SECTION XI.—GOD'S ANSWER TO THE EXILES' PRAYER (Isaiah 65:1-25.)
ISRAEL'S SUFFERINGS THE JUST MEED OF THEIR SINS. God's mercy is such that it even overflows upon those who are outside the covenant (Isaiah 65:1). It has been offered to Israel, but Israel has rejected it. Their rebellion, their idolatries, and their pride have caused, and must continue to cause, their punishment (Isaiah 65:2-7).
I am sought; rather, inquired of, or consulted (comp. Ezekiel 14:3; Ezekiel 20:3, Ezekiel 20:31). The application of the text by St. Paul (Romans 10:20) to the calling of the Gentiles will be felt by all believers in inspiration to preclude the interpretation which supposes Israel to be the subject of Isaiah 65:1 no less than of Isaiah 65:2-7. I said, Behold me. This was the first step in the conversion of the Gentiles. God called them by his messengers, the apostles and evangelists. A nation that was not called by thy Name (so Gesenius, Delitzsch, Kay, and others). Bishop Lowth, Ewald, Diestel, and Mr. Cheyne, following the Septuagint and other ancient versions, render, "a nation that has not called upon thy Name." But this requires an alteration of the vowel-points, which seems unnecessary.
I have spread out my hands. Not exactly in prayer, but in expostulation (comp. Proverbs 1:24, "I have stretched out my hand," where the verb in the Hebrew is the same). All the day; or, all day long, as in Romans 10:21; i.e. continually, day after day, for years—nay, for centuries. A rebellions people (comp. Isaiah 30:1; and see also Isaiah 1:4, Isaiah 1:23; Hosea 4:16; Jeremiah 5:23; Jeremiah 6:28). The "rebellions people" ('am sorer) is undoubtedly Israel. In a way that was not good; rather, in the way that is not good; i.e. the "way of sinners" (Psalms 1:1)—the "way that leadeth to destruction" (Matthew 7:13).
That sacrificeth in gardens (comp. Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 57:5; Isaiah 66:17). The groves and "gardens" of Daphne, near Antioch. became famous in later times as the scene of idolatrous practices intimately bound up with the grossest and most shameless sensualism. We have few details of the ancient Syrian rites; but there is reason to believe that, wherever Astarte, the Dea Syra, was worshipped, whether at Daphne, or at Hierapolis, or at Balbek, or at Aphek, or at Damascus, or in Palestine, one and the same character of cult prevailed. The nature-goddess was viewed as best worshipped by rites into which sensualism entered as an essential element. Profligacy that cannot be described polluted the consecrated precincts, which were rendered attractive by all that was beautiful and delightful, whether in art or nature-by groves, gardens, statues, fountains, shrines, temples, music, processions, shows—and which were in consequence frequented both day and night by a multitude of votaries. And burneth incense upon altars of brick; literally, upon the bricks. It is not clear that "altars" are intended. More probably the incense was burnt upon the tiled or bricked roofs of houses, where the Jews of Jeremiah's time "burned incense unto all the host of heaven" (Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29; Zephaniah 1:5). Brick altars are nowhere mentioned. The Assyrians and Babylonians made their altars of either stone or metal. The Hebrews in early times had altars of earth (Exodus 20:24). The "altar of incense" in the tabernacle (Exodus 30:1-3) was of wood plated with gold; that of burnt offering, of wood plated with bronze (Exodus 27:1, Exodus 27:2). Solomon's altars were similar. Elijah on one occasion made an altar of twelve rough stones (1 Kings 18:31). The Assyrians used polished stone, as did the Greeks and Romans.
Which remain among the graves. The rock tombs of Palestine seem to be meant. Persons "remained among" these, in spite of the ceremonial defilement thereby incurred, either with the object of raising the dead, and obtaining prophecies from them, or of getting prophetic intimations made to them in dreams (see Jerome's 'Comment.,' ad loc.). And lodge in the monuments; or, in the crypts. "N'tsurim may refer to the mysteries celebrated in natural caves and artificial crypts" (Delitzsch). An account of such mysteries is given by Chwolsohn in his' Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus,' vol. it. pp. 332, et seq. Which eat swine's flesh. Not in mere defiance of the Law, but in sacrificial meals (Isaiah 66:17) of which swine's flesh formed a part. Swine were sacrificial animals in Egypt (Herod; 2.47, 48), in Phoenicia (Lucian, 'De Dea Syra,' § 54), and with the Greeks and Romans. They do not appear to have been employed for the purpose either by the Assyrians or the Babylonians. It was probably in Palestine that the Jews had eaten "swine's flesh," at sacrifices to Baal or Astarte (Ashtoreth). In later times to do so was regarded as one of the worst abominations (1 Macc. 1:41-64; 2 Macc, 6; 7.). Broth of abominable things. Either broth made from swine's flesh, or from the flesh of other unclean animals, as the hare and rabbit (Le Romans 11:5, Romans 11:6), or perhaps simply broth made from the flesh of any animals that had been offered to idols (Acts 15:29).
Stand by thyself; i.e. "keep aloof—come not into contact with me; for mine is a higher holiness than thine, and I should be polluted by thy near approach." Initiation into heathen mysteries was thought to confer on the initiated a holiness unattainable otherwise. Thus the heathenized Jew claimed to be holier than the true servants of Jehovah. These are a smoke … a fire (comp. Psalms 18:8, "There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured; coals were kindled by it"). The heathenized Jews are fuel for the wrath of God, which kindles a fire wherein they burn continually (comp. Isaiah 66:24).
It is written before me. The misconduct of his people is "written" in God's book, which lies open "before him," so that their sin is ever in his sight (comp. Psalms 56:8; Malachi 3:16; Revelation 20:12). I will not keep silence (comp. Psalms 1:3). "Keeping silence" is a metaphor for complete inaction. But will recompense, etc.; rather, until I have recompensed, yea, recompensed [them] into their bosoms (comp. Luke 6:38). Gifts were given and received into the fold of the beged, or cloak, which depended in front of the bosom.
Your iniquities. This is a new sentence, not a continuation of Isaiah 65:6, which should be closed by a full stop. It is an incomplete sentence, needing for its completion the repetition of the verb shillamti, "I will recompense." Which have burned incense upon the mountains (see 2 Kings 17:11; Hosea 4:13; Ezekiel 6:13; and comp. Isaiah 57:7). And blasphemed me; rather, reproached me (see Isaiah 37:4, Isaiah 37:17, Isaiah 37:23, Isaiah 37:24). Therefore will I measure their former work; rather, therefore will I, first of all, measure their work into their bosom. The expression, "first of all," prepares the way for the encouraging promises of Isaiah 65:8-10.
SALVATION PROMISED TO A REMNANT. In Isaiah, and especially in the "Book of Consolation" (Isaiah 40-66.), promises are almost always intermingled with threatenings. The threats extend to the bulk of the nation; the promises are limited to "a remnant," since a remnant only could be brought to "seek" and serve God (verse 10). Here the announcement that a remnant would be spared is introduced by a simile from men's treatment of their own vineyards (verse 8).
As the new wine is found in the cluster; rather, as when new wine is found in a grape-bunch; i.e. as when even a single cluster of grapes is spied on a vine-stem, the vine-pruners say one to another, "Destroy not that stem, but spare it," so will God refrain from destroying those stocks in his vineyard, which give even a small promise of bearing good fruit. Destroy it not. The words are thought to be those of a well-known vintage-song, which is perhaps alluded to in the heading (Altaschith) prefixed to Psalms 57:1-11; Psalms 58:1-11; Psalms 59:1-17. "Each of these psalms was probably sung to the air of this favourite song" (Cheyne). A blessing is in it; i.e. "a boon from God" (comp. Isaiah 36:16; 2 Kings 5:15).
A seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah. Scarcely, "the people of the two captivities" (Delitzsch), though no doubt many Israelites of the ten tribes did return with Zerubbabel (1 Chronicles 9:3; Ezra 2:2, Ezra 2:70; Ezra 3:1; Ezra 6:17; Ezra 8:35, etc.). Rather, a mere pleonasm, as in Isaiah 9:8; Isaiah 10:21, Isaiah 10:22; Isaiah 27:6; Isaiah 29:23; Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 41:8, etc. (see the comment on Isaiah 40:27). An inheritor of my mountains. The whole of Palestine is little more than a cluster of mountains. The cluster may be divided into three groups:
Sharon shall be a fold of flocks. "Sharon," instead of being "like a wilderness" (Isaiah 33:9), shall once more be "a place for flocks "—a rich pasture for the flocks and herds of the returned exiles. (On the position and fertility of Sharon, see the comment upon Isaiah 33:9.) The valley of Achor (see Joshua 7:24-26). The 'Emeq 'Akor was near Jericho. The two places seem to be selected on account of their position, one on the eastern, the other on the western border. My people that have sought me; or, inquired of me—the same verb as that used at the beginning of the chapter.
A MIXTURE OF THREATS WITH PROMISES. The prophet returns, in the main, to his former attitude, and resumes his denunciations (Isaiah 65:11, Isaiah 65:12); but, with Isaiah 65:13, he begins to intermingle promises of favour to God's servants with threats against the rebellious, and finally (in Isaiah 65:16) turns wholly towards the side of grace and favour, announcing the coming of a time when "the former troubles" will be altogether "forgotten," and the kingdom of truth and right will be established.
But ye are they that forsake the Lord; rather, but as for you who forsake the Lord. And forget my holy mountain; i.e. either, literally, forget Zion. being absent from it so long (Psalms 137:5), or, possibly, neglect Zion, though you might worship there if you pleased. That prepare a table for that troop; rather, that prepare a table for Gad. There is ground for believing that "Gad" was a Phoenician deity, perhaps "the god of good fortune" (Cheyne), though this is not clearly ascertained; sometimes worshipped as an aspect of Baal, whence the name, Baal-Gad (Joshua 11:17; Joshua 12:7); sometimes connected with other deities, as Moloch and Ashtoreth. The practice of "preparing tables" for the heathen gods was a common one, and appears in Herod; 1.181; in Baruch 6:30; in Bel and the Dragon, verse 11; and in the Roman lectisternia. The tables prepared for the dead in Egyptian tombs were not very different, and implied a qualified worship of ancestors. And that furnish the drink offering unto that number; rather, and that fill up mixed drink for M'ni. M'ni appears, like Gad, to have been a Syrian deity, the name Ebed-M'ni, "servant of M'ni," occurring on Aramaeo-Persian coins of the Achaemenian period. The word may be suspected to be cognate to the Arabic "Manat," a god recognized in the Koran as a mediator with Allah; but can scarcely have any connection with the Aryan names for the moon deity, ΄ήν ΄ήνη, Mena, and the like. Its root is probably the Semitic manah, "to number" or" apportion," the word designating a deity who" apportions" men's fortunes to them ( τύχη, LXX.).
Therefore will I number you; or, apportion you (maaithi)—a play upon the name of M'ni. The sword … slaughter. Not, perhaps, intended literally. Wicked men are God's sword (Psalms 17:13), and deliverance into their hand would be deliverance to the sword and slaughter. The exiles suffered grievously at the hands of their Babylonian masters (Isaiah 47:6; Isaiah 49:17, etc.). The character of their sufferings is given in the ensuing verses (Isaiah 65:13, Isaiah 65:14). When I called, ye did not answer (see 2 Chronicles 36:15, 2 Chronicles 36:16; Proverbs 1:20-25; Isaiah 66:4).
Therefore thus saith the Lord God; rather, thus saith the Lord Jehovah (comp. Isaiah 7:7; Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 30:15; Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 48:16; Isaiah 49:22; I. 4, 5, 7, 9; Isaiah 52:4; Isaiah 56:8; Isaiah 61:1, etc.). My servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry, etc. This entire series of contrasts may be understood in two ways; literally, of the two classes of exiles, the religious and the irreligious; metaphorically, of God's servants and his adversaries at all times and in all places. The religious exiles would return to the land of promise as soon as permitted, and would there prosper in a worldly sense—have abundance to eat and drink, rejoice, and sing for joy (Ezra 3:11-13). The irreligious, remaining in Babylonia, would suffer hunger and thirst, endure shame, cry and howl for sorrow and vexation of spirit. This would be one fulfilment of the prophecy; but there would also be another. God's servants at all times and in all places would be sustained with spiritual food, and "rejoice and sing for joy of heart." His adversaries would everywhere feel a craving for the "meat" and "drink," which alone satisfy the soul, and would be oppressed with care, and with a sense of shame, and suffer anguish of spirit.
Ye shall leave your name for a curse (comp. Jeremiah 29:22). In their formulas of imprecation the Jews were in the habit of saying, "The Lord make thee like" this or that person, or this or that class of persons. The name of the exiles should be used in this manner. Unto my chosen (see the comment on Isaiah 65:9). The Lord God shall slay thee (see the comment on Isaiah 65:12). Some, however, take the words as part of the formula of imprecation. And call his servants by another name (compare what is said of "new name" in Isaiah 62:2).
That he who blesseth himself; rather, so that he who blesses himself. The sequence of the argument is not altogether clear. Perhaps it is recant that God will call them by his own Name (Amos 9:12)—"the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9); and thence it will become natural for them to use no other name, either when they call for a blessing on themselves, or have to confirm a covenant with others. In the God of truth; literally, in the God of the Amen; i.e. the God who keeps covenant and promise, to which the strongest formula of consent was the word "Amen" (see Numbers 5:22; Deuteronomy 27:15-26; 1 Kings 1:36, etc.). Similarly, St. John calls our Lord "the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness" (Revelation 3:14). Because the former troubles are forgotten. When the blessed time has come wherein men call themselves by the Name of the Lord, and know of only one God as the Source of blessing and the confirmation of an oath, then the former state of human affairs, with all its "troubles," will have passed away, and the new era will be inaugurated, which the prophet proceeds to describe at length (verses 17-25).
A PROMISE OF NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH. The final answer of God to the complaint and prayer of his people (Isaiah 64:1-12.) is now given. The entire existing state of things is to pass away. God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and place his people therein; and the old conditions will be all changed, and the old grounds of complaint disappear. In the "new Jerusalem" there will be no sorrow, neither "weeping" nor "crying" (Isaiah 65:19); life will be greatly prolonged (Isaiah 65:20); men will always enjoy the fruit of their labours (Isaiah 65:21, Isaiah 65:22), and see their children grow up (Isaiah 65:23). Prayer will be answered almost before it is uttered (Isaiah 65:24). Finally, there will be peace in the animal world, and between the animal world and man. No living thing will kill or hurt another in all God's "holy mountain" (Isaiah 65:25).
I create. The same verb is used as in Genesis 1:1; and the prophet's idea seems to be that the existing heaven and earth are to be entirely destroyed (see Isaiah 24:19, Isaiah 24:20, and the comment ad loc.), and a fresh heaven and earth created in their place out of nothing. The "new Jerusalem" is not the old Jerusalem renovated, but is a veritable "new Jerusalem," "created a rejoicing" (Genesis 1:18; scrap. Revelation 21:2). The germ of the teaching will be found in Isaiah 51:16. The former shall not be remembered. Some suppose "the former troubles" (see Isaiah 51:16) to be meant; but it is best (with Delitzsch) to understand "the former heavens and earth." The glory of the new heavens and earth would be such that the former ones would not only not be regretted, but would not even be had in remembrance. No one would so much as think of them.
I create Jerusalem (comp. Revelation 21:2, "I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband"). The description which follows in Isaiah 65:11, Isaiah 65:12 is quite unlike that of the old Jerusalem. A rejoicing. The "new Jerusalem" was to be from the first all joy and rejoicing—a scene of perpetual gladness. Her people also was to be "a joy" or "a delight," since God would delight in them (Isaiah 65:19).
The voice of weeping shall be no more heard (comp. Revelation 21:4). The reasons there given are satisfactory: "There shall be no more death, neither sorrow … neither shall there be any more pain." But these reasons scarcely apply here. For Isaiah's "new Jerusalem" is not without death (verse 20), nor without sorrow, since it is not without sin (verse 20), nor, as there is death there, is it without pain. Isaiah's picture, according to Delitzsch, represents the millennial state, not the final condition of the redeemed; but this trait—the absence of all weeping—can only be literally true of the final state.
There shall be no more thence an infant of days; i.e. there shall not go from the new Jerusalem into the unseen world any infant of a few days old. On the contrary, even "the youth" shall reach a hundred; i.e. one who dies when he is a hundred shall be regarded as cut off in his youth. The general rule shall be, that old men shall "fill their days," or attain to patriarchal longevity. Even the sinner, who is under the curse of God, shall not be cut off till he is a hundred. What is most remarkable in the description is that death and sin are represented as still continuing. Death was spoken of as "swallowed up in victory" in one of the earlier descriptions of Messiah's kingdom (Isaiah 25:8).
They shall build houses, and inhabit them. The curse pronounced on apostasy in Deuteronomy 28:30 shall no more rest on God's people. They shall have the fruition of their labours. No enemy shall be able to deprive them of their crops and houses.
As the days of a tree are the days of my people. Trees endure for many hundreds, perhaps for thousands of years. The cedars of Lebanon, the oaks of Bashan, were known to have an antiquity of centuries. Isaiah may have had a knowledge of other trees to which attached the tradition of a yet longer existence. In our own day Brazil and California have furnished proofs of vegetable growths exceeding a millennium. Mine elect shall long enjoy; literally, shall wear out; i.e. have the full use and enjoyment of the work of their hands.
They shall not … bring forth for trouble. Their women shall not bear children to see them carried off after a few days, or months, or years, by disease, or accident, or famine, or the sword of the invader. There shall be an end of such "troubles," and, God's blessing resting upon those who are his children, their children shall, as a general rule, "be with them;" i.e. remain to them during their lifetime, and not be lost to them by a premature decease.
Before they call, I will answer. God is always "more ready to hear than we to pray." In the "new Jerusalem" he will be prompt to answer his people's prayers almost before they are uttered. It is involved in this, as Delitzsch notes, that the will of the people shall be in harmony with the will of Jehovah, and that their prayers will therefore be acceptable prayers.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together (comp. Isaiah 11:6-8; Hosea 2:18). The portraiture here is far less elaborate than in the earlier chapter, to which the present passage may be regarded as a refer-once. (For the sense in which the entire picture is to be understood, see the comment upon Isaiah 11:6-9). Dust shall be the serpent's meat. Here we have a new feature, not contained in the earlier description. Serpents shall become harmless, anal instead of preying upon beasts, or birds, or reptiles, shall be content with the food assigned them in the primeval decree, "Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" (Genesis 3:14). Mr. Cheyne appositely notes that "much dust is the food of the shades in the Assyrio-Babylonian Hades". They shall not hurt nor destroy. Repeated from Isaiah 11:9, word for word. In neither case should we regard the subject of the sentence as limited to the animals only. The meaning is that there shall be no violence of any kind, done either by man or beast, in the happy period described.
Men's sins recorded in God's book.
As far back as the time of Moses, God announced through him that men's sins were "laid up in store with him, and sealed up among his treasures" (Deuteronomy 32:34). The later prophets (Malachi 3:16), with the Psalms (Psalms 56:8), and the Revelation of St. John (John 20:12-15), speak of "a book," or "books, of remembrance," which contain the record of human frailty. Jeremiah says, "The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond" (Jeremiah 17:1); and Daniel, like St. John, tells of a time when the judgment will be set, and "the books opened" (John 7:10). The heavenly registers record the acts of men, both good and bad; and in one register seem to be written the names of those whom God regards as "living ones" (Isaiah 4:3). This register is called "the book of life" (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:12, Revelation 20:15). Such are the biblical statements on the subject. The expressions used are doubtless accommodations to human modes of thought, and are not to be taken literally. The great truth, however, which they convey is to be understood in the most absolute literalness. Men's sins will not be forgotten, even when they are forgiven. They are all registered in God's memory; and perhaps it may be found that each man's sins are also registered in some secret place of his own memory, though at present he is unable to recall the greater part of them. All will be taken into consideration at the time of judgment, and all will be set forth in the sight of men and angels. There is nothing "secret" which shall not then be "revealed," or "hid" which shall not be "known." Men will be judged and sentenced "according to their works" (Revelation 20:13)—"according to that they have done, whether it be good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Where sin abounds, grace yet more abounds.
The portrait of Israel in Isaiah 65:2-7 is painted in such dark colours as to suggest that it must almost necessarily be followed by the absolute renunciation of the whole nation. A people "rebellious," "walking in the way that is not good," "provoking God to anger continually," given over to a sensualistic idolatry, and yet proud, piquing itself upon its elevated religious position as a participant in certain heathen mysteries (Isaiah 65:5),—what can be done with such a nation of backsliders? Must not God sweep it from the earth? Certainly, if it were not for God's abounding mercy; if the sight of a people given up to sin did not raise in him as much pity as indignation, as much compassion as resentment. After all, they are his children; they are his people; they are "all the work of his hands" (Isaiah 64:8). God, in his compassion, pours out his grace freely under such circumstances. He seeks among the lost, if so be that any among them may be saved. He offers his grace to them all, presses it upon them, "spreads out his hands all the day" to the rebels, entreating them to return and submit themselves, and be saved. What mercy does he show to Nineveh! Because it is "a bloody city … all full of lies and robbery" (Nahum 3:1), because "their wickedness is come up before him" (Jonah 1:2), therefore he goes out of his way to send his prophet to preach repentance to them. He forces his prophet to go to them; he puts his word into his prophet's mouth, and makes that word, for the moment at any rate, effectual. Nineveh "repents at the preaching of Jonah," and, on its repentance, is "spared" for above two centuries. Israel now is spared, invited to return to Judaea, bidden to "dwell there" and "inherit it." And "a remnant" hearkens, and returns, and repents, and "does the first works" (Revelation 2:5), and becomes a great and flourishing and religious people.
The contrasts of the religious with the irreligious life.
The prophet notices three main contrasts.
I. GOD'S SERVANTS ARE FED WITH A FOOD THAT SATISFIES; HIS ADVERSARIES ARE TORMENTED BY A CEASELESS CRAVING. Man is so constituted that nothing short of his highest good contents him. Earthly blessings, health, wealth, success, fame, power, glory, leave a void in the heart which nothing earthly can fill up. The worldling is always dissatisfied, always desires more than he has, craves some fresh excitement, desires some "new pleasure." "Hungry and thirsty, their souls faint in them" (Psalms 107:5). With God's servants the case is different. A Divine contentedness fills their hearts. They have been given to drink of a water of which "whosoever drinketh shall never thirst," but it "shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). They have God for their Saviour; they are at one with him; and in this communion they rest satisfied; they neither hunger nor thirst.
II. GOD'S SERVANTS SING FOR JOY OF HEART; HIS ADVERSARIES HOWL FOR VEXATION OF SPIRIT. "The voice of joy and thanksgiving is in the dwellings of the righteous" (Psalms 118:15). The love of God, which "casts out fear" (1 John 4:18), reigns in their hearts, and elevates them above the troubles and anxieties of ordinary human life. They "know whom they have believed;" they know in whom they trust. All their care they have cast upon God; and hence they are without care; their souls are full of an ineffable joy and satisfaction; they want nothing, unless it be to have their communion with God complete (Romans 8:23; 2 Corinthians 5:2, 2 Corinthians 5:4; Philippians 1:23, etc.). But the adversaries of God are always vexed in spirit. Worldly cares trouble them; worldly disappointments annoy them; doubts and misgivings with respect to the future weigh on them; an awful fear lest they have entirely mistaken the true end and aim of life broods over them. In the expressive language of Scripture, they "howl" through anguish of heart—complain, murmur, proclaim themselves pessimists. The world, to their thinking, is the worst of conceivable worlds; the scheme of the universe, if there be any such scheme, a gigantic fraud and mistake.
III. GOD'S SERVANTS BRING A BLESSING UPON THE EARTH; HIS ADVERSARIES LEAVE THEIR NAME AS A CURSE TO IT. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump": (1 Corinthians 5:6). God would have spared Sodom if it had contained "ten righteous" (Genesis 18:32). It is the existence of his servants upon the earth that especially commends the earth to his care, and causes him to watch over it, to sustain it, and to bless the increase of it. Moreover, the servants of God are a blessing to mankind at large,
God's adversaries, on the contrary, are in every respect a curse to the earth. They debase its moral tone; they stir up strife in it; they are the authors of war, bloodshed, enmities, calumnies, uncleanness, variance, sedition, heresy, blasphemy, and the like; they caused God once to "repent that he had made man on the earth" (Genesis 6:6), and they cause him continually to look upon the earth with more or less of disfavour. Their presence pollutes the earth, and makes it necessary that "the first heaven and the first earth" shall "pass away" (Revelation 21:1), and he superseded by "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13).
The new creation.
It is difficult to harmonize the various passages of Scripture which touch on "the new creation." In one place (Acts 3:21) it is called an ἀποκατάτασις, in another (Matthew 19:23) a παιγγενεσία. Sometimes its scene appears to be the present world purified (Isaiah 2:2-4); sometimes an entirely new world created for the habitation of God's people (Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 65:18). Perhaps the best explanation is that of Delitzsch, that there are to be altogether three worlds, or three ages.
1. The first age, or ordinary human life, as we have hitherto known it—a checkered scene of sin and holiness, of happiness and misery, of sorrow and rejoicing.
2. The second age, or the period of the millennium, in which "the patriarchal measure of human life will return, in which death will no more break off the life that is just beginning to bloom, and in which the war of man with the animal world will be exchanged for peace without danger."
3. And the third age, or a final state of happiness in heaven; or the heavenly Jerusalem, when death will be destroyed, and sin will be no more, and tears will be wiped from all eyes, and the former things will be passed away altogether (Revelation 21:4). The three ages are distinctly marked only in the apocalyptic vision of St. John the divine (John 20:1-31; John 21:1-25.). Isaiah and the other Old Testament prophets have an indistinct view, in which the second age and the third age are confused together, the characteristics being chiefly those of Age II; but some of the characteristics of Age III. being intermingled. Age I. and Age III. are common to all the redeemed. Age II. will belong only to a select few—"the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands," who will "live and reign with Christ a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Threatenings and promises.
Both, as it would appear, addressed to the chosen people, though many, including St. Paul, apply the earlier part of the passage to the conversion of the Gentiles. There is a polytheistic party, and a party of true believers in the nation.
I. GOD BEFOREHAND WITH MEN. He "allows himself to be consulted;" he "offers answers," or "is heard" by those who came not to consult him. He was "at hand to those who did not seek him." To a nation that did not call on him he cried, "Here I am!" (Isaiah 64:7; Isaiah 43:22). It is actually he who "spreads out his hands"—"in the gesture of prayer; what a condescension!" (cf. Proverbs 1:24). And this "all the day," or continuously—"as if God did beseech you." It is a thought full of deep pathos and Divine beauty, that God no less seeks men than they seek him. He in a sense prays them to be reconciled to him. While, therefore, prayer is in one aspect the going forth of active desires after God, on the other hand it is the response to his action upon us. Not a day passes but the gentle mercy and love expressed in his providence offers its silent plea to heart and conscience: "Child of man! I love thee; come to me, and be at peace."
II. THE STUBBORNNESS OF MAN. The people are described as "unruly," and as "walking in a way which is not good, after their own thoughts." In the will and its licence, falsely called liberty, lies the mischief. The carnal mind is not "subject to God, neither indeed can be." In "will-worship" the indulgence of the senses and the caprices of the fancy, lies the source of idolatry. And thus they irritate Jehovah to his face continually. They sacrifice in the gardens and on the bricks, i.e. the tiles of the houses (2 Kings 23:12; Zephaniah 1:5; Jeremiah 19:13), or on altars of materials forbidden by the Law (Exodus 20:24, Exodus 20:25). They appear to be guilty of necromancy, of the consultation of dreams or citation of the departed. They incur ceremonial pollution by eating of swine's flesh and other animals. And, initiated into some heathen rites, they had actually assumed a superior holiness to that of the people of God, thus caricaturing the true religion.
III. THE WRATH AND VENGEANCE OF JEHOVAH. Here, again, the strongest figures arc employed. These abominations are "a smoke in his nose, a fire burning all the day long." Nothing can more strongly express what is offensive and irritating. So in Deuteronomy 32:22, "A fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn to the lowest hell" (cf. Psalms 18:5; Ezekiel 38:18). And with equal force the certainty of Divine vengeance is described. Either the sin of the Jews, or the Divine decree for its punishment, is written before Jehovah. The allusion is to the custom of kings of recording decrees in a volume or on a tablet, and kept in their presence, so that they might not be forgotten. Moreover, "the fortunes of men, past, present, and future, are all noted in the heavenly registers" (Deuteronomy 4:3; Psalms 66:8; Daniel 7:10). A book of remembrance was written before Jehovah (Malachi 3:16). From this follows the justice of Divine punishment. He will not keep silence; nothing shall suppress his just edict or sentence. He will certainly recompense, and in full measure; the large and loose besom of the Oriental garment being, by a figure, viewed as the receptacle of those Divine penalties (Psalms 79:12; Jeremiah 32:18; Luke 6:38; Exodus 4:6, Exodus 4:7; Proverbs 6:27). The firm scriptural doctrine that the consequences of ancestral sin pass over to posterity here appears (Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; Job 21:19; Numbers 14:18; Luke 11:50, Luke 11:51). There seems to have been a founding and an accumulation of crime which now threatens to sweep down every barrier before it.
IV. THE BEAM OF HOPE. In this extreme of denunciation and despair a transition, as ever, occurs. His mercy is not "clean gone for ever." The majority of Israel may be evil, for all that there is ever a "remnant" according to the election of grace. The vintagers, finding but a few good grapes on a cluster, say to each other—perhaps it is the snatch of a vintage-song—"Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it." We are too ready to deal with men in the lump and in the mass—they are a "bad lot," in familiar language we say. But the Divine eye marks the element of worth amidst the most corrupt and worthless mass (cf. Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 10:21; Isaiah 11:11-16). That which has the germinal principle, the seed-life in it, he cherishes; he will, in spite of all that is of another quality in the midst of which it may be imbedded, preserve. So here, the mountains and the whole land from east to west shall be preserved by the people (Isaiah 33:9; Joshua 7:24-26). Tillage is the very symbol of peace, plenty, prosperity (Isaiah 30:23, Isaiah 30:24). A traveller may see in the valley of Sharon, when the sun gilds the mountain-top, and the flocks are returning to their fold, a visible expression of the future Paradise of God. "What a Paradise was here when Solomon reigned in Jerusalem, and sang of the roses of Sharon! What a heaven upon earth will be here again, when he that is greater than Solomon shall sit on the throne of David; for in his days shall the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth!"—J.
The doom of the idolaters.
I. THE SINS. On the one hand it is the forsaking of Jehovah, the forgetting of his holy mountain. It is the keeping aloof from the true worship celebrated on Mount Moriah. But the heart of man knows no deeper need than that of worship; and the setting of the tables before the images of heathen deities (lectisternia) witnesses, even as an aberration and a caricature, to that yearning for communion with the Divine which true religion and revelation recognize and offer to satisfy. Here Gad, a Canaanitish god, is named; and M'ni, a Syrian deity. Similar rites prevailed among the Greeks and Romans, and other peoples of antiquity. In the first ' Iliad,' at the sacrificial feast, the god is supposed to be present, himself a partaker, and a listener to the people's song of praise. Between such worship and that of the Eternal, the sole and incomparable Holy One of Israel, there could be no compromise.
II. THE CAUSE. The sword. There may be an extreme of human obstinacy and perversity for which there is no cure but the sword. And thus we may even see in war a Divine purgative, and allow some truth in the stern saying of one of our poets, "Yea! carnage is thy daughter." So the invasion of the Chaldeans was recognized as a scourge sent to chastise the abominations of the priests and the people (2 Chronicles 36:14, 2 Chronicles 36:16, 2 Chronicles 36:17). Want and poverty, and all the associated sufferings. And here again it must be admitted the "curse does not causeless come." There is a general connection at least between poverty, famine, and some neglect of Divine commands; and it may be seen in the lore of ancient nations in general. The time of drought was ever recognized as a time for special prayers and sacrifices. The name of the unfaithful ones shall become as a byword in formulas of imprecation.
III. THE FAITHFUL AND TRUE GOD. Ever, against the background of human infidelity and fickleness, he shines out in the splendour of self-consistency, the "God of the Amen," the "Faithful and True Witness." The "Amen" seems to refer to the solemn associations of the oath and the covenant (Deuteronomy 27:15). He stands in a sacramental mutual relation to his people. "They my people, I their God." If they be true to him, he will be certain to bless them. Religion has a deep mystical root—a conscience toward God, which in purity is the fount of all blessing, the defilement of which is the origin of all curse.—J.
The new creation.
It seems that the leading thought of the prophet is the transformation of nature in harmony with the changed nature of man. Its grandeur needs not to be pointed out. Ordinarily, indeed, we think of man's dependence on nature. If the thought be pushed to its limits, it ends in materialism. Spiritual religion, on the contrary, sees in the changes of nature a human pathos; its waste and desolation the effect of human sin, of violated Divine laws; its flourishing aspect and fertility the effect of human obedience and true religion (cf. Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 30:26; Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 51:16). Upon the difficult interpretation of such language much difference of opinion naturally arises; but it is open to all to catch the inspiration of the thoughts.
I. THE DIVINE EXULTATION ON THE NEW CREATION. It Was said of the Creator at the beginning that he looked with complacent joy upon his works. All was very good. It was the "joy of God to see a happy world." How much deeper the Divine complacency in moral renewal! Note the emphasis and iteration of the thought. Rejoicing, exultation, is the very key-note of the passage; weeping and the sound of crying is to be as unheard as at the gayest scene of festival. And may we not feel that beneath all the sadness, the discord, the gloom of this enigmatic world, the prophetic pulse of the Divine creation, love, is ever exultantly beating? May we not believe that there is ever before his eye the picture, rising to clearness of outline and brilliancy of colour out of Erebos and Chaos, of eternal day, of the new heavens and earth wherein dwell righteousness? There should be in every heart a prophetic sympathy, which should vibrate in unison with these oracles of God.
II. PARADISAIC PICTURES. Under imagery, partly endeared to the Hebrew heart and fancy, partly of Oriental tinge in general, the heart of man resents the doom of an "untimely" death—it seems contrary to the intention of nature; and aspires to length of days as a good. Here it is predicated that no death in infancy shall occur; that one who dies at the age of a hundred shall be regarded as early lost, and even the wicked shall not be cut off before their hundredth year. "The number of their days shall they complete, and they shall grow old in peace, and the years of their happiness shall be many" (Book of Enoch, 5.9). Similar is the picture of the silver race in the 'Works and Days' of Hesiod, ver. 130. The human race shall attain the longevity of the oak, the terebinth, the cedar, or the cypress. The proverbial sic vos non vobis will have lost its applicability. One will not build, and another enter the finished habitation; one will not sow, and another reap; but each man will "see the fruit of his labour;" the work of their hands the elect shall use to the full. The rising hope of parents shall not be nipped in the bud; nor shall the travail of body or of mind be mocked, as it too often seems now, by an empty result. That element of contradiction or seeming contradiction to the benevolent scheme of the world, which has perplexed the thought of sages in every time, shall disappear even from the animal world. The wild animals shall lose their ferocity, and the malignant infernal serpent, as it would seem, shall be banished to his subterranean domain. Here, again, we find parallel pictures in Oriental poets, and in the Romans Virgil and Horace. Perhaps few would be disposed to take these descriptions literally. It is, perhaps, impossible to conceive of the animal world remaining what it is in other respects, yet with its native instincts changed. Yet how great a marvel is the conversion of a single human soul! If the savage passions which rage there can be subdued and brought under the obedience of Christ, why need we despair of a nation, of a race? At any rate, all things assume a changed aspect to the renewed soul, which means the purged eyes, the deeper insight into the perfect wisdom and love which preside over the universe. The discontent we feel with the present scheme of things is a hint that the soul is secretly acquainted with their other, their ideal or Divine side.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
"They shall not labour in vain." This is God's comfort to all his faithful servants. Success is not to be measured by our sight, or by the statistics and seemings of superficial men.
I. HARVESTS ARE SOMETIMES LONG DELAYED. It has been so in our foreign mission fields, and it is so often here at home in our Christian Churches, and it is so in our families. But the Divine seed only "slumbers;" it does not "perish." Harvests often sprout in greenness and wave in golden glory over men's graves.
II. HARVESTS ARE NOT TO BE MEASURED BY THEIR FIRSTFRUITS. There, in a school or a church, some Henry Martyn, some Wilberforce, some Heber, some Livingstone, is brought into Christ's fold. Perhaps that soul is the only one soul we can make estimate of in a whole year's toil. We may, perhaps, feel disappointed—only one; but that one soul may be, under God, the means of giving spiritual life to a new continent. We must wait and work, and never weary, for Christ must reign. And the sower shall in due season reap, if he faint not.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The offensiveness and the doom of sin.
The passage brings out in a very graphic form—
I. THE OFFENSIVENESS OF SIN.
1. Assumption. "Walking after their own thoughts" instead of reverently inquiring God's will (Isaiah 65:2).
2. Positive disobedience in the manner of Divine worship (Isaiah 65:3).
3. Superstitious practices, implying discontent with the disclosures God had made in his holy Word (Isaiah 65:4).
4. Irreligious self-indulgence (Isaiah 65:4).
5. Spiritual pride. "I am holier than thou" (Isaiah 65:5) All these things were hateful to the Holy One of Israel; they constituted "rebellion" in his sight (Isaiah 65:2); they amounted to a defiant provocation of his wrath (Isaiah 65:3); they were as a continual smoke in the nostrils (Isaiah 65:5). All sin, whatever be its form or name, is "an abominable thing which God hates:" it is to his pure eyes unutterably loathsome; it is as the leprous skin to the eyes of man—he "cannot look upon" it. It draws down his righteous condemnation.
II. ITS INEVITABLE DOOM.
1. We must not argue non-observance or indifference from temporary silence. "Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silence" (Isaiah 65:6; Psalms 1:1-6 :21).
2. Guilt accumulates with time (Isaiah 65:7). God mercifully postpones punishment, thus giving opportunity for repentance and escape. But if there be impenitence and continuance in sin, there is an awful "treasuring up of wrath," an accumulation of guilt against a day of account. Nations, families, Churches, individual souls, may well take earnest heed to this solemn truth.
3. There is an absolute certainty and fulness of penalty to the obdurate. "I will recompense, even recompense," etc.; "I will measure their work," etc.
4. Those who have abused their trust must look for a humiliating displacement (Isaiah 65:1). God will remove the chosen instrument of his truth and grace, and he will find another to do his work. Let the too-confident "children of the kingdom" beware lest they have to make room for those whom they have been accustomed to despise.—C.
The husbandman is often tempted to tear up the vine, or to pluck up the herb, or to plough up the crop, when patience and painstaking would result in flower and fruit. In the spiritual world, it is often found that where death seemed to prevail, there was life beneath the surface.
I. THE APPEARANCE OF SPIRITUAL DEATH. The Church is so degenerate, that the teaching of Divine truth is found to be ineffectual; the nation so corrupt, that the statesman and the magistrate and the teacher are powerless; the family so depraved, that it is a pest to the community; the child so wayward, that parental authority is no restraint. Then is entertained—
II. THE POLICY OF ABANDONMENT. Those who are pure, reverent, loyal; they to whom iniquity is found to be hateful; men that are anxious to use their opportunities, so as to get some spiritual returns:—these say, or are inclined to say," Let us leave these souls so fast imbedded in sin whom we cannot extricate, and let us seek and save those who can be reached and rescued." Then comes—
III. THE PLEA OF FAITH AND PITY. "Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it." "Let it alone this year" (Luke 13:6-9). That root that looks dead is not dead, and under careful nourishment it will revive. That soul that seems dead is not dead; there is a seed of life in it still; beneath all its folly, its waywardness, its vice, its guilt, there is a possibility of true repentance; there is a sensibility which will respond to patient, human love; there is a spiritual capacity which the truth of God, made mighty by the Spirit of God, will touch with renewing power, and from which unsuspected beauties and graces will arise. Within the ugliest and most worthless souls there may lie concealed germs of real nobility. Wait long, very long, before you abandon to destruction. Over them, and of them, the Divine voice may be whispering, "There is a blessing in them for the loving, patient, prayerful workman."—C.
Isaiah 65:9, Isaiah 65:10
From depression to prosperity.
We learn here—
I. THAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD MAY FALL INTO A STATE OF SAD DEPRESSION. "Jacob" and "Judah," at the time of this prophecy, were reduced to a very low estate. It seemed as if they would produce nothing.
II. THAT COMFORT MAY THEN BE FOUND IN GOD'S RELATION TO THEM. They are still "mine elect;" still those whom the Divine Father pities and purposes to bless, for whom the Divine Saviour died, with whom the Divine Spirit pleads.
III. THAT THEY SHOULD SPEND THEIR STRENGTH IN SEEKING AND IN SERVING. "My servants shall dwell there … for my people that have sought me." In the time of difficulty and distress let good men be earnest and constant in prayer; let them be consistent in life and active in holy labour. Then they will find—
IV. THAT THEY MAY LOOK FOR A RENEWED AND A NOBLE HERITAGE. From end to end of the land (from Sharon to Achor) the scenes of pastoral industry shall be witnessed, and God's servants shall dwell in the land; there shall be fulness and permanence of blessing.—C.
The Christian view of age.
These words are not to be taken literally; they are distinctly pictorial, highly hyperbolical; they indicate a state of future blessedness, employing images most likely to be impressive and inspiring at the time of utterance. They may suggest to us the Christian aspect of old age.
I. THAT CHRISTIAN LIFE TENDS TO LENGTH OF DAYS, Health, and therefore life, depends most on habit. What shortens life is folly, irregularity, excess, anxiety, sorrow; Christian principles guard against these, or materially modify them. What lengthens life is purity, temperance, serenity, and cheerfulness of spirit; Christian principles are a security for these.
II. THAT CHRISTIAN LIFE TENDS TO PRESERVE THE CHILD-HEART IN THE AGED MAN. A beautiful object is a "green old age;" an excellent thing it is when "he that is a hundred years old dies a youth." The best preservative of freshness of spirit, openness of mind, youthfulness of heart, is an unselfish habit. Disinterestedness of soul, broad and generous sympathies, active participation in all onward movements,—this will keep the heart of youth in the form of age.
III. THAT THE CHRISTIAN PROMISE POINTS TO THE LONG FUTURE. "The shorter life, the earlier immortality."
IV. THAT WE MAY DIE YOUNG, AND YET FILL UP THE MEASURE OF OUR DAYS. Our Lord died a young man, and yet he "finished the work which the Father gave him to do." Many martyrs, many devoted labourers in the field of usefulness, have failed to reach extreme old age, but they have not failed to accomplish the task which the great Leader had set them. The excellency of life depends on its quality, not on its quantity. "One day in thy courts is better than a thousand," etc. "Though the sinner die a hundred years old, he shall be accursed," and his life will be a bane and a blot. A very few years (or months) of holy service may be of inestimable service to the cause of Christ and of man.—C.
The Divine readiness.
Man is slow to respond.
1. His limited intelligence makes him slow to apprehend what is needed.
2. His imperfect sensibility makes him slow to feel the urgency of the need.
3. His feebleness of execution makes him slow to inter.pose and to effect. God is not under these limitations. His perfect readiness is seen in—
I. HIS ANTICIPATION OF OUR NECESSITIES. Providing this world for our habitation; preparing its soil and its seed; storing its coal and its metals, etc.; providing for our wants in sunshine and in rain, etc; which come without our asking for them; having all kinds of truth and knowledge ready for our inquiry; etc.
II. HIS ANSWERS TO OUR PRAYERS.
1. Sometimes literally granting our requests at the very time of our asking (Daniel 9:20, Daniel 9:21).
2. Always virtually meeting us with an immediate response; for when he does not grant us all we ask instantly, as he could not do with any regard to our real and spiritual interests, he does hear us and heed us, and determine in what way he will bless us.
III. HIS RESPONSE TO OUR APPEAL IN SORROW AND IN PENITENCE. There are two things in regard to which the words of our text are emphatically true.
1. When in sorrow we ask for his sympathy. When the cares, anxieties, disappointments, losses, separations of life, overtake us, then the stricken heart of man turns and looks for the healing hand of God, then the troubled child goes to his heavenly Father; and never vainly. For in the very act of an appeal, while we are yet upon our knees, before we have left the sanctuary, God has laid his kind hand upon us, Jesus Christ has spoken "peace" to our agitated spirit.
2. When in penitence we ask for his pardon. When, away in the far country of unbelief, or of wrong-doing, or of irreligion, or of unfaithfulness and Backsliding, or of indecision and procrastination, we hear the summons from the Father's home, and when we say, "I will arise and return," what happens then? A Divine readiness to receive us, even as the great Teacher has shown us. Then the Father of souls does not wait to be convinced, and to be induced to pardon and reinstate us. He comes forth to meet us; he anticipates our action; he breaks in upon our confession with his words of forgiving and accepting love (Luke 15:21, Luke 15:22); he overwhelms us with the proofs of his Divine affection.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
In the two previous chapters we find. the prophet, pleading in the name of Israel, had urged that God kept strange silence when his people were so long held captive, and their land lay so desolate. In this chapter we have the Divine answer to the prophet's plea. There was good reason for the long delay. Instead of the people reproaching their God, their God might much more reasonably reproach them, for they had rejected his long and earnest appeals; they had put the stumbling-blocks in the way of their own restoration. They were not "straitened in God;" they were "straitened in their own selves." "He has called his people, but in vain; they have been obstinately deaf to him, unfaithful, and superstitious. The unfaithful shall be punished; but a faithful remnant shall be saved and restored to Zion, and from them the promises shall take effect" (Matthew Arnold). The Divine reproaches here may be regarded as addressed to three classes—the negligent, the wilful, and the insolent.
I. DIVINE REPROACHES OF THE NEGLIGENT. There are always among us those who give no heed to God, whether he speaks in thunder-voice, or with the still small voice; in judgments or in mercies; from Sinai or from Zion. This is the most perplexing difficulty with which God's ministers have to deal. Men hear, but give no heed. They even recognize the truth and importance of what is declared, but fail to see any relation in which it stands to them. No harder work is set before the servants of God than to break down pride and self-satisfaction, and awaken personal concern. Indifference to heavenly and Divine things keeps men away even from God's "feast of fat things, and wines on the lees well refined." Ministers have constantly to be the arousing trumpet-blast, which cries, "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light."
II. DIVINE REPROACHES OF THE WILFUL. The secret of wilfulness is over-confidence in self. A man persuades himself that it "is in man that walketh to direct his steps." Or, as Isaiah puts it, a man is quite comfortable, walketh "after his own thoughts," even though he goes in a way that is not good. Such a man opposes all Divine voices and messages, because he finds the beginning of every one of them is this, "Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God." Wilful people will have their way, but they will not have God's way.
III. DIVINE REPROACHES OF THE INSOLENT. (Verse 3.) "Provoketh me to anger continually to my face." It is strange that we must recognize a more hopeful condition in active opposition to God, than in dogged and sullen resistance, or in weak indifference. The man who can oppose has strength of character, and Divine reproach may be convincing to him.—R.T.
The pride of superior holiness.
Dr. W. Kay has a suggestive note on this verse: "A deep insight is here given us into the nature of the mysterious fascination which heathenism exercised on the Jewish people. The Law humbled them at every turn with mementoes of their own sin, and of God's unapproachable holiness. Paganism freed them from this, and allowed them (in the midst of moral pollution) to cherish lofty pretensions to sanctity. The man who had been offering incense on the mountain-top despised the penitent who went to the temple to present 'a broken and contrite heart.' If Pharisaism led to a like result, it was because it, too, had emptied the Law of its spiritual import, and turned its provisions into intellectual idols." Henderson says, "The conceit of imaginary holiness, accruing from certain external relations, and the performance of certain ritual or bodily exercises, such as the Jews have long entertained, and which is also awfully prevalent among nominal Christians, Jehovah here declares to be peculiarly offensive to him." The illustration of this "stand-by' attitude is found in our Lord's parable of the Pharisee and the publican.
I. HOLINESS OF RITUAL. Religion may be a doing or a being. The religion of doing is the minute and careful observance of ritual. It may be ritual as appointed by God, or it may be ritual as arranged by man. A certain goodness, righteousness, bringing with it much self-satisfaction, and a great disposition to despise others, may come out of a religion of doing. Thousands have been fascinated by it in every age. And yet it is but an external matter, of the senses and of the mind; and it has always been found possible to keep it up along with heart-impurities and life-immoralities. The ritualist is not at all bound to be a clean-living man. Pharisees thought themselves holy, on the ground of their precise obediences; and it was a Pharisaic commonplace to live in self-indulgence and sin. Matthew Arnold, writing of such mere ritual holiness, says,:' Doing all this out of superstition, and out of the vain notion that it will be of religious avail to them, they insolently repel their unsuperstitious and faithful brethren as less holy than themselves." In a thousand ways, and constantly, it is needful to press on attention that ritual is an aid to holiness, not holiness, and the danger of ritual is
II. HOLINESS OF HEART. (See the kind of holiness acceptable to God, shown in former homily on Isaiah 66:1, Isaiah 66:2.)—R.T.
Contrasted lots of those who serve God and those who forsake him.
This passage should be compared with Luke 6:20-26. "The blessedness of those that serve God, and the woeful condition of those that rebel against him, are here set, the one over against the other, that they may serve as a foil to each other."
I. CONTRAST THE TWO KINDS OF LIFE. The man who fears God and sets his heart upon serving him, finds the promises fulfilled—"Verily thou shalt be filled;" "None of them that trust in him shall be desolate." He may take his place in anxious and troublous times, but since he is God's servant, he shall be even as Elijah, fed by ravens, or by poor widows, if need be. The man who fears not God is left to ordinary human devices, and may be left hungry and thirsty and desolate. He holds no guarantee. The Giver of all good is under no covenant-pledge to see that he wants no good thing. "God's servants shall eat and drink; they shall have the bread of life to feed, to feast upon continually, and shall want nothing that is good for them. But those who set their hearts upon the world, and place their happiness in it, shall be hungry and thirsty, always empty, always craving. In communion with God and dependence upon him there is full satisfaction; but in sinful pursuits there is nothing but dissatisfaction and disappointment."
II. CONTRAST THE TWO KINDS OF DISPOSITIONS. Trust in God brings peace and heart-rest. Those who know what soul-rest is, find it easy to sing and give thanks. "The joy of the Lord is their strength." There is good cheer and high hope in their souls. "God's servants shall rejoice and sing for joy of heart; they have constant cause for joy, and there is nothing that may be an occasion of grief to them but may have an allay sufficient for it. But, on the other hand, they that forsake the Lord shut themselves out from all true joy, for they shall be ashamed of their vain confidence in themselves, and their own righteousness, and the hopes they had built thereon. When the expectations of bliss, wherewith they had flattered themselves, are frustrated, oh, what confusion will fill their faces!" (Matthew Henry). "The joy of the world resembles a torrent. As upon a glut of rain, you shall have a torrent come rolling along with noise and violence, overflowing its banks, and bearing all before it; yet it is but muddy and impure water, and it is soon gone and dried up: such is all the joy this world can give. It makes a great noise, it is commonly immoderate, and swells beyond its due bounds; yet it is but a muddy and impure joy; it soon roils away, and leaves nothing behind but a drought in the soul. Now, since the world's joy is but such a poor empty thing as this, it is most gross folly for us to lay out our best love upon that which cannot repay us with the best joy" (Bishop Hopkins).—R.T.
A new earth.
The idea is that God will be sure to take care that a man's surroundings match the man himself. He will have a new earth for regenerate men. He will have heaven for those who can be "holy still." The fundamental idea of the verse is that nature itself must be transformed to be in harmony with regenerate Israel. Long life shall be one of the marked peculiarities of the "new earth." Cheyne quotes the following similar passage to Isaiah 65:20 from the Book of Enoch: "And they shall not be punished all their life long, neither shall they die by plagues and judgments; but the number of their days shall they complete, and they shall grow old in peace, and the years of their happiness shall be many, in everlasting bliss and peace, their whole life long." Some take this text as a poetical representation of the new condition into which the returned exiles entered; and in that view we have an ideal picture of what ought to have been. We, however, take the more general principle that God makes a new earth for the new-born man; everything to him becomes new. And God makes a new earth for his sanctified Church—does make it, in a sense, now, and will make it, in a larger sense, by-and-by. In what sense, then, can we be said to want a "new earth"?
I. NOT IN THE SENSE OF A CHANGED WORLD OF THINGS. It is not possible for us to conceive of anything better, more restful, more satisfying, than this paradise of earth, which God has made and decked for us, with its hills, and vales, and streams, and seas, and flowers, and trees, and hoar-frost, and harvest-fields, and spring-time greenery, and autumn tinting. We love our earth, fair earth, and do not want it changed.
"'Twas a fair scene—a land more bright
Never did mortal eye behold!…
Those valleys and their fruits of gold
Basking in heaven's serenest light;
Those groups of lovely date trees bending
Languidly their leaf-crown'd heads,
Like youthful maids, when sleep descending
Warns them to their silken beds;
Those virgin lilies, all the night
Bathing their beauties in the lake,
That they may rise more fresh and bright
When their beloved sun's awake."
We can, indeed, only conceive of heaven as like earth, all of it as beautiful as some of the earth is to us. Poetry anticipates that
"There, on a green and flowery mound,
Our weary souls shall sit."
And Scripture figures heaven as a city in a paradise. No sense of wanting relief from the ever-exquisite associations of earth comes to us. Even earth's dark things, her night, her winds, her storms, her winter, are precious to us, and we scarce would have them otherwise.
II. BUT IN THE SENSE OF A CHANGED WORLD OF BEINGS. There are lands where
"… every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile;"
and it is just that "vileness of man" which has made earth so sad, life so bitter, and death so terrible. Could we clear the human race away, as with another flood or fire, and start again the cleansed earth with a race in whom righteousness should dwell, then, verily, we should want no other heaven—earth would be heaven. Illustrate these points:
1. The good man makes a new earth of his sphere.
2. The good parents make a new earth of their home.
3. The holy Church helps to make a new earth of social life.
4. The well-principled statesman tries to make a new earth of the nation.
5. Those who believe in God and know his redemption strive to make a new earth of the sorely smitten heathen lands. We all want that new earth in which holiness shall be every-where-holiness the glorifying sunshine that makes earth to be summer-time always; holiness shall jingle from the very bells of the horses. Call that new earth what you may please, it will be heaven.—R.T.
The woe of aged sinners.
There are three special periods of life in which men are peculiarly exposed to the power of temptation and sin. Most men that fall, fall either into young men's perils, full-grown, men's indulgences, or old men's sins. A pure, humble, godly old man is one of the noblest sights to be seen under heaven. And by so much as that is beautiful, a godless, characterless, debased old man is a shame and contempt. "A hoary head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness." Yet old age has its special evils. Temptations to those sins which the Bible gathers up into the word "uncleanness." Often uncleanness of word and conversation; often, alas! of life and conduct also. It would appear that bodily lust and passion gathers itself in old age for one last struggle to gain the mastery. The flame flares up in the socket, and old men need to keep very near to God, very much in the power of the sanctifying Spirit, if, having withstood all the perils of youth and manhood, they do not fall under the temptations of old age. What an awful sight is the foul-mouthed, leering-eyed, depraved old man, tottering on the very edge of the eternal, where "he that is filthy shall be filthy still"! The prophet tells of the time when there shall be no confusions about the state of aged sinners, because they are in great state, or are spared long. "The sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed."
I. THE WOE OF AGED SINNERS COMES IN BITTERNESS OF SUFFERING. The self-indulgent life ensures an unusually suffering old age. There are natural and necessary penalties, which are first smitings of Divine judgment.
II. THE WOE OF AGED SINNERS COMES IN THE ESTIMATE OF THOSE WHO TEND THEM. The aged sinner outlives his so-called friends, who shared his self-willed doings, and might have sympathized with him. He is put, for tending, into the hands of a new generation, who only see the wreck and ruin of body and character which the life has led to. He feels despised; he feels the misery of being despised. He knows well enough that they wish him gone.
III. THE WOE OF AGED SINNERS COMES IN FEARS OF THE FUTURE. It comes on a man sooner or later that he will have to "give an account of his stewardship." His body was not his own; his time was not his own; his talents were not his own; his possessions were not his own; his relations were not his own. Presently he asks himself—What have I done with God's property, which was entrusted for a while to my care? Conscious of having diverted God's property to his own uses, he may well fear to meet his offended God.—R.T.
Swift answers to prayer.
The answer comes even when the prayer is but a thought, is only a sigh; for God is the Infinite Thought-reader.
"Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The failing of a tear;
The upward glancing of an eye.
When none but God is near."
One of the wonderful revelations of the day that is coming will be God's showing us the many answers he sent to prayers of ours that never took shape in human words, that were no more than the outlook and uplook of our souls. The point impressed by the prophet here is that, by reason of man's sinfulness, delays in answering his prayers are often necessary, delay doing a very essential disciplinary and corrective work. But if a man were holy—in fall harmony with God's will—there would never be any question about his prayers, never any need for delay in answering them. God could respond at once. "In man's experience of men, often, as things are now, in his relations with God, there is an interval between prayer and answer. In the new Jerusalem the two would he simultaneous, or the answer would anticipate the prayer." God's present method in relation to prayer may be illustrated from Daniel 9:23; Luke 18:1-7; 2 Corinthians 12:8.
I. WHAT IS IT IN US THAT MAKES ANSWER TO PRAYER SLOW AND EVEN UNCERTAIN. It is certain that God is more willing to hear than we are to pray. He has made large and firm promises of answer if we pray; and yet sometimes his answer is a refusal, and at other times it is a delay, and at yet other times the gift of something which we did not desire. The explanation is in us; we either ask for wrong things, or else we ask in. a wrong spirit. We need rebuff, or we need correction. Art unanswered prayer should always set us upon "examining ourselves."
II. WHAT IS IT IN US THAT MAKES ANSWER TO PRAYER. COME SWIFTLY? The conformity of our desires with God's will, and the offering of ourselves in the spirit of submission, dependence, and trustful love, which becomes obedient children.
"Lord, teach us how to pray aright."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 65". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany