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SECTION IX.—THE JUDGMENT OF GOD ON IDUMAEA (Isaiah 63:1-6).
A JUDGMENT ON IDUMAEA. Isaiah had already, in the first portion of his prophecy, announced" a great slaughter in the land of Idumaea" as resolved on in the counsels of God (Isaiah 34:5-10). He now recurs to the subject, and represents Jehovah ,as a warrior with blood-stained garments, fresh from the field of battle in Edom, where he has trodden down his foes and taken a fierce vengeance on them. The Idumaeans probably represent the world-power; and the "day of vengeance" may be one still future, in which the enemies of God will feel the weight of his hand.
The description stands by itself, neither connected with what goes before nor with what follows. It has the appearance of a separate poem, which accident has placed in its present position. In form it is "a lyrico-dramatic dialogue between the prophet as a bystander and a victorious warrior (i.e. Jehovah) returning from battle in Idumaea" (Cheyne).
Who is this? The prophet opens the dialogue with an inquiry, "Who is it that presents himself before him suddenly in a strange guise?" He comes from Edom, from Bozrah—a principal Edomite city (see the comment on Isaiah 34:6)—with dyed garments; or, rather, with blood-red garments—garments incarnadined with gore. "Who is this," again he asks, "that is glorious (or, splendid) in his apparel"—the blood-stained vesture of the conqueror was a glory to him (Nahum 2:3; Revelation 19:13)—"as he travels" (or, "bends forward" ) in the greatness of his strength—exhibiting in his movements a mighty indomitable strength? Who is it? The reply is immediate—I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save; i.e. I, whose every word is "holy, just, and true," who alone am able to "save to the uttermost all that come to me" (Hebrews 7:25). The answer unmistakably indicates that the figure which has appeared to the prophet is that of Jehovah.
Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel? The prophet resumes his questioning. What means the redness of thine apparel? Whence the stains? Are they wine-stains consequent on treading the winepress? Among the Hebrews, as among the Egyptians, the juice of the grape was trodden out by the feet of men, who often splashed some upon their garments (Genesis 49:11).
I have trodden the wine-press. The warrior replies. He accepts the suggestion of the prophet; but metaphorically, not literally. He has indeed been "treading a wine-press," but it is the wine-press of his fury, in which he has trampled down his enemies; and the stains upon his raiment are, consequently, not wine-stains, but stains of blood (comp. Joel 3:13; Lamentations 1:15; Revelation 14:19, Revelation 14:20; Revelation 19:15). Alone. In mine own might, with none to aid me. The literal wine-press was always trodden by a band of men. Of the people; rather, of the peoples; i.e. of the neighbouring nations none took part with God against the special enemies of his people, the Idumaeans. All more or less sympathized with his adversaries, and therefore participated in their punishment (see Isaiah 63:6). For I will tread them … trample them; rather, so I trode them … trampled them (Lowth, Rosenmuller, Delitzsch, Cheyne, by an alteration of the vowel-points). The whole is a prophecy of the future; but the dramatic form of the narrative requires that the verbs should be in the past. As "the peoples" would not help God, but took the side of his enemies, they too were placed in the winepress, and crushed under his feet. Their blood; literally, their juice. Lowth and Kay translate, "life-blood;" Delitzsch, "life-sap;" Mr. Cheyne, excellently, "life-stream." Shall be sprinkled … will stain; rather, was sprinkled … stained.
For the day of vengeance is in my heart. Translate, for a day of vengeance was in my heart (comp Isaiah 34:8; Isaiah 61:2). "A day" is time enough for God to take vengeance, to kill, and to destroy. He hastens over work that is necessary, but uncongenial. But he lengthens out the time of release and redemption for his loved ones. The "day of vengeance" ushers in the "year of redemption." Is come; rather, was come. The Divine speaker goes back to the time preceding the actual punishment of the nations.
And I looked, and there was none to help (comp. Isaiah 5:2, "He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes:" also Isaiah 41:28, "I beheld, and there was no man"). By an anthropomorphism God is represented as looking for and expecting what might reasonably have been expected, and even as surprised when he does not find it (comp. Isaiah 59:16). Out of all the many nations it was reasonable to suppose that some would have chosen the better part and have been on the Lord's side. But the fact was otherwise (comp. Isaiah 63:3). Mine own arm brought salvation unto me; or, mine own arm helped me (comp. Isaiah 59:16). Nothing more is needed. If God arises, his enemies at once "are scattered" (Psalms 68:1). "His own right hand, and his holy arm, get him the victory" (Psalms 98:1).
I will tread down … make drunk … bring down; rather, I trode down … made drunk … brought down. See the comment on Isaiah 63:3. The destruction was to be utter, overwhelming, absolute—one from which there could be no recovery (comp. Revelation 19:11-21, where the simile of the wine-press, and the "vesture dipped in blood," seem introduced with a special reference to this passage).
SECTION X.—AN ADDRESS OF THE EXILES TO GOD, INCLUDING THANKSGIVING, CONFESSION OF SIN, AND SUPPLICATION (Isa 63:7 -64.).
GOD PRAISED FOR HIS MERCIES. The address opens with pure and simple thanksgiving of the most general kind, God being praised for his loving-kindness, compassion, and sympathy with his people (Isaiah 63:7-9). An historical survey is then commenced, and Israel's shortcomings contrasted with God's mercies, but with a predominantly thankful and even jubilant tone (Isaiah 63:10-14).
I will mention; or, celebrate. The loving-kindnesses; or, mercies (see Isaiah 55:3; and comp. Psalms 89:1).
He said, Surely they are my people. Israel was first recognized as "a people" in Egypt, when the creel Pharaoh, probably Sethos I; said, "The people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we "(Exodus 1:9). Soon afterwards God acknowledged them as "his people" (Exodus 3:7). The exiles probably go back in their thoughts to this time. Children that will not lie; or, deal falsely, as the same word is translated in Psalms 44:17. The meaning is, that surely they will be faithful to God, and not fall away from him into idolatry or irreligion.
In all their affliction he was afflicted. The "affliction" of Israel began in Egypt (Genesis 15:13), probably not long after the death of Joseph. It became an intense oppression, when the king "arose who knew not Joseph" (Exodus 1:8). God's sympathy with Israel's sufferings at this time is strongly marked in the narrative of Exodus (Exodus 2:23, Exodus 2:24; Exodus 3:7, Exodus 3:17). An alternative reading of the Hebrew text gives the sense, "In all their affliction he was not an adversary;" i.e. he did not afflict them for their hurt, but for their benefit. But the reading followed by our translators, and most moderns, is to be preferred. The angel of his presence saved them. "The angel of his presence" occurs nowhere but in this place. It is probably equivalent to "the angel of God" (Exodus 14:19; Judges 15:6; Acts 27:23), or "the angel of the Lord" (Genesis 16:7; Numbers 22:23; Judges 13:3, etc.), and designates either the Second Person of the Trinity, or the highest of the angelic company, who seems to be the archangel Michael. (For the angelic interpositions which "saved" Israel, see Exodus 14:19; Judges 6:11-23; Jdg 13:3-21; 2 Kings 19:35, etc.) In his love and in his pity he redeemed them. The "redemption" of this passage is probably that from the bondage of Egypt (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; Deuteronomy 7:8, etc.), which belonged to "the days of old"—not the spiritual redemption from the bondage of sin, which was reserved for the time of the Messiah. Having "redeemed" them, i.e. delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and thereby, as it were, purchased them to be his own, he hare them—"Carried them on eagles' wings" (Exodus 19:4), and brought them safely through the wilderness to Palestine (comp. Deuteronomy 32:10-12).
But they rebelled. The rebellions of Israel against God commenced in the wilderness. They rebelled at Sinai, when they set up the golden calf; at Meribah (Numbers 20:24); at Shittim, when they consorted with the daughters of Moab (Numbers 25:6). Under the Judges, their conduct was one long rebellion (Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7, Judges 3:12; Judges 4:1; Judges 6:1; Judges 8:33; Judges 10:6; Judges 13:1). They rebelled in Samuel's time by asking for a king (1 Samuel 8:5, 1 Samuel 8:19, 1 Samuel 8:20). The ten tribes rebelled under Jeroboam, and set up the idolatry of the calves at Dan and Bethel. Worse idolatries followed, and in two centuries and a half had reached such a height, that God was provoked to "remove Israel out of his sight" (2 Kings 17:23). Judah remained, but "rebelled" under Manasseh, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, "transgressing very much after all the abominations of the heathen, and polluting the very house of the Lord at Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 36:14). These rebellions against God vexed his Holy Spirit—"provoked him," "grieved him," "moved the Holy One in Israel" (Psalms 78:40, Psalms 78:41; Psalms 106:43). Therefore he was turned to be their enemy (comp. Jeremiah 30:14; Lamentations 2:4, Lamentations 2:5). Judah had "filled up the measure of her iniquities," had gone on "until there was no remedy" (2 Chronicles 36:16). God's indignation was therefore poured out upon her without let or stint. "He cut oft' in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he drew back his right hand from before the enemy; he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about. He bent his bow like an enemy; he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion; he poured out his fury like fire. The Lord was as an enemy" (Lamentations 2:3-5). He fought against them; rather, he himself fought against them. God himself, though they were "his people," yet fought against them and for the Chaldeans in that final struggle. He "gave the city into the hand of the King of Babylon" (Jeremiah 34:2).
