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A WARNING TO JERUSALEM. Expostulation is followed by threats. The prophet is aware that all his preaching to the authorities in Jerusalem (Isaiah 28:14-22) will be of no avail, and that their adoption of measures directly antagonistic to the commands of God will bring on the very evil which they are seeking to avert, and cause Jerusalem to be actually besieged by her enemies. In the present passage he distinctly announces the siege, and declares that it will commence within a year.
Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! "Ariel' is clearly a mystic name for Jerusalem, parallel to "Sheshach" as a name for Babylon (Jeremiah 25:26) and "'Ir-ha-heres" as a name for Heliopolis (Isaiah 19:18). It is generally explained as equivalent to Art-El, "lion of God;" but Delitzsch suggests the meaning of "hearth of God," or "altar of God," a signification which "Ariel" seems to have in Ezekiel 43:15, Ezekiel 43:16. But there is no evidence that "Ariel" was ever employed in this sense before the time of Ezekiel. Etymologically, "Ariel" can only mean "lion of God," and the name would in this sense be sufficiently descriptive of the Jewish capital, which had always hitherto been a sort of champion of Jehovah—a warrior fighting his battles with a lion's courage and fierceness. Dwelt; literally, pitched his tent—an expression recalling the old tent-life of the Hebrews. And ye year to year; rather, a year to a year; i.e. the coming year to the present one. The intention is to date the commencement of the siege. It will fall within the year next ensuing. Let them kill sacrifices. The best modern authorities translate, "Let the feasts run their round" (Kay, Cheyne, Delitzsch); i.e. let there be one more round of the annual festival-times, and then let the enemy march in and commence the siege.
Yet will I distress Ariel; rather, and then will I distress Ariel. The sense runs on from the preceding verse. There shall be heaviness and sorrow. Mr. Cheyne's "moaning and bemoaning" represents the Hebrew play upon words better. The natural consequence of the siege would be a constant cry of woe. And it shall be unto me as Ariel. It would be better to translate, "Yet she shall be unto me as Ariel." The meaning is that, though distressed and straitened, Jerusalem shall still through all be able by God's help to answer to her name of "Ariel"—to behave as a lien when attacked by the hunters.
I will camp against thee round about; i.e. "I will bring armed men against thee who shall encamp around the entire circuit of thy walls." There was small chance of forcing an entrance into Jerusalem on any side except the north; but, order to distress and harass her, an enemy with numerous forces would dispose them all round the walls, thus preventing all ingress or egress (see Luke 19:43). And … lay siege against thee with a mount; or, with a mound. Artificial mounds were raised up against the walls of cities by the Assyrians, as a foundation from which to work their battering rams with greater advantage against the upper and weaker portion of the defenses. And … raise forts against thee. "Forts" were usually movable, and accompanied the battering-ram for its better protection. Archers in the forts cleared the walls of their defenders, while the ram was employed in making a breach.
Thy speech shall be low. The feeble cries of a people wasted and worn out by a long siege are intended. These cries would resemble those which seemed to come out of the ground when a necromancer professed to raise a ghost. The Hebrew 'ohv is used both of the necromancers (Leviticus 19:31; Isaiah 20:6, etc.) and of the ghosts which they professed to raise (1 Samuel 28:7, 1 Samuel 28:8; 2 Kings 20:6, etc.). Here the "ghost" is spoken of. Thy speech shall whisper; literally, chirp (comp. Isaiah 8:19). The word used occurs only in Isaiah.
THE WARNING FOLLOWED BY A PROMISE. It is ever God's care to prevent men from being "swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" (2 Corinthians 2:7). As long as he is not about to "make a full end" (Jeremiah 4:27), he mingles promises with his threats, words of cheer with words of warning. So now the prophet is directed to attach to his four verses of denunciation (Isaiah 29:1-4) four others of encouragement, and to declare the utter discomfiture of the vast host of enemies which for a time has besieged and "distressed" Ariel.
Moreover; rather, but. The relation of Isaiah 29:5-8 to Isaiah 29:1-4 is that of contrast. The multitude of thy strangers; i.e. "of thy enemies" (comp. Isaiah 25:5). In primitive societies every stranger is an enemy; and hence language—the formation of primitive men—often has one word for the two ideas. In Latin hostis is said to have originally meant "foreigner" (Cic; 'De Off',' 1.12). Shall be like small dust. Ground down, i.e. to an impalpable powder—rendered utterly weak and powerless. The meaning is determined by the clause which follows, with which it must necessarily be in close accordance. As chaff that passeth away. "Chaff," in Scripture, is always a metaphor for weakness (comp. Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 33:11; Isaiah 41:15; and see also Psalms 1:4; Psalms 35:5; Job 21:18; Hosea 13:3; Daniel 2:35; Zephaniah 2:2). It has no value; man's object is to get rid of it: a light wind carries it away, and no one inquires whither. Yea, it shall be at an instant suddenly. Dr. Kay says it is "the collapse of Jerusalem" which is here intended. But most other commentators understand, with more reason, the collapse of her enemies (Cheyne, Delitzsch, Vance Smith, Knobel, etc.).
Thou shalt be visited; literally, shall there be a visitation. On whom the visitation will fall is not expressed; but the context shows that it is on the enemies of Judah. The terrible nature of the visitation is signified by an enumeration of the most fearful of God's judgments—"thunder, earthquake, great noise, whirlwind, tern-pest, and a flame of devouring fire." All the expressions are probably metaphorical.
Her munition; i.e. her defenses the walls and towers in which she put her trust (comp. Isaiah 29:3). As a dream of a night vision. "The baseless fabric of a vision," when it has once passed by, "leaves not wrack behind." The entire host of the "terrible ones" would melt away and disappear, as a night vision before the light of day—it would dissolve into nothing, vanish, leave no trace.
It shall be even as when an hungry man dreameth. The melting away of the vision would involve a keen disappointment. The enemies of Israel had expected to secure a most valuable prey. They had dreamed of a rich booty when they should take the city—a booty which would reward them for all the hardships of their marches, their watches, their toils in the siege, the dangers to which they exposed themselves in the assaults. It was as if a hungry man had dreamed that he was engaged in a feast, or a thirsty man that he was drinking deep at a banquet, when suddenly he wakes up, and finds that he has been merely dreaming, and that there is no reality in his fancies. Dr. Kay quotes a passage which is much to the point from Mungo Park's journals: "No sooner had I shut my eyes than fancy would convey me to the streams and rivers of my native land. There, as I wandered along the verdant bank, I surveyed the clear streams with transport, and hastened to swallow the delightful draught; but, alas! disappointment awaked me, and I found myself a lonely captive, perishing of thirst amid the wilds of Africa." Those engaged in the siege, while themselves vanishing away, would likewise find their dreams of plunder vanish, and Would bitterly feel the disappointment. That fight against Mount Zion. To attack Jerusalem was to fight against the mount of God, the place where Jehovah had "set his Name, "and where he condescended in some true sense to dwell continually. How could those who engaged in such an enterprise hope to succeed?
NEITHER WARNING NOR PROMISE COMPREHENDED BY THOSE TO WHOM THEY HAVE BEEN ADDRESSED, "Who hath believed our report?" says the prophet in another place (Isaiah 53:1), "and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" It was among the most painful circumstances attaching to the prophetical office, that scarcely ever was the prophet held in any esteem among his own people, or in his own lifetime. Isaiah knows that his warning will fall dead—that the people and their rulers have neither "eyes to see" nor "ears to hear." He places on record this knowledge, while at the same time striving if by any means he may arouse some from their condition of dull apathy.
Stay yourselves, and wonder; rather, stand stupefied and be astonished. The prophet bids them act as he knows that they will act. They will simply "stare with astonishment" at a prophecy which will seem to them "out of all relation to facts" (Cheyne). They will not yield it the slightest credence. They will only marvel how a sane man could have uttered such egregious folly. Cry ye out, and cry. Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne translate, "Blind yourselves, and be blind," which certainly gives a much better sense, and is justified by the use of the same verb in Isaiah 6:10. As Pharaoh began by hardening his own heart, and then God hardened it, so those who blind their own eyes, and will not see when they have the power, are, in the end, if they persist, judicially blinded by God. They are drunken, but not with wine. "The drunkards of Ephraim" (Isaiah 28:3) were such literally. They "erred through strong drink" (Isaiah 28:7); they "were swallowed up of wine;" but the case was different with the infatuated ones of Judah. They were morally, not physically, intoxicated. Their pride and self-trust rendered them as irrational and as unimpressionable as ever drunkenness rendered any man; but they were not actual drunkards.
The Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. "Sleep," in Scripture, is sometimes "rest," "repose from trouble" ("So he giveth his beloved sleep," Psalms 128:2). But here it is "spiritual deadness and impassiveness"—an inability to appreciate, or even to understand, spiritual warnings. The Jews of Isaiah's time were sunk in a spiritual lethargy, from which he vainly endeavored to arouse them. This spiritual lethargy is here said to have been "poured out upon them by Jehovah;" but we are not to suppose that there was anything exceptional in their treatment—"because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind" (Romans 1:28), as he does men generally. Hath closed your eyes. The prophets. As the text stands, the proper translation would be, "For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes (the prophets), and your heads (the seers) hath he covered." But it is reasonably conjectured that the expressions, "the prophets," "the seers," are glosses, which have crept from the margin into the text (Eichhorn, Koppe, Cheyne). If so, they are probably mistaken glosses, the allusion being, not to particular classes, but to the actual "heads" and "eyes" of individual Hebrews, which were "closed" and "covered" by the judicial action of the Almighty. In the East a covering is often drawn over the head during sleep.
The vision of all; i.e. "the entire vision"—all that Isaiah has put before them in verses 1-8. As the words of a book that is sealed; rather, the words of a letter (marginal rendering) or writing. Written documents were often sealed up to secure secrecy, the sealing being done in various ways. When the writing was on a clay tablet, it was often enclosed in a clay envelope, so that the document could not be read till the outer clay covering was broken. Rolls of papyrus or parchment were secured differently. One that is learned; i.e. "one that can read writing," which the ordinary Jew could not do, any more than the ordinary European in the Middle Ages. Neither the learned nor the unlearned Jews would be able to understand Isaiah's prophecy, so as to realize and accept its literal truth. They were devoid of spiritual discernment. Even the rulers were but "blind loaders of the blind."
Him that is not learned; i.e. "that cannot read writing." Even in our Lord's day the ordinary Jew was not taught to read and write. Hence the surprise of the rulers at his teaching the people out of the Law (John 7:15, "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?").
A RENEWAL OF WARNING. The inability of the Jews to comprehend Isaiah's threatening prophecies probably arose in part from their accomplishment seeming to be inconceivable, since they ran counter to the covenant promises made by God to Israel. Isaiah is therefore instructed to inform them that it was a most marvelous and almost inconceivable thing that God was now purposing to do, yet a thing justified by their hypocrisy (verse 13) and their rebellion (verses 15, 16).
Wherefore the Lord said; rather, moreover the Lord said. This people draw near me with their mouth. Samaria had been punished for open idolatry and flagrant neglect of Jehovah (2 Kings 17:7-17). Jerusalem had not gone these lengths. She still, in profession, clung to the worship of Jehovah, and had even recently accepted a purification of religion at the hand of Hezekiah, who had "removed the high places," and cut down the groves, and broken in pieces the brazen serpent," because the people burnt incense to it (2 Kings 18:4). But her religion was a mere lip-service, which God detested—it was outward, formal, hypocritical (comp. Isaiah 1:11-17). Jerusalem, therefore, no less than Samaria, deserved and would receive a severe chastisement. But have removed their heart far from me. Here lies the gist of the charge. It was not that there was too much outward religion, but that there was no inward religion corresponding to it. Lip-service without inward religion is a mockery, though it is not always felt as such. Their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men. Mr. Cheyne conjectures that ritual books had been already published by the authority of the priests, and that these were followed, on account of the human authority which had issued them, without any reference to the Law. Thus ritual obedience became mere obedience to "the precept of men."
I will proceed to do a marvelous work. Commentators are not agreed what this "marvelous work" was. Some, with Delitzsch, consider it to be the hardening of the hearts of the Jews to such an extent that even the appearance of wisdom and understanding, which the rulers of the people had hitherto retained, would completely disappear. Others, with Mr. Cheyne, regard it as the coming siege, with those extreme sufferings and perils (Isaiah 29:3, Isaiah 29:4) which the Jews would have to undergo—sufferings and perils barely consistent with the previous covenant-promises made to the nation. It is difficult to decide between these two views; but, on the whole, Mr. Cheyne's view seems preferable. A marvelous work and a wonder; rather, a marvelous work and a marvel. The repetition is for the sake of emphasis. For the wisdom; rather, and the wisdom; i.e. "when I do my marvel, then the wisdom of the wise men shall perish"—all their crafty designs and plans shall be of no avail, but come wholly to naught. The chief of these designs was that alluded to in the next verse.
Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord. The allusion is to the schemes which were afloat for calling in the aid of Egypt. As Isaiah had long since denounced these schemes as the height of folly (Isaiah 19:11-17), and prophesied their failure (Isaiah 20:5, Isaiah 20:6), every effort was made to conceal them from his knowledge end from the knowledge of all who were like-minded (comp. Isaiah 30:1, Isaiah 30:2). Steps were probably even now being taken for the carrying out of the schemes, which were studiously concealed from the prophet. Their works are in the dark. Underhand proceedings ere at all times suspicious. "Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." The very fact of concealment was an indication that the works in which the rulers were engaged were evil, and that they knew them to be evil. They say, Who seeth us? (comp. Psalms 73:11, "Tush, they say, How should God perceive? Is there knowledge in the Most High?"). The wicked persuade themselves that God does not see their actions.
Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay; rather, O for your perverseness! Shall the potter be reckoned as clay? They were so perverse and wrong-headed that they inverted the relation in which they stood to God and God to them. God was to be passive, or merely give opportunities of action, and they were to mould their own plans and carve out their own destinies. For shall the work say, etc.? rather, for the work saith. Taking their destinies into their own hands was equivalent to saying that they were their own masters, which they could not be if God made them. Shall the thing framed say, etc.? rather, yea, the thing formed hath said. To refuse to take counsel of God, and direct the national policy by the light of their own reason, was to tax God with having no understanding.
A RENEWAL OF PROMISE. God's judgment (Isaiah 29:14), whatever it is, will pass. In a little while there will be a great change. The lowly will be exalted, the proud abased. From the "meek" and "poor' will be raised a body of true worshippers, who will possess spiritual discernment (Isaiah 29:18), while the oppressors and "scorners" will be brought to naught. When Isaiah expected this change is uncertain; but he holds out the hope of it here, as elsewhere so frequently (Isaiah 1:24-31; Isaiah 2:2-5; Isaiah 4:2-6; Isaiah 5:13, etc.), to keep up the spirits of the people and prevent them from sinking into a state of depression and despair.
Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field. Lebanon, the wild forest, shall become smiling garden-ground, while garden-ground shall revert into wild uncultivated forest. An inversion of the moral condition of Judaea is shadowed forth by the metaphor.
In that day—i.e; when that time comes—shall the deaf hear the words of the book; the spiritually deaf shall have their ears opened, many of them, and shall not only hear, but understand, the words of Scripture addressed to them by God's messengers. No particular "book" is intended—sepher being without the article, but the words of any writing put forth with Divine authority. The eyes of the blind shall see also out of obscurity. Men shall shake off the "deep sleep" (Isaiah 29:10) in which they have long lain, and have once mute "eyes to see" the truth.
The meek … the poor. The "evangelical prophet" anticipates the gospel in this, among other points—that he promises his choicest blessings, not to the rich and mighty, but to the poor and meek (comp. Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 61:1).
The terrible one … the scorner. "The terrible one" may be the foreign enemy, as in Isaiah 29:5, or, possibly, the native oppressor (Isaiah 1:23; Isa 5:1-30 :93, etc.)—a still more tearful evil. "The scorner" is the godless man, who scoffs at religion (Isaiah 28:14, Isaiah 28:22). Both classes would be "consumed" and "brought to naught" when the new state of things was established. All that watch for iniquity; i.e. "all those who, for the furtherance of their iniquitous schemes, rise up early and late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness" (Psalms 127:2).
That make a man an offender for a word. The meaning of this clause is very doubtful. Kay translates, "That lead men into sin by words;" Mr. Cheyne, "That make out people to be sinners by their words," i.e. by bearing false witness against them; while Delitzsch upholds the rendering of the Authorized Version. Mr. Vance Smith has other suggestions. There seems to be, on the whole, no sufficient reason for setting aside the authorized rendering, which con-demus one form of oppression—the severe punishment of mere words. And lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate. "The gate" was the place where judgment was given and public assemblies held. If any one boldly stood up and reproved the oppressors "in the gate," they instantly set to work to lay a trap for him and bring him to ruin. And turn aside the just for a thing of naught; rather, and deprive the just [of their right] by empty charges. "Turning aside the just" means turning them from their right (Amos 5:12; Exodus 23:6); and bat tohu is not "for nothing" but "by nothing," i.e. by some vain empty pretence.
