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A FURTHER WARNING AGAINST SEEKING THE ALLIANCE OF EGYPT. This prophecy seems to be quite independent of the last (Isaiah 30:1-7). It may have been given earlier or later. The chief point brought out, which had not distinctly appeared previously, is the value set on the horses and chariots of Egypt in the conflict with Assyria.
Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help (comp. Isaiah 30:1, Isaiah 30:2; and see also the earlier prophecy, Isaiah 20:2-6). The examples of Samaria, Gaza, and Ashdod might well have taught the lesson of distrust of Egypt, without any Divine warnings. But the Jews were infatuated, and relied on Egypt despite her previous failures to give effective aid. And stay on horses. The Assyrian cavalry was very numerous, and very efficient. It is often represented on the monuments. Egyptian cavalry, on the other hand, is not represented at all; and it may be questioned whether, in the early times, the Egyptian war-horses were not entirely employed in the chariot-service. The later dynasties of Egyptian kings, however, employed cavalry, as appears from 2 Chronicles 12:3; Herod; 2:162; 'Records of the Past,' vol. 2. pp. 68, 70, 72, etc. And trust in chariots, because they are many. The large number of the chariots maintained by the Pharaohs is abundantly evidenced. Diodorus assigns to Sesostris twenty-seven thousand (1. 54, § 4). This is, no doubt, an exaggeration; but the six hundred of the Pharaoh of the Exodus (Exodus 14:7), and even the one thousand two hundred of Shishak (2 Chronicles 12:3) are moderate computations, quite in accord with the monuments, and with all that we otherwise know of Egyptian warfare. Egypt exported chariots to the neighboring countries (1 Kings 10:29), and was at this time the only power which seemed capable of furnishing such a chariot-force as could hope to contend on tolerably even terms with the force of Assyria. They look not unto the Holy One of Israel (comp. Isaiah 30:11, Isaiah 30:12). The trust in the Egyptian alliance was accompanied by a distrust of Jehovah and his power, and a disinclination to look to him for aid.
Yet he also is wise. Intense irony. "Wisdom is not wholly confined to the human counselors whose advice Judah follows (Isaiah 29:14). He (Jehovah) is 'wise' too, and could give prudent counsel if his advice were asked." As he is not consulted, he will bring evil upon his people, and will not call back, or retract, his words of threatening, but will give them accomplishment, by rising up against the house of the evil-doers (i.e. the Jews), and their help (i.e. the Egyptians).
Now the Egyptians are men, and not God. Judah relied on Pharaoh, as on a sort of God, which indeed he was considered in his own country. Isaiah asserts the contrary in the strongest way: the Egyptians, one and all, are men—mere men; and "there is no help in them" (Psalms 146:3). Their horses flesh, and not spirit. The horses, on which so much reliance was placed, were mere animals, subject to all the weakness of the animal nature, not spirit-horses, with a life and vigor of their own, by which they could be a real tower of strength to those on whose side they ranged themselves. They all shall fail together; i.e. the helpers and the helped (compare the concluding clauses of verse 2).
A PROMISE OF PROTECTION, AND OF THE DISCOMFITURE OF ASSYRIA. In the promise of protection (Isaiah 31:4, Isaiah 31:5) there is nothing new but the imagery, which is of remarkable beauty. The promise is followed by a brief exhortation (Isaiah 31:6, Isaiah 31:7); and then the discomfiture of Assyria is declared in the plainest terms, and her flight before the avenging sword of God (Isaiah 31:8, Isaiah 31:9).
Like as the lion, etc. The resemblance of this simile to Hem; 'Iliad,' 18.11. 161, 162, has been often noticed. In both, the lion has seized his prey, and is crouching over it; the shepherds gather themselves together against him, and seek to scare him away; but he remains firm, undaunted by their threats and cries, never for a moment relinquishing the body of which he has made himself the master. The image is best explained as representing Jehovah, standing over and keeping guard on Jerusalem, which he will allow, no one to rend from him. And the young lion; rather, even the young lion (Lowth). A single animal must be intended. Roaring on his prey; rather, growleth over his prey. So shall the Lord of hosts come down to fight for Mount Zion; rather, so shall the Lord of hosts descend, to fight, on Mount Zion. If we connect the concluding words of the clause with tsaba, to fight, the meaning must be "fight against," as Delitzsch shows conclusively. But we may connect them with the more distant yered, will descend, in which case they will mean "on," or "upon Mount Zion" (comp. Exodus 19:18; Psalms 133:3). The best commentators are of opinion that this must be the sense. The words are a promise, not a threat.
As birds flying; rather, as birds hovering, or fluttering, ever their young, to protect them. A second simile, expressive of tenderness, as the former one was of power and strength. Defending, also, etc. Translate, defending and delivering, passing over and preserving. In the word "passing over" there seems to be a reference to the institution of the Passover, when the angel, sometimes identified with Jehovah himself, "passed ever" and spared the Israelites.
Turn ye unto him. Then, at any rate, if not before, turn to him who will have delivered you from so great a peril. "Turn to him, O children of Israel, from whom men have so deeply revolted." The third person is used instead of the second, out of tenderness, not to hurt their feelings by mingling with promise an open rebuke.
For in that day every man shall cast away his idols. "In that day"—the day of Assyria's discomfiture—shall the vanity of idols be seen and recognized. They have not helped Assyria. How should they help Judah (comp. Isaiah 30:22)?
Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; rather, and Assyria shall fall by the sword of one who is not a man Assyria's destruction will not be by the visible swords of human enemies, but by the invisible sword of God. And the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him; rather, and the sword of one who is not a mortal shall detour him—an instance of "synonymous parallelism." He shall flee; more literally, betake himself to flight. His young men shall be discomfited; rather, as in the margin, shall be for tribute. They shall become the vassals of a foreign power.
And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear; rather, and his Rock shall pass away for fear (marginal rendering). It is generally agreed by recent commentators (Kay, Delitzsch, Cheyne), that the rock intended, which is contrasted with the "princes" of the next clause, is Assyria's king (see the contrast of the king, who is "a great rock," and his princes, in Isaiah 32:1, Isaiah 32:2). (On the hurried flight of Sennacherib to Nineveh, see below, Isaiah 37:37.) His princes shall be afraid of the ensign. The word nes, ensign, seems to be here used collectively. The Assyrian princes would tremble at every signal that they saw displayed along their line of route, expecting some enemy to fall upon them. His furnace. Jehovah was at once a Light to his people, and "a consuming Fire" (Hebrews 12:29) to his enemies. His presence, indicated by the Shechinah in the holy of holies, was at once for blessing and for burning.
Isaiah 31:2, Isaiah 31:3
The folly of trusting in an arm of flesh.
"Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man," says the psalmist (Psalms 146:3); "for there is no help in them." All human props are uncertain—
I. BECAUSE OF HUMAN CHANGEFULNESS. Men do not continue always of one mind. They make promises, and regret that they have made them, and find some way of escaping their force, or else boldly break them with a cynical disregard to what others may think or say. Their interests change, or the views that they take of them; and the wise policy of to-day seems foolishness, or even madness, tomorrow. Some men are actuated by mere caprice, and have no sooner effected a desired purpose than it loses favor in their eyes, and seems to them of little worth. They will make heavy sacrifices to obtain an alliance, and none to maintain it. They sigh always for something that they have not, and despise what they have. Human protection is always uncertain, owing to the fickleness of man, who is naturally "double-minded," and "unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8).
II. BECAUSE OF POSSIBLE INSUFFICIENCY. The human protector may, with the best intentions in the world, prove insufficient. Syria and Ammon summoned Assyria to their aid when they contended with David (2Sa 10:6, 2 Samuel 10:16; Psalms 83:8); but the result was the entire defeat of the confederate army. Hannibal called on Macedonia to assist him against the Romans; but Macedonia proved too weak, and her efforts resulted in her own subjection. There must, in almost every case, be the risk that the protector, though doing all he can, may fail, and our having called him in exasperate, or even infuriate, our adversary.
III. BECAUSE OF HUMAN GREED AND SELFISHNESS. The protector may become, is only too apt to become, the oppressor and the conqueror. Rome's vast empire was built up largely by taking states under her protection, and then absorbing them. Had Egypt succeeded in defeating Assyria, and rolling back the tide of invasion that had so long been rising higher and higher, and threatening her own independence and that of her neighbors, the result would simply have been that Judaea and Samaria would have been absorbed into Egypt, or at any rate have become Egyptian dependencies. The small state that calls in one powerful kingdom to help her in her struggle against another rarely gains anything more than an exchange of masters.
IV. BECAUSE THE GREATEST HUMAN STRENGTH IS POWERLESS AGAINST GOD. The Egyptians were "men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit" (verse 8). Had all the chariots of Egypt come forth, and all their footmen and all their horsemen, they would not have saved Judah, since God had declared that here there was "no work for Egypt" (Isaiah 19:15), and that Judah, if she trusted in Egypt, "should be ashamed of Ethiopia their expectation, and of Egypt their glory" (Isaiah 20:5). God can strike an army with blindness, as he did that of Benhadad (2 Kings 6:18) on one occasion; or with panic fear, as he did that of the same monarch on another (2 Kings 7:6); or he can cause quarrel to break out among the constituent parts of an army, and make the soldiers slay one another (2 Chronicles 20:28); or he can send out a destroying angel, and kill a hundred and eighty thousand men in a night (2 Kings 19:35). Again, the God of battles determines the issue of battles. "It is nothing to him to help, whether with many or with them that have no power" (2 Chronicles 14:11). He can cast down and bring to naught the mightiest human protector; he can save, if he wills to save, by his own angelic army, without the intervention of any human aid at all.
The rock of Assyria and the Rock of Israel.
In each case the "rock" was
(1) the refuge, stronghold, and main reliance of the people;
(2) a person, not an inaccessible height or a fortress;
(3) the recognized monarch and master of the nation.
But in all other respects the contrast between the two was extreme, the difference immeasurable.
I. ASSYRIA'S ROCK—SENNACHERIB. A man, a weak, fallible, ephemeral man—the creature of an hour—mortal, soon wearied, needing rest and sleep, liable to sickness, daily losing strength, approaching nearer and nearer to the grave. And not only a man, but a wicked man—proud, cruel, contemptuous of his foes, blasphemous towards God, merciless, pitiless! What a poor object on which to place reliance, trust, dependence! No doubt to the Assyrians he seemed a grand figure, seated on his throne of carved cedar and ivory, receiving tribute from kings and princes, and surrounded by his army of perhaps two hundred thousand men. But of what avail was his grandeur? He could not save a single soldier out of the two hundred thousand from an ache or a pain, if God sent them—no, nor from death itself, if their lives were required by the Most High. To-night Sennacherib lies down to rest, confident of victory, his camp guarded on every side by nigh a quarter of a million of strong warriors. Tomorrow he is woke up by a sound of universal wailing. More than a hundred and eighty thousand of his soldiers are dead in their tents. His chances of victory are clean gone; and in half an hour he is an alarmed and trembling fugitive.
