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THE ALLIANCE WITH EGYPT OPENLY REBUKED. In the preceding chapter (Isaiah 30:15) the design of the Jewish rulers to seek the alliance of Egypt was covertly glanced at and condemned; now it is openly declared and rebuked. The rulers are warned that no good can possibly come of it, even in a worldly sense. The Egyptians will give no aid, or at any rate no effectual aid. The sums expended in purchasing their friendship will be utterly thrown away.
Woe to the rebellious children (comp. Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 65:2). The word translated "rebellious" is used in Deuteronomy 21:18, Deuteronomy 21:20 of the persistently disobedient son, who was to be brought before the elders and stoned to death. That take counsel; rather, that form plans, such as the plan now formed to call in the aid of Egypt. It must be borne in mind that, under the theocracy, there was an authorized mode of consulting God, and receiving an answer from him, in any political emergency. That cover with a covering. The exact metaphor employed is uncertain, Mr. Cheyne renders, "that weave a web;" Dr. Kay, "that pour out a molten image." The meaning, however, in any case is, "that carry out a design," the clause being a mere variant of the preceding one. That they may add sin to sin; i.e. "to add a fresh sin to all their former sins."
That walk; or, are on their way (comp. Isaiah 31:1). Either the Jewish ambassadors have already started, or the anticipatory vision of the prophet sees them as if starting. In the history (2 Kings 18:13-37; Isaiah 36:1-22) it is not expressly said that Hezekiah made application to Egypt for aid; but the reproaches of Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:21, 2 Kings 18:24) would be pointless if he had not done so. Have not asked at my mouth. As they ought to have done (see Numbers 27:21; Judges 1:1; Judges 20:18; 1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Kings 22:7, etc.). To strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh. It is very uncertain who is the "Pharaoh" here intended. The supreme power over Egypt was probably, at the time, in the hands of Tirkakah (2 Kings 19:9); but Lower Egypt seems to have been ruled by various princes, the chief of whom was Shabatok, and any one of these may have been regarded by Isaiah as a "Pharaoh." To trust in the shadow of Egypt. Trust in the "shadow of God" was an expression very familiar to the Jews (see Psalms 17:8; Psalms 36:7; Psalms 63:7; Psalms 91:1; Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 32:2). To "trust in the shadow of Egypt" was to put Egypt in the place of God.
His princes were at Zoan. "Zoan" is undoubtedly Tanis, which is now "San," a heap of ruins in the Delta, where some interesting remains of the shepherd-kings have been discovered. It was a favorite capital of the monarchs of the nineteenth dynasty, and seems to have been the scene of the struggle between Moses and the Pharaoh of the Exodus (Psalms 78:12, Psalms 78:43). It then declined, but is said to have been the birthplace of the first king of the twenty-first dynasty. In the Ethiopian period it rose once more to some importance, and was at one time the capital of a principality. The "princes" here spoken of are probably Hezekiah's ambassadors. His ambassadors came to Hanes. "Hanes" has been generally identified with the modern Esnes, a village between Memphis and Thebes, which is thought to mark the site of Hera-cleopolis Magna. But it has been well remarked that the Jewish envoys would scarcely have proceeded so far. Mr. R.S. Peele suggests, instead of Esnes, Tahpenes, or Daphnae; but that name is somewhat remote from Hanes. Perhaps it would be best to acknowledge that "Hanes" cannot at present be identified. It was probably not very far from Tanis.
They were all ashamed; rather, all are ashamed. The reference is not to the ambassadors, who felt no shame in their embassy, and probably returned elated by the promises made them; but to the subsequent feelings of the Jewish nation, when it was discovered by sad experience that no reliance was to be placed on "the strength of Pharaoh." A people that could not profit them. Mr. Cheyne compares, very pertinently, an inscription of Sargon's, where he says of the people of Philistia, Judah, Edom, and Moab, that "they and their evil chiefs, to fight against me, unto Pharaoh, King of Egypt, a monarch who could not save them, their presents carried, and besought his alliance". Egypt was, in fact, quite unable to cope with Assyria, and knew it. A shame, and also a reproach. A matter of which they would themselves be "ashamed," and with which the Assyrians would "reproach" them (as they did, 2 Kings 18:21, 2 Kings 18:24).
Burden of the beasts of the south. Delitzsch thinks that the Egyptians are intended by the "beasts of the south"—the expression pointing primarily to the hippopotamus, which was an apt emblem of the slow-moving Egyptians. But most commentators regard the "beasts" of this clause as equivalent to the "young asses and camels" mentioned towards the end of the verse. (On the sense of the word "burden," see the introductory paragraph to Isaiah 13:1-22.) Into the land of trouble and anguish; rather, through a land. It is not Egypt that is spoken of, but the desert between Judaea and Egypt. The reminiscences of this desert were such that the Israelites always exaggerated its terrors and dangers (see Deuteronomy 8:15; Jeremiah 2:6). From whence come the young and old lion; rather, the lioness and the lion. Lions can never have been numerous in the tract in question; but they may have haunted portions of it, when it was better watered than at present. The viper and fiery flying serpent. Snakes of various kinds have always been abundant in the desert between Judaea and Egypt. Seine of them were believed anciently to have wings (Herod; 2:75; 3:107); but the fact is doubted. Isaiah is not concerned with natural history, but with definitely marking out the locality through which the ambassadors would march. For this purpose it was best to describe it in terms drawn from the popular belief. Their riches … their treasures. Ambassadors who came to request military aid, as a matter of course carried rich presents with them. Young asses … camels. The ordinary beasts of burden employed in the passage of the desert (Genesis 37:25; Genesis 42:26; Herod; Genesis 3:9, etc.).
Therefore have I cried concerning this. Their strength is to sit still. No modern critic accepts this interpretation. Most translate, "Wherefore I name it" (i.e. Egypt) "Rahab, that sits still;" or "Arrogance, that 'sits still." Rahab, "pride" or 'arrogance," would seem to have been an old name for Egypt (Job 26:12; Psalms 87:4; Psalms 89:10; Isaiah 51:9), not one given at this time by Isaiah. What he means to say is, "Proud as thou art, thou doest nothing to maintain thy pride, but art content with sitting still." This he "cries" or "proclaims" concerning Egypt, as the most important thing for other nations to know about her.
A RENEWAL OF THREATENING. The denunciation of the Egyptian alliance had been made viva voce, in the courts of the temple or in some other place of public resort. As he ended, Isaiah received a Divine intimation that the prophecy was to be put on record, doubly, upon a tablet and in a book. At the same time, the "rebelliousness" of the people was further pointed out, and fresh threats (verses 13, 14, and 17) were uttered against them.
Write it before them in a tablet; i.e." write the prophecy before them" (equivalent to "to be set up before them") "on a tablet," in the briefest possible form (comp. Isaiah 8:1). And note it in a book; i.e. "and also make a full notation of it in a book," or parchment roll. The "tablet" was to be for the admonition of the living generation of men; the "book" was for future generations, to be a record of God's omniscience and faithfulness "forever and ever." That it may be for the time to come; rather, for an after-day—not for the immediate present only. For ever and ever. Modern critics observe that the phrase, la'ad 'ad 'olam, never occurs elsewhere, and suggest a change of the pointing, which would give the sense of "for a testimony forever." Whether we accept the change or not, the meaning undoubtedly is that consigning the prophecy to a "book" would make an appeal to it possible in perpetuum. The perpetuity of the written Word is assumed as certain.
That this is a rebellious people; rather, for this is a rebellious people. The words to be written were those of the preceding prophecy. The reason for their being written is now given (comp. Deuteronomy 31:26, Deuteronomy 31:27). Lying children (comp. Isaiah 59:13). They professed devotion to God; but their acts contradicted their words.
Which say, etc. Not, of course, directly, in so many words. But indirectly they let it be understood that this was what they wished. Compare the advice given to Micaiah by Ahab's messenger, who, no doubt, correctly interpreted the wishes of the monarch and his nobles (1 Kings 22:13). Seers … prophets. Not two classes of persons, but two names for the same class. The" parallelism" of Hebrew poetry leads to the constant employment of synonymous clauses. Right things; i.e. the truth in all its plainness. Smooth things; i.e. soft, pleasant announcements. Deceits; or, illusions.
Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us. "The Holy One of Israel" was one of Isaiah's most frequent names for the Almighty. He used it especially when rebuking Israel's unholiness (Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 5:24, etc.). The irreligious Jews were weary of this constant iteration, and wished to hear no more concerning this "Holy One," whose very holiness was a reproach to them.
Because ye despise this word; rather, because ye reject this word (see 1 Samuel 8:7; 1Sa 15:23, 1 Samuel 15:26; 2 Kings 17:15, etc.). The "word" intended is probably the prophecy against trusting in Egypt (Isaiah 30:1-7). And trust in oppression; or, extortion. Oppressive measures employed to obtain the rich gifts which had to be sent into Egypt (Isaiah 30:6) are probably intended. Gratz and Cheyne change the reading from 'oshek to 'ikkesh ("perverseness"); but without any necessity. And perverseness; literally, crookedness; i.e. "tortuous policy" (Kay). And stay thereon; rather, lean or stay yourselves thereon.
This iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall. Your sin in rebelling against God, rejecting the warnings of his prophets, and trusting in your own devices shall bring you into the condition of a wall in which there is a "breach," or rather, a "bulge," which therefore totters to its fall, and is liable to dissolve in ruins at any moment. Swelling out in a high wall. The higher the wail, the greater the danger, and the more complete the destruction.
And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters' vessel that is broken in pieces. Isaiah is fond of mixed metaphors, and of superseding one metaphor by another. From comparing Judah's fall and ruin to the shattering of a lofty wall, he suddenly turns to a comparison of it with the breaking to pieces of an earthen pitcher. Judah shall be so broken as when the pitcher is crushed into minute fragments, so that there is no piece large enough to convey a coal from one fire for the lighting of another, or to be of even the least use for drawing water from a well. A complete dissolution of the political fabric is foreshadowed, such as did not actually take effect till the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel. As the irreligious party wished to hear no more of "the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah 30:11), Isaiah takes care to keep him constantly before their minds (comp. Isaiah 31:1). In returning and rest shall ye be saved; rather, should ye be saved, or might ye be saved. The conditions are put forward, not as now capable of being realized, but as those which might have been realized at an earlier date. The "returning" spoken of is an abandonment of the course hitherto pursued, which was reckless provocation of Assyria and trust in Egypt. The "rest" is staying upon God—renunciation of trust on any arm of flesh, and simple reliance on the Divine aid, as sure to be sufficient when the need came. In quietness and confidence shall be your strength; rather, should be. The clause is a mere iteration in other words of the preceding one. Ye would not. They had practically rejected the policy of quiescence and patient waiting upon God, when they sent the embassy into Egypt.
Ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses; rather, we will fly upon horses. The nobles had perhaps a manly eagerness to mount the Egyptian war-horses, and rush upon the enemy at full speed, in the hope of discomfiting them. Isaiah warns them that they will not really fig on the enemy, but flee before him. We will ride upon the swift. "The swift" (kal) seems to be a mere variant for "horse," the parallelism being, as so frequently, "synonymous." Therefore shall they that pursue you be swift. However swift the horses of the Judaeans, their enemies would be as well mounted and would pursue and overtake them.
One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one. A hyperbole common in Scripture (Deuteronomy 32:30; Joshua 23:10; Leviticus 26:8), and not confined to the sacred writers. Piankhi the Ethiopian boasts, in his great inscription, that, with Ammon's help, "many should turn their backs upon a few, and one should rout a thousand". At the rebuke of five. The "rebuke" of five (i.e. their war-shout) would put to flight the whole army. As a beacon; rather, as a flag-staff—stripped and bare (comp. Isaiah 33:23; Ezekiel 27:5). A tree stripped of its branches and left standing as a landmark seems to be intended. As an ensign. A military standard, such as was in common use among the Assyrians and Egyptians, as among the Greeks and Romans.
A RENEWAL OF PROMISE. The denunciations of the preceding passage (Isaiah 30:9-17) had been so terrible that, without some counterpoise of promise, they must have produced a general despair. This was not the Divine purpose. Judah's probation still continued. Therefore it was necessary to let it be seen that the Divine long-suffering was not yet exhausted—there were still conditions under which God would be gracious to his people. The conditions were "crying to the Lord" (Isaiah 30:19), and entire abolition of idolatry (Isaiah 30:22).
And therefore. "Because your sins require this chastisement" (Kay); "Because of the extremity of your need" (Cheyne). It is, perhaps, best to own that the motives of the Divine action are very commonly obscure; and, if seen clearly by the prophets, are certainly not clearly set forth, being inscrutable. While the motive, however, is obscure, the promise is plain and unmistakable, The Lord will wait, that he may be gracious unto you. God is not about at present to "make a full end;" he is bent on "waiting"—his intent is "to be gracious." He will be exalted, that he may have mercy. He will find some means of vindicating his honor and exalting himself, short of your destruction, in order that it may be open to him to give you a further chance of repentance, whereby you would obtain mercy. For the Lord is a God of judgment. God is essentially just; sin must receive punishment; but the punishment may be short of destruction. Justice does not exclude mercy. If men bear their punishment with patience, and wait for God, a brighter day will dawn on them in course of time.
For the people shall dwell in Zion; rather, a people shall continue. Jerusalem shall not now be made desolate, or deprived of its inhabitants. Whatever the number of captives taken, "a people shall remain." Thou shalt weep no more. The reasons for weeping shall be removed. He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry. For God to be gracious to them, they must first "cry" to him—make an earnest, hearty appeal to him for mercy. Their "cry" will be answered as soon as heard, is as soon as uttered.
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity (so Mr. Cheyne). But most modern critics (Kay, Delitzsch, Vance Smith, etc.) regard the words as a promise of support through the siege, and omit the interpolated "though." Translate, And the Lord will give yon bread of adversity, and water of affliction; i.e. scant rations, but sufficient; and thy teachers shall not, etc. Be removed into a corner; i.e. "have to hide themselves from persecution." A persecution of Jehovah's prophets had commenced in Judah during the reign of Joash (2 Chronicles 24:19-22), and had probably continued with more or less severity ever since.
Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee. Kay says, "The teacher will go before his flock, marking out the way before them." But in that case, the flock would hear the word before them. Delitzsch explains better, "They (the teachers), as the shepherds of the flock, would follow the people with friendly words of admonition." Even in the East, shepherds sometimes follow their flocks (see Genesis 32:17). When ye turn, i.e. when ye are about to turn.
Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver. Idolatry, greatly encouraged by Ahaz, had been strictly forbidden by Hezekiah at the beginning of his reign (2 Kings 18:4); but the present passage, among others, shows how impossible it was for a king, with the best intentions, to effect the extirpation of idolatry, if his subjects were attached to it. Evidently the Jews had, in many cases, secretly maintained their idols and their idolatrous practices, despite the efforts of Hezekiah. But now, in their repentance, they would "defile" (i.e. destroy) both the outer "covering" of precious rectal, and the inner core of wood or stone, or base metallic substance. The ornament of thy molten images of gold; rather, the coating or overlaying. It was usual to overlay with gold or silver molten images of bronze or other inferior metal. Cast them away; literally, scatter; i.e. either grind them to powder (2 Kings 23:6), or at any rate break them to bits, dud then disperse the fragments far and wide.
Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; rather, then shall he give rain for thy seed, wherewith thou sowest the ground. God, having forgiven his people, will once more renew the blessings of his ordinary providence, giving them "rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). Bread of the increase of the earth; rather, bread, the produce of the ground; i.e. ordinary bread, not "bread from heaven," like the manna in the wilderness. Fat and plenteous; literally, rich and fat. Thy cattle. To complete the general prosperity, there should be plentiful pasture for the flocks and herds.
The oxen likewise and the young asses that ear the ground; rather, theft till or cultivate the ground. The Hebrew word is generic, and does not apply to "eating" (i.e. ploughing) only. Shall eat clean provender. Delitzsch says that b'lil khamitz is "a mash, composed of oats, barley, and vetches, made more savory with salt and sour vegetables." Mr. Cheyne translates, "Shall eat mixed provender with salt." The general idea is clearly that they shall have for their ordinary food that superior kind of provender which, according to existing practices, was reserved for rare occasions. Winnowed with the shovel. Anciently, winnowing was chiefly effected by tossing the grain into the air with shovels in a draughty place. The fan was scarcely in use so early as Isaiah's time. He means by mizreh probably a second instrument for tossing the grain Delitzsch translates, "winnowing-fork."
Rivers and streams of water; rather, rivulets, courses of water. Channels, along which water was conveyed for the purpose of irrigation, are intended (comp. Ezekiel 47:1-12; Joel 3:18). No doubt there is a secondary allegorical meaning running through the whole description of Judah's prosperity (Isaiah 30:23-26). In this allegorical intention the waters stand for the streams of God's grace. In the day of the great slaughter. Equivalent to "the day of vengeance" (Isaiah 34:8) the day when God shall tread down his enemies. The prophet passes from the immediate effect of Judah's repentance to a broader view of what shall happen when God's kingdom is established upon the earth. When the towers fall; i.e. when there shall be a general "pulling down of strong holds," and a "casting down of every high thing that exalts itself against God" (2 Corinthians 10:4, 2 Corinthians 10:5).
The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun. "The promise now rises higher and higher, and passes from earth to heaven" (Delitzsch). All nature will become more glorious in the "last times." Moonlight will be as sunlight, and sunlight will be seven times brighter than it is now. Again, there may be an under allegorical sense. The light of truth will shine with greater brilliancy, so that all inch will be enlightened by it. "For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). As the light of seven days; i.e. as though the light of seven days were concentrated into one. In the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach. At that period in the world's history when God forgives the iniquities of his people, and condescends to reign over them as their actual King, either in this present world or in "anew heaven and anew earth" (Revelation 21:1; comp. Isaiah 66:22), wherein shall "dwell righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13). And healeth the stroke of their wound; rather, the wound of his stroke; i.e. the wound caused by the stroke wherewith he has smitten them.
A PROPHECY OF ASSYRIA'S DESTRUCTION. Mr. Chcyne regards this passage as "a symbolic description of the judgment introduced by a theophany." But is it not rather a poetical description of God's judgment on Assyria, which may be, probably is, a type of his final judgment upon an iniquitous world? The mention of Assyria in Isaiah 30:31 seems to be decisive in favor of the prophecy being (primarily) of special application to the circumstances of the time.
The Name of the Lord cometh from far. "The Name of Jehovah" is scarcely distinguishable from Jehovah himself. Jehovah, who has long hid himself, and seemed to keep himself remote from worldly affairs, now is about to manifest his glory, and interpose in the doings of men in a wonderful way. Burning with his anger; rather, his anger burneth (comp. Isaiah 42:25). And the burden thereof is heavy; "and heavy is its grievousness." His tongue as a devouring fire (comp. Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 9:3; Isaiah 9:19; Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 33:14).
His breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck. When the sacred writers are oppressed by the tremendous character of the revelations made to them, their metaphors are often labored and incongruous. Here, the mouth, in which there is a tongue of fire, sends forth a rush of breath, which is compared to an "overflowing stream, which reaches to the middle of the neck, "and sweeps those who try to cross it away (comp. Ezekiel 47:5) To sift the nations with the sieve of vanity. More incongruity, to be excused by the writer's theme being such as to transcend all language and all imagery. One of the Divine purposes, in all violent crashes and revolutions, is "to sift nations"—to separate in each nation the good from the bad, the precious from the vile; and this is done with "the sieve of vanity," i.e. the sieve which allows the good corn to pass through, separating from it, and keeping back, all that is vile and refuse (comp. Amos 9:9). There shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err. Another entire change in the metaphor. The result of God's interference shall be "to put a bridle in the jaws of the peoples," whereby the hand of the Almighty will guide them to their destruction.