The Lord, who redeemed Abraham; rather, who delivered Abraham, as the verb used is often rendered (see Job 33:28; Psalms 51:18; Psalms 69:18; Psalms 78:42, etc.). God's directions to Abraham to remove from a land of idolaters (Joshua 24:2, Joshua 24:3; Acts 7:2, Acts 7:3) were practically a "deliverance." The work thus commenced could not be suffered to remain incomplete. Israel—the true Israel—would not be ashamed, or wax pale through fear any more; they would be God's children, his true worshippers, and would have no need to experience either fear or shame.
The work of mine hands; i.e. regenerated and "created anew unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10)—God's work, and no longer denying themselves to be such (Isaiah 29:16). They shall sanctify my Name, and sanctify, etc.; rather, they shall sanctify my Name, they shall even sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and fear the God of Israel. The last two clauses are exegetical of the first (Kay).
They also that erred in spirit; i.e. those who were blind and deaf (Isaiah 29:18). Shall come to understanding; literally, shall know understanding; i.e. recover their power of spiritual discernment. They that murmured. The reference cannot be to the "murmuring" in Egypt, though the verb used occurs only elsewhere in Deuteronomy 1:27 and Psalms 106:25, where that murmuring is spoken of. We must look for some later discontent, which we may find in quite recent "murmuring resistance to the admonitions of Jehovah" (Delitzsch), without going back so far as the time of the Exodus. Shall learn doctrine; i.e. "shall willingly receive the teaching, of God's prophets, and profit by it."
Woe to Ariel!
The lesson of this section seems to be that even those nearest and dearest to God, who bear his name, who are in a certain sense his, are not exempt from suffering at his hands. Even Jerusalem, "the city where David dwelt" "God's lion," his champion, his "mighty one"—was shortly to experience all the horrors of a prolonged siege, to be brought down to the dust—to be distressed, weakened, humiliated. The memory of David would not save her; her name of "Ariel" would not exempt her. She would have to go through the fearful ordeal. The Christian may humbly ask—Wherefore?
I. BECAUSE, HAVING SINNED, SHE DESERVED PUNISHMENT. God cannot allow sin to go unpunished. His attribute of perfect justice requires that even for pardoned sin there should be a penalty. It is well for sinners when the penalty is exacted in this life. The sufferings of the inhabitants of Jerusalem during the siege were no doubt, in some measure, punishments.
1. For the national sin of unfaithfulness.
2. For the particular sins of the sufferers.
But this is not a full account of the matter. Jerusalem suffered also—
II. BECAUSE SHE NEEDED CHASTISEMENT AND WOULD BE THE BETTER FOR IT. Jerusalem was still undergoing her probation. There were hopes of her turning to God. Nay, she did from time to time partially turn, and her actual destruction was deferred for above a century after that of her sister, Samaria. The sufferings of the siege were in the main intended to bring the sufferers to repentance—to humble proud hearts, to bend stubborn wills, to show the vanity of earthly supports and stays, and induce entire dependence and trust in God. "Ariel" was punished far more in love than in wrath. She was still to God "as Ariel." Her "woe" was not the final woe pronounced on the hopelessly impenitent, but the woe which, while it is grievous at the time of its infliction, "nevertheless afterward yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Hebrews 12:11).
The disappointment that awaits God's enemies.
All the enemies of God have, some day or other, an awaking. The designs which they cherish, the selfish hopes in which they indulge, are mere dreams. Even when the dreams are realized the result is disappointing. No man ever yet found the pleasure of success equal to his expectation. If there is a little satisfaction at first, fruition soon begets satiety. "Vanity of vanities," says the preacher, "all is vanity." But, for the most part, the dreams are not realized. God arises, and his enemies are scattered; those that hate him have to flee before him (Psalms 68:1). The schemer finds himself baffled just when he thinks success most certain. Dishonesty is detected; the bubble of speculation bursts; unexpected obstacles arise; a sudden death or a sudden outbreak of war deranges the best-laid plans: the fortune just about to be made vanishes into the air, the dreamer "awakes, and his soul is empty"—all his hopes have passed away "at an instant suddenly." There is but one security against constant disappointment, which is to trust all to God, to have no will but his, no desire but that expressed in the prayer, "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth."
Isaiah 29:9, Isaiah 29:10
Two kinds of spiritual blindness.
Spiritual blindness is not the natural condition of man. God has given to all men a certain power of spiritual discernment. He is "the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9). Children are invariably found to be teachable at an early age—to have a power of receiving and appreciating spiritual verities. The spiritually blind have become such, and in their condition we may trace two stages.
I. THE INITIAL STAGE. The commencement of spiritual blindness is a willful shutting of the eyes. Instead of seeking to see, striving to see, looking out for the spiritual in life and action, men turn away from it, "wink with their eyes," put veils over them, refuse to let the light of truth shine in upon their understandings. They "love darkness rather than light" (John 3:19). The whole of life should be a continual exercise of the spiritual discerning power. Men give the power as little exercise as possible. They weaken it by disuse. After a while they deprave it, so that its judgments become uncertain—even false.
II. THE FINAL STAGE. In Scripture the final stage is called "a reprobate mind," literally, "an undistinguishing mind (ἀδοκιμὸς νοῦς)." By the law of God's providence, the willful shutting of the eyes leads on to an inability to see. The moral vision becomes actually distorted. The "light that is within a man becomes "darkness;" and then, "how great is that darkness!" "Bitter is put for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20), "good for evil, and evil for good." The state is hopeless, irremediable. It results naturally from the repeated sins against light of the first stage; but it is none the less God's judgment upon the sinner. Hence it has been called "judicial blindness"—an expressive name.
Isaiah 29:13, Isaiah 29:14
God's hatred of mere lip-service
Lip-service is offensive to God on two accounts.
I. IT IS DISHONORING TO HIMSELF. It implies, either that he has not the power of reading the heart and of perceiving when worship is rendered to him sincerely and when feignedly, or that he does not care which kind of homage he receives, whether adoration is offered to him really or formally. In the one case he must be considered as a Being of very limited power and capacity; in the other, as a Being indifferent to the gravest moral distinctions. To profess loyalty to an earthly monarch without feeling it would be to insult him grossly. How much more to seek to pass such a cheat on the King of heaven!
II. IT IS DEGRADING TO THE CREATURES WHICH HE HAS MADE IN HIS OWN IMAGE. All falsehood is degrading to those who condescend to it. False pretences, flatteries, insincere professions of love and devotion for the purpose of winning favor and approval from those to whom we address them, are among the basest and most contemptible acts to which a human being can stoop. They are lies, and lies which have their origin in downright unadulterated selfishness. False professions made to God are also foolish, idiotic lies, which cannot possibly impose on the Being who is the Object of them, and which do not very often impose even on such of our fellow-men as witness them. It was their insincere "lip-service" which caused our Lord to denounce the scribes and Pharisees of his time as "actors," or "hypocrites".
It is sometimes supposed that religious revivals are modern inventions, concessions to the weakness of the degenerate man of the nineteenth century; and no doubt there have been features in many so-called "revivals" which have justified this view of them. But, in point of fact, revivals, if we follow out the history of religion, are found to be movements which have belonged to all ages, and without which it appears more than probable that religion in this world would stagnate and lose all vital energy. The subject may he best viewed under three heads.
I. REVIVALISM IS A LAW OF NATURE. Not only does Nature annually revive in spring from her winter's trance, but throughout the universe exhaustion is continually occurring at irregular intervals, and recoveries from exhaustion, i.e. revivals, are the only mode by which Nature is recruited and enabled to maintain herself. A long series of wet and cold seasons produces at any rate the impression that Nature's productive powers are declining and wearing out; when, suddenly, there is a complete inversion of what had come to be regarded as an established order, and a summer of brilliant sunshine causes an overflowing harvest and an agricultural reaction. The ozone in the atmosphere, so essential to human health, decreases for months; then, all at once, there is a revival, and the average of a century is exceeded. Electrical phenomena are for a time in abeyance, and the earth seems to have "used up" the power on which her vitality principally depends; when, lo! the reaction comes, fresh electricity is developed, or conveyed to the earth from without, and electrical phenomena become more frequent and more striking than ever.
II. REVIVALISM IS CONSISTENT WITH, AND CONDUCIVE TO, A CONSTANT ADVANCE. A priori we might have expected that all growth and progress would have been regular and gradual. But the fact is otherwise. In all the fields of human energy, in art, in science, in philosophy, in religion, long periods of comparative deadness and apathy occur, during which there is scarcely any perceptible advance at all, followed by shorter intervals of activity and energy, when progress is made "by leaps and bounds." The scientific energy of the last half-century is a ease in point. The artistic revival initiated by Reynolds and Gainsborough, is another. The history of the Church, dispassionately viewed, shows a manifest progress; but the progress has been far from uniform. Many centuries have been centuries of stagnation. Religion has just kept itself alive, and that has been all. Then some stir has come from within or from without, and a rush of vitality has supervened, which has exercised an influence for good on all later times. Indifference to doctrinal truth was overspreading the world, when the dogmatic revival of the fourth century at once saved the faith, and advanced it. The expansion of the Church, which is a special mark of its life, had almost ceased, when missionary zeal broke out suddenly in the West, and the seventh and eighth centuries saw the conversion of England, Scotland, Friesland, Batavia, Switzerland, and most of Germany. A general deadness and dullness had come over Christendom between the eighth and the eleventh centuries, when the Crusades, which were s political necessity, produced the revival of the twelfth and thirteenth. The greatest revival of all was the Reformation, which recovered spiritual religion when it seemed almost lost, and exerted a purifying influence even on those parts of Christendom which most opposed it. Lesser revivals have been—in Germany Pietism, in France Jansenism, among ourselves Methodism and the Church movement still in progress. It seems scarcely too much to say that, without revivals, religion—even the Christian religion—would perish.
III. REVIVALS ARE MOST COMMONLY THE RESULT OF CHASTISEMENTS. As it was with the Jews of whom Isaiah wrote, so in the Christian Church generally, revivals have been produced by judgments. The blasphemies of Arius, and the patronage of Afianism by the court, gave rise to the counter-movement of Athanasius. The contraction of Christendom in the East by the conquests of Mohammed and his immediate successors led on to its expansion in the West by renewed missionary effort. The alarming progress of the Saracens and Turks caused the revival connected with the Crusades. The exactions and tyranny of the court of Rome, being felt as a burden that could no longer be borne, brought about the Reformation. Among ourselves, the revival which dates from 1830 was due to the loss of ten Irish bishoprics and the other attacks made on the Church by her enemies at that period. Methodism is about the only Christian revival not provoked by some manifest calamity.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
I. VICISSITUDES OF ARIEL. The name is symbolic, perhaps signifying "God's lion." It was the city where David dwelt. The prophet bids the city enter upon the new year, and run the round of the feasts. The distress will come, and the city, true to her name, will be mourning like a wounded lioness; and yet her prowess will be seen. She will be beleaguered, the mound for the battering-ram will be set up; she will be abased, and her low voice will be like the muttering of a ghost from the under-world. Then a sudden change will occur, and the multitude of foes will be dispersed like dust or chaff in the wind. After the noise as of thunder and earthquake and hurricane, menacing absolute extinction of the city, the vast host will disappear like a dream and vision of the night. They too will dream of conquest, as a hungry and thirsty man dreams of meat and drink; and their hope will melt with the morning light.
II. THE BLINDNESS OF THE PEOPLE. Those who listen are astonished at a prophecy which nothing in the past appears to warrant. The prophet takes occasion to explain the cause of their blindness and stupefaction, and to warn them that they may find this their fixed condition. They are responsible for this state, he seems to imply when he says, "Astonish yourselves!" "Blind yourselves!" Some strange prepossession causes them to act like men intoxicated; their reason reels and staggers. A deep sleep is poured upon them; their eyes are closed, and their hands wrapped up in Oriental fashion. The result is they cannot see the truth. The "vision and the faculty divine," so bright and eminent in the prophet, is not recognized for what it is. His words are like a sealed book in the hands of a reader. He can read, but cannot loose the seals of the book, which is so far like that described in Revelation 5:2. Or again, if a book, though open and legible, be handed to one that cannot read, the result is the same. It may be a large tablet, with large characters, like that in Isaiah 8:1, so that the passer-by, if he can read, may catch the meaning; but what if he cannot read? It is the same as if the writing were non-existent.
1. Seeing truth is like seeing the meaning of what we read. All see something in the book—some little more than that it is a book; some can extract a certain superficial sense from the signs, and are asleep towards the deeper and central meaning. That meaning must be lived out by the whole effort of the reason, the conscience, the heart. It requires an intense effort of will to see any object as it ought to be seen.
2. Absence of spiritual intelligence infers guilt. Men will not see, because the sight is too painful, or some other sight is more pleasurable and more easy to take in. Moral obtuseness is another word for want of conscience, or for inertness of conscience.—J.
Lip-service and dissimulation.
I. THE SEMBLANCE WITHOUT THE REALITY OF RELIGION. To "draw men" is a Scripture phrase full of expressiveness for true worship. To draw near to God is to assume our holiest mood of feeling; it is to humble one's self in the presence of the Highest and Holiest. The distance between ourselves and the Supreme is not to be overcome by an effort of thought; it is in the sphere of intelligence that that distance is most deeply felt, which mere thought and study only increase. In the region of feeling only can that distance be diminished or made to disappear. As we kneel in our weakness and abandon all our self-supports, the heavens seem to stoop to us, and the arms of the Almighty are thrown about us. Pride, dishonesty, low self-seeking,—these throw the soul far, far asunder from its God. From the reverent and the obedient he is never far off. But so beautiful is this action of drawing near to God, so truly ennobling to our manhood, it is certain, like all the genuine moods and acts of religion, to be mimicked and counterfeited. All hypocrisy is a testimony to the grandeur of that which is copied or caricatured. This imitation of true religion may be carried out in speech. Nothing more easy than to learn by heart the great phrases of Scripture concerning spiritual religion, and to repeat them; and make the verbal not express, but hide the absence of, the real. And so magical is-the effect of sacred and beautiful words on the ear and on the heart, for the time they may create an illusion, and it may seem that we have really felt what we have done little more than utter. Again, respect for mere custom may take the place of respect for God. "Their fear of me is nothing but a commandment of men, which is taught." Religion is part of social institutions—it is decorous, it is advantageous to pay it outward respect, unsafe to contemn it. Thus fear of men and self-interest may really pass under the outward guise of the fear of God and his Law.
II. THE DEALING OF JEHOVAH WITH THE PEOPLE. It will be "wonderful, very wonderful." Inconceivable, as it seems, running counter to all his ancient covenant-promises. Already the Assyrian invasion had broken in on them; and the visitation was not to cease, but to continue. These judgments will baffle their intelligence. The wisdom of the wise will perish, and the understanding of the intelligent be obscured. The politicians think to hide their thoughts and deeds from Jehovah, "to throw the veil of secrecy over their pursuit of worldly alliances. The prophet divines their purpose and exposes its perversity. The favorite comparison of the potter is introduced (cf. Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 9:20)" (Cheyne). Hiding from Jehovah means here the same thing as hiding from the prophet of Jehovah. They did not wish to listen to Isaiah's reproof. We seem to see them watching the prophet (cf. Isaiah 8:12). And he, from amidst the light of the higher or eternal policy, sees through their time-serving intrigues. "They think they can dispense with Jehovah, and yet they are his creatures; they attribute cleverness to themselves, and practically disown him, as if the pot should say to the potter who has turned it, 'He does not understand it'" (Delitzsch). The great lessons aye:
1. The short-sightedness of worldly wisdom. It sees so clearly the immediate interest to be gained, it ignores the distant future, and falls headlong into fallacy.
2. The far-sightedness of conscience. The prophet represents conscience. What is now right is profitable now and ever will be. And only the real and the sincere is the right. Men may be deceived and mocked for a time; but "be not deceived: God is not mocked."—J.
A time of regeneration.
A time of refreshing and of renewal is, notwithstanding all the gloom of preceding pictures, at hand.
I. THE CHANGE IN NATURE. "One of Isaiah's most characteristic ideas is a future transformation of nature corresponding to that of man" (Cheyne). The forest will be turned into the garden-land. Lebanon stands for the wild or uncultivated land (cf. Isaiah 10:18, Isaiah 10:34). The passage in Isaiah 32:15 is parallel. When God again begins to bless his people, the untilled land will become a cultivated country, and the fields will produce an abundance compared with which their present condition may be pronounced barren. The meaning may be both literal and symbolical. When human energy is renewed, so is the face of nature, which saddens with war, pestilence, and the depression of industry. And the turning of waste land into cultivated fields is typical of the regeneration of human life; for what is all depravity and misery, but thought, faculty, passion, run to waste?
