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GOD'S JUDGMENT UPON JERUSALEM. The general denunciations against Israel of the two preceding chapters are here turned especially against Jerusalem. God will deprive her of all her superior and more honorable classes (Isaiah 3:1-3); and will give her "children" for her rulers (Isaiah 3:4). There will be continued oppression, and the rise of an insolent and undutiful spirit (Isaiah 3:5). Those fit to bear rule will refuse to do so (Isaiah 3:6, Isaiah 3:7).
The Lord, the Lord of hosts (see note on Isaiah 1:24). The stay and the staff; rather, stay and staff. Neither word has the article. The latter is the feminine form of the former; and the intention is to announce that all support of every kind is about to be withdrawn. The whole stay of bread … of water. Mr. Cheyne agrees with Hitzig and Knobel that this clause is probably a gloss on the text, subsequently introduced into it, and a gloss which (lid not proceed from a very enlightened commentator. The "stay" and "staff" intended are certainly not, literal "bread" and "water," but the powerful and respectable classes enumerated in the two following verses. If the words are Isaiah's, he must have intended them to be taken metaphorically.
The mighty man, and the man of war; or, hero and warrior. The first rank is given to those distinguished in war, as being held in the highest esteem, and perhaps as actually, under the coming circumstances, the men of most importance to the country. It is thus implied, as later (Isaiah 3:25, Isaiah 3:26) it is expressly taught, that the impending visitation will be a terrible invasion. The judge, and the prophet; literally, judge and prophet. The judge holds his place as one of the highest officers of the state (see Isaiah 1:26); the prophet holds a lower position than might have been expected, on account of the writer's humility. The prudent; rather, the diviner, as the word is translated in Deuteronomy 18:14; 1 Samuel 6:2; Isaiah 44:25; Jeremiah 27:9; Jeremiah 29:8; Ezekiel 13:9; Micah 3:7; Zechariah 10:2; or soothsayer, as in Joshua 13:22. Isaiah arranges the classes, not so much according to the order in which he values them, as to that in which they were valued by the people. The ancient; i.e. "the elder," as the word is translated commonly. The "elders" had an ascertained position in the state under the monarchy (2 Samuel 5:3; 2Sa 19:11; 1 Kings 8:1; 1Ki 20:7; 2 Kings 6:32, etc.).
The captain of fifty. "Captains of fifties" were scarcely at this period "civil officers" (Cheyne). They represent simply the lowest grade of officers in the army (2Ki 1:9, 2 Kings 1:11, 2 Kings 1:13). Honorable. The same expression is used again in Isaiah 9:15. It occurs also in 2 Kings 5:1-27. I and Job 22:8. The cunning artificer. "All the craftsmen and smiths" in Jerusalem were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar in the captivity of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:14; cf. Jeremiah 24:1). They were among the most valuable of the population, in time of war no less than of peace, since on them depended the construction and repair of the military engines which were regarded as of so much importance (2 Chronicles 26:15). The eloquent orator; rather, the expert enchanter (comp. Ecclesiastes 10:11; Jeremiah 8:17).
I will give children to be their princes; rather, youths than "children." The extreme youth of the later kings of Judah at the date of their accession is very remarkable. After Hezekiah, only one was as much as twenty-five years old when he came to the throne. Jehoahaz was twenty-three (2 Kings 23:31); Amon, twenty-two (2 Kings 21:19); Zedekiah twenty-one (2 Kings 24:18); Jehoiachin, eighteen (2 Kings 24:8); Manasseh, twelve (2 Kings 21:1); and Josiah eight (2 Kings 22:1). Thus this prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. And babes shall rule over them; literally, puerilities shall rule over them; i.e. the youths shall behave in a childish way.
And the people shall be oppressed, etc.; rather, shall oppress each man his fellow, and each man his companion. This would be no new thing (see Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 1:21, Isaiah 1:23), but perhaps might be more widely spread, having passed from the upper classes to the lower ones, as is usual with vices. The child; rather, the youth. Shall behave himself proudly; or, insolently. The respect for age inculcated by the Law (Leviticus 19:32) shall disappear. Youths shall set at naught the counsel of the aged. The spirit of Rehoboam shall prevail over that of Solomon, with the usual result—rashness, recklessness, and failure. And the base, etc. Respect for station shall likewise disappear. The dregs of the people shall grow insolent towards those above them in the social scale; and thus the old social order shall be inverted.
When a man shall take hold of his brother. A new departure. In the general anarchy described (Isaiah 3:4, Isaiah 3:5) it will be felt that something must be done. A man will take hold of his brother (i.e. his fellow) in his (i.e. the latter's) father's house, where he lives in seclusion, and say to him, "Thou hast clothing", "thou must be our ruler; let this ruin" (i.e. "this ruined state") "be under thy band." This ruin; literally, this stumbling-block (see Zephaniah 1:3; and compare the uniform translation of the kindred noun mikshol (Leviticus 19:14; Psalms 119:165; Isaiah 57:14; Jeremiah 6:21; Ezekiel 52:20; Ezekiel 7:10, etc.). The Jewish community is meant, which was full of stumbling itself, and might well cause all those to stumble who came into contact with it.
In that day shall he swear; or, lift up his voice—speaking with emotion (Kay). I will not be an healer; literally, a binder-up (comp. Isaiah 1:6); "I will not undertake to heal the calamities of the state." In my house is neither bread nor clothing; i.e. "I am not a wealthy man; I have no stores laid up; I am quite unfit to be the people's ruler." Make me not; or, ye shall not make me. The decently clad man entirely declines to be advanced to the helm of the state.
THE CAUSE OF THE JUDGMENT SHOWN TO BE THE SINS OF JERUSALEM.
1. The sins of the men. (Isaiah 3:8-15). These are declared to be partly sins of speech, but mainly sins of act (Isaiah 3:8). Of sins of speech the only one specified is the open and shameless declaration of their wickedness (Isaiah 3:9). Under the head of sins of act are enumerated
(1) childishness and effeminacy;
(2) irreligion and leading people away from God (Isaiah 3:12);
(3) oppression of the poor and afflicted (Isaiah 3:14, Isaiah 3:15).
The enumeration of the sins is mixed with exhortation and comment in such a way as to give rise to the conjecture that we have here, not the original prophecy as the author penned it, but a later "summary" of several prophetical discourses, which summary itself is "a little fragmentary" (Cheyne).
Jerusalem is ruined; or, has come to ruin—the "perfect of prophetic certainty" (Cheyne)—(comp. Amos 5:2, "The virgin of Israel is fallen"). Their tongue and their doings. Sins of the tongue are denounced in the Old Testament as well as in the New, though not, perhaps, so frequently (see Exodus 20:7; Exodus 21:17; Exodus 22:28; Exodus 23:1, Exodus 23:2; Psalms 31:18; Psalms 94:4, etc.). To provoke the eyes of his glory. This is an unusual metaphor. God's glory seems here to be identified with himself, as being of his very essence; and thus "provoking the eyes of his glory" is simply provoking him to look on them with anger.
The show of their countenance doth witness against them. This is not in itself a sin, but it is a sign of frequent and habitual sin. Vice, long indulged in, stamps its mark upon the countenance, giving men what is called "a bad expression"—a guilty and hardened look. It does not require a skilled physiognomist to detect at a glance the habitual criminal or sensualist. They declare their sin as Sodom. Not only does their countenance betray them, but, like the Sodomites (Genesis 19:5, Genesis 19:9), they boldly and impudently declare their wicked purposes beforehand, and make no attempt at concealment. Hypocrisy has been said to be the homage that vice pays to virtue. Where there is none, where vice has ceased to shroud or veil itself, a very advanced stage of wickedness has been reached. They have rewarded evil unto themselves. They have "received in themselves the recompense of their error which was meet" (Romans 1:27). Their sins have at once marred their countenance and injured their moral nature.
Say ye to the righteous. The mention of the fact that the men of Jerusalem have permanently injured their moral natures by sin, and thus "rewarded evil to themselves," leads the prophet to declare at this point, parenthetically, the general law, which extends alike to the evil and the good—that men receive in themselves the recompense of their deeds. The righteous raise their moral nature, become better, and, in becoming better, become happier. "It is well with them, for of the fruit of their doings they eat." The wicked deprave and corrupt themselves, lower their moral nature, become worse than they were, and, in becoming worse, become more miserable. "Woe unto them! with them it is ill; for the achievement of their hands is given them."
