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ISRAEL REBUKED BY THE PARABLE OF A VINEYARD. This chapter stands in a certain sense alone, neither closely connected with what precedes nor with what follows, excepting that it breathes throughout a tone of denunciation. There is also a want of connection between its parts, the allegory of the first section being succeeded by a series of rebukes for sins, expressed in the plainest language, and the rebukes being followed by a threat of punishment, also expressed with plainness. The resemblance of the parable with which the chapter opens to one of those delivered by our Lord, and recorded in the three synoptic Gospels, has been frequently noticed.
Now will I sing to my Well-beloved. The prophet sings to Jehovah a song concerning his vineyard. The song consists of eight lines, beginning with "My Well-beloved," and ending with "wild grapes." It is in a lively, dancing measure, very unlike the general style of Isaiah's poetry. The name "Well-beloved" seems to be taken by the prophet from the Song of Songs, where it occurs above twenty times. It well expresses the feeling of a loving soul towards its Creator and Redeemer. A song of my Well-beloved. Bishop Lowth translates "A song of loves," and Mr. Cheyne "A love-song;" but this requires an alteration of the text, and is unsatisfactory from the fact that the song which follows is not a "love-song." May we not understand the words to mean "a song concerning my Well-beloved in respect of his vineyard?" Touching his vineyard. Israel is compared to a "vine" in the Psalms (Psalms 80:8-16), and the Church of God to a "garden" in Canticles (So Song of Solomon 4:12; Song of Solomon 5:1); perhaps also to a "vineyard" in the same book (So Song of Solomon 8:12). Isaiah may have had this last passage in his mind. My Beloved hath a vineyard; rather, had a vineyard (ἀμπελὼν ἑγενήθη τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ, LXX.). In a very fruitful hill. So the passage is generally understood, since keren, horn, is used for a height by the Arabs (as also by the Germans, e.g. Matterhorn, Wetterhorn, Aarhorn, etc.), and "son of oil" is a not unlikely Orientalism for "rich" or "fruitful." With the "hill" of this passage compare the "mountain" of Isaiah 2:2, both passages indicating that the Church of God is set on aft eminence, and "cannot be hid" (Matthew 5:14).
He fenced it. So the LXX; the Vulgate, Aben Ezra, Jarchi, Rosenmüller, Lowth, Kay. Gesenius, Knobel, and Mr. Cheyne prefer to translate, "he dug it over;" while the Revisers of 1885 have suggested, "he made a trench about it." The word occurs only in this place, and has no cognates in Hebrew. And gathered out the stones (comp. Isaiah 62:10). In the stony soil of Palestine, to collect the surface stones into heaps, or build them into walls, is of primary necessity for the improvement of the land. Conversely the stones were put back, and scattered over the land, by those who wished to "mar" it (2 Kings 3:19, 2 Kings 3:25). Planted it with the choicest vine (comp. Genesis 49:11; Jeremiah 2:21). The sorek seems to have been a particular kind of vine, reckoned superior to others. The etymology of the word indicates that it was of a deep red color. Built a tower (comp. Matthew 21:33). Towers had to be built in gardens, orchards, and vineyards, that watch might be kept from them against thieves and marauders (see 1 Kings 17:9; 1 Kings 18:8; 2Ch 26:10; 2 Chronicles 27:4, etc.). Made a wine-press; literally, dug a winepress. The excavation was made to contain a vat, above which was the "press," worked by men, who wrung the liquor out of a great bag containing the grapes. (See the Egyptian rock-paintings, passim, where the operation is represented repeatedly.) It brought forth wild grapes. The natural, not the cultivated fruit, a worthless product.
The prophet's "song" here ends, and Jehovah himself takes the word. As if the story told in the parable had been a fact, he calls on the men of Judah and Jerusalem to "judge between him and his vineyard." Compare Nathan's appeal to David by the parable of the ewe lamb (2 Samuel 12:1-4).
What could have been done more? Comp. 2 Kings 17:13 and 2 Chronicles 36:15, where God is shown to have done all that was possible to reclaim his people: "Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to the Law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets;" "And the Lord God of their fathers sent unto them by his messengers, rising up early, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, until there was no remedy."
And now go to; I will tell you; rather, and now, I pray you, let me tell yon. The address is still smooth and persuasive up to the word "vineyard." Then there is a sudden change; the style becomes abrupt, the tone fierce and menacing. "Let me tell you what I will do to my vineyard: break down its hedge, that it be grazed on; destroy its wall, that it be trampled underfoot," etc. The hedge … the wall. Vine-yards were usually protected either by a hedge of thorns, commonly of the prickly pear, or else by a wall; but the rabbis say that in some cases, for additional security, they were surrounded by both. God had given his vineyard all the protection possible.
I will lay it waste; literally, I will make it a desolation (comp. Isaiah 7:19, where a cognate term occurs). Active ravage is not so much pointed at, as the desolation which comes from neglect. There shall come up briers and thorns. The natural produce of neglected ground in Palestine (see Proverbs 24:31). The "thorns and briers" symbolize vices of various kinds, the natural produce of the human soul, if God leaves it to itself. The words are scarcely to be taken literally, though it is probably true that "no country in the world has such variety and abundance of thorny plants as Palestine in its present desolation". I will also command the clouds. Here at last disguise is thrown off, and the speaker manifestly appears as Jehovah, who can alone "command the clouds." The "rain" intended is probably that of his gracious influences.
For the vineyard, etc. The full explanation of the parable follows immediately on the disclosure in Isaiah 5:6. The vineyard is "Israel," or rather "Judah;" the fruit expected from it, "judgment and righteousness;" the wild grapes which alone it had produced, "oppression" and the "cry" of the distressed. His pleasant plan;: literally, the plant of his delights; i.e. the plantation in which he had so long taken delight. He looked for judgment, etc. Gesenius has attempted to give the verbal antithesis of the Hebrew, which is quite lost in our version—
"Er harrete auf Recht, und siehe da Unrecht,
Auf Gerechtigkeit, und siehe da Schlechtigkeit."
THE SIX WOES. After the general warning conveyed to Israel by the parable of the vineyard, six sins are particularized as those which have especially provoked God to give the warning. On each of these woe is denounced. Two have special punishments assigned to them (Isaiah 5:8-17); the remainder are joined in one general threat of retribution (Isaiah 5:18-24).
Woe unto them that join house to house. This is the first woe. It is pronounced on the greed which leads men to continually enlarge their estates, without regard to their neighbors' convenience. Nothing is said of any use of unfair means, much less of violence in dispossessing the former proprietors. What is denounced is the selfishness of vast accumulations of land in single bands, to the detriment of the rest of the community. The Jewish law was peculiarly inimical to this practice (Numbers 27:1-11; Numbers 33:54; 1 Kings 21:4); but perhaps it is not without reason that many writers of our own time object to it on general grounds. Till there be no place; literally, till want of place; i.e. till there is no room for others. A hyperbole, doubtless, but marking a real national inconvenience. That they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth; rather, that ye may dwell by yourselves in the midst of the land. The great landlords wished to isolate themselves; they disliked neighbors; they would fain "dwell by themselves," without neighbors to trouble them. Uzziah seems, by what is said of his possessions (2 Chronicles 26:10), to have been one of the greatest sinners in respect of the accumulation of land.
Either something has fallen out in the first clause of this verse, or there is a most unusual ellipse of the verb "said" which our translators have supplied, very properly. There seems to be nothing emphatic in the words, "on mine ears" (see Isaiah 22:14; Ezekiel 9:1, Ezekiel 9:5; Ezekiel 10:13). Many houses shall be desolate. The greed of adding house to house will be punished by the death of those who have so sinned, and the extinction of their families, either through war, or through a more direct divine judgment.
Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath. The greed of adding field to field will he punished by the curse of barrenness, which God will send upon the laud. Dr. Kay-calculates that ten acres (Roman) of vineyard ought to yield upon the average five hundred baths (or four thousand gallons) instead of one bath (eight gallons). An homer … an ephah. The "ephah" was the tenth-part of a "homer" (Ezekiel 45:11). Corn lands should return only one-tenth part of the seed sown in them.
Woe unto them that … follow strong drink. We have here the second woe. It is pronounced on drunkenness and revelry. Drunkenness is an infrequent Oriental vice; but it seems to have been one whereto many among the Jews were at all times prone (see Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 23:29-32; Ecclesiastes 10:17; Hosea 4:11; Isaiah 28:7, etc.). Even the priests and the soi-disant prophets erred through strong drink and were swallowed up of wine" (Isaiah 28:7). That rise up early in the morning. Great banquets were held by the "princes" and "nobles," beginning at an early hour (Ecclesiastes 10:10), and accompanied by music of an exciting kind (Amos 6:5, Amos 6:6), which were "continued until night," or rather, "into the night" (Revised Version), and terminated in general drunkenness, perhaps in general licentiousness. (See Proverbs 23:27-30 and Hosea 4:11 for the connection of inebriety with whoredom.) Two kinds of intoxicating liquor seem to have been consumed at these banquets, viz. ordinary grape wine, and a much stronger drink, which is said to have been "made of dates, pomegranates, apples, honey, barley, and other ingredients," which was known as shekar (Greek, σίκερα), and is called "strong drink" in the Authorized Version. Till wine inflame them; or, the wine inflaming them.
The harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe. It is difficult to identify the Hebrew instruments of music with modern names; but there seems to be no doubt that the kinnor was a sort of harp, and the khalib a sort of pipe. The nebel, generally rendered by "psaltery," but hero and in Isaiah 14:11 by "viol," was a stringed instrument played with the fingers (Josephus); perhaps a lyre, perhaps a sort of dulcimer. The toph, here translated "tabret," and elsewhere often "timbrel," was most likely a tambourine. All four instruments had in the earlier times been dedicated to the worship of Jehovah (1 Samuel 10:5); now they were employed to inflame men's passions at feasts. They regard not the work of the Lord. The "work of Jehovah" is his manifestation of himself in history, more especially in the history of his chosen people (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 92:4; Psalms 111:3, etc.). A pious Israelite was ever marveling at all that God had done for his nation (Deuteronomy 32:7-14; Joshua 24:2-13; 1 Chronicles 16:12-22; Ezra 9:7-9; Nehemiah 9:7-31; Psalms 68:7-28; Psalms 78:10-72; Psalms 105:5-45; Psalms 106:7-46; Psalms 136:5-24, etc.). The men of Isaiah's generation had ceased to care for things of the past, and devoted themselves to enjoying the present. Neither consider, etc. (comp. Isaiah 1:3, "My people doth not consider"). The verb used is not, however, the same in the Hebrew.
Therefore my people are gone into captivity. "Are gone" or "have gone" is "the perfect of prophetic certainty" (Cheyne). The prophet sees the captivity as a thing that had already taken place. It as an appropriate punishment for drunkenness and revelry to be carried off into servitude, and in that condition to suffer, as slaves so often did, hunger and thirst. Because they have no knowledge; or, unawares, without foreseeing it (so Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Ewald, Delitzsch, Cheyne). Their honorable men; literally, their glory, for "their glorious ones"—the abstract for the concrete. Are famished; literally, sons of famine; i.e. "starvelings." Their multitude; or, their noisy crowd (Kay)—the "throng of voluptuaries" who frequented the great banquets of Isaiah 5:11, Isaiah 5:12.
Therefore hell hath enlarged herself; rather, hath enlarged her desire (comp. Habakkuk 2:5). "Hell" here represents the underworld, into which souls descended at death, not yet perhaps recognized as comprehending two divisions, but regarded much as the Greeks regarded their Hades—as a general receptacle of the dead, dark and silent. Hades (Sheol), not viewed as a person, but personified by poetical license, "enlarges her desire" and "opens her mouth" to receive the crowd that is approaching the crowd of those who in captivity succumb to the hardships of their lot. Their glory; literally, her glory—the glory, i.e; of Jerusalem, which is especially in the prophet's thoughts. "Her glory, and her crowd, and her pomp, and he that is joyful in her, shall go down" into the sheol that gapes for them.
And the mean man, hall be brought down; rather, so the mean man is brought down; i.e. in this way, by the Captivity and the consequent sufferings and deaths, both high and low are brought down and humbled, while God is exalted in man's sight. The future is throughout spoken of as present (comp. Isaiah 2:9, Isaiah 2:11, Isaiah 2:17).
God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness; rather, the holy God shows himself holy by righteousness; i.e. by executing this righteous judgment on Jerusalem the holy God shows his holiness.
Then shall the lambs feed. Dr. Kay takes the "lambs" to be the remnant of Israel that survived the judgment, who will feed freely, cared for by the good Shepherd; but the parallelism so generally affected by Isaiah seems to require a meaning more consonant with the later clause of the verse. Most commentators, therefore, expound the passage literally, "Then shall lambs feed [on the desolated estates of the covetous]" (see verses 8-10). After their manner; or, after their own guidance; i.e. at their pleasure, as they list (so Lowth and Rosenmüller). And the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat. Goim, i.e. nomad tribes, shall consume the produce of the wasted fields once possessed by the Hebrew grandees. Ewald proposes to make the verse immediately follow verse 10; but this is not necessary. The occupation of their lands by wandering tribes, Arabs and others, was a part of the punishment that fell on all the nobles, not on those only who accumulated large estates.
Woe unto them, etc. We come here to the third woe, which is pronounced against those who openly pile up sin upon sin, and scoff at God. These men are represented as "drawing iniquity with cords of vanity," i.e. dragging after them a load of sin by cords that seem too weak; and then as "sinning with a cart-rope," which is a mere variant expression of the same idea. Mr. Cheyne quotes from the Rig-Veda, as a parallel metaphor, the phrase, "Undo the rope of sin."
That say, Let him make speed, etc. Instead of trembling at the coming judgment of God, which Isaiah has announced, they pretend to desire its immediate arrival; they want to "see it." They walk, not by faith, but by sight. At the bottom of this pretended desire there lies a complete incredulity. The counsel; or, purpose, as in Isaiah 14:26. Of the Holy One of Israel. They use one of Isaiah's favorite titles of God (see note on Isaiah 1:4), not from any belief in him, but rather in a mocking spirit.
Woe unto them that call evil good. This is the fourth woe. There are persons who gloss over evil deeds and evil habits by fair-sounding names, who call cowardice caution, and rashness courage, niggardliness thrift, and wasteful profusion generosity. The same men are apt also to call good evil; they brand prudence with the name of cunning, call meekness want of proper spirit, sincerity rudeness, and firmness obstinacy. This deadness to moral distinctions is the sign of deep moral corruption, and fully deserves to have a special "woe" pronounced against it. That put darkness for light. "Light" and "darkness" symbolize good and evil throughout Scripture (1 Samuel 2:9; 2 Samuel 22:29; Job 29:3; Psalms 112:4; Proverbs 2:13; Ecclesiastes 2:13; Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 6:22; John 1:19; Acts 26:18; Romans 13:12; 1 Corinthians 4:5, etc.). They are sometimes mere synonyms, as here; but sometimes they express rather the intellectual side of morality. Bitter for sweet. More symbolism, but of a rarer kind. Jeremiah calls wickedness "bitter" (Jeremiah 2:9; Jeremiah 4:18), and the psalmist calls the judgments of God" sweet" (Psa 109:1-31 :103). But the terms are not often used with any moral bearing.
Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes. The fifth woe. Self-conceit is the antithesis of humility; and as humility is, in a certain sense, the crowning virtue, so self-conceit is a sort of finishing touch put to vice. While a man thinks humbly of himself, there is a chance that he may repent and amend. When he is "wise in his own eyes," he does not see why he should change.
Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine. The sixth woe seems at first sight a repetition of the second. But there is this difference, that the drinkers in the present verse do not succumb to their liquor, or remain at the banquet all day, but proceed to the business of their lives, attend courts and judge causes, but with brain obfuscated and moral vision bedimmed, so that they are easily induced to pervert justice on receipt of a bribe. The sixth woe may be considered to be pronounced rather upon their corruption than upon their drinking, and so to be really quite distinct from the second (comp. Proverbs 31:4, Proverbs 31:5).
Justify the wicked; i.e. "decide his cause in his favor," declare him to be right, and his adversary wrong. For reward; or, for a bribe. Take away the righteousness of the righteous; i.e. "declare him to be in the wrong by deciding his cause against him."
Therefore, etc. A general judgment is now pronounced against all the forms of wickedness enumerated—a judgment of ruin or destruction. It is expressed by a mixed metaphor, or "combination of two figures," the former taken from the burning of stubble and withered grass by the farmer when he is cleaning his fields, the latter from the natural decay of a blossoming plant or tree. In either case the destruction is complete, but in the one it arises from an external force, fire; in the other from an internal failure of vitality. The ruin of Israel would include both; it would be brought about by an internal cause, their corruption, and an external one, God's anger. As the fire devoureth the stubble; literally, as a tongue of fire eats up stubble. "Tongue of fire" is an unusual phrase, occurring in all Scripture only here and in Acts 2:3. But it well depicts the power of fire to lick up clean all that comes in its way. Isaiah elsewhere notes the analogy, making it the foundation of simile (Isaiah 30:27). And the flame consumeth the chaff; rather, and as dry grass sinks down inflame. The withered grass of pastures was burnt by farmers to improve the after-growth (Lucan, 'Pharsal.,' 9.182). Their root shall be as rottenness (comp. Hosea 9:16). The root is the last thing to decay. When that fails, the case is desperate. Judah's "root" did not utterly fail (see Isaiah 11:1); but the present warning is to individuals and classes (verses 8, 11, 18, 20-23), not to the nation. Their blossom shall go up as dust; i.e. their external glory shall crumble and waste away. Because they have cast away the Law. All the sins of Israel had this one thing in common—they were transgressions of the Law of God as delivered to them by Moses, and enforced upon them by the prophetical order. Despised the word; or, the speech. Imrah is rarely used by Isaiah. It does not refer to the written "Word," but to the declarations of God by the mouth of his prophets (see Isaiah 28:23; Isaiah 32:9).
THE NATURE OF THE COMING JUDGMENT EXPLAINED. Hints have been already given that the judgment which is to fall on the nation is a foreign war, or a series of foreign wars (see Isaiah 3:25; Isaiah 5:13). But now for the first time a terrible invasion, in which many nations will participate, is clearly announced. At first the imagery is obscure (Isaiah 5:25), but it soon grows more distinct. "Nations" are summoned to the attack; a vast army comes, and comes" with speed swiftly" (Isaiah 5:26); then their array is described (Isaiah 5:27, Isaiah 5:28); and finally their ravin is compared to that of lions, and their success in catching and carrying off their prey is prophesied (Isaiah 5:29). In the last verse of the chapter the prophet falls back into vaguer imagery, comparing the roar of the invaders to the roaring of the sea, and the desolated land to one seen under the gloom of a preternatural darkness (Isaiah 5:30).
The threats of this verse are all vague and general, for there is no reason to suppose that the phrase," the hills did tremble, "refers to an actual earthquake. That there was an earthquake in the reign of Uzziah is, indeed, clear from Amos 1:1; but it was probably a thing of the past when Isaiah wrote this chapter, and he is spiking of the future. A "trembling of the hills" is, in prophetic language, a commotion among the chief men of the land. He hath stretched forth his hand. Again the "perfect of prophetic certitude." Their carcasses were torn; rather, were as refuse (comp. Lamentations 3:45). There would be many slain, and lying unburied, in the streets of Jerusalem. For all this, etc. (comp. Isaiah 9:12, Isaiah 9:17, Isaiah 9:21, and Isaiah 10:4, where the same words are used as a refrain). The words imply that God's judgment upon Judah will not be a single stroke, but a continuous smiting, covering some considerable space of time.
And he will lift up an ensign. Mr. Cheyne translates, "a signal," and would so render the Hebrew word in Isaiah 11:10, Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 13:2; Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 49:22; Isaiah 62:10. But "ensigns" or "standards" were in use both among the Egyptians and among the Assyrians before the time of Isaiah, and are, therefore, likely to have been in use among the Hebrews. The standards, however, of this early period were not flags, as Jarchi supposes, but solid constructions of wood or metal, exhibiting some emblem or other. God lifts up his standard to draw the nations together, indicating thereby that they are to fight his battles. And will hiss. "Hissing" is said to have been practiced by bee-keepers to draw their bees out of the hives in the morning, and bring them home again from the fields at nightfall (Cyril, ad loc.). God will collect an army against Israel, as such persons collect their bees (comp. Isaiah 7:18). From the end of the earth; i.e. "to bring them from the end of the earth." The nations are, or at least many of them are, extremely distant, as Elamites from the Persian Gulf (Isaiah 22:6), and perhaps Medes from beyond Zagros. They shall come; literally, he cometh; showing that, though the nations are many, they are united under one head, which here is probably the Assyrian power. With speed swiftly (comp. Joel 3:4). The reference is not so much to the speed with which the Assyrians marched, as to the immediate response which they would make to God's call,
None shall be weary nor stumble. None shall lag behind on the march, none fall and be disabled. None shall slumber. They shall scarcely give themselves time for necessary repose.
Whose arrows are sharp, and all their bows bent. The special weapon of the Assyrian soldiers is the bow. From the king in his chariot to the light-armed recruit just pressed into the service, all fight mainly with this weapon, more particularly in the earlier times. Swords and spears are also known, but comparatively little used. Their horses' hoofs … like flint. Hard, strong, and solid, as was most necessary when shoeing was unknown. Their wheels like a whirlwind. Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:24) is represented as boasting of the "multitude of his chariots;" and both the sculptures and the inscriptions of Assyria show that the chariot throe was numerous, and was regarded as more important than any other. The king always went to battle in a chariot. For the comparison of the rush of chariot-wheels to a whirlwind, see below, Isaiah 66:15; and comp. Jeremiah 4:13).
Their roaring shall be like a lion; rather, like a lioness, which the Hebrews appear to have regarded as fiercer than a lion (see Genesis 44:9; Numbers 24:9; Habakkuk 2:11). The Assyrian armies probably advanced to the combat with loud shouts and yells (see Jeremiah 2:15). Yea, they shall roar; rather, growl. The word is different from the one used previously, and may express the "deep growl" with which the lion springs upon his prey (see Dr. Kay's note, ad loc.). Shall carry it away safe. Sennacherib says in one of his inscriptions, that he carried off to Nineveh 200, 150 captives on his first expedition against Jerusalem.
Like the roaring of the sea. Not content with one simile, the prophet has recourse to a second. "The noise of the Assyrian army shall be like that of a raging sea;" or, perhaps, "After he has carried off his prey, the Assyrian shall still continue to growl and threaten, like a stormy sea." If one look unto the land, etc. If Israel turn its gaze from Assyria to its own land, it sees nothing but a dark prospect—darkness and distress, all light shrouded amid clouds and deep obscurity. The text and the construction are, both of them, uncertain; but the general meaning can scarcely be other than this.
God's care for man, and man's ingratitude.
Three times has God made himself a vineyard upon earth, planted a plantation of choice vines, endued by him with the capacity of bringing forth excellent fruit, fenced his vineyard round with care, cleared its soil of stones, pruned its superfluous shoots, hoed out the weeds from between the vine-stocks, bestowed on it all possible tendance, and looked to see a suitable result; and three times has the result, for which he had every right to look, not followed.
I. THE FIRST VINEYARD—THE WORLD BEFORE THE FLOOD. Man was placed in a world which God saw to be "very good" (Genesis 1:31); he was endued with excellent powers; he was given dominion over the beasts; he was bidden to "increase and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28); he was guarded from a thousand dangers; he was fenced round by the Almighty arms; God's Spirit "strove with him" (Genesis 6:3), chastened him, warned him, spoke through his conscience, and showed him the right path to walk in. What more could he have done to his first vineyard, that he did not do to it? Yet the time came when he "looked upon the earth" (Genesis 6:12); looked for the fruits of what he had done; looked for "judgment and righteousness." And what did he find when he looked? "The wickedness of man was great in the earth; every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). "The earth was corrupt before God; all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth …. the earth was full of violence" (Genesis 6:11, Genesis 6:12). The vineyard that should have brought forth grapes had brought forth wild grapes. God's care for man had been met by man with ingratitude towards God; and it only remained that God should take vengeance, and lay his vineyard waste, and so vindicate his justice.
II. THE SECOND VINEYARD—THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL. This is the vineyard whereof Isaiah especially speaks. God planted his second vineyard, Israel, on the "very fruitful" upland of Palestine—"a land of corn and wine, of bread and vineyards, of oil olive and of honey' (2 Kings 18:32); "a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein they might eat bread without scarceness, and needed not to lack anything; a land whose stones were iron, and out of whose hills they might dig brass" (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). He fenced his vineyard round with laws and ordinances morally, as with mountains and deserts topographically; he cleared out from it the stones that marred its soil, the wicked nations—"stones of offense"—that once dwelt amid his people; he planted it with choice vine-stocks, the children of "faithful Abraham;" he built a tower—Jerusalem—in the midst of it, and made therein a wine-press—the temple—where he would have the gifts and offerings of the people, their good works, laid up in store; and he then "looked that his vineyard should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes." Oppression, wrong, robbery, murder, the form of religion without the power, covetousness, drunkenness, vanity, impurity,—these were what his eyes beheld when he cast them on his chosen people, who were "a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that were corrupters" (Isaiah 1:4). Greater benefits than those bestowed on the first vineyard had been met by a deeper ingratitude; and now the time was coming when the second vineyard would be laid waste, withered up, and utterly "ruined" (Isaiah 3:8).
III. THE THIRD VINEYARD—THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. God has yet planted a third vineyard, which he calls "his Church" (Matthew 16:18), the assembly of his "selected ones." He has not fixed it in any particular land, but has given it the whole fruitful earth for its habitation. Yet has he fenced it round, and separated it off from the rest of mankind by laws and rites and ordinances, which are peculiar, and made it a world within a world, a society within a society. He has gathered out from it the stones of many heresies; he has planted it with choice vines, the "chosen vessels" whom his grace has from time to time converted from unbelief to the true faith; he has given it for its "tower" of strength himself, and for its "wine-press" the book of life, in which he records its good deeds. And now, what is the result? Has his constant, tender care awakened the gratitude which it ought to have awakened? Has his Church brought forth such fruit as might have been anticipated? Is it not to be feared that even now his eye, resting on his third vineyard with its searching gaze, looks for something which it does not find—demands "grapes," and sees little but "wild grapes?"
The appropriateness of God's punishments.
Many of the punishments of sin follow in the way of natural consequence, and these are generally acknowledged to be fitting and appropriate; e.g.—
I. IDLENESS IS PUNISHED BY WANT. "If a man will not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Labor naturally produces wealth, or at any rate value of some kind; and those who work the hardest naturally acquire the most. The idle cannot complain if they have few of this world's goods, since they have made no efforts to obtain them. They are fitly punished for their waste of time in sloth by the want of those good things which they might have procured by diligence in toil. The wise man will not give indiscriminate relief to the poor and needy. There is much poverty which is the simple natural result and suitable punishment of idle "loafing" habits.
II. DRUNKENNESS IS PUNISHED BY LOSS OF MENTAL POWER, AND IN SOME CASES BY A TERRIBLE MALADY. The drunkard voluntarily confuses his mental faculties, and suspends their healthy operation, each time that he indulges in the sin whereto he is addicted. What can be more appropriate than that he should be punished by a permanent diminution of his intellectual vigor, a loss of nerve, promptitude, and decision? He also deranges his bodily functions by causing an undue flow of blood to the brain, and an undue excitement of the nerves whose connection is so close with the cerebral tissues. It is most natural and most fitting that such ill treatment of these delicate tissues should result in permanent injury to them, and cause the dreadful malady known to medical science as delirium tremens. The drunkard "receives within himself" a most appropriate "recompense of his error" (Romans 1:27).
