Consider helping today!
This chapter seems to be made up of short fragments, which the collector, or collectors, of Isaiah's writings regarded as too precious to be lost, and which they consequently here threw together, though in reality they were detached utterances, and are not even connected in subject-matter. Verses 1-3 are a rebuke to the exiles for deeming themselves wholly rejected, and not rising to the occasion now that deliverance is at hand. Verses 4-9 carry on the account of "the Servant of the Lord" from Isaiah 49:12, further describing his humiliation, and declaring his steadfastness and his faith. Isaiah 49:10, Isaiah 49:11 are an exhortation to weak believers generally, and contain an encouragement and a warning.
Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement? On account of her persistent "backsliding," God had "put away Israel," Judah's sister, and had "given her a bill of divorce" (Isaiah 3:8). But he had not repudiated Judah; and her children were wrong to suppose themselves altogether cast off (see Isaiah 49:14). They had, in fact, by their transgressions, especially their idolatries, wilfully divorced themselves, or at any rate separated themselves, from God; but no sentence had gone forth from him to bar reconciliation and return. Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you! Neither has God exercised the right, regarded as inherent in a parent (Exo 21:7; 2 Kings 4:11; Nehemiah 6:5, Nehemiah 6:8), of selling his children to a creditor. They are not sold—he has "taken no money for them" (Psalms 44:12; Isaiah 52:3); and the Babylonians are thus not their rightful owners (Isaiah 49:24)—they are still God's children, his property, and the objects of his care. For your iniquities … for your transgressions; rather, by your iniquities … by your transgressions. The separation, such as it was, between God and his people was caused by their sins, not by any act of his.
Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? Such being the condition of things; Judah having rejected me, not I them—why, "when I came" and announced deliverance from Babylon, was there no response? Why did no champion appear? Is it that my power was doubted? that it was feared my hand was shortened, so that it could not redeem or deliver? But I am he who has power with his rebuke to dry up the sea (Exodus 14:21), to make rivers a wilderness (Exodus 7:20; Joshua 3:16, Joshua 3:17); in fact, to change the course of nature as seemeth him good, and accomplish his will against all obstacles. Is my hand shortened? i.e. "is my power less than it was?" Can any one suppose this? Surely what I have once done I can do again. If I delivered from Egypt, I can redeem from Babylon. Their fish stinketh (comp. Exodus 7:21). But the object is rather to assert an absolute control over nature than to take the thoughts of the hearers back to any special occasions when control was exercised.
I clothe the heavens with blackness. The Egyptian plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21-23) is not adequate to the expressions here used. God means to assert his power of leaving all nature in absolute darkness, if he so choose—a power necessarily belonging to him who said, "Let there be light; and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). I make sackcloth their covering (see Revelation 6:12, "The sun became black as sackcloth of hair").
A SOLILOQUY OF THE SERVANT OF JEHOVAH. The separateness of this passage has been maintained in the opening paragraph. That it is not of himself that the prophet here speaks, appears
(1) from the self-assertion (Isaiah 50:4, Isaiah 50:5, Isaiah 50:9);
(2) from the depth of humiliation declared in Isaiah 50:6, which is beyond anything recorded of Isaiah.
But if he does not speak of himself, he can scarcely speak of any other besides "the Servant," of whom he has already said much (Isaiah 42:1-8; Isaiah 49:1-12), and of whom he has still much more to say (Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53:1-12).
The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned; literally, the tongue of disciples; i.e. a trained tongue, a well-taught tongue. Christ "did nothing of himself; as the Father had taught him," so he spoke (John 8:28). That I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary; rather, that I shall know how to sustain by a word him that is weary. Compare, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). He wakeneth morning by morning … mine ear. God held immediate and constant communication with the "Servant"—not enlightening him occasionally, as he did the prophets, by dreams and visions, but continually whispering in his ear. At no time did the Father "leave him alone" (John 8:29) or cease to speak to him. "Morning by morning" is not to be narrowed to the bare literal meaning, but to be taken in the sense of "un-interruptedly." To hear as the learned; rather, to hear as disciples hear; i.e. attentively, submissively, gladly.
The Lord hath opened mine ear. Some understand this of the boring of the ear for perpetual service (Psalms 40:6; Exodus 21:6); but it is perhaps better to regard it as intended to mark a contrast between the true Servant and the professed servants, or children of Israel. They "did not hear; their ear was not opened; they were treacherous and rebellious from the womb" (Isaiah 48:8). His ear was opened to receive God's word perpetually; he was not rebellious, did not turn away back. Even when most tried, his final word was, "Not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42).
I gave my back to the smiters (see Isaiah 53:5, ad fin.; and comp. Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:26; John 19:1). My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. This is a detail not historically recorded by the evangelists; but it may have had a literal fulfilment. Plucking off the hair was not unknown to the Jews as a punishment (see Nehemiah 13:25). I hid not my face from shame and spitting (see Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:30). Spitting in the East marked at once contempt and abhorrence. It is a practice which continues to the present day.
For the Lord God will help me; rather, but the Lord God will help me. I shall not be left always in the hands of my enemies. In this confidence the Servant rests, and is not confounded, even when the worst happens to him. He sets his face like a flint; i.e. makes it hard, impassive, expressionless, and at the same time determined, fixed not to give way (comp. Ezekiel 3:8, Ezekiel 3:9).