II. SIGNS OF THE NEW LIFE, The deaf will hear the words of a writing, and the blind shall be brought out of gloom and darkness into new spiritual perception, the lowly hearted shall receive a fresh access of joy in Jehovah, and the poor shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. Notice everywhere the loving spirit of the gospel. Ever it is good news to those who need that news the most—the ignorant, the humble, and the poor. And correspondingly, the proud and the self-sufficient are to be brought low. The terrible foe without, and the scornful foes within, will have vanished and be brought to naught. The prophetic message in every age is vehement, burning against oppression and treachery. There are men that watch for iniquity, that swear away others' lives by false testimony, or seek to ruin those who plead in the gate or judicial court, and wrest the just verdict from the righteous by frivolous pretences, (For the expression, "turning aside the right" of the weak, etc; cf. Exodus 23:6; Amos 5:12; Malachi 3:5.) Traitors, conspirators, false witnesses, and false men of every kind will be rooted out of the new kingdom; and all that is incorrigible will be given up to destruction, that there may be room for the plants of Jehovah's planting to flourish.
III. THE HOLY AND HAPPY CONSUMMATION. No more shall Jacob be ashamed and his face turn pale. His oppressors will have been swept away. He will see "his sons, the work of Jehovah's hands, within him." In presence of the judgments of Jehovah there will be a true conversion; they will become holy even as he is holy—a Church sanctifying him, the Holy One of Israel. A sound intelligence will displace the former spirit of error, and former murmuring will give way to a willingness to receive instruction. This is the state of things for which we pray when we say, "Hallowed be thy Name" "They shall hallow thy Name," says the prophet; "They shall fear the God of Israel." Pure reverence, united with bright clear intelligence, and applied in every department of thought and practice, will be the spirit of the future kingdom, must be the spirit in all who sincerely pray for the coming of that kingdom in their hearts now.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
"Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me." Sincerity is the life of devotion. Eloquence in prayer is execrable if the heart be worldly and vain. Here we have Divine insight into man's soul.
I. HERE IS THE BENDED KNEE WITHOUT THE PROSTRATE HEART. Reverential manner and sacred solemnities of speech may deceive others, but with God all hearts are open, all desires known. It is mere mouth-worship. It is the trick of the muscles, not the tone of the heart. We resent the false man. Nothing offends the better instincts of humanity so much as deceitful mannerism. Better the "drawn sword" that the disguised enemy with fawning friendship on his lips.
II. HERE IS THE HONOR OF THE LIPS WITHOUT THE DEVOTION OF THE LIFE. To give a place of "honor" to religion is common to the worldliest men. It is like the compliment that vice pays to virtue by imitation of its manner, and hiding of itself. What should we think of men who did not honor religion? They would be losers, Men would not trust them. They would be suspected of indifference to those bonds which hold society together. So they pay outward honor to the Almighty, they join in the Church anthem, and in the public confession of the great Christian Creeds. But in their life there is no honor paid to religion, inasmuch as they serve and worship other gods.
III. HERE IS THE TRUE RENDING OF THE HEART, WHICH IS THE MICROCOSM OF THE MAN. The heart is removed far from God. It does not thrill with his love, nor best in sympathy with his claims. This is the loadstone that leads us everywhere. We can prophesy where the footsteps will be if we know the longings of the spirit. The heart that he made capable of so much endurance and affection is far from him. Then it must be somewhere else. It will find some object. The ivy torn down from the old church tower will cling to the nearest object in its path. Cling it must. "O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The city of God.
"The city where David dwelt" was undoubtedly Jerusalem, the "city of God." It is here called Ariel; i.e; according to some, the hearth or altar of God. This fact, taken with the prophecy itself, may remind us—
I. THAT THE CITY OF GOD IS THE PLACE WHERE GOD DWELLS. It is where his hearth is—the "place of his abode" where he is at home with his people, where they are "at home" with him. The true Church of Christ, the ideal Christian family or society, is that company which feels that God is with it of a truth, which realizes and rejoices in his presence.
II. THAT THE CITY OF GOD IS THE PLACE OF SACRIFICE. The "altar" of Old Testament times has forever disappeared now that the great Sacrifice has been presented, now that the way into the holiest is open, now that nothing stands between the Divine mercy and the penitent and believing soul. But still the city of God is the place of sacrifice; for still every true servant of Christ is continually engaged in offering up "spiritual sacrifices" unto God. These are the offerings of praise (Hebrews 13:15), of consecration (Romans 12:1), of kindness (Hebrews 13:16);—these and such as these are "acceptable to God" (1 Peter 2:5).
III. THAT THE CITY OF GOD IS A PLACE OF REVERENT AND JOYOUS COMMUNION. "Add ye year to year," etc. (Isaiah 29:1); i.e. let the festivals go round from year to year. The prophet is thought to have spoken ironically, as if he would say, "Go on with your solemnities, but they will avail you nothing." However this may be, we may be sure that when Jerusalem was what Jehovah meant it to be, it was a city in which sacred festivals brought the people of God into holy and happy communion with one another and with their Divine Ruler. And when that which is now the counterpart of the city of God is what its Lord meant it to be, it is a place where human souls mingle in sacred fellowship, and where they all unite in reverent and happy intercourse with the Father of their spirits, with the Savior of their souls.
IV. THAT THE CITY OF GOD MAY RE A PLACE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. "Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be heaviness and sorrow," etc. (Isaiah 29:2-4). When the Church, the society, the family, or the individual soul needs Divine correction, Goal will send his chastisements. The Author of its peace will be the Source of its sorrow.
1. It (he) will be as a besieged city, as a city against which the agents of God are encamped, shut in, circumscribed, reduced to privation and distress, made to feel its feebleness, driven to cry out for help.
2. It (he) will be humiliated. "Thou shalt be brought down," etc. (Isaiah 29:4). Nothing so much offends God as pride, haughtiness of heart, presumption; and when this is manifested by his people, they may expect to be abased to the very dust, until their spirit has been renewed and they have learned humility under his correcting hand.
V. THAT THE CITY OF GOD IS THE OBJECT OF THE DIVINE DELIVERANCE. (Isaiah 29:5-9.) When God arises to deliver his people, his visitation may be:
1. Unexpected. (Isaiah 29:5.) When the Son of man cometh, will he find his people expecting his appearance (Luke 18:8)?
2. Overwhelming. (Isaiah 29:6, Isaiah 29:7.) It will (may) be as if all the elements conspired to work his will.
3. Attended with bitterest disappointment to his foes. (Isaiah 29:8.)
1. See to it that this severe correction be not called for; that it is not brought down by worldliness, by formality, by selfishness, by pride, by discord, by indulgence.
2. If the hour of correction should arrive, let immediate repentance bring on at once the time of deliverance.—C.
Our powers, as men and women, are limited enough; and it may well be that those of God's children who move in wider spheres and are endowed with greater capacities look down in wonder, if not with amusement, on our large pretensions. Yet we talk freely of the incapable, the feeble, the helpless, as if we ourselves were strong. There are various degrees of power and weakness among us, but the most important belong to that kind of incapacity to which the text refers.
I. ITS DOMAIN. The prophet treats of spiritual helplessness. We see and lament physical incapacity in the shape of blindness, deafness, paralysis, etc. We also have to treat mental incapacity in the form of intellectual feebleness, decline, imbecility, insanity. But by far the saddest sight in the view of God is spiritual incapacity—that moral condition in which the soul has lost its native powers, is destitute of those acquirements which would enable it to stand side by side with the holiest of the heavenly world, lacks the wisdom by which it might defend itself against its adversaries, and is therefore the prey of the worst evils, forfeits its birthright, and moves towards its doom. This incapacity affects the soul in all its higher and more serious relations—in its relation to God, to those to whom it is under obligation, to its own character.
II. ITS TWO PRINCIPAL MANIFESTATIONS.
1. Blindness. "The spirit of deep sloop" the closing or covering of the eyes (Isaiah 29:10). The last, or nearly the last, effect of sin is to take away the faculty of spiritual insight; so that a man cannot see those things which a human soul ought to recognize at once, the recognition of which is indispensable to its very life; viz. the presence, the claims, the power of God; the excellency of his service; the unworthiness and insufficiency of sensual gratifications and worldly ambitions; the deathfulness of sin, etc. But to the spiritually incapable these things are as if they were not. Such souls are as unconscious of these realities as is a man in a deep sleep, or as is one whose eyes are covered, of the objects which are before him.
2. Error. "They stagger, but not with strong drink" (Isaiah 29:9). As a man under the influence of stimulants cannot "walk straight," but staggers from side to side or wanders out of his way altogether, so men who are robbed of their rightful powers by sin fail to walk straight on in the path of rectitude: they deviate into
(1) false notions about God and man, about life and destiny; and into
(2) evil habits, into sad departures from purity, from uprightness, from truth, from wisdom.
III. ITS COMPLETENESS.
1. It extends to the highest,—he has covered the eyes of "your rulers" (Isaiah 29:10); to those who lead and who, being blind themselves, will certainly mislead (Matthew 15:14); to those whose social influence is strong and, in ibis ease, most pernicious.
2. It includes the specialists—the privileged, those who profess to have peculiar access to truth: "The seers hath he covered." Woe to the land, to the Church, whose religious teachers are unable to see the directing finger of God, and are giving way to dreams of their own imagination!
3. It embraces those instructed in oilier thin, is. It is not only the unlearned that cannot read at all, but the learned men also, who are blind to the truths of God (Isaiah 29:11, Isaiah 29:12). Here, in nature, in providence, in Scripture is a glorious, three-volumed work, the full work of God; here are sacred truths which enlarge the mind and elevate the soul, which beautify and ennoble life, prepare for death, and fit for immortal blessedness. But, with powers diminished, depraved, or destroyed by sin, they who can learn other lessons and read other secrets are as undiscerning as the most illiterate boor in presence of a language of which he does not know the alphabet, as helpless as the finished scholar in presence of a roll the seal of which he cannot break!
IV. ITS EXPLANATION. How can we account for this depravation of man's spiritual powers? It is the fitting penalty of sin; it comes in the righteous judgments of God: "The Lord hath poured out upon you," etc. (Isaiah 29:10). It is the retribution attached to a guilty non-use or misuse of spiritual faculty; it is a "woe" that is always working: "From him that hath not"—does not use, or abuses his talents—"shall be taken away even that which he hath" (Matthew 25:29).—C.
The Church which God condemns.
I. A CHURCH CONDEMNED OF GOD. It has four characteristics of which the Lord complains.
1. Unspiritual worship. "This people draw near me with their mouth," etc. (Isaiah 29:13). The service of the lip without the homage of the heart is an unacceptable sacrifice to God (see Psalms 50:1-23.; Psalms 78:36, Psalms 78:37; Isaiah 50:1-11.; Ezekiel 33:31; Matthew 15:8, Matthew 15:9; John 4:24). To take sacred words into the lips with nothing of their meaning in the mind, to assume the attitude without cherishing the spirit of devotion, is not to propitiate but to offend the Holy One.
2. Unauthorized doctrine. "Their fear toward me is taught," etc.—rendered in the New Testament, "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9). This was an early departure from the will of Christ (see Colossians 2:18-22; Titus 1:14; Acts 20:30). The Church has always been in danger from men who have represented, first to their own minds and then to the minds of others, their own reasonings or imaginations as if they were the pure truth of God. So the mind and will of Christ have been grievously and mischievously perverted.
3. Incapable teachers. "The wisdom of their wise shall perish," etc. (Isaiah 29:14). A Church fallen under the rebuke of its Lord is usually one that has wholly unsuitable and incompetent teachers—men who have lost their way, who have failed to discover or have abandoned heavenly wisdom, who cannot declare the way of life.
4. Unenlightened members. (Isaiah 29:15.) So destitute of the very rudiments of religion as to ask such a question as this, as to entertain such a thought as this. With a faulty and incapable ministry you may have a Church ignorant of those elements of the gospel with which it seems impossible that men should not be familiar.
II. THE DIVINE WANING WHICH IS ALSO A DIVINE PROMISE. (Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 29:17.) He says—You have perverted everything, turned everything upside down, made nothing of my Word when you should have made everything of it, elevated the outward and visible above the inward and spiritual, acted as if you could conceal your doings from the all-beholding God, treated me as the clay might treat the potter, unworthily and irreverently. I will bring it to pass that things shall be turned upside down in your experience: "Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field," etc. The humble shall be exalted and the proud abased. Your false confidence shall be cast down, and that which you have neglected shall be honored in the eyes of all. The Church that has lost its first estate of truth, spirituality, wisdom, must expect a terrible reversal.
1. Its mistaken notions will be shaken from its mind to make way for God's living truth.
2. Its incapable leaders will be compelled to step down and give place to those whom they have arrogantly disregarded.
3. Its pompous but unspiritual rites will be exchanged for simpler and spiritual engagements.
4. Its luxurious religious enjoyments will be lost in earnest self-denying labors, or even in trying hardships. Thus will the fruitful field become a forest, while Lebanon is turned into a fruitful field. The revolution in the character and condition of the Church will be very intimately connected with, will be immediately followed by, a revolution in the character and condition of the world.—C.
The hour of revival.
I. ITS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. The spirit of docility. Those once deaf now "hear the words of the book" (Isaiah 29:18); "They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine" (Isaiah 29:24). It is one of the surest signs of the presence of God's Spirit that the attitude of insensibility or of captiousness is exchanged for the desire to learn the will of God—that those who once held aloof altogether or came to carp and quibble now lend a reverent, inquiring ear, sit like Mary at the feet of Jesus, look heavenwards like Paul and say, "Lord, what wilt. thou have me to do?"
2. The power of spiritual perception. "The eyes of the blind shall see," etc. (Isaiah 29:18). God awakens human souls from the sleep of sin or the languor of spiritual decline. Then, in the one case men see the guilt of continued rebellion against God's will, also the terrible risks they run who remain rebellious, and also the excellency and openness of the salvation which is in Jesus Christ, etc.; in the other case they see the transcendent value of the human souls around them, the admirableness of Christian zeal, the desirableness of gaining the approval of Christ for carrying on his work of redeeming love, etc.
3. Gladness of heart in God and in man.
(1) In God. "Joy in the Lord" (Isaiah 29:19) will be increased, not only on the part of the meek, but in the heart of all those who are affected by the action of Divine truth and the influence of the Divine Spirit. Men will realize the closeness, the blessedness, the nobility of their relation to God, as his children, friends, co-workers, heirs; and their souls will be lifted up and will swell with a sacred joy.
(2) In man. Jacob "wilt not now be ashamed," his face will not "wax pale (Isaiah 29:22) as he regards his children; on the contrary, he will behold them with unbounded joy when he sees them "sanctifying the Name of the Holy One" (Isaiah 29:23). The fathers and mothers in Israel, the leaders and teachers of the Church, will exult in the extension of piety and purity, of worth and wisdom, among all the people, and particularly among the young.
4. The disappearance of iniquity. (Isaiah 29:20, Isaiah 29:21.) The oppressor, the scorner, the vicious, the unrighteous,—these and such as they are removed from the scene; they no longer linger about the gates or frequent the courts or walk the streets of Jerusalem. The force of sacred fervor, like the cleansing indignation of Christ himself, sweeps unholiness from the sanctuary; "that which defileth" is cast out with the strong hand of reawakened purity.
II. THE DIVINE SOURCE OF IT. All those thus made true children of God are "the work of mine hands" (Isaiah 29:23); everything, as every one, is his workmanship; it is all of God. It is his Spirit that "renews the face of the earth," that also revives the souls of men and the condition of his Church.
III. THE HOPE OF ITS COMING.
1. We may look to the promises of God's Word, that hold out to us the hope of better and brighter days in the future.
2. Or to the grace and power of our Lord; for we cannot believe that his yearning compassion and his mighty power will leave outside forever the multitudes that are still afar off.
3. But we do well to look to devout and earnest preparation on our own part. Can we not "prepare the Lord's way" by cleansing our hearts of selfishness and sin, of pride and unbelief; by devout expectation and eager readiness for the sound of his chariot-wheels; by earnest and believing prayer for the action of his reviving Spirit?—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Divine corrections through temporal distresses.
This subject may be treated in the larger spheres of nations, classes of society, or Churches, and applications may be made to individual experience. God's ways in the world of men are designed to reveal the mystery of his ways with each man. That impression which we are now gaining concerning the constancy and inexorableness of law, godly people have long had concerning the constancy and inexorableness of the Divine dealings. What God has been to one man, he has been to many, he has been to all. What God has been here, he has been there, and he has been everywhere. It is a law and order with him that he should correct men for their faults by means of temporal distresses. The calamities that come to men and nations are no accidents. In them God is working for righteousness. The term Ariel is one of Isaiah's favorite symbolical names. It stands for Jerusalem. The prophet exclaims, "Alas for Ariel!" because of the wrongheadedness and the willfulness which were leading its rulers away from reliance on Jehovah to confidence in Egypt. The word "Ariel" means "God's lion," but it is not easy for us to recognize the appropriateness of the figure. Some think it may mean the hearth, or altar of God, and then the reference to "sacrifices" in verse 1 is seen to be appropriate. Henderson, feeling that the figure of Jerusalem as a lion, devouring the flesh Of many sacrifices, is very strained, accepts the figure of "hearth or altar," and says, "The reference is to Jerusalem as the center of the Jewish polity, where alone it was lawful to sacrifice to Jehovah" (comp. Isaiah 31:9). In favor of the translation, "Lion of God," it may be noticed that the lion was the emblem of the tribe of Judah. The historical reference of these verses is to the coming attack of Sennacherib's army, which would be a distress to Ariel, but would not involve her ruin. It would be a providence with the evident design of warning and correcting. It is matched by many circumstances in individual lives which are distressing rather than afflicting or overwhelming.
I. PARTICULAR EVILS IN ARIEL. Perhaps the point of reproach here is the insincerity attending the reformation which Hezekiah instituted. There is an important difference between a reformation which starts from the people and reaches to affect the throne, as in the case of Nineveh in the time of Jonah; or as in the case of the German Protestant Reformation, which was in the heart and purpose of the people before Luther found it voice; and a reformation which starts from the throne and tries to carry the people with it, as in the cases of Hezekiah and Josiah. There is the grave danger of the people's acceding to the wish of the sovereign, and the example of the court, apart from their own convictions. This was the particular evil of the time which needed correction. There were signs of religious awakening which were insincere. How insincerity in the leaders was shown in the efforts of a considerable party to turn from Jehovah and negotiate for help with Egypt! Still, we may observe the prevalence of insincerity, and the fact that "distresses" are just the fitting corrective of this evil.
II. THE DELUSION OF KEEPING UP SACRIFICES IN ARIEL. An important part of prophetical work was the denunciation of sacrifices and religious rites when the soul of meaning was lost out of them, and they expressed no devotion, no thankfulness, no love, and no consecration (see Isaiah 1:11-15). Here Isaiah intimates that increasing the number of festivals and multiplying sacrifices could not deceive God or hide from him the real moral and religious condition of the people. Keeping up the formalities of religion is often successful in deceiving men, but it never deceives God. This is his absolute condition, "They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
III. THE FORMS IN WHICH ARIEL MIGHT BE HOPEFULLY DISTRESSED. The Mosaic system had established the idea that men would be sure to get good things by being good. This was founded in truth, but it involved men's having right ideas of what are "good things," and what is "being good." Men made it mean that they would be sure to get temporal blessings if they made large outward show of goodness. And therefore temporal distresses and anxieties were precisely the things that would awaken men to a sense of their mistake, and to a worthier apprehension of Divine claims. Temporal safety and blessing did not attend such goodness as theirs, and so they were led to suspect their goodness. So we, finding our religion fail us in the evil day, are brought to see that formal religion never can be acceptable unto him who "desires truth in the inward parts."
IV. THE ISSUE OF DIVINE DEALINGS WITH ARIEL. Here we must distinguish between the issue which God designs, and for the accomplishment of which the means he uses are appropriate, and the issue which is actually attained in consequence of man's resistant willfulness. One of the saddest things in all human lives is the contrast between the results of distressful dispensations and the gracious designs contemplated by God in sending them. Corrections that fail to humble succeed in hardening.—R.T.
God's Word a sealed Book.
Reference is to the prophecies of Isaiah, which were evidently circulated in writing among the people; but, by reason of prevailing hypocrisy, pride, and obstinacy, they were not understood—they were like a sealed book (compare the figure in Revelation 5:2). The connection of the text may be stated thus: "The hearers stare in astonishment at a prophecy seemingly so out of relation to facts. The prophet warns them that, if they willfully deaden their spiritual faculties, there will be no emerging afterwards from this state of blindness and stupefaction. Jehovah will judicially fix them in it. The ruling class is mainly addressed. They are spiritually asleep, with eyes closed and heads wrapped up (in Oriental fashion)."
I. GOD'S WORD IS NOT A SEALED BOOK BY DIVINE DESIGN. A curious notion has gained acceptance that the Bible could not be the Word of God if it did not contain mysteries quite beyond the possibility of man's apprehension. On the other hand, it has been well urged that God can have no need thus to "show off" his superiority; and that revelation must mean "light," "unfolding;" it can never be intended to mean "bewildering." Of this we may be sure—there is nothing in the Bible scaled from man. Whatever is there is for our understanding, for our instruction. Isaiah's prophecies, given by God's inspiration, are plain enough; he may read them who runs.
II. GOD'S WORD BECOMES A SEALED BOOK THROUGH HUMAN PERVERSITY. This may be shown:
1. In the blinding influence of prejudice. We cannot find in the Word what we do not want to find. This may be applied to national prejudice, sectarian prejudice, and personal prejudice.
2. In the closing of men's minds to the incomings and gracious illuminations and inspirations of God's Spirit. He who gives the Word gives the keys to its meanings and applications, through the guiding Spirit. It is a sealed Book if we have not the key.
3. In the judicial scaling which comes as a judgment on the perversity. This is the precise case associated with the text. These willful rulers were determined to treat Isaiah's prophecies as a sealed book: then to them it shall be a sealed book; and when they want to understand it, they shall "weary themselves to find the door." Apply to our own relations with God's Word. The openness and suggestiveness of it is a test of our spiritual state. We must never think that God has closed it; the fact can only be that we have closed ourselves to it.—R.T.
Lip-service; or, the peril of losing the heart out of our piety.
There was a time when Israel rendered heart-service to God. There was a life in the Mosaic system. Taking a figure from the sacrifice which Noah offered as consecrating a regenerate earth unto God, there was "a savor of a sweet smell" to rise up to God. The reproach of Isaiah is that the sacrifice was left, but the savor was gone; the husk was left, but the kernel was gone; the form was left, the heart was gone; the voice still spoke, but it had no message to deliver. "They draw near with lip, but heart is far away." And still, whensoever personal piety is failing, men fall back on some past experiences, or else they exaggerate the mere formalities of religious worship and ordinance. Ages of strong faith are very independent of forms. Ages of failing faith always exaggerate forms, If we have little heart for obedience, we put in its place much bowing and kneeling and offering—as if God could not see very deep, and would be taken by appearances (see 1 Samuel 16:7).
I. LIE-SERVICE IS THE REQUIREMENT or GOD. "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me," saith the Lord. Hoses expresses a right feeling when he leads the people to say, "So will we render the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2). To worship God is to make our approaches to him, and to present our adorations to him; it is to draw nigh to him as those that have business with him, with an intention therein to honor him. This we are to do with our mouth and with our lips in speaking of him and in speaking to him. And, if the heart be full of his love and fear, out of the abundance of that heart the mouth will speak. It should be carefully pointed out that the modern neglect of meetings for worship, praise, and prayer is as sad a sign of failing heart-love for God as is the exaggeration of formal rites and ceremonies. It must be plainly and forcibly urged that God calls for due expression of our piety; he asks for "life-service."
II. LIP-SERVICE ONLY IS AN OFFENCE UNTO GOD. Because it is worthless. God the Spirit cannot be satisfied with things; he asks for spirit, for emotion, affection, thankfulness, and trust. "Voice and nothing else" must be mockery to him who can only heed a voice when the heart speaks by means of it. We call that false, in relation to ourselves, which is warm expression of affection for us when there is no heart-love; and such falseness is an offence. And Isaiah tells the rulers that the secret of their falseness is that they have taken to ordering their daily conduct by "the precepts of men," and did not want to obey the Law of God; so they gave him words in place of works.—R.T.
God the Mind-Searcher.
Foolish indeed are they who "seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord." The first reference of this warning may be to the secret schemes of the party in Jerusalem which advocated an offensive and defensive alliance with Egypt in the national emergency. Such a policy was so evidently untheocratic that, in the days of the good Hezekiah, they were obliged to work in the dark. It may be noticed that the Divine omniscience of all events and circumstances is a much more familiar and readily recognized truth than the Divine omniscience of all thoughts of mind and decisions of will. Yet we are to understand that, as the psalmist expresses it, "Thou understandest my thought afar off …. For before a word is yet on my tongue, lo! O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether." By our "thoughts" is not meant the passing set of mental associations from which we have to select, but the selections we make, the things we cherish. The omniscience of God is most searching to us when we regard it as his "knowledge of the deepest thoughts and most secret workings of the human heart."
I. THE DIVINE OMNISCIENCE AS A CHECK. A boy was required to accompany his father when out stealing potatoes from a field. The boy was set to watch while the man dug. Presently he called out, as if there was danger. "Where? where?" said the man, who could see no signs of any one approaching. "Look up!" replied the boy. This should always be taken into consideration in our thinking and our planning—God sees; God knows. We all need that check of the Divine eye upon us, reading our very hearts.
II. THE DIVINE OMNISCIENCE AS A TERROR. Such it must always be to the evildoer, to the man who wants to do wrong. It checks the good man; it frightens the bad man. A servant-girl was accustomed to pilfer when dusting her master's room, but there was a portrait on the walls, the eyes of which seemed to be always following and watching her; so, to relieve herself of her terror, the foolish girl cut out the eyes. An oppressive picture of the terror of God's looking at and into evil-doers is given in the description of the judgment, when men wilt call on the rocks and hills to hide them from the face of God—as if they could!
III. THE DIVINE OMNISCIENCE AS A CONSOLATION AND STRENGTH. This it is to all who wish to be good. The best source of illustration is Psalms 139:1-24. See especially the restfulness and the joy breathed in the prayer of Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24. As Calvin says, "That man must have a rare confidence who offers himself so boldly to the scrutiny of God's righteous judgment."—R.T.
The joy of the meek.
"The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord." It is quite usual to confuse the "meek" with the "humble;" but, though the confusion may sometimes be excused, it is better to associate distinct meanings with each term. The "humble" man is the Juan who thinks in a lowly way about himself. The "meek" man is the man who is concerned for the interests of others rather than himself, The ideal "meek" man has supreme concern for the interests of God. The "humble" man does not think of himself more highly than he ought to think. The "meek" man is really "disinterested." The Bible models of meekness are first, Moses, who sacrificed himself in his zeal for the interests of the Hebrews; and then, the Lord Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for the redemption of mankind. In precise harmony with this text, it is said of him, "Who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God." The immediate historical connection of the verse may be thus indicated: The scoffers jeered at Isaiah's assurance that the distress arising from the Assyrian invasion would pass away; there was no need to think of Egypt; Jehovah could and would defend his own. Isaiah replies to them that they need only wait awhile, and they would learn that God rules, and the day of deliverance and restoration would prove a day of increased joy for all those meek and pious souls that held fast their trust in God. The expression, "shall increase their joy," suggests two very simple and natural divisions.
I. THE MEEK HAVE THE JOY OF THEIR TRUST IN THE TIME OF PERIL. Even in the national distress they held their hope in God, and that hope was strength and cheer and song. They did not think so much about themselves and their troubles as about God and about the ways in which he would vindicate himself and make his glory known. Meek souls are taken out of themselves; and this is the secret of joy. Meek souls are so satisfied in those whom they trust that they can be quiet from fear of evil. "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." They are always rich; they may always be happy.
II. THE MEEK HAVE THE JOY OF DELIVERANCE WHEN GOD'S DAY COMES. They are ready for it, expecting it, waiting to welcome it. They are not hindered by the sense of shame, as are the scoffers. Long expectation makes possession at last a keener, holier joy; and prepares them fully to enjoy all the blessings it brings. Still it is true that the meek have the best of life while they walk under its gloom, and they will have the best of heaven when its gates are opened for the ransomed.—R.T.
Isaiah 29:20, Isaiah 29:21
The humiliation of the suspicious.
We should see in these verses a strictly personal reference. Some parties, especially among the leaders of the people, could see nothing good, nothing wise, in Isaiah's teachings and warnings. They thought them babyish, untimely, leading to a false security. They valued statesmanship, political wisdom, and the subtlety of setting one great nation against another, so that their kingdom might be let alone. The kinds of scorning and sneering in which they indulged are described to us in Isaiah 28:9-13. Here Isaiah utters his complaint of their suspiciousness and unreasonableness. "They make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate." There are no members of society more disagreeable to society than the suspicious, who can so keenly discern evil when there is none to discern; and find evil motive in actions of transparent sincerity. If men praise, the suspicious-tempered call it flattery. If men reprove, the suspicious-tempered say they are jaundiced. Suspiciousness comes to be a disease, a mania. It is absolutely opposed to the spirit of considerate brotherliness and heavenly Divine charity, which "thinketh no evil, and is not easily provoked." Matthew Henry, describing the people referred to here, says, "They made a man, though he were ever so wise and good a man, though he were a man of God, an offender for a word, a word mischosen or misplaced, when they could not but know that it was well meant. They caviled at every word that the prophets spoke to them by way of admonition, though ever so innocently spoken, and without any design to affront them. They put the worst construction upon what was said, and made it criminal by strained innuendoes. Those who consider how apt we all are to speak unadvisedly, and to mistake what we hear, will think it very unjust and unfair to make a man an offender for a word." As the illustration and enforcement of this subject must greatly depend on the experiences and observations of each preacher, we only give suggestive divisions.
I. THE SUSPICIOUS TEMPER MAY HAVE ITS ROOT IN NATURAL DISPOSITION.
II. THE SUSPICIOUS TEMPER SWIFTLY GROWS WITH INDULGENCE.
III. THE SUSPICIOUS TEMPER LEADS MEN TO MAKE MISTAKES.
IV. THE SUSPICIOUS TEMPER LIMITS A MAN'S ENJOYMENTS.
V. THE SUSPICIOUS TEMPER MAY MAKE IT NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE FOR A MAN' TO TRUST IN GOD.—R.T.
The sanctifying power of sanctified people.
"They"—God's redeemed and sanctified ones—"shall sanctify my Name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob." This thought, in its New Testament form, may be found in the words of the great High Priestly prayer, "And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." Christ, the Model of the sanctified ones, honors God, and redeems and purifies man. Two things need consideration.
I. GOD'S SANCTIFIED ONES. "Sanctify" is a familiar term to godly people. It is a word bearing several distinct meanings, or, it would be more exact to say, several distinct parts of meaning. Sometimes one of these parts is set in prominence, and sometimes another part; and it is always worth while to use religious terms with care, precisely apprehending the senses in which they are employed. "Sanctify" may mean "make actually pure and holy." This is indeed the more common and usual meaning of the term, which comes at once to our minds. We think that for us to be sanctified must be for us to be made "perfectly holy." The word seems to express our "meetness for the inheritance of the saints in the light." When we are wholly sanctified we shall be ready for presenting faultless before the presence of God. Some of us think that such "holiness" may be attained in this life; while others of us feel that the testing death-time must come ere the sanctification can be complete, and the full bloom can rest on the sacred fruitage of our life. But by putting this side of meaning into undue prominence, we lose sight of other ideas which lie in the word—ideas of even more practical importance to us. The Jews had thoughts about this word "sanctify" which brought it more helpfully within the sphere of their actual life and labor. To them to sanctify a thing was to take it away—to separate it from common uses, and devote it wholly, consecrate it, to Divine and holy uses. A person or a thing was sanctified when it was given over wholly to God and God's service. A lamb separated from the flock for sacrifice was said to be sanctified. Samuel, taken by his mother away from the home-life, and left with Eli at the tabernacle, was sanctified—lent to the Lord, given over wholly to the Lord's service, for so long as he might live. The Levites were a sanctified tribe, because they were taken from the other tribes, and devoted wholly to the tabernacle service. The Jewish idea of the word comes out very fully in the ceremony of the consecration of a Levite. The priest touched with the blood of a sacrificed animal the Levite's right hand, right eye, and right foot. This was the Levite's sanctification. It devoted every faculty and every power—of seeing, hearing, doing, walking, the right-hand faculties, the best and the choicest—to God's peculiar service. He was a man set apart. This is the side of sanctifying which we may realize, and in this sense our Lord could declare, "I am," daily, continuously, "sanctifying myself." We, too, must be "sanctifying ourselves" for the bearing and the doing of God's holy will and service. And "sanctifying self" means
(1) the full and hearty devotion of all our powers to God's work;
(2) the patient and anxious culturing of the inner life;
(3) hearty and entire separation from all self-seeking interests. Of Christ's school it may be said,
"Here we learn to serve and give,
And, rejoicing, self deny."
II. THE SANCTIFYING POWER OF THE SANCTIFIED ONES. This is the only real fitness of a man for doing God's work in the world. It ensures the highest and best power for the doing, because it brings all the force of the man himself to bear upon his work. It is not a man's knowledge blessing his fellow-men, nor a man's experience, nor a man's genius, nor a man's efforts; it is a man blessing men. It is a regenerate, divinely endowed man, blessing men. It is a Christly man continuing Christ's work of grace. It is a man who has seen Christ telling his vision to others. It is the man become a saint, and therefore an apostle. "That self-sanctifying of the Lord Jesus Christ was 'for our sakes,' and it has power on us. It is the inspiration of an example. It is more than the realization of our ideal. There is the noblest, the loftiest manhood; there is the truest, the meekest piety; there is the perfection of human sonship;—there, in that sanctified Man, who kneels before God and says,' For thy sake, O Father, I am sanctifying myself'. For their sakes, O Father, I am sanctifying myself.'" And there we learn that most blessed lesson that "sanctity is power"—power to honor the Divine Name, power to redeem and uplift our fellow-men.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 29". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13