Then he remembered the days of old. It is questioned who remembered, God or his people. Gesenius, Hitzig, Ewald, Nagelbach, Delitzsch, Knobel, and Mr. Cheyne are in favour of the people; Bishop Lowth and Dr. Kay of God. The reflections which follow (Isaiah 63:11-13) seem certainly most appropriate to the people, or to the prophet speaking in their name. Where is he that brought them up out of the sea? i.e. "the Red Sea" (comp. Isaiah 51:10). What has become of the protecting God who then delivered them? With the shepherd of his flock; or, shepherds, according to another reading. The "shepherd" might be either Moses, or "the angel of his face" (Isaiah 63:9). The "shepherds"—if that reading be preferred—must be Moses, Aaron, and perhaps Miriam (Micah 6:4). Where he that put his Holy Spirit within him? The "him" of this passage undoubtedly refers to "the people" (Rosenmuller, Knobel, Delitzsch, Kay, Cheyne). God gave to the people in the wilderness "his good Spirit to instruct them" (Nehemiah 9:20), and guide them (Haggai 2:4, Haggai 2:5), and govern them (Numbers 11:17).
That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm; rather, that caused his glorious arm to attend at Moses' right hand—ready (as Dr. Weir says) to grasp him if he should stumble. Dividing the water before them; literally, cleaving the waters before their face (comp. Exodus 14:21). To make himself an everlasting name (see Exodus 15:11-16). It was one of the main purposes of the entire series of miracles wrought in Egypt, "that God's Name might be declared throughout all the earth" (Exodus 9:16).
As a beast goeth down into the valley. Bishop Lowth's version seems the best," As the herd descendeth to the valley." Israel's passage through the Sinaitic peninsula into Canaan is compared to tile movement of a herd of cattle from its summer pastures in the mountains to the valley at their base, where for a time it rests. So God gave his people, after their many trials, "rest" in Canaan (Hebrews 3:11-18). So didst thou lead thy people. "So" refers, not to the last simile only, but to the entire description contained in Isaiah 63:11-14. To make thyself a glorious name (comp. Isaiah 63:12, and see also Ezekiel 36:21-23; Malachi 1:2).
A PRAYER FOR DELIVERANCE FROM SIN AND SUFFERING. From thanksgiving and confession, the people betake themselves to prayer, and beseech God to look down from heaven once more, to have compassion on them, to acknowledge them, and to save them alike from themselves (Isaiah 63:17) and from their adversaries (Isaiah 63:18, Isaiah 63:19). "It is difficult to overrate the spiritual beauty of the prayer contained in this passage. We may admit that the most prominent motive urged by the speaker has a nationalistic air; but behind this, and strengthening it, is a sense of the infiniteness of the Divine mercy, and of the strong vitality of the union between Jehovah and his people" (Cheyne).
Look down from heaven (comp. Deuteronomy 26:15; Psalms 80:14; 2Ki 8:1-29 :30). "The Lord's seat" was "in heaven." While the temple lay in ruins, the Jews would naturally address their prayers to God in his heavenly abode. From the habitation of thy holiness. Mr. Cheyne translates, from the height of thy holiness," taking the meaning of the rare word z'bul from the Assyrian. "Height" certainly suits well most of the other places where the word z'bul occurs (1 Kings 8:13; 2 Chronicles 6:2; Psalms 49:14; Habakkuk 3:11). Where is thy zeal? i.e. What has become of it? Has it ceased altogether, or is it only in abeyance for a time? Will not God "stir it up" once more (Isaiah 42:13)? And thy strength; rather, and thy great acts (comp. Psalms 106:2; Psalms 145:4; Psalms 150:2). The sounding of thy bowels; i.e. their thrilling or vibration—an indication of sympathy (see Isaiah 16:11). Jeremiah has a similar expression (Jeremiah 31:20). Are they restrained? rather, they are restrained. They no longer show themselves. There was no room for questioning the fact.
Doubtless thou art our Father; rather, for thou art our Father. This is the ground of their appeal to God. As their Father, he must love them, and must be ready to listen to them. Abraham and Isaac, their earthly fathers, were of no service, lent them no aid, seemed to have ceased to feel any interest in them. It cannot be justly argued from this that the Jews looked to Abraham and Isaac as actual "patron saints," or directed towards them their religious regards. Had this been so, there would have been abundant evidence of it. Thou, O Lord, art our Father (comp. Isaiah 64:8; and see also Deuteronomy 32:6, and Jeremiah 3:4). Though the relationship was revealed under the old covenant, it was practically realized only upon the rarest occasions. Our Redeemer; thy name, etc.; rather, our Redeemer has been thy name from of old. "Redeemer" first appears as a name of God in Job (Job 19:25) and in the Psalms (Psalms 19:14; Psalms 78:35). It is an epitheton usitatum only in the later portion of Isaiah. There it occurs thirteen times.
Why hast thou made us to err from thy ways? Confession is here mingled with a kind of reproach. They have erred and strayed from God's ways, they ' allow; but why has he permitted it? Why has he, the shepherd of his flock (Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 49:10), not restrained his wandering sheep, and kept them in his "ways "or "paths" ? The reproach borders on irreverence, but is kept within the limits of piety by the affection and trust that underlie it. They are like wayward children reproaching a tender mother, not quite believing in the justice of their reproaches, but with a very confident faith in her love and in her power to aid. They entertain no doubt but that God will "return" to them, and acknowledge them as his sheep, and resume their guidance and direction. And hardened our heart (comp. Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:1), "When men have scornfully and obstinately rejected the grace of God, God withdraws it from them judicially, gives them up to their wanderings, dud makes their hearts incapable of faith" (Delitzsch). If the process has not gone very far, God may relent, and "return," and soften the proud heart, and renew in it "his fear." This is what Israel now entreats him to do. For thy servants'sake. There was always "a remnant" in the worst times, which had not" bowed the knee to Baal." This was God's true "inheritance," which he might be expected to protect and aid.
The people of thy holiness; or, thy holy people (comp. Isaiah 62:9; Isaiah 63:15 : Isaiah 64:11). Some critics read har, "mountain," instead of 'am, "people," and translate, "But for a little while have they" (i.e. thy servants) "had possession of thy holy mountain." The general meaning is the same in either case. "Israel, God's people, has held Palestine but for a little while"—a few centuries—and now the heathen have been allowed to make themselves masters of it, (comp. Ezra 10:8).
We are thine. There is no "thine" in the original, and so important a word cannot possibly be supplied from without. Translate, We are as those over whom thou hast not ruled from of old, as those upon whom thy Name has not been called; i.e. we have lost all our privileges—we have become in God's sight no better than the heathen—he has forgotten that we were ever his people.
The Idumaeans a type of God's enemies.
There was a time when Esau sought to slay his brother Jacob (Genesis 27:41); and the same spirit of violence and hatred possessed the Edomite nation during its entire career. Edom strove to debar Israel from entrance into the Holy Land by refusing to give them a passage through her borders (Numbers 20:14-21). She was always ready to join Israel's enemies, and sought perpetually to take Israel at a disadvantage (2 Kings 16:6; 2Ch 20:10, 2 Chronicles 20:22; 2 Chronicles 28:17; Ezekiel 25:12; Ezekiel 35:5; Amos 1:11; Obadiah 1:10, etc.). When the Babylonian conquest came she rejoiced, and made a mock of Israel's distress (Psalms 137:7). She was still hostile in the time of the Maccabees, and supported the Syrian monarchs in their endeavours to crush Jewish independence (1 Macc. 5:3; 6:31; 2 Macc. 5:15). Herod the Great, who sought to put our Lord to death in his infancy, was an Idumaean; and so, on the father's side, was Herod Antipas, who mocked him and set him at nought. The Idumaeans are well selected to represent God's enemies generally—
I. ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR PRIDE. Pride was the sin by which Satan and his evil angels lost heaven; and no sin is more hateful to God or more characteristic of his enemies. Of the Idumaeans it is said, "The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rocks … that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?" (Obadiah 1:3); and again," Thy terribleness hath deceived thee, and the pride of thy heart" (Jeremiah 49:16). "Pride was the root of Edom's sin," says a recent commentator on Obadiah—pride of an unnatural kind, since God had assigned to Edom a low estate. Now "a low estate, acquiesced in by the grace of God, is the parent of lowliness; when rebelled against, it generates a greater intensity of pride than greatness, because that pride is against nature itself and God's appointment. The pride of human greatness, sinful as it is, is allied to a natural nobility of character … The conceit of littleness has the hideousness of those monstrous combinations, the more hideous because unnatural, not a corruption only, but a distortion of nature".
II. ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR UNNATURAL HATRED. All hatred of one race towards another is hated by God, but the hatred of a kindred race is especially displeasing to him. It was one of the special reproaches against Ephraim that he vexed a brother, Judah. Now, Esau and Israel were not only brothers, but twin brothers. They ought to have been drawn closely together by this relationship, and to have supported each ether against the alien races of the neighbourhood. But the tie of blood was not felt. Edom had "a perpetual hatred of Israel" (Ezekiel 35:5). They would gladly have conquered their brethren, and held them in subjection (Ezekiel 35:10); but as this could not be, they rejoiced in their brethren's destruction (Obadiah 1:12) and gazed delightedly on their sufferings (Obadiah 1:13). "Unrelenting, deadly hatred against the whole people of Israel, and a longing for their extermination, were inveterate characteristics of Esau".
III. ON ACCOUNT OF THE ENVY IN WHICH THEIR HATE WAS ROOTED. Ezekiel, declaring God's intention to punish Edom: says, "As I live, saith the Lord God, I will even do according to thine anger, and according to thy envy which thou hast used out of thy hatred against them" (Ezekiel 35:11). The ground of all Edom's hatred of Israel was that jealousy and envy roused by the Divine preference which put the younger before the elder, and gave to Israel superior, to Esau inferior, blessings. Edom had much for which to be thankful—a good pasture country, a secure capital, commercial advantages, wisdom of a certain kind (Jeremiah 49:7); but these things did not satisfy her. They were all rendered vain, and of no account, by the fact that Israel enjoyed more numerous and greater blessings. She could not forgive this superiority; and hence her hatred and rancour. Hence the joy with which she witnessed the walls breached, and Jerusalem taken by the Babylonians; hence the loud cries to which she gave utterance, of "Down with it, down with it [or, 'raze it, raze it' ], even to the ground" (Psalms 137:7).
IV. ON ACCOUNT OF THE VIOLENCE AND CRUEL OUTRAGES TO WHICH THE HATRED LED. Edom "shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword in the time of their calamity" (Ezekiel 35:5). When the Babylonians were besieging Jerusalem, they "stood in the crossway, to cut off those that did escape" (Obadiah 1:14), shutting them up with the enemy, driving them back on their pursuers. Not only did they rejoice in Judah's destruction, and speak proudly in the day of her distress (Obadiah 1:12), but they flew upon the spoil, entering into the gates with the conquerors and laying hands upon the substance of the conquered (Obadiah 1:13). Such fugitives as escaped and settled among them they slew (Joel 3:19). Such captives as they could induce the Philistines or the Phoenicians to sell to them they also put to death (Amos 1:6, Amos 1:9, Amos 1:11). It was their earnest desire that Israel should be no more a nation, and they therefore made every effort to exterminate it. Next to extermination, they desired complete subjugation. Hence the support which they lent to the Syrians against the heroic Maccabee princes.
Idumaea's fate should be a warning to the enemies of God. Her reward returned upon her own head. As she had done, so was it done to her (Obadiah 1:15). By the time of Malachi, Edom's mountains and heritage had been "laid waste for the jackals of the wilderness" (Malachi 1:3). She was "impoverished;" her cities were thrown down; she strove to rebuild them, but was unable (Malachi 1:4). A century later her territory, or great part of it, was occupied by the Nabathaeans, who made Petra their capital (Diod. Sic; 19:94-98). After suffering various defeats at the hands of the earlier Maccabee princes, the Edomites were finally conquered, and incorporated into the Jewish nation by John Hyrcanus. The last that we hear of them is in the Roman war, when a body of twenty thousand, admitted into Jerusalem by John of Giscala, filled the city with bloodshed, and ending by pillaging it. Thenceforth they disappear from history. The greater part perished in the terrible siege conducted by Titus. The remainder, confounded with the Jews, were sold into slavery. Idumaea became "a geographical expression."
God afflicted in the afflictions of his people.
It is questioned by some whether God can really feel pain. Doubtless, the inner essence of the Divine nature is so far removed from us, and so inscrutable by us, that answers must be given with extreme hesitation to any questions which touch that inner essence. And in using words of God, which derive their whole meaning from our consciousness of feelings which we experience in ourselves, we must beware of supposing that the terms which we employ are used univocally of God and of men. They are, at best, used analogously. Still, as Delitzsch says, "the question whether God can feel pain seems to be answered by the Scriptures in the affirmative." Pity, and compassion, and indignation, and anger are ascribed to God in Scripture, and all of them are pains. God's "soul" is said to have been "grieved for the misery of Israel" (Judges 10:16). There is nothing derogatory to the Divine greatness in the mere fact of God feeling pain; and certainly the fact is of a nature to raise our conception of the Divine goodness. God seems to be afflicted in the afflictions of his people—
I. WHEN THEY SUFFER AT THE HANDS OF WICKED MEN. It was the cruel oppression of the Israelites in Egypt which first called forth the compassion and sympathy of God for his people, and caused him to draw near to them, and to enter into a closer relationship. "The children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage; and God heard their groaning" (Exodus 2:23, Exodus 2:24). "And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people … and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows" (Exodus 3:7). It was, again, the "sore distress" which Israel suffered at the hands of the children of Ammon that caused "the Lord's soul to be grieved" in the days of the Judges, and induced him to raise up Jephthah as a deliverer (Judges 10:9, Judges 10:16; Judges 11:1). The oppression of Babylon wrought similarly, and by stirring God's indignation and compassion induced him to save his people and execute judgment upon Babylon by means of Cyrus (Isaiah 42:22-25, etc.).
II. WHEN THEY SUFFER AT THE HANDS OF GOD HIMSELF. God "has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth." When he is forced to punish, it is with reluctance and regret that he punishes. Witness his long pleadings with his people before he consents to let judgment go forth against them, his long forbearance, his long endurance of their perversity. "All the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed at Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, 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" (2 Chronicles 36:14-16). As the "fathers of our flesh, which correct us" (Hebrews 12:9), grieve to do so, suffering often more than those they chasten suffer, so the heavenly Father is himself afflicted as he afflicts; his "heart is turned within him, his repentings are kindled together" (Hosea 11:8).
The right of God's people to address him with complaint and expostulation.
No doubt the ordinary attitude of God's people towards their Maker and Ruler should be one of the most profound resignation and submission to his will. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). Yet on occasions it is allowed them to "speak with him as a man speaketh with his friend" (Exodus 33:11), to plead, expostulate, complain; even, in a certain sense, to reproach. Job pleaded with God at great length, and God was not angered, but "accepted" him (Job 42:9), and testified in his favour that he had "spoken right "(Job 42:8). In the Psalms David pleads, complains, expostulates. "Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?" (Psalms 10:1). "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? For ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?" (Psalms 13:1, Psalms 13:2). "Lord, how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions … Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me … For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters … This thou hast seen, O Lord: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me. Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord' (Psalms 35:17-23). "Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way; though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death. If we have forgotten the name of God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart. Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter. Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever. Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?… Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies' sake" (Psalms 44:18-26). Such expostulations as these do not anger God, but, on the contrary, arc pleasing and acceptable. They show earnestness, confidence, faith, a trust in his goodness, a conviction that he will surely show himself on the side of truth and righteousness. They are within the limits of the "liberty wherewith Christ has made us free" (Galatians 5:1). Caution, however, must be used, lest liberty degenerate into licence—lest complaint and expostulation pass into "murmuring." After all, God best knows what is best for us, and will assuredly do what is best for us. We are safe in his hands. In his own good time he will give us all that we need. Let us not be impatient, or imagine ourselves wiser than he. If he delays to give us that which we desire, we may be sure that there is a reason for the delay. In quietness and confidence should be our strength.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
An outburst of thanksgiving.
A deep heart-effusion, in which all that the religious imagination, inspired by love, can suggest, is projected upon the picture of Jehovah, the redeeming God of Israel.
I. HIS LOVING-KINDNESS. (Cf. Isaiah 55:3; and the Hebrew word in Isaiah 63:7; Psalms 89:28-49; Psalms 107:43; Lamentations 3:22.) The word (הֶסֶד) suggests a world of love. When used of men it implies pity, benignity, especially in circumstances of misfortune, as Genesis 21:23; 1 Samuel 10:2; Job 6:14. How fine is the saying in 2 Samuel 9:3, "I will act kindly toward him like unto God"! So that all human expressions of kindness may be and should be conceived as flowing from the one eternal Fountain. Sometimes, by a figure, God himself is called Favour, Mercy (Psalms 144:2; Jonah 2:9).
II. HIS GREAT DEEDS. "Renown," or "deeds of renown." The divorce of feeling from deed, of sentiment from action, that we so often see in feeble humanity, we do not find in God. With him, heart and head are one. His deeds are daily, world-extended, historical, eternal. Every commotion of the nations, every war, every revolution, must be traced to the influence of his Spirit in the last resort.
III. HIS GENEROUS BESTOWALS. There is an exuberant outflow of thought, feeling, and language here. Jehovah is to be celebrated "according to that which is due for all that he hath bestowed, according to his compassion and his abundant loving-kindnesses." Were it not that the impression of pain is keener and deeper with us than that of pleasure, it would be seen that at every moment life teems with mercies, gifts from the Giver of all good.
IV. His PROVIDENCE IN HISTORY. They were his people in virtue of the primeval covenant. They were his sons by adoption. The great salvation out of Israel was prototypical of all acts in which Jehovah "became unto them a Saviour. Distinct and strong is the representation of the sympathy of God with their suffering; distressed in all their distresses." His love and his clemency are again mentioned. He was ever, in that long and strange history of rebellion, "overcoming evil with good "—a pardoning God. His care was that of a mother's heart—carrying the people, as it were, from their birth, promising to carry them even to hoar hairs. "I bare made, and I will bear; I will carry, and I will deliver you" (Isaiah 46:3, Isaiah 46:4). Yet it is part of such providential dealing to chastise. There were especially times when the people did evil in the sight of Jehovah (Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7). Secretly a Holy Spirit, or Spirit of holiness, was striving with them, and they were constantly resisting it. The great covenant with God was founded on this principle of holiness; this was the distinctive characteristic of the people as of their God. By their untruth to the covenant, they changed him as it were from a friend to an enemy. Thwarted love turns to jealousy (Exodus 34:14), and the gracious face of the Father becomes that of the wrathful Judge.—J.
The remembrance of the past.
I. THE MEMORY OF GOD. If God is thought of, as he must be thought of, after the analogy of human experiences, he must be thought of as remembering, calling the past to mind, and as undergoing changes of mind in consequence. These are ways of representing first to thought, then in language, an infinite love, which must be capable of all the scale and gamut of feeling—anger, wrath, jealousy, and the revulsion almost to the tenderness of tears. So in the wilderness, he, being full of compassion, forgave the iniquity of the rebels in the wilderness, turning his anger away, because he remembered that they were flesh, or but as the passing wind; he called to mind his covenant; he repented according to the multitude of his mercies (Leviticus 26:45; Psalms 78:39; Psalms 106:45). In the history of Israel there was nothing more memorable than the coming up out of Egypt, and the leadership of Moses and Aaron.
II. THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL EXPLAINED FROM THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD. The outward wonders, the deeds of might, were but the manifestation of an inward waking of his Spirit in the breast el the people. A Spirit of instruction, of "providential guidance and sagacious government"—"Thy good Spirit to instruct them" (Nehemiah 9:20). A holy light seemed in the retrospect to rest upon that period. It was said that the people "served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that over-lived Joshua," for "they had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel." The next generation knew not the works of the Lord, nor the works he bad done for Israel (Joshua 24:31; Judges 2:6-10). The Spirit of Jehovah appears to mean much the same as the face of Jehovah above (cf. Exodus 33:14; Haggai 2:4, Haggai 2:5; cf. Numbers 11:10-30). The term "holiness" reminds of the covenant, and the covenant of the obligations of fidelity on the part of the people, in response to the oath-keeping of God. Another image, almost carrying the same meaning, is that of the "arm of Jehovah's splendour" (Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 45:1), ready to support Moses, to hold him up from falling (Isaiah 41:10-13). Then the sublime picture of the crossing of the Red Sea rises up in imagination (Exodus 14:21; cf. Psalms 106:9; Psalms 77:16), and the wide and dreary steppe. Finally, as a herd goes down from the mountain-side into the pasture-land of the plain, so, under the same guidance, the people came to their rest—a beloved word (Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 3:20; Deuteronomy 12:9; Joshua 1:13; Joshua 22:4; Psalms 95:11; Jeremiah 31:2; Hebrews 4:1, Hebrews 4:9). The spiritual sum and substance of all is, "Thus thou didst guide thy people to make unto thyself a monument of glory." By his work he became for ever known among the heathen. It was a work not to be executed by any false god, nor by any human arm. "Egypt was at this time the centre of all science, art, and culture; arid what occurred there would be known in other lands. God designed to make a signal demonstration of his existence and power, that should be known in all lands and should never be forgotten." God's glory is the grand end of all he does, and consequently ought to be likewise of all that we either do or suffer. And whatever, therefore, befalls any man makes for God's glory and for his own good, if he be a child of God. We should learn, then, to estimate things by their use and tendency. Poison may enter into the composition of an antidote; and things essentially good may, under certain circumstances, become pernicious. Prosperity may harden and adversity may humble us; the one may prepare us for judgment, the other for mercy.—J.
The Church's prayer.
One of extreme "spiritual beauty" (Cheyne).
I. THE MAJESTY OF GOD. He is contemplated as in heaven, upon "a height of holiness and splendour:" and here, as in Psalms 80:14, is besought to "look down and behold" as if "he had given up caring for his people, and withdrawn into his heavenly palace." It expresses the thought that he, to interpose for them, must ever condescend. The vastness of the distance between God and the creature is expressed—in other words, the sense of the creature's lowliness and unworthiness. Yet elsewhere, "He is nigh unto all that call upon him." The chasm then presented in the imagination may be, and is, bridged over. How? By prayer—by calling upon him. "A sigh may bring the blessing down."
II. THE SEEMING INDIFFERENCE OF GOD. Nevertheless, there are times when the "heavens are ,as brass," and when the God believed to be "living" stirs not, speaks not, gives no sign that he hearkens. As if callous to his people's need, his "jealousy" slumbers, and needs to be "stirred." Then comes the "pain of finite hearts that yearn," for the sympathy (the "sounding of the bowels," Isaiah 16:11; Jeremiah 31:20; Jeremiah 48:36) and the compassion which seem withheld and as if deliberately kept back. Such is the tragedy of religious experience—the old conflict between the intellect which absolutely affirms the goodness of God, the heart which is denied the present sense of it.
III. FAITH IN THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD. "Thou art our Father" is the cry, the confession, and the appeal of the Church. In Isaiah 64:8 the image is associated with that of the "Potter." In 1 Chronicles 29:10 it is "Lord God of Israel, our Father." And with this image again is associated the Maker and Purchaser, or Redeemer (Deuteronomy 32:6). The nation is to him as the primitive family is to the father, the head, who enjoys the peculiar patria potestas. The people is "his son, even his firstborn" (Exodus 4:22); "beloved, called out of Egypt" (Hosea 11:1); "nourished and brought up" by Jehovah (Isaiah 1:2); as the Guide of its youth (Jeremiah 3:4); who will not disown the tie nor the title (Jeremiah 3:19); Father of Israel, to whom Ephraim is firstborn (Jeremiah 31:9); a Father whose heart is sore troubled for his children's sake, and who is full of mercy and compassion to them (Jeremiah 31:20); who demands the honour and reverence. due to a father (Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:10). And here the name is associated with that of the goel, the avenger and deliverer; for the people's history was a series of deliverances. If God is a Father, a childlike way of speech is not misbecoming in prayers. And here they ask why Jehovah "makes them to stray," as if they would throw the blame of their aberrations upon him, and he was the Cause of the hardening of their hearts. "They speak as if it is not they who need to return to Jehovah, but Jehovah who is reluctant to return to them; as if, instead of feeding his flock like a Shepherd (Isaiah 40:11), he has driven it out of the safe fold into the howling wilderness" (Cheyne). Yet the confidence of the child beats passionately below such language. God looks not at the mere words, but at the heart in the words. And it is true, again, that from the difficult problems of thought, this way of thinking seems a better relict than the dualism of the Orientals. It is better to leave the problem with the confession, "God knows best" (cf. Romans 9:17-22). Jehovah is also King. The other peoples have kings as their gods; but he is the incomparable One. The calling on his Name signifies the union of him with his people—the eternal covenant (Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 65:1; Deuteronomy 28:10; Jeremiah 14:9). The spiritual life moves between opposite poles. It has been said that in the highest mood of faith there lurks some doubt. So in extreme despondency there is still living the germ of faith and hope. And prayer brings that germ into life and power.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
The coming Saviour.
"Mighty to save." The question is asked, Who is this?" and the answer is given in Eastern figures of speech, which represent Christ's character and work.
I. THE SAVIOUR COMES WITH A GREAT SACRIFICE. With "dyed garments;" for the cross lies at the foundation of the world's recovery. We are weary of all theories of atonement from Anselm's day downwards, but the atonement remains as the central truth of our religion. It rests on our Lord's own authority as well as upon St. Paul's; for he said himself, "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins."
II. THE SAVIOUR COMES IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. He is the express Image of the Father. "Glorious in his apparel," so that through all the ages men may see truth turned into life. Once in all history we see One who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." Christ was "clothed with light as with a garment,"
III. THE SALVATION IS ATTESTED IN EVERY AGE.
1. Mighty—in his own revealed grace and power.
2. Mighty—in that every degree of guilt and sin is reached by his infinite arm.
3. Mighty—in that he saves right through, which is the meaning of the word "to the uttermost."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The earlier and the later redemption.
The energetic and graphic language of the text applies only in part to that Messianic kingdom to which the prophet makes such frequent reference. It obviously relates, primarily and principally, to the deliverance wrought by Jehovah in favour of his people Israel, and is concerned with the redressing of their political wrongs. But the expressions used are strongly suggestive of a far greater redemption, in which all the children of men are vitally interested. We look at—
I. THOSE FEATURES WHICH CHARACTERIZE THE EARLIER RATHER THAN THE LATER DELIVERANCE.
1. The employment of the outwardly impressive. "This that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength." Something, if not much, of the stately, the striking, the magnificent, of that which was fitted to awe and overwhelm belonged to the older dispensation—to the theocracy and the divinely permitted monarchy. Under Christ it is not so. He himself "came not with observation" (ostentation); he was a "King that came, meek," devoid of all the shows and trappings of royal state. And it is his will that his Church should shrink from rather than secure the dignities and majesties of the earthly kingdoms (Matthew 20:25-28).
2. The use of violence. "With dyed garments … Their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments" (Isaiah 63:1, Isaiah 63:3). Jesus said, and surely still says in respect of all efforts to advance his kingdom, "Put up thy sword into the sheath" (John 18:11).
3. The manifestation of Divine anger. "The day of vengeance is in mine heart" (Isaiah 63:4). Contrast with this, "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17; John 12:47; Luke 9:56).
II. THE FEATURES WHICH ARE COMMON TO BOTH, but are most strikingly characteristic of the later redemption.
1. The manifestation of Divine power. "Mighty to save." Great as were the deliverances accomplished in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Canaan, in Assyria, these were small and insignificant compared with "the redemption of the world by Christ Jesus," the rescue of a guilty and degenerate race and its reinstatement in the favour and the likeness of God. Hence is by far the noblest exhibition of Divine power.
2. The illustration of Divine faithfulness. "I that speak in righteousness." By his interposition God fulfilled his word of promise, and showed himself a covenant-keeping Lord. But in the granting of his "great salvation," and in all the outworkings of it, both collectively and individually, there are more abundant reasons for exclaiming, "God is faithful" (1 Corinthians 1:9).
3. The completeness of the Divine work. The picture here is, throughout, one of victorious strength. It is the return of a warrior who has thoroughly accomplished his work, by whom his enemies have been utterly subdued. He has "brought down their strength to the earth" (Isaiah 63:6). The work of Christ was perfected. He finished the work the Father gave him to do (John 17:4; John 19:30). He offered himself "without spot" to God (Hebrews 10:14). He has prepared for mankind a "common salvation;" as exquisitely adapted to the most cultured intelligence as it is fitted for the most barbarous and savage peoples. He is working out the redemption of the race, and will not rest until humanity has been redeemed and restored.
4. The single-handedness of the Divine Conqueror. "I have trodden the wine-press alone' (Isaiah 63:3 and Isaiah 63:5). Though God did use the instrumentality of his people, it was the presence of his overcoming arm which made all the difference between victory and defeat. And there were occasions when he thought well to dispense with human agency altogether; e.g. the destruction of the Egyptians under Pharaoh, and of the host under Sennacherib. Although the Lord Jesus Christ did not disdain, and does not refuse to employ his disciples in his cause, yet was there a very deep and real sense in which he was alone in his redemptive work (see Robertson on 'The Loneliness of Christ').
(1) He was of such spiritual stature that none could walk with him.
(2) He was engaged in a mission of such deep and lofty character that none could then enter into his great design.
(3) He came to make a sacrifice of himself in the offering of which none could join. Here are reasons why we, as Christian men and as workers with Christ, should
(a) look back with deepest gratitude;
(b) submit under disappointment with ready acquiescence;
(c) anticipate with full assurance the triumph which is in the future.—C.
The greatness of God's goodness.
There is music in the sound and great comfort in the sense of these exquisite words. They speak to us of—
I. THE GREATNESS OF GOD'S GOODNESS TO US.
1. The bountifulness of his gifts to us. "All that the Lord hath bestowed on us." "The multitude of his loving-kindnesses." His gifts night and day, in every season, through every stage of life; all material for the body, all stores of knowledge for the mind, all wealth of affection for the heart.
2. The distinguishing favours he has shown us. His "great goodness toward the house of Israel." Every "house," every family, every man, has some special reason to speak of Divine goodness.
3. The love which prompts his bestowals. All his kindnesses are "loving-kindnesses," prompted by parental affection, granted in a loving spirit.
4. His kindness toward us in affliction (Isaiah 63:8). He grants us Divine sympathy—"In all their afflictions;" and tender succour—"He bare them," etc; as the mother carries her sick child, the shepherd the wounded lamb. His hand may be upon us, but "underneath are the everlasting arms."
5. His grace in redemption. "The angel of his presence," etc.
II. OUR WISDOM AND DUTY IN VIEW OF IT. "I will mention." Here are two parts:
1. Recalling to our own thought.
2. Reminding those around us. This is our duty; for it is the clear will of Christ that we should make known the fulness of his kindness and the riches of his grace. We exist, as his people, that we may be witnesses to the world of all that we have learned of him. This is also our wisdom; for therein is found the one antidote to dissatisfaction, the one unfailing source of gratitude and joy.
III. GOD'S EXPECTATION CONCERNING US. (Isaiah 63:8.) As God gave to Israel all the peculiar proofs of his remembrance that they might prove a loyal and faithful people or family, so with us as a Christian Church. He has manifested marvellous love, patience, pity, succour, toward us. And in what expectation? That we should show ourselves loyal to himself and true to our trust; that we should prove ourselves the "people" and "children" of God, by reverence of bearing, by submissiveness of spirit, by integrity of character, by faithfulness in the field of sacred work.—C.
How God feels and why he acts.
The revolt or disobedience of Israel is said to have "vexed [grieved] his Holy Spirit." We learn from this and from a similar expression in Ephesians 4:30—
I. THE GRIEF TO WHICH GOD IS SUBJECT. Men have argued thus. God is a blessed or happy Being; he is infinite in all his attributes; therefore he is infinitely, perfectly happy; therefore there is no possibility of sorrow in his Divine nature. But such reasoning is very precarious and unreliable. We can argue little from infinity of which we know nothing, and we must not think of weighing any inference thus obtained against plain statements of Scripture. We are there assured that God is capable of grief, and we must believe that he is, our logical conclusions notwithstanding. And, looking from another point of view, we might well conclude that he is and must be so. For is he not a Divine Father? And has he not undutiful, rebellious children? How, then, could he fail to be grieved at heart? The fact of God's fatherhood is the most certain of all truths established by Divine revelation; no ground is more solid than that. Our human fatherhood is indicative of the Divine; it is the reflection of it; it is immeasurably less than it; its best, its tenderest, its most holy and generous feelings, are hints and shadows of corresponding feelings in the heart of the heavenly Father. If, then, in our thought, we purify, magnify, multiply that parental grief which father feels when his children go astray, we understand something of the grief of God.
1. Our Divine Father has expended on us boundless thought, affection, treasure, training, patience—a "multitude of loving-kindnesses." He has "given himself for us" in one supreme act of self-sacrificing love.
2. He looks for filial response from us, for eager attention to his voice when he speaks; for the acceptance of his pardoning love, for daily remembrance of him and communion with him; for cheerful obedience to his holy will.
3. He too often finds stubborn and protracted inattention, persistent refusal of his overtures of mercy, forgetfulness and neglect, a painful disregard of his will in our relations with one another—disobedience.
4. Then his heart is grieved. He who should be satisfied with us (Isaiah 53:11) is disappointed in us; looking for fruit, he finds none; his Holy Spirit is vexed, is grieved, in a way and in a degree beyond our human understanding, with a grief which is Divine.
II. THE ACTION WHICH HE TAKES. "Therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them." God's attitude towards his people, consequent on their guilt, seemed that of an enemy. He was as one who strove with them; he sent them discomfiture, calamity, exile. God may seem to be our enemy, to contend with us. He may send us:
1. Unhappiness of heart, a sense of the insufficiency and uselessness of our life, dreariness and despondency of spirit.
2. Failure of our temporal plans and schemes, and sense of miserable defeat.
4. A wounded heart through the inconstancy or the unfaithfulness of a friend; or some other blow which bends and threatens to break our spirit. God is against us, we feel.
III. THE END HE HAS IN VIEW. However we read Ephesians 4:11, it is clear that the purpose of God in thus striving with his people was restorative. He meant to give them rest, thus filling their hearts with joy and "making to himself a glorious Name." This is the meaning of all his adverse action toward us. He seeks our restoration to himself and to his service. There are with us, as with Israel, two strong securities.
1. His past loving-kindnesses. He who had bound his people to his heart as the God of Israel had done (Ephesians 4:11-14) could not and would not desert them in their distress.
2. The honour of his holy Name. God is establishing a kingdom of peace and righteousness, and he wants us as his loyal citizens. This is the meaning of all we are enduring. It is a summons from God to return to ourselves, to enter on our true heritage, to have fellowship with him.—C.
The unvarying Father.
The habitation of God's holiness is the habitation of his glory; his glory is in his goodness, in his faithfulness (Exodus 33:19). His fatherhood of man remains and may be counted upon most confidently, although there may appear great obstacles in the way of it.
I. OUR INSIGNIFICANCE AMONG MEN is no indication of the absence of God's interest in us. Abraham might be ignorant of any one of his children; our illustrious ancestors, our honoured contemporaries, may know nothing of us; we may be dwelling in the humblest obscurity; but that need not diminish in the very smallest degree our assurance that God is interesting himself in us. Doubtless he is our Father. "I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me."
II. OUR STANDING AMONG MEN is no measure of God's regard for us. Israel might not be prepared to acknowledge one of his descendants. Men in high authority may withhold from us the light of their countenance; but if there be integrity in our heart and soundness in our life, that need not greatly move us. It is better to have than to lack the confidence of such men, but we can do without it, if necessary. With God for our Father, with Christ for our Divine Friend, we can dispense with "the honour that cometh from man only."
III. GOD'S DISCIPLINE OF US is no disproof of his desire or determination to bless us. God may seem to have forsaken us. He once seemed to have forsaken his well-beloved Son. We may be inclined to use such language as he then used (Matthew 27:46), or as that of the text (Isaiah 63:15; and see Psa 67:7 -9). But we may be reassured. Everything he has done or is doing is consistent with his unchanging love. with a fatherhood that never fails. God is only searching, pruning, purifying us. He smites that he may heal us with a wholeness that wilt make us truly blessed, most excellently established and enriched.
1. Therefore let the voice of prayer be heard in dark and distressing hours. "Look down from heaven."
2. Therefore let the tried and stricken heart anticipate relief and recovery. God's Name is, from everlasting, that of "a Redeemer."—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The Conqueror from Edom.
The land of Edom was the country inhabited by the descendants of Esau. The original enmity between Esau and Jacob was kept up by the two races. The Edomites were regarded by the Israelites as their hereditary enemies, and no doubt the feeling was reciprocated. The Edomites had special opportunities for harassing Israel, by reason of the proximity of their country. Bozrah was one of the chief cities, if not the chief city, of Edom. We may try to realize the scene so graphically sketched in this passage. At a time when war had been raging, and enmity was at its height, one of the Israelites is represented as walking on the hill that overlooked the plains of Edom. He heard sounds of triumph; turning to the direction whence the sounds proceeded, he saw in the distance the dust arising from a crowd of people, shouting and rejoicing as they came marching on. They evidently came from the chief city of Edom. Now he discerns one in the very midst of the crowd, all stained with the blood of battle, but crowned with the victor's crown, and having a mien and attitude that tell of readiness to do and dare even yet greater things. The man glories in the triumph that has been won over the national foe, and hasting down to join the victors, he asks, in admiration rather than in inquiry, "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?' Quickened spiritual vision sees the Messianic meaning of this prophetic picture. We take our stand in the garden, where was Joseph's new tomb, on the greatest Sunday morning that ever dawned on sinful earth. Forth from the grave came One, stained indeed with the marks of conflict, but glorious in his victory; able to "speak in righteousness," able to "save."
I. WHENCE HE COMES. "From Edom and Bozrah," the land and chief town of Israel's enemies, the Champion came. The great enemy of the human family is sin, and the sign of the worst that sin can do is the grave. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Christ came forth from the grave, bursting asunder its bars and gates, as the assurance that he was, once and for ever, Conqueror over sin, and Conqueror for us.
II. HOW HE APPEARS. "With dyed, stained garments." These indicate that he has waged a fierce, bloody contest. Even in our day, rent and blood-stained garments would tell of a great fight; but these were surer signs in Isaiah's days, when battles were direct band-to-hand encounters. In the Apocalypse, John saw our Redeemer—the Word of God—and he was "clothed with a vesture dipped in blood." The greatness, the severity, the seriousness, of our Redeemer's conflict may be seen by considering
(1) the power and bitterness of the foes he encountered;
(2) the wounds they gave; and
(3) the fact that they actually had him down.
Illustrate this third point by reference to Bunyan's figure of the fight between the pilgrim Christian and Apollyon, in the Valley of Humiliation.
III. WHAT HE CAN DO. He travels "in the greatness of his strength." He is "mighty to save." He is proved to be strong; shown to be "able to save." He is a proved Samson; a tested David. He is worthy to be trusted with the whole work of redeeming us from sin,
(1) its penalty;
(2) its power;
(3) its consequences.
In conclusion, it may be urged:
1. That Christ is willing to apply to us the full benefits of his redemptive victory.
2. That Christ has, since his resurrection, made some glorious displays of his power to save. Illustrations: St. Paul, the jailor at Philippi, John Newton, Africaner, etc.
3. That there is no limit to the power of his saving grace. Each one of us may say, "He is able to save even me."—R.T.
Edom on the skirts of Palestine.
Sin hangs on the borders of goodness everywhere, as just across her southern boundary-line Edom always lay threateningly upon the skirts of Palestine. We open any page of human history and what do we see? There is a higher life in man. It is imperfect, full of mixture, just like that mottled history of Hebrewdom. But always right on its border lies the hostile Edom, watchful, indefatigable, inexorable, as the redoubtable old foe of the Jews. Always it is the higher life pressed, watched, haunted by the lower; always it is Judah with Edom at its gates. No one great battle comes to settle it for ever; it is an endless fight with an undying enemy. But "who is this that cometh from Edom?" Is it possible that this One that we see coming, this One on whose step. as he moves through history, the eyes of all the ages are fastened—is it possible that he is the Conqueror of the enemy and the Deliverer of the soul? He comes out of the enemy's direction. The whole work of the Saviour has relation to and issues from the fact of sin. If there had been no sin there would have been no Saviour. He comes from the right direction, and he has an attractive majesty of movement as he appears. He seems strong. What does he say to the anxious questioner; what account of himself does he give; what has he done to Edom; and what mean those blood-stains on his robes?
I. He replies to the question, "Who is this?" by saying, "I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save." This reassures us. The Saviour comes in the strength of righteousness. Any reform or salvation of which the power is righteousness must go down to the very root of the trouble.
II. He replies to the question, "Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel?" by saying, "I have trodden the wine-press." It is no holiday monarch coming with a bloodless triumph. It has been no pageant of a day, this strife with sin. The power of God has struggled with the enemy and subdued him only in the agony of strife. What pain may mean to the Infinite and Divine, what difficulty may mean to Omnipotence, I cannot tell. Only I know that all they could mean they meant here. "This symbol of the blood—and by-and-by, when we turn from the Old Testament to the New, from the prophecy to the fulfilment, we find that it was not only the enemy's blood, but his own blood too, that stained the victorious Deliverer's robes—this symbol of the blood bears this great truth, which has been the power of salvation to millions of hearts, and which must make this Conqueror the Saviour of your heart too, the truth that only in self-sacrifice and suffering could even God conquer sin. Sin is never so dreadful as when we see the Saviour with that blood upon his garments. And the Saviour himself, surely he is never so dear, never wins so utter and so tender a love, as when we see what it has cost him to save us. Out of that love born of his suffering comes the new impulse after a holy life; and so when we stand at last purified by the power of a grateful obedience, it shall be said of us, binding our holiness and escape from sin close to our Lord's struggle with sin for us, that we ' have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb' "(condensed from Phillips Brooks).—R.T.
The Lord's loving-kindnesses.
The great goodness seen in the return of the exiles from Babylon helped to a right apprehension of the goodness of God ' to his people all down through the long ages. Dean Stanley eloquently describes the return. "The restoration was an event which, unlikely and remote as it might have seemed, was deemed almost a certainty in the expectation of the exiles. The confidence of Jeremiah and Ezekiel never flagged that within two generations from the beginning of the captivity their countrymen would return. The patriotic sentiment, which had existed as it were unconsciously before, found its first definite expression at this period … And when the day at last arrived which was to see their expectations fulfilled, the burst of joy was such as has no parallel in the sacred volume; it is, indeed, the revival, the second birth, the second Exodus, of the nation. There was now ' a new song,' of which the burden was that the Eternal again reigned over the earth, and that the gigantic idolatries which surrounded them had received a deadly shock; that the waters of oppression had rolled back in which they had been struggling like drowning men; that the snare was broken in which they had been entangled like a caged bird. It was like a dream, too good to be true. The gaiety, the laughter of their poetry, resounded far and wide. The surrounding nations could not but confess what great things had been done for them. It was like the sudden rush of the waters into the dry torrent-beds of the south of Palestine, or of the yet extremer south, of which they may have heard, in far Ethiopia. It was like the reaper bearing on his shoulder the go]den sheaves in summer which he had sown amongst the tears of winter. So full were their hearts that all nature was called to join in their thankfulness. The vast rivers of their new Mesopotamian home, and the waves of the Indian Ocean, are to take part in the chorus, and clap their foaming crests like living hands. The mountains of their own native land are invited to express their joy; each tree in the forest that clothed the hills, or that cast their shade over the field, is to have a tongue for the occasion." The point impressed is that, being so deeply impressed with one great blessing received from God, the whole course of God's dealings with his people came freshly to their view. In the light of one loving-kindness they gained clearer views of the many and various loving-kindnesses which had so constantly been showered upon them. "I will remember the loving-kindnesses of the Lord." That appears to be God's gracious way of dealing with us all. Our lives are, in fact, full of his tender mercies, but they pass by us unheeded. We need something at times which may call our attention to them. So God gives us occasional great mercies as reminders of the thousand lesser ones. A special gift from an earthly friend has something of this power; it makes us feel afresh how good and kind and tender he long has been.
I. THE LORD'S LOVING-KINDNESSES READ IN THE LIGHT OF THE REDEMPTION FROM BABYLON. This deliverance altered all their feeling about the past. It gave them a key to the meaning of their very captivity. It set them upon searching for signs of God's goodness in the national story. And what a story of mercy that long record of the Jewish Church had been! What we can see in it everywhere, those returned exiles saw in the light of their exceeding joy—forbearances, long-sufferings, provisions, bestowments, loving-kindnesses, defendings, redeemings—the good hand of their God ever on them for good.
II. THE LORD'S LOVING-KINDNESSES READ IN THE LIGHT OF THE REDEMPTION FROM SIN. St. Paul expresses this idea in the words, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" The "all things" come to his mind when he thinks of the great things. He who gives eternal life will be sure to nourish and feed all the life he gives. He who holds before us the hope of an exceeding and eternal weight of glory will be sure to keep us unto it, and fit us for it. We may be quite confident that he who gives glory will give grace, withholding no good thing from them that walk uprightly. This is the usual form of Christian meditations. We unconsciously follow the returned exiles' way, and begin with the greatest loving-kindness. We tune our souls to their noblest song over redemption-love manifested in Christ Jesus. We dwell on his condescension and his suffering until our souls say, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable Gift!" But in the quietness after the song, there seems to be a light left on our whole life-story, which, as we watch it, grows brighter and brighter; falling here and there and yonder, showing up mercy after mercy, goodness upon goodness, we also begin to say, "We will remember the loving-kindnesses of the Lord."—R.T.
God the Saviour.
The Apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, uses this figure for God, but expresses it more comprehensively and suggestively. "The living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).
I. WHAT IS IT TO SAVE A MAN? What does the word "save" mean when we apply it to a man? A while ago five heavy boat-loads of saved ones from midnight wreck were landed at Dover. The poor, ragged city waif is taken from the streets into the kindly refuge, and saved from vice and degradation. The man who has embezzled money, and is in peril of the judgment, finds a friend who pays the claim, and he is saved from prison. But these are cases of saving men in only an imperfect and limited sense. What is it to save a moral being; one who has will and affections; the sense of right and wrong, and the possibility of gracious relations with God? That depends upon what disabilities and perils men may have fallen into. If we may read other men by ourselves, then they are wrong in life-principle—heart-wrong; wrong in conduct—bodily wrong; wrong in relations—socially wrong; and wrong in life-issues—under Divine penalties. To save a man must be to save him from all this. Too often salvation is represented as saving from hell. That is but a part of it. It is saving me, and saving me now. To change the ruling principle of the life is the hopeful beginning of salvation; but the work must be carried on. There must be the regeneration of the life and conduct, the purifying of all motive, and sanctifying of all thought, and touching of all the relationships with tender grace. So to save a man is a very large and comprehensive thing. A bit of it is saving man from overhanging penalty; most of it is saving him from sin and from self. Self-willed men arc only saved when they are brought to God in trust and love.
II. WHAT IS IT FOR GOD TO SAVE A MAN? Three points.
1. God's salvation must go to the central necessity of man, cleansing his heart-wrong.
2. God's salvation must be a gracious persuasion of man's mind and will and heart.
3. In this gracious persuasion the Trinity is now engaged. God's salvation for man is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, gaining entrance with regenerating power into a man's heart and life.
III. WHAT IS IT FOR GOD TO SAVE ALL MEN? The full and final salvation of all men seems to be declared in Scripture to be the Divine purpose. All men were placed under disability by Adam's sin; no man has any standing before God. Now, in the second Adam's righteousness and acceptance, that state of disability is removed for the whole race, and all men stand in restored relations. Humanity is relieved from its curse by Christ's perfect obedience, and all men are in that sense saved. But this is only such a salvation as there can be apart from man's will, and it is but the beginning of God's salvation. A nation may be pardoned for its rebellion as a nation, but the king may very properly require the oath of allegiance to be taken by each individual.
IV. WHAT IS IT FOR GOD SPECIALLY TO SAVE SOME? It is to have some coming voluntarily into gracious relations with him; and to make such his agents for the winning and persuasion of others. We may all of us be sons, but some of us may be sons at home, in the full joy of accepted and gracious relations. And sons at home are ever ready, waiting to do their Father's will.—R.T.
God's suffering sympathy.
There is a verbal difficulty connected with the first clause of this verse. A little Hebrew word that is employed, if pronounced in one way, means "to him;" but, if pronounced in another way, it means "not." According to the one mode the clause wilt read, "In all their affliction there was affliction to him;" or, as in our English version, "He was afflicted." According to the other mode the clause will read, "In all their affliction there was no affliction;" that is, nothing worth calling affliction, because his presence and help were so near to them in their time of need. Both give good meanings, but the spirit of the passage leads us, with Luther and other expositors, to prefer the former one.
I. GOD CAN FEEL. It may be said that this needs no proof. But the God sometimes presented in theological systems, preached from our pulpits, and addressed in our prayers, does not really feel as we do. It is said that "he is complete in himself, infinitely full, infinitely happy, infinitely satisfied. Nothing can add one jot to his happiness, nothing can diminish his bliss. He, as a King, recognizes and punishes sin and rebellion, but he does not feel hurt by it himself. No waves heave and toss on the quiet ocean of God." But is the impression left on our minds by all this concerning God quite true? And is that the God we are asked to love—that immovable statue? We want a God whose bosom heaves with feeling, whose face beams with smiles, who can pity us as a father pities. Too often the impression left on us is, that it is only Christ who can suffer, since he was a man. God cannot feel; Christ feels. Christ is in self-sacrifice, not God. But we must be far from the truth when we divide our vision, and with one eye see Christ, and with the other see God. Look with both eyes, and we shall see Christ in God, and God in Christ. This is true—God cannot be physically affected. We must not think of him as a body, capable of feeling bodily pain. He cannot be struck. He cannot be subject to disease. God is a Spirit. But he is a real Being. tie is what we understand by a moral being—a moral being who can sustain relations to other beings, and can be affected by the conditions and doings of other beings. Our deepest feelings—joys or sorrows—do not come from our bodies, but from our minds. And when we say that God can feel, we mean that his moral being can be affected, and that his precise glory lies in this—he does feel rightly, suitably, adequately, divinely, in every case.
1. God must feel if he can be said to have a perfect character. We should take no impressions from the wrongs or the goodnesses around us if we bad no power of feeling, and so there could be no culture of character. If God cannot feel it is no longer intelligible to us to say that he is "good." that he is "love."
2. That God can feel is taught by the imagery of Old Testament Scriptures. Constantly he is represented as though he were a man. We read of his feet, his breath, his hand, his arm, etc. "He is represented as blessed according to the merit and beauty of whatever is done that is right. He smelled a sweet savour in Noah's sacrifice. He has pleasure in them that hope in his mercy. He is affected with joy over his people, as a prophet represents, even to singing in the day of their restored peace. He is tender in his feeling to the obedient, pitying them that fear him as a father pitieth his children. His very love is partly passive; that is, it is a Being affected with compassion by the bitter and hard lot of those under sin. On the other hand, by how many unpleasant varieties or pains of feeling does he profess to suffer in his relation to scenes of human wrong and ingratitude! The sighing of the prisoner comes before him to command his sympathy. He calls after his people as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit. He testifies, 'I am pressed under you as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves.' His repentings are kindled together in view of the sins of his people. He is said to be exercised by all manner of disagreeable and unpleasant sentiments in relation to all manner of evil doings: displeased; sore displeased; wroth; angry; loathing; abhorring; despising; hating; weary; filled with abomination; wounded; hurt; grieved; and he even protests, like one sorrowing, that he could do nothing more to his vineyard than he had done for it" (Dr. H. Bushnell). There must be deep moral meanings in these anthropomorphic expressions.
3. Rightly regarding the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, it becomes a proof that God can feel. It is said that Christ felt because he was human; the feeling was part of the humanity. But if there had been no human nature, would not he have felt and borne our sorrows and our sins just the same? 'The great thing about Christ is that he manifests God to us in these our human spheres, and under these our human conditions. And in him we see not only the glory of God's holiness and claims, but the glory also of his pitying feeling. When God makes himself most evident to us—as he does in the person of his Son—then we behold a loving, pitying, suffering God.
II. GOD DOES FEEL IN THE PARTICULAR WAY OF SYMPATHY WITH THE SUFFERING. "In all their affliction he is afflicted." The prophet is reviewing the Divine dealings with his forefathers; recalling more especially that deliverance from Egypt, and guidance to the promised land, which was the dearest of memories to every Jew. God's interest, he declares, had been bound up with that of his people. He suffered in their suffering. Sorrows came upon that people from outward circumstances; and worse sorrows came through their wilfulness and sin. We are to understand that God sympathized with them under both kinds of sorrow. The text is as true for us as for Israel of old. Our human troubles are so overwhelming because we persist in. bearing them alone; we will not let God bear them with us, much less will we let him bear them for us. We even try to persuade ourselves that he does not feel for us under certain of our sorrows, because the sin whence they come is so abhorrent to him. Yes, the sin is, but the sinner is not—especially the stricken, suffering sinner is not.
III. WE ARE GOD-LIKE ONLY AS WE ARE AFFLICTED IN OTHERS' AFFLICTIONS. Pity for the suffering is a natural emotion. Some of us cannot bear to see even the meanest creature suffering pain. There is much of this "milk of human kindness" left in the sinful, sorrowful world, where man is "horn to trouble as the sparks fly upward." But we can only be rightly "afflicted with others' afflictions" when:
1. Like God, we can see sin at the root of the affliction, and yet feel drawn to the afflicted. Mere human feeling is not strong enough to draw us to the sinner.
2. When we can discern God working out through them his purposes of grace. As mere sufferings they must be borne alone. We cannot share the feeling of pain; but as chastisements, as discipline, we may bear troubles with others; and it is in these religious aspects of human suffering that a God-like sympathy becomes possible.
3. As we ourselves are led through experiences of trouble, as life passes on, it ought to make the brotherhood of souls perfect. Nothing brings hearts together like a common trouble. Send a woman who has a child in heaven to comfort the mother who looks into a newly emptied cradle. God touches us all—touches us to the quick sometimes—and helps us thus to feel for others' infirmities. God's power on us is his fellow-feeling of our infirmities. Our power on each other must be just this—in closeness of sympathy we bear one another's burdens.—R.T.
Grieving the Spirit.
"But they rebelled, and grieved his Holy Spirit." Dean Plumptre says, "Here we may note a foreshadowing of the truth of the trinal personality of the unity of the Godhead, which was afterwards to be revealed. That which "vexed" the Holy Spirit was, in the nature of the case, the unholiness of the people, and this involved a change in the manifestation of the Divine love, which was now compelled to show itself as wrath."
I. THE SPIRIT IS HOLY; EVERYTHING IMPURE WILL GRIEVE HIM. The Bible refers to him as the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, as though to suggest to us that it is this attribute of his character which bears special relation to us, and his work in us. His aim is our sanctification. All the overcomings of sin, all the removals of hindrances and evils, all the bestowments of peace, are intended to help us toward that great end. When we first go forth into life from a pure home, how grieved we feel at the association of the scoffer, the swearer, the vicious! To a chaste mind how grievous indelicacy is! So our impurities must grieve the pure Spirit. Our besetting sins must, be they pride, or selfishness, or conceit, or unchartiableness, or the cherishing of foul thoughts, be a grief and a vexation to him.
II. THE SPIRIT URGES TO ACTIVE WORK FOR GOD; WHERE THERE IS APATHY, INDOLENCE, OR REBELLIOUSNESS, HE IS GRIEVED. Among the weapons of the spiritual warfare we read of the "sword of the Spirit," as though the activity of the Christian depended on the Spirit. The highest attainments of Christian life have been made, not by quiet folk, who set themselves only on personal culture, but by active folk, who have gone forth to witness for God, taking their lives in their hands. Wherever there is shrinking back from active service—which is virtual rebellion—the Spirit is grieved. We are grieved when we see a man with great powers abusing or neglecting to use them. The Spirit would act through our energies, and is checked if we hold our powers hack from him. And we suffer ourselves. The spiritual sluggard's garden will surely be like the natural sluggard's. Thorns and thistles will spring up and riot there. If he would but toil, and sow, and weed, and train, the dews and rains and sunshine would help on his work. This is the reason of our barrenness, not that we have had no dews from heaven, no Spirit of God with us, but that we have neglected our part of the work, and, withholding our loving obedience and active service, have grieved his Holy Spirit.—R.T.
The Spirit of God in Moses.
"Where is he that put his Holy Spirit in the midst of them?" The shepherds of the flock are Moses, Aaron, and Miriam; but the chief reference must be to Moses. "God gave Moses his Holy. Spirit, and with him the gift of performing miracles, and leading and teaching the people." The images of these verses may be thus explained. "One might suppose that Israel would have trodden with trembling, uncertain steps, the strange way over the bottom of the sea on which human foot was never set. But it was not so. Rapidly and surely, as the desert horse goes over the flat smooth desert without tottering, so did they march over that strange, perilous road. The image of the cattle descending into the valley is very appropriate for marking the arrival of the Israelites in the promised land after journeying in the desert. The prophet thinks of the herds of nomads that must cross a mountain range or plateau in order to reach regions rich in pasture." The point to which attention may be profitably directed is, that we usually fix our thoughts on the outward revelations given to Moses, and the actual material things which he was required and strengthened to do. And yet there is a secret mystery in Moses which is full of suggestion for us, and makes him a model for us of the Divine dealings with us also. God was in Moses, dwelling in him by his Spirit, the impulse and inspiration of all good, true, wise, and loving things. We may, therefore, illustrate from Moses—
I. THE SPIRIT OF GOD FOR US; OUR GUARANTEE OF SAFETY.
II. THE SPIRIT OF GOD WITH US; OUR CONFIDENCE OF SUFFICIENCY,
III. THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN US; OUR INSPIRATION TO ALL GOODNESS.
As materials of illustration the following emblems of the Spirit may be helpful Water: cleansing, fertilizing, refreshing, abundant, freely given. Fire: purifying, illuminating, searching. Wind: independent, powerful, sensible in its effects, reviving. Oil: healing, comforting, illuminating, consecrating. Rain and dew: fertilizing, refreshing, abundant, imperceptible, penetrating. A dove: gentle, meek, innocent, forgiving. A voice: speaking, guiding, warning, teaching. A seal: impressing, securing, authenticating.—R.T.
Good news concerning God.
"Doubtless thou art our Father." The Jews were the children of God. But they had been for a long time so neglecting him that they had lost all the nearer and dearer thoughts of him; and imaged him to themselves through the bleared and blinded vision of their own indulgences, wickedness, and sin. He became to them only a God to be feared, in the sense of "frightened at." Then the prophet's message of a merciful God, fatherly still, recovering and saving even the guilty, was indeed good news from heaven to such a people. But that which is true of many Jews in the times of the later monarchy, is, in measure, true also of us. We have let our practical neglect of God set him far from us, and darken our thoughts concerning him. We think of God as hard, severe, or indifferent, and let the bitterness of orphans enter into our souls. Then it is good news indeed concerning God which is brought to us when it can be said, "Doubtless he is our Father." Two consequences of this assurance about God may be illustrated.
I. HE WANTS US TO BE HIS RESTORED, OBEDIENT CHILDREN. True children, worthy children, of the heavenly Father. But this is a more difficult matter than we at first: suppose. For what sort of children are we now? And what changes must we go through before we can become the children we should be? But God's interest follows the prodigals. He can have no rest until they come home. Shepherds never willingly lose their sheep. Mothers cannot bear to lose a child. Our Father's seeking, saving mercy reaches even to the height of the sacrifice on the cross. It restores; it fills with the home-feeling; it prepares us for the eternal home-place. "Now are we the sons of God," etc.
II. HE WANTS US TO LEARN OF HIM HOW TO BE GOOD FATHERS AND MOTHERS TO OUR CHILDREN. Good sons and daughters make the best fathers and mothers. We may learn of the great Father:
1. The power of a sustained example of purity.
2. The influence of the spirit of self-denial.
3. The value of strictness to that which is truthful and righteous.
4. The gracious triumph of long-suffering patience.
These are just the things we need for our human fatherhood and motherhood.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 63". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26