Ye shall have a song; literally, to you will [then] be a song. While the nations weep and lament, and are burnt up by God's anger, and swept away by his "overflowing flood," and guided to their destruction by his bridle in their jaws, Israel shall rejoice with singing. As in the night when a holy solemnity is kept. Perhaps a special reference is intended to the Passover-feast, which commenced with an evening or night celebration (Exodus 12:6, Exodus 12:8, Exodus 12:42; Matthew 26:30). Or perhaps "Isaiah is not referring to one feast more than another" (Cheyne), night-rituals belonging to all toasts, since the day commenced with the sunset. The Passover-song consisted of Psalm 113-118. And as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord. Joyful processions from the country districts to Jerusalem are alluded to. These were commonly headed by a piper or a band of pipers (Vitringa). They took place several times in the year—at each of the three great feasts, and irregularly when any district sent up its firstfruits to the temple treasury (Nehemiah 10:35-37). To the Mighty One of Israel; literally, to the Rock of Israel; i.e. to Jehovah (comp. Isaiah 17:10; and see also Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:30, Deuteronomy 32:31; Psalms 18:2, Psalms 18:31, Psalms 18:46, etc.). The idea embodied in the metaphor is rather that of an unfailing refuge than of mere might and power.
The Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard; literally, the majesty of his voice, Mr. Cheyne renders, "the peal of his voice." Delitzsch understands fearful thundering, like that at Sinai (Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:18), to be intended (comp. Psalms 29:3-9). The lighting down of his arm; i.e. the blow causing the destruction, of Isaiah 30:31, of whatever kind that destruction might be—blasting by lightning, plague, simoom, death by the visitation of God, as men slept, or any other sudden, sweeping catastrophe. With the indignation of his anger; rather, in fury of anger. With the flame of a devouring fire; rather, with a flame of devouring-fire. All the elements of storm are accumulated by the prophet, to express the terrible character of the coming judgment-lightning, and scattering (of crops?), tempestuous wind, and hail-stones.
For through the voice of the Lord shall the Assyrian be beaten down; rather, for at the voice of the Lord shall Assyria be dismayed (compare the first clause of Isaiah 30:30). Which smote with a rod; rather, with the rod will he (i.e. Jehovah) smite.
In every place where the grounded staff shall pass, etc.; rather, and it shall come to pass that every stroke (literally, passage) of the destined rod which Jehovah causes to rest upon him shall be with an accompaniment of drums and citherns. Each blow dealt to Assyria shall rejoice her enemies, and cause them to break out into songs of praise, accompanied by the music of various instruments (comp. Isaiah 30:29; and see also Exodus 15:1-21). In battles of shaking; or, battles of swinging—"those in which Jehovah swings his rod, and deals (repeated) blows to his enemies" (Cheyne). Will he fight with it; rather, will he fight against her; i.e. against Assyria.
For Tophet is ordained of old; rather, for a Tophet has been long since prepared. A "Tophet" is a place of burning, probably derived from the Aryan root tap or taph, found in Greek τάφος τέφρα, Latin tepidus, Sanskrit tap, Persian taphtan. The name was specially attached to a particular spot in the Valley of Hinnom, where sacrifices were offered to Moloch (2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:6, Jeremiah 19:11, etc.); but Isaiah seems to use it generically, as if there were many Tophets. For the king it is prepared; literally, it also is prepared for the king—in the Hebrew "for the melech," which is the same word as "Moloch," who was looked upon by his worshippers as "the king" κατ ̓ ἐξοχήν. Isaiah means to say, "As the Tophet of the Vale of Hinnom is prepared for a king (Moloch), so this new Tophet is prepared for another king (the King of Assyria)." He hath made it deep and large—a vast burning-place for a vast multitude (2 Kings 19:35), with the fire and the wood ready, only awaiting the breath of Jehovah to kindle it. As the bodies of great malefactors were burnt (Joshua 7:25), and not buried, so the prophet consigns to a great burning the hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian corpses, of which it would soon be necessary to dispose in some way.
A godless policy issues in disaster, however seemingly wise.
In the sight of man there was no more prudent course for the Jews to take than to ally themselves with Egypt. Egypt was the only power in their neighborhood that could possibly make head against Assyria. Egypt had a standing army, trained warriors, an ancient military system, numerous chariots and horses, ample siege material, and abundant appliances of war. She was at the time closely connected with Ethiopia, and could bring into the field the forces of two great nations. Had she been thoroughly awake to her own interests, she would have strained every nerve to make an effective league of the small nations and tribes lying between her and Assyria Proper, in order to check the advance of that ambitious and dangerous power. Hezekiah and his advisers might naturally see in Egypt, not only their only possible protector, but one to whose protection they might look with confidence and hope. There was one thing only to be set against all this. The Egyptians were a nation of idolaters, and God had expressly warned the Jews, by the mouth of Isaiah, against relying on them (Isaiah 20:2-6). Thus reliance on Egypt was a godless policy—involved taking up a position of hostility to God; ceasing to ask his counsel (verse 1), turning a deaf ear to any warnings that might be addressed to them by God's prophets (Isaiah 29:10-14). And God made it of none effect. God blinded Tirhakah to his true interests, and made him act in the most foolish way possible—first encourage Hezekiah to revolt, and then desert him in the hour of need and peril. Some such result follows always on the adoption of a godless policy. The expectations of those who engage in it are disappointed; there is a failure somewhere: "God arises, and his enemies are scattered;" their clever schemes break down and come to naught.
The written Word endures forever.
There is always a permanency about written, that does not belong to uttered, speech. "Liters scripts manet," said one Roman poet; "Exegi monumentum osre perennius," said another, when he had completed a book of his odes. It was to secure continuance to human utterances that the act of writing was invented at the first; and it was probably long employed for no other purpose. The permanency, however, that attaches to ordinary writings is a limited permanency. They are not intended to "endure forever." For the most part they are on a frail and perishable material, which cannot be expected to last a century, and there is no expectation of their being copied and so prolonged in existence. But it is otherwise with the Divine Word. The Divine Word is enshrined in writing, that it may continue as long as the world continues. It is too precious to be lost. When the material on which it is written shows signs of decay, there always have been, and there always will be, pious persons, who will take care that the words are reproduced exactly on some fresh material, and so handed on unchanged. Since the invention of printing, it has become practically impossible that any work held in esteem by any considerable number of persons should perish. The written Word could only pass away by all interest in i[ being lost among all sections of human-kind. Against such a miserable result the promise of God to be with his Church "always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20), furnishes an absolute security. Hence we may be sure that "the Word of the Lord will endure forever" (1 Peter 1:25).
Isaiah 30:10, Isaiah 30:11
Smooth things wore acceptable to man than the truth.
In connection with this subject there would seem to be three things to be specially set forth.
I. THE FACT OF THE PREFERENCE. Man has no natural aversion to truth. On the contrary, truth is congenial to his nature and acceptable to his intellect. Scientific truth, historic truth, is readily received when offered to him, and, if not very eagerly desired or very carefully sought out, is at any rate, when put before him, generally to some extent appreciated. The truth that is disliked is moral truth. Even when set before him in an abstract form, moral teaching frets him, vexes him; and moralists have been always unpopular from the days of Socrates to those of Samuel Johnson. Especially disliked are the teachers who do not stop at abstract morality, but point their moral teaching by applying it to the life and conduct of those to whom they address themselves. On the other hand, there is no surer way of pleasing men than by flattering them, provided it is done skillfully and with a delicate hand. We like to have our conduct praised, our characters admired, our example held up as a model to be imitated. We detest being found fault with, criticized, told that we have done wrong. We do not perhaps ask men to "prophesy unto us smooth things," but we make it very plain to all with whom we come into contact that "smooth things" alone are agreeable to us.
II. THE GROUND OF THE PREFERENCE. Moral truth is disliked because it is felt as a reproach. We are conscious to ourselves of our own moral imperfection; and every exhibition of a high moral standard, every inculcation of high moral principles, seems to us a reflection on our own shortcomings, not far short of actual personal censure. The smooth voice of flattery pleases us, partly, through its contrast with the rough tones of the unwelcome moralist, but further through its persuading us that we really have some of the good qualities which the flatterer imputes, and thus calling into play our self-respect and self-esteem. Moral warnings awaken fear for the future; flattery awakens hope. Moral warnings disturb; flattery soothes. Even when we perceive that the flatterer is cozening us, we let ourselves be cozened; our vanity is pleased at being tickled, and asks for nothing but a prolongation of the pleasurable excitement.
III. THE ILL RESULTS THAT FLOW FROM THE PREFERENCE. Character, which would naturally improve under the bracing discipline of a stern and strict inculcation of moral truth, continually deteriorates, if flattery takes the place of honest plain-speaking. Men believe themselves better than they are, and take less pains to become better. They grow vain and self-satisfied, thinking themselves in need of nothing, when truly they are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Spiritual teachers should beware of encouraging men's self-indulgent desire for spiritual ease; and, while careful not to "quench the smoking flax," or "break the bruised reed," should constantly sound in the ears of all denunciations of vice, warnings, rebukes, admonishments. In no other way can they be either faithful to their calling or truly serviceable to their fellow-men.
Turning to God.
It is the intention of God's chastisements, and their natural, though perhaps scarcely their ordinary, result, to stir the soul to penitence, and produce a turning of the heart to God. When the spirit of the man is truly touched, the steps on the path of repentance are commonly—
I. THE UTTERANCE OF A CRY. "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30). "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). "Lord, save us, we perish!" (Matthew 8:25). Some bitter cry or other is wrung from the lips of the awakened sinner, who feels his own weakness and guilt, despairs of saving himself, and makes appeal to him who is alone "mighty to save," in tones of earnest entreaty and extreme longing for help. The "cry" is answered as soon as heard (Isaiah 30:19). By external teaching, or an inward secret voice, men are warned what they must do as the next step on the path which leads to life. This is—
II. THE FORSAKING OF THEIR SINS. Be it impurity, be it lying, be it idolatry, that has separated between the sinner and God, he must at once set himself to cast it off, and rid himself of it. "Ye shall defile the covering of thy graven images" (Isaiah 30:22). "Put away the evil of your doings: cease to do evil" (Isaiah 1:16). It is sin, and sin only, that separates us from God. If we would be at one with him, sin must be put away. All, however, is not completed yet. Those who truly turn to God will not be content with a negative goodness; they will follow up the forsaking of their sing by—
III. THE EARNEST ENDEAVOR TO LEAD A LIFE OF ACTIVE WELL-DOING. "Cease to do evil; learn to do well," says the prophet (Isaiah 1:16). It is not enough to "put off the old man;" we must "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). For every weed that we pluck from our hearts, we must put in a flower; for every vice that we uproot, we must plant a virtue. God wills that we should "add to our faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity" (2 Peter 1:5-7). We must endeavor, by "patient continuance in well-doing," at once to improve our own characters, to help the brethren, and to rebuke, if we cannot convince, the gainsayer.