II. ISRAEL'S ROCK—JEHOVAH. God, and not man—the Strong One, everlasting, he that "inhabiteth eternity" (Isaiah 57:15), that is never wearied, that needs not to slumber or sleep, that knows no sickness, that never loses strength, that has "neither beginning of days nor end of life" (Hebrews 7:3). And One who to all this might adds tenderness, and the deepest love of his own, and the gentlest care of them. A Rock, but not hard or rugged—a Refuge from all foes, a Shadow from the heat, a Refreshment to the weary, a Help to those in need. God is able to save all men, not only from death, but from all suffering or unhappiness. There is no foe that can daunt him, none from whom he will have to flee. And he is willing to save all only let them "return to him" (Isaiah 31:6), "cry to him" (Isaiah 30:19), trust in him, wait on him. He is indeed a "great Rock" (Isaiah 32:2), a "strong Rock" (Psalms 31:2), even "the Rock of our salvation' (Psalms 89:26).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The help of Egypt.
A party in Judah is negotiating with Egypt; and the prophet points out the falseness of this policy.
I. IT IS A RELIANCE UPON BRUTE FORCE. "Horses" are symbolic of martial strength. And Judah, being peculiarly deficient in cavalry, was "tempted to trust in Egypt for chariots and horsemen" (Isaiah 36:8, Isaiah 36:9). Famed in Homer was Egyptian Thebes, with the hundred gates, and the two hundred men who issued forth from each with horses and chariots ('Iliad,' 9:382). The memory of the pursuit of the Israelites at the time of the Exodus contained the picture of those chariots and horsemen (Exodus 14:6, Exodus 14:9). They were in request in Solomon's time (1 Kings 19:1-26). Egyptian cavalry, the very nerve and sinew of war; Egypt who possesses them, the most coveted ally. "On horses will we fly …on the swift will we ride," was the word of the party. Such was their "creaturely confidence." These horses were but "flesh," and "all flesh is as grass," and withers when the breath of the Eternal blows upon it. The strength of the creature is but the strength of the dependent nature; folly, then, to lean on that which is itself a leaning thing.
II. IT IS A RELIANCE UPON MAN, AND NOT UPON GOD. Here man, as usual in the Hebrew prophets, is sharply opposed to God; the dependent, the frail, the mortal, to the self-dependent, the Strong, the Immortal and Eternal; the tool to the hand that holds it, the might that alone can render it effective. The axe, the saw, the staff: they are dead and helpless things, until they are brought into connection with spiritual force. So horses and chariots can avail naught, unless they be the instruments of the Lord of hosts, the engines of a spiritual and enduring policy in the earth. Man himself, without tools and weapons, is the most defenseless of animals; with them, yet still without God, he is in no better plight.
III. IT IS TYPICAL OF IRRELIGIOUSNESS IN GENERAL. The folly is not so much in looking to material resources and defenses as in "not looking to the Holy One of Israel"—in "not consulting Jehovah." All worldliness is negative, and there lies its weakness. It is a strategy of life which defeats itself; moving far from the true base of operations, and finding itself presently cut off, without the chance of return. Again, it is a departure from the Source of true wisdom. The "wisdom of the wise, and the understanding of the understanding ones"—this is policy, prudence. In Jehovah is a higher wisdom than that of Jewish politicians; his is wisdom united with perfect rectitude. And without reverence for him, the "fear of Jehovah," men do not partake of this higher wisdom.
IV. THE END OF EGYPTIAN HELP. In the first place, the hollowness of the Jewish policy will be exposed. The word of Jehovah has gone forth, and will not come back to him void. For it is itself spiritual force, truth, mightier than any material force that is known. Put into the mouth of a prophet (Jeremiah 1:9), those words become mighty as fire, to devour all that stays their course as wood (Jeremiah 5:14). "All that the Lord speaketh must be done" (Numbers 23:26). The wall of a worldly wisdom will bulge and suddenly fall, and the "wisdom of the wise ones" be brought to naught. The words of the Eternal are backed up by the hand of the Eternal; and, when stretched out, the "helper" who has been so much looked up to will be seen to totter, and the "helped" one be buried beneath the ruins.—J.
Similes of the nature and power of Jehovah.
I. THE LION. He is pictured watching over the holy city, the "peculiar treasure," the invisible Sanctuary of the religion and the people, as a lion over its prey, in the presence of threatening shepherds.
"As from a carcase herdsmen strive in vain
To scare a tawny lion, hunger-pinch'd;
Ev'n so th' Ajaces, mail-clad warriors, faird
The son of Priam from the corse to scare."
It is a fine image—found twice in Homer—of the undaunted prowess of the bold and steadfast warrior. Invincible towards his foes, what is Jehovah towards his friends, the people of his choice and love?
II. THE BIRD. Infinite tenderness mingles with irresistible might in the nature of God. It is no narrow view of the Divine attributes which the Bible gives. All that we see of nobility in living creatures, all traits of courage and of love, may be borrowed to enrich our representations of that nature which includes all other nature within its scope and grasp. Thus the magnificent queen of birds, no less than the magnificent king of beasts, supplies in its actions and habits a parable of eternal providence. The eagle fluttering over her young, spreading her wide wings and bearing them thereon, was a type of Jehovah's conduct to his people in the desert (Deuteronomy 32:10). So does he now hover over the city, protecting, rescuing. Nor was it otherwise in the days of the Savior, who employs also the simile of the maternal bird. Every ideal of lionhearted hero, of father, strong yet tender, of all-brooding mother, of living creatures inspired by mysterious and mighty instincts of love, helps to bring into momentary clearness some feature of the nature of him whose being is only "dark from excess of light." His voice, pleading with youth and innocence, with the unsophisticated conscience, says, "Come!" and with the sinner and the sophist, "Return!"—J.
The fire of Jehovah.
I. "OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FINE." He burns from that sacred oracular center in Jerusalem. And his foes are seen melting away before him—the Assyrian fleeing from and falling before the sword, the huge rock of his power disappearing, princes falling into panic terror as the rallying signal of Judah is raised. The briars and thorns of iniquity, all the weed-like growth of worldly ways are kindled and devoured.
II. OUR GOD IS A LIGHT OF SALVATION. "Light of Israel" goes along with "devouring fire" (Isaiah 10:17). To be enlightened is to know God and our relation to him. It is to know what is not Divine, and what is sinful, and what is worthless in reference to salvation. And so the people, having "returned," will be seen respecting their "not-gods of silver and their not-gods of gold," the sinful manufacture of godless art.
III. THERE MUST BE BOTH THE FIERY AND THE ILLUMINATING ELEMENT IS TRUE RELIGION. Enthusiasm is needed; without it we have no motive force. Evil will yield to nothing else than to the heart aflame with piety, the tongue of Heaven-kindled fire. Yet blind zeal is mischievous; and therefore the illuminated mind is needed, the discriminating intelligence. The union of intellect with piety, the white heat of zeal kindling all it touches into light-giving flame,—what can resist it?—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Wrong sources of help.
"Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help." Egypt is used in Scripture as a symbol of all foreign worldly powers. It represented carnal force—"trusting in chariots, horses, and horsemen, because they are very strong." "Looking," as the same verse says, "to them," and not looking unto the Holy One of Israel.
I. WOE, BECAUSE GOD HAS SAID IT. He is wise, and knows the end from the beginning. We are dazzled with the show of power. The neighing of the war-horse and the glitter of the golden chariot and the flashing steel of the warriors, all look like strength. But God says to Israel, "This is not your strength. This may succeed for a time, but it is an empire held by the throat, not by the heart."
II. WOE, BECAUSE WE HAVE SEEN IT. The facts of history are on our side. When Israel was pure and pious she prospered. Deliverance from Egypt was wrought out in the face of superior force; and an undisciplined band of slaves were too mighty for the cohorts of Pharaoh. So have we seen in history ever since. In the end it is "righteousness that exalteth a nation;" but shame, reproach, and defeat come to those who forsake God. Woe! Yes; the fires of London had to hum out its profligacies. The plague followed its debaucheries.
III. WOE, BECAUSE DIVINE LAWS ARE IMMUTABLE. It is not only said and seen, it is sure. For to find true help in Egypt would be like reversing the law of gravitation, or making the stars change their courses, or water forsake its level. "God is not a man, that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent."
There are many Egypts—force, fashion, fraud; these have empire at times; but woe to those who, forsaking the simplicities and spiritualities of the gospel, seek "help" therefrom!—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The arm of flesh.
How important is this subject we may gather from the fact that the prophet is inspired to return to it, and to reiterate his condemnation (see Isaiah 30:1). The disposition to lean on the arm of flesh instead of trusting in the living God is not Jewish, but bureau; not peculiar to any age or dispensation, but is an abiding spiritual peril. We learn here—
I. THE FALLACY WHICH IT INVOLVES.
1. The Jews were trusting in numbers. Looking to the horses and chariots of Egypt, "because they were many" (Isaiah 31:1). We are apt to be imposed upon by numbers, to think there is safety and even salvation in them, to indulge the notion that, because we are among a great crowd or are supported by a very large majority, we are all on the side of truth and victory. Yet nothing is more uncertain; often the vast hosts have been overthrown in conflict by the devoted and determined few; often the small section, "everywhere spoken against" and despised, has been proved to be in the right and has ultimately prevailed. If God be on one side and the mightiest multitude on the other, we may be sure that the fact that "the chariots and horses are many" will be of no account at all. Divine providence is not by any means necessarily or constantly "on the side of the strongest battalions."
2. They trusted in apparent human strength. "In horsemen, because they are very strong." Many regiments of cavalry have a very imposing aspect to the eye which looks upon and judges by the surface of things; they seem invincible, overwhelming, an invaluable ally when the enemy is approaching. And not only the well-equipped cavalry in time of war; but, in time of peace and in the ordinary life of men, the sagacious counselor, the wealthy merchant, the influential statesman or courtier, the eloquent and admired speaker or pleader—these men seem to have in them a source of strength on which we may build, or to which in the time of peril we may repair. But "the Egyptians were men, and not God," etc. (Isaiah 31:3); their promised word might be broken, their overtures might turn out to be selfishly made and to be unscrupulously withdrawn; their cavalry might be ridden down by troops still stronger than they. Being but men and but horses, they might prove—as they would prove—nothing better than a broken reed, which would pierce the hand that leaned on it (Isaiah 36:6). And the human strength on which we are all so inclined to lean will very likely prove to be nothing more or better. How often the sagacity of the prudent, the riches of the wealthy, the influence of the great, the eloquence of the orator, fail us at our hour of need, and we "go down to our house" bitterly disappointed, or perhaps stricken, stripped, ruined! "The arm of flesh will fail you."
II. THE FRUIT WHICH BELONGS TO IT. "God will not call back his words" of condemnation (Isaiah 31:2; see Isaiah 30:1-13). He is grieved and offended that his word has been disobeyed, and himself distrusted and deserted. (See homily in loc.)
III. THE PENALTY WHICH WILL FOLLOW IT. God will arise against both those that seek and those that offer help; at the stretching out of his hand they will both fall together (Isaiah 31:2, Isaiah 31:3). They who, distrusting God, put their trust in man will fall under God's high displeasure, and, according to their circumstances and the character of their error, wilt fall into discomfiture, into disrepute, into disappointment, into shame.
IV. THE RESOURCE WHICH IT OVERLOOKS. All the while that Judah was leaning on "that broken reed, Egypt," it had at hand a sure Support, an almighty Deliverer, One that would be as a lion for fearlessness and irresistible strength, One that would be as a mother-bird for swiftness and tenderness (Isaiah 31:4, Isaiah 31:5), to whom it might have looked, and by whom it would have been graciously received and effectually succored. By our side, in our time of trouble and of peril, is an almighty Friend, whose delivering hand no army can resist, who will come at the right time to redeem us, who will treat us with more than parental tenderness and care. Shall we not go unto him, and say, "My soul trusteth in thee, yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast" (Psalms 57:1)?—C.
Divine reservation and consistency.
"Yet he … will bring evil, and will not call back his words" Doubtless God seems to call back his words. "The Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do" (Exo 32:14; 2 Samuel 24:16; Judges 2:18, etc.). "He heard their cry … and repented, according to the multitude of his mercies", (Psalms 105:44, Psalms 105:45). Yet, says the prophet, "he will bring evil and not call back his words." How explain this? The explanation of it is found in the fact that there is some necessary reservation understood, if not expressed, in the Divine promise and in the Divine threatening.
I. HIS RESERVATION AND CONSISTENCY IN PROMISE. God promises life to the obedient and the faithful; yet there are those who believe themselves, and are believed, to be among this number, whose end is destruction. Has God called back his word? No; for his promise was contingent on their steadfastness, and they have forfeited all claim on his promised word (Joshua 24:20; Psalms 85:8; Ezekiel 33:13; John 15:6; Hebrews 6:4 :8).
II. HIS RESERVATION AND CONSISTENCY IN THREATENING. Although God may seem to call back his words of solemn threatening, yet he "will bring evil;" he is not inconsistent with himself.
1. God reveals his wrath against sin. He declares that it shall not go unpunished; that the soul that sinneth shall die; that the wages of sin is death.
2. God offers pardon. The message of the gospel of Christ is essentially and emphatically one of Divine mercy.
3. His mercy in Christ Jesus is large and free. It is not grudging, half-hearted. It is not like the forgiveness we extend to one another (Isaiah 55:7-9). It means a complete restoration of the estranged but reconciled child to full parental favor (Luke 15:22, Luke 15:23). Where, then, is the Divine consistency? It is found in the consideration that:
4. His declaration of penalty was always contingent on the attitude of the sinner. (Ezekiel 33:14, Ezekiel 33:15.) It is not intended to be absolute and unalterable, whatever be the future career of the guilty. Like all his promises, God's warnings are conditional. God does not call back his own words from their meaning or their fulfillment, he calls us back, through them, to our duty and to our right relation to himself. And, besides:
5. He does bring evil in some serious measure. For:
(1) Previous to our penitence sin has wrought suffering, sorrow, weakness.
(2) At the time of penitential return it works self-reproach, shame, anxiety.
(3) Reconciliation is inevitably followed by some kind and some degree of spiritual deterioration; there is a lost power, a lessened influence, a narrowed sphere—the absolutely irremovable consequences of repeated wrong-doing and protracted ill-being.—C.
Isaiah 31:6, Isaiah 31:7
The children of Israel had "deeply revolted" from God by preferring Egyptian cavalry to the defense of almighty power. This preference of the human and the material to the Divine is only too common everywhere.
I. THE DISLOYAL ATTITUDE OF MANKIND TOWARDS GOD. Mankind is in revolt against the Divine rule. We have all said in our hearts, "We will not have this One to reign over us."
1. God righteously claims our allegiance—the homage of our hearts, the subjection of our will, the obedience of our life.
2. We have deliberately refused it, we have practically disallowed his claim; we have retained our power for our own enjoyment, to be spent according to our own tastes and choices. Amid various forms of iniquity there is one which is common to the race-we have all withheld from the Divine Father of our spirits the willing and practical allegiance for which he has looked.
II. HUMAN DISLOYALTY IN ITS DEPTH There are many degrees of rebelliousness. Only he who searches the hearts and knows the real nature of righteousness and iniquity can accurately measure them, but we can form an approximate idea. Men may be deeply disloyal by going far in the direction of
(1) open and flagrant transgression—the commission of baneful vices or cruel and devastating crimes;
(2) distinct and formal denial of God's existence—the avowal and advocacy of blank atheism;
(3) the public denial of the Divine claims—the representation of the cardinal error that God is indifferent to the character of his human children, and does not ask for their worship or service;
(4) deliberate and persistent disregard of his will as revealed in his Word—the turning a deaf ear to his inviting voice.
III. THE DIVINE SUMMONS TO RETURN. "Turn ye unto him."
1. God's message through inspired men. At sundry times God spake by the prophets. Then and thus he spoke in very clear and in very gracious tones; he said emphatically and repeatedly, "Return unto me" (see text; Isaiah 1:16-18; Isaiah 55:6-9; Jeremiah 3:12-16; Ezekiel 18:30-32; Hosea 14:1, Hosea 14:2, etc.).
2. God's invitation through his Son, our Savior.
(1) That the disloyal hearts of men should return to their allegiance and become the holy and rejoicing citizens of his heavenly kingdom was the very end, for which Jesus came.
(2) To accomplish this he lived, wrought, spoke, suffered, died.
(3) This is the spirit and the scope of the message he has left behind him, and of the work in which he is now engaged.
(4) The way of return through Christ is the heart's acceptance of him as its Divine Lord and Redeemer. The voice which comes from the Man of sorrows, from the ascended Lord, is "Come unto me;" "Believe in me;" "Abide in me."
IV. THE SPIRITUAL CONSEQUENCE OF RETURN. "In that day every man shall cast away his idols." Return to the service of Jehovah and to a sincere trust in him certainly meant the utter abandonment of idolatry. Our restoration to the favor and friendship of God in Jesus Christ must also mean the putting away of every form of idolatry; e.g.
(1) the worship of pleasure or indulgence in any unholy or injurious gratification;
(2) covetousness, "which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5);
(3) the worship of mammon, or absorption in the struggles and ambitions of this earthly life (Matthew 6:24).
(4) Such a devotion to any human object of love as leaves no room, or no sufficient room, for attention to the highest duties and the most sacred claims. It may be that not once nor twice, but again and again, the Christian man may find himself called on to "cast away his idols," to put them out of his heart, and therefore out of his life.—C.
Isaiah 31:8, Isaiah 31:9
Here is a prophetic vision of flight, which may suggest other kinds and instances of "fleeing away." Sennacherib comes up vain-gloriously against Jerusalem, confidently reckoning on complete success, thinking to swallow up Judah as a pleasant morsel; and, behold! he is found hurrying homewards as one that is pursued by overtaking legions, not staying at his first fortification, but, in his terror and humiliation, "passing on beyond his stronghold" for fear, his princes "frightened away by the flags" of the enemy that was to have been so easily and so utterly subdued. Our thoughts may be directed to—
I. THE VANQUISHED FLEEING FROM THE VICTORIOUS. The annals of human history, which have hitherto been principally the record of human strife, are only too full of heart-rending illustrations (see, among others, Erckmann-Chatrian's 'Waterloo').
II. CRIME FLEEING FROM THE FEET OF JUSTICE. Both fact and fiction will supply abundant illustrations of the intolerable wretchedness of those who, pursued by the officers of law, are dogged by apprehension and alarm at every step they take. "Let no man talk of murderers escaping justice, and hint that Providence must sleep: there were twenty score of violent deaths in one long minute of that agony of fear."
III. WRONG FLEEING FROM REVENGE. See the vivid picture of Carker fleeing from Dombey (Dickens): "Shame, disappointment, and discomfiture gnawing at his heart, a constant apprehension of being overtaken: the same intolerable awe and dread that had come upon him in the night returned unweakened in the day … rolling on and on, always postponing thought, and always racked with thinking … pressing on … change upon change … long roads and dread of night … and still the old monotony of bells and wheels and horses' feet, and no rest."
IV. GUILT FLEEING FROM THE FACE OF GOD. Guilt fleeing:
1. Weakly and vainly. Long before Jonah, in the hour of self-reproach that followed his act of disobedience, "fled from the presence of the Lord," men had tried to put a distance between their sin and its rightful Judge. And long since then have they tried to escape his eye and his hand. Saddest of all vain endeavors is the thrice-guilty deed of the suicide, who acts as if, by entering another world, he could flee from the face of the Omnipresent One.
2. But there is a sense in which guilt flies away from the face of God really and most blessedly. When God's conditions of penitence and faith have been fulfilled, then is our guilt "purged away," our transgressions are "removed from us as far as the east is from the west," our sins are "hidden from his face," they are "cast into the depths of the sea" (Psalms 65:3; Psalms 103:12; Psalms 51:9; Micah 7:19). Moreover, we look forward to the time when there shall be a glorious fulfillment of the Divine promises, and we shall have—
V. EVIL DISAPPEARING FROM THE FACE OF MAN; when "sorrow and sighing shall flee away," when "death and hell shall be cast into the lake of fire," when "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying … for the former things are passed away" (Isaiah 35:10; Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:4).—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Names for God.
Here the Lord, or Jehovah, is called the "Holy One of Israel." When the mysterious name "Jehovah" was given, another name, suited for more familiar use, was commended, even this, "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Instructive suggestions come from placing these three names together, as representing
(1) God absolute;
(2) God in relations;
(3) God in history.
I. "I AM" (YEHVEH); OR, GOD ABSOLUTE.
1. This name in truth involves the namelessness of God. It is as if he had said to Moses, "You ask for my Name. 'I am,' and that is all that you can say about me." The words are not, properly speaking, a name; they are but the assertion of a fact about God. They are a refusal of God to put all his great glory into a name. A name is the brief summing-up of a definition, and since it must ever be an impossible thing wholly to define God, he cannot permit any name to be used which shall appear to assume that a definition has been found.
2. This so-called name involves the unity of God. It is as if he had said, "I am, and there is none beside me." In a magnificent conception, the prophet represents Jehovah as rising up from his place, scanning the whole universe, from the infinite east to the infinite west, and then, seating himself again upon his eternal throne, saying, "There is no God beside me; I know no other."
3. This so-called name involves the self-existence of God. It is as if he had said, "I am, and no one made me." None gave him being. On no one has he to depend. He has life in himself. He is the very Fountain of life. And thus is declared the perfect and eternal distinction between God and all created existence. Nowhere can we find uncaused being. Everywhere are effects which can be more or less perfectly traced to their causes. In Jehovah we have effect without cause. "In the beginning God." "From everlasting to everlasting thou art God." 4. This so-called name involves the eternity of God. It is as if he had said, "I am, and shall be forever." It is absolutely impossible for us to conceive of the force which can stop his existence. There is no death that can touch him.
"How dread are thine eternal years,
O ever-living Lord!"
This impression of God as the Unknowable, Unseeable, August, and Awful One, our souls greatly need in these light and frivolous times. God is revealed to the soul in awe. A horror of great darkness fell on Abraham, and under it he saw God. Trembling agony filled the soul of wrestling Jacob, and in the awe of his conflict he heard God. We may heed the voice that says, "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen; I will be exalted in the earth."
II. "GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB," OR, GOD IN PERSONAL RELATIONS WITH US. We are to know what God, is by observing what he has been to his people, and what he has done for them. By calling himself thus, God represents himself as the Promise-maker and Promise-keeper. At the call of God Abraham had broken away from his Chaldean home, and wandered forth, a sojourner in a strange land; but God was faithful to his word, and proved towards him an unchanging Friend. Guilty Jacob fled from home, and God met him, revealing himself as the faithful Watcher, willing to be in close and gracious personal relations with him. For years, while in service, God blessed his basket and his store. When journeying back to Canaan, God defended him, subdued the enmity of Esau, and gave him prosperity and honor. Few lives are offered for our study which bear such manifest traces of the nearness and providence of God. Few names could suggest so much to us as this most simple one—the God of Jacob. Stilt God is what he has ever been—Defense of his endangered people; Wisdom for his perplexed people; Support of his enfeebled people; Correcter of his mistaken people; Savior of his sinning people. For all the actual needs of a tried, toiling, tempted life, we may come, even as the patriarchs did, into close personal relations with God, for "this is his Name forever, and this is his memorial to all generations." Graves, in his work on the Pentateuch, says, "The peculiar and incommunicable character of God is self-existence; he is the great 'I Am.' But this abstract and philosophical description of the Supreme Being was not sufficiently calculated to arrest the attention, conciliate the confidence, and command the obedience of a people entirely unaccustomed to scientific speculations, and incapable of being influenced by any other than temporal motives; it was therefore necessary to represent to them the Governor of the universe in a more circumscribed and attractive form, as the God of the fathers, who had conferred the most distinguished honors on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to whom their posterity might—from the full confidence which fact and experience supply—look up and trust as their peculiar guardian God."
III. "HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL;" OR, GOD IN HISTORY. This is the new name given to God, when his dealings with our race through many generations could be reviewed, and the character of all those dealings make due impression of the character of God himself. What one thing comes out most plainly from all reviews of God in history? The prophet says, in reply, his holiness. This estimate of God may be illustrated on the following lines.
1. The Holy One or Israel has ever been faithful to his covenant.
2. The Holy One of Israel has ever required the holiness of a simple and trustful obedience.
3. The Holy One of Israel has ever been swift to mark iniquity.
4. The Holy One of Israel has ever been redeeming and saving.
5. The Holy One of Israel has ever been jealous of his supreme claims. "His glory he would never give to another." So the three great names on which we have been dwelling
(1) touch us with reverence and awe;
(2) open our eyes to see his working all round about us; and
(3) call upon us to render to him hearty trust and lowly service.—R.T.
The wisdom of God in his punishments.
"Yet he also is wise." These words seem to have been spoken as an ironical parenthesis. He also, as well as the Jewish politicians. "The words vindicate to Jehovah the skill and power adequate to inflict punishment on both the contracting parties, together with veracity in carrying his threatenings into execution." "God was as wise as the Egyptians, and ought therefore to have been consulted; he was as wise as the Jews, and could therefore thwart their boasted policy." As Isaiah leads us to consider so many phases of the subject of Divine punishment, we only suggest this topic as giving a fresh point of view. We are reminded of the wisdom, rather than the mysteriousness, severity, or love, of the Divine judgments and chastisements. In sending calamities "God is wise." Covering the whole subject, the following divisions may be taken.
I. God's wisdom is seen in the threatenings, which act as warnings, and increase the guiltiness of the willful.
II. God's wisdom is seen in making his threatenings conditional, so that repentance of, and forsaking, sin may be hopeful.
III. God's wisdom is seen in fulfilling threatenings, so that no willful men may dare to presume.
IV. God's wisdom is seen in what he does for sinners themselves by his judgments.
V. God's wisdom is seen in what he does by his judgments for the spiritual training of the onlookers. "He is known by the judgments which he executeth."—R.T.
God unhindered by fears of man.
We fear and tremble before boastful words and a great show of force, but we may well remember that God does not. He reckons it all at its true worth, and goes on with his Divine working quite unmoved by all the rage. The figure in this verse needs careful explanation. The allusion is to the boastings and threatenings of Sennacherib. God has undertaken to defend the city of Jerusalem. As the lion will not give up his prey, so Jehovah will not allow the Assyrians to rob him of his "peculiar treasure," Jerusalem. The vast armies of the Assyrians were as nothing in the estimation of Jehovah. He viewed unperturbed their attempt to seize the locality which he had chosen as his special residence. Matthew Henry, with quaint force, says, "Whoever appear against God, they are but like a multitude of poor simple shepherds shouting at a lion, who scorns to take notice of them, or so much as to alter his pace for them." Taking an illustration from another sphere of nature, the Divine calmness under excitement that alarms men may be illustrated by the following passage from Gosse: "There was a heavy swell from the westward, which, coming on in broadly heaving undulations, gave the idea of power indeed, but of power m repose, as when a lion crouches in his lair with sheathed talons and smoothed mane and half-closed eyes. But no sooner does each broad swell, dark and polished, come into contact with these walls and towers of solid rock, than its aspect is instantly changed. It rears itself in fury, dashes with hoarse roar, and apparently resistless might, against the opposition, breaks in a cloud of snowy foam, which hides the rocky eminence, and makes us for a moment think the sea has conquered. But the next, the baffled assailant is recoiling in a hundred cascades, or writhing and groveling in swirls around the feet of those strong pillars which still stand in their majesty, unmoved, immovable, ready to receive and to repel the successive assaults of wave after wave with ever the same result." There is a quality or power in man, which we call in a good sense sang-froid—a power of keeping calm in times of excitement, which we are accustomed to admire, and which may help us to realize the figure of God given in this passage. A remarkable story is told in connection with Prince Bismarck, who is a striking example of persistent keeping on at his designs, however loud may be the howlings around him. It is said that he wears an iron ring, on which is inscribed the Russian word "Nitschewo," or "It does not matter." In the winter of 1862 he was hurriedly journeying in Russia, and in answer to various appeals to his driver, he could get nothing from him save this one word, "Nitschewo." At last the sledge was upset, and taking an iron bar which had become detached from the sledge, Bismarck, in his annoyance, thought of striking the man, but feeling he had learned a life-lesson from the frequent repetition of this word, he kept the bar, and had a ring made of it to remind him, in the worryful times of life that "it does not matter." Consider—
I. THE THINGS WHICH GOD DOES NOT HEED. They go under this heading—the boasts of the proud. Empty words. Noisy deeds. The material forces which lie at the command of men. These greatly alarm us. Let but a sound of threatening rise into the air, and we cry in our fright, "The Church is in danger!" God is not disturbed. His Church is safe; the "gates of hell shall not prevail against her." Let but the nations unite for some act of violence towards the Lord's Jerusalem, and in fright her statesmen run off to Egypt for help. Jerusalem is in no real danger—a wall of Divine guardian fire is all round about her, and God will defend his own.
II. THE THINGS WHICH GOD DOES HEED. These will go under the heading—the cry of the humble. He who is best beard by man when he speaks with a "still, small voice," best hears man when he speaks to him with a "still, small voice." Not the thunder of men's anger, but the quiet evening breeze of men's humble prayer, goes right in to the throne of God. We may learn from this figure of God's patient indifference to what seems so alarming, how we may rightly estimate opposing forces and persons who show enmity to us. Most of such forces and persons had better just be passed by, left alone. "Nitschewo"—"It does not matter." We all of us make too much of evil things and noisy oppositions. We magnify them until they fret and weary and hinder us. Would that we were more like God, who—
"Moves on his undisturbed affairs!"
Turning to God in giving up sin.
Connect with Isaiah 31:7. Here is indicated one essential characteristic of a genuine conversion or reformation. Two kinds of "turning" are suggested.
I. TURNING TO GOD AS A VOICELESS SENTIMENT. Merely good sentiments, revivalistic emotions, gushing fervors, temporary excitements, have no voice that can reach to God.
II. TURNING TO GOD SPEAKING THROUGH ACTS. Putting away idols—God can hear that. He knows what that means. Giving up sins—God can hear that. Cutting off right hands—God can hear that. Plucking out right eyes—God can hear that. This is the voice for which God asks, and to which he so graciously responds. "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."—R.T.
The surprise of the Lord's deliverances.
No inhabitant of Jerusalem could have imagined how God intended to deliver the city from Sennacherib. God's way is in the sea, his footsteps are not known; but he leads his people safely like a flock. The following points will recall familiar illustrations.
I. GOD'S PROMISED DELIVERANCES ALWAYS DO COME. "If it tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not tarry." "No good thing has failed God's people of all that he has promised." "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard, and saved him out of all his troubles."
II. THEY COME WHEN WE DO NOT EXPECT THEM, And therefore we are constantly urged to keep watchful and expectant. Disraeli truly remarked that "the unexpected is the thing that happens."
III. THEY COME IN WAYS THAT SEEM STRANGE. In some cases not seeming at all to be the deliverances which they really are.
IV. THE SURPRISE THEY BRING IS USUALLY FULL OF GRATITUDE AND JOY. For in most cases it is manifestly better than our thought. Then let God save us and deliver us just in his own way and time. Enough for us to wait earnestly on him in our prayer, and wait patiently for him, trustingly sure that he always has his "set time in which to favor Zion."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 31". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter