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A PROPHECY OF ISRAEL'S SPIRITUAL RECOVERY AND REGENERATION. This section is closely connected with Isaiah 43:1-28; of which it ought to form the conclusion. The prophet cannot bear to leave Israel under a ban—its spiritual guides "profaned," and itself given over to "reproaches." He must end with a brighter prospect. Accordingly, he holds out, in the present passage, the double hope
(1) of the blessing of an abundant outpouring of the Spirit, to take the place of the preceding "curse" (Isaiah 43:28); and
(2) of a pressing of proselytes into the renovated Church, who will hold it in honour, instead of making it the object of their "reproaches."
Yet now hear; i.e. "be not dismayed at what has been said. Listen a little longer." O Jacob my servant, etc. A recurrence to the terms of endearment used in Isaiah 41:8, showing that words of favour and' promise are about to follow.
The Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb (see Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:7). "From the womb" is added here for increased emphasis. Jesurun. The Lord's people have their proper names—Jacob, Israel, Jesurun, or rather, Jeshurun. "Jacob" marks them simply as descendants of the patriarch—the people to whom the promises were made. "Israel" marks their militant character—that as "God's soldiers" they fought his battles and maintained his cause in the midst of a hostile world. The third name, "Jeshurun," which is very rarely used (only here and in Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 33:5, Deuteronomy 33:26), designates them as "righteous," being a derivative from the root yashar (or joshar), equivalent to "upright," and points to that standard of moral excellence which it was their duty to set forth, and which to some extent they did set forth, in a world that "lay in wickedness." Had they been more worthy of the name, it would probably have been oftener applied to them.
I will pour water upon him that is thirsty. "Water" is, in Isaiah, the common metaphor for Divine grace. Sometimes, as in this place (and Isaiah 35:6; Isaiah 43:20; Isaiah 55:1), the simple maim, "water" or "waters," is the word used. At other times we have instead, or in addition, "rain" (Isaiah 5:6; Isaiah 30:23; Isaiah 55:10), or "dew" (Isaiah 26:19), or "rivers" (Isaiah 30:25; Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 33:21; Isaiah 41:18; Isaiah 43:19, etc.), or "streams" (Isaiah 30:25; Isaiah 35:6), or "floods" (as in this place). At his coming on earth, our blessed Lord took up the comparison, and has made it familiar to all men throughout the whole Christian world (see John 3:5; John 4:10, John 4:11, John 4:13-15; John 7:37-39). We may note here that the "water" is only poured on him who is athirst for it. Thy seed … thine offspring. Not "Israel after the flesh" only, but also Israel after the Spirit—the true "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).
They shall spring up as among the grass. The LXX. have, "As grass among the waters;" and this reading is followed by Bishop Lowth, Ewald, and Mr. Cheyne. But there does not seem to be any necessity for departing from the existing Hebrew text. As willows. There is some doubt whether the Hebrew word used ('ereb) is rightly translated "willows." The modern yarab seems certainly not to be a "willow," but rather a species of Viburnum. It is, however, most strictly a water-plant, growing only "near flowing water."
One shall say, I am the Lord's, etc. There shall be an influx of proselytes. Instead of the heathen nations looking scornfully on, and uttering gibes and jeers (Psalms 137:7) at Israel's fall, on seeing Israel's rise they shall be anxious to have a part in it, and shall hasten to enrol themselves among the worshippers of Jehovah. "One shall say, I am Jehovah's,"—while "another shall proclaim the name of Jacob," as that in which he glories; and a third "shall write on his hand, (I am) Jehovah's, and take as a surname the name of Israel." It was usual among the heathen nations to mark the name of a god upon the bodies of persons specially devoted to him (Herod; 2:113; 7:235); and, though the practice was forbidden to Israelites (Leviticus 19:28), it might naturally continue in use among semi-heathen proselytes.
A FURTHER CONTRAST OF GOD WITH IDOLS. The captive Jews, dwelling scattered in a land the inhabitants of which were, one and all, idolaters, and having by hereditary taint an inclination to idolatry, would be easily tempted, during the long and weary period of the Captivity, to put away the worship and even the thought of Jehovah, who had allowed their subjugation, and conform to the religion of their conquerors. Hence the repeated contrasts in these later chapters—specially addressed to caprice Israel—between Jehovah and idols, and the sharp ridicule of the latter (comp. Isaiah 40:18-25; Isaiah 41:4-7, Isaiah 41:21-29).
The Lord the King of Israel. Therefore entitled to Israel's allegiance (comp. Isaiah 43:15). And his Redeemer; i.e. Israel's Redeemer—he who had redeemed them from Egyptian bondage—who will redeem them from the power of Babylon—who, best of all, will redeem them from their sins. The First … the Last (comp. Isaiah 41:4, with the comment). Beside me there is no God. This had been distinctly asserted in the Law (Deuteronomy 4:35, Deuteronomy 4:39; Deuteronomy 32:39); but Israel could not be induced practically to believe it. The "gods of the nations" were supposed generally to be realities, actual powers, not perhaps so potent as Jehovah, but still real beings, capable of doing good and harm (see Isaiah 41:23). It is one of Isaiah's special objects in these later chapters to disabuse Israel of this notion (see Isaiah 41:21-24; Isaiah 43:9-11; Isaiah 45:5, Isaiah 45:6, Isaiah 45:14-22, etc.).
Who, as I, shall call, etc.? i.e. "Who will do (or who can do) as I do—call events into being, declare them, and set them in order beforehand—who can do this for me (or, in my stead)? No one. I have done it, ever since I appointed (or, placed upon earth) the ancient people" that is, the race of men before the Flood (see Job 22:15). The claim is that, from the first creation of mankind, God has not only prearranged the events that should happen, but has declared them by the mouth of prophets (see Genesis 3:15; Genesis 6:13, Genesis 6:17; Genesis 8:22, 23; Genesis 9:12-16, etc.). No other has done the same. The things that are coming, and shall come. Not earlier and later events, but "future events," and "such as will actually come to pass" (Kay, Cheyne). Let the idol-gods declare these, if they are to be entitled to consideration.
Fear ye not (comp. Isaiah 41:10,Isaiah 41:13; Isaiah 43:5; Isaiah 43:2). Israel need not fear that they will be forgotten or forsaken. God has told them from that time, or, from the beginning (Isaiah 48:3, Isaiah 48:7), and declared to them, what he is about to do—viz, destroy Babylon, and give them deliverance. He will assuredly do as he has said. Ye are even my witnesses (comp. Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 43:12). There is no God; literally, there is no Rock; i.e. no sure ground of trust or confidence (comp. Isaiah 17:10; Isaiah 26:4; Isaiah 30:29; and see the comment on Isaiah 17:10).
The uniqueness of God having been set forth, the prophet now turns to the images and the image-makers, overwhelming them with his scorn and ridicule. The passage may be compared with Jeremiah 10:3-10 and Baruch 6:8-72.
They that make a graven image are … vanity; rather, are confusion. The word used is tohu, which, together with bohu, describes the primitive chaos in Genesis 1:2 (comp. Isaiah 24:10; Isaiah 34:11; Isaiah 40:17, Isaiah 40:23; Isaiah 41:29; Isaiah 59:4). Their delectable things shall not profit. "Their delectable things" are their idols, which are "pets, favourites, treasures." These cannot possibly be of any advantage to them. They are their own witnesses. Their powerlessness stands confessed in their very appearance, since they are manifestly sightless and senseless. That they may be ashamed. The subject of this clause cannot be sought in the earlier part of the verse. It is the idol-makers that will be put to shame.
Who hath … molten a graven image? Metal idols were mostly cast in the first instance, and then finished off with a graving-tool. "Who hath molten" means "who has been so foolish as to do so—to take so much trouble about a thing which cannot possibly profit any one?"
All his fellows; or, all its associates'; i.e. all who are associated together in the worship of the idol. The worshippers of a particular idol, or sometimes of a particular god, formed a sort of guild or company, bound together by common participation in certain rites, and under an obligation to defend each other. The prophet says that, though the worshippers and the makers should, all of them, be gathered together, and stand up to help one the ether, yet should they be unable to effect anything. Gathered together against God, they would "tremble and be ashamed."
The smith with the tongs. The Hebrew text is defective, some word having fallen out. We should probably supply "maketh," and translate, The smith maketh an axe, and worketh it in the coals, and with hammers fashioneth it. The description of image-making thus commences with the fashioning of the carpenter's tools. He is hungry, etc. The artificer who takes the first step in "forming a god" (Isaiah 44:10) is himself hungry and thirsty, depending on so mean a thing as food to supply him with the needful strength. Unless he can cat and drink, the whole work is brought to a standstill.
The carpenter, etc. When the smith has done his part in the formation of tools, the carpenter is called into action. His proceedings are traced "extragressively." (Delitzsch). First, he is regarded as in possession of his block of wood. On this he proceeds to stretch out his rule, to obtain the idol's length and breadth. Then he marks out on the block a rough outline with red chalk (sered). After this he pares away the superfluous wood with planes, or chisels, and marks out the limbs more accurately with the compass, planing and measuring until he has brought the rough block into the figure of a man, and impressed on it something of the beauty of a man, so that it may seem worthy of remaining in the place where it is set up, whether temple or private house. But there is something necessarily anterior to all this. To obtain his block, the carpenter must first cut down a tree, or have one cut down for him (Isaiah 44:14); to obtain a tree, he (or some one for him) must have planted it; for the tree to have grown to a fitting size, the rain must have watered it. So the very existence of these wooden idols depends ultimately on whether it has rained or not—i.e; whether God has given his rain or withheld it.
Cedars … cypress … oak. The second of the trees mentioned is more probably the ilex than the cypress, which does not grow either in Palestine or in Babylonia. Idols would be made of cedar on account of its fragrance, of flex and oak on account of their hardness and durability. Cedar was used as a material for carved figures in Egypt. Which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest. The meaning is obscure. Dr. Kay translates, "and he encourages himself in the trees of the forest," which conveys no very distinct idea; Delitzsch, "and he chooses for himself among the trees," etc; which is sufficiently clear, but scarcely obtainable from the Hebrew text; Knobel, "he makes himself secure among the trees", which imparts an idea certainly not contained in the original. He planteth an ash. It is uncertain, and it does not greatly matter, what tree is intended. The point is that, before trees can grow up, they have to be planted, and that, for them to grow when planted, God's gift of rain is necessary (see the comment on Isaiah 44:13).
Then shall it be for a man to burn. The tree that has been planted, and nourished, and has grown up is naturally "for a man to burn." That is its ordinary destination; and even the idolater applies it partly to this purpose; but out of a portion he maketh a god. The very same tree serves him both for fuel and for a divinity.
He burneth part thereof; rather, half thereof; "With half thereof"—not the other half, but the same—"he eateth flesh." One fire serves for the two purposes of warming him and cooking his victuals.
The residue thereof; i.e. the other half.
They have not known nor understood. The cause of all this folly is a Minding of the understanding, divinely caused in the way of punishment, on account of their having wilfully closed their eyes to the truth. Because they "did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate (or, undistinguishing) mind" (Romans 1:28; comp. Isaiah 29:10). He hath shut; or, One hath shut. But the reference is in either case to God. The word translated "shut" means literally "plastered" or "smeared."
None considereth in his heart; literally, recalls it to his heart; i.e. returns to a sound way of thinking upon the subject. It is implied that the idolaters had once had it in their power to think and reason justly upon the absurdity of such conduct as that which was now habitual to them. But they had lost the power. They had suffered themselves little by little to be deluded. The stock of a tree. The marginal rendering, "that which comes of a tree," is preferable.
He feedeth on ashes; i.e. on vanity—on what can give no support or sustenance (comp. Proverbs 15:14; Hosea 12:1). A deceived heart. Either self-deceived, or imposed upon by illusions from without; e.g. the seeming power of the idols, as seen in the victories and conquests of their worshippers. He cannot deliver his soul. The deceived soul is bound in trammels, which it feels to be irksome, and from which it would fain be free. But it cannot deliver itself. Deliverance must come from some external source; in other words, man needs a Deliverer. Is there not a lie in my right hand? An idol is "a lie." It professes to have power, strength, ability to help and save, whereas it has no power at all. It cannot even save itself. Savages often beat their fetishes. Diagoras of Melos threw an image of Hercules into the fire on which he was cooking his dinner, and bade Hercules make himself of some use by boiling his turnips. The powerlessness of idols even to help themselves is represented with much force in the Book of Baruch (6:12-15, 17-22, 27, 49, etc.).
ISRAEL ONCE MORE PROMISED DELIVERANCE, AND THE DELIVERER MENTIONED BY NAME. Israel, having been exhorted never to forget the impotency of idols (Isaiah 44:21), is promised forgiveness and deliverance (Isaiah 44:21, Isaiah 44:22). Then, heaven and earth are called upon to join in rejoicing over the announcement (Isaiah 44:23). Finally, in a noble burst of poetry, God is represented as solemnly declaring his intention of frustrating all the false sayings of the soothsayers concerning his people, and accomplishing their restoration to their own land, and the rebuilding of their temple through the instrumentality of Cyrus (Isaiah 44:24-28).
Remember these; rather, remember these things; i.e. the futility of idols and the folly of the idol-worshippers. For thou art my servant. Therefore bound to worship me, and not the idols (comp. Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 41:1, Isaiah 41:2). I have formed thee (so also in Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:21; Isaiah 43:2, Isaiah 43:24). The duty of absolute unquestioning obedience seems contained in the relation of that which is formed to that which has formed it. On the other hand, it may be assumed that he who has formed a thing will have a constant care of it and regard for it—that at any rate he will not "forget" it.
I have blotted out … thy sins (comp. Isaiah 43:25). The promise there made is here represented as having its fulfilment. Before God reverses his sentence and restores his people, he must first forgive them. As a thick cloud … as a cloud. It would be better to translate, as a cloud … as a thick cloud. The latter of the two Hebrew words used is the more emphatic. Return unto me. This is an underlying condition, both of restoration and of forgiveness. Only the penitent can be received back into favour. The knowledge, however, that God has, in Iris counsels, "redeemed" his people generally, may act as a stimulus on individuals to repent and turn to him.
Sing, O ye heavens. The sympathy of external nature with the fortunes of Israel is assumed throughout Isaiah, as it is throughout the Psalms (see Psa 11:6 -8; Psalms 24:4-7; Psa 29:1-11 :17; 30:25, 26; Psalms 33:9; Psalms 35:1, Psalms 35:2, Psalms 35:7, etc.). If Israel is depressed, the earth must "mourn and languish," the heavens grow dark; the mountains shrink and "be ashamed." If, on the contrary, Israel prospers, heaven and earth, mountain and forest, must alike rejoice and sing. Dr. Kay expounds the rejoicing of the heavens here (and also in Isaiah 49:13),of the joy felt by the angels over the returning and pardoned sinner; but the context of both passages is in favour of the material heavens being meant. It is quite possible that there is a real and not merely a fancied sympathy between the material and the spiritual worlds. The Lord hath done it; literally, the Lord hath wrought—what he has wrought is not said. Mr. Cheyne translates, "Jehovah hath done nobly." Shout, ye lower parts of the earth. Metonymy of the part for the whole—"the lower parts of the earth" for "the earth even to its lowest depths." There is no thought of Sheol or of its inhabitants. Break forth into singing (comp. Isaiah 14:7; Isaiah 35:2). As children and birds sing from the very gladness of their hearts, thereby venting the joy that almost oppresses them, so all nature is called upon, not merely to rejoice, but to give vent to its joy, now that Israel is redeemed and God glorified.
Thus saith the Lord. This is not a new prophecy entirely unconnected with the preceding, as Delitzsch supposes, lint a declaration to which the prophet has been working up, and which he intends as the crown and climax of all that he has been announcing with respect to Israel's deliverance. Not only is the deliverance absolutely determined on in God's counsels, but the Deliverer himself is already chosen and designated. He that formed thee from the womb (comp. Isaiah 44:2). I am the Lord that maketh all things—rather, I the Lord am he that doeth all things; i.e. I am he that executeth whatever he designs—that stretcheth forth the heavens alone (comp. Job 9:8), that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself. God did not delegate the creation of the heaven and the earth to an inferior spirit, a δημιουργός, as the Greeks generally taught. He did not even call in the co operation of a helper. Singly and solely by his own power he created all things.
That frustrateth the tokens of the liars; i.e. "who brings to nought the prognostications of the astrologers and soothsayers, that pretend falsely to a knowledge of future events" (see Isaiah 49:13; and comp. Jeremiah 29:8, Jeremiah 29:9); and maketh diviners mad; i.e. "shows them to be thole or madmen" (see Job 12:17). That turneth wise men backward; i.e. "repulses them—puts them to flight." Pretenders to wisdom, rather than truly wise men, are meant.
That confirmeth the word of his servant; that is, of Isaiah himself, whom God calls "my Servant" in Isaiah 20:3. The "messengers" are the prophets generally. Before the return from the Captivity took place, it had been prophesied, not only by Isaiah, but by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:10-14), by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 39:25-28), by Joel 3:1), by Amos (Amos 9:11-15), by Obadiah (Obadiah 1:20), by Micah (Micah 4:10), and by Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:14-20).
That saith to the deep, Be dry (comp. Isaiah 42:15). "The flood" here is probably the main stream of the Euphrates, while "the rivers" are the various side streams which branched off from it and again united themselves with it. Some commentators regard the drying of Euphrates as a mere metaphor for the exhaustion and ruin of Babylon (Kay); but (with Delitzsch) I should be inclined to understand a reference to the action of Cyrus in drawing off the water of the river (see the comment on Isaiah 42:15).
That saith of Cyrus. The mention of Cyrus by name, here and again in Isaiah 45:1, has no doubt been one of the main grounds on which has been set up the theory of two Isaiahs. It has been thought incredible, or at any rate contrary to the analogy of prophetical revelation, that so minute a matter as the name of a man should have been announced in prophecy more than a century before his birth. There is, however, the parallel case of Josiah, who, according to the author of the Books of Kings, was announced by name more than three centuries before his birth (1 Kings 13:2). And there are the extremely minute facts noted in Daniel 11:1-45; which were prophetically de-dared from two centuries to three centuries and a half before they happened. It is, perhaps, assuming that we know more than we really do know about the object and laws of prophetic utterance, to lay it down that there can be no minute prophecy except when the prophet is living in the midst of the events. It is certainly a very marvellous thing that Isaiah, living at the close of the eighth and the beginning of the seventh century b.c; should -mention a king by name who did not ascend the throne till the middle of the sixth; but no one can suppose that God could not have made such a revelation to him if he pleased. An attempt to minimize the marvel, without postulating two Isaiahs, has been made by the supposition that "Cyrus" was not really a proper name, but an old title of the Persian (Achaemenian) kings, signifying" the sun," and that Isaiah, therefore, only meant to point out Persia as the power which would destroy Babylon, which he had already done in effect in Isaiah 21:2. But, in reality, there is no sufficient ground for either of the two statements
(1) that Cyrus meant "the sun," and
(2) that it was an old titular name of all the Persian kings.
That "Cyrus" meant "the sun," rests upon the weak authorities of Plutarch and Ctesias, and has been disproved by Sir H. Rawlinson. That it was an old titular name of all the Persian kings is directly contrary to the evidence. Out of fourteen Achaemenian kings, two only bore the name; and they bore it as their one and only personal appellation. It was also borne by an Achaemenian prince who had no other name. It is as purely a proper name as Cambyses, or Xerxes, or Darius. The theory of Dean Plumptre must therefore be set aside as untenable, and we must face the fact that the great Cyrus, who reigned from b.c. 559 to b.c. 529, is mentioned in prophecies attributed to a writer whose death cannot be placed much later than b.c. 700. The name which the Greeks expressed by Κύρος and the Romans by "Cyrus," is in the original Persian Kurush, in the old Babylonian Kuras, and in the Hebrew Koresh. He is my shepherd; i.e. not a mere ordinary king, who was often called "the shepherd of his people (ποιμὴν λαῶν)," but "my shepherd"—the shepherd of my people, who will tend them and care for them. And shall perform (literally, accomplish) all my pleasure. Cyrus is said by Josephus to have had ibis prophecy pointed out to him on his conquest of Babylon, and to have thereupon determined to fulfil what was written ('Ant. Jud.,' Romans 12:1, § 2). His edict, reported by Ezra (Ezra 1:2-4), contained a statement that "Jehovah had charged him to build him a house at Jerusalem." It is difficult to see any sufficient political object for his restoration of the Jews to their country. Thou shalt be built; rather, it shall be built. Thy foundation shall be laid; literally, it shall be founded. The decree of Cyrus found by Darius at Ecbatana required that "the foundations of the house should be strongly laid" (Ezra 6:3), and prescribed its dimensions and materials. (On the actual laying of the foundations, see Ezra 3:8-13.)
Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 44:4
Water a symbol of Divine grace.
It has been shown (in the comment on Isaiah 44:3)
(1) how this symbolism pervades the prophecies of Isaiah; and
(2) what an echo it found in the teaching of our Lord.
An analogy thus recommended seems entitled to be viewed as something more than poetic imagery, and may properly be made the subject of our serious thought. In what respects, then, we may ask, does the symbolism hold?
I. WATER IS COMMON, ABUNDANT, FREELY GIVEN TO MANKIND AT LARGE. So is it with Divine grace. Christ, the Light of the world, lighteth every man that cometh into it (John 1:9). What men call "the light of nature" is an illumination poured by God into the soul, and this light is common to all. It shows men the way that they should walk in; it enables them to discern between right and wrong; if they would follow it, it would guide them to heaven. Nor does Divine grace stop at this point. To those who struggle to do right God's assisting grace is never wanting. His Spirit strives with all men (Genesis 6:3); his mercy is over all his works (Psalms 145:9); he is "no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34).
II. WATER IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY TO LIFE. Nothing living, whether animal or vegetable, can exist without water. No spiritual life can exist without grace. Without moisture, neither can the embryo be formed, nor will the seed germinate. Without grace there is no commencement of spiritual life. Water is needed for the sustentation of both plants and animals. Grace is needed for the sustentation of the quickened spirit.
III. WATER CLEANSES MEN'S BODIES FROM ALL FILTH AND POLLUTION. The pace of God cleanses their souls from the filthiness and impurity of sin. His grace is the "one fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness" (Zechariah 13:1); the precious influences of his Spirit can alone take away impurity, and make the soiled soul once more clean in his sight. Wonderful is the cleansing power of water; still more wonderful is the guilt-removing power of grace. Sins that were "as scarlet" are by grace made "white as snow;" iniquities that were "red as crimson" become "as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). It is not merely that the sins themselves are forgiven, but the "evil heart," from which they proceeded, is washed, sanctified, and cleansed, so as to retain no taint of evil.
IV. WATER REFRESHES AND RENOVATES THOSE WHO ABE WEARY AND FAINT. There is no refreshment to the faint and weary soul comparable to the pouring out upon it of God's Spirit. When "the parched ground becomes a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water" (Isaiah 35:7), the result is a complete transformation of the whole appearance of things. "The wilderness and the solitary place" at once "are glad … the desert rejoices and blossoms like the rose It blossoms abundantly … the glory of Lebanon is given to it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon" (Isaiah 35:1, Isaiah 35:2). Similarly, when the dry and thirsty soul obtains a "time of refreshing from the Lord" (Acts 3:19), its whole condition is on a sudden changed. Gladness succeeds to gloom, happiness to despair, an almost ecstatic bliss to a dull, gnawing sense of misery. The soul puts forth blossoms—rejoices with joy and singing (see the Psalms, passim).
The utter folly of all kinds of idolatry.
Idolatry proper—the actual worship of images—is felt by modern Englishmen to be so extreme a folly that they have a difficulty in believing it to have at any time been, or still anywhere to be, the actual religion of a people. Their inclination is to regard it as a symbolism—coarse and ill-judged, perhaps—but yet a well-meaning symbolism, expressive of the truths of natural religion. But research into the past history of mankind, and investigation of the present condition of the nations by whom idolatry is practised, alike show a real belief in the supernatural power of the images, and a real trust in them for help and protection. Thus the idolatry directly denounced by Isaiah, extraordinary as it seems, is in fact a real form of human folly—one of the many strange aberrations of the human intellect that have an actual existence; and not only so, but one that is widely prevalent. Its "utter folly" is sufficiently exposed by the prophet, and, as being generally allowed among ourselves, need not be dwelt upon. The folly of other forms of idolatry, though not much less, is not so commonly admitted, and may with advantage be pointed out in connection with portions of Scripture like the present. We may instance—
I. THE IDOLATRY OF PERSONS. Human beings are allowed to stand between us and God—to absorb the thought, the attention, the affections, that ought to have God for their Object. Most often, perhaps, it is a child; but sometimes it is a husband, or a wife, or a lover, that holds the position, occupying the first place in our heart, and filling it to the entire exclusion of that Being who has the principal claim on us. Now, what exceeding folly is this! Is it much short of the folly of the old idolaters? To put in the place of God a mere human being, a form of flesh that may quit us at any time, that may change towards us, that has no power to help or save us,—that is not much superior to the idolater's "graven image." How often does our idol shatter itself, disappoint our hopes, disregard our wishes, become estranged from us, tear our heartstrings, trample upon our best feelings! How often is it suddenly snatched from us! God is very jealous of rivals near his throne, and very frequently takes from us, by a premature death, the idol that is imperilling our souls. Even in the best case—which is alas! the worst—if our idol stay with us, and do not change, what madness to be wholly wrapt up in the love of the finite, and to let go from us for its sake the love of the Infinite Being!
II. THE IDOLATRY OF WEALTH. "Covetousness," St. Paul tells us (Colossians 3:5), "is idolatry." There are those who make riches the object of their worship—who allow the idol of gold to come between their souls and God, having more regard for the possession of wealth than for God's approval, and a greater desire to be rich on earth than to be saints in heaven. What abject and grovelling folly is this! Wealth! So many pieces of yellow metal to be our object in life, the end-all and be-all of our existence—pieces of metal that we cannot take away with us when we die (Psalms 49:17) or even make sure of keeping with us during our lifetime; pieces of metal that do not save us one twinge of pain in sickness, or one pang of remorse at death! The idolatry of wealth is even greater folly than the idolatry of persons, and even more degrading to a rational being.
III. THE IDOLATRY OF RANK AND STATION. Some, who despise wealth, and have no strong affection for any individuals, have an inordinate regard, a profound veneration, for the possessors of high worldly station. To number princes and nobles among their friends and acquaintances is the highest pleasure of which they are susceptible. They idolize rank, consider it a sufficient set-off against all demerits, and will stoop to anything in order to bring themselves into contact with it. Here, again, one can only exclaim—What folly! Rank and station, like wealth, belong to this world only. They have to be left behind, with our everyday clothes, when we step into the grave. They are accidents which no way affect a man's true worth, or the estimation in which he is held by those whose esteem is of the slightest account. The prince of to-day is the exile of to-morrow; the noble may become bankrupt in purse, and too often is bankrupt in reputation. Such as idolize rank and court the favour of nobles are despised by men of sense, disliked for the most part and ridiculed by those to whom they labour to make themselves acceptable.
The duty of kings to be God's shepherds.
"By me kings reign," says God, "and princes decree justice" (Proverbs 8:15). Though the expression, "the Divine right of kings, has been greatly abused, it is yet a truth which all must acknowledge, that monarchs are placed in their responsible position by God, and must answer to him for the use which they make of that position. The whole world is, in a certain sense, God's flock, and the various chief rulers who hold authority over different portions of the human race are rightly viewed as shepherds entrusted by God with the care of this or that division of the flock which is primarily and really his. Thus—
I. EACH KING IS REQUIRED TO ACT AS A SHEPHERD TOWARDS THE NATION OVER WHICH HE IS SET. A true shepherd seeks the good of his flock, not his own good. He is watchful, vigilant, wisely provident. He seeks to benefit his flock, not to pleasure them. Oftentimes he must check their desires, restrain their wanderings, keep them back from alluring pastures, confine them to high regions, where the herbage is short, scant, and far from succulent. He must be specially careful of the weak and sickly, and of such as have suffered any hurt. He must spare no trouble or pains to secure, so far as he can, the well-being of every sheep and lamb committed to his charge. And further—
II. EACH KING IS SPECIALLY REQUIRED TO ACT AS A SHEPHERD TOWARDS THE PORTION OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST WHICH IS WITHIN HIS KINGDOM. Within the universal fleck, which is coextensive with mankind, our Lord has a special flock, enclosed within a special fold, which he calls in a special sense his own (John 10:1-16). This flock is not, however, confined to one place—it is "dispersed throughout the whole world." Kings are required to look to its interests in some special way. They are to be "its nursing fathers," as queens are to be "its nursing mothers" (Isaiah 49:23). Cyrus, from the time of his conquest of Babylon, while in a general way the shepherd of all the nations under his rule, was especially the shepherd of Israel. And the case is the same with all those monarchs within whose dominions any portion of the Church of Christ has its abode. England's monarchs bear, among their other titles, the proud one of Fidei Defensor—" Defender of the Faith" The faith which they have to defend is the faith of Christ, and in this defence is necessarily included the special protection of Christ's faithful ones, or of the Christian community within their realm.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The offspring of Israel.
Judgments are coming upon the world. And the sacred seed shall be scattered abroad through all nations. There shall be deliverance of Israel from all those calamities and much more; the heathen nations shall be brought into the light of Jehovah.
I. ADDRESS OF JEHOVAH TO THE PEOPLE. There are three names for the people—Jacob, Israel, Jesurun—and each represents a separate phase of moral progress.
1. Jacob, my servant. This itself is a title of honour. To be the minister of the will of an earthly sovereign is a proud distinction: how much more to wear the badge of the King of kings! Moreover, in ancient times servitude often meant confidence and friendship of the happiest kind between two souls. The name of Jacob, too, calls up memorable associations: a life of vicissitude and adventure, cheered by the constant presence of God; of notorious faults and weaknesses united with victorious faith; of a struggle to realize the Divine reality of love richly rewarded. The history of Jacob is beloved because it typifies the union of the human with the Divine—in the people, in all believing men.
2. Israel the chosen. One foreknown, selected, predestinated from the first to fulfil the ends of God. From the beginning of their history, the Divine hand had formed and moulded all Israel's restitutions. As the organism lies implicit in the cell of protoplasm, as the oak may be seen in miniature in the acorn, so Israel sprang from a thought of God.
3. Jesurun the upright one. An imputed righteousness, we are told, is meant. Others say it is a word of flattery and endearment—a diminutive form of "Israel." If the two ideas may be combined, then the chosen and beloved of God will be upright in the thought of God. To say that God "imputes" righteousness to those who have it not in themselves, what is it but to ascribe to him the most beautiful effect and operation of love? It is to say that Israel is by him idealized. And to feel this about ourselves means deliverance from despair in those moments when in the mirror of conscience we behold a hideous self-reflection, or when we perceive how cheaply we are held by the world—
"All I can never be,
All men ignore in me,
This I am worth to God.
Whose wheel the pitcher shared."
There are secrets of the heart unknown to any system of theology. He who can hear God's voice saying to him, "Fear not," may be deaf to all detraction and indifferent to all applause.
II. PROMISE OF JEHOVAH.
1. The outpouring of the Spirit. Let us transport ourselves in fancy from these moist atmospheres and dripping skies of Britain to yonder burning Orient clime. Then and there let us bathe ourselves in the generous bounty of those refreshing words, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground." But we need not go to the Orient to experience drought of soul. We may find reading "dry," and preaching drier, our own minds driest of all; nothing growing within us, nor promising to grow. And for the future the prospect seems equally cheerless. Nothing is left us but this Word of God; but all is left us in that Word. Thinking of snow will not cool us; the imagination of water will not refresh us in our thirst; but faith in God, the realization of what he is in this relation to us, remains the one resource which Scripture offers to us.
2. The spiritual posterity. Biblical promises respect the "solidarity" of life. That which we moderns call "individualism" appears to be unknown. As the curse, so also the blessing, goes on working to the "third and fourth generation," nay, to "a thousand generations," under the dispensation of a covenant-keeping God. Nay, it is conceived as abiding through time into eternity—"a seed established for ever, a throne built up to all generations" (Psalms 89:4). Here the abundance of Israel's spiritual posterity is imaged as grass by the waters, or as the tall and graceful poplars by the artificial water-courses. "A tree planted by the rivers of water;… Thy years shall be as the years of a tree:" what more beautiful and touching image? The tree is typical of life in its strength, its gracefulness, its fruitfulness. These shall be its characteristics in the Messianic age. The Church will finally embrace the world. Proselytes will come thronging to her threshold. They will join in one confession. It will be recorded that this and that man was born anew in Zion (Psalms 87:1-7.). Each Jew will be as it were the centre of a little synagogue; ten men will seize his skirts and say, "We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you" (Zechariah 8:23). The frequent confession will be heard, "I belong to Jehovah;" or be found taking upon his person the stigmata, or sacred marks, which denote him as vowed to Jehovah's service (cf. Herod; 2:113). We may learn:
(1) The blessedness of pious parents, and their corresponding responsibilities.
(2) The gift of God's Spirit is the source of true happiness and prosperity. Piety alone can be the root of the Church's and the nation's weal.
(3) God will never permit true religion to be extinct. It may appear to wither; but so long as he lives it will certainly know its recurring times of revival.—J.
Jehovah and the images.
I. SELF-MANIFESTATION OF JEHOVAH. He is the First and the Last, Alpha and Omega. Existing before the creation, he will endure when it shall have passed away (Isaiah 48:12). It is a thought which strikes us at once by its sublimity, anal, what is better, with its truth. Men sometimes speak of the material world as real, of the world of faith and imagination as dreamy. Not so the greatest prophets and poets. Shakespeare describes the globe and all its human splendours as passing away like an "insubstantial pageant faded." But Isaiah outdoes Shakespeare, making the very heavens themselves pass; and perhaps St. Paul goes a step further when he sees "knowledge itself" vanishing away. Moreover, Jehovah is the incomparable God. He can admit no "rival near the throne;" cannot accommodate other deities to places in a tolerant pantheon. He is the sole Object of worship, the only Being to whom is due the title "God." So, too, he alone can tell the future. Let the long past bear witness. He placed the "ancient people," or the "everlasting people." The reference seems to be to the ever-enduring covenant spoken of in Exodus 31:16, to the priesthood and the kingdom which are everlasting (Exodus 40:15; 2 Samuel 13:16). It suggests "the everlastingness of God's people," in opposition to the proximate fall of the idolatrous nations. Or, the reference may be to the days before the Flood—to the most ancient inhabitants of the world. In any case, he has appointed beforehand the times and the bounds of the habitations of men. And history is intended to teach men of him, that they may with mind and heart glorify him. Israel herself is the great witness on the earth to God. He is her "Rock"—a great and memorable figure (Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:30, Deuteronomy 32:31; Psalms 19:14; Psalms 31:2, Psalms 31:3; Psalms 42:9). Rock of Ages, Dwelling-place of all generations: who can wear such titles but himself? "If there were another Rock of Ages, Jehovah would not complain; but as his Being is unique, it pains him that men will not have him for a God."
II. IDOLATRY CRITICIZED. The image-makers are all of them "chaos"—an expression of extreme contempt. There is no use, no profit, in their trade. To that question of use all institutions, yea, all men, must ultimately come. Now, what can be said on behalf of idolatry? Produce the witnesses. Blind and ignorant, what have they to say? To produce them is to abash and confound them. And so it is with many an idol and institution of our time. It tries to keep off criticism under the plea of sacredness; when the age insists on criticism, and will have an answer, its silence or its confused apologies are its condemnation. What can be answered to the following questions? How can you turn an image into a living spiritual being? Quis nisi demens—who but one out of his senses can confound the one with the other? The worship of these idols was sacra mental, and was kept up by societies and guilds. The members were in association with the idol and with one another; like Ephraim (Hosea 4:17), they were in fellowship with demons (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:20). If the idol be nothing in the world, what becomes of those "joined to him"? Let that question be answered. And then, again, how can these human craftsmen make their Maker? Let them all combine in their toil: the ludicrousness of their endeavours is the more manifest. There is the smith with his sharp axe and his hammers, sweating at the fire till he is faint; the carpenter with his line and sharp chisel, plane and compasses. The semblance of a human figure appears. The god is made; and sacrifice and prayer follow. "Save me!" the benighted worshipper cries to his manufacture. The scene is enough to carry conviction to the spectator's mind, and to convince him that these votaries can have no perception, so "daubed" are their eyes and their hearts by the habits of sense. The power of reflection seems gone—the power to hold up the act before the mind and judge it. A thoughtless religion, an uninquiring compliance with tradition and custom, is often enjoined upon us; but only thoughtful religion will endure. God is Mind; and if we fail to offer him the best of our mind, we sink down into some such miserable delusion, such ashy refuse of religion, as is here held up to scorn and ridicule.
III. ADMONITION TO ISRAEL. Let the child, the servant of Jehovah, remember these things, and lay to heart the folly of idolatry, and the glorious constancy of the God who has claimed them for his own. Do they think they are forgotten of God? Impossible! "O Israel, thou canst not be forgotten of me!" He is beforehand with her. Before she confesses, he proclaims her sins forgiven; before she returns to her allegiance, be cries, "I have blotted out as a mist thy rebellions;" before she prays for deliverance, he proclaims, "I have released thee; then return!" Here is the heart of the gospel, the heart of the infinite love. We, with too narrow heart, too often make human good the antecedent of Divine grace. "Repent," we say, "and God will forgive; be obedient and God will reward." But on the prophet's representation, Jehovah makes the first advances. He calls for conversion on the ground that he has released Israel. And so ever. The parable of the prodigal reflects the same ideas. The "goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." It is this thought which makes hardness of heart—housing up wrath against the day of wrath—appear so odious in the sinner's own eyes. We need to represent the gospel so that the sinner shall throw all the blame of his condition on self, not on God. Let us ever speak of him as One who "keeps mercy for thousands," and whose stores of compassion cannot be exhausted.
"Oh for this love let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break!"
Let heaven and earth join in a chorus of sympathy, with shoutings from the depth of the earth, and ringings from the mountain-heights and from the forests. Let his praise be even "sounded down to hell" (cf. Psalms 6:5; Psalms 88:12); for he is Redeemer, has "beautified himself" in Israel (cf. Isaiah 49:3; Isaiah 60:21; Isaiah 61:3).
IV. JEHOVAH AND HIS PURPOSES. He is the God, the Guardian Spirit, the Guide, the Avenging Judge, for Israel. He has moulded Israel in the womb of time, who has made the universe of things. He only is wise, "bringing to nought the signs of the praters, and making the diviners mad," turning the wise backward, and proving their knowledge folly. On the other hand, he speaks by the prophet. He causes his servant's word to stand, and fulfils the counsel of his messengers. And his word and counsel is that Jerusalem shall be peopled, and the waste places of Judah be built upon; the flood of Euphrates be dried up. And already the word is passing into deed. The instrument of Jehovah's purposes has been selected; no prince of the Davidic house, but Cyrus shall be his shepherd and accomplish all his pleasure. And we read in Josephus that Cyrus read the prophecy of Isaiah, and was seized by an impulse to fulfil it ('Ant.,' Isaiah 11:1.Isaiah 11:2). God has jurisdiction over heathen monarchs; their plans are directed by him and made subservient to his will. What the Greeks thought of as Áíáíêå, Necessity, the Hebrew thinks of as the will of the Eternal.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
True and false bread.
"He feedeth on ashes." Man does not understand himself. Feed he must: the question is, on what? There are cravings of heart which cannot be repressed. Men are hungry for fame, applause, wealth, honour. Full many a time they taste this fruit; but each apple has ashes at the heart of it. What a picture of contrast is given us by Christ! He tells us of the true bread—the living bread, the bread which cometh down from heaven.
I. THE TABLE OF THE MEN OF THIS WORLD. Ashes! Is that all? In other words, dust! Yes; everything that does not feed the immortal nature within us is dust. Wealth is dust, and is scattered like dust. Beauty, however fascinating, turns to dust. And so far as the pursuits of man are concerned, how unsatisfying these are! The post of honour is no sooner secured than others are eager to fling the victor down. The famous "garter" is laid on the coffin and the pall. We are told the reason of this sad mistake. "A deceived heart hath turned him aside."
II. THE TABLE OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD. They feed on the Bread of God; and this Bread is the Son of God, who said, "I am the Bread of life."
1. Christ must be taken and eaten. Not in the hands. That is impossible. We are to feed on the living Christ. His mind is to be our mind. The soul can only feed on kindred elements. The spiritual nature cannot be satisfied through the senses. Christ must be "in us," the Hope of glory.
2. Christ was the broken bread for us. It is the Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary on which we are to feed. "My body was broken for yon." So we take into our spiritual being, not only Christ the Example, Christ the Teacher, but Christ the Saviour. And as we eat this bread we live by him, and become like him. He died for us, that we who live should not henceforth live unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us and rose again; for Christ came, not merely to save by teaching, but to teach by saving!—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The indispensable blessing.
We may well speak of water in the natural realm and of its antitype in the spiritual as—
I. THE INDISPENSABLE BLESSING. There may be abundance of earth, and it may be of the most valuable quality; there may be the utmost diligence in the field, and the latest agricultural science; but if the rain be withheld, if no water can be obtained to nourish the sown seed, there can be no harvest,—the indispensable blessing is not bestowed. So is it in the sphere which is more sacred and more serious. You may have the soil of spiritual human nature, you may have the seed of Divine truth, you may have the diligent and watchful culture of the Christian pastor; but if the influences of the Holy Spirit do not descend, there will be no ingathering for the Husbandman. God must pour down his rich blessing, or all our labours in the Master's vineyard will be barren of result; there will be nothing for Heaven to see but thirsty land, dry ground, fruitless farming.
II. THE FIELD WHERE WE MOST DESIRE THAT THESE RAINS SHOULD FALL. "I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring." We desire that God should be blessing the ministry we render to the aged; we are more solicitous that words of Divine wisdom should penetrate the minds and affect the lives of men of middle life, on whom such duties devolve, with whom so many issues rest; but we are most concerned that the truth of Christ should enter the understanding, cleanse the conscience, possess the soul, of the young.
1. They are, in a peculiar degree, the objects of our love; they may be "our seed, our offspring." But if not, we are strongly attached to them, and therefore interested in their spiritual welfare.
2. They stand at a point where religious decision will make the very greatest difference. If now they seek God and surrender themselves to his service, they will have a large and noble contribution to make to the cause of righteousness, to the service of mankind.
3. Unaffected and unwon in youth, the obstacles in the way of decision and devotion are continually increasing.
III. THE BLESSED RESULT OF THE DIVINE BESTOWAL. There will be a glorious spiritual upspringing. "They shall spring up," etc. There shall be the signs of abounding life. The life that will be seen when the floods of heavenly influence are poured forth will be manifest in:
1. The stem of sacred conviction. God's truth revealed by Jesus Christ will be the staple of human thought.
2. The flower of fitting utterance. (Isaiah 44:5.)
(1) The Name of Christ will be honoured by a Christian profession; and
(2) the people of God will be honoured by close association with them.
3. The fruit of holy usefulness.—C.
The irrational and the religions,
This passage is interesting, as containing the most pungent and effective sarcasm in holy writ. There are indeed the finest conceivable materials for the sarcastic in the practice of idolatry; i.e. in all those cases in which idolatry has sunk into its lowest stage. Where a statue is understood to be nothing more than the memorial or visible representation of the Divine, the language of the Hebrew prophet would not apply; but where it is regarded, as it has been and still is regarded by millions of mankind, as not only suggestive of but identical with the Deity, then these strong and scorching words are most appropriate, most crushing. They may suggest to us thoughts respecting—
I. RELIGION TRAVESTIED BY IRRATIONALISM. Some caricatures are clever and amusing enough, but a caricature of the sacred and the religious is both sinful and hurtful. Idolatry has gone far to dishonour and to discredit religion. The fact that men have committed such gross absurdities in connection with religion as these which Isaiah exposes and ridicules, and the fact that they have thus associated the utmost credulity with religious faith for hundreds of years under many skies,—this has done much to prejudice the minds of men against the highest and purest forms of piety. So far is ignorance from being the "mother of devotion," that it is the prolific parent of infidelity. The irrational is the best friend of the sceptical and the atheistic. It is well that we understand and appreciate this now. For though the grosser forms of incredulity have disappeared, the superstitious is with us still; and superstition, though it be baptized with a Christian name and wear Christian garments, will be recognized as the irrational thing it is; it will be transfixed by the modern reformer, and be shown in its true colours, and it will weigh down the truth which it was supposed to be sustaining.
II. RELIGION REPRESENTED BY REASONABLE SERVICE. AS nothing can be more utterly irrational than the conduct here described and satirized, so, on the other hand, nothing can be more reasonable, more perfectly conformed to the fitness of things, than intelligent, spiritual devotion. What can be more right and reasonable than that the creature should worship the Creator; than that the finite mind of man should seek to be instructed in the wisdom of God; than that the recipient of innumerable and inestimable mercies should offer deepest gratitude and render heartiest thanksgiving to the Author of all his mercies; than that they who have most serious duties to discharge, difficulties to surmount, burdens to bear, obligations to meet, should seek the guidance and support of the Lord of life, the Source of strength and righteousness; than that they who are daily travelling to the grave, and have no light of experience to tell them what is beyond it, should make their appeal to One who has given us such strong reasons to accept him as the Resurrection and the Life?—C.
The vanity of irreligion.
In a few vigorous touches the prophet sketches the utter Vanity and the condemnation of idolatry. The idolatrous man:
1. Is relying on that which will miserably disappoint him; what he takes for food turns out to be nothing better than "ashes."
2. Is misled into the most grievous error; he has been "turned aside" from the highway of truth.
3. Is continually enacting a falsehood; there is "a lie in his right hand." Idolatry is the supreme mistake as well as the most heinous sin. But what is palpably and particularly true of this great iniquity is essentially true of all sin. A sinful life is—
I. A LIFE OF SADDEST INSUFFICIENCY. "He feedeth on ashes." Like the "apples of Sodom," like the "little book" of the prophet's vision trey. 10.), a guilty action (or a sinful life) is very pleasant on the outside or at the beginning; but within, afterwards, it is bitter and disappointing in the last degree. Crime begins in successful violence or enriching fraud; it ends in the prison or the garret. Vice begins in unholy pleasure, in unprincipled companionship; it ends in distracting pain, in mortal sickness, in cruel loneliness. Ungodliness begins in the delights of eager but unhallowed ambition, of happy but unsanctified affection; it ends in weariness, in heart-ache, in the discovery that earthly distinctions and human love cannot fill the heart that God made for himself, cannot gladden and ennoble the life that he fashioned for his service. A life spent without God, devoted to selfish gratification, is a life of deep disappointment; the mistaken sinner finds out that the delectable food which he plucked with such keen anticipation is only ashes between his teeth.
II. A LIFE OF SERIOUS DEFLECTION. "A deceived heart hath turned them aside." The straight road is the path of piety, of purity, of truthfulness, of sobriety, of justice, of kindness. When men "see light in God's light," they recognize this path as the one right road in which a man should walk, any deviation from which is error—a spiritual wandering. But when the heart is deceived, when the soul is corrupted by "the deceitfulness of sin," when the inward "eye is evil" and consequently the whole body is full of darkness, then it seems to the deluded spirit that the wrong way is the right one, that the green, downward slopes of folly and sin are the highway of wisdom. And the worst of it is that the path of sin does not run near to and parallel with the way of life; it goes off from it at an angle which is continually increasing, so that the further a man goes along this evil road the greater distance he is away from that in which he should be walking. Every step takes the mistaken traveller further from his course. And when men have wholly lost sight of the beauties of holiness, of the excellency of holy service, of the claims of Divine benefaction; when they are so far off the true track that the voices of heavenly wisdom no longer reach their ear;—they are helpless, they are lost. The deceived and deluded pilgrim "cannot deliver his soul."
III. A LIFE OF PRACTICAL FALSITY. "Is there not a lie in my right hand?" Men are often living falsehoods when they are not putting them into words; the lie is not on their lips but in their right hand. The man who is withholding his heart from God and his life from his service is saying, by his chosen course, by his daily doings, by his deliberate action, that it is better to live a selfish than a devoted life; that the claims of Christ may be neglected; that the temporal is of more consequence than the eternal, the material than the spiritual; that happiness is more worth seeking than blessedness, the honour that cometh from man than the approval of the heavenly Father. These are fatal falsehoods, which lure men to sin and lead them down to death. Happy is that wandering soul who sees a form that comes to rescue, who hears a voice that summons to redeem—that One who says, "Man shall not live by bread alone;" "He that cometh to me shall never hunger;" that voice which says, "Return unto me, and I will return unto you;" "In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death" (Proverbs 12:28).—C.
Joy in God's redeeming power.
We have here—
I. THE REACH OF ALMIGHTY POWER. It extends:
1. Over all visible nature. (Isaiah 44:24.) He makes "all things." The heavens and the earth are the work of his hand.
2. Over individual men. He can
(1) direct the indifferent, so that Cyrus performs his pleasure (Isaiah 44:28), although that king was living in spiritual ignorance (Isaiah 45:5);
(2) confound the rebellious, so that the impostor is discredited and ashamed (Isaiah 44:25);
(3) establish the faithful, so that his servant, however he may have been disregarded, is honoured in the eyes of men (Isaiah 44:26).
3. Over men in their collective capacity. Jehovah had fashioned Israel, making her all she had become, giving her strength to do all she had accomplished; it was he that "formed" her from the beginning, that shaped her life (Isaiah 44:24). And he would yet restore the cities of Judah; they should be populous and powerful again (Isaiah 44:26).
4. Over the most formidable diacritics. Things that seem impossible of achievement are found, under his power, to be effected. At the touch of his hand the waters of the great deep disappear; at the sound of his voice the river-beds are dry (Isaiah 44:27). "With God all things are possible." Mountains of difficulty are removed, and seas of impediment are swept away. Nothing is "too hard for the Lord."
II. ITS BENEFICENT RESULTS. It is a question of the greatest importance—What are the results of the power which is exercised by the strong.? The world has had some terrible illustrations of the miseries of malevolent force. Power seeking selfish gratification at the expense of righteousness and of human happiness is the most deplorable as it is the most damnable thing under the heavens. On the other hand, power put forth to elevate and bless is the most admirable and beneficent thing. God works toward two ends
(1) the exaltation of his own holy Name; and
(2) the redemption and restoration of mankind (Isaiah 44:23).
The two become one; for it is by bringing men back to himself and to his service that he redeems them from all that is ruinous, and that he raises them to all that is elevating and ennobling. Man finds his worst calamity in distance from his heavenly Father; he finds his highest good, his fullest blessedness, in the honour he pays, in the love he cherishes, in the obedience he renders, in the resemblance he reaches, to his Divine Saviour, his living Lord and Friend.
III. UNSPEAKABLE JOY THEREIN. "Sing, O ye heavens," etc. (Isaiah 44:23). Joy at its very fullest is uncontainable, inexpressible. He wrote well who said, "I were little happy could I say how much." There are times when we feel that we want every one and everything to be vocal with the gladness of our own soul. If the children did not shout, the very stones would have to speak the joy of that glad hour (Luke 19:40). When the great and gracious purposes of God are accomplished in the redemption of one human soul from sin and its restoration to the love and the likeness of God, there is occasion for more joy than human songs can celebrate; how much more so when a nation is redeemed! arid how much more yet will there be when the whole race is transformed, and when the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ!—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Revival promised in the power of the Spirit.
The history of the Church reminds us of the tides that rise and fall upon our shores—ebb and flow, ebb and flow. Sometimes the waters rise with an unusual strength, and flood all the land around, but soon they fall back into the old limits and quiet movements. No doubt the kingdom of Christ is steadily advancing, widening its reach, enlarging its influence. But as we can only see a little, one little bay of the great shore-line, as it were, we can only form our estimate of the tide in this our "arm of the sea;" we cannot measure the encroachments of the great tide of God. We may live at a time when the high tide of revival has spent its strength, and is receding lower and lower. So far as we can observe, it is not the living waters encroaching upon dreary sand, but dreary sand encroaching upon living waters. But let us wait awhile; the tide of God may turn again, and flow up higher than ever. There is a promise of blessing in our text which has been fulfilled, and will be fulfilled over and over again.
I. OUR DEPENDENCE, FOR REVIVINGS, ON THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT. The evils that gather about the Church of Christ are too subtle, and too mighty, to be mastered by anything less than the strength of God. The tendencies to decline and spiritual slumbering are too constantly working for anything less than Divine energy to counteract. The ends for which Christians associate in fellowship are too pure, too high, to be reached in any other way than by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The Church is the Church of Christ; but what a desolate and helpless thing it would be if it were only the Church of a dead Christ, or the Church even of an absent Christ! We must have the assurance that he is still with us, not indeed in the body, but in the grace and power of his Spirit—a form of his presence so much better suited for permanent relations that he could say, "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you." No helpless, trembling infant trying to walk needed mother's steadying as we need the all-supporting Spirit. No young lad ever took tools into his inexperienced hands, and needed the directions of the master, as we need the teachings of the Spirit. No man in the fulness of manhood ever entered on an untried office, and looked for some one to guide, as it becomes us to look for the help of the Spirit. And yet this dependence it is most easy for us to lose out of heart and out of life. The Church without the Spirit is figured in our text as an unwatered Eastern land. No dews have formed on the grass or the leaves; no rain-clouds have shaded the blazing sun, and poured down revivings; the rivers have sunk lower and lower, till now their beds are exposed to view, and the pebbles are bleached in the sunshine. The leaves are dropping off the trees, dried up and scorched; the grass is killed; the ground is cracking and gaping; there is no scent in the flowers, no song in the birds; the cattle lie panting by the walls and hedgerows, or stand thirsting by the river-bank. It is a "dry and thirsty land, where no water is." That is the emblem of the individual and the Church unwatered of the Spirit.
II. THE GOOD THINGS THAT FOLLOW ON DIVINE REVIVINGS. (Isaiah 44:4, Isaiah 44:5.)
1. The glory of a sustained godly life. Which depends on the constant renewal of heart motives, impulses, and resolves.
2. The glory of a holier and more earnest ministry. In this direction the firstfruits of a spiritual revival are usually gathered. The fruits of Divine outpourings were seen in Luther, and Whitefield, and Wesley, and Venn, and Simeon, and Arnold; and such a reviving would give us such men of "power with God and men to prevail," once again.
3. The glory of the widening and extending of the Redeemer's kingdom. Isaiah 44:5.) Who does not long for the promised time when every scoffer shall be stricken dumb; the doubts and questionings of every faint-hearted believer shall be silenced, because, in crowds, "as doves to their windows," as locusts over the plain, men shall come to Christ's people and say, "We will go with you, for verily the Lord is with you'?
III. THE GRACIOUS PROMISES WE MAY PLEAD IN PRAYING FOR A REVIVAL. There is something about God's promises that they almost overwhelm our power of faith by their largeness. He promises "floods," as though he would not have us think of limits.
1. The Spirit is the Lord's light. Then we must be willing to let him in, with his Divine illuminations, dispelling all the darkness, and making us light in the Lord.
2. The Spirit is the Lord's life. We must let him in with his Divine quickening, making every good seed in our souls thrive unto blossoming fruitage.
3. The Spirit is the Lord's power. He can make "a little one chase a thousand, and two put tea thousand to flight."
4. The Spirit is the Lord's love. And we must be willing to open our hearts, and let that love come in with its Divine cleansings and burnings, burning up sin and self, kindling a new glow of fervour, and making us revived souls and revived Churches.—R.T.
God's kingdom entered one by one.
Reference is probably intended to the coming of Gentiles, as proselytes, into the Israelite communion; and the point suggested is that they will come in "one by one," because the acceptance of the Jewish faith must be a matter of individual and personal decision. God asks for an intelligent worship. The true worship is the voluntary surrender of the will and life to God, and that each man must do for himself. We worship together; but there is no virtue in the numbers beyond the aggregate of the virtue in each individual. If we hold fast the truth of a saving conversion, a Divine regeneration, we must clearly see that men cannot flow by masses into the kingdom of God; they must come in one by one. The Greeks may be inquiring for Jesus; but each Greek will have to come, for himself, into vital and saving relations with him.
I. THERE IS A RELIGION OF ASSOCIATION—IT IS NOT SAVING RELIGION. We are Christians as citizens of a Christian country; as worshipping with Christian people; and as members of Christian families. But we are not saved men and women by virtue of that connection. The association of a diseased man with any number of men in health does not make him a healthy man. The association of a criminal with any number of honest men does not make him an honest man. The association of an unpardoned sinner with any number of forgiven and regenerate people does not make him an accepted man. And yet, in various ways, we are yielding to this self-deception, and satisfying ourselves with relations that are merely external, that are not vital. No greater work is demanded in this our age than that of driving men out of this overcrowded "refuge of lies." Not to masses, but "to you," and "to you," is "the word of this salvation sent."
II. THE RELIGION OF ASSOCIATION MUST BE MADE PERSONAL. It must become a direct dealing between each soul and God. Each one must be humble and penitent; each one must seek for the way of life; each one must believe and be forgiven; each one must make full consecration, presenting himself to God a living sacrifice; each one must take up the precise work God may entrust to his care. To stamp our absolute individuality in our soul-relations with God, he has ordered it that each of us shall come into the world "one by one," and each of us shall go out of the world "one by one." The gift of eternal life is made to us "one by one," and it must be accepted by us "one by one."—R.T.
God's witness to his own rights.
"There is no God; I know not any." A most striking exclamation. God becomes a witness to his own claims, and the last, the supreme, witness. The thought here so grandly and sublimely expressed is one which occurs also in the sacred book of the Buddhists. In the address of Gotama "Bhagavat," are the following sentences: "Even I was even at first, not any other thing, that which exists, unperceived, supreme; afterwards I am that which is, and he who must remain am I." The exclamation sets us upon thinking what witnesses we have to the Divine rights. When all are carefully reviewed, it must be felt that, as all beings and all creation are really dependent on one great Being, the supreme witness must be that Being's witness to himself. Our sphere is strictly limited to the human and the earthly, and, so far as our experience goes, there may be some other God away in other spheres which we cannot reach. No man can prove that there is no other God beside Jehovah. But Jehovah fills all spheres: he, and he alone, can tell us whether, in any sphere, there is any rival deity. In a truly sublime way, the prophet presents him as looking—with an all-searching eye—into every corner of unbounded space, and then turning to us and saying, "There is no God beside me; I know not any." The passage stands in close relation with the supposed claims of idol-gods; and we should carefully note that the idol-figures are first of all representations of qualities, or powers, which are supposed to exist, though unseen, and are usually personified or thought of as living beings. Only in the degraded stage are idol-figures treated as if they themselves were gods. In this connection two points may be illustrated, and practical lessons from each may be enforced.
I. GOD ABSORBS IN HIMSELF ALL THE IDEAS WHICH IDOLATRY SEEKS TO EMBODY. Poetically conceived, the figures of Baal or Jupiter are only representations of certain powers—of life, warmth, rule, wisdom, etc; which are living, unseen beings. Our God says there are no such beings. Every one of these powers is in himself. He is Zeus, and Baal, and Venus, and Diana, and Moloch, so far as any of these represent necessary powers belonging to Deity. We must not divide him into many beings; he is only One. So far as idols are mere creations of men, there is nothing existing that corresponds to them. So far as they represent real powers, these powers all meet in the One God—our God!
II. GOD DEMANDS ALL THE WORSHIP WHICH IDOLATRY DISTRIBUTES OVER MANY GODS. True worship is both word and work, profession and service. Men who divide God into gods have their favourite deity. God cannot be divided. And the law for every creature made in his image is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy mind, and all thy soul, and all thy strength."—R.T.
The ill-fed soul.
The expression, "he feedeth on ashes," is proverbial in the East for that which is done to no purpose—that which is vain, unsatisfying, disappointing. Hugh Macmillan gives some accounts of depraved and perverted appetite in the use of earth for food. He says, "This propensity is not an occasional freak, but a common custom, and is found among so large a number and variety of tribes, that it may be regarded as coextensive with the human race. From time immemorial the Chinese have been in the habit of using various kinds of edible earths as substitutes for bread in time of scarcity; and their imperial annals have always religiously noticed the discovery of such bread-stones, or stone-meal, as they are called. On the western coast of Africa a yellowish kind of earth, called caovac, is so highly relished, and so constantly consumed by the negroes, that it has become to them a necessary of life. In the island of Java, and in various parts of the hill country of India, a reddish earth is baked into cakes, and sold in the village markets for food." But such food cannot give due nourishment to the body. It is unnatural, unsatisfying. Our souls need healthy and satisfying food as truly as our bodies do; and men's folly in respect of their bodies only illustrates their much greater folly in respect of their souls. So many of us are ill fed, injudiciously fed. After showing what is the proper nutriment for a renewed soul, leading up to the mystical expression of our Lord, as recorded by John, "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed," it may be shown that food for the soul is insufficient and injurious when it is—
I. ILL SELECTED. It must be good, but it must also be appropriate and adapted. The word of the preacher must be such as "ministers' grace to the hearers." The supreme question for each one is—Do the means of grace minister grace to me? I may be at the feast, yet be ill fed.
II. ILL PREPARED. Food that is in itself good is often made unsuitable for us in the cooking. Teachings may be spoiled by the vanity or the over-adornment of the teachers. Especially teachings may be ill prepared as they lack the true spiritual flavour. Then they come to us as the word of man rather than as the word of God.
III. ILL PROPORTIONED. Sometimes in excess; at other times deficient. We may at times be starved, and at others surfeited. We may have the false appetite, which feeds voraciously at times. We may, in religious things, run too hard along particular lines, interest ourselves only in sides and aspects of truth, and so become ill-fed souls.
IV. ILL SUSTAINED. In respect of soul-feeding the law for the body applies. Little and often. Plain and regular. Therefore are we taught to pray, "Give us day by day our daily bread." And to teach us that we want food, not luxuries, Christ said of himself, "I am the Bread of life."—R.T.
God's way of pleading with men.
Put in other words, the statement of this text is, "As a cloud is blotted out of the heavens, so have I blotted out thy transgressions." But it is difficult for us to realize what is meant by "blotting out a cloud." So far as we have to do with clouds, we cannot speak of them as "blotted out." Some swiftly hurry by; others move majestically along,—they go out of sight into some other quarter of the heavens; but we do not see them vanish from their place in mid-sky, and become "blotted out." Sometimes the cloud sends down showers upon the earth, and so it exhausts itself; but that cannot be the image of our text, because it intimates a putting away of our sins, so that they shall not shower down upon us the tribulation and anguish that is gathered up in all transgression. But the image which our damp climate cannot furnish is given in the sunny lands of the East. There, in the morning, will often be seen dull heavy masses of clouds, and there is every indication of a showery day. But as the sun rises and gathers strength, these clouds all varnish and disappear; they do not drift away, or pass into another part of the heavens; they just vanish on the spot, they die away, they are "blotted out." Understood thus, it is a striking and impressive figure. Even thus the thick clouds of our sins darken the sky, and those sin-clouds bear manifest tokens of punishment and wrath. But thus also God's love, the sun of his forgiving love, arises, shines out full, and the sin-cloud is dispelled, it vanishes away. It is not driven into the future, to await us there; it is just "blotted out," forgiven and forgotten. With other most impressive figures God endeavours to convince us of the fulness of his forgiving. He makes his servant say, "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us." Where is the east? Where is the west? Is it yonder ridge of hill, behind which we saw the sun set yesterday? Nay, did you stand on that very spot, the west would be still away, away, in the dim distance. The more you hurry toward the east, the further you get away from the west. Go east, and try to find your forgiven sins; behold God has put them in the utmost west. Elsewhere we renal of God's "casting our sins behind his back." He not merely puts them behind his back, he casts them there; his love refuses to look on them, his forgiving restoring love will not treasure them up against us; they are flung away; they are done with; they are bonds cancelled, debts settled for ever. And there is another figure—that of "casting our sins into the depths of the sea." Take a jewel, and when upon mid-ocean, drop it over the ship's side into the waters. It is gone. None can descend into those depths and bring it back again. So God, as it were, binds up the book, the "handwriting of ordinances that was against us." He drops it in mid-ocean. And as we see it go, our hearts should be filled with thankful, trustful love to the great Forgiver. To a full return to him who has so dealt with our sins the text invites. This is God's way of pleading.
I. OUR REDEMPTION IS AN ACCOMPLISHED FACT. The terms of the text are very explicit: "I have blotted out I have redeemed." Redemption is not a matter which has to be settled; it is settled. We too often speak of needing to be redeemed; we should speak much more of realizing our redemption—entering into the life and privilege bought for us, and offered to us in the sovereign mercy of our God. That redemption should be regarded as an accomplished fact is taught by our Lord.
1. See the parable of the prodigal son. The charm of the parable is the look it gives us into the lather's heart. He had forgiven the son in his heart long before the forgiving word could be spoken.
2. The parable of the feast. The message sent forth is, "Come, for all things are now ready."
3. Notice how Christ directed the thoughts of men to himself. If our redemption were. not an accomplished fact, of which our Lord was the Divine expression and persuasion, how could he say, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"?
4. This is, indeed, involved in the doctrine of the cross of Christ. God provided that cross as the highest expression of his love to us; it is the persuasion that he has forgiven. It is not in order that he may love us, it is because he did love us, that he gave his only begotten Son.
5. Observe the new terms of condemnation set forth in the gospel: "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life;" "He that believeth not is condemned already." God looks on men as forgiven, but tested by their thoughts of Christ, by their acceptance of his offered love and friendship in the person of Jesus Christ. God says, "I have redeemed you." If you will turn to God, return to God, you shall realize that you arw redeemed. If you will not return, then that very redemption will gather into a burden, weightier far than all others that can come upon you.
II. OUR REDEMPTION, AS AN ACCOMPLISHED FACT, IS GOD'S GREAT POWER ON HUMAN SOULS. This is the very essence of the gospel—the "good news" of God. God is a forgiving God. He has forgiven in his heart; he speaks his forgiveness in Christ. He can pass by iniquity, transgression, and sin. He can keep his righteousness before all his creatures, and Yet reach down a hand of acceptance to us.
1. The cry of God, in olden days, was the cry of this forgiving love, "Ho, every one that thirsteth," etc. (Isaiah 55:1). The wine and milk are bought; they are set ready; take, and eat.
2. Apostles preached a perfect salvation. They told men it was wrought—it was done. They preached remission of sins in the Name of Jesus. Our faith is not asked for a scheme partially realized, a salvation partially accomplished, that needs the addition of our delayings, our tears, our prayers, our goodnesses. It was perfect before we had one thought about it. It sprang out of God's own love; it was manifested in God's own perfect way. He has redeemed us, and wants the fact of his redemption to be a gracious persuasion of us to come to him. We have seen the little bird taken from its nest in the woods, and put into the cage, and it seemed to be happy even with the bars all round it. Not always happy. Sometimes it would flap its wings against the bars, and try to get free, when a glint of warmer sunshine broke in upon it. And when the door was opened, wide opened, the bird scarcely knew what to do; it seemed bewildered, as if it could not believe such good news. But at last it seemed to flash upon it, "I am free—free to the wild woods, and the open sky, and the glad sunshine." And at once it spread its wings and fled away. We are like that bird, caged in with sin: the bars are all round us. Some of us are willing to be caged, some of us fret to be caged. And the fact is that God has set before us an open door. Yet we stand irresolute. What! is the cage really open? May we come forth into the sky of God's free favour and acceptance? Has God kept his holiness and his truth, and yet can he open the door? That is the truth, that is the assurance of the text. That is God's way of pleading, "Return unto me; for I have redeemed thee."—R.T.
God's rights in the individual.
God made us, gave us breath and being. We are his, and for his use. He can call any man into any sphere he pleases. It ought to be true of him that he saith to one "Come," and he cometh; to another "Go," and he goeth. Every man s true attitude is figured m the attitude of the six-winged seraphim before the throne. "With twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly," or did stand ready to fly. Of every man, great and small, our God may say, "He is my under-shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure." Josephus has a very curious statement concerning Cyrus, which may have some basis of truth. "Now this became known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Esaias left behind him of his prophecy; for this man said that God had spoken thus to him in secret: 'My will is that Cyrus,' etc. This was prophesied by Esaias one hundred and forty years before the demolition of the temple. When, therefore, Cyrus had read this, and marvelled at the divinity, a kind of impulse and ambition seized upon him to fulfil what was so written." Modern discoveries are changing our received notions respecting Cyrus; they do not alter the fact of his having been the agent in securing the return of the exiles, but they indicate that, so far as he was concerned, his action was strictly one of state policy. The idea that he was a pure monotheist is greatly shaken. The line of thought which may be followed can only be indicated.
I. God has absolute rights over every individual.
II. He makes particular claims on individuals for particular services.
III. The duty of each individual is response to the gracious claims.
IV. The highest well-being of the individual lies in his yielding all supposed individual rights, in order that he may, entirely and faithfully, meet the claims of God.
Cyrus (Koresh) was required to be a shepherd, and lead God's flock back to its old pastures. Whatsoever we may be required to do, that must be done as unto the Lord. We should not want any other man's place or work. The best for us is just that one which is given to us. And the daily, lifelong, attitude which we should keep should inspire the daily prayer, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" "It is the greatest honour of the greatest men to be employed for God as instruments of his favour to his people. It was more the praise of Cyrus to be God's shepherd than to be Emperor of the East."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 44". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29