The glories of Christ's kingdom shown in figure.
Isaiah gives us several descriptions of Christ's kingdom, all of them more or less allegorical (see Isaiah 4:2-6; Isaiah 11:1-9; Isaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 60:1-22). In the present description all is allegory. The blessings of the kingdom are—
I. RICH AND ABUNDANT HARVESTS, by which would seem to be signified a great conversion of the nations by the preaching of the gospel (comp. Mat 9:1-38 :87, Matthew 9:38; John 4:35), together with the display of a great zeal to do abundant good works (Matthew 7:16-20).
II. FREQUENT RAIN; i.e. an abundant shedding upon the earth of the dew of God's blessing; a continued pouring down from him of refreshing, invigorating, healthful, life-giving influences. By these the rich harvests would be produced, the pastures made luxuriant, and God's creatures upon the earth, both men and animals, rendered happy.
III. CONDUITS EVERYWHERE, TO CONVEY THE LIFE-GIVING FLUID FAR AND WIDE. These appear to represent appointed means of grace—artificially constructed channels whereby the heavenly influences are ordinarily communicated to the faithful. They flow everywhere, not only in the valleys and plains, but also upon the mountains and high hills—the remotest and most inaccessible parts of the kingdom.
IV. FLOODS OF LIGHT EVERYWHERE AND AT ALL TIMES; i.e. general illumination and enlightenment—the spread of spiritual knowledge and true wisdom through all parts of the Church and all ranks of Christians; the disappearance of spiritual darkness, of ignorance, folly, and blinded consciences. This appears to be mentioned as the crowning glory of all, beyond which description cannot go, and with which therefore the allegorical sketch comes to an end.
Isaiah 30:29, Isaiah 30:32
The punishments of nations for deliverance, rather than for vengeance.
God "hath no pleasure in the death of him that dieth" (Ezekiel 18:32). His justice compels him to punish the wicked, and sometimes requires the destruction even of a nation; but the main object of the Almighty in all such destructions is not to take vengeance on the oppressor, but to deliver the oppressed. Assyria, and the nations leagued with her, had now by their wickedness, their pride, their blasphemy, their cruelty, their idolatry, their impurity, provoked him, as scarcely ever had he been provoked before. He was about to inflict a signal punishment, the fame of which would spread far and wide. But it was not on the punishment itself, or on the sufferings of those affected by it, that his own eye was fixed. It was on the consequences which would follow to his own people. They would "have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept;" they would have "gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord." The result to them would be the removal of a constant and terrible fear; a feeling of satisfaction and safety; a sense of relief which would for a time be jubilant, and show itself in music and song, perhaps in shouting and dancing. The punishment of the Assyrians would be to them deliverance—a deliverance which, it might be hoped, would convert the heart of the nation to God.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The embassy to Egypt.
The embassy to Egypt has been sent, and the prophet's object is to show that the policy of it is false, as all policy must be false which does not rest upon religion.
I. The POLICY CHARACTERIZED. It is that of "unruly sons," and they "carry out a purpose which is not from Jehovah." So in Hosea we read, "They have set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, and I knew it not" (Hosea 8:4). They "weave a net" or "plait alliances" without his Spirit, and add sin to sin. They go down into Egypt without having inquired of Jehovah's mouth, and flee to the fortress of Pharaoh, to take refuge in the shadow of Egypt.
1. The Divine leading and inspiration make men humble, while self-will and self-reliance are stubborn, obstinate.
2. Where the first step has been wrong, every subsequent step aggravates the error.
3. The root of a mistaken policy is a false reliance, dependence on an "arm of flesh." There is a true and a false self-reliance: that which forgets God is ignorant and impious that which recognizes him as the Source of all true intelligence is genuine. To the external observer the difference between acting from the self-center and the God-center, between "going in one's own strength" and "going in the strength of the Lord of hosts," may not be perceptible. It must be known in the feeling of the actor, and in the results of his action.
II. THE RESULTS OF THE POLICY. The fortress of Pharaoh will become a shame to them, and the refuge in Egypt's shadow confusion. "Shame and confusion of face;" great Scripture words, most expressive of the results of false principles, false policy, obstinate error.
1. It is the very bitterness of ill success to feel that it is the harvest of our own faults; while misfortune is sweetened at its bitterest by the consciousness of having followed the light to the best of one's ability. The prophet follows in imagination this mistaken embassy into the heart of Egypt. They will come to Zoan (or Tanis), and to Hanes (or Heracleopolis), but will be abashed to find that in the expected saviors and helpers no salvation is to be found.
2. That bitterness is aggravated by the sense of the great toil and suffering which has only led to failure. How different the journey from Egypt and that to Egypt! Then men were led through "that great and terrible wilderness," full of the fiery serpents and scorpions and lions, the land of drought, and there were fed with manna (Deuteronomy 8:15; Jeremiah 2:6). And now, after encountering all these dangers, they are to find, after all, that there is no help in Egypt, though they have carried thither rich presents on asses and on camels. Emphatic is the prophet, "Yea, the Egyptians; in vain, and empty is their help, therefore I proclaim concerning it, Rahab, they are utter indolence." There is a play on the name here, which cannot well be rendered in English. But Egypt may stand as a type of the "world," the absence of true principle, or the principle of policy as opposed to reliance on God. And then the lesson will be the inherent weakness of all worldly policy, as compared with simple trust in God and obedience to his dictates.—J.
A testimony forever.
The prophet pauses. Perhaps he hears an inner voice bidding him to write down a few words, such as the last significant Rahab. As in Isaiah 8:1, the inscription is to be on a large tablet, set up in a conspicuous place, so that he who runs may read. Then he is to inscribe the prophecy more fully on a scroll. Litera scripta manet. The oracle, the oral utterance, transferred to parchment, becomes a κτῆμα εἰς ἀεί, a "possession forever." The perpetuity of his protest and warning must be secured. The word rendered" inscribe" is more literally rendered "carve." Every earnest man has surely something worth thus carving, inscribing, engraving, somewhere, on some material—tablet, book, or "fleshy table of the heart;" the condensation of a life-experience, the sum of life-truths, the whole self-revelation, which is at the same time God's revelation to his soul of what is substantial and eternal.
I. THE NEED FOR SUCH INSCRIPTION. The people refuse to listen to any but flattering prophecies. They are disobedient and untruthful at heart. They refuse to listen to the prophet's message; then they must be made to look upon it in a permanent form. None are so blind as those who will not see, unless it be those who will not let others see. Light, more light, is our constant need: what shall be said of those who would stay the hand that is drawing up the blinds from the windows of the soul? What more precious than insight? How should we cherish the man who sees deeper into the heart of things, or gathers up the scattered fragments of truth into one inspiring unity of representation; the mind gifted with the power to shed luminous effects upon what were otherwise gloomy in life's outlook! How all-precious is that purer eloquence, not of ephemeral and party passion, but of the truth which is of no party nor time! How shall these elements of indispensable worth be preserved? Can we trust them to the popular memory and heart? Alas! no, or not entirely. In the hour of excitement and passion all will be forgotten. "You shall not prophesy unto us right things," has been, in effect, the cry of the multitude again and again at such hours. The Jewish prophets themselves felt these things keenly. "Don't preach!" is, in effect, the cry by which they are met. Or, "Preach to us of wine and strong drink"—any doctrine of indulgence, is the demand (Micah 2:6, Micah 2:11; of. Amos 2:12). If the prophet sternly resisted this temper of the people, and told the homely truth that God had forsaken them because they had forsaken him, a shower of stones was likely to be the dreadful answer, as in the case of the martyr Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:20, 2 Chronicles 24:21). Greedy is the appetite for "smooth things" and "illusions," and never wanting a supply of such flattering prophets who will run, though Jehovah has not sent them, and utter what he has not said (Jeremiah 23:21). There is a demand for those who will make flexible what he has made inflexible, mark out a deviating path from that which he has traced straight and plain. Nay, some would be glad to efface the thought of God from their minds, because thus they would efface the sense of responsibility, "Abolish out of our sight the Holy One of Israel." For then there will be free course for all license. From all this we see the need of religious literature. Libraries may be burned; a few manuscripts worth more to mankind than gold and silver will be preserved. The truth in Isaiah has been preserved for us by the art of writing, has come down to us in the form of Scripture. Let us thank God for art as the handmaid of religion. At every epoch in the history of the world, religions life is threatened with decay or degeneration; but it will renew itself from the sacred "records of the past."
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE TESTIMONY.
1. Simple faith in the Eternal opposed to worldly policy. We must, in order to apprehend the nature of the "testimony forever," strip away the temporary references, and regard Rahab and Israel as types of permanent phases of character (Cheyne). What does "Rahab" stand for? "Perverseness and crookedness" (or oppression). Crookedness and frowardness mean what we mean by "unprincipled conduct" (comp. Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 4:24). To trust in shrewdness and policy—this is worldliness. It is one of the many ways in which man's wit would contend with eternal wisdom. And punishment must surely attend upon this sin, according to the laws of the Divine kingdom. Various is the imagery under which Scripture represents the connection between evil in the mind and the result—first in sin, then in destruction. The strong will be as tow, and burn unquenchably; the foolish will conceive chaff, and bring forth stubble, or will be burned as thorns (Isaiah 1:31; Isaiah 33:11, Isaiah 33:12). Here guilt is compared in its result to the cracking or bulging of a wall, which suddenly crashes down in ruin; to a pitcher dashed violently to the ground, and broken into a multitude of fragments, so that it can never be of the slightest use again. But the vessels of God's fashioning shall endure. Let us be content to be what God would make of us; self-devices that would contravene his purpose will be "ground to powder."
2. The condition of deliverance, returning. From what? Is it the general sense of conversion—the absolute turning once for all, in choice and conduct, from moral evil? Or is it rather, more specifically, the relinquishment of the search for worldly aids? "Self-chosen ways," "self-confident works," seem certainly to be meant. Would they but lay aside this restless eagerness and over-anxious care for safety, and simply fall upon the Almighty arms! Such lessons can never be obsolete. Trust in God does not imply supineness, but it should still excessive and feverish fears. Behind all our plans and proposals, he is thinking and acting; if they are unsound, they must come to naught; if sound, they will be furthered. "Take heed and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted." The worldly mind will lean on worldly support—swift horses of Egypt or the like, only to find themselves outmatched upon their own chosen ground. "One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one." Mere numbers give no strength. Strength is in being able to stand alone, if need be. To find one's self suddenly deserted, "as a mast on the top of a mountain, a signal on a hill," is often the fate of those whose only policy is to side with numbers and with power.
3. The compassion of Jehovah. Human needs call forth Divine deeds. We are to think of God as One who longs to manifest and exert himself for the good of his creatures; as One who is hindered by human pride, impatience, petulance; as One who therefore waits for his opportunity and fit season to be gracious; as One who is ever true to himself, constant to his covenant, keeping favor for his people and wrath for his foes. How happy, then, those who in turn "long for Jehovah!"—whose eyes are directed to the "hills whence cometh help!" who watch his pleasure as the servant that of his master, the handmaiden that of her mistress! "To possess God there must be that in us which God can possess. Still to aspire after the Highest is our wisdom; to cease from aspiration is to fall into weakness."—J.
The blessedness of Zion.
Throughout the book the idea of temporal blends with that of spiritual weal. The images are drawn from the state of temporal happiness and prosperity. Yet Zion and Jerusalem may be regarded as symbolical of the Church in general.
I. JOY IN GOD. There will be "no more weeping." Tears are significant of the lot of humanity; and in the poetry of the Old Testament we hear, as Lord Bacon says, "as many hearse-like airs as carols," and the pencil of the Holy Ghost has labored more in depicting the sorrows of David than the felicities of Solomon. It is because the gospel meets the mood of tears in us that its assurances fall so sweetly on the heart. Burns the poet said, "After all that has been said on the other side of the question, man is by no means a happy creature. I do not speak of the selected few, favored by partial Heaven, whose souls are tuned to gladness, and riches, and honors, and prudence, and wisdom; I speak of the neglected many, whose nerves, whose sinews, whose days, are sold to the minion of fortune." It is this way of thinking—it is these melancholy truths, that make religion so precious to the poor miserable children of men. If it is a mere phantom, existing only in the heated imagination of enthusiasm, "what truth on earth so precious as the lie?" What is needed is "the expulsive power of a new affection in the sense of the nearness of God—the sense that he does hear and that he does answer out of the vastness and the void." And he will so answer, if he be sought for with "all the heart" (Jeremiah 29:12-14).
II. THE BLESSING OF TEACHERS. On the one hand, here is physical want—"bread of adversity, and water of affliction." On the other hand, a perpetual supply of spiritual food and spiritual consolation. The best of the people felt that it was the saddest thing that could be suffered—to have no more "signs" from God, to be destitute of the prophet, and of the man of superior insight (Psalms 74:9). The famine of "not hearing the Word of Jehovah" (Amos 8:11) is bitterer than hunger or thirst. The effect may be traced to a definite cause—the sin of the people or of the teachers themselves (Isaiah 43:27). The one might be unworthy to listen to, the other to deliver, the truth of God (Isaiah 43:27). There is no calling more glorious, none which leads to a more lustrous immortality (Daniel 12:3), than that of the religious teacher, none which is of greater service in the promotion of the kingdom of God. If so great be the blessing of the ministry of the truth, it flows from the goodness of God that, in the happy times to come, teachers shall never be absent from the people.
III. THE BLESSING OF INWARD ILLUMINATION. The "word behind them" may be the Bath-Kol, the daughter of the Voice, as the Jews say, or, according to a way of thinking more familiar to ourselves, the voice of conscience. "God is not a hidden God in the sense that his life is closed up within himself. His Word goes forth to the world, that it may come into being, and to the children of men that they may know it and find life in it (Psalms 33:6; cf. Deuteronomy 4:12; 1Sa 3:4; 1 Kings 19:11, sqq.). (On the Bath-Kol, see Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; John 12:28.) The notion is that of invisible and unexpected agency. The admonitions of providence, of conscience, of the Holy Spirit, seem often to come behind us—to recall us from the path on which we were going, from the course that would be fraught with danger. When in danger of straying to this side or to that, the voice will call us back. In this respect the Divine voice is like the daemonion of Socrates, which was a restraining influence.
IV. PURITY AND PROSPERITY. A symptom of a return to true religion will be the casting away of the relics and reminders of idolatry—the defiling in the Name of the holy God of that which to heathen eyes was holy. Josiah's conduct was an example of this (2 Kings 23:1-37.). The expression of abhorrence for the symbol expresses at the same time abhorrence for the thing symbolized. The repentance of the individual, the reformation of the nation, must be signalized by the "rending of the idol," not merely from its high place, but from the heart itself. When the heart is brought into the fuller knowledge of God, it loves what he loves, and hates what he hates. The thought of what is "an abomination to Jehovah" (Deuteronomy 7:25) is reflected in an intense distaste in the soul.
2. This will be consistent with external prosperity. Rain will come down upon the sown seed. As the withholding of the rain followed upon national iniquity as the greatest curse (Zechariah 14:17, Zechariah 14:18), so the giving of the rain meant at once all physical blessing and all Divine favors (Zechariah 10:1, etc.). Bread—rich and abundant produce of the land—cattle teeming in the wide pastures;—it is the happy picture of a golden age. Bread and water—simple elements of living; yet what poetry hangs upon their supply! and what woe, what tragedy and horror, upon the want of them!—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Sources of strength.
"In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength." Because, "if God be for us, who can be against us?" When the winds are in our favor, all we have to do is to set our sails. When the tides are with us, we need not fret concerning the issues of the voyage. God is on the side of the just man, the true man, the pure man. The disciples of his Son are not likely to lose his favor and reward. "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city."
I. THE DICTUM IS DIVINE. "Thus saith the Lord God." There is direct and special emphasis given to this promise. And he calls himself "the Holy One of Israel." So that the "holy people" need not fear, inasmuch as the Holy One cannot lie, cannot prosper anything opposed to holiness, cannot therefore let evil overcome goodness. What we have to look to is our state. We need not dream that quietness will help us if it be the indifference of sloth or the quiescence of an indulgent soul in evil. But if "holiness unto the Lord" be written on our hearts and lives, God, who is the Holy One, will surely prosper us.
II. THE DECLARATION IS DUAL. "Quietness and confidence." Because there, is a quietness which comes from the paralysis of fear, or from the coma of fatalism. We are to have a confidence which keeps the soul alive, and fills it with intense ardor and devotion. Nature is intensely active, but all her ministrations, as in the light and the dew, are quiet. Fussiness and loudness are no true signs of energy. Nay, rather they bespeak a superficial and shallow nature. Confidence is the child of wisdom and courage. It is not the result of ignorance, or of under-estimating the power of our foes. It takes cognizance of them all—their number and their variety and their ubiquity, but then, looking up to him who is mightier than them all, it says, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
III. THE STRENGTH IS WITHIN. What we need is not so much a lessening of the forces without us, but a strength in the inward man to overcome them. Take temptation. We are told that no temptation shall come but such as we are able to bear. We are not promised immunity from keen attacks. Everything depends upon the state of the soul. Temptation, to be successful, requires correspondency within. Sparks falling upon the ocean are not dangerous. Christ said, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me." Take trial. Sorrow, coming to the worldly heart, breaks it down—it ends in the death of hope and energy and joy. Sorrow to the Christian is an angel of discipline. The soul is sustained by the presence within us of the Man of sorrows, who can make all grace abound. So even the martyr and the confessor have been able to rejoice; even Paul and Silas sang "songs in the night." "As thy day thy strength shall be." This, then, is proven true in human history, and must be accepted as a fact. Spiritual consciousness is worthy of as much honor and to be accepted with confidence, as the boasted facts of science. The promise, therefore, is comforting to every generation. "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Going down into Egypt.
The prophet of Jehovah utters another "woe," he denounces another sin; for the people of the Lord, in the day of their difficulty, have looked, not to their Divine Redeemer, but to that arm of flesh in which they should not have trusted, and by which they will be abandoned. We see—
I. THEIR SIN. It is threefold.
1. Desertion of God. They take counsel, but not now of God, as in better days (Joshua 7:6; Jdg 20:27; 1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 30:8); they made alliance, but not with the Divine consent—not "of my Spirit" (Isaiah 30:1); they did not ask "at God's mouth" (Isaiah 30:2). Once they would not have dreamed of acting without encouragement from God; now they look elsewhere for sanction. This desertion of him who was their Lord, and who had so often proved himself their Deliverer, had its root in:
2. Distrust of God. They trusted in "the shadow of Egypt" (Isaiah 30:2), because they had come to distrust the "shadow of his wings" in whom David found his refuge until his calamity was overpast (Psalms 57:1). It was the loss of their faith in God which made them cast about for another power which should befriend and deliver them. And this deplorable distrust was due to:
3. The spirit of materialism. They preferred the visible nation to the invisible God; the fleshly "power" to the Divine Spirit; the material army of Egypt, whose forces they could count and whose weapons they could handle, to the unseen One whose angels were beyond the range of vision, and whose instruments were unfashioned by human hands. This is the sin of mankind. Desertion of God, departure from his side and from his service; desertion springing from distrust, and this distrust rooted in a wretched and pitiful materialism.
II. THEIR PUNISHMENT.
1. Fruitless expenditure. (Isaiah 30:4-6.) They would take the trouble to secure princely ambassadors, and these would travel through inhospitable and perilous regions, laden with costly gifts, paying servile attention to the foreigner—and all for nothing; an immensity of trouble and no profit whatever.
2. Bitter disappointment. (Isaiah 30:7.) The land from which they hoped so much would prove utterly useless; their expectations would end in nothing but chagrin;, their exasperation could only find expression in an opprobrious epithet, in a bitter epigram directed against Egypt.
3. Mortification. "The strength of Pharaoh shall be their shame," etc. (Isaiah 30:3, Isaiah 30:5). The result of this attempted alliance would be political reproach; and the court and the nation would be ashamed of having taken a step that turned out so ill. These are the common penalties of sin: the waste of that which is precious—time, money, strength, reputation, energy, affection, etc.; disappointment—the soul finding out that that in which it trusted cannot do what it hoped, that it leaves it still empty, still athirst, still poor; shame—the position in which it is dishonored of men, and has keenly to reproach itself for folly into which it need not have fallen, for sin which it might easily have shunned.
III. THEIR ALTERNATIVE. God was with them; one of his truest and most faithful prophets was at hand, accessible at any hour. Why not trust in the Almighty? Why not take counsel of the All-wise? The alternative to sin is always at hand. The gates of obedience are unfastened; the oracles of God are open; the paths of piety are such as every foot may tread.—C.
Isaiah 30:8-14, Isaiah 30:17, Isaiah 30:18
Aspects of sin.
This severe denunciation by the prophet of the sins of the Jews may remind us of some of the darker and sadder aspects of sin itself.
I. THE PERMANENCY OF ITS RECORD. Isaiah was to record the guilt of "the rebellious children" in a book, that it might be there inscribed "for the time to come forever and ever." And in the sacred volume there stand written, to be read for all time, the accusations which the Lord brought against Israel; the record of their national perversity remains after all these centuries have passed, and will remain for centuries to come. Apart from such instrumentality as was here employed, the sins we commit find a lasting record. They are printed in the faces and the forms of men, they are legible in their lives, they are apparent in their characters, they survive in their reputation, they live on forever m the ineffaceable influences which are left behind them and which are transmitted from age to age. The sins of the fathers may be read in the lowered and injured lives of the children unto the third and the fourth generation. We little think how and where and when our guilt is being recorded in one or other of the many books of God.
II. ITS OBDURACY. "Children that will not hear the Law of the Lord" (verse 9). Contumacy reaches its utmost length when it closes its ears against the Word of the all-wise and almighty God. It is by degrees that the heart becomes thus hardened. Diminished pleasure, inattention, avoidance, the closed ear of the soul—by such stages as these man descends to the obduracy which is here rebuked.
III. ITS POWER OF IMPOSING ON ITSELF. (Verses 10, 11.) When sin is in full possession of the soul it makes men believe that to be false which they do not wish to be true, and that true which they do not like to consider false; it prevails on them to regard the rugged things to be wrong, and the smooth things to be sound; then it leads them to find a voice for this palatable and comforting doctrine; so that they encourage those to speak who will keep silence as to all Divine but disagreeable truth, and give utterance to pleasant and profitable perversions.
IV. THE APPARENT SUDDENNESS OF ITS PENALTY. (Verse 13.) The spendthrift is getting poorer every month for many years, but bankruptcy comes on him suddenly at last. The dishonest man is getting hopelessly involved for years, but his reputation is blasted in an hour. The fascinations of the cup are long gaining ascendency, but in some evil day the victim of this baleful vice is seen staggering in the streets. Passion may have been winning the mastery from youth upwards, but at a certain point it blazes forth, and the life-blood is shed. Penalty generally comes at last with seeming suddenness, like the breaking wall that has long bent but comes down in a moment.
V. THE COMPLETENESS OF ITS PENALTY. (Verse 14.)
VI. ITS APPROPRIATENESS. (Verse 16.) The punishment of Judah's sin should have a marked correspondence with the guilt itself. This is constant. Sins of the flesh make their mark upon the body; sins of the mind leave their stain upon the spirit; folly in the home will end in domestic sorrow; he that withholds from others starves himself; he that oppresses others does violence to his own soul, etc. There will always be found a fitness in the penalty to the sin for which a man is suffering. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;" he that soweth the wind, shall reap the whirlwind (Galatians 6:7; Hosea 8:7).—C.
These beautiful words suggest—
I. THE FIRST DUTY OF THE ERRING. Judah had forsaken God to find a refuge in another power; the first duty of the nation, therefore, was "to return" unto the Lord, and to find its rest and its salvation in him. This is now and ever the immediate duty of all wanderers from God; both of those who have never been reconciled to him through Jesus Christ, and of those who, like the Jews on this occasion, have temporarily forsaken his service. The way of return is that of penitent confession (Romans 10:10), of trust in the Divine promise (Acts 10:43), of surrender to the Divine will (Acts 9:6).
II. THE STRENGTH OF QUIET ACTIVITY. "In quietness … shall be your strength." It is a common fallacy that noise and strength are closely allied. On the contrary, it is the quiet and even the silent things which are the strong ones. The thunder startles or appalls, but it effects nothing; gunpowder deafens the ear, but it enriches no one; tempestuous rhetoric excites to momentary force of feeling, but it adds nothing to character. It is the silent forces of gravitation and electricity acting for ages without being known to exist; it is the soft sunshine and the still rains of heaven; it is the quiet words of the calm teacher finding their way to the mind and working conviction and conversion there;—it is in these things, and in things like these, that real power resides. The quiet strength of a gentle mother's purity and love, of a faithful father's warning, of an honored teacher's counsel and example, of an earnest Church's testimony and work;—these are the God-given agencies by which the world is to be won to righteousness and truth. Noisy, spasmodic, irregular outbursts may be auxiliaries, but they are only that.
III. THE POWER OF FAITH. "In confidence shall be your strength." Sometimes we have simply to wait for God, and the best thing we can do is to "be still" and wait; our activity would only be harmful (see Exodus 14:13). So it was on this historical occasion (see Isaiah 37:1-38.). So was it often with our Lord's disciples. So is it now, when in duty or in danger we have done all that we can do;. then we wait for God—our expectation is in him only (Psalms 39:7; Psalms 62:5).—C.
God's waiting and ours.
I. GOD'S WAITING FOR US. "Will the Lord wait." We may look at:
1. The occasions of his waiting. He waits "that he may be gracious."
(1) That he may show his grace in forgiveness; in "having mercy upon as," or in making us to feel that we are the subjects of his mercy.
(2) That he may show his grace in interposition, delivering from danger, relieving from distress, saving in sickness.
(3) That he may show his grace in final and complete redemption (Romans 8:23)—the taking his children away from the struggle and sorrow of earth to the rest and joy of heaven.
2. The reason of his waiting. It is because "the Lord is a God of judgment," or of rectitude.
(1) He cannot forgive us till we return in spirit to him and accept his rule, until we obey his supreme command (John 6:29).
(2) He cannot interpose until his intervention is fitted to purify and sanctify us.
(3) He cannot call us home until the privilege and discipline of time have prepared us for the scenes and spheres of eternity.
II. OUR WAITING FOR GOD. "Blessed are all they that wait for him."
1. Blessed is the patient inquirer; for he who seeks the truth and waits till light shines in upon his soul will surely find his goal.
2. Blessed is the patient worker; for he who sows the good seed of the kingdom and waits for God to give the increase will "doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."
3. Blessed is the patient sufferer; for he who "waits for the morning" through the night of pain, or loneliness, or poverty, or any other ill, will find that the glory which is to be revealed will make the sufferings of the present time incomparably small (Romans 8:18). Now God waits for us, and we for him. A few steps more and his largest promises and our highest hopes will be all fulfilled.—C.
The people of God in their prosperity.
These verses are primarily applicable, and they are more or less true as they are applied, to the return of the Jews from captivity, and their residence in their own land. But they find a larger fulfillment in the condition of the Church of Christ in its last days. Possibly they anticipate the felicities of the heavenly future. We refer them to the Church in its prosperity, and conclude—
I. THAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE THOSE THAT HAVE KNOWN A TIME OF TROUBLE. Dark days have passed over their heads; there has been "the breach of his people, and the stroke of his wound" (Isaiah 30:26). God once made them to "eat the bread of adversity," etc. (Isaiah 30:20). They have passed through grave spiritual anxieties; they have felt the burden of unforgiven sin; they have sighed for the sense of God's favor; they have known the miseries of separation from God, and the weariness of a life unbrightened with sacred joy.
II. THAT IN THEIR DISTRESS THEY MADE EFFECTUAL APPEAL TO GOD. (Isaiah 30:19.) God is never deaf to the cry of sorrow; but to the appeal of the penitent spirit, longing to return unto him, his ear is peculiarly alive; he will be "very gracious" at the voice of that cry—"when he shall hear it, he will answer thee." No loudest sounds will drown the sigh of the contrite spirit, no multiplied activities will prevent the heavenly Father from giving it his immediate regard.
III. THAT THE DAY OF CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE IS ONE OF VERY BLESSED ILLUMINATION. In the day of its prosperity there should be abundance of light for the Christian Church. Its teachers should not have to hide in obscurity, but should be visible and accessible to all (Isaiah 30:20); and there should be times when the light of Divine truth would be not only clear, but brilliant and powerful, making other clays to seem dark by comparison (Isaiah 30:26; see 2 Corinthians 3:9, 2 Corinthians 3:10). Compared with the condition of heathen lauds, or even with the state of Israel under Samuel or David, or even with many Christian countries now, how blessed the state in which the gospel of the grace of God shall be made known in its freedom and its fullness in every town and hamlet, and in every cottage home!
IV. THAT THIS DAY OF CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE WILL BE ONE OF KIND AND FAITHFUL WATCHFULNESS. (Isaiah 30:21.) The vision is one of high, but not heavenly, blessedness; of advanced, but not absolute excellency. The citizens of the holy kingdom will be found walking in the King's highway, but there will remain a tendency to "turn-to the right hand or to the left," to go off into by-paths of error, or mistake, or unwisdom, if not of actual transgression. In this case there will be the faithful monitor, the Christian teacher, who will be ready with the timely intervention, "This is the way, walk ye in it." This readiness to intervene at the moment of digression ought to characterize our own times; it should be the holy habit, the careful acquirement, of the Christian pastor. On the other hand, a readiness to be admonished is one of the graces of a godly character.
V. THAT THE TIME OF TRUE PROSPERITY WILL BE MARKED BY THE DECISIVE INTOLERANCE OF EVIL. (Isaiah 30:22.) They that name the Name of Christ will not only "depart from all iniquity," but they will reprobate it; they will thrust it away; they will not like even to allude to shameful things (Ephesians 5:3)—these will be hateful, intolerable to them. We may measure our nearness to God by the degree of our abhorrence of evil (Hebrews 1:13; Romans 12:9).
VI. THAT THE TIME OF CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE WILL BE ONE OF ABOUNDING JOY. (Isaiah 30:23-25.) This language is clearly figurative; it is the utterance of exultation. Everything contributes to joyous prosperity—the timely rain, the large increase of seed, the rich pastures, abundance of food for cattle as well as for man, unfailing "brooks that make the meadows green." The land will laugh with exuberance, the nation will exult in overflowing wealth. In the days of unfettered liberty and universal privilege the Christian Church will delight itself in God; its songs of peace and of hope will arise from every valley; its life will be touched and lighted with the sunshine of a holy gladness. The light of God's countenance will rest upon it, and it will rejoice greatly in his salvation.—C.
Judgment and joy.
This forcible, energetic language, in which darkest shadow and brightest sunshine very strikingly intermingle, may remind us—
I. THAT GOD DOES COME IN TERRIBLE JUDGMENTS TO THE CHILDREN OF MEN.
1. Sometimes to men collectively—to societies, to cities, to nations.
2. At other times to individual men. In the special ordering or in the permission of his Divine providence he sends the overwhelming loss and consequently reduced or even impoverished estate, or the wasting and consuming sickness, or the undermining and final destruction of influence, or the shattering of power, or sudden, perhaps violent, death. God lets such things overtake the guilty, that the pictorial and poetical language of the text is applicable. It is as if his "anger bused," as if his "lips were full of indignation;" his judgments come down as an overflowing stream, they cast forth the guilty like a winnowing-shovel; his glorious voice is heard, his arm descends in righteous retribution.
II. THAT THE JUDGMENT OF GOD IS ACCOMPANIED WITH THE JOY OF MAN. "Ye shall have a song, as in the night … and gladness of heart" (Isaiah 30:29); "in every place where the grounded staff shall pass it shall be with tabrets and harps" (Isaiah 30:32). Here and elsewhere the judgments of God are made the occasion of human thankfulness and joy. It is clear:
1. That in such joy there should be no element of vindictiveness. It would be positively unchristian to find a source of satisfaction in the bodily or mental suffering of men because they have injured us (Romans 12:19, Romans 12:20). Christian magnanimity should rise to the height of earnestly desiring that its foes may be won to truth, wisdom, and eternal life.
2. That there may be in such joy the element of righteous satisfaction; not, indeed, that men suffer, but that their sin receives its appropriate mark of Divine disapproval; that the integrity of the Divine rule is vindicated; that God's presence and his holiness are seen to be near and not afar off. This is the spirit of the psalmist (Psalms 97:1).
3. That there may be also the element of human sympathy. Often at such times we have great gladness of heart, because, when he that once "smote with a rod" is himself "beaten down" (Isaiah 30:31), those who were smitten by the oppressor walk in liberty and security. The humiliation of the wrong-doer is the exaltation of the righteous—is the enfranchisement of the holy and the wise.
4. That there will also be the element of holy expectation. When Sennacherib has God's bridle in his jaws and is caused to wander far from his chosen path, Jerusalem is safe and Jehovah's service is secure. When the enemies of religion are scattered, there is a goodly prospect of opened sanctuaries, of multiplied privileges, of increase of piety and virtue on every hand. When the persecutor perishes the minister of truth rejoices greatly, and there is music in the house of the Lord because there is every reason to hope that the Churches, having rest, will "walk in the fear of God … and be multiplied" (Acts 9:31).
1. It is well, in the time of danger or distress, to ask for Divine deliverance.
2. It is better to ask for Divine strength to be enabled to overcome the evil from which we suffer by the good which we do (Romans 12:21).—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Adding sin to sin.
This prophetic warning seems to have been spoken when the embassy to seek offensive and defensive alliance with Egypt had actually started on its way. The sin of neglecting to seek direction from God in the time of national anxiety was now added to by the sin of openly seeking help from man. There was a constant disposition on the part of the Jews of the later monarchy to seek their safety in national alliances. When imperiled by the Israelites, they sought help from the Syrians. When threatened by the Syrians, they made treaties with the Assyrians. When the Assyrians became their enemies, they tried to strengthen themselves with the support of hesitating, inactive Egypt. First men lose their faith in God; then they neglect to seek or obey him; and then they turn to mere human helpers. So sin follows on sin. Illustrating this from life and experience, with precise applications to each audience, it may be shown that—
I. SIN IS ADDED TO SIN IN THE NATURAL ORDER OF EVENTS. It is but the simple fact of life that a sin never goes alone. It always has its companions and its followers. It must, if for this one reason only—every sin is a disturbance of order by man's self-will; that self-will is sure to go on sinning in the effort to get the order right. The child who finds order disturbed by some wrong act, goes on to tell lies in its vain effort to get the order straight again.
II. SIN IS ADDED TO SIN BY THE INFLUENCE OF HABIT. There is a strange tendency in us all to do a second time what we have done once. This has not been sufficiently noticed, though it is the basis on which criminals are often detected. A sin done once, we are actually disposed to do again; and there seems to be even a bodily bias towards tiffs formation of habits. Parents and teachers have to watch for it, that they may check and correct it.
III. SIN IS ADDED TO SIN BY THE ENTICEMENTS OF SATAN. For an act of sin is giving Satan the advantage over us, putting ourselves into his power. And the increase of that power depends on leading us to do evil again. He will not let us stop and think. We must go on, as the gambler does, until we are enslaved and ruined.
IV. SIN IS ADDED TO SIN AS A BEGINNING OF PUNISHMENT. A man is usually "heady and high-minded" at the successful result of his first wrong; so, in order that he may be smitten and humbled, God lets him go on from sin to sin, until shame whips him awake, so that he may see his iniquity. The way round to right has often to be by the mire of sin added to sin. There is a gracious sense in which God lets willful men alone awhile, as he left these Jewish leaders who advocated the Egyptian alliance, that they might convince themselves of their own wickedness and folly.—R.T.
Trusting others than Jehovah.
"Relying upon human aid, involving a distrust of the Divine promises, was a crying sin of the ancient Church, not at one time only, but throughout her history." It is quite as truly the crying sin of the modern Church, and of the Christian individual. In every time of pressure and need we first fly to some form of human help. It is either the expression of "first simplicity," or else of "cultured sanctity," to act on the words, "Our help is in the Lord our God."
I. THE DELUSIONS ON WHICH OUR TRUSTING OTHERS REST. Some of these take shape, and we can recognize them. Others lie down in men's souls, doing their mischievous work, but never getting put into propositions, which can be fairly dealt with. They are such as the following:
1. God is far away, and his help is not anything really practical.
2. God does not heed; he is so largely concerned in the great affairs of the universe that it is only an imagination that he can take interest in an individual life.
3. God is so long about his work; and impatient man cannot bear waiting—if he is in any trouble, he wants it dealt with at once. Compare the King of Israel, in the famine-time, saying pettishly to Elisha, "What should I wait for the Lord any longer?"
4. God makes such hard terms. He always wants repentance and submission, and letting our own hands hang down; he crushes human energy and enterprise. The very statement of these cherished delusions of men suggests their correctives. Surely to all who cherish them the great Father is an unknown God.
II. THE FORMS WHICH OUR TRUSTING OTHERS MAY TAKE. The Jewish nation leaned on the help of another nation in her extremity. We, in our individual life and experience, are in danger of some form of sacerdotalism; we pin our faith to some sect-leader, some scientific teacher, some admired statesman, some popular preacher, some assertive priest. Thousands of people find individual responsibility in religion too heavy a burden for them to bear, and do not grasp the truth that God is with them in the bearing, and that it is their dignity to stand under the yoke only with God. Sacerdotalism is just the "man-trust" which prophets denounce. In public life and association the tendency is to lean on, and worship material strength. We seek the help of riches for the carrying out of all our religions schemes. We fly to men rather than to God.
III. HISTORY AND EXPERIENCE ALIKE PROVE THE PRACTICAL FOLLY, AS WELL AS THE INGRATITUDE AND REBELLIOUSNESS, OF THUS FORSAKING GOD. Our trusts prove, like Egypt, only shebheth, inactive, do-nothings (see Isaiah 30:7). Egypt promised much, but failed utterly in the day of trial.—R.T.
Quietness and confidence.
These terms are related. Quietness is the result of confidence. Confidence is the secret of quietness. The quietness thought of by the prophet was the abandonment of the disquieting and distracting search for earthly aids, as in the case of seeking help from Egypt; the confidence he commends is that patient waiting on God and waiting for God, which are the necessary expressions of our faith in him.
I. A GREAT ATTAINMENT. So great, so nearly impossible for men while on the earth, that, despairingly, men have thought of it as only reached in the grave whither man hastens. Byron says, "I found in the Certosa Cemetery such a beautiful inscription; in Italian the words are absolute music: 'Luigi Martini implora eterna quiete.' On the restless, tossing, changing earth who can be quiet?" "The word is like an angry sea. The vessel of our life is rocked and dashed hither and thither, as blast after blast assails it, and wave after wave comes rolling on. Think what that power must be which comes into a human life in such a condition as this, and gives 'quietness'—a quietness so deep that none can make trouble." Quietness never comes by the smoothing of circumstances. They never are smoothed for more than a very "little while." And fears of the clouds that are gathering disturb even the "little while." Quietness only comes by soul-mastery over circumstances. Hearts must win peace, and then only can they make peace.
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH QUIETNESS MAY BE REACHED. Through confidence; heart-confidence—heart-confidence in God. "We must keep our spirits calm and sedate by a continual dependence upon God and his power and his goodness; we must retire into ourselves with a holy quietness, suppressing all turbulent and tumultuous passions, and keeping the peace in our own minds. And we must rely upon God with a holy confidence that he can do what he will, and will do what is best for his people. And this will be our strength; it will inspire us with such a holy fortitude as will carry us with ease and courage through all the difficulties we may meet with" (Matthew Henry). In this matter the principle holds that our own endeavor must go along with God's bestowments. "Work out your own salvation … for it is God that worketh in you." Some of us make no effort to get outside the whirl of life. How can we expect God to give us quietness?
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE USE OF SUCH MEANS. Found in God's gracious ways of giving his people heart-peace, and then peace in circumstances, when they have fully trusted in him.—R.T.
The peril of the willful.
"We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift." We will—there is man's sin. That is not a fit position for dependent man ever to take. "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare." "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain For that ye ought to say, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that." From some points of view these strong-willed men may be regarded as the noble-men of earth. They have a purpose in life, which holds in and guides, as with bit and bridle, all the forces of their being. They are the great men in our mills and warehouses; the foremost as statesmen, and in carrying out great social and national enterprises. They seem to have a power of control over all the circumstances surrounding them, and a power of recoil from the greatest disappointments and disasters. Yet this disposition lays men open to peculiar dangers. Strong will is liable to become self-will—to refuse the ordinance of God; to refuse the help of God; to refuse to wait for God. It stands up in fancied majesty and says, "I will." "Whatever God may say or do, I will. I will be rich, I will be successful, I will be great." When a man in such a spirit says, "I will," he is on the very pit-edge, and on the pit-edge blindfolded.
I. WILFULNESS IS REBELLIOUSNESS. Because man is God's servant, pledged to carry out his Master's will, and not his own will. Man is God's child, and in duty bound to fulfill his Father's commands. Disobedience is rebellion.
II. WILFULNESS IS WEAKNESS. Because man is entirely dependent on the God whose will he refuses, for the means of accomplishing what he determines to do. His willfulness is as weak as a child's who has no money, no power, but depends entirely on his parents.
III. WILFULNESS IS FOOLISHNESS. For it is a setting of ourselves against the Almighty God, as if he would allow us to shift and rearrange his plans. Man's willfulness may make a noise, and bring him into trouble; but it is only a child's attempt to hold back the flowing of the great river of God. A little time of vain trying, and then the child is swept away by the flood, which still rolls on.
IV. WILFULNESS IS PERIL. It will be a marvel, almost a miracle, if such a man do not "fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition."—R.T.
Adversity as Divine bread.
"The bread of adversity, and the water of affliction." We can only think of God by the help of our associations with man. Therefore, in the revelation which he has given us in a book, God is spoken of as if he had the form of a man (anthropomorphism), and as if he had the feelings of a man (anthropopathism). We, indeed, know no other moral beings beside man, and probably our senses would allow of the apprehension of no other. We are not allowed to create material images representing God, but we are allowed to think of God through the figures of the human being. Answering to this is the truth that we can only know our soul through our body; we have to think of it as a kind of spiritual body. So it needs care, clothing, feed, etc; eves as the body. This is the line on which it can best be shown that adversity is Divine bread for the soul, which must be nourished by appropriate food. Working out this thought, two points may be more especially treated.
I. BREAD IS THE STAPLE FOOD FOR THE BODY. It is in itself sufficient to sustain life; it contains all the necessary elements for the renewal of vitality. So is adversity the staple food for the soul; for it contains all the necessary elements for the renewal of character. Since we are sinners, wayward, and willful, the prosperities of life are but like luxuries; and adversity is our staple food, which nourishes humility, penitence, godly fear, and trust. The expression is used of King Manasseh, the willful, who, in prison, was fed with the bread and water of affliction, and thereby nourished unto penitence, forsaking of sin, and hearty return to the God of his fathers. If we pray, "Feed me with food convenient for me," we must clearly see that the answer may include "adversity and affliction."
II. BREAD IS A GENERAL TERM EMBRACING ALL NECESSARY FOOD. And necessary food for the body includes some things that are unpleasant to the taste. Sometimes even medicine is bread—the very best of bread for us under the circumstances. And so our soul-conditions and our soul-culture may make necessary things that are very trying to feeling. "No affliction for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are exercised thereby."—R.T.
Sins of will and sins of frailty.
"When ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left." This is an evident recognition of the infirmities and wanderings of those who do, of set purpose of heart, mean to serve God. The verse is a gracious assurance that, in such times of frailty, God's people shall have due warning and correction. We may take as types of the two kinds of sin—sins of will and sins of frailty—the two persons who were present to the mind of Christ when he spoke as in John 12:10; and these two persons will illustrate the classes who were in the mind of Isaiah when he gave the warning of the text—the boldly willful who persisted in the policy of seeking aid from Egypt, and the frail' ones whose faith faltered under the pressure of the anxiety of the times and the delay of the Divine intervention. They were swayed to this side or to that, but, nevertheless, tried hard to keep steadily, Piglet on.
I. JUDAS, TYPE OF THOSE WHO ARE HEART-WRONG, INSINCERE, RULED BY CONSIDERATIONS OF SELF-INTEREST. There are no minute details given of the process of Judas's apostasy. There was, indeed, nothing unusual about it. The covetous spirit made him connect himself with Christ chiefly for personal ends. The essential thing in any one who unites with Christ is surrender of self and self-will, and this surrender Judas never made. The point, however, to be specially dwelt on here is that his great sin was a matter of will, plan, resolve, determination. He did not drift into it; he was not enticed into it; he was not taken at unawares: he schemed it; he willed it; the guilt of it fully rested on him. Whenever men sin with their wills and openly, they must come under the crushings of Divine judgment. Sins of will are rebellions that must be mastered. The distinction between sins of will and. sins of frailty may be further shown in King Saul and King David.
II. PETER, TYPE OF THE SINCERE BUT FAULTY AND FRAIL. Compare David. Peter was hasty, impulsive, uncertain, sometimes even weak. "The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak." lie swayed now to this side, and now to that, and needed just such warnings as are provided in the above text. The Apostle John urges on those who are sincere Christians, that if they "say they have no sin, they deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them." And these, which at first are "goings aside," "frailties," will soon grow to become" willfulnesses, "if they are not checked and corrected. Therefore may we rejoice in God, and assure our hearts in his promise that the voice shall call us back when our feet incline to wander to the right or the left.—R.T.
The joy-song of the delivered,
Reference is to the deliverance of Hezekiah and Judah from the yoke of the Assyrians and the fear of their overwhelming attack. Illustrating the pleasure Eastern people feel in "night-songs," Roberts says, "Music is considered far more enchanting at night than at any other period; it gives cheerfulness in darkness, and pleasure to the heart." Nothing is more common than for adults to sing themselves to sleep; thus, as they recline, they beat a tabret and chant the praises of their gods till, through heaviness, they can scarcely articulate a word. In passing through a village or town at midnight may be heard people at their nightly song, to grace the festive scene, to beguile away their time, to charm their fears, or to procure refreshing sleep,"
I. GOD GIVES SONGS IN THE NIGHT OF OUR FEARS, A striking illustration is found in the times of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:1-37.). A time of exceeding peril and fear came through an invasion of Moabites and Ammonites; the matter was committed to God in prayer; deliverance was assured, and we read that the singers went out before the army, to praise the beauty of holiness, and say, "Praise the Lord, for his mercy endureth forever." They were to sing their songs of trust while yet the deliverance tarried. Singing songs when we are well out of fears is easy work; singing songs even while struggling with our fears is the beautiful triumph of faith.
II. GOD GIVES SONGS IN THE NIGHT OF WEEPING. Weeping represents troubles being borne, not troubles only feared. Smiles can break through tears. God gives heart-rest that can give forth a song, even to the sons and daughters of pain and grief.
III. GOD GIVES SONGS IN THE NIGHT OF WEARY PILGRIMAGE. For oftentimes "waiting work," and the work of keeping steadily on, is very trying and hard. Many a man knows the painful depression of "patient continuance in well-doing." This is typified in the long, dreary journey of Israelites from distant parts of the country to the feasts at Jerusalem. Weary work, indeed, in those slow-travelling days. It is said that each band of pilgrims on its way to Jerusalem was headed by a person who played the flute. Nothing cheers a journey like a song. See the power of music on a soldier's march. Then—
"Sing on your heavenward way,
Ye ransomed sinners, sing."
IV. GOD GIVES SONGS IN THE NIGHT OF DEATH. Songs in the soul, when lips are sealed in weakness. How often those who watch beside dying saints see the lips moving, and catch faint sounds of the old trustful hymns learned in childhood! Familiar texts and well-loved hymns are the wings that bear many a soul through the long dark valley into the holy realms of light and love and song.—R.T.
The mission of Tophet.
"Fire, being the most destructive of all the elements, is chosen by the sacred writers to symbolize the agency by which God punishes or destroys the wicked. We are not to assume from prophetical figures that material fire is the precise agent to be used. It was not the agency employed in the destruction of Sennacherib, who is the king mentioned in the text. He was killed by his two sons, whilst worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god (Isaiah 37:38). Tophet properly begins just where the Valley of Hinnom bends round to the east, having the cliffs of Zion on the north, the Hill of Evil Counsel on the south. It terminates at Beer Ayub, where it joins the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The cliffs on the south side especially abound in ancient tombs. Here the dead caresses of beasts, and every offal and abomination, were cast, and left to be either devoured by that worm that never died, or consumed by that fire that was never quenched. Hinnom was condemned to this infamous service, perhaps, because in it, when Israel fell into idolatry, they offered their children in sacrifice to Baal." Tophet came to represent the place of punishment, especially that kind of punishment which is destructive rather than remedial.
I. DIVINE PUNISHMENTS OF THE INDIVIDUAL ARE REMEDIAL. We are not able to fit together the fatherly relation and the hopeless destruction of any of his sons. Much of our difficulty in dealing with the conditions of the future life arises from our failing to distinguish between the individual and the corporate life of men. Nations, sects, classes, families even, can be destroyed. Their corporate life may once for all cease. God's judgments may reach them in this form for the sake of, and for the duo impression of, the individual. We understand the destruction of an army or of a city, but not the destruction of a man.
II. DIVINE PUNISHMENTS OF THE NATION OR THE CLASS MAY BE DESTRUCTIVE. Tophet here is the figure for the destruction of the army of Sennacherib, and of him as king, not as man. Tophet tells of material destructions, and such only can concern man in human and earthly relations. Sodom and Gomorrah may be burned up in the fires of God, destroyed from off the face of the earth; But we know nothing of the standing of individual Sodomites before God. The Canaanite race was to be swept from the earth, but we are sure the Judge of all the earth will do right by each Canaanite. God's temporal destructions for corporate sins are part of the world's education, but are no basis for belief in any everlasting material punishments for individuals.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 30". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20