III. LUST IS PUNISHED BY A LOATHSOME DISEASE. The nature of the subject here is such as to preclude much illustration. But what can be more appropriate than the punishment of the most foul and filthy of sins by a disease which is foul and filthy and loathsome, alike to others and to the object of it? The body marred and scarred, the blood infected, the whole constitution undermined, form not only a just, but a most fitting, punishment of one, the peculiarity of whose sin is that he "sins against his own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18).
In the case of Israel special national sins were punished by special judgments, also peculiarly appropriate; e.g.—
I. THE GREED WHICH JOINED HOUSE TO HOUSE AND FIELD TO FIELD was punished by an invasion which caused the destruction and ruin of the annexed houses (Isaiah 5:9), and the desolation of the annexed estates. The ruin of the vineyards was such that it was scarcely worth while to gather the produce, the continued devastation of the corn lands such that the harvest did not nearly equal the seed corn. Nomad tribes pastured their flocks on the over-large estates, and the so-called owners derived little or no benefit from their acquisitions (Isaiah 5:10, Isaiah 5:17).
II. DRUNKEN REVELRY was punished by the captivity of the revelers, who were carried off as slaves into a strange land, and there experienced the usual fate of slaves, which included bitter experience of hunger and thirst (Isaiah 5:13). The dole allowed the slave was seldom more than sufficient to keep body and soul together. His drink was water. Kept to hard labor on imperial palaces and other "great works," he lost all cheerfulness, all lightness of heart, all love of song or music. Asked by his taskmasters to "sing them one of the songs of Zion," he declined sadly; the harp of his revels was "hung upon the willows" of Babylon (Psalms 137:2-4). God's judgments upon other nations have often had the same character of appropriateness. Egypt, whose great sin had been pride (Ezekiel 29:4), was condemned to be "the basest of the kingdoms" (Isaiah 5:15); never destroyed, but always subject to one people or another—Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks. Rome, the most cruel and bloody of conquering states, was made a prey, first to bloody tyrants of her own race, and then to a succession of fierce and savage northern hordes—Goths, Huns, Vandals, Burgundians, Heruli, Lombards—who spared neither age nor sex, and delighted in carnage and massacre. Macedonia, raised to greatness by her military system, and using it unsparingly to crush all her rivals, is ruined by being brought into contact with a military system superior to her own. Spain, elevated to the first position in Europe by her colonial greatness, is corrupted by her colonial wealth, and sinks faster than she had risen. States formed by conquest usually perish by conquest; governments founded on revolution are, for the most part, destroyed by revolution. The retributive justice which shows itself in the world's history does not consist in the mere fact that sin is punished, but rather in the remarkable adaptation of the punishment which is dealt out to the sin that has provoked it.
Wicked men used by God as instruments for working out his purposes.
The psalmist declares the wicked to be "God's sword" (Psalms 17:13). In a later chapter Isaiah calls Assyria "the rod of God's anger" (Isaiah 10:5). Nothing is more clearly set forth in the prophetical writings than the fact that—
I. CONQUERING NATIONS ARE RAISED UP BY GOD TO CHASTISE THE NATIONS THAT ARE HIS ENEMIES.
1. Assyria was "the axe" with which God hewed down offending peoples (Isaiah 10:14), "the rod' wherewith he smote them. God exalted her, in order that she might "lay waste defensed cities into ruinous heaps" (Isaiah 37:26). This was her raison d'etre, the purpose of her existence (Isaiah 37:26). She was sent against one openly wicked or "hypocritical nation' after another, and given a charge "to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire in the streets" (Isaiah 10:6).
2. Babylon was raised up for the castigation of Tyre (Ezekiel 26:7), of Egypt (Ezekiel 29:19, Ezekiel 29:20; Ezekiel 30:10-26), and of Judah (Jeremiah 25:9).
3. Media and Persia were raised up to work the will of God upon Assyria and Babylon (Isaiah 13:17; Isaiah 21:2; Jeremiah 51:11, etc.).
4. Greece and Macedon were raised up to punish Persia and Media (Daniel 8:5-8); and so on. Each of these nations was ungodly—full of impurity, pride, selfishness, greed, cruelty. Yet God made use of them for his purposes, and does not scruple to call their rulers "his servants," "his shepherds," "those who performed all his pleasure" (Isaiah 44:28; Jeremiah 25:11; Jeremiah 27:6, etc.).
II. BAD MEN ARE EXALTED TO POWER TO CHASTISE BOTH NATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS. Samson, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar seem to have been rather instruments for punishing nations and states. But such men as Joab, Jehu, Hazael, effected God's purposes mainly with respect to individuals. God made use of them, and of their sinful tempers, to execute vengeance upon certain special offenders. Jehu was anointed king by God's prophet to punish Jezebel and the house of Ahab (2 Kings 9:2-26; 2 Kings 10:1-11). Fired by ambition, he rushed into crime, and "the blood of Jezreel" was afterwards avenged upon his house (Hosea 1:4). But for Joab the crimes of Abner and of Absalom would probably have gone unpunished. He may be viewed as God's instrument to requite their ill deeds; but as he punished the one treacherously and the other against his king's commands, their blood, or at any rate that of Abner, "returned upon the head of Joab" (1 Kings 2:33). Hazael's case is like that of Jehu, only not set before us with such distinctness. He was "God's sword" to the wicked Benhadad; but not thereby excused. God turns the wickedness of men into particular channels, making it effect his ends; but it is wickedness none the less.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The parable of the vineyard.
I. NOTICE THE ART OF THE PARABLE. It has been remarked, "A proverb finds him who a sermon flies." Pictures from nature are acceptable to all, especially of that nature which is familiar to the imagination of the listener. Through the imagination we may glide into our listener's heart and conscience. The truth comes with much more power when it is made to glance from an object intermediate between the mind and its naked reality. A great secret of teaching is to leave the learner much of the work to do. Here, as he looks upon the bright picture drawn by the prophet, the wrappings of the parable gradually fall aside, and the truth itself stands out.
II. THE PICTURE OF THE VINEYARD. The close touch of accuracy suits the parable. Then follows a short song.
1. Situation of the vineyard. It lay on "the horn of Ben-Shamen," i.e. son of fatness; on a fertile height. The Roman poet sung that the vine loves the open sunny hills (Virgil,' Georg.,' 2:113). The description is of fruitful Canaan, flowing with milk, honey, and wine. We may think of the beautiful slopes of the Rhine.
2. The care expended on the vineyard. It had been fenced, the stones had been cleared from it, and it had been planted with the choicest vines. Some take the word rendered "fenced" in the sense of digged about, thoroughly digged. The watchtower had also been set up in the midst of the field, a post of observation and of guard against the jackals and the foxes in the ripening time.
3. The thankless soil. The vine-dresser's hope is deceived; for, instead of the true grapes wild ones only appear, or, as the LXX. render áêáíôçáò, thorns. Gesenius and others think the plant meant is the monk's-hood or nightshade, which produces berries like the grapes in appearance, but poisonous. If we compare the story in 2 Kings 4:39-41, also Deuteronomy 32:32, Deuteronomy 32:33 ("vine of Sodom, grapes of gall, bitter clusters"), this will seem probable. The Arabs call them wolf-grapes. The idea is caught by one of our poets when he sings of
"Dead Sea fruits that tempt the taste,
And turn to ashes on the lips."
1. Jehovah's appeal. It is an appeal to memory and to conscience. What more could God have done? Israel had been selected for special service and fruitfulness—had been fixed in a fertile land, her life and worship centered in the holy city. What was that city now? A scene of order, morality, good government? Alas! a "den of thieves," a scene of misery and anarchy. Instead of the genuine grapes of a national life strong and pure, the poisonous berries of luxury and vice. Such must be the result where man grafts his own pride or folly upon the stock of conscience.
2. Jehovah's denunciation. The thick thorn fence shall be removed, and the vineyard shall, become a prey to every trampling beast and invader. The hand of the pruner and the digger shall be stayed, the clouds shall suspend their gift of rain. Every protection and every blessing shall be withdrawn, and the thankless nation shall earn its appropriate wages. Having deserted God, God will now desert her. So must it ever be with the nation and the individual. Unless there is a constant disposition to redress discovered wrong, to reform manifest evil, the doom must be felt. "Thy vineyard shall be wasted, thy candlestick taken from its place" (Revelation 2:5).
3. The reason of the judgment. In poignant language, by the use of paronomasia, or play on words, the prophet announces the ground of the Divine decision. He waited for Mish-path, i.e. Might, and behold Mispath, i.e. Might; for Zedakah, i.e. Exactness, and lo Zeaqach, i.e. Exaction. A bitter intensity suggests this form of speech.
IV. PERSONAL APPLICATION. In our sinful miseries God is calling us to account. Our life-failure, whose fault is it? Does not Nature pour her beauty around us, instruct us from childhood, fill our sense and fancy with wonder and joy? Does not the world of men afford us a daily school of experience? Is not every suffering a pruning-knife, every change of life like a cleaning of the ground from weeds and stones? If our lives turn out selfish and vicious, where does the responsibility lie? Where, except in the secret fault that may poison all God's good?
"Lord, with what care hast thou begirt us round Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters Deliver us to laws. They send us bound To rules of reason. Holy messengers; Pulpits and Sundays; sorrow dogging sin; Afflictions sorted; anguish of all sizes; Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in! Bibles laid open; millions of surprises; Blessings beforehand; ties of gratefulness; The sounds of glory ringing in our ears; Without, our shame; within, our consciences Angels and grace; eternal hopes and fears 1 Yet all these fences, and their whole array, One cunning bosom-sin blows quite away." ― J.
Woe to the covetous.
To understand this passage we should bear in mind the truths connected with real property as a condition of national well-being.
I. THE INSTITUTION OF LANDED PROPERTY IN ISRAEL. According to the Law, each of the twelve tribes was to have its landed possessions, and each particular household was to have its definite portion of the land belonging to the tribe; and this was to be an inalienable heritage. Among an agricultural people it is most necessary that each family should thus have a fixed foothold on the land, a home, a center of toil and acquisition; and that thus its members should be firmly bound to their native land and to their fellow-countrymen. In a conquered land, again, it was equitable that the fields should be divided among those who took part in the burdens of war, and who desired to cultivate the conquered land in peace. In many passages of the Law we find the impress of this institution of real property. In the year of jubilee every man was to be restored to his patrimony (Leviticus 25:13). The land was never to be sold, because in fact it belonged to Jehovah (Isaiah 5:23), and the people were but his stewards. In the interesting case of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-11), who had died in the desert, we find it laid down that the children, or nearest relatives of one who had died without coming into his portion, were to possess it in his stead. Again, the men of Reuben and of Gad refused to go to war until every man of them had received his inheritance (Numbers 32:16, sqq.). And Moses agreed to their conditions. In the same book we read the direction, "Ye shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance among your families: and to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer ye shall give the less inheritance" (Numbers 33:54). The land, it will be seen, was considered as in tenure from Jehovah himself, the only landlord. And how attached an Israelite would become to his ancestral estate, is seen from the story of Naboth, who will not give up his even for a better one, and at the king's request (1 Kings 21:3, sqq.; 2 Kings 9:10, 2 Kings 9:25, sqq.). The virtues of patriotism struck deep root in this relation to the soil of Palestine. These facts help us to understand the moral and national evils springing from selfish greed, which threatened this institution of property, of which the prophet here complains.
II. THE VICE OF COVETOUSNESS. The root of the vice is a thorough-going selfishness. The rich men use the means at their command unjustly to absorb the land into their own possession. The result must be the hopeless misery and degradation of the mass of the people. An instructive parallel to the state of things described by the prophet is to be found in the history of Sparta, at the time of the great lawgiver, Lycurgus. Plutarch tells us that the disorders which he found existing in the state arose in great measure from the gross inequality of property, and from the long avarice and rapacity of the rich, who had thus added house to house and field to field. The lawgiver, therefore, redistributed the whole territory of Sparta. In Roman letters we-read allusions to the habit of forming latifundia, or "broad farms," with its unsocial consequences. "How far," indignantly exclaims Seneca, "will ye extend the bounds of your possessions; not content to circumscribe the area of your estates by the sowing of provinces? The broad acres own one lord; the people crowd into a narrow field. The courses of bright streams flow through private estates; great rivers, bounds of great nations, from the source to the mouth, all are yours. And this is nothing unless you have girdled your broad farms with seas; unless across the Hadriatic, the Ionian, and the AEgean your bailiff reigns; unless islands, domiciles of great dukes, are reckoned amongst the commonest of things. Shall there be no lake over which the roofs of your villas hang not? no stream whose banks are not covered by your buildings?". In his beautiful 'Deserted Village,' Goldsmith says—
"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay."
Too well we know what inappeasable discontent and seeming incurable misery has been begotten in Ireland of past selfishness and injustice of the few. Surely it is the part of every patriotic Christian man to forward all legislation which throws open God's land to tillage, and breaks up selfish monopolies.
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF COVETOUSNESS.
1. Its folly is exposed. One would think, from their conduct, that these grasping men desired to dwell alone amidst a waste! But, as the old agricultural poet of Greece says, "The man who frames ills against another frames them against himself, and ill counsel turns out worst for him who devised it. The all-seeing eye of Zeus looks upon these things, and they escape him not". Judgment gets the better of injustice when it comes to the final issue, and the fool who suffers from his avarice knows it to his cost. Like a wronged woman, she passes through the city, bewailing the manners of the people, clothed in mist; for men see not her approach, and know not that she is the cause of their calamities, who have driven her forth by her unjust deeds. Those, continues the poet, who do right by the strangers and the natives of the land—their city flourishes, the people blossom therein; and peace, the nourisher of youths, prevails through the land. To them far-seeing Zeus appoints no bitter war; famine and curse are unknown. The earth produces abundance, the trees drop fruit and honey, the fleeces are heavy on the sheep; and mothers bear a noble offspring. But often a whole city suffers from an evil man, who is a sinner and devises haughty plans. Pestilence and famine come from the hands of the Supreme upon men; the houses are thinned and the people perish. These are close analogies to the great thoughts of our prophet.
2. The appropriate punishment. Those who have grasped at more than their right will find the coveted good dwindling in their hands, or, like a Dead Sea fruit, turning to ashes on their lips. One bucket only will be obtained from the "yoke" of vineyard; one bushel of corn from a quarter's seed. Thus may we find in nature a profound Scripture, a record and a testimony of Divine law not to be gainsaid. In this day of science perhaps we fix our thought too exclusively on the dependence of man on Nature. There is another side of truth equally important—the dependence of Nature on man. In moral energy, in compliance with the laws of right, we become more and more the masters of Nature, and she smiles back upon us with an aspect of recognition and blessing. In the sloth of our spirit and its corruption from truth we can no longer win the sympathy of the earth; and her groaning aspect reflects and represents a guilty decline of the soul These troths are general; only experience can teach where and how they must be modified in their application.—J.
Mirth and mourning.
I. THOUGHTLESS PLEASURE-SEEKING. A scene of habitual dissipation is depicted by the prophet.
1. Wine and music are used, not legitimately, to relax the tension of the overwrought mind, but to dispel thought altogether. Sensuous pleasure is made an end and object, though it can never be healthy except in succession to work. "They rise early in the morning to follow the wassail; late into the night are heated by wine." "Guitar, and harp, and tambourine, and flute, and wine is their revel." How wise were the teachings of Plato on the use of music as a means of influence over the mind! He would not permit the employment of "effeminate and convivial' airs in his ideal state, the lax Ionian and Lydian. He would have only two kinds of tunes; those which represented the tones and accents of the brave man engaged in action, and those which chimed with the devotional and peaceful mood; in short, the tones which reflect the temper of brave men in prosperity and adversity. Makers of harps and dulcimers, and other more elaborate instruments, were not to be maintained in the city. These hints are perhaps too little attended to in our day. Yet there is modern music, e.g. that of the Italian opera in general, which tends to enervate the soul. Rather should we choose to listen to the strains of the great German masters, Beethoven, Handel, Mendelssohn. These men inspire us with lofty moods and religious thoughts. Avoid mean and brainless music, whether so-called secular or sacred.
2. Blindness to the thought and work of God. The most glorious privilege we can enjoy is that of intellectual vision of Divine work in nature and in mankind, the loftiest pleasure that of intellectual sympathy with the Divine mind. But the sensuous pleasure excludes the spiritual. Do men consider what they lose by dimming their perceptions and confusing their intelligence in these lower indulgences? Not on wine and soft music is that "vision and faculty Divine" nourished, by which the prophet and the worshipper enter into the scene of holiest enjoyments, of enrapturing revelations. The operation of the Eternal in the soul and the world goes on silently and secretly, and we need the "purged ear" that we may listen to his voice, the unclouded eye that we may note events which flow from his causation.
II. THE PUNISHMENT OF FRIVOLITY.
1. Captivity comes suddenly upon these revelers, and they wander forth "unawares," like those who rub their blear eyes after a night's debauch. They cannot understand what has happened to them. They talk of "strange misfortunes," of inexplicable calamities. But they have an explanation. The decay of a family, or of a class, or of a nation, is as much the result of Divine law as any other form of decay. In exile and suffering men pay the long-due debt for their voluptuous indulgences. The "nobility is spent with hunger, its revel-rout dried up with thirst." The music has to stop. The voice of Jehovah may be heard saying, "Take thou away from me the voice of thy songs; for I will not listen to the melody of thy viols? (Amos 5:23). Those that have put far from them the evil day, lying on ivory couches, luxuriously feasting, singing to the viol, drinking from the flowing bowl, anointed and perfumed, reckless of human suffering around them, shall pass into exile, and darkness and desolation shall reign in the once bright and crowded hall of banqueting (see Amos 6:1-14.).
2. With equal suddenness death shall come upon them, Hades opening its jaws to swallow the uproarious rout of revelers, as in old days the rebellious crew of Korah (Numbers 16:32). There is meaning in the phrase, "The unexpected always happens." To the thoughtless and unprepared it does. But to the thoughtful watchers of the ways of God, and those that meditate on his truth, it may be said that the expected happens, even as the harvest season in nature.
III. THE ABASEMENT OF MAN AND THE EXALTATION OF GOD. Deep in the prophetic conscience lies this thought—human pride means contempt of God, and human pride needs lowering that God may receive his proper place in men's thoughts. The Gentile poets in their way reflected this teaching. The man whose thoughts aimed at rivalry with the gods, the man who gave way to hybris, or insolence, was certain to be a mark of Divine displeasure. Cast down to his proper level of weakness, the power of the Eternal makes itself known, in an "awful rose of dawn," upon the conscience of mankind. It is suffering alone that awakens the conscience, and brings sharply to light that dualism of good and evil in the will which we contrive to confuse in thoughtless hours. And only by this internal revelation do we learn to think of One who is sanctity itself, and whose sanctity we, through life's purging fires, must be brought to share, or perish in the sins we have chosen, the lives we have lived in.—J.
Analysis of sin.
I. THE VAIN AND WANTON MIND. A singular image is used. Men are described as drawing down upon themselves, as with stout and strong ropes, the burden of sin and guilt. Such is the effect of their mocking jests and speeches. Dramatically, the hearers of the prophet are represented as exclaiming defiantly, "Let his wrath hasten, let it speed, let us see it; let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come, that we may know it I" Amos alludes to the same spirit of the time, of scoffing contempt of the signs and omens of a dread future. "Woe unto you that desire the day of Jehovah to what end is it for you? the day of Jehovah will be darkness, and not light" (Amos 5:18). Idly do they dream that thus they put far away the evil day which is close at hand (Amos 6:3). "The evil day shall not overtake nor prevent us!" they persist in saying (Amos 9:10). In idle and willful minds superstitions about words are deeply lodged. By insisting that a wished event must take place, they think to bring it about; by repeating of something dreaded, "It shall not happen," to avert it. But mere words have no magic in them. As the incoming tide had no respect for the commands of King Knut's followers, so neither can the tidal march of moral forces be stayed by defiance or incantations. But our words and wishes have a powerful reflex effect upon our own moods. And this denial in words of God's truth must in time quite harden the conscience and blind the inner eye for them. We may shake our fist at the growing thunder-cloud, but it will not disappear. We may try to quell a demand for reform by obstinate clamors of, "It shall not be!" but only the more surely will it proceed to accomplishment.
II. CONFUSION OF MORAL DISTINCTIONS. This is a further step in the climax and progress of evil. It is indeed a serious reflection—how far we may succeed, by acts of depraved will, in shutting out the light that would stream in upon the mind, or in quenching the light within. Both are at once involved in the sin against intelligence. This is, indeed, the sin against the Holy Ghost—the sin that cannot be forgiven. How solemn are the words of the prophet elsewhere: "It was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged away from you till ye die" (Isaiah 22:14)! Another serious question is, how far words may influence thought, and the habit of saying false things disable the mind from seeing the true. South has some powerful sermons from this text, entitled "The fatal force and imposture of words." Though an absolute falsehood cannot live, adulterations of the truth may and do obtain a wide currency, just as adulterations of meat and drink in the half-dishonesties of trade. Every truth comes to us in a certain guise of falsehood; no form of language or other expression is adequate to clothe it. By insisting on the form as if it were the content, the outside as if it were identical with the inside, the part as if it were the whole, we commit ourselves to falsehood rather than to truth. The essence of social falsehoods seems to be in maxims which make the spiritual subordinate to the material. In times of physical comfort and prosperity this is always our danger. We mistake the means of living for the ends. We rest in pleasure, comfort, wealth, instead of making these the temporary standing ground of the spirit, whence it may proceed to higher levels and nobler ends.
III. SELF-CONCEITED FOLLY. We never see the full effect of sin, of heart-untruth, until it works itself out in the imagination, filling the mind with a fatuous self-complacency in its own weakness and blindness. The man thinks himself "wise," "intelligent," who, to the piercing gaze of the prophet, is clearly a fool. He thinks himself' a hero, whose best exploit is to shine at a drinking-bout, and a mighty man because he can play his part at the wassail, says the prophet with keen irony. Meanwhile they are deep in bribery. They would rob the poor of his honesty, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from them. There are towns and villages where we may now see on a small scale all those evils which the prophet exposed in Jerusalem. Evil examples, old and bad custom have so long had their way that a true standard of living seems no longer to be visible. Yet the moral tone may be restored, if there be but one man who will live like the prophet, like a Christian, salting the community by a quiet and continuous witness for rectitude, for the truth of God, and the soul.
IV. THE END OF THE UNGODLY AND THE SINNER. In a powerful picture the end is depicted as the end to which all that is empty and worthless refuse must come. They are like stubble before the devouring tongue of fire, like blazing hay sinking down in light ashes, like a root struck with decay and rottenness, like flying powdery blossom. Evil is naught, and ends in naught. Those whose "honor has been rooted in dishonor" must perish with the perishing of their root. The decline of once great nations and cities historically proves the prophetic truth. A "name and a shade" is left of Assyria, Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Rome. But one thing cannot perish: it is the "doctrine of Jehovah, the Word of the Holy One of Israel." And in some "remnant" that Word ever does live, to breed new life in other scenes and ages. The truth, while it slays the rebels, gives immortality to the faithful; "born again, not of corruptible, but of incorruptible seed."—J.
The unappeasable wrath of Jehovah.
I. "OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE." Whether to burn and destroy the moral refuse of a people, to chasten and refine its remnant and elect, he is revealed as the pure Flame. The Gentiles had a deep sense of the national significance of fire, as the pure element not to be united with aught foreign to itself. In their simple way, the hymns of the Veda to Agni, the god of fire, betray this feeling; and, again, the idea, in Greek and Roman religion, of Hestia or Vesta, on whose altar the fire was kept ever burning, who "refused to wed," whose priestesses must be virgins.
II. WAR THE SCOURGE OF GOD. Deep has been the sense also of this truth. There is an obscure perception in the minds of men that war, with its attendant horrors, comes as a retribution. Attila the Hun was spoken of as the "scourge of God." To have seen a fair city black with smoking ruins, and corpses lying in its streets, is to have read with ineffaceable impressions the lesson that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." There are moments when the solid base of things seems trembling beneath our feet, the "eternal hills" as floors trembling beneath the awful tread of the Eternal as he "cometh to judge the earth."
III. THE DURATION OF PUNISHMENT. It seems as if it could not be exhausted, so vast is the mass of guilt to be purged away. A protracted war, a dragging famine, a prolonged season of ruin, seem, as we say in common speech, "interminable." The broad blue heaven, that seemed in sunny days as a benignant hand outspread above mankind, wears the expression of a stern and relentless frown. Long scores must be followed by long payment. The guilt of centuries cannot be wiped out in a day. Divine judgment may require even the obliteration of a whole people. But the individual may be saved. At no time are Jehovah's "mercies clean forgotten." In the saddest times, the repentant heart pierces through the gloom to the sanctuary and heart of him who slays to make alive, who by means of war reconciles to himself in Christ Jesus.—J.
This powerful picture points to the threatened Assyrian invasion.
I. THE IMAGE OF A WARLIKE ADVANCE. It is wrought out with singular boldness. Jehovah of hosts is conceived as lifting up a signal visible to the far-off nations, and sounding at the same time a whistle-cry, so that they swiftly gather together and come in troops from the horizon. Then rapid and unbroken is their march. Not a foot tires, not a warrior drowses or sleeps, or stays to rest. Not one looses his girdle, or the thong of his sandal, as the eager host presses on. The arrows are all sharpened, the bows all spanned. The sound of the horses' hoofs strike and flash like flint-stones, and the chariot-wheels roll on like the rush of a whirlwind. The air is full of a horrible roar, as of lions hastening to their unescaping prey. Such a picture is the faithful representation of the mood of the soul in its guilt and alarm. For nature reflects all our moods. Her sounds and sights are ever full of foreboding and terror to the self-condemned conscience. But the conscience at peace will throw forth its light upon all external gloom, and convert, what seem to others the sounds of hell broke loose, into the celestial times of eternal love.
II. THE IMAGE OF THE EARTHQUAKE. The rage in the heavens will be like a tempest at sea. And when the stricken ones turn to the firm land, there is a darkness which only reflects the anguish of their souls—thick darkness, and the light is hidden. No gloom we can conceive in nature, no sounds of overwhelming violence, nor sights that strike horror to every breast, can rival the terrors which the guilty soul may know. The soul is the real theatre of all these Divine dramas. So far as we can read the faces of men or look into their breasts, some stand for fear and some for hope; some the scenes of great quaking and terrors, some still conscious where the soft, still voice of the God of mercy is ever heard. As the vex humana stop may be used to sound the accents of prayer amidst a storm, so in trouble the psalms of the believer make a music of comfort. "God is our Refuge and Strength …. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea …. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our Refuge." "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Giving false names.
"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" Light is here cast upon the secret of Israel's defection. The "woe" has come from many causes, but here is one too often forgotten root of evil—public estimate as expressed in public speech.
I. THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF LANGUAGE. We are all deceived at times by a fair speech that covers foul things. There is no tendency more dangerous than to call the vicious unfortunate, or the wicked gay. By this means the evil is concealed from the conscience. The prophet speaks of the tendency when it has gone so far as to exchange to opposite poles. The good is called "evil," and the evil "good." Even so "a good fellow" is often the synonym for "a bad fellow;" for revelry and selfish enjoyment, and neglect of home, often characterize the good fellow. The young are often led astray by evil, in the angel-dress of beautiful speech.
II. THE MORAL DECEIT OF SIN. We are promised brightness, good cheer, and freedom from gloom; whilst evil brings darkness instead of light—a darkness which shuts out God, and a gloom which takes away all the brightness of innocent joy. We are promised a "sweet" bread; and lo! how "bitter" it is to the taste; what a flavor it leaves behind! Afterwards! Men should think of that, Like the red wine-cup, pleasant and luscious at first, afterwards "it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder." We can never make a philosophy of life out of "first" experiences. We have only to wait and we shall find that "the way of transgressors is hard."
III. THE MORAL JUDGMENT OF GOD. "Woe unto them l" Who? Why, special woe to those who "put" it. False counselors, like Ahithophel to Absalom; false teachers, like those who corrupt the truth. There is leadership everywhere-at school and college, in the Church and in the world! Let no man despise the warnings of God.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Privilege and penalty.
We have a striking picture of—
I. THE FULNESS OF THE DIVINE PROVISION. (Isaiah 5:1 Isaiah 5:4.) The second verse describes in detail the processes by which the vineyard is prepared for fruitfulness, and in the fourth verse the question is asked, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" The idea is that of the fullness of the Divine provision for the Jewish nation. God had provided:
1. Illustrious men—Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, David, etc.
2. A perfect Law; perfect inasmuch as it
(1) reflected his own holiness, and at the same time
(2) was accommodated to their immaturity.
3. A helpful ritual, a series of ceremonies adapted to the age and to their nature.
4. Providential discipline; all the attractive and inviting influences of prosperity together with the solemnizing and cleansing influences of adversity.
We have now a corresponding fullness of provision for mankind in the gospel of Christ. We have:
1. The knowledge of God and of his will revealed in Christian truth.
2. The way to himself and to his pardoning love opened by the mediation and atonement of his Son, our Savior.
3. The influences of the Holy Spirit, which are the purchase of his work and the promise of his Word.
4. The leadership of him who lived a perfect life, and offers himself as the Exemplar as well as the Friend of man.
5. The hope of eternal glory. The Author of the salvation in Jesus Christ may well address us and say, "What more could have been done?" We may almost say that the ingenuity of Divine love is spent and exhausted on the provision which is made in the gospel for the return, for the acceptance, for the renewal, for the elevation, of the children of men.
II. THE SORENESS OF THE DIVINE DISSATISFACTION. (Verses 4, 7.) Centuries of bondage in idolatrous Egypt might well account for, if they could not excuse, a large measure of moral feebleness, of religious error, of spiritual declension. But centuries of Divine teaching and Divine discipline should have wrought much of restoration. The sovereign Ruler of Israel had a right to expect rich fruit in his well-cultivated vineyard. But he was utterly disappointed. Instead of the good grapes he looked for, it brought forth" wild grapes;" instead of judgment was oppression; instead of righteousness, the cry of him that was wronged. In us, from us, who have been the recipients of his manifold mercies and of multiplied privileges in Christ Jesus, God looks for great things; he looks for penitence, faith, purity, spiritual worth, holy usefulness. Only too often he finds the miserable and guilty opposites of these-impenitence, unbelief, continuance in sin, moral unsightliness, injuriousness of life. And the heart of the Holy One is grieved. He who would have looked with delight on his "pleasant plant" looks with pain and sorrow on the fruitless tree, on the bush that bears poisonous berries. He who would have regarded with pleasure those "in whose heart are paths" observes with indignation and regret those whose hearts are as a tangled wilderness, uncultivated and useless. For these he has only the language of severe reproach and of stem and solemn warning.
III. THE WEIGHT OF THE DIVINE PENALTY. (Verses 5, 6.) The doom is destruction. The vineyard should, as a vineyard, entirely disappear. The defenses should be removed; the useful plant should give place to the useless thorn; the elements should work for its withering, and leave nothing that was desirable or valuable. God's message to the guilty nation, Church, family, individual soul, is this solemn one—the abuse of privilege will be visited by terrible tokens of Divine displeasure; all that was promising will be removed; the signs and the sources of life will be taken away; from him that hath not (that does not use what is in his power) will be taken his present privilege (Matthew 25:29). He who (that which) is exalted to heaven in opportunity will be cast down to hell in condemnation and in ruin (Matthew 11:23).—C.
The character and the doom of covetousness.
The judgment denounced against those that joined house to house and field to field bring into view the nature of the sin of covetousness, and the desolation in which it ends.
I. THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF THE SIN. It is an immoderate ambition. To secure a house or a piece of land, or to extend that which has been acquired, may be not only lawful but positively commendable; it may, indeed, be highly honorable. But there are bounds beyond which this ambition may not pass, the transgression of which is wrong and soon becomes perilously evil. In the case of the Jews this limitation was defined by their statutes—by that Law which they had received direct from God himself, and to which they owed a strict and cheerful obedience. In our case ambition becomes covetousness when it is indulged either at our own expense or at the expense of our brother. If we are indulging a purpose which cannot be executed without moral or spiritual injury to ourselves, or without doing injustice or rendering unkindness to our neighbor, we are guilty of the sin of covetousness. To some men the transgression assumes the one form, to others the other. To some, covetousness is the craving for property or money which becomes engrossing, absorbing, positively devouring all the higher and purer aspirations; to others it is the desire and determination to secure the neighbor's good, however serious the loss they may thereby inflict. Solomon coveted many wives, greatly to his own injury; Ahab coveted Naboth's vineyard, shamefully disregarding his neighbor's rights.
II. ITS INSATIABLENESS. The prophet uses the language of hyperbole when he says, "Till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth" (Isaiah 5:8); but his words clearly point to the fact that when men allow their ambition to pass beyond moderate and reasonable bounds they permit it to carry everything before it, so that their earth-hunger, or house-hunger, or their thirst for money is never satisfied. However much they gain, they still crave and strive for more; it is not only gold itself but that which it will bring which is
"Hugged by the old
To the very verge of the churchyard mould."
In nothing but death can the greedy eye be closed, and the grasping hand relaxed.
III. ITS HEEDLESSNESS. The concluding clause of the eighth verse not only intimates the extent to which covetousness urges its victim to go in search of a satisfaction which it does not find, but it suggests the heartlessness to which it leads. No matter who or how many are disturbed and displaced, it goes on its devouring way, even though it finds itself "alone in the midst of the land (earth)." Every vice tends to hardness of heart, to pitilessness of spirit; and covetousness not the least. Self is magnified in importance more and more, and the rights and feelings of others become of less and less consideration until they are made of no account whatever.
IV. ITS DOOM. The end of the covetous man was to be desolation (Isaiah 5:9) and poverty (Isaiah 5:10). Sin perpetually overreaches itself; and, of all particular sins, ambition "o'ervaults itself and comes down on th' other side." So far is covetousness from happiness that there is probably no more miserable man to be found in any spiritual region than is the victim of this vice.
1. He is desolate, friendless; hated by those whom he has injured; unloved, disregarded, or even despised, by those who watch his course.
2. He is destitute. Often, very often, avarice blinds the judgment, and the false move is made that ends in overthrow and ruin; always, covetousness shuts out those true treasures which make the heart rich and the life wealthy—those possessions which death cannot touch, which immortality secures forever.—C.
Isaiah 5:11, Isaiah 5:12, Isaiah 5:22
The evil and the end of intemperance.
When other evils have entered and other calamities have overtaken a state, intemperance is sure to make its black and hateful mark. These verses suggest—
I. ITS TYRANNY. Such is its strength that it makes its devotees, t rise up early in the morning" (Isaiah 5:11) in order to worship at its shrine. It is an unnatural and detestable action; the earliness of the hour of the day might well be pleaded as a proof of innocency (Acts 2:15). But when the passion for "strong drink" is at its height, it compels its helpless victims to break through all decencies and proprieties, and get up early in order to indulge. This is only one instance of its despotism; it leads those who "follow "it along many a path and into many a dark pit, from which they would fain turn away but cannot. At first a small silken cord, it becomes at last an adamantine chain.
II. ITS POWER OF PERVERSION. It compels good things to minister to evil (Isaiah 5:12). "The harp and the viol," etc; are excellent things in their way and in their place; but, used for the purpose of enlivening and protracting immoderate indulgence, they are perverted to an evil and guilty end. Music is meant to cheer, to attract toward that which is good, to gladden the heart and to brighten the life of man; it reaches its highest function when, in the worship of God, it conducts the thought and utters the feeling of man toward the Supreme. Made the minister of vice, it sinks to its lowest level. The love of strong drink can thus pervert the good gifts of God to unworthy uses.
III. ITS DEGRADING TOUCH. It leads "men of strength to mingle strong drink" (Isaiah 5:22) in order that they may glory in their power of drinking. In many lands and ages men have boasted of their power to withstand the influence of the intoxicating cup. What a miserable degradation of human strength! That men who are capable of performing noblest deeds, of rendering highest service, of engaging in Divine worship, should prostitute their powers by trying to drink much wine without becoming inebriated, this is a shocking degradation of human faculty.
IV. ITS BLINDING INFLUENCE. "They regard not the work of the Lord," etc. (Isaiah 5:12). Certainly, at the table of unrestrained reveling, God would be forgotten and his works be disregarded; but not there alone is the influence of intoxication felt. The man who gives way to this indulgence finds his mental powers becoming clouded, his spiritual sensibilities benumbed, his appreciation of the sacred and the Divine lessened if not lost. Strong drink dulls and deadens the higher faculties of the soul, and the nobler functions of our manhood are undischarged, its purer joys abandoned.
V. THE WOE IT WORKS. "Woe unto them," etc. (Isaiah 5:11)! Beyond the evils which we have been tracing to the intoxicating cup—evils which are of themselves woe enough for any one sin to work—there are:
1. The loss of physical strength and beauty.
2. The loss of reputation and of friendship.
3. The loss of self-respect and, with this, the sinking of the moral character; the upgrowth of attendant moral evils.
4. Death and condemnation.—C.
The calamities of spiritual ignorance.
The miseries which are unfolded in this passage are ascribed, in the thirteenth verse, to ignorance. "My people are gone, ere because they have no knowledge." But it is necessary to distinguish here. We must consider—
I. THE IGNORANCE WHICH IS SPIRITUAL AND THEREFORE GUILTY. There is ignorance which is entirely mental and which is wholly guiltless; e.g. that of the little child who cannot understand some of the obligations into which we grow, or that of the heathen who cannot possibly acquire a knowledge of Christ and his salvation. There is a mental ignorance which is not guiltless, but culpable; viz. that of the man who has not acquired the information he had the opportunity of gaining in earlier days, and that of the man who goes down through iniquity and immorality into intellectual feebleness and impotence. But the ignorance of which our text treats (Isaiah 5:13) is not mental, but spiritual; it is that of the whole spiritual nature rather than of the understanding; it is that of men who had a formal knowledge of God and duty, but who did not lay it to heart and did not act upon it. It is the ignorance of the nation, which might, if it would, understand what the will of God is in the matter of Divine worship, or in regard to its poor and uninstructed members, or to its uncivilized and helpless neighbors; but which will not take the trouble to ascertain it, or even blinds its eyes so that it shall not see it. It is the ignorance of the individual man, who has indeed an undefined knowledge of his obligations to his Father and his Savior, but who studiously keeps it out of view; who will not present it to the eyes of his soul, lest he should be constrained to reproach himself and to change his course. These are they who "have no knowledge," in the sense of the prophet.
II. THE CALAMITIES WHICH IT ENTAILS. These are manifold, as the passage intimates. They include:
1. Exile—"going into captivity" (Isaiah 5:13); dwelling in a "far country;" being, spiritually, where all is strange and alien and hostile, a long way from God and from the privileges of his house and the enjoyment of his service.
2. A void and aching heart. "The honorable men are famished, and the multitude dried up with thirst" (Isaiah 5:13). Not knowing God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, depriving themselves of the deep and lasting satisfactions of his favor and friendship, men find all material sources of joy utterly unsatisfying; they eat, and hunger still; they drink, but" thirst again."
3. Impoverishment. (Isaiah 5:4.) The nation that does not act up to the height of its knowledge and its opportunity, that is not governed by its sense of right and duty, but by its inclination to pride and pleasure, is a nation that will decline; it will soon be stripped of its power. "Hades will open its mouth without measure," and "swallow up" its glory, its eminence, its joy; it will be bereft of all of which it boasts, for the hand of the Lord will be against it, and his righteous judgments will overtake it (Isaiah 5:16).
4. Humiliation. (Isaiah 5:15.)
5. Mortification. How unspeakably mortified would those Jewish captives be to find themselves pining in a foreign land when their own fields at home were unoccupied, the spoil of the roving flock, the prey of the marauding stranger! (Isaiah 5:17) And how bitter must be the mortification and self-reproach which they must feel who have to realize the results of their guilty spiritual ignorance; who have to see that, afar off and beyond their reach, are joys which they might have shared, honors which they might have won, spheres which they might have filled, a large heritage which was their own but which will never be theirs again!—C.
Isaiah 5:18, Isaiah 5:19
Sin in its strength.
We have here some thoughts about sin.
I. ITS EVIL GROWTH. Whatever the precise thought of the prophet, his words (Isaiah 5:18) are strongly suggestive of the fact that sin gradually attains a terrible power. Its "pull" may at first be that of a silken thread; presently it becomes that of a strong string; then it is found to be that of a hard wire; finally it reaches that of a "cart-rope." And this, whether we regard the sinner as
(1) the man no whom iniquity acts, or as
(2) the agent through whom its force is exerted on others.
In the one case he is moved only with great difficulty, and often the bond which is thrown about him snaps in twain; but, in time, sin gains strength, and it pulls him as with a rope that cannot be broken. In the other case—probably the one here intended—he himself hardly succeeds, sometimes fails, in leading men astray; but in course of time he draws his neighbors along the road of wrong-doing with ease; the tie by which he holds and by which he constrains them is stout and strong. He draws sin "as it were with a cart-rope."
1. Shun the first overtures of the ungodly; have nothing to do, in the way of friendship, with the enemies of truth and righteousness.
2. If men have acquired a fascinating power over you, there is no deliverance from their evil grasp save by genuine penitence and an earnest appeal to the Almighty Friend; his hand can cut the strongest cords of sin.
II. ITS FEARFUL CULMINATION. Sin reaches its summit when it stands on the height of impious defiance of the living God (Isaiah 5:19). Reverence shrinks with a holy reluctance from taking such words into its lips, even when it simply quotes the utterance of impiety. Yet men are found in the path of sin who will employ such language without remorse! In the earlier stages of ungodliness men would be shocked at the idea of doing and being that to which a continuance in irreligion naturally leads up. That puny man should positively defy his Maker seems antecedently unlikely, if not impossible. Yet glaring facts too plainly prove that an evil course does not stop short of even this extreme. What awful possibilities of evil reside within a human soul! How unmeasurably wise it is to place ourselves under the guidance of the great Teacher, to have our hearts the residence of the Holy Spirit! Then, but only then, are we safe from moral enormities which are a thousand times more to be dreaded than the extinction of our being.
III. ITS RIGHTEOUS DOOM. "Woe unto them!" And they shall have woe! They may say in their shameless arrogance, "Let us break their bands asunder," etc.; but "the Lord shall have them in derision … he shall vex them in his sore displeasure" (Psalms 2:3-5). They may "set their mouth against the heavens," and may say, "How doth God know?" but "how are they brought into desolation, as in a moment they are utterly consumed with terrors" (Psalms 73:9, Psalms 73:11, Psalms 73:19). God will overturn their purposes; he will scatter their friendships and leave them in helpless loneliness; he will bring them into an intolerable humiliation; he will condemn them at his judgment bar; he will sentence them to eternal exile.—C.
Antecedently we should hardly have expected that a being created in the image of God, a rational spiritual agent, would so far depart from all that is reasonable and right as to put evil for good, and good for evil, etc. Yet such is the case. We have to consider—
I. THE FACT OF SPIRITUAL PERVERSITY. Human perversity is not found in the higher region only. We find it in things physical, notably in our treatment of the body. Men take noxious drugs, thinking that they "do them good," while they shrink from plain and wholesome food, as unpalatable and undesirable. In things economical. They shut their markets against the commodities of other nations, supposing that they are thereby benefiting their own citizens, when they are only injuring their neighbors and impoverishing themselves thereby. And so in other spheres of activity. In things spiritual the fact is most painfully apparent.
1. In our direct relation to God. Some men are found who condemn all worship as superstition, all earnestness as fanaticism, all piety as hypocrisy; the same men speak of atheism under the euphemism of free-thought; with them godlessness is emancipation from spiritual bondage!
2. In our relation to our fellow-men. There are those who call clemency weakness, and oppression vigor; who denounce considerateness as mawkish sentimentality, and honor a brutal selfishness as cleverness and spiritedness; who sneer at conscientiousness as being "priggish," and talk of roguery as if it reflected honor on its agents.
3. In our relation to ourselves. There are too many, especially among the young, who consider dissipation to be another thing for "life," and who decry purity and self-restraint as dullness and poverty of spirit; they have honorable terms for the vilest and foulest sins, and terms of discredit for the cause of virtue and self-respect. Thus is everything misnamed, and not only misnamed but mistaken. These words are more than mere labels; they represent the thought which is beneath; they stand for false conceptions. All things, human and Divine, are seen in false lights, are regarded as other than they are, indeed as the very opposites of what they are; the evil and shameful thing is positively admired as well as praised; the holy and the beautiful thing is actually hated as well as cursed! These are the sad facts which are before our eyes.
II. ITS EXPLANATION. How can we account for such perversity as this, such a sad and disastrous revolution in the mind? It is surely due to the deteriorating influence of sin upon the soul. He that sinneth against God wrongs his own spiritual nature. Sin blinds, distorts, discolors; not, indeed, suddenly and altogether, but gradually and constantly. A man who falls under the power of any temptation is something the worse in mind as well as in heart for his sin; his mental conception as well as his moral habit is injured—imperceptibly, perhaps, but not unimportantly. And by slow degrees the mind is affected and the view is changed, until everything is reversed in thought and in language (see Matthew 6:22, Matthew 6:23).
III. ITS END. "Woe unto them!" But what worse penalty can be inflicted than this? Surely they have their reward, in the overthrow of their reason, in the darkening of their mind, in the deterioration of their soul. Truly; yet are there not other evils which must be endured? Will not the light of eternity flash into these guilty souls, showing them whereto they have fallen and wherein they have erred, awakening the sensibilities which they have sent to slumber, stirring up in them the remorse which is due to those who have so wronged themselves, so ill-treated their fellows, so sinned against the Lord?—C.
The pitiful estate of the proud.
We may well commiserate those who are "wise in their own eyes," inasmuch as—
I. THEY HAVE A FALSE CONCEPTION AS TO THEIR OWN CAPACITY. They think themselves able to determine what is true and beautiful and good, when they are painfully and pitifully in need of guidance from without; their estimate of themselves is essentially wrong. They "live in a fool's paradise."
II. THEY ARE SHUTTING OUT FROM THEIR MINDS THE TRUTH WHICH WOULD REDEEM AND ENNOBLE THEM. The blessing of the Lord is promised to the humble-hearted, to those who have the docility of the little child. It is they, and they only, who are willing to empty themselves of their own fancies and follies that they may receive the eternal truth of God. The men who think themselves wise can find no room in their minds for those Divine teachings which save, which purify, which enlarge, which transform the heart and life (see 1 Corinthians 3:18).
III. THEY ARE IS A SPIRITUAL CONDITION WHICH IS POSITIVELY AND EVEN PECULIARLY OFFENSIVE TO GOD. The Word of God, Old Testament and New, is studded with texts in which the displeasure of Almighty God is revealed against the haughty of heart. God "resists" the proud, and causes them to fall. It is the appoint Pharisee who is not justified in the great Teacher's parable, who is continually rebuked by the Lord of truth, who is repeatedly condemned by the Searcher of souls. We may therefore conclude, concerning those who are prudent in their own sight, that—
IV. THEY ARE ALL UNREADY FOR THE GREAT DAY OF TRIAL. They will then find themselves rejected instead of being accepted and commended, and to the gloom of condemnation will be added the bitter mortification of being utterly and miserably disappointed.—C.
The judgments of the Lord.
These verses are obviously pictorial and figurative; they must be treated as highly hyperbolical or they will be misconceived. Though their primary reference is to the judgments which impended over the guilty nation, we may discover in them some principles which not only extend to every age, but apply to every individual soul.
I. THAT THE INDIVIDUAL AS WELL AS THE NATION MAY BE THE OBJECT OF THE AWFUL ANGER OF ALMIGHTY GOD. "The anger of the Lord is kindled against his people" (Isaiah 5:25). Without attributing to the Divine Spirit the very same sentiment as that which fills our human minds, we may and should feel that the burning indignation of which we are conscious when we witness wrong-doing is the reflection of the "anger of the Lord" against all unrighteousness; and we do well to think that what we now feel in regard to others God may feel toward us, if, like his ancient people, we fall into disobedience and condemnation. Well may we, "who are his offspring," shrink from the high displeasure of the holy Father of souls.
II. THAT GOD'S ANGER IS EXCITED BY OUR INATTENTION AND DISOBEDIENCE. "Because they have cast away the Law … and despised the Word of the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah 5:24). The evil thing which God hates takes many forms, the later and darker ones being shocking even in the sight of good men. But they all spring from a disregard of his will as revealed in his Word. Despising the Word in the mind leads to a casting out of the Law from the rule of life, and thus shows itself in all kinds of iniquity. He who is neglecting the will of God, as that will is stated in his Word, is at the source of the stream of sin, and is in danger of being carried down to the rapids of destruction.
III. THAT THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD ARE SOMETIMES SWIFT IN THEIR APPROACH. "They shall come with speed swiftly." Sometimes they are "leaden-footed but heavy-handed;" yet at other times they speedily overtake the transgressor. At all times, indeed, a violation of righteousness is instantly attended with some spiritual injury and. loss; but, beyond this, the more apparent punishment often comes with rapid march to confront and confound the transgressor.
IV. THAT THESE DIVINE JUDGMENTS ARE SOMETIMES UNEXPECTEDLY PROLONGED. "For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still" (Isaiah 5:25). Men are apt to think, when they have suffered some great adversity, that God has poured out his anger, and that they may thenceforth expect continuous prosperity. But they overlook the two facts:
(1) that at any time in each man's life there is a vast amount of unpaid penalty for which God may righteously punish him, and
(2) that God is seeking a remedial as well as a punitive end in his inflictions, and that impenitence has always reason to fear—perhaps we should more properly say hope—that the hand of the Lord will still be stretched out in the attitude and act of correction.
V. THAT THEY ARE IRRESISTIBLY STRONG. "Their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust," etc. (Isaiah 5:24; see Isaiah 5:27-30). God's judgments cannot be evaded; there is no escape from them by human strength or cunning: They move up with steady, unflinching step (Isaiah 5:27); they strike with unerring aim and piercing newer; they leave no way of escape open—seaward, heavenward, landward (Isaiah 5:30). "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God …. Who may stand in his sight, when once he is angry?" Therefore:
1. Hearken diligently to his Word and hasten to obey, that the anger of the Lord be not kindled, but that his good pleasure may abide and abound unto you.
2. If any one of his judgments fall, turn unto him with unhesitating penitence, and his anger will be "turned away" (see Joel 2:12-14).—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The ingratitude of an unfruitful life.
The passage connected with this verse is conceived quite in the spirit of our Lord's parables. In a picture taken from familiar scenes of nature, the relations between God and his people are shown. As in the parable spoken by Nathan, a definite judgment is asked. That judgment, whether given audibly or only felt, is made an earnest appeal of God to their own conscience and their own hearts. Three things are set forth prominently in this parable.
I. THE GRACIOUS ATTENTIONS. The picture of a vineyard was especially interesting to Isaiah's audience, because Canaan was a land of vines, which grew freely along the terraced hillsides. The prophet observes that the vineyard of which he speaks had every advantage of situation and soil; it was properly protected, well cleared, planted with vines of the choicest quality, and fitted with everything necessary to the securing of abundant fruitage. Everything was done, according to the description, that good judgment, large ability, and careful consideration could suggest. It was not a nacre vineyard planted for gain; it was a garden of delights; the pleasure as well as the interest of the owner were bound up in it. Such was the land of Canaan, as prepared by God for his people; and such was Israel, as God's vine planted in it. What nation ever was like Israel, in the special choice, and call, and settling, and tending, and pruning, and nourishing, and loving interest of God? The deep feelings of God towards them find very tender expression in the books of the prophets (see Jeremiah 2:2, Jeremiah 2:21; Hosea 2:1-23.; Hosea 6:4; Hosea 11:1-12; etc.). We may well think that no other nation except England has ever been so favored of God. He has chosen her, fenced her round, "encompassed her with the inviolate sea," enriched her with food growing out of her soil, and with wealth stored in almost inexhaustible heaps beneath it. He has lit, even in her martyrs' fires, a candle of truth which neither the dogmatism of science nor the extravagances of priests, will ever blow out. He has planted her with noble elements of character, given fruitful soil for their growth, watched against evil influences, scat forth right, wise, faithful husbandmen in every age to prune and tend and clear out the stones of obstruction. Surely God rightly looks for fruit—for full, rich, ripe clusters of the "vine of Sorek" hanging on the branches of England. But we may take the description home to ourselves. What gracious attentions have we received! Sometimes, looking over oar lives, it seems to us that if we had been his sole favorites in the world, he could not have been more kind, more constant, more gracious, more unsparing in his dealings with us. We think of the godly families into which we entered as members; of our saintly "forbears;" of the trust of health, and mental power; of the place where we are set, and the successes we have won. Surely we are just a vineyard of delights to our God, and we ought to respond to hint with abundant fruitfulness.
II. THE REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS. "I looked that it should bring forth grapes." He who plants and tends flowers does so expecting to gain beautiful blossoms; and he is cheered all through the long waiting time by the pleasant expectation. He who casts corn-seeds into the ploughed earth buries them with visions of the waving harvest and the loaded barns. He has long patience because of right and reasonable expectations, tie who prepares a vineyard waits while the rough branches cover with leaves, and the clusters hang down, growing bigger every day. He too expects the riches and the joy of the ingathering. And God planted those Jews in fertile Canaan, expecting from them the fruitage of a clear witness for him to all the nations around. He looked for fruits of judgment. He looked for righteousness. He expected that they would be a "holy people, zealous of good works." What, then, does God now expect of his English vineyard? What does he expect of us? We may remind of some of the good fruit God expects to find on our tree.
1. He expects us to reach a very high standard of Christian intelligence. Not merely believing what we are told, but finding out for ourselves what, upon reasonable grounds, seems to be true. Able to give good reasons for the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear.
2. He expects an unmistakable witness for himself, and for his truth. There should be no hiding our light under a bushel, life hesitating to confess whose we are, and whom we serve. No acting inconsistently with the Christ-name which we bear.
3. He expects abundant fruit of charitable deeds and devoted labors. The branches on the vine which will most glorify God are those that hang down low enough for men to pick. His law is, "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me."
4. He looks for holy and beautiful character. These are the grapes that ought to grow on Christian trees: "Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." "If these things be in you and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ;" "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit."
III. THE PAINFUL DISAPPOINTMENT. Nothing but hedgerow dog-roses blossoming on the budded tree. Nothing but sour, useless, wild grapes hanging on the grafted stock. Grapes like crab-apples, or apples of Sodom, good-looking, but tasteless. The Hebrew word, indeed, is a very vigorous one, and expresses even the offensive putrefaction of these grapes. All the loving care, the laboring, and the tending seem to have been in vain. Brought out from idolatry, the Jews sought and served idols. Separated from temptations to moral evils, they became utterly depraved. Fenced in to righteousness, over the wall they went, in the dreadful license of iniquity. Sometimes there was a fair show of leaf, but it was "nothing but leaves." Sometimes there seemed a show of fruit. The heavenly husbandman tried it, and it crushed into foul ashes in the mouth. We may well sympathize with God in his sore disappointment at the result of all his care of his ancient people. Illustrate by the scene of our Lord's weeping over Jerusalem. Does England disappoint God, too? At first it seems as if we could say—Surely not! Think of her spires and lowers dotting every landscape; her hospitals in every town; her thousands of godly homes. But what shall we say of the awful procession of her drunkards; the vision of her drunkards' homes; her outcast children; her overcrowded dwellings, where decency cannot find a place; her gin-palaces; her gaols; her madhouses; her workhouses; her soldiers' barracks, and sailors' tempters; her "city snares and town traps?" Do we disappoint our gracious God? What is the fruitage of our characters, our homes, our places of prayer, our business, our Church life and relations? Must he say, "Wild grapes, only wild grapes; cut it down?"—R.T.
Isaiah 5:5, Isaiah 5:6
Divine judgments on ingratitude.
The picture presented is one of complete desolation. A miserable sight is the untended vineyard. No desolation is so complete as that which comes to lands which man has once tilled and then left neglected. Hugh Macmillan remarks that this judgment has even been literally fulfilled. "No country in the world has such variety and abundance of thorny plants as Palestine in its present desolation; there are giant thistles, growing to the height of a man on horseback, impenetrable thickets of buckthorn, and bare hillsides studded with paliurus and tribulus." "The absence of the pruning and digging answers to the withdrawal of the means of moral and spiritual culture. The command given to the clouds implies the cessation of all gracious spiritual influences."
I. THE UNGRATEFUL MUST LOSE THEIR PRIVILEGE. The grace of God, and the provisions, defenses, and guidings of grace, are the glory of a life and of a nation. No nation has ever been so favored as Israel was. Compare Jehovah's pleadings and reproaches in Hosea 2:1-23.; and also our Lord's parable of the "cumberer of the ground" (Luke 13:6, Luke 13:9). "God, in a way of righteous judgment, denies his grace to those that have long received it in vain. The sum of all is that those who would not bring forth good fruit should bring forth none. The curse of barrenness is the punishment of the sin of barrenness (Mark 11:14). This has its frequent accomplishment in the departure of God's Spirit from those persons who have long resisted him, and striven against him" (Matthew Henry).
II. THE UNGRATEFUL MUST BE LEFT TO THEMSELVES AWHILE. Compare the figure of the unfaithful wife in Hosea 2:1-23; who must be left alone to her willfulness and its bitter consequences. Illustrate from the garden let alone. The grass grows rank, the weeds flourish and seed themselves, the paths are full of green; the place looks neglected and miserable. So is the man, so is the nation, from which God withdraws his gracious hand, his special care. Illustrate the misery of David in those months when, because of his sin, God's grace was withheld. His "bones waxed old through his roaring all the day long;" and presently he comes to pray, with a great intensity of feeling, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation." There is a sense in which, like Jerusalem, our "day of grace may be passed," and we maybe left to ourselves, to the woe of being ourselves only.—R.T.
The difference between what God asks and what God gets.
The original terms of this verse contain a very striking play upon words, which can but imperfectly be rendered into English. "He looked for judgment (mishpat), and behold oppression (mishpach); for righteousness (tsedakah), and behold a cry (tseakah) of the oppressed for help." Dr. C. Geikie translates the verse thus: "And he hoped for deeds of good, but, behold, there are only deeds of blood; for righteousness, and, lo! there is only the cry of the oppressed." The appeal of God is applicable to all the ages, and, taken in a large sense, may be also applied to us. It should be our exceeding distress that so often we give to God quite other things than he asks of us.
I. GOD ALWAYS ASKS FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS. The reference in the text is to public justice; right dealing between man and man; due considerateness for others; and the faithful administration of laws, both social and ecclesiastical. The people ought to be honest in all their dealings, and the magistrates just in all their decisions. But God asks for "righteousness" in a much higher sense than this. The creatures he has made in his imago he wants to he like himself. "Be ye holy, for I am holy;" "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." The righteousness that he asks from us he has shown us in the person and the life of his dear Son. It is for us no vague thing, gathered up into a great and somewhat mysterious word; it is, plainly and practically, our being changed into Christ's image, and bringing forth fruits of goodness like his. This may be fully worked out and illustrated along three lines. The righteousness God asks of us is
(1) loyalty to his revealed truth;
(2) obedience to his declared will; and
(3) manifestation, in practical life, of the spirit of heavenly, Divine charity.
II. GOD OFTEN GETS "OPPRESSION" AND A "CRY." Here, too, the first suggestion is of social and national evil; injustice of magistrates, and masterfulness of the strong and wealthy over the poor. Everything was carried by clamor and noise; wickedness had usurped the place of judgment. But here, too, the response made to God may be dealt with in a larger way. The essence of all "oppression" and "cry" is somebody's self-seeking spirit and self-seeking ways. In this we grieve God. He asks life for him, and for others in service to him; and we give him life full of self, that can even trample over his poor in accomplishing our own self-ends. So we, too, come under the Divine reproaches and judgments.—R.T.
The covetous spirit, and its judgment.
The picture presented in this verse can be matched by the conduct of our English king, who destroyed the villages to make the New Forest; or by the makers of deer-forests in North Britain, who have driven away the natives. In Isaiah's time the wealthy men were buying up the houses and estates, and destroying the old village life of Palestine. "In the place of the small freeholders, there rose up a class of large proprietors, while the original holders sank into slavery, or tenants-at-will, paying exorbitant rents in kind or money, and liable at any moment to be evicted" (Dean Plump, re). Bishop Latimer, in the sixteenth century, makes a bold protest against the enclosure of commons. Grasping after property is almost always connected with a neglect of charitable duties and a willingness to sacrifice the good of others. Such accumulation of landed property was fundamentally opposed to the Mosaic regulations. Illustrate by the law of jubilee, which made all land in Palestine purchaseable only on lease (comp. Numbers 27:1-11; Numbers 33:54; 1 Kings 21:4; Leviticus 25:8-17).
I. LIVING TO GET. There are three ways of looking at life; three things which we may supremely aim at in life.
1. We may live to get. South says, "The covetous person lives as if the world were made altogether for him, and not he for the world; to take in everything and part. with nothing." Austin defines covetousness as a dishonest and insatiable desire of gain." The Prophet Micah describes such persons," They covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage." The tenth commandment wholly forbids our making any personal gain the end and aim of life. Show under what self-deceiving forms this covetous desire to get ensnares men nowadays.
2. We may live to be. That is, to culture ourselves, and win the worship of men for what we are, in talent, skill, and virtue. This is nobler; and this is, in measure, right and good; yet it has this exceeding moral peril, that it keeps us in the self-spheres. It may easily pass into the degrading thing—covetousness for fame.
3. We may live to serve. This is the Divine idea of life for us. This is the Christ-like pattern of life for us. This is the kind of life that suffering, sinning humanity asks for from us. They who can live to serve are, with Christ, after Christ, and in his strength, the world's saviors, and the God-glorifiers.
II. GOD'S JUDGMENTS ON HIM WHO LIVES TO GET. Those judgments will come as natural agencies, as fixed results of ever-working law, and as circumstances for which men may think to find easy explanation; but they are none the less direct Divine judgments. Such judgments on the covetous take two forms.
1. Character is debased by the constant getting and grasping. This may be effectively illustrated in the case of the apostate Judas. No moral deterioration is so serious or so certain as that of the covetous man. Hardening against his fellow-men, he is hardening against God. Crushing out all considerateness and all charity, he loses men's love and God's smile, and is wretched indeed when he has got all, and is "placed alone in the midst of the land." If any poor creature of our humanity calls for our supremest pity, it is surely the man who tins lived to get, and made his immortal soul grovel among mere possessions. "Take heed, and beware of covetousness; for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth."
2. The calamities of life will prove utterly ruinous to the covetous. Because they will touch them at their tenderest point, destroying their gains. The picture presented in the verses is a most affecting one. By the insecurity of the land the fine mansions are uninhabited, and the fields are neglected. Travelers tells us of the humiliating sight of decayed mansions in the East. War and civil commotion, often the natural result of the masterful ruling of covetous men, make property valueless, and so the evil brings round its own judgment. The law works universally, sometimes quickly, at other times slowly, so that men presume on its delaying, that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Apply by inquiring what is the end and aim of life to the hearers. Jacob would get, and he got years of homelessness, hard toil, and care. Achan would get, and he got an early and dreadful death. Gehazi would get, and he got the leprosy. Ananias and Sapphira would get, and they got a sudden destruction. Woe—earth cries for it, and heaven sends it—woe, sooner or later, for very one who liveth that he may get, and is utterly unworthy of him who, showing God to us, went about among his fellows as "One that serveth."—R.T.
Isaiah 5:11, Isaiah 5:12
The sin of dissipation.
That which is here reproved is not mere drinking habits; it is the riotous feasting and wasting which characterizes the sensualist. Early drinking was considered by the Jews, as it was by the Romans, a mark of the most degraded sensuality. "In the time of Isaiah, the sensual Jews appear to have employed musicians, and all kinds of merry-makers, as dancers, mimics, buffoons, etc; such as are still common all over the East." "They shocked public feeling by morning banquets" (Ecclesiastes 10:16, Ecclesiastes 10:17; Acts 2:14). Morier says, "The Persians, when they commit a debauch, arise betimes, and esteem the morning as the best time for beginning to drink wine, by which means they carry on their excess till night." Dissipation, in its comprehensive sense, is the temptation and the sin of our young men, especially of those belonging to the wealthier classes. The excitement and rioting of it may be illustrated by the following true incident. When inflamed with wine, a young man was challenged to eat a five-pound note. Placing it between slices of bread, in wild foolishness and wickedness, he actually destroyed the note in this way. We fix attention on the wastefulness of dissipation, and point out that it is a grievous sin before God, as abusing his sacred trusts. Illustrate from
(1) the trust of time;
(2) the trust of property;
(3) the trust of the body;
(4) the trust of the mind;
(5) the trust of the power to serve others.
Show how mischievous is the influence exerted by the familiar saying, "Young men must sow their wild oats." They should have no wild oats to sow; and if they have any, the very last thing they should do with them is sow them, for they will surely spring up, and bear, for their reaping, a harvest of woe unspeakable. F. W. Robertson says, "There are men who make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." They whet the appetites by indulgence. They whip the jaded senses to their work. Whatever the constitutional bias may be—anger, intemperance, epicurism, indolence, desires—there are societies, conversations, scenes, which supply fuel for the flame, as well as opposite ones which cut off the nutriment. Such a man is looking forward to a harvest wherein he may reap the fruit of his present anticipations. And he shall reap it. He has sown to the flesh, and of the flesh he shall reap corruption. This is in his case the ruin of the soul. He shall reap the harvest of disappointment—the harvest of bitter, useless remorse. "His harvest is a soul in flames, and the tongue that no drop can cool."—R.T.
Isaiah 5:18, Isaiah 5:20, Isaiah 5:21, Isaiah 5:23
Four grievous sins.
The ungodly spirit finds very various modes of expression in willful and self-pleasing actions. Men's sins are repeated over and over again in every age, sometimes taking more open and defiant forms, and sometimes hiding behind a pleasant outward show of delicacy and refinement, but always the "abominable things which God hates." The coarse sins of Eastern peoples seem offensive to our sensitive Western nations; but the sins are here amongst us, only in a disguise which deceives us. Isaiah reproves—
I. THE SIN OF PRESUMPTION. (Verses 18, 19.) Evil-doers are thought of as harnessing themselves to the chariot of sin; as bold enough even to scoff at God's threatened judgments, and taunt him with his merciful delayings, saying, "Let Jehovah hasten; let him hurry on his work, that we may see it." Wordsworth paraphrases verse 18 thus: "Woe to them that harness themselves as brute beasts to iniquity, with cords of falsehood, and drag on the weight of sin, as a waggon, with the ropes of vicious habits." Illustrate by the scoffing thief on the cross; and by the ramble of the man who presumed upon his abundant harvest, and found he was suddenly called away from all his wealth. Presumption is the evil into which men are led through temporary successes. See the effect of prosperity on Nebuchadnezzar. It is a constant effect of luxury and self-indulgence and immorality. It is the brink of utter and irretrievable ruin. For the presumptuous man there is little hope. He must fall, and be bruised and crushed, ere he will learn lessons of humility and trust. David knew human nature well, and he taught us to pray, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me."
II. THE SIN OF CONFUSING MORAL DISTINCTIONS. (Verse 20.) "Those do a great deal of wrong to God and religion and conscience—to their own souls, and to the souls of others who misrepresent ['evil and good'], and put false colors upon them; who call drunkenness good fellowship, and covetousness good husbandry, and, when they persecute the people of God, think they do him good service; and on the other hand, call seriousness ill nature, and sober singularity ill breeding, and say all manner of evil falsely concerning the ways of godliness "(Matthew Henry). The text well describes the spirit of our age. In our over-refinements we are losing the sternness of the truth, carefully polishing off every edge and point and corner that might prick conscience into activity. We are toning down moral distinctions until they are becoming quite confused and indistinct; we can hardly tell for certain what is right and what is wrong, what is evil and what is good. One of the most thoughtful of American divines, Dr. J. A. Alexander, writes thus: "Do not we with one breath assert the inviolable sanctity of the truth, but with the next breath make provision for benevolent, business, jocose, or thoughtless falsehood? Do we not, in the abstract, assert the claims of justice, and the obligation to give every man his own, but, in application to specific cases, think it lawful to enrich ourselves at other men's expense, or take advantage of another's weakness, ignorance, or error? Do we not admit the paramount importance of religious duties in general, but in detail dissect away the vital parts as superstition, sanctimony, or fanaticism? Do we not approve the requisitions of the Law, and the provisions of the gospel, in so far as they apply to other people, but repudiate or pass them by as applying to ourselves? What is all this but saying of evil, it is good, and of good, it is evil?"
III. THESIS OF SELF-CONCEIT. (Verse 21.) The first reference is to counselors, "whose ideal of statesmanship was a series of shifts and expedients, based on no principle of righteousness." This form of sin is too familiar to need much suggestion as to its treatment. God resisteth those who are conceited of their own wisdom and lean to their own understanding. "Seest thou a man wise in his own eyes? there is more hope of a fool than of him."
IV. THE SIN OF CORRUPTING JUSTICE. (Verse 23.) "Who cleat the guilty for a bribe, and take the rights of worthy men from them." The idea is that justice is sacrificed to meet the demands of an expensive luxuriousness. So men now grind the faces of those who work for them to support their own extravagances. No greater evil can come upon a land than the poisoning of the fountains of justice; and there is no more certain source of national discontent hastening to rebellion. The prophet was himself deeply moved by the picture of the evils of his time which rose up before him. Nowhere could he look and gain the relief of a hope. Such an utterly wicked people must suffer. Seaward he looked, but there was not one gleam of light. Landward he looked, but not one gleam of light. Such is the end of wickedness. Bold though it may seem, defiant as it may sound, long as it may appear to hold out, this is the issue of it—dark, all dark. The very "light is darkened in the heavens thereof."—R.T.
The importance of adequate impressions of sin.
We seldom hear sin spoken about now as the old prophets spoke about it. We do not think about sin as the defiance of God, the attempted overthrow of his authority, the expression of the soul's hatred of God, and therefore calling for terrible vindications of the Divine power and claims. In reading biographies of very holy and devoted Christians, we have observed that they had deep and overwhelming impressions of the evil of sin—impressions quite beyond the reach of our sympathy. Perhaps we have inclined to call them morbid, and to think such views were the result of diseased imaginations. The truth, however, is that these holy men and women had visions of the infinite holiness of God. They saw the "sapphire throne," and they trembled and veiled their faces before the exceeding majesty of the Divine purity. They saw themselves and sin truly and worthily, because they saw these things in the full clear light of God. We do not so see them, because we do not live near enough to God. Take as a specimen the following sentences of John Bunyan—surely as honest and sincere a man before God and his fellows as ever lived: "My original and inward pollution—that was my plague and affliction. That I saw at a dreadful rate, always putting forth itself within me. That I had the guilt of to amazement. By reason of that I was loathsome in my own eyes, and I thought I was in God's eyes too. Sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart as water out of a fountain. I thought that every one had a better heart than I had; I could have changed hearts with anybody. I thought none but the devil himself could equalize me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell, therefore, at the sight of my own vileness, deeply into despair." Making all allowance for the quaintness of this language, and for the spirit of the age in which Bunyan lived, do we not feel that his Christian life became so noble because his foundations had been laid so low? And we need more worthy apprehensions of the essential hatefulness and evil of sin to lie as the foundation-stones on which we may rear our godly life.
1. All the great truths and doctrines of Divine revelation rest upon the fact of human sin. Repentance, justification, atonement, redemption, sanctification, all assume the fact of our sin. It is too much the habit to discuss these doctrines as if they were merely questions of science, having a general intellectual interest; but with the smitings of guilt on our hearts, and the avenger of blood at our heels, they become intensely real; they are no less than the conditions of the soul's safety in the city of refuge. We should understand them so much better if we had more soul-moving impressions of the evil and the guilt of our state before God.
2. All the Christian graces depend on deep views of sin. That possesses our souls with pity and charity and long-suffering towards others. That makes and keeps us bumble. The believing man is he who, in his self-helplessness, has learned to lean wholly. The hopeful man is he who has cried "out of the depths unto the Lord. The man who feels for others is he who "knows the plague of his own heart."
3. All the earnestness and zeal of Christian work depend on worthy views of sin. Are men perishing in sin? then we must rescue and save them. John Howe says, "Shall-our Redeemer be left to weep alone over perishing souls? Have we no tears to spend upon this doleful subject? Oh that our heads were waters, and our eyes fountains! Is it nothing to us that multitudes are sinking, going down to perdition, under the name of Christian, from under the means of life and salvation—perishing—and we can do nothing to prevent it? We know they must perish that do not repent and turn to God, and love him above all; that do not believe in his Son, and pay him homage as their rightful Lord." We are guilty before God in neglecting to keep vivid in our hearts humbling convictions of sin; and we may trace to this neglect our imperfect impressions of the holiness of God, of the majesty of his Law, and of the necessity for atonement by blood-shedding. We may also trace to this neglect our easy subjection to the pleasures and vanities of the world; our indifference in the pursuit of Christian virtues, and our coldness and deadness to the claims of Christian work. To see sin rightly we must see it—
I. IN THE CONSEQUENCES TO WHICH IT LEADS. We wonder why these stern writings of the old prophets are preserved, and make up so large a portion of God's Word. They are needed to keep before us the connection between sin and suffering, to show the wickedness of sin by the bitterness of its consequences. We do not need either old prophets or new ones to convince us of the fact of sin. Conscience and observation suffice for that. Nor do we need old prophets or new ones to convince us of the fact of suffering. But we do need them to convince us of the connection between the two. And that was just the mission of the old prophets. In vigorous language they describe dreadful famines, devouring pestilences, the march of myriad locusts, frightful scenes of battle-fields and siege, the desolation of fair countries, the exile and captivity of nations. But they never leave us to imagine for a moment that such things are mere calamities. They are consequences of sin; the whirlwind which those reap who sow the wind. They try to make us see behind the apparent order of cause and effect, and they say, "Ye have provoked the Lord your God to anger, therefore hath all this evil come upon you." Sin is invisible. Sin is pleasing to our corrupt nature, and we will not see its true character. So God writes it up before our eyes in bodily, social, national, hereditary woes. Illustrate from the end of the avaricious man, the drunkard, the presumptuous, etc; as given in this chapter.
II. IS THE CONTRAST OF GOD'S MERCIFUL DEALINGS WITH US. It is mostly in this way that God is accustomed to present sin to us. See the opening parable of this chapter. Sins and vices look hateful indeed, as staining and debasing poor Africans. Drunkenness is hideous, corrupting the poor islanders of the Southern Seas. But what do such things look like, putting to utter shame the enlightened islanders of Christian Britain? Are not lust, and passion, and greed, and drunkenness, and down-treading the poor, and neglecting the offered salvation, aggravated immensely by God's abounding mercy to us? God pleads his mercy (see John 11:3, John 11:4). We plead thus: Do you think, if you had lived in Christ's days, you could have gone on sinning on the very knoll of Calvary, under the very shadow of the cross on which your Savior died? Could you have cast lots for his raiment with those rough gamesters, danced a merry round about his cross, and done the deeds beneath his very agony which now stain your life? It may be that very thing which you are, in spirit, doing now. The shadow of the cross has never passed away; it lies right across Christian England today. We live through our daily lives beneath it. It is not really a dark shadow; it is transformed; it is the Lord's rainbow of love shining through tears. It arches our whole sky. Its presence glorifies all goodness; but its presence also aggravates all sin, all self-indulgence, all neglect of God. The issue, the final issue, for all who sin under the very shadow of the cross—that no human lips can describe, as no human imagination can conceive. That must be the woe unspeakable, the dreadful day of God.—R.T.
Isaiah 5:24, Isaiah 5:25
God's judgments through natural agencies.
The Prophet Isaiah lived in anxious times. He was keenly observant of the social and moral features of his age—a discerner of the "signs of the times." He was sent by God to show the people how national wrong-doing bore its sure fruitage in bad harvests and in national calamities, and to help them to see in such fruitage the operation of Divine judgments. In the text the prophet clearly sees trouble coming on apace, and taking form as scant and withered harvests, either through unkindly seasons or the visitation of locusts. "Their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust." Ewald well describes the social conditions which Isaiah observed in their more serious aspects in relation to the Divine will and Law. "The constant increase of the power and security of the realm, and the profusion of an age rendered prosperous by the development of arts and distant commerce, were accompanied by an equally vigorous growth of other things; the craving for enjoyment and luxury among the people, and especially among the women of the capital; the foolish predilection for foreign manners and foreign superstitions of every kind, and a wantonness of life, from which many, even of the judges, were not altogether free, and under which the defenseless inhabitants had to suffer with increasing severity; all of which Isaiah, the great prophet of his age, who lived in Jerusalem, recognized and depicted in the sharpest outlines." Dean Stanley gives a yet more striking picture of that luxurious age. "The luxury and insolence of the nobles was in a high degree oppressive and scandalous. Bribery was practiced in the seats of judgment, and enormous landed property was accumulated against the whole spirit of the Israelite commonwealth. With the determination and, we may add, the avarice of their race, they laid their deep schemes at night, and carried them out with their first waking. They "did evil with both hands;" they skinned the poor to the very quick; they picked their bones and ground them to powder. The great ladies of Zion were haughty, and paced along the streets tossing their necks, and leering with their eyes, walking and mincing as they went, covered with tinkling ornaments, chains, bracelets, mantles, veils, of all fashions and sizes." Isaiah declares that Jehovah observed all these moral and social evils, and that he used the agencies of nature to execute his judgments on such sinners. They would find, when the harvest came round, that "ten acres of land would only yield one bath, and the seed of a homer would only yield an ephah." God would smite them through the fields. Is Isaiah's teaching obsolete? Does God speak to the men of this age by the voice of nature? Having found out that the world is ruled by law, have we gained the right to banish the Lawgiver? Whether men call us superstitious or not, we unhesitatingly say that God is in the harvest still, and its limitation is the voice of God calling on us to humble ourselves concerning our social and national iniquities. That this is a right and reasonable view to take will appear if we consider—
I. MAN IS SENSITIVE TO NATURE, AND NATURE TO MAN. If we are still thus sensitive, God can use nature still as a medium by which to communicate his will to us. Nature has not yet become one of the dead languages; God can speak to us in it. We are affected by the nature-moods of each passing day. Crisp frost braces us to exertion; glowing sunshine and clear skies are reflected in bright and cheerful feelings; cloudy, dull days make our work drag heavily. Storm-times fill us with fear. Everybody anxiously observes the character of the seasons. The nation alternates between hope and fear as reports come of rains, or late frosts, or blight, or flood. Nature is ever bringing to us messages from God, gracious testimonies of his acceptance or of his reproof. And no voices are so loud or so clear as those of the harvest, which is God's yearly replenishing of our exhausted stores, and so the intimation of Divine regard or Divine disfavor. And nature is sensitive to man, and responsive to man's conditions and doings. Go into some parts of our land, some metal and mining districts, and notice how nature, in response to man, has changed her aspect. Her trees cannot live. Her atmosphere has become damp and chill. See her fields responding to man's draining. She now runs off her moisture in sudden and desolating floods. See the thick smoke-cloud hanging over great towns. Nature responds by breeding fatal diseases beneath it. God is ever fitting issues to actions, and in the issues revealing the character of the action. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Visit the Holy Land, now desolate and barren, once fruitful and cultivated. It has but responded to the destruction of its timber, by the invading armies that have tramped over it again and again. The prophets seem to have, as one great part of their mission, to show that changes in seasons, loss of fruitage, bad harvests, fearful storms, locusts and caterpillars, are really the judgment-responses of nature to the doings, the wrong-doings, of men. Close up our Scriptures if it is no longer true that God speaks to men through nature; for St. Paul says, "God gave them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness." Surely the invisible things of God may be clearly understood by the things that are made.
II. NATURE CAN STILL BE USED AS AN AGENT OF DIVINE JUDGMENT ON MAN. If God is, then he cannot pass by sin. If God visits the sins of cities and of nations as such, then he must find some instruments of chastisement which will directly affect cities and nations. His instruments may be the destructive forces of nature—famine, pestilence, fear, and war—which directly reach corporate and national feeling. Herein is a curious thing. Men are ready enough to hear the voice of God when he sends a bountiful harvest. The whole land rings with the harvest-song, and men do not mind our saying that God sent the harvest. Bat how blind and deaf men become when harvest fails! Our blessings come from God; but how we try to make out that our disasters are only consequences of some unwisdom, or some neglect of social or agricultural laws! We need not see God's hand in them. Let us not, however, be afraid of either side of the great truth. If God would recognize our faithfulness to him, he can find rich golden corn, and sunny autumn for its ripening and its ingathering. If he needs to chastise, and awaken in us the sense of sin, then he can make withered ears stand in the fields, summer floods damage the shocks, and sunless autumn hinder the ripening. Can it ever take away from the judgment-aspect of national calamity that we are able to explain how the earth, in its movements through space, has come rote a damp region, or rote a cold region; how certain atmospheric conditions have developed the blight; and how the current of certain winds has brought the locusts; and how a disturbance of nature's limiting agencies has developed unduly the caterpillar? But if God speaks to us in judgment, let us never forget that he really speaks to us in mercy. He ever blends mercy with judgment; and the response he asks from our hearts will go into the old words: "Come, let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight." "To the Lord our God belongeth mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25