As for my people. Return is now made to the sins of the dwellers in Jerusalem, and the first thing noted is that the people suffer from the childishness and effeminacy of their rulers. The rulers are called "oppressors" by the way here, the sin of oppression being dwelt on later (Isaiah 3:14, Isaiah 3:15). Here the emphatic words are "children," "women." Children (see Isaiah 3:4). The rulers are "children," or rather "babes"—foolish, capricious, cowardly. It is not clear that any prince in particular is meant; rather, by the plural form, the upper class generally seems to be intended, as in Isaiah 1:10, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 1:23, etc. Women; comp. Herod; 8.88, where Xerxes says that "his men have shown themselves women, and his women men;" and see also Virg; 'AEneid '—
"O vere Phrygia, neque enim Phryges."
The rulers were womanly, i.e. weak, wavering, timid, impulsive, passionate, and are therefore called actual "women." There is no allusion to female sovereigns. They which lead thee cause thee to err; or, they which direct thee lead thee astray. Professing to point out the right path, they led men away from it. Destroy the way; literally, swallow it up, or obliterate it.
The Lord standeth up to plead. The great sin of the time was oppression of the poor by the rich, and especially by the rulers (Isaiah 1:15, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 1:21). In noticing this, the prophet, to give more weight to his denunciation, introduces Jehovah as standing up, and coming forward on the popular side, to plead the people's cause, and remonstrate with their oppressors. There is great force in this sudden entrance on the scene of Jehovah himself, as Pleader and Judge. And … judge the people; rather, the peoples. Primarily, Israel is God's care; but he does not stop at this point. All the nations of the earth are also under his protection.
The ancients … the princes. These were the chief oppressors. They delivered the judgments, and it was by them that justice was perverted. Jehovah therefore enters specially into judgment with them. For ye have eaten up; rather, So ye have eaten up. Jehovah is supposed to address the unjust judges. He reproaches them with having "eaten up," or rather "scorched up," his vineyard, i.e. Israel (comp. Isaiah 5:1-7), and taxes them with having still their ill-gotten gains in their houses. "So ye," he says, "have thus acted—ye whose duty it was to have acted so differently."
What mean ye? i.e. "What has come over you?" or "What strange perversity has possessed yon?" (Kay). That ye beat my people to pieces, etc. The strongest possible expressions are used to mark God's abhorrence of the oppression to which the poor were subjected. Under the Law, he constituted himself the champion of such persons (see Exodus 22:22-24).
2. The sins of the women. (Isaiah 3:16-26.) These may be summed up under the three heads of pride, wanton manners (Isaiah 3:16), and love of dress and ornament (Isaiah 3:18-23). It was natural that, with increased commerce (2 Kings 14:22; Isaiah 2:16) and more frequent communication with foreign nations, such as Assyria (2 Kings 16:7-10) and Babylon (2 Kings 20:12, 2 Kings 20:13), there should be an increase of luxury, and quite in accordance with Eastern ideas that the luxury should particularly show itself in the dress and adornment of the women. The Egyptian remains show an advanced state of luxury among the women at a time anterior to Moses; and in Assyria, though the evidence is less abundant, we find also indications of a similar kind. The Jews, whose regard for their women was high, are not likely to have been behindhand in the gallantry which shows itself in heaping ornament and the newest appliances of civilization on the weaker sex.
The daughters of Zion. It is over-fanciful to go beyond the plain meaning of the words here, and suppose allegory. "The daughters of Zion" are the female inhabitants of Jerusalem. Are haughty; or, proud—like the men (Isaiah 2:11, Isaiah 2:12, Isaiah 2:17). Walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes. Mr. Cheyne translates, "ogling eyes." Both actions indicate the desire to attract men's attention, and are shameless and immodest. Walking and mincing as they go; i.e. taking short steps in an affectedly childish way. Making a tinkling with their feet. This meaning is generally accepted, though not very certain. It has been suggested that the anklets which they wore (Isaiah 3:18) had silver bells attached to them.
Therefore the Lord will smite with a seal. Thus destroying their beauty by producing baldness (comp. Isaiah 3:24; and for the meaning "smite with a scab," see Le Isaiah 13:2; Isa 14:1-32 :56).
The bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet; rather, of their anklets. Anklets were worn by the Egyptian women from the time of the twelfth dynasty. They were, in general, plain rings of metal, but appear to have been sometimes set with precious stones. No bells appear attached to any; but bells were known in Assyria from the time of Sennacherib. Their cauls; margin, networks. The marginal rendering is probably correct (comp. LXX; ἐμπλόκια). Network caps to contain the hair seem to be intended (so Kimchi, Saadiah, Jarchi, Rosenmüller, Kay). Mr. Cheyne prefers "wreaths worn round the forehead, reaching from one ear to the other." Round tires like the moon; rather, crescents. Flat ornaments in metal, like a young moon, generally worn suspended round the neck (see Judges 8:26, where the same word occurs).
The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers; rather, the ear-drops, and the armlets, and the veils. Earrings were worn from very ancient times by both the Assyrians and the Egyptians. The ring had frequently a pendant hanging from it. Men wore armlets in Assyria, and both men and women in Egypt (Lepsius, 'Denktamer,' pt. 3.Philippians 1:0). Yells have always been regarded in the East as almost a necessary part of female attire.
The bonnets; rather, the headgear. It is quite uncertain what this was, since we have no representations of Hebrew women. Egyptian women commonly wore a mere fillet with pendant ends. The Hebrew word here employed is used in Exodus of the head-dress of the priests (Exodus 39:28). The ornaments of the legs. These are explained as chains connecting the two anklets together. The head-bands, and the tablets, and the ear-rings; rather, the girdles, and the scent-bottles, and the amulets. Scent-bottles and jars for holding sweet-smelling unguents are among the most frequent toilette articles recovered from Egyptian tombs and Assyrian palaces. Amulets have been worn in the East from very ancient times, and are still trusted in as much as ever. They frequently take the form of ornaments.
The rings; literally, seal-rings, or signet-rings. Such were known in Egypt from the time of Joseph (Genesis 41:42), and probably earlier. It would seem from the present passage that their use was not confined to men. Nose-jewels. Actual nose-rings are not represented in any of the ancient remains; and the use of them seems to be confined to very barbarous communities. Probably the "nose-jewels" here mentioned were ornaments depending from the forehead and touching the upper part of the nose,
The changeable suite of apparel; rather, the festival robes (Revised Version), or the full-dress suits; i.e. those worn upon grand occasions, and then put off and set aside. The mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping-pins; rather, the upper petticoats, the wraps, and the purses. An inner and an outer tunic or petticoat were commonly worn by females of the higher class in the East. The inner tunic was a simple linen vest; but the outer was generally of a better material, and richly ornamented. Outside this, a sort of wrap, or cloak, was worn occasionally (see Ruth 3:15). Purses were, no doubt, carried by wealthy persons of both sexes; but their mention in this list does not seem very appropriate. Perhaps toilet-bags of some kind or other are intended (see 2 Kings 5:23).
The glasses; rather, the mirrors. In ancient times these were not made of glass, but of some metal which took a high polish. Most commonly, the material seems to have been bronze. Many such mirrors have been found in Egypt, a few in Assyria, in Etruria a considerable number. They are of small size, intended to be carried in the hand, and have for that purpose a metal or a wooden handle, which is sometimes highly artistic. The fine linen; rather, the muslin robes. Sedin, the Hebrew word used, is probably a corruption or analogue of sin-don, the Greek name for Indian fabrics. It is only used here and in Judges 14:12, Judges 14:13; Proverbs 31:24. The hoods, and the vails; or, the turbans and the scarfs. The word translated" hood" is nearly the same as that which designates the head-dress of the high priest in Exodus (Exodus 28:4, Exodus 28:37, Exodus 28:39; Exodus 29:6, etc.) and Leviticus (Le Leviticus 8:9; Leviticus 16:4), which seems to have been a "turban" (see note on Exodus 28:4). The other word, here translated "vail," occurs only in this place and So Leviticus 5:7. Its exact meaning is uncertain; but it can scarcely be a veil; since "veils" have been already mentioned (Leviticus 5:19).
Instead of sweet smell; literally, spice (comp. Exodus 35:28; 1 Kings 10:10, etc.). Stink; rather, rottenness, as translated in Isaiah 5:24 (compare the cognate verb in Leviticus 26:39). Instead of a girdle a rent. So Lowth and Kay; but most moderns prefer the meaning given by the Septuagint and Vulgate, "instead of a girdle, a rope." The word used occurs only in this place. Instead of well-set hair baldness (compare above, Isaiah 5:17). By "well-set hair" seems to be meant "hair arranged with such exactness and order as to look like a work of art." The exact arrangement of the hair is very remarkable, both in the Egyptian and the Assyrian sculptures. Instead of such elaborate attempts to improve their looks, the daughters of Jerusalem would soon pluck their hair out by the roots, or shave it off, in mourning. A girding of sackcloth (comp. Genesis 37:34; 2 Samuel 3:31, etc.; and for the adoption of the custom by women, see 2 Samuel 21:10; Joel 1:8). Burning instead of beauty. This meaning is now generally acknowledged, the sense of "burning" being borne out by the cognate verb used in Proverbs 6:28; Isaiah 43:2, and the cognate noun used in Exodus 21:25. The" burning" intended is probably branding by a barbarous enemy.
Thy men; rather, thy people; i.e. the inhabitants of Jerusalem generally. Note here the first distinct statement that the coming visitation will be one of war.
Her gates. The sudden change of person is common in Oriental poetry. Shall lament and mourn. On account of their destruction, which would be very complete (see Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 2:9; Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:13). Conquerors could not do more than break breaches in the walls of a town, but they carefully destroyed the gates. Being desolate; or, emptied—plundered of everything, and so far "cleansed" from her abominations. Shall sit upon the ground. In deep grief (see Job 2:13; and comp. Isaiah 47:1; Lamentations 2:10). So in the coin of Vespasian, the captive Judah (Judea capta) sits upon the ground.
Many steps in the decay of states.
Ruin does not often come on states at once, even when God has determined on it. There are many steps in the fall of a great nation.
I. CESSATION OF A SUCCESSION OF GREAT AND WISE MEN. (Isaiah 3:2, Isaiah 3:3.) One of the first marks of decay is a falling off in this succession. When the intervals between one great man and another lengthen; when wise men, capable of giving the state good counsel, grow rare; when mediocrity everywhere prevails, and no one steps forth conspicuous by marked superiority to his fellows;—then it may at once be proclaimed that decline has set in, and that the nation is verging towards its fall. The great and the wise are the salt which preserve society from corruption. Without them all goes wrong; the pulse of the national life slackens, energy disappears, foreign aggression is weakly resisted, a general debilitation becomes apparent in every part and function of the body politic. No state can long resist the insidious malady, which, like atrophy or anaemia, steals gradually over the entire frame, exhausting it and bringing about its dissolution.
II. ACTIVE FOLLY IN THE RULERS. (Isaiah 3:4.) When the great and the wise fail, government necessarily falls into the hands of the incompetent. If not "children" in age, they will be "babes" in respect of policy and statecraft. So long, however, as they are willing to follow the traditions of the past, to work upon well-known lines, and carry out established practices, no very great harm can arise. But they are seldom content for many years to act thus. A childish desire seizes them to attract attention, to exhibit their power. Hence they plunge into active follies, wild schemes of aggression and conquest, or imprudent and unsuitable alliances, as that of Ahaz with Tiglath-Pileser (2 Chronicles 28:16, 2 Chronicles 28:20). The state is brought into difficulties and entanglements, and the wisdom is wanting that should have seen a way out of them. One embarrassment follows another. Unexpected circumstances arise, and it is not perceived how they should be met. The unwisdom of the good is perhaps as fatal as the folly of the wicked (e.g. Josiah's uncalled-for resistance of Pharaoh-Nechoh, 2 Kings 23:29), and leads to great disasters. Meanwhile other causes are at work, which advance the general confusion and accelerate the final catastrophe.
III. DEVELOPMENT OF SELFISHNESS AMONG THE PEOPLE. (Isaiah 3:5.) Society is based upon the principles of justice and mutual good will. While states prosper, it requires no extraordinary virtue in men to deal justly by their neighbors, and act towards them in a friendly spirit. But when the times are out of joint, when there is general impoverishment and distress, it is no longer easy to be amicable or even just. "Every man for himself!" becomes the cry; the spirit of selfishness is evoked and runs riot; "the people" (no longer the "rulers" or the "judges," Isaiah 1:10, Isaiah 1:23) "oppress every one another, and every one his neighbor" (Isaiah 3:5). This indulgence of the selfish spirit acts as a solvent—loosens the bonds which have hitherto held society together, and goes far to reduce the united mass, in whose union was its strength, to a congeries of atoms.
IV. CESSATION OF RESPECT FOR AGE OR SOCIAL RANK. (Isaiah 3:5.) The disintegration of society tends to place all the atoms upon a par. While the social order was maintained, and the whole society felt itself one, the parts knew their need one of the other, and recognized their respective positions of inferiority and superiority. But with the loosening of the social ties comes naturally a general self-assertion. In a physical chaos atoms are of equal value, and why not in a disintegrated society? Hence the young in such a state throw off their allegiance to the old; even sons cease to respect or obey their fathers, and daughters their mothers. The humbler classes of toilers for daily bread no longer look up to their more favored brethren, but rather view them with jealousy and hatred. Class is alienated from class, and the tendency to a complete dissolution of society aggravated.
V. NEGLECT OF THEIR CIVIL DUTIES ON THE PART OF THE WELL-TO-DO CLASSES. (Isaiah 3:6, Isaiah 3:7.) Noblesse oblige. In a distracted state of society, it is especially incumbent on those whose means place them beyond the reach of want, and allow them ample leisure, to come to the relief of their neighbors by undertaking those civil duties and offices on which the welfare of the body politic depends. But it is exactly at such times that we find this class of persons most inclined to ignore this obligation, and withdraw wholly from political life (Isaiah 3:7). Some, like Plato, justify themselves under the plea that nothing can be done to save society, and that they may be excused for taking refuge under the first shelter that offers while the storm rages and exhausts itself. Others plead the vulgarizing effect of active political life, and claim the right of keeping their superfine humanity free from the smears and stains which mixture with the crowd would bring upon it. On one excuse or another, or not infrequently without condescending to make any excuse, the upper classes in a distracted state stand aloof, neglect their civil duties, and refuse all the calls that are made on them to come to the rescue, and do their best to save the "ruin" that is tottering to its fall.
The law of retributive justice not mechanical, but moral.
The doctrine of future rewards and punishments is sometimes preached in a way that is, if not offensive, at any rate unsatisfactory. God is made to deal with men as not even judicious parents would deal with their children—viz, for so much obedience, so much bestowal of pleasure or indulgence; for so much disobedience, an equal award of pain and punishment. But this is certainly not the doctrine of Holy Scripture. Scripture represents the reward of well-doing as "eternal life," and this "eternal life" is the vigorous energy of all that is good in the man himself, sustained and strengthened by the Spirit of Christ in the soul, and accompanied by happy feelings of love and trust and thankfulness. "Eternal life" begins in this world, and is only carried out to perfection in the next. It is, in the main, a state of feeling-consciousness of being at one with God, consciousness of communion with him. It admits, no doubt, of exaltation from without, as here by the special shedding of Divine influences upon the soul, and hereafter by the transcendent blessing of the beatific vision; but it is principally in the man himself. It is a condition of mind, not a set of external circumstances. And so with ill-doing and its consequence, "eternal death." Men make their own misery by their deeds. They "receive within themselves the recompense of their errors." They mar their moral nature; they refuse to hold communion with God; and then, thrown back upon themselves, and having nothing within them pleasing to contemplate or to be conscious of, they find themselves wretched—they have created their own hell.
The share which women have in producing the ruin of a nation.
The influence of women upon men was intended to be helpful (Genesis 2:20), purifying, and refining. Woman is naturally more pure than man, more modest, more retiring, more instinctively right in her moral judgments. Good women exercise an extraordinary influence over the best men, who continually consult them in the most difficult crises of politics and diplomacy. They read men far better than men read one another, and are excellent counselors on many of the most important occasions. But as the power for good which they wield is great, so is their power for evil. Corruptio optimi pessima. Bad women are far worse than the worst men; and the ruin of a state is always partly, sometimes mainly, caused by its women. The sins of women chiefly noted by Isaiah in this passage are:
1. The vanity and love of admiration which show themselves in excessive attention to dress and ornament.
2. The wantonness and immodesty which sometimes characterize their conduct.
3. The pride and haughtiness which under certain circumstances they display. All these are corrupting influences in a state, and help forward its decay and ruin.
I. VANITY AND LOVE OF ADMIRATION, AS SHOWN IN EXCESSIVE ATTENTION TO DRESS AND ORNAMENT. The desire to please is not in itself wrong, and attention to dress within certain limits is to be commended. A woman does not prove herself perfectly virtuous by being a sloven. But there is an attention to such matters and a quasi-devotion to them which is plainly excessive, and which has often the most injurious consequences. A tone of frivolity is engendered by much consideration of matters so trivial, which unfits a woman for dealing with the difficult problems of life and action. The management of her household and the training of her children, which are the principal duties, at any rate, of married women, are apt to be neglected by the woman of fashion, who dresses five times a day, and passes half her time at her toilet-table. Serious inroads are made upon a husband's means, sometimes to the extent of actual ruin, by the extravagance of those who cannot bear to see any one better dressed than themselves. Selfishness, worldliness, littleness, are impressed on the character, all higher aims being set aside, and nothing sought but the admiration of the other sex.
II. WANTONNESS AND IMMODESTY often follow on the love of admiration and grow out of it. A woman who courts admiration forgets the reserve which becomes her sex, and is tempted to enhance her charms by an indecorous display of them. Once let the limits of modesty be overstepped, and one defense falls after another. Facilis descensus Averni. Wanton glances (verse 16) are succeeded by immodest words, and these lead on to immodest deeds; and at last every barrier is thrown down, and the world sees a Messalina or a Lucrezia Borgia. General immodesty in the women of a state is of infrequent occurrence; but where it occurs, is an almost certain indication of approaching social dissolution. The most flagrant instance is that of Rome. There, from the time of the establishment of the empire, the disorders of married and domestic life were excessive. "A kind of rivalry in impurity grew up between the two sexes; and there were more seducers than seduced of the female sex". "In Rome the women, deprived of all moral support, became just what the men made them, and so sank with them incessantly deeper and deeper". Historians generally, ascribe the fall of the Roman empire to no cause more than to the corruption of the Roman women.
III. PRIDE AND HAUGHTINESS are not natural vices of women; but, when developed, they attain vast proportions, and lead on to great calamlties. Jezebel and Athaliah in Old Testament history, Amestris and Parysatis in Persian, Tanaquil in Roman, are examples of the power of women for evil, when they step out of their sphere, assume to direct the policy of states, dispense life and death, and lord it over the people of a kingdom. In such cases their haughtiness outdoes that of men, and provokes a more intense feeling of dissatisfaction and resentment. Revolution often follows, or in any case disaffection towards the government; and an additional element of danger is introduced, which becomes fatal under certain circumstances. Altogether, it would seem that women have quite as much influence as men towards producing the ruin of states, and are quite as responsible for political catastrophes.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
A picture of anarchy.
The words carry on the sense of the closing saying of the preceding paragraph, "Cease ye from man."
I. THE RULERS OF THE PEOPLE REMOVED. Government is one of the necessities of human life. Hence the rulers are spoken of as "staff and stay, staff of bread and staff of water." Even bad rulers are better than none, so that they may be described as main props or supports of life. In the same way says Ezekiel, "I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem" (Ezekiel 4:16; Ezekiel 5:16). To see how truly good government may be thus described, let us remember that, by timely and wise legislation, bread and other necessaries of life have been cheapened and secured to the people. With good government men may be well fed and prosperous even in unkindly lands, while through evil government once fertile plains (like the Roman Campagna) have become wastes.
II. THE NERVE AND STRENGTH OF THE NATION BROKEN. A nation needs heroes, men of courage for the battle-field. It needs men of discretion and integrity for the seat of justice and the bar. It needs men of religious faith and insight as prophets and teachers; and in every department, military, civil, ecclesiastical, scientific, there is a constant demand for able and honest men. There is to be a dearth of them in Jerusalem. The false leaders to whom the people have looked up, the idol-prophets and the magicians, are to be taken away along with the true. "Children" and "baby-boys," the prophet caustically says, shall become the princes and rulers of the nation. Ahaz was quite a young man; his "weakness of character and foolish humors would have been quite sufficient, in the sixteen years of his reign, to put the whole kingdom out of joint." The picture may remind us that men of intelligence and virtue are the great necessity in every time. If in the state statesmen are not being bred, and in the Church weak and illiterate men swarm, it is a sign of most certain moral weakness and decay.
III. ANARCHY THE RESULT.
1. In private life. Good neighborhood is broken up, for it must rest on the common recognition of law and custom; and what if these be subverted? Age and rank no longer command respect. The beardless boy affronts the hoary head, the churl would level the gently born with himself. Nothing is more odious than the leveling temper of troublous times; for the fine gradations of rank are part essentially of a system of higher culture.
2. In public life. So extreme is the need of guidance and rule, that private proposals will be made to almost any seeming respectable man to take up the reins of government. But none will be found willing to govern "these ruins," or to be chief of so mere a rabble. We may use the picture as an allegory of the soul. When sin has set our being at variance with itself, and all our confidence and self has failed, we may be glad to find any yoke that we may creep beneath. Yet this may be denied. Those who, in the rebellion of lust and self-will, have sought to be "lords of themselves," may find a heritage of woe entailed. "The soul would never rule. It would be first in all things; but this attained, commanding for commanding sickens it."—J.
The reasons of judgment.
In man's sufferings they must own they are subject to the reasonable rule of him who is eternal Reason.
I. ANTAGONISM TO THE DIVINE RULE. In word and deed.
1. In current talk, writing, speechifying, it is difficult to detect where the falsehood lies. It consists in the suppression of certain important sides of truth, and in putting forward interested, partial views of things. The literature of a people cannot be sound, if it be sunk in greed of gold and luxury as Judah had been. The hollowness consists in the reference of everything to a low standard of value. Not until a great preacher, prophet, or writer—a Savonarola, a Latimer, a Carlyle—arises to shed the splendor of eternal truth upon our ways, do we discover how false and mean they have been.
2. We find we have "provoked the eyes of God's majesty" by our way of life. What hard-heartedness and brazen defiance of humanity and morality is brought to light from time to time, when some reformer directs attention to an abuse! Men cynically "make fortunes" out of the flesh and blood of their fellow-creatures. Have not in our time the cries of factory children, and over-toiled seamstresses, and drowning sailors, and "gutter children" gone up into the cars of the Lord of hosts? Isaiah is modern as well as ancient, for the Word he delivers is eternal.
II. THE NEMESIS OF EVIL, THE RECOMPENSE OF GOOD.
1. Wickedness is suicidal. "Woe to their soul, for to themselves they did evil!" Here lights the deepest curse, here rankles at last the arrow; in the soul! Dante sees in hell (c. 12.), in three circles, those who have wronged their neighbor, their God, and themselves. But every species of wrong works out its woe in self.
"Man can do violence
To himself and his own blessings; and for this
He in the second round must aye deplore
With unavailing penitence his crime.
Whoe'er deprives himself of life and light,
In reckless banishment his talent wastes,
And sorrows there where he should dwell in joy."
Men may afford the loss of property, of a limb, of health; but not of love, not of the soul. The denial of love, or the waste of it, means the loss of the soul.
2. Goodness is self-rewarding. Often is the good man compared to a tree, bringing forth fruit by a law of nature, according to its kind and in its season. There is strict and beautiful sequence in life and character. No curse, no blessing, "causeless comes." The bitter fruit we bring forth comes from interference with the Divine nature God has given us. It is said that wanton Arabs sometimes
"Foil a dwarf palm
Of bearing its own proper wine and oil,
By grafting into it the stranger-vine,
Which sucks its heart out, sly and serpentine,
Till forth one vine-palm fastens to the root,
And red drops moisten the insipid fruit."
Such is sin and sin's result on the being; a parody and mockery of that sound and true life so beautifully presented under the image of a tree in the first psalm.
III. MISRULE. There has been weakness and effeminacy in high places. And this is often more mischievous than strong and open violence. A vast growth of vicious and interested passions springs up in the neighborhood of a weak court. It is the opportunity for many bad men to exert their ambition. A powerful will generally works some good at the head of affairs, even though its wielder be not a good man. But feebleness is always baneful in public life. Everything is uncertain when the purpose is vacillating, and no settled principle exists. The feeble ruler will be swayed by every gust of caprice, by every personal influence that attacks his ear, every passion that enslaves his heart. Several of our kings—John, Richard II; the Charleses—have been examples of this. The country may be compared to a beautiful vineyard which the rulers have been appointed to keep (Isaiah 5:1-7). They have trampled it down and despoiled it, and have "ground the sufferers' faces." The image is taken from the mill, where a substance is worn down until nothing is left. The contemporary prophet Micah uses still stronger language (Micah 3:2, Micah 3:3). The rulers flay the people, and cutting them in pieces, cast them, as it were, into a caldron. Unhappily this picture has its counterpart today in many Eastern lands. The women of the harem practically rule and devour the people in their greed. Personally, the description may be applied. God has entrusted to each of us a garden or vineyard to keep. Diligence and faithfulness will have their reward. For sloth, neglect, waste, and abuse, God will enter into judgment with us.—J.
Verse 16-Isaiah 4:1
The women of Jerusalem.
The habits and the morale in general of the court and the aristocracy are a sure index of the state of the nation. Fashion guides, but is in a measure controlled by the general opinion. Wanton pride and luxury in high places bespeak a general want of moral tone.
I. THEIR PRIDE. The picture is minute and scathingly satirical. The daughters of Zion walk with "necks held up."
II. THEIR LASCIVIOUSNESS. The "rolling eyes" are often mentioned as characteristic of Aphrodite or Ashtoreth, the unchaste goddess of sensual love.
III. THEIR FINERY AND LUXURY. A complete catalogue of articles of personal adornment is given. The instinct for dress and decoration, so strong in women and so graceful if followed with moderation, easily passes beyond the bounds, and becomes an offence and vice.
IV. THE REVERSE OF THE PICTURE. The perfumes will be exchanged for a stench, the waistband for the rough cord of poverty, the abundance of flowing hair will be replaced by repulsive baldness. "A brand instead of beauty!" Their husbands will fall in the war. There will be melancholy groups gathering at the public place, the gates; and in vain will they, once lapped in luxury, seek the protection and the honor of the marriage state (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:36). One of our poets has called up the picture of Venice and her women in old days of mirth and folly, which may be compared.
"As for Venice and her people, merely born to bloom and drop,
Here on earth they bore their fruitage—mirth and folly were the crop.
What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop?
Dust and ashes!"
Only the "sweet and virtuous soul" can give to woman an immortal charm, and ensure her from corrupting and being corrupted.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
The revealings of the face.
"The show of their countenance doth witness against them." We are "fearfully and wonderfully made." Just as the countenance reveals the state of our physical health, so do thought and character manifest themselves in the face. All our nature, with its complexity of being, has yet a subtle and mysterious oneness, and the tone of the mind and the inclination of the heart are made manifest, not alone in speech, but in look and gesture and manner. In the simple language of the holy Book, there is a show of the countenance.
I. MEN CANNOT PREVENT SELF-REVEALING. As the New Testament says, "They that be otherwise cannot be hid." There is no concealment in nature. The hidden seed springs up even in the cleft of a rock. There is always some damaging witness waiting for an evil man. As the snow reveals the footsteps of the beast of prey, as the wind of the desert drifts the sand from the body that is buried in it, so sin will surely be found out. A bad man's face is a tell-tale of levity and scorn and shame. If God is not in the heart, the light of his presence will not be in the countenance.
II. MEN CANNOT LONG ACT A PART. Nature is against insincerity. You cannot forge her handwriting. You cannot make your artificial rock so that it shall remain unknown beside hers. No. And it is so with voice and face. Hypocrisy drops unconsciously its mask. The same words are spoken differently by sincere and insincere men. We read of hollow laughter. So there is hollow exhortation which does not exercise inspiration over our hearts. So men cannot twist their countenances into false witnessing. There is a blatant iniquity about the wicked which cannot be concealed by long effort. "They declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not."
III. MEN CANNOT AVERT PUNISHMENT. "Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves." They create their own inquisition-chamber. Memory is their misery. No theories of unaccountability can live. Excuses there are none. The conscience tears them to pieces like a spider's web. Life is personal and accountable. We all feel that. "Say ye to the righteous, it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him." Reward, then, is not always blessing; it is harvest of golden sheaves or gathered tares, according to our planting. Verily a light from within fills the countenance even of godly men. The prayer is fulfilled. "Cause thy face to shine upon us." "Who is the Health of my countenance, and my God"—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
National and spiritual anarchy.
We have a vivid picture here of—
I. NATIONAL ANARCHY.
1. Its cause is found in national rebellion against its rightful Lord. "Their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory" (Isaiah 3:8). Sin, both in word and deed, draws down the righteous indignation of God, and, under his just administration, the penalty of iniquity is paid.
2. Its signs are seen in:
(1) The loss of all fitting leaders (Isaiah 3:1-3). Those who constituted "the stay and the staff" are no longer found in positions of authority; those capable of ruling, those qualified to direct and to advise, those who have learnt political sagacity by long experience,—these are not to be obtained; they have been deported, or they have withdrawn, or they are no more trained.
(2) The consequent elevation of the incapable (Isaiah 3:4). Those hold the high offices of state who are utterly incompetent to fill the lasts they have accepted.
(3) The presence of injustice and confusion (Isaiah 3:5). Instead of all doing that which is conscientious and right as between man and man, every one seeks to overreach his neighbor; fraud and violence are the rule rather than the exception; and instead of the natural subordination of the younger to the elder, there is insolence and presumption.
(4) The absence of unselfish patriotism (Isaiah 3:6, Isaiah 3:7). They who are in a position to render help refuse to do so, untruly and unworthily excusing themselves.
3. Its issue. (Isaiah 3:8.) "Jerusalem is being ruined (is ruined); Judah is falling (is fallen)." Bad as things are, they are not at their very worst; there remains a darker and sadder catastrophe yet to complete the destruction; and that, viz. dreary exile for the people and depopulation for the land, will soon arrive.
II. SPIRITUAL ANARCHY. We trace the same cause here as in the case of the ruined nation.
1. Its cause is in rebellion against God, and his consequent high displeasure showing itself in just and appropriate penalty (Isaiah 3:8).
2. Its signs are found in:
(1) The dethronement of the soul's true authorities: conscience, which directs us what we ought to do; reason, which leads us in the path in which it is wise to walk; pure affection, which draws us toward the objects we do well to love (Isaiah 3:1-3). When sin does its work within, these powers which were meant to rule are supplanted by unworthy rivals.
(2) The enthronement of the unfitting (Isaiah 3:4). As unsuited to govern a human soul are the rude, uncultured appetites and passions of our lower nature as are "children" and babes to rule over the great affairs of state.
(3) Internal struggle and insubordination (Isaiah 3:5). The animal appetites asserting themselves unduly and violently against spiritual aspirations and holy principles, and doing them dishonor.
(4) Appeal, without response, to our better nature (Isaiah 3:6, Isaiah 3:7). It is one of the last stages in spiritual demoralization when an earnest, strenuous challenge is made to that which is left in the soul of the heavenly and Divine, and it makes no response, or none, but a miserable resort to that which is false. There is little hope left then; the last sparks are expiring:
3. Its issue. (Isaiah 3:8.) A human spirit in such a state is hastening fast to utter and irretrievable ruin. It is in the very act of falling; it is coming to the ground, to be utterly humiliated and broken. It may be perhaps that on earth a soul is never in such complete ruin but that it may be repaired. Yet there are those who have fallen into such disorder that it may be said that the last destruction overhangs them. To such the Master's warning words may well be uttered (see Luke 17:31, Luke 17:32); for they must flee for their life, not losing a moment in starting, nor looking behind them when on their way.—C.
The path of sin and the rest of righteousness.
I. THAT SIN CANNOT BE CONCEALED. "The show of their countenance doth witness against them" (Isaiah 3:9). Whether Isaiah's words point to the unconscious revelation of sin is uncertain, but they clearly suggest the fact. The evil that is in men's hearts is shown in their countenance, whether they wish to conceal it or whether they take a shameful pride in it. The thoughts that flit through the mind, the passions that burn within the soul, the sins that defile the inward man, are written, line by line, on the visage, and "may be known and read of all men." Are there not those whom we have to look upon in the inter, course of life "whose eyes are full of adultery," or whose cheeks are stained with intoxication, or whose features are drawn together with cruelty; those who, instead of "bearing in their body the marks of the Lord Jesus, "carry with them the signs of Satan's service? It is a fact which may well make the guilty wince and hesitate before they continue, that, by the operation of God's righteous laws, the sin which at the beginning they would fain hide in the depths of their own soul, will at length be written on the tablet of the body, and "the show of their countenance will witness against them."
II. THAT SIN, IN ITS LATER STAGES, SCORNS TO BE SCREENED FROM VIEW. "They declare their sin …they hide it not" (verse 9). In the further stages of iniquity there is no attempt, for there is no desire, to hide the wrong thing from view. Shame gradually declines until it passes away, and in its place there grows up a horrible pride in sin. Men come to gloat over that from which they ought to shrink with utmost sense of humiliation; they "glory in their shame" (Philippians 3:19). This is eminently true of acts of rapacity and fraud; it also applies to sins of direct ungodliness and of self-indulgence.
III. THAT SIN IS ALWAYS WORKING TOWARDS RUIN. "Woe unto their soul; they have rewarded evil unto themselves" (verse 9). "Woe unto the wicked," etc. (verse 11). Sin sometimes prospers long; the "sinner may do evil a hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely we know … that it shall not be well with the wicked" (Ecclesiastes 8:12, Ecclesiastes 8:13). Nor is it well when the end comes (see Psalms 73:1-20).
1. Sin tends to temporal ill-being, to penury, to sickness, to early death.
2. Sin tends to isolation, to the withdrawal of confidence and affection on the part of the good and worthy, to dishonor, and even degradation.
3. Sin must inevitably lead to spiritual deterioration and, if it be persisted in, to spiritual death. "The wages of sin is death."
4. Sin finally conducts to condemnation and exile from the home of God. Alas! for the soul that is impenitent, that seeks not Divine mercy, that does not return on its way to the living God and to his righteousness. There is a world of meaning in that one small word which constitutes here such a significant sentence "ill."
IV. THAT RIGHTEOUSNESS MAY REST SECURE IN HOPE. (Verse 10.) It may seem ill to the righteous; "weeping may endure for a night." He may find himself inclined to sigh, "All these things are against me" (Genesis 42:36). But "unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness." The converse of all that applies to the ungodly is true of the godly. Righteousness
(1) tends to prosperity here;
(2) begets trust and love;
(3) results in moral excellency—the good man finds that honesty, purity, truthfulness, sobriety, kindness, etc; issue in spiritual increase, in a harvest of inward good, and he "eats the fruit of his doings;"
(4) conducts at last to the heavenly land, where he who does the will of God "is recompensed at the resurrection of the just."—C.
Penalty, natural and supernatural.
I. THAT THE NATURAL RESULT OF FOLLY IS TO BE GOVERNED BY THOSE WHO HAVE NO RIGHT TO RULE.
1. The nation suffers this penalty. As with Judah now (Isaiah 3:12), so with each and every country in its turn and in its way. Unmanliness, frivolity, wickedness among the people, will be reflected in the sovereign power. A nation that lives supremely for material enrichment, or for military conquest, or for pleasurable excitement, must expect to see upon the throne—in the government—men who will represent their evil genius, who will pamper their evil tastes, who will "cause them to err" more wildly, and "destroy them in the way of thy paths." Action and reaction are here as everywhere; the folly of the people expresses itself in the weakness and perversity of the ruler, and these qualities on his part tell in their time and measure upon them.
2. The Church endures the same evil. Unspirituality, discord, unbelief, laxity in the Christian community, will certainly issue in a degenerate ecclesiastical authority, and the ruler, using or abusing his opportunity, will lead astray and destroy.
3. The individual finds the same natural law operating on him and on his life. By his folly he allows passions instead of principles, impulses instead of convictions, men instead of God, to be his rulers, his "oppressors;" and these cause him to err; they pervert the way of his paths.
II. THAT THEY WHO ARE GUILTY OF MISRULE AND PERVERSITY MUST LOOK FOR THE RIGHTEOUS VISITATION OF GOD. (Isaiah 3:13-15.) "The Lord standeth up to plead," "to judge the people." He confronts and confounds those who have wronged and oppressed his people. If the usurper, the tyrant, the oppressor, the debauchee, the misleader of the nation (the Church), should not meet with the resentment and feel the blows of those whom he has wronged, he must lay his account with the facts that God takes note of all that passes in our human communities, that he holds those who are in power responsible for the effects of their administration, that he regards with severest indignation those who abuse their trust, that he will visit them in his own time and way, here or hereafter, with proofs of his Divine displeasure.—C.
The vanity of vanity.
The graphic pen of the prophet brings before us the thoughts—
I. THAT THE LAST AND SADDEST SYMPTOM OF NATIONAL DECLINE IS FOUND IN WOMANLY FOLLY. "Moreover … the daughters of Zion," etc. (Isaiah 3:16). Corruption may have spread far and done much evil work in the community, but there is hope for the city or the Church so long as the wives and the mothers, the daughters and the sisters, retain their moral and spiritual integrity. When that is gone all is gone. Purity and worth find their last retreat under the domestic roof; if they be driven thence they are doomed to die, and with them perish the prospects of the land.
II. THAT PRIDE AND VANITY IN WOMAN ARE OFFENSIVE IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. His prophet here condemns them "because they are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks" (Isaiah 3:16); he also describes, evidently in the spirit of strong reprobation, the various articles and instruments of vanity (Isaiah 3:18-23). Here are denounced the two sins of pride and vanity—the overweening estimate of self, and the foolish desire to excite the attention and the passing admiration of others. To be blind to our own defects and, at the same time, to magnify our own excellences, thus gaining and exhibiting a sense of our own goodness and importance quite beyond the measure of our deserts,—such pride is hateful to God (Psalms 18:27; Psalms 101:5; Proverbs 6:17; 1 Peter 5:5). And vanity is nearly as offensive as pride. To be studying, by every art, to attract the notice of our fellows, and to be peevishly, nervously anxious to secure their praise, instead of seeking first the approval of God and then the commendation of our own conscience,—this is sinful in the sight of the holy and the true One. We may safely say—
III. THAT THESE ARE NOT ONLY HEINOUS OFFENCES AGAINST GOD, BUT PITIABLE MISTAKES IN THE SIGHT OF MAN.
1. Those who assume a worth to which they are not entitled, and hence walk arrogantly before the world, do not receive the tribute of honor which they claim; they only excite derision and contempt.
2. They who, by meretricious ornamentations of their person or their style, endeavor to draw to themselves admiring observation, only succeed in provoking the smile of pity or disdain.
IV. THAT FRIVOLITY IN MAN OR WOMAN WILL MEET ITS DOOM IN THE DAY OF DIVINE PENALTY. (Isaiah 3:24-26.) This will involve:
1. The removal of the sources of frivolous delight. These "the Lord will take away" (Isaiah 3:18). For how brief a day do the pleasures of sense last! How soon the sun goes down on the trivialities and temporalities with which the sons and daughters of men amuse themselves and waste their time!
2. A visitation answering to the folly (Isaiah 3:24). Sin finds itself paid in its own coin.
3. The sorrow which comes with a sense of desolation (Isaiah 3:26). The "arm of flesh" will fail; the human admiration and attention will soon pass. And if the esteem of the wise and the favor of God have been unsought, there is nothing left; everything is in ruins.—C.
The mission of famines.
The words "stay and staff" are by the prophet referred to the two necessaries of life, bread and water. The judgments of God, in the older time, often came in the form of famine and drought; famine as the result of the drought. It was necessary, and it still is necessary, that men should be made to feel their entire dependence upon God for little things as well as great, for common everyday necessities as well as for special days' gifts and mercies. The necessaries of every day seem to be our right; famine-times remind us that they are always direct Fatherly providings. Entering into covenant with Noah, God promised that "while the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease, "But the promise concerned the earth as a whole, and cannot be applied to particular portions of it. Seeding time has always been kept; harvesting work has always been done. Where man has not come to aid the operations of nature, God has provided seeding times and seeding ways for himself. In desert districts, where tribes wander, and corn cannot be grown, God makes two plants grow freely, whose fruitage is a harvest of necessaries for the people. Local and temporary failures there have been; but they have been due to special causes acting but locally over certain districts; terrible oftentimes for the sufferings they cause, when men are isolated from their fellows, but ameliorated when men dwell together in brotherhood, and the overplus of one land can be used to supply the deficiencies of another. The chief causes of harvest failure are lack of rain, destruction of growing crops by caterpillar and locust, and war which prevents the proper seeding of the fields. A special cause of famine in Egypt was the failure of the Nile-flood.
I. GOD USES FAMINE TO KEEP UP MEN'S DEPENDENCE ON HIM. A tale is told of a widow woman who had lived for many years rent free in a cottage, through the good will and kindly arrangement of the owner. She lived in it so long that she came to think the place was her own, and quite forgot her dependent condition; so far forgot herself, indeed, as to send a message to her landlord threatening to leave the house if some repairs were not at once attended to. It might have been good for the poor woman to let her feel homeless for a while, so that she might learn to value her mercies. But we, like her, are in great danger of presuming on the goodness of God. We also get the feeling of a right to the things which God freely and graciously bestows. We call them ours. And then the temporary loss of them wakens us to thought; humbles us in the dust; calls upon us to look on the fields, and say, "They are God's, not ours;" and on the sunny skies and genial rain, and say, "They are God's, not ours." "Every good gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights."
II. GOD USES FAMINE AS AN AGENT FOR PUNISHMENT. NO man is able to say of any particular famine, it must be a punishment; but we have a perfect right to say, famine may be a punishment. When God would visit David's sin in numbering the people for his own vain-glorious purposes, he offered him a choice which included" seven years of famine for thy land." In the reign of Ahab the violent adoption of Baalism was visited by a terrible famine for the humbling of the willful king. And still we must keep hold of this truth—all outward calamities may be visitations of Divine wrath. It settles nothing to say that pestilence follows on man's disobedience of sanitary laws; and famine results from deficient government and hindered commerce; and wars spring out of national ambitions. That is all quite true, but we thus deal only with "second causes." God is still the First Cause. We, at least, will not push God out of the world he has made. We will trace his working everywhere. And just as we know he orders our personal circumstances so that they shall be chastisement and correction for our personal mistakes, willfulnesses, and transgressions, so we will be sure that the sins of cities, communities, and nations bring judgments and corrections by public calamities; famine may be the hand of the Almighty raised to smite and humble sinful peoples.
III. GOD USES FAMINE TO KNIT THE LANDS IN BROTHERHOOD. In the older times of famine in Egypt, other nations and tribes were compelled to visit that land to secure their supplies of food, and so everybody became interested in the preservation of peace and kindly relations. The common distress made even hostile tribes forget their enmities. In the present day it is essential to the well-being of every nation that universal peace should be preserved. Every country is interested in keeping a free way for the world's ships over the oceans. War is a calamity. The strong men who are slaughtered on battle-fields, ought to be toiling at the harvests, growing the world's food, carrying it from laud to land, or making the things which should supply the world's ever-varying and multiplied needs. We are dependent, as nations, on one another, and our mutual dependence ought to culture a spirit of brotherhood. England cannot grow from her soil, as at present cultivated, the supply of all her people's needs. Heavily laden grain-ships bring the bounty of other lands for our relief week by week throughout the year; and so intercourse is maintained. We get to know and respect each other; we even, in a sense, sit down at each other's tables; we eat bread and salt together, and so are bound to one another in eternal amity, as are the desert tribes. We eat bread from America, and Russia, and Hungary, and Egypt, and other parts, and at the common feast we cultivate the common brotherhood. And it may be further said, nothing binds men together and breaks down prejudices and enmities like a common trouble. How we are drawn together when a common woe lies upon our town, or upon the community to which we belong! Mutual sympathy and mutual sacrifice make us feel that God has "made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth;" and that brothers of the one family, whose Head is the everlasting Father, may well be brotherly and kind. In conclusion, gathering up what has been illustrated and enforced, it may be shown that
(1) famine makes a public testimony for the one, living God;
(2) famine, reaching to affect all classes, makes this testimony everywhere; and
(3) famine becomes everywhere a test of characters and beliefs.—R.T.
The evil of childish rulers.
"Babes shall rule over them." No greater calamity can come on a nation than the succession of mere children to the throne, and government by regency and party. Ahaz ascended the throne at the age of twenty (2 Chronicles 28:1). Manasseh at age of twelve; Josiah at age of eight (2 Chronicles 33:1; 2 Chronicles 34:1). The evil was, of course, exaggerated in Eastern countries, where kings are irresponsible despots. "In an Eastern monarchy the rule of a young king, rash and without experience, guided by counselors like himself, was naturally regarded as the greatest of evils, and the history of Rehoboam had impressed this truth on the mind of every Israelite." "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child" (Ecclesiastes 10:16). When the strong men and wise men are removed by disease and calamity, weaklings get into office and place of authority, and surely create fresh evils by their incapacity.
I. THE EVIL OF RULERS WHO ARE CHILDREN IN AGE. Such, being unable to decide and act for themselves, are dependent on court advisers; so there is every opportunity for court intrigue, rivalry of parties, and the sacrifice of national interests to party advantage. Under weak governments class is set against class. Illustrate the petulance of boys in the exercise of assumed authority. It comes out even in their play. In old times young kings were under the supreme influence of the queen-mother, and she might be a Jezebel or an Athaliah. The most anxious times of English history are times of regency.
II. THE EVIL OF RULERS WHO ARE CHILDREN IN UNDERSTANDING. Such as Rehoboam. The evil is qualified in constitutional countries; but even in them the king gives tone to society. It has often been a consequence of war that a land has been left to the government of the incompetent. Corruption at court has sometimes led the best men to retire from the government. Under such inefficient rule, in an Eastern kingdom, all is chaotic and anarchic; there is a condition which can only be fittingly represented by the Turkey or Egypt of our own times. Apply to the small kingdoms of—
(3) families, and urge the importance, to the well-being of a nation, of manly men, and manly, strong, wisely ruling fathers.—R.T.
The secret of national ruin.
"Their tongue and their doings are against the Lord." This is given distinctly as the reason and the explanation of the ruin of Judah. The prophet goes right past all accidents and all national events, and fixes on the moral cause of the ruin. A nation is bad at the core when it can doubt and dishonor God; and no such nation can stand long. God will surely arise to vindicate himself and to shake terribly the earth. Isaiah uses a singular figure: "To provoke the eyes of his glory." The offence which willfulness and iniquity give to the holiness of God is compared to the sensitiveness of the human eye. Matthew Henry says, "In word and action they brake the Law of God, and therein designed an affront to him; they willfully intended to offend him, in contempt of his authority and defiance of his justice. Their tongue was against the Lord, for they contradicted his prophets; and their doings were no better, for they acted as they talked. It was an aggravation of their sin that God's eye was upon them, and that his glory was manifested among them; but they provoked him to his face, as if the more they knew of his glory the greater pride they took in slighting it, and turning it into shame."
I. REBELLIOUS SPEECH A CORRUPTING FORCE. Apply to boastful, self-conceited speech; the speech of the masterful and ambitious man. Apply to the influence of the infidel lecturer, or infidel literature, The young especially are carried away by it to self-indulgence, and find in it excuse for vicious practices. Infidelity never lays foundations for virtue to build on. It is ever the substratum of vice. Illustrate from the French Revolution.
II. REBELLIOUS DEEDS A CALL FOR JUDGMENT. The bad deeds are the proper fruitage of bad speech. Illustrate by the evil work of the demagogue. Break down the sacred restraints of faith in God, and evils rush in like a flood. When man feels free to do what he likes, his likes are sure to be bad ones. Impress that no account of a man's ruin, or a nation's ruin, will suffice which deals only with his circumstances. Nobody was ever ruined by accident. Man's tongue and doings will always provide the explanation of his extreme calamities.—R.T.
Isaiah 3:10, Isaiah 3:11
Messages to the righteous and the wicked.
These verses are parenthetical. "They assert the doctrine of 'future rewards and punishment' in a spiritual and not a mechanical sense. Good deeds ripen into happiness, as evil deeds into misery" (Cheyne). The point of impression may be stated thus—
I. TO THE RIGHTEOUS—GOD'S JUDGMENTS ARE NOT INDISCRIMINATE.
II. TO THE WICKED—GOD'S JUDGMENTS ARE INEVITABLE. "The pious are graciously assured, that in the worst of times, and under the most trying circumstances, God will be their Friend and Rewarder; while the ungodly are equally assured that they shall suffer merited punishment' (Henderson). Compare the Divine pleadings with Cain (Genesis 4:7), and Abraham's pleading over guilty Sodom (Genesis 18:25). See Asaph's perplexity because it was so often ill with the righteous, and well with the wicked (Psalms 73:1-28.). How can God answer those who, looking cursorily upon life, say that the earthly lot of the righteous and of the wicked is very much the same? His answer may be set forth under the following divisions.
1. God cares for the righteous, and has some kind purpose towards them in letting them suffer.
2. The righteous should be willing to accept of a share of suffering, which aims at the correction and salvation of the many.
3. God keeps the conscience of the righteous quiet under suffering, and so he does not feel its real bitterness.
4. God can keep the righteous from sharing suffering if it pleases him so to do, just as he saved Israel in Goshen from the plagues that smote the rest of Egypt. To the wicked God's judgments have a bitter sting, for they are conscious of the connection between their sins and their judgments, unless conscience is utterly dead, and then there must come for them an awful day of awakening. And if the wicked do escape calamities here, there is the inevitable day coming when he must receive "according to the deeds done in his body."—R.T.
Grinding the faces of the poor.
Two figures are here employed: "Beat my people to pieces;" "Grind the faces of the poor." One of these may help to the understanding of the other. Both deal with the tyrannies of masters, and may be illustrated by the cruel treatment of slaves in the old slave-holding times. J.A. Alexander explains the figures thus: "Crush my people is a common figure for severe oppression (Job 5:4; Proverbs 22:22). Grind the faces upon the ground, by trampling on their prostrate bodies, is also another strong figure for contemptuous and oppressive violence." Ewald thinks blows or wounds in the face may be referred to. The figure may be taken from the threshing-sled, a cart without wheels, having pieces of flint and iron on the under side, which was drawn by oxen over the heap of wheat, grinding the grains. So the exactions and forced labors to which the poor were subject was making lines and furrows in their faces by their grinding influence. The figure may be illustrated by the condition of the wretched fellahin in Egypt, who are ground with taxation until life has, become a burden. Matthew Henry gives two suggestions by way of explanation. "You put them to as much pain and terror as if they were ground in a mill, and as certainly reduce them to dust by one act of oppression after another." "Their faces are bruised and crushed with the blows you have given them; you have not only ruined their estates, but have given them personal abuses." Roberts gives specimens of similar proverbial expressions current in India. "Ah! my lord, do not thus crush my face. Alas I alas! my nose and other features will soon be rubbed away. Is my face to be made quite fiat with grinding?" "That head man has been grinding the faces of all his people." The opposite figure to this is to "smooth the face," meaning to "court or flatter."
I. MAN'S CRUELTY TO THE POOR. Illustrate the condition of poor people in Eastern lands. They are the first to suffer in times of national calamity, pestilence, famine, or war. The selfishness induced by national distress is seen in the neglect and ill treatment of the poor. Weak governments make cruel exactions from the poor. Lordly and rich men too often crush the poor. Slave countries have awful records of cruelty to the slave poor. Forced labor has, in many lands, embittered the lot of the poor. Now the evil is rather selfish neglect than open cruelty. Rich and poor are separated by wide class distinctions, and the poor are too often left in their misery to perish.
II. GOD'S CARE FOR, THE POOR. Seen in his counsels respecting the treatment of them, in his own wondrous ways of providing for them, and in the relation of his manifested Son to them. Of him this was the characteristic, "Blessed are the poor;" "To the poor the gospel is preached."
III. MAN'S CONCERN FOR THE POOR WHEN HE BECOMES GOD-LIKE. Then he strives to feel as Christ felt, and to act as Christ acts. See the spirit of pious Job (Job 29:1-25.), and compare Barnabas and Dorcas. The regenerate man cannot fail to interest himself in those who are needy, or in trouble. The good man deals justly and kindly and thoughtfully with the lowly folk who serve him. Grinding the face of the poor is an absolute impossibility to any man who has "the mind of Christ."—R.T.
Dress and character.
The Word of God has sometimes things to say which it cannot be satisfied to address generally to mankind; it requires a more direct superscription for its message, and writes to men, to women, even sometimes to wives, maidens, mothers, widows, children. In the effort of Isaiah to produce a deep and general conviction of the national sin and disgrace and impending ruin, he singles out the women of that day; he bids us trace the influence of a godless luxury in their vain dressing, frivolous manners, and overloaded ornamentation and jeweler. He intimates that the nobler qualities of womanly mind and character were being lost in this great increase of frivolity and vanity; and he sets us upon imagining not only the present degradation of the land, but the yet deeper degradation that must come, the utter ruin of the generation that owned such women as mothers. Hallam says, "The love of becoming ornament is not perhaps to be regarded in the light of vanity; it is rather an instinct which woman has received from nature to give effect to those charms which are her defense; and when commerce began to minister more efficiently to the wants of luxury, the rich furs of the north, the gay silks of Asia, the wrought gold of domestic manufacture, illumined the halls of chivalry, and cast, as if by the spell of enchantment, that ineffable grace over beauty which the choice and arrangement of dress is calculated to bestow." God cannot be especially pleased with a clothing of wearisome drab; and he must know that when bright colors are forsworn, the vanity of the human heart will still find expression in shape and pattern. He is ever dressing the brown earth in garments of grass and flower, pluming the wings of his birds with varied tints; and making gorgeous with bars of gold and crimson and blue the sky at sun setting. There are a few simple rules of dress which at once commend themselves to Christian judgment.
I. A CHRISTIAN SHOULD DRESS WITHIN REASONABLE EXPENSE, What is reasonable expense can never be settled by figures; it must always be left to individual decision; the utmost carefulness of one person may, relative to station, appear censurable extravagance to another person. But we may say this: any expenditure is unreasonable which deprives us of the means for meeting those higher claims which may be made upon us—claims of
(5) charity, or
And all expenditure on luxurious dress is unreasonable, which prevents our laying aside something against the calamities, diseases, and old age of the future. Above all, dressing which involves the spending of money which belongs to our creditors is a lie towards men, and an insult to God. Archbishop Leighton says," Excessive costliness argues and feeds the pride of the heart, and defrauds, if not others of their dues, yet the poor of their charity, which in God's sight is a due debt too; and far more comfort shalt thou have on thy death-bed, to remember that at such a time, instead of putting lace on my own back, I helped a naked back to clothing."
II. A CHRISTIAN SHOULD DRESS ACCORDING TO THE BEST STANDARDS OF TASTE. Best, not necessarily newest. These you will discover, not by observing persons who are foremost in fashion, but by observing those persons for whom you have the most real respect. Whatever may be the class of society to which you belong, you can discern, within the limits of your sphere, the contrast between the dress of the shallow, the frivolous, and vain, and the dress of the thoughtful, the humble, and the worthy. Peter gives an idea of the standard of taste, in 1 Peter 3:3-5.
III. A CHRISTIAN SHOULD DRESS SUITABLY TO THE SPHERE IN LIFE WHICH SHE OCCUPIES, AND THE CLASS OF SOCIETY TO WHICH SHE BELONGS. If you do not act thus, you make yourself a caricature; you must be a hypocrite, trying to deceive people into the idea that you are what you know that you are not. Most people easily read the disguise, and put a low estimate on the persons who foolishly resort to it. We honor the men and women who bravely say, "My sphere in life may be humble, but it is honest, and therefore it is honorable. I am not ashamed to dress according to it. I can occupy my place, and look just myself, with the smile of God, and the approbation of all good men, upon me." Let servants dress as servants, maidens as maidens, married women as married, and the aged as aged. Each to herself be true.
IV. A CHRISTIAN SHOULD DRESS SO AS TO SERVE GOD BY HER DRESS. Our dress has an influence on others-on those in our station, on those in classes of society below us, and on the children we meet. This mode of influence is to be laid in service on the Lord's altar. Two points may be impressed from these considerations.
1. Dress reveals character. This is true of the character of each individual. We often take our notions of a person from her dress. Carelessness, untidiness, and uncleanliness, things which are very nearly akin to ungodliness, are revealed only by looking at some, so-called, well-dressed people. Self-conceit, passion, and temper are exhibited in others. Sometimes we see persons of whom we think very pityingly. Poor creatures! There is little inside the cozy dress but vanity, pride, and worldliness. And others as certainly tells us of the inward modesty, the delicacy, seriousness, refinement of their souls. Burns sings—
"Oh, wad some poo'er the giftie gic us,
To see o'orsels as ithers see us!"
And many of us have longed for the courage to tell others around us the impression which their dress was making upon us. If the looking-glass could speak, what surprising revelations it would make! It is true also of nations; dress is characteristic. It is true of towns and districts in our own land. In some parts of our country, where wages are good, and imitation finery is cheap, we find sharp contrasts of color, commonness of material, rude bold shapes, and overloading of tinsel. In other parts where work is concerned with the more necessary articles required for man's use, the taste is sober, the quality good, and ornamentation refined.
2. Dress cultures character. A woman feels right when she is well dressed, and in a sense is kept right by her dress. The beautiful in appearance wants the beautiful in conduct to match it. Plato says, "Behavior, and not gold, is the ornament of woman. For a woman who wishes to enjoy the favor of one man, good behavior is the proper ornament, and not dresses. You should have the blush upon your countenance, which is the sign of modesty, instead of paint, and worth and sobriety instead of gold and emeralds."—R.T.
Isaiah 3:25, Isaiah 3:26
National evil in the loss of male population.
The destruction of the males in war is the cause of the extreme grief and helpless desolation of womanhood. The figure is intense when read in the light of the condition of unprotected woman in Eastern countries. "In the East of antiquity, as in many Eastern lands to this day, the position of an unmarried woman, whether maid or widow, was a very unhappy and perilous one. Only in the house of a husband could a woman be sure of respect and protection. Hence the Hebrews spoke of the husband's house as a woman's menuchub, or 'rest'—her secure and happy asylum from servitude, neglect, license" (S. Cox). In the verses before us the effect of the slaughter of the males on the community is described. The chief places of concourse are full of desolate, wailing women; and the state or nation is then personified as a desolate widow seated on the ground, a sign both of mourning and degradation. For illustration of the figure, see Vespasian's coin. The device on it is a woman, disconsolate, in a sitting posture, leaning against a palm tree, and the legend is "Judaea capta." As a modern illustration take the calamity which came upon France through the series of revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. The conscription swept off the males; the age for soldiers, and standard height, were again and again reduced, until even the nation's youths were destroyed; and it has taken years to recover the national strength.
I. A NATION'S STRONG MEN ARE HER PRESENT JOY. They work well in the factory. They advise well in the council. They ensure healthy and strong populations.
II. A NATION'S STRONG MEN ARE HER DEFENSE. They ensure her respect abroad. They preserve her when attacked. They keep off disease by their vitality.
III. A NATION'S STRONG MEN ARE HER HOPE FOR THE FUTURE. They put strength into government, art, science, literature, labor. Health is energy. A nation's hope lies in this being the description of her sons—mens sana in corpore sano. Then what a national calamity war is! It takes a nation's manhood. We may well "seek peace and ensue it," for it keeps our manhood.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12