Isaiah 50:8, Isaiah 50:9
He is near that justifieth me. God, who knows his innocence, is near at hand, and will shortly "make his righteousness clear as the noonday." This was done when God raised up from the dead "the Holy One and the Just" (Acts 3:14). whom cruel men "by wicked hands had crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). By the resurrection God acquitted Christ of the charge of blasphemy on which he had been condemned, and proclaimed him "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). Who will contend with me? (compare St. Paul's words in Romans 8:33, Romans 8:34, "It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?"). God is the sole Judge of all men—of the "Servant" in his human capacity, no less than of others. If he acquits, it is idle for any accuser to stand forth and "contend" or "condemn" (Isaiah 50:9). God will help the innocent, whom he has acquitted, and will destroy the accuser by a secret but most sure destruction. The moth shall eat them up (comp. Psalms 39:11, and infra, Isaiah 51:8).
Isaiah 50:10, Isaiah 50:11
AN ADDRESS OF JEHOVAH TO HIS CHURCH. Some suppose that the Church of Hezekiah's reign is addressed; others the exiles towards the close of the Captivity period. The first verse is an exhortation, encouraging those who fear God, but have insufficient light, to trust in him. The second threatens such as "kindle fire," or cause strife, with retribution.
That obeyeth the voice of his servant; that is, of "his servant" for the time being, whether Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or "the Servant" κατ ̓ ἐξοχήν That walketh in darkness. Not clearly seeing his way or knowing what his duty is, and so inclined to despond and doubt. Every such person is bidden to put aside his doubts, and trust wholly in the Name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. Hence light will shine in upon him, and his doubts will be resolved, and sufficient light will be granted him to direct his paths.
All ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks; or, with firebrands. The persons intended seem to be those whose "tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity" (James 3:6), and who by means of it are employed in "stirring up strife all the day long." They are condemned to be scorched by the fire which they have themselves kindled, to be made wretched by the strife which they have themselves caused to spring up. Their end, moreover, will be to lie down in sorrow; or, in torture (Cheyne). God will punish them in the next world for the misery which they have brought about in this, and will thus exercise retributive justice upon the wicked ones, whose main object in life has been to embitter the lives of their fellow-men.
Isaiah 50:2, Isaiah 50:3
God's power over nature.
Modern pseudo-science, or "un-science," as it has been called, seems to hold that nature, having been once for all arranged and ordered by God, was thenceforth left to itself, being an automatic machine, bound to work in a certain way, needing no superintendence, and brooking no interference thenceforward. Hence miracles are regarded as impossible, or at any rate as non occurrent; and we are invited to ascribe to the combined influence of priestcraft and credulity all the statements with respect to supernatural interferences with nature which we find in the history of our race. The view of the sacred writers is the direct opposite of this. God is not regarded as having ever left nature to itself'. On the contrary, he is always represented as working with nature and in nature. He" covereth the heaven with clouds, and prepareth rain for the earth, and maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry He giveth snow like wool, and scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold? He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow" (Psalms 147:8-18). He is, in fact, ever in his laws, executing them continually—making the sun to shine, and the moon to give her light, and the stars to sparkle in the canopy of heaven, and the mountains to stand firm, and the winds to blow, and the rain to fall, and the earth to give her increase. The secret of the quasi-unvarying character of nature's laws is his unchangeableness—the fact that "with him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). But, as he thus holds nature in his hand, and does not let it go, so he is necessarily at all times omnipotent over nature, and can suspend or change any "law of nature' at his pleasure. In point of fact, he does not do so unless upon emergencies. But, let a fitting occasion come, and it is as easy for him to reverse a law as to maintain it. He can "dry up the sea" in a moment, "make rivers a desert" (Isaiah 50:2), "clothe the heaven with blackness" (Isaiah 50:3), cause the stars to fall (Matthew 24:29), create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1), cast death and hell into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). To regard miracles as impossible is to be an atheist; to say that they are non-occurrent is to fly in the face of history. No doubt many false miracles have been alleged, and an alleged miracle is not to be received without a searching scrutiny. But the summary rejection of all miracles, which modern pseudo-science proclaims, is as little reasonable as the wholesale acceptance of all alleged miracles without exception.
Isaiah 50:8, Isaiah 50:9
No condemnation for those whom God justifies.
Those whom God has justified may still be, sometimes are, arraigned
(1) by Satan;
(2) by their fellow-men.
I. SATAN'S ARRAIGNMENT VAIN. "Hast thou considered my servant Job," said Jehovah to Satan, "that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?" To which the answer was given, "Doth Job fear God for nought?" (Job 1:8, Job 1:9). Satan arraigned Job as selfish, hypocritical, irreligious, and was allowed to put him to the proof; but with the result that Job's integrity was established, and the accuser put to shame. Satan, however, gains no wisdom by experience. Still he remains "the accuser of the brethren, which accuseth them before God day and night" (Revelation 12:10). All that can be said against them, doubtless, he says—misrepresents their motives, exposes their shortcomings, exaggerates their failings and their sins. But to what purpose? "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 12:11). To them whom God has justified, whom God has forgiven, past sins are blotted out, past shortcomings are made up. The merits of Christ suffice to cover all their iniquities. Let them but have true faith in him, let them but cling to him, and then "their sins, though they be as scarlet, shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18).
II. MAN'S ARRAIGNMENT IDLE. Man's arraignment of his fellow-men can have no effect at all excepting in this world. He may bring them before tribunals, obtain their condemnation, their execution, their temporal disgrace. He may gibbet them in history, misrepresent, malign, blacken their names and their reputations. But over their real selves he is powerless. God justifies them, pardons them, receives them into his kingdom, looks on them with favour, reckons them among his saints, gives them the blessing of eternal communion with him in heaven. What matters it to them that somewhere, in a paltry planet, ignorant and ephemeral mortals speak evil of them and brand their memories? "It is God that justifieth." One justifying word from him may well outweigh any amount of human dispraise, of human contumely. Their end in this world may have been "without honour;" but their entrance into the next is with words at once of promise and of high honour, "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,"
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Jehovah and his Servant.
The passage is to be compared with Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 49:1-9. The manner in which God is referred to is peculiarly solemn—by his double name, the Lord Jehovah.
I. THE SERVANT'S ENDOWMENTS AND TEMPER. The tongue of disciples. The "facility of well-trained scholars" (Isaiah 8:6; Isaiah 54:13)—"a discipled tongue, speaking nothing but what it has learned from God." A tongue the object of which is comfort to the weary. Not to astonish, dazzle, bewilder, but to edify and console. "The wisdom of Heaven does not bespeak man in an unknown tongue; nor design, what would be more miraculous than all miracles, that men should be saved by what they could not understand." But true eloquence implies the faculty of listening. "The things we have heard declare we unto you." They are things imparted to the wakened soul, in the clear conscious hours of calm contemplation, and in the mood of devout sympathy. "The Servant was not a mechanical organ of revelation, but had a spiritual sympathy with it, even when it told of suffering for himself. It is not that bare assent to the truth which is seldom followed by spiritual effects. Nothing is more common than to see men of rare knowledge and raised speculations in the things of God, who have no relish and savour of them in their hearts and affections. Their practice bids defiance to their knowledge. They never know God so as to obey him, and therefore never know him at all. To hear the Word of God, and to hear God speaking in his Word, are things vastly different" (South). Now, Jehovah had opened an ear to his Servant; and he "had not been defiant, had not turned back." All our duties as servants of God resolve themselves into faith, obedience, and patience; and the vital principle of all is submission. Faith, the submission of the understanding; obedience, the submission of the will to what God bids us to do; and patience, submission to what God bids us suffer. In contrast to this temper Jonah may be cited; and in exemplification of it, Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:6; Jeremiah 20:7). in such a temper humiliation and scorn may be patiently endured.
II. THE DIVINE PRESENCE AND HELP. "Against the crowd of mockers he places the Lord Jehovah." Jehovah is on his side; and therefore he can (in a good sense) harden his face like a flint against his foes, be confident, and not be disappointed. A good conscience is a tower of strength. "Near is he that justifieth me." "To justify," in the Old Testament, almost always means to pronounce a man righteous, or prove him so in act. The Servant is thinking of a trial through which he is passing, and where God is the Judge. But "while Job shrinks in terror from the issue, the Servant has no doubt as to a favourable result." The passage is full of a holy and strong confidence, in the strength of which he can face all his foes. Only he who has not defied God (verse 5) is able to defy the world, and speak of his enemies as falling to pieces like a rotten, moth-eaten garment. And thus from personal experience he is able to comfort and to exhort others. "He that walketh in darkness and hath no light, let him trust in the Name of Jehovah, and rely upon his God." The opposition is between outward darkness and inward light—in the man's own "clear breast," where he "may sit in the centre, and enjoy clear day." To have a conscience defiled and obscured is to be left, in the time of adversity, "wholly in the dark." The man cannot tell whether God is his enemy or his friend; or rather, has cause to suspect him of being his enemy. Then, "if we would have our conscience deal clearly with us, we must deal severely with it. Often scouring and cleansing it will make it bright." We learn from the passage how the habit of submission to the Spirit of God, and hearty obedience to his will, tends to promote a reasonable confidence in every hour of trial. Not, indeed, one that is secure against all vicissitudes of wavering and distrust, any more than a strong physical constitution can be exempt from occasional attacks of disease. But in the will absolutely submitted to the Divine, vigorously exerted in the cause of right, may be found a confidence—short, indeed, of perfect assurance, yet "for the purposes of a pious life much more useful."—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
A searching query.
"Who is among you," etc.? What wonderful discrimination of character there is in Scripture! It is "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." And it is ever associated with the Divine remedies. Go to a physician, and you often fear the worst. That never is so with the great Physician. Beautiful idea of trust! We cannot force either conviction or feeling.
1. The position described.
2. The remedy proposed.
I. THE POSITION DESCRIBED. Human life has its terrible side. So has nature. You see the broad Sea in her bewitching and entrancing beauty, and you forget how many boats have been lost in the wild tempest. This is said of a devout man: "one who fears God." Not, of course, strange that a man who does not fear God should feel like this. We may be children, knowing God's will, trying in our poor way to do it.
1. A season of deep distress. Other griefs are great; but we feel the religious life cold and indifferent! Not only at times do we feel weakened confidence in man, but in God! Light is so beautiful. It quickens life- It stirs the pulses of joy. It keeps the home in view.
2. A season of weak faith. Not so much in a Providence as in the ability to lay hold on the promises. To doubt our sincerity. To doubt our love. Given a man of exceeding faith: he will minimize his troubles, according to the extent of his faith.
3. A season of pilgrimage. Still has to walk on. Avocations call him forth. Relationships to others must be sustained. Opportunities must be made use of. Life is a continual forthgoing; and we walk on. What meditations! What regrets!
II. THE REMEDY PROPOSED.
1. A Name. How simple! God is not merely everlasting, or almighty: he is known to us by a Name. Christ has shown us the Father. Well, we cannot understand God apart from intuitions and relationships. I thank God for the lexicon of the family.
2. A trust. Not trying to hurry events. Refusing to judge by appearances. Why should I? Did the Old Testament heroes? Appearances have deceived. Even untoward health and untoward fortune.
3. A stay. This is an old English word. I cannot stay myself on myself—cannot anchor a boat to itself. I can and do stay upon that which I see not. I can rely upon a God whose promise invites me. I may refuse to give up that rest, and say, amid human disappointments, "Beautiful tree, under whose shadow I pasture! Blessed rock, where I have refuge from the heat!" We love to feel that we are in him that is "true."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Explanation of exile.
The Lord would impress on his exiled people that their calamities found their explanation not in him but in themselves; and we shall find, when we look, that this is the account of our estrangement and distance from God.
I. WHAT ACCOUNTED FOR ISRAEL'S EXILE?
1. It was not any fickleness in God. He had not acted toward Israel as a husband often acted toward the wife of whom he was weary; there had been no changeableness on his part.
2. It was not his necessity. The father might sell his son when hard pressed by pecuniary straits; but God could never, by any supposition, be reduced to such necessities. He who can say, "Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills," the generous Donor of all gifts, and bountiful Source of all treasures, cannot be in want of anything.
3. It is not his inability to protect or to redeem. There was abundance of Divine power to preserve from captivity or to rescue from it. He who could "dry up the [Red] sea," and in whose hand are the storms and tempests of the sky, could defeat any armies of the invader, or could bring out of bondage, if he chose.
4. It was their own disobedience which accounted for it—their iniquities, their transgressions (Isaiah 50:1); it was their heedlessness and disobedience when the voice of the Lord was heard rebuking and inviting (Isaiah 50:2).
II. WHAT ACCOUNTS FOR OUR ALIENATION FROM GOD?
1. Nothing in him. He is not unwilling that we should return and be reconciled; he does not weary of his children; he has been obliged to condemn us, but he "earnestly remembers us still." His attitude is one of gracious invitation: all the days of our life long he "stretches out his hands" toward us. He is not unable. The power which God shows in nature, in his control of the elements, in regulating the tides of the sea, and directing the tempest in the sky, is small and slight in comparison with that he shows in redeeming a fallen race; mechanical or miraculous power is of a far inferior kind to that which is moral and spiritual. And the Author of nature is the Redeemer of man; he has completed a glorious work of mercy and restoration. He has made it possible for the most guilty to be forgiven, for the foulest to be cleansed, for the most distant to return. There is no obstacle to our restoration in God.
2. Everything in us. We "will not come unto him that we may have life." (l) We do not listen when he speaks; we go on our way, regardless of the fact that God is speaking in his Word, in the sanctuary by Jesus Christ, in his providence.
(2) Or we do not reflect when we hear. We may come and listen and understand, but go away" hearers only, and not doers; "we are the "people that do not consider."
(3) Or we do not decide. We feel and we entertain the question of returning; we may say, "I will arise," but we do not; conviction loses the name of action; we defer, and remain in exile.—C.
The hearing ear and the helpful tongue.
The whole passage (Isaiah 50:4-9) is strikingly appropriate to the spirit and the work of the Messiah; and this verse as much as the rest. For it was true in no small measure:
1. That Jesus received continual communications from the Divine Father. "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (John 5:19; see also John 3:11; John 5:30; John 8:28, John 8:40).
2. That he spoke many words of cheer and succour (Matthew 11:28; John 14:1-4, John 14:16-18, John 14:27, etc.). Many and manifold were "the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth." But we will take the text as applicable to the faithful servant of Christ now—more particularly to him who is the minister of Christ. And thus regarded, we infer—
I. THAT WE SHOULD HAVE AN OPEN EAR TO WELCOME ALL THE TRUTH GOD HAS TO TEACH US. Between the man who knows enough to find admission into the kingdom of Christ and the man who has been best instructed in that kingdom, there is a very great difference, a very large distance. We stand somewhere along this line. But where? Near the starting-point or near the goal? It is a question of grave consequence. Not only because it is most desirable for our own sake that we should reach the highest attainable point of heavenly wisdom; but also, and principally, because the extent of our knowledge of God and of his truth is the measure of our power to influence and bless our fellow-men. A man who is learning daily of God is a man who is daily gaining power to teach and help his brethren. Therefore have the ear to hear, the mind to understand, the spirit of reverent, earnest docility. Learn of the written Word, of the human ministry, of Divine providence, of the discipline of life. Morning by morning be receptive of the truth which the Father is desirous of teaching; let no day pass on which something more of holy wisdom is not treasured in the mind, is not hidden in the heart.
II. THAT WE SHOULD STUDY TO BE HELPFUL IN OUR SPEECH. Some men speak as often to wound as they do to heal, to disturb and distress as to comfort and to cheer. Immeasurable is the opportunity we possess in the way of rendering help by simple but kindly speech. Not by a few elaborate endeavours, but by a multitude of friendly utterances, unchronicled and unconsidered, do we benefit and even bless our kind. To comfort the sad, to cheer the weary on their hard way, to guide the perplexed, to help the wavering to a wise decision, to strengthen those who are ready to faint in some field of holy usefulness, to whisper Christian hope in dying ears,—this may satisfy the ambition of the good and wise.—C.
Signs of faithful service.
Whether this is intended to point to the Person and work of the Messiah, or to that of some living prophet, it treats of the faithful servant of God; it is applicable to any one among us "that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant" (Isaiah 50:10). We find here marks of fidelity in holy service.
I. COMING INTO THE SHADOW OF PERSECUTION. In doing this the faithful one:
1. Follows in the train of the noblest men of ancient time (Matthew 5:12).
2. Treads in the footsteps of the Divine Master (Matthew 16:24, Matthew 16:25; Matthew 10:22-25).
3. Takes the necessary consequence of his faithfulness. For the man who fearlessly speaks the truth, and unwaveringly follows the example of Christ, must come into conflict with the error and the evil which is in the world. He must
(1) teach that against which the pride of human intellect will rebel (Mark 10:15; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Corinthians 3:18);
(2) say and do things which reflect upon the habits of men;
(3) take up positions which militate against the temporal interests of men (see Acts 19:25). It is still true, though the provocation and the resentment take different forms in our time, that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).
II. RESOLUTELY PERSISTING IN THE PATH OF FAITHFULNESS. Not "turning away back; setting our face like a flint"—immovably determined to go on in the direction in which truth is pointing, to which God is calling. "None of these things [neither bonds nor afflictions] move me," is the language of Christian fidelity (see Acts 20:24; Philippians 1:20).
III. FINDING REFUGE IN GOD. "The Lord God will help me; and I know that I shall not be ashamed" (Isaiah 50:7); "He is near that justifieth me" (Isaiah 50:8). Let him that obeyeth and walketh in darkness trust in the Name of the Lord, and stay upon his God—upon his near presence, upon his parental pity, upon his upholding grace, upon his overruling, victorious power, which will make truth and righteousness to triumph in the end.—C.
Ineffectual light and guilty darkness.
These words are not applicable to those who have had no special privileges, and to whom there has been no alternative but that of groping their way in such light as they could gain from their own reason and from the conclusions of other men. They apply to those only who will not walk in the light which is offered them. There are—
I. THOSE WHO SEEK NO DIRECT ILLUMINATION IN THEIR CHRISTIAN COURSE. If we would order our Christian life according to the will of our Divine Master, we must not content ourselves with regulating our daily conduct by the rules and maxims which are current in the circles in which we move, or by the notions of propriety we happen to have formed from our elders and associates. We are bound to ask and to consider what the will of Christ is, as revealed in his Word and as illustrated in his life; and we are bound to seek the illumination of his Divine Spirit. Otherwise, we shall walk along a very much lower level than our Lord intended us to take. And though we be not finally condemned, yet will the time come when we shall awake to our grievous error, and be afflicted with a profound regret.
II. THOSE WHO PERSIST IN CONSTRUCTING THEIR OWN THEOLOGY. God has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ; in him and through him we know his nature, his disposition, his will concerning us; we know the way by which we can regain his favour, return to his likeness, ascend to his home in heaven. But there are those who will not learn and live; who proudly turn away from the Teacher that came from God to tell us of the holy Father of man. They prefer to construct their own theology; it is an utterly unsatisfying one; it is not the Bread of life, but the ashes of disappointment. And they pay, in a great and awful privation, the penalty of their folly and their sin.
III. THOSE WHO WILL NOT LEARN FROM GOD THE MEANING AND THE WORTH OF HUMAN LIFE. What are we here for? Can anything be made of the mortal life we are living? Is everything vanity? May we treat our life as a game to be played out; or as a mart where all things can be turned into money; or as a selfish scramble in which the strongest and swiftest secure the best prizes? There are many that say, "Who will show us any good? Life is not worth living." They walk in the light of the poor sparks their own wit has kindled. They will "lie down in sorrow;" they will come to mourn their great mistake, to reproach themselves for the greatness of their folly, the seriousness of their sin. For all the while that they were cynically dismissing their opportunities, there was shining on their life the light that comes from heaven. Christ was inviting them to make of their earthly life a holy sacrifice unto the living God, a noble and valuable service to their fellow-men, a time of pure and sacred joy, a discipline that would train the docile and obedient spirit for a broader sphere and a brighter life in a higher kingdom.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
"For your iniquities have ye sold yourselves." Reference is to the right which fathers in the East possessed, of selling their children into slavery; and also to the power of judges to condemn malefactors to slavery. The Jews sold themselves to work wickedness, and the judgment which came upon them, in their being sold into the hands of their Babylonian enemies, was consequently, in fact, their own work. They might say that they were sold; God convicts them by reminding them of the truth they preferred not to see. The deeper truth was that they, sold themselves. Illustrate from Goethe's drama of ' Faust.' In Scripture a man who is fully resolved on a course of action, is said to have "sold himself" to that course (see 1 Kings 21:20); and a Divine judgment, which takes form as the conquest of a nation by its enemies, is called a "selling" to the enemy (see Judges 2:14; Judges 10:7). St. Paul even uses the same figure in Romans 7:14, saying, "The Law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin." The figure suggests that, by giving himself up to wilfulness, self-indulgence, and sin, a man expects to get a price, and deludes himself into the idea that the price will be worth the risk. Practical applications may be made by considering—
I. MAN, THE SELLER.
1. What has he to sell? Himself—his powers, time, gifts, relationships, influence, and possibilities.
2. Has he any right to sell? No real right, but an apparent right. It is the first sign of man's going wrong, that he claims the right to sell himself, or do what he pleases with his life. A man is really not his own. He has nothing that is his own, and so he has nothing to sell. He must take himself out of the hands of God before he can sell himself to anybody; and the possibility of doing this is the peril involved in trusting man with a limited free-will. Still, it should be clearly seen that, when any man sells himself, he sells stolen property, for a man is not his own—he is God's.
II. SELF, THE BUYER. It is the custom to personify evil, and call it Satan, and in the early stages of religious knowledge such personifications are helpful. But the worst Satan, the true Mammon, is Self. He is the purchaser; and no slave-master ever figured the tyranny with which "Self" rules the slaves he purchases.
"He is the free man whom the truth makes free,
And all are slaves besides."
III. PLEASURE, THE PRICE. Self-gratification, indulgence of the lower over the higher powers and faculties. Is the price ever, even at first, worthy of the thing sold? Christ has redeemed us from this slavery to self. The purchase price is spoken of as "his own blood." Redeeming us for himself is really buying back for us our own true selves.—R.T.
Words in season.
The ability to speak suitable words, timely, wise, and helpful, is God's gift, and one of his best gifts, which we should covet earnestly. "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in baskets of silver" (Proverbs 25:11). We are often pleasantly, and often sadly, reminded how words which we spoke years ago lie in the memories of those who heard, and have exerted continuous influence for weal or woe. And there are few of us who look back over life without regret that golden opportunities for speaking helpful words were missed. "What awakened you? ' said a Christian minister on one occasion to a young friend. "It was what you said to me one evening coming out of the lecture-room. As you took me by the hand, you said, 'Mary, one thing is needful' You said nothing else, and passed on; but I could not forget it." It was a word spoken in the Spirit, and the Lord accompanied it with saving power. The words commended by the prophet are more especially those spoken to the weary; but Scripture connects a very wide meaning with that term. It includes
(1) him that is weary with the overtoil of life;
(2) him that is weary of the commonness and comparative meanness of labour;
(3) him that is weary through the perplexities and difficulties of life;
(4) him that is weary through prolonged bearing of pain;
(5) him that is weary in well-doing; and
(6) him that is weary of the strife with sin.
"Lost for want of a word—
A word that you might have spoken!
Who knows what eyes may be dim,
Or what hearts may be aching and broken?"
Words in season may be—
I. WORDS OF CHEER. Brightly toned. Full of hope. The words of those who can see the "bright side of the shield," and find a smile resting like soft sunlight on everything. In our "bearing" and our "doing" we feel thankful to all who can speak cheerily to us.
II. WORDS OF WARNING. Spoken by the far-sighted men, who can see the issues of our conduct, to which we are blind.
III. WORDS OF COUNSEL. Wise; prudent. The issue of large knowledge; quick observation; varied experience; established character.
IV. WORDS OF REPROOF. Brave words, that show us our faults. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend."
V. WORDS OF COMFORT. The human agency through which God gives us the resting of his "everlasting arms." Words are "out of season" when they are
They are always out of season when they find expression for pride of self rather than for care of others.—R.T.
Contumely endured in God's service.
This is part of a soliloquy of Messiah, and in it he dwells upon the sufferings which would attend his effort to carry out obediently his Divine mission; and upon his confidence that God would uphold his Servant through all the suffering and shame. This passage should be compared with Psalms 22:1-31 and Psalms 53:1-6. The point more especially presented in this verse is the insult offered to Christ in the closing scenes of his life. This insult seems the strangest part of our Lord's life-experience; but, if he had not known it, he could not have been "in all points tempted like us." The scenes here prophesied are narrated in Matthew 26:67, Matthew 26:68; Matthew 27:26-30; Mark 14:65; Mark 15:15-20; Luke 22:63-65; Luke 23:11; John 18:22, John 18:23; John 19:1-3. Three forms of indignity are mentioned—smiting, or scourging; plucking of hair; and spitting. Each must be estimated in the light of historical descriptions and Eastern sentiments.
I. SCOURGING. The severity and barbarity of a Roman scourging has been brought out by Dr. C. Geikie, who says," Jesus was now seized by some of the soldiers standing near, and, after being stripped to the waist, was bound in a stooping posture, his hands behind his back to a post, or low pillar, near the tribunal. He was then beaten till the soldiers chose to stop, with knots of rope or plaited leather thongs, armed at the ends with acorn-shaped drops of lead, or small sharp-pointed bones. In many cases, not only was the back of the person scourged cut open in all directions; even the eyes, the face, and the breast were tern and cut, and the teeth not seldom knocked out. The judge stood by, to stimulate the sinewy executioners by cries of 'Give it him!' but we may trust that Pilate, though his office required his presence, spared himself this crime. Under the fury of the countless stripes, the victims sometimes sank, amidst screams, convulsive leaps, and distortions, into a senseless heap; sometimes died on the spot; sometimes were taken away, an unrecognizable mass of bleeding flesh, to find deliverance in death, from the inflammation and fever, sickness and shame." Few New Testament readers duly appreciate the sufferings which Messiah endured in the judgment-hall. The cross so fills their vision that they fail to see how much he endured before the cross and its final strain and agony were reached.
II. PLUCKING THE HAIR. Easterns have great respect for the beard, and plucking it was as extremely insulting as it was extremely painful. Eastern sentiment on this matter may be illustrated by the treatment of David's ambassadors, one-half of whose beards were shaven off (2 Samuel 10:5). See also David's action when he would feign madness.
III. SPITTING. This was the Eastern expression of contemptuous abhorrence; and so Job poetically expresses his sense of the treatment he had received, by saying, "They abhor me, they flee far from me, and spare not to spit in my face" (Job 30:10). Hanway, in his book of travels, says, "This instance of contempt and reproach offered to Christ was at the same time an expression of malice and a compliance with custom. The practice has descended to later generations; for in the year 1744, when a rebel prisoner was laid before Nadir Shah's general, the soldiers were ordered to spit in his face—an indignity of great antiquity in the East." And Gadsby tells us that "spitting in the face is still practised as a mark of contempt. An officer in Cairo had two Circassian concubines who died suddenly. He charged his wife with being the cause of their death, when she spat in his face. He drew his sabre and killed her. Mehemet All once spat in the face of one of his officers, because he used his wife badly."
The practical application of the fact that Messiah bore such insults in doing his work may be made on the following lines.
1. God's message, sent by us, may be an offence to men.
2. If it is, they will be very likely to persuade themselves that we are the offence.
3. And when they take up that notion, they will be sure to vent on us the feeling which they have against the message. But this is apostolic consolation: "If ye be reproached for the Name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you."—R.T.
God's help in time of need.
"For the Lord God will help me." This one assurance suffices, and gives the Servant of Jehovah an indomitable strength. "Against the crowd of mockers he places Adonai Jehovah." "Those whom God employs he will assist, and will take care they want not any help that they or their work call for. God, having laid help upon his Son for us, gave help to him, and his hand was all along with the Man of his right hand" (Matthew Henry). "Greater is he who is with us than all that can be against us."
"God is my strong Salvation:
What foe have I to fear?"
John Ashworth, in his 'Strange Tales,' dwells on the satisfying fulness of the short and simple prayer, "Lord, help me!" It will fit in everywhere and to everything. It stuns up all our need. It appropriately meets us whatever may be our circumstances. In the text, the special need of Divine help is felt in the doing of God's work. If we are resolutely set, as Christ was, upon doing and finishing just that which God has given us to do, then—
I. WE MAY MEET WITH INDIFFERENCE. And this is often harder to bear than opposition. Men pass us by. We are not interesting. We are a "voice crying in the wilderness.'' Sometimes we are behind our age, and God has bidden us remind men of things they ought not to have lost; and then they pass us by as old-fashioned. Sometimes we are called to be critics of the age in which we live; and then men pass us by because we annoy them by showing up their faults. And sometimes we are before our age, and prepare for the changes that are to come; and then men pass us by, with a smile at our unpractical talk, and call us "foolish dreamers." But we must witness on, whether men will or will not hear; and God will be sure to keep us cheerful.
II. WE MAY MEET WITH OPPOSITION. Messengers for God usually do. It is a bad sign when all men speak well of them. God's messages are always likely to offend self-seeking men, and, as a consequence, God's messengers have to stiffer. But God's help will tide us over all times of trial. We only have to learn the holy lesson "how great things we must suffer for his sake." God's help is our unfailing support—a "rock that cannot move." The help of God stands always waiting for us as promise. It never actually comes to us until the need has arrived for it. Then we find it is always ready. The grace is there, for the day, for every day. "We can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us."—R.T.
The Justifier's protection.
"Near is he that justifieth me." Reference is to the Servant of Jehovah, whom we identify as the Messiah. The associations of our Lord's trial and death may suggest that he was a malefactor. God allows no such impression to remain. He justifies him, by raising him from the dead and granting him full acceptance. He declares him to have been innocent and righteous. The security of those who have a standing in Christ lies in the plea made for them by their Justifier (see Romans 8:33, Romans 8:34). (For the earlier form of appeal to God as Justifier, see Job and David: Job 27:5; Psa 28:1-9 :20, etc.) Compare the expressions, "It is God that justifieth;" "Raised again for our justification;" "Justified in the Spirit." "The Father justified him when he accepted the satisfaction he made for the sin of man, and constituted him 'the Lord our Righteousness,' who was made sin for us." It is not, however, the doctrine of justification which is first suggested by the text. Its reference is to the confidence which a wronged, slandered, persecuted 'good man may have, that God will stand by him, and in due time justify him, bringing forth his righteousness as the light. Our Lord and his servants may say, with misrepresented Job, "I know that" God, my Goel, "my Redeemer, liveth."
I. GOD JUSTIFIES BY GIVING THE INWARD WITNESS OF HIS ACCEPTANCE. It is plain that he gave such witness to Christ in his last hours. Even in the dreadful sense of "being forsaken," our Lord could say, "My God, my God," add commit himself into the Father's hands. Before Pilate he held such confidence in God's approval that he could calmly reply to him, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me unless it were given thee from above." A divinely whispered "Fear not," from our Justifier, enables us to bear all things.
II. GOD JUSTIFIES BY THE LASTING IMPRESSION THE GOOD MAN PRODUCES. Illustrate from the exclamation of the centurion, "Truly this was the Son of God." A careful estimate of the inward struggles of Saul of Tarsus brings to view a deep feeling that the claims of Jesus of Nazareth possibly might be true. The good man only gains more power when his goodness is shown on a background of persecutions.
III. GOD JUSTIFIES BY THE FINAL RESULTS OF THE GOOD MAN'S WORK. The slandering and the suffering pass, but the work a man does, and the witness a man makes, abide. Men mistook the Christ. We know the results of his work, and they become the fullest justification of him.—R.T.
Counsel for those who walk in the dark.
"Let him trust in the Name of the Lord, and stay upon his God." Christians "walk in darkness when their evidences for heaven are clouded, their joy in God is interrupted, the testimony of the Spirit is suspended, and the light of God's countenance is eclipsed." The first reference of this passage is to the anxieties of the latter part of Hezekiah's reign, when national dangers were great, and many political parties existed, one recommending one course, and one another. It was very difficult to decide what course to take. Good men, who wanted to do right, "walked in darkness." Use the figure of going an unknown path on a dark night. We only feel safe as we hold some one's hand, and let him guide us. God is the true Guide, and darkness and light are both alike to him. There is a sense in which one must always be walking in the dark. "We are not sufficient of ourselves even to think anything as of ourselves." "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." We can never see more than one step at a time. The future is altogether unknown. If we were sure of ourselves, we can never be sure of others. There is no possibility of our knowing how they wilt act under given circumstances. Only in vague and uncertain ways can we ever plan, for all our plans are formed in the dark. It is God's law for us that we shall walk through life in the dark. The question is—Must we walk alone? That question our text answers. No; we may stay ourselves on our God. Illustrate by the artistic conception of Noel Paton concerning the guide through the death-valley, in his 'Mors Janua Vitae' picture. God would have us cherish the spirit which says—
"I'd rather walk in the dark with God
Than go alone in the light."
The "Name of God," in which we are to trust, is the name of a safe Guide—so the ages say, so the saints of all the ages say. He is the Great-Heart for pilgrims, whether they walk on the hill-ridges of prosperity in the light, or along the valleys of fear and trouble, where the shadows lie thick and heavy.—R.T.
Various interpretations of the fire here referred to have been given. Probably the allusion is to the ordinary domestic fire, taken as a figure for the various comforts and supports which men can find for themselves. A self-kindled fire contrasts with divinely given light. Matthew Henry says, "They place their happiness in their worldly possessions and enjoyments, and not in the favour of God. Creature-comforts are as sparks, short-lived and soon gone; yet the children of this world, while they last, warm themselves by them, and walk with pride and pleasure in the light of them. Those that make the world their comfort, and their own righteousness their confidence, will certainly meet with a fatal disappointment, which will be bitterness in the end." The figures of the verse may receive explanation from the Eastern fires made with grass, which, while burning, emits many a dancing spark, that, after a vain promise to enliven the surrounding gloom for a moment, suddenly sink into darkness. The wet and shivering inmates of the hovel seek for light and heat by crowding close to the blazing hearth, but after many fruitless attempts, and the consumption of their stock, they are compelled to retire to their ill-covered pallets—"they lie down in sorrow." Let the subject be self-confidence.
I. THE SHOW IT MAKES. A man in the power of it starts out bravely; defies the darkness; and easily overcomes first difficulties. The early efforts of self-reliant people attract attention and excite hope. We like to see the working of energy and strong will.
II. THE PLEASURE IT BRINGS. To feel power; to find that men yield to our resoluteness, and that circumstances are mastered by our energy.
III. THE BREVITY OF ITS SUCCESSES. For our strength does not endure. The strain of life steadily increases. Circumstances at last prove greater than we are. We cannot do the things that we would. Peters, who for a while can gird themselves, by-and-by find that another must gird them. Do what we may, we cannot keep the fire of self-trust steadily burning.
IV. THE MISERY WHEN SUCCESS CHANGES TO FAILURE. As it surely does when God puts his hand upon us, damps the fire, puts out the light we have made, keeps away his light, and leaves us alone, cold, smitten: to feel with such a one as Byron—
"The worm, the canker, and the grief are mine alone."
Impress the folly and the danger of self-trust by the figures given in Jeremiah 17:5-8.—R.T.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 50". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter