or mercy on his part and nothing worth calling reverence or devotion on ours. All religion worthy of the name rests on the righteousness of God. The wave of sentiment that would weaken our sense of it is one that washes against our deepest and highest interests, and should be steadfastly opposed. Above and beneath all other things God is the Righteous One, at the remembrance of whose holiness we do well to give thanks (Psalms 30:4), in whose purity and perfection we do well to glory.—C.
Five fruits of transgression.
The key-note of this passage is found in the twentieth verse: "The transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it." All these dire evils are the consequences of national transgression. They are fivefold.
I. IT IMPOVERISHES. The prophet, speaking not only for himself, but for his country, exclaims, "My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!" (Isaiah 24:16). The violation of Divine Law not only
(1) reduces a man's bodily strength, causing him to waste away, and bringing the pale cheek and the trembling nerve; but it
(2) outs down a man's resources, changing the princely revenue into a beggar's dole; moreover, it
(3) impoverishes the mind, causing it to starve on empty folly while it might be nourished with heavenly truth; and
(4) it despoils the soul, making it barren of those noble virtues and those exquisite graces which elevate and beautify human character.
II. IT DELUDES. It is full of treachery (Isaiah 24:16); its victims delude themselves with the notion that they are escaping, but they only flee from the noise to fall into the pit, or escape from the pit to be entangled in the net (Isaiah 24:17, Isaiah 24:18). This is "the deceitfulness of sin." Men think they will shake themselves free from their iniquity a little further on, but they find that temptation awaits them at every point, that one sin paves the way for another: indulgence leads down to dishonesty, and dishonesty conducts to falsehood; superstition ends in skepticism, and skepticism in utter unbelief. There is no escape from the consequences of folly but by entering the path of wisdom, from the penalty of sin but by penitence and purity. They who look to time and chance for deliverance are only deluding themselves with a hope which will certainly "make ashamed" those that cherish it.
III. IT AGITATES. "The foundations of the earth do shake … the earth is moved exceedingly … (it) shall reel to and fro"(Isaiah 24:18-20). There often comes a time in the history of folly, or of crime, or of transgression, when the subject of it—individual or collective—finds everything unsettled, shaking beneath his (its) feet; it is to him as if the very ground were rocking; friends fall away, kindred disown, confidence is lost, obligations are pressed against him, the last measures are taken, liberty itself is threatened, the blackest clouds overhang; behind is folly and before is ruin, while within are agitation and alarm.
IV. IT OPPRESSES AND EVEN CRUSHES. "The transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again" (Isaiah 24:20). Sin lies with a heavy weight upon the soul. The sense of guilt, the Wearing weight of wrong-doing, oppresses the spirit, takes away its elasticity, its freshness, its vigor. Sometimes it does much more than that—it crushes the soul; it makes it incapable of attempting anything better; it gives way to a fatal despondency, and pursues the evil path even to the bitter end. One of the very worst penalties of sin is the dead weight which it lays on the spirit of the sinner, killing his hope and dooming him to despair and death.
V. IT IMPRISONS. The "high ones" were to be "shut up in the prison" (Isaiah 24:21, Isaiah 24:22). There is no dungeon, however dark and strong, in which the bodies of men have been confined that is so dark and so deplorable as "the pit" or "prison" in which sin shuts up its victims. The children of iniquity are slaves; they wear bends which are more firmly riveted than the closest iron fetters on human limbs; they are bondmen indeed; their pitiable thraldom is slavery itself, of which the imprisonment of the body is only the type and picture. In Jesus Christ and in his service is:
2. Truth and disillusion.
3. The calm of conscientiousness and a well-grounded hope.
4. Expectation founded on a wise and holy trustfulness.
5. Spiritual freedom. "Whom the Son makes free, they are free indeed;" "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The figure of calamity given in Isaiah 24:1 is that of emptying a vessel by turning it upside down. In national calamities all classes share alike. There is indiscriminate ruin. No distinction is made between the different ranks and conditions of life, though the idle poor are always the first to suffer. Illustrations may be taken from the great Lancashire cotton famine; or from times of trade depression which; as year after year passes on, reaches every class and section of society. "It is in a special manner true of the destroying judgments which God sometimes brings upon sinful nations; when he pleases he can make them universal, so that none shall escape them or be exempt from them; whether men have little or much, they shall lose it all. Those of the meaner sort smart first by famine; but those of the higher rank go first into captivity, while the poor of the land are left. Let not those that are advanced in the world set their inferiors at too great a distance, because they know not how soon they may be put upon a level with them" (Matthew Henry). The Apostle Paul advises that we accept the fact of burdens being common, and strive to turn the bearing of them into Christian virtue. "Bear ye one another's burdens." "Every man shall bear his own burden." It is as if he had said, "Bear ye one another's burdens, by kindly sympathy and ready help, as far as ever you can, partly because you have a very heavy burden of your own to bear, so you know what burden-bearing means, and partly because, come near to help one another how you may, you know from yourselves how true it is that every man must bear his own burden; the really heavy weight of it can rest on no shoulders but his own"
I. THE BURDENS THAT PRESS ON EACH ONE. The text suggests such as are special to times of calamity and distress, but we may treat our topic in a comprehensive way, so as to get direct practical applications. Each one of us has burdens as directly related to his sins and sinfulness as the woes of Jerusalem were to the national transgressions. The histories of cities and nations do but picture in the large the story of individuals. The cursory reader of the Pilgrims Progress will tell you that the pilgrim lost his burden from his shoulders when he gazed so trustfully upon the cross. But the more careful reader, who notes Christian's infirmities, and frailties, and stumblings, and falls, will tell you that the pilgrim bore his burdens right through to the end, and that they weighed him down even when crossing the stream. We have our burdens in our frail bodies—frail in the nerves, the head, the bones, the lungs, or yet more secret organs. Each one has a real "thorn in the flesh," which has influences far wider and more serious than he thinks. We have our burdens in our dispositions and characters—burdens of despondency, or of impulsiveness, or of carnality, or of masterfulness, or of vanity, giving a bad appearance to all our work and relationship. And the problem of our life is just this: "How true, how beautiful can we become, with that burden, under the pressures and hindrances of that burden?" There is divinely arranged a great variety and wide distribution of burdens and disabilities, both in the sense of infirmities and calamities, so that we might come very near to one another, and really help one another. As we meet and feel "I am a man with a burden," we look into the face of our fellows, and he is a poor face-reader who does not say, "And my brother, too, is evidently a man with a burden." Perhaps a suspicion even crosses our mind that our brother's burden is heavier than our own. Burdens, when rightly borne, never separate men from each other. The sanctified bearing of our own makes us so simple, so gentle, so tender-hearted, that we can bear the burdens of others, in the spirit of our meekness and sympathy, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
II. THE BURDENS THAT WE MAY BEAR WITH OTHERS. There are common burdens in the home life; common burdens in the business life; common burdens in the social life; and common burdens in the national life; and we properly think ill things of the individuals or the classes that isolate themselves, and refuse to share the common burden. But it will be well to ask how practically we can take up the common burden so as to really help our brethren who are in the common trouble? Our great power is our power of sympathy. We can come so near to our brother in his weakness, his disability, even in his sin, that he shall feel as if another shoulder were put under his burden, and it felt to him a little lighter. We all yearn for sympathy; we all want some other human heart to feel in our trouble-times;
"Oh what a joy on earth to find
A mirror in an answering mind!"
But we can often enter, as a relieving power, into the circumstances that make the burden. The doctor takes the sufferer into his interest and care, and deals helpfully with the circumstances that make the burden. And every one of us can be a doctor for the moral difficulties and distresses of life. We have all more power ever the circumstances that make trouble than we think; we can "lift up hands that hang down, and strengthen feeble knees." Beautiful in time of national calamity is the help which the poor give to the poor. Beautiful ought to be the help which each gives to each, and all to all, in the ordinary burden-bearing of family and social life.—R.T.
The future for haughty folk.
"The haughty people of the earth do languish." The proud are an offence unto God. It is not the rich who find it so difficult to enter the kingdom of God; it is they who "trust in riches," who boast of their riches, who make their riches the occasion for despising others.
I. THE FUTURE IS AGAINST THE HAUGHTY NATURALLY. Fortune tells upon precisely those things in which they pride themselves. The picture of trembling, suffering old age, given in the Book of Ecclesiastes, is designed as a warning to the proud. See what you are certainly coming to who admired your fine persons, made so much of your independence, and pampered your appetites and passions. The picture of old age is not that of the ordinary man, but of the haughty, masterful sensualist, the sinner of the high places of society, whose iniquity comes back upon him. It is enough for haughty folk to live; life becomes their humbling and their chastisement.
II. THE FUTURE IS AGAINST THE HAUGHTY PROVIDENTIALLY. For they cannot win love. Everybody serves them in fear or for pay; and so, oftentimes, their very grandeur is undermined by those about them, their riches takes wings and fly away, their dependents take advantage of their times of weakness, and all are glad to see the haughty humbled. Striking illustration may be found in the career of Squire Beckford, of Fonthill. An insufferably austere and haughty man, the providences were against him. His mansion fell with a crash. His projects failed. He was humbled to the dust, and died almost a beggar.
III. THE FUTURE IS AGAINST THE HAUGHTY JUDICIALLY. For God must punish pride. It cannot be allowed to lift up its bead. The Lord hath a controversy with it. Nebuchadnezzar eats grass like an ox. "Babylon is fallen, is fallen"—Babylon, the type of the haughty. Belshazzar sees the recording finger write the judgment of the proud. God will bring into contempt all the proud of the earth. "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." Time is on the side of the meek. Time is against the haughty. The judgments of God gather, like black thunder-clouds, against those whose hearts are lifted up. The storm will burst in the ever-nearing future. The haughty man's prosperity may blossom as a garden of delights; but God will breathe his blight upon it, and behold, as in our text, "the haughty people of the earth do languish." Then, with a true fear, let us "humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God."—R.T.
Isaiah 24:5, Isaiah 24:6
The necessary connection of suffering with sin.
"Because they have transgressed the laws … therefore hath the curse devoured the earth." The great Eastern empires had no staying power. In a few generations dynasties, even empires, were swept clean away. And the reason is not far to seek. The great Eastern kingdoms were founded on blood-shedding; and for the sin of violence God keeps the curse of destruction. 'A lesson which he taught the world once for all when he swept away the old violent humanity with a flood: "The earth never spews out its inhabitants until they have defiled it by their sin." This subject is presented to us under a variety of aspects, and with an abundance of illustration. It is one of the great messages of the Bible. We do but give it here a little freshness of form and setting.
I. SIN COMES FIRST. God always begins with Eden. The Eden of bright happy youth in every man's life. There is no suffering where there is no sin. Thorns and briers come when man has acted in willfulness. Suffering has no mission save as the corrective of sin and sin's consequences. Our first parents disobey, and then suffering comes. Man follows the "devices and desires of his own heart," and then the corrective Divine judgments come. And suffering has always this justification, that sin has come first. Illustrate in the case of King Saul.
II. SIN MAY HAVE A LONG TETHER. This often creates confusion in men's minds. They think the sin cannot be evil because the punishment is so long delayed. So the uncleanness of cities goes on for years, and seems to be no serious evil; but presently the plague comes and sweeps its thousands away. Israel presumed on the holding over of its national judgments, but presently overwhelming destruction came. We can often sin on for years with apparent impunity, never with real impunity. Storms are gathering, though they wait their time for bursting.
III. SUFFERING KEEPS SIN COMPANY ON ITS WAY. It is always present; always ready to give signs of its presence; always making monitions. It is held back only in the long-suffering of God's mercy, the "goodness of God thus leading men to repentance."
IV. SUFFERING PLAINLY STAMPS THE EVIL OF SIN IN THE END. AS in the case of the drunkard, the sensualist, the dishonest. You can tell the value of a thing by its wage, and the "wages of sin is death." You can estimate a thing by its issues, and "sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." This lesson the history of individuals and of nations, ancient and modern, teaches, but teaches in vain to the sons of men. We say, "Ah, yes! It may be true of sin, but it is not true of our sin."—R.T.
The distress of pampered appetites.
"They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink shall be bitter to them that drink it." There is, at first, a carnal pleasure in self-indulgence, in lust of eating and drinking, and in sensuality. But, sooner or later, God takes the song out of it. This must ever be the distress of mere appetite—it can excite, it can make ever-increasing demands, but it cannot satisfy. To indulge mere appetite and passion is to "spend money for that which is not bread, and … labor for that which satisfieth not." The young do not believe this; the old man knows it, and he says, Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment!" and that judgment comes either in early death, or in bitterness and woe if life, is long spared. Sir W. Raleigh on this ground solemnly warns his son: "Take special care that thou delight not in wine; for there never was any man that came to honor and preferment that loved it; for it transformeth a man into a beast, decayeth health, poisoneth the breath, destroyeth natural heat, brings a man's stomach to an artificial heat, deformeth the face, rotteth the teeth, and, to conclude, maketh a man contemptible, soon old, and despised of all wise and worthy men." And Matthew Henry says, "God has many ways to embitter wine and strong drink to those that love them and have the highest gust of them—distemper of body, anguish of mind; the ruin of the estate or country will make the strong drink bitter, and all the delights of sense tasteless and insipid." The distress of the men of pampered appetites comes in one or the other of the two following forms.
I. ABUNDANCE IS PRESENTED, BUT THE POWER TO ENJOY IS GONE. For appetite and passion wear out, after they have fixed in the soul a dull and dreadful craving that gives a man no rest. Late in life circumstances often give the money, the time, the positions which are essential to self-indulgence, and the man is in the midst of this unspeakable misery—that he is physically unable to enjoy. This is God's bitter punishment of sensuality in this life.
II; APPETITE BECOMES RAVENOUS, AND THERE IS NOTHING TO FEED IT ON. Or it slips away, always just out of reach, as the water to Tantalus. Every act of self-indulgence has a tendency to repeat itself. You cannot stop with once. But as the act is repeated it becomes more intense, it wants more force. The desire grows until it gets beyond a man, and nothing on earth can satisfy. Then Providence places a man in some captivity, like these pampered Jews, where there is the unspeakable misery of immense passion for sensual enjoyment and nothing to enjoy. These are the two features of God's hell upon earth.—R.T.
The mission of remnants.
Explaining the figure used in this verse, Thomson says, "Early in autumn the olive berries begin to drop of themselves, or are shaken off by the wind. They are allowed to remain under the trees for some time, guarded by the watchman of the town—a very familiar Bible character. Then a proclamation is made by the governor that all who have trees go out and pick what has fallen. Previous to this, not even the owners are allowed to gather olives in the groves. This proclamation is repeated once or twice, according to the season. In November comes the general and final summons, which sends forth all Hasbeiya. No olives are now safe unless the owner looks after them, for the watchmen are removed, and the orchards are alive with men, women, and children. Everywhere the people are in the trees, 'shaking' them with all their might, to bring down the fruit. The effort is to make a clear sweep of all the crop; but, in spite of shaking and beating, there is always a gleaning left. These are gathered by the very poor, who have no trees of their own; and by industry they collect enough to keep a lamp in their habitation during the dismal nights of winter, and to cook their mess of pottage and bitter herbs." Reference may be to the few poor who were left in the land of Judah to till the fields, when the great mass of the people were carried away captive. God has always kept a remnant. Noah and his family in the time of the Flood. Seven thousand in the time of Ahab, an election of grace. And remnants have always their witness to make and their work to do.
I. REMNANTS WITNESS OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS. They compel us to ask—Why are they thus but remnants? and so the Divine dealings are recalled to mind. There was punishment because there was sin; there was overwhelming punishment because the cup of iniquity had become full. The nation is destroyed as a nation because the world must be taught, over and over again, that "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a rebuke to any people."
II. REMNANTS WITNESS TO GOD'S MERCY IN JUDGMENT. They say God's judgments are never absolutely destructive. God cuts down the tree, but leaves the stock in the ground. God removes the nation, but leaves a few to keep up possession and rights. Self-vindication is only a part of God's meaning in his judgments. Correction is his chief purpose, and his mercifulness calls for repentance.
III. REMNANTS WITNESS TO GOD'S RESTORING MERCY THROUGH JUDGMENT. For they only keep possession till better days, though their possession declares that the better days will come. The "election of grace" has this to say: "All Israel shall be saved." These points may be applied to the few that are kept faithful in times of worldliness and spiritual decay in connection with Christ's Church.—R.T.
Man's duty in times of refining.
"Wherefore glorify ye the Lord in the east;" margin, "fires" (Revised Version). The word translated "fires" in the Authorized Version is a difficult one. It points to the "land of the sun," which would be the east country, to which Judah was taken for its captivity, and which was to it as a refining fire; or some think to the "land of volcanic fires," which would be the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. We prefer to see a figurative reference to the refining fires of the time of exile. It is in strict keeping with the mission of Isaiah that he should thus bid the people "glorify God in the fires." Whether the passage directly refers to the flight of the people to the islands of the sea, or to the great deportation into Chaldea, the general truth is set before us that, when we are in God's chastising and correcting hand, our supreme desire and endeavor should be to "glorify God in the fires." And this is done—
I. WHEN THE SUFFERING IS RECOGNIZED AS CHASTISEMENT. Suffering is often spoken of as if it were accident, hereditary taint, or the fault of other people; but God is not glorified until we see and admit that it is fatherly chastisement. The burden of woe resting on humanity is overwhelming, unless we can see that God is in it, and thereby is but chastening his children betimes. The world is God's erring child. It glorifies the Father to see that he will not let him go on in sin. "What son is he whom the lather chasteneth not?"
II. WHEN WE ADMIT THE SIN FOR WHICH THE CHASTISEMENT IS SENT. God always sends chastisements that can have a revealing power, and bear evident relation to particular sins. National sins are shown up by national calamities, bodily sins by bodily sufferings. This point may gain large and various illustration, as in Saul, David, Ahab, Jonah, etc. We glorify God when we let the chastisement show us the sin—act as the revealer to reveal the bad self.
III. WHEN WE DETERMINE TO PUT THE SIN AWAY. For chastisement then is shown to be effective; it reaches its end: God is seen not to have wrought in vain. Correction is "for our profit, that we may be partakers of his righteousness."
IV. WHEN WE COME OUT OF THE CHASTISEMENT PURIFIED, HUMBLED, SUBMISSIVE, AND OBEDIENT. Our Father is glorified when we are made children indeed. Beautifully is it said of the Lord Jesus that, "though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." Glorifying God by the spirit of sonship, which he kept all through the burning of the dreadful refining fires of Calvary. Trust, submission, clinging love, patient waiting,—these still glorify God in the fires.—R.T.
The burden of earth's transgressions.
"And the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it." Sin on man is often figured as a burden. Bunyan's picture of Graceless with the load on his back is familiar enough to be understood by all. Prophets picture God's impending judgments as a burden ready to fall and crush. We will he retake the term as referring to the transgressions rather than to the direct judgments.
I. The BURDEN THAT CRUSHES MEN. It is transgression, which is precisely this—willful sin. "Sin is a burden to the whole creation; it is a heavy burden, a burden under which it groans now and will sink at last. Sin is the ruin of states and kingdoms and families; they fall under the weight of that talent of lead" (Zechariah 5:7, Zechariah 5:8). Illustrative cases may be given of the crushing of health, position, success, friendship, family, by the burden of willful sin. Pressed down by it, humanity cries as did St. Paul, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
II. DELIVERANCE FROM THIS BURDEN IS BEYOND MAN'S POWER. All kinds of purely human forces have been tried—self-struggles, strong will, education, philosophy, religious systems, legal enactments, watching of one another, refinements of art, etc.; but none have succeeded yet in doing away with the sin of the individual, and so none have even reached the fringe of the world's misery. Have we any better reason to hope for the success of the modern panacea of scientific knowledge, than our fathers had of the nostrums they tried? Before God intervened, there was "no eye to pity, and no arm to save." For "sin" man has never been able to find "balm in Gilead;" there is no adequate "physician" there.
III. MAN'S HELPLESSNESS SHOULD MAKE HIM CRY MIGHTILY UNTO GOD. "Thou canst save, and thou alone." Yet precisely in this men fail. They will die rather than turn to God for pardon and life. And why? Because they do not "know and believe the love which God hath unto them." False and unworthy notions of the God of love, and Father of Jesus: have long prevailed, and they keep men away from God. So our work is to preach the gospel of the grace of God, which alone can lift the burden of transgression that now presses so heavily, so crushingly, on men's shoulders, that they "fall, and cannot rise again."—R.T.
The Lord's kingdom is the doing of the Lord's will.
"For the Lord of hosts shall reign."
I. A KINGDOM IS SIMPLY THE REIGN AND RULE OF A WILL. That is the proper meaning of the word "kingdom;" it is the "dom" or rule of a king. There are several ways in which men may be gathered together into ordered communities. The form of the kingdom is the most common. We only in part realize what a kingdom is in our own land and times, because the relation between the will of our sovereign and the people is not direct, but is maintained through a constitution, which involves representative and responsible government. For the scriptural idea of a kingdom we must refer to the kingdoms established in those Eastern climes, where Bible heroes lived and the Bible itself was written. There a kingdom is the rule of one man's will. The judgments, wishes, and commands of one man influence the spirit, conduct, and even choices of a whole people. Properly a kingdom is a number of persons agreeing to accept the will of one of their number as their rule and guide. The kingdom grows out of the family idea; and the family rule is the fatherly will. So the kingdom of God is no merely outward thing; it is the reign of God's will. The subjects of it are precisely those who choose his will, obey him, recognize his kingly rights.
II. IF WE KNOW THE WILL OF GOD, WE KNOW THE SPIRIT OF HIS KINGDOM. We can judge of any kingdom fairly if we can gain a fair knowledge of its king. Of God we know this—his will is that of a Father, a heavenly Father, a Holy Father. God might have put forth his power and forced the obedience of his creatures. He does not. He appeals to our motives and feelings as reasonable moral beings. He wants no kingdom of slaves; he wants the love and allegiance of free men. His is a spiritual kingdom. To accept the will of some men is hard; but God touches our feelings, wakens our confidence, commands our reverence, and so to us his will seems most beautiful, ever right, ever wise, ever gracious. And we know the spirit of his kingdom—it is the obedience which love renders.
III. IF WE CHEERFULLY ACCEPT THE WILL OF GOD, WE REALIZE THE COMING OF HIS KINGDOM. Prophecy indeed makes pictures of the setting up of a king in Jerusalem in the latter days; but prophecy is fulfilled, over and over again, when hearts yield to God; when families, communities, and nations accept his will and reign. God wants to secure the voluntary choice of his will as the rule of life. Wherever that is gained his kingdom is set up.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 24". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent