Click here to join the effort!
SECTION XII.—FINAL THREATENINGS AND PROMISES (Isaiah 66:1-24.).
THE UNGODLY EXILES REBUKED. Israel, being about to return from the Captivity, had the design of rebuilding the temple and re-establishing the temple worship. God rebukes this design in persons devoid of any spirit of holiness, and warns them that mere formal outward worship is an abomination to him (Isaiah 66:1-3). In Isaiah 66:4 he threatens them with punishment.
Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool (comp. Psalms 11:4; Psalms 103:19). The Hebrews, while they earnestly desired to have a material emblem of the presence of God in their midst, were deeply impressed with the feeling that no temple could be worthy of him, or other than most unworthy. "Will God," said Solomon, "indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heavens of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?" (1 Kings 8:27). And again, "Who is able to build him an house, seeing the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him? Who am I then, that I should build him an house, save only to burn sacrifice before trim?" (2 Chronicles 2:6). Thus Isaiah's note of warning was no novelty, and might rind responsive echoes in the hearts of many. Where is the house that ye build unto me? rather, what manner of house is it that ye would build to me, add what manner of place for my rest? God needs no "house;" and they cannot build him a house that could be in any way worthy of him. They, moreover, are unworthy to build him any house, which is the real ground of the refusal. There was no refusal, when the better part of the exiles, having returned, took the building in hand (see Ezra 3:8-13; Ezra 6:14, Ezra 6:15; Haggai 1:8-14; Zechariah 1:16; Zechariah 4:9, etc.).
All these things—i.e. heaven and earth hath mine hand made; i.e. have I, Jehovah, brought into existence. How, then, can I need that men should build me a house? All these things have been, saith the Lord. The sentence seems incomplete. Mr. Cheyne supplies, "I spoke." The sentence will then run, "I spoke, and all these things crone into being, saith Jehovah;" i.e. heaven and earth, and all things that are therein, came into being at my word (comp. Genesis 1:1; Genesis 2:1). But to this man will I look; i.e. though I have made all things and all men, I will not equally regard all. Him only will I respect who is of a poor and contrite spirit, etc. (comp. Isaiah 57:15).
He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; literally, is a manslayer. The full meaning seems to be, "He that, not being of a poor and contrite spirit, would offer me an ox in sacrifice, is as little pleasing to me as a murderer." Sacrifice, without the true spirit of sacrifice, is an abomination (comp. Isaiah 1:11, "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord," etc.). There, however, the sacrifices are actually offered; here they are hypothetical. The ungodly exiles design to offer sacrifice to God in his temple, when they have rebuilt it (Isaiah 66:1). God rejects their offerings by anticipation. As if he out off a dog's neck; i.e." would no more please me by the sacrifice than if he were to make an offering of the unclean dog." (On the uncleanness of the dog, see Deuteronomy 23:18.) He that offereth an oblation; or, a meat offering (see Le Isaiah 2:1-15). He that burneth incense. With his meat offering, as directed in Le Isaiah 2:1, Isaiah 2:2. Such a one is no better than he that blesseth (i.e. worships) an idol. It may be suspected that the ritual acts selected for comparison with those of the Levitical law are practices to which the exiles were given (comp. Isaiah 65:3, Isaiah 65:4). Yea, they have chosen, etc.; rather, as they haw chosen. The clause stands over against the first clause of Isaiah 2:4, "As they (gam hemmah) have chosen their ways, so I (gam ani) have chosen their delusions."
Their delusions; or, their childish follies (LXX; ἐμπαίγματα). As God sends on some men "strong delusion that they should believe a lie" (2 Thessalonians 2:11), so on others he sends a spirit of childish folly, which makes their conduct silly and headstrong. Persons whose characters are of this stamp are especially liable to vain and groundless "fears." When I called, none did answer (comp. Isaiah 65:12, and see the comment on that passage).
THE GODLY EXILES ENCOURAGED. The scoffs which have long greeted those who believed God's promises and expected the restoration of Zion, will be put to shame. The silence in which Zion has lain will be broken; she will be once more a city "full of stirs, a tumultuous city" (Isaiah 22:2). Suddenly, without any pains of travail, she will bring forth; and her offspring will be "a nation born at once" (Isaiah 66:8). The godly exiles are called upon to rejoice at the prospect (Isaiah 66:10), and promised peace and comfort in the restored city (Isaiah 66:11-14).
Hear … ye that tremble. The godly are addressed—those that have a reverent fear of God's word (comp. Isaiah 66:2, ad fin.; and see also Ezra 9:4; Ezra 10:3). Your brethren that … cast you out; rather. that put you away (Cheyne), or thrust you from them (Delitzsch). The verb used came in later times to designate formal excommunication; but here it points merely to a practical renunciation of fellowship. Said, Let the Lord be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy; rather, said, Let Jehovah glorify himself, that ice may see your joy; i.e. "said sarcastically, May the prophecies be fulfilled, and God humble Babylon, and release Israel, and restore her, that we may witness your rejoicing. We should gladly see all this; but we do not in the least expect it." And they shall be ashamed; rather, but as for them (i.e. those who so speak) they shall be ashamed. The event shall shame them.
A voice of noise from the city … from the temple. The "city" and "temple" are suddenly in existence—they have sprung into being. The prophet sees Jerusalem rebuilt, restored, and hears sounds go forth from it—partly, perhaps, the sounds of ordinary city life; but amid these, there is a voice of the Lord, rendering recompense to his enemies. The Jewish state, restored by Zerubbabel, did, after a time, bring under subjection several of its ancient adversaries.
Isaiah 66:7, Isaiah 66:8
Before she travailed, etc. Without any long delay, without any labour pains, Zion will bring forth a man-child—a whole nation, which wilt be born at once, and not grow up by slow degrees. The occupation of Jerusalem by the great body of the returned exiles (Ezra 2:1; Ezra 3:1) is intended. Such a second birth of a nation was strange, and without precedent (comp. Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 43:19). Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? rather, can a land be brought forth in one day? It is not only a people, but a country, that is born anew; not only the Jews, but Judaea.
Shall I bring to the birth, etc.? i.e. "Should I arrange all the preliminary circumstances for the restoration of my people, and stop there?" (Cheyne). Nay, should I, having done so much, interpose at the last moment, to shut the womb? Without such interposition, matters have progressed so far, that the result must come.
Rejoice ye with Jerusalem … all ye that love her. The call to rejoicing is general. Restored Jerusalem is to be hailed with joy "by all who love her," whether her own children or foreigners. To both she will be a blessing (Isaiah 66:11-13).
That ye may suck. Restored Jerusalem will be as a mother to all who love her, to all who have mourned for her when she lay as it were dead (1 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 14:2). She will have "milk" to give to all—"the sincere milk of the Word" (1 Peter 2:2)—and from her both Jew and Gentile will "suck out no small advantage" (Psalms 73:10). She will also impart to them from the abundance of her glory.
I will extend peace to her like a river; literally, I will direct peace to her, like a river. The waters of streams are in the East directed hither and thither by the agriculturist. God would have given his people "peace, as a river," long previously, had they permitted him (Isaiah 48:18). And the glory of the Gentiles (comp. Isaiah 60:5, Isaiah 60:11; Isaiah 61:6, etc.). Like a flowing stream; literally, as an overflowing torrent. There is perhaps a contrast intended between the former and the latter times. In the former times Assyria had swept over Israel like an overwhelming flood to destroy her (Isaiah 8:7, Isaiah 8:8); now the glory of the whole Gentile world should similarly overflow and overwhelm, but only to enrich and exalt. Ye shall be borne upon her sides (see the comment on Isaiah 9:4). It is Jerusalem, and not the Gentile world (Delitzsch, Cheyne), that will thus care for and caress her children. The continuance of the metaphor from Isaiah 66:11 is marked by the repetition of the verb, "ye shall suck."
As one; literally, as a man. Israel is now looked upon as grown up, and receiving comfort from God himself in Jerusalem.
Your bones shall flourish like an herb (comp. Isaiah 58:11). In the time of calamity, Israel's "bones" have been "consumed'' (Psalms 31:10), and "waxed old" (Psalms 32:3), and "burned with heat" (Job 30:30). Now they shall enjoy a time of refreshing from the Lord. New life shall enter them, and health and growth shall follow. The nation shall be rejuvenated, and "flourish" in more than its pristine strength. The hand of the Lord shall be known; or recognized, both in this merciful treatment of his servants, and also in the indignation with which he will visit his enemies. This last clause conveniently introduces the following "theophany" (Isaiah 66:15-18).
THE VENGEANCE WHICH GOD WILL TAKE ON HIS ENEMIES. A signal outpouring of God's vengeance upon his enemies precedes the settlement of the Church in its final glorious condition, both in Isaiah and in the Revelation of St. John (see ch. 34; 35, and Revelation 19-21.). The wicked have to be removed before the righteous can be established in peace. Here the agencies employed against the wicked are "fire" and "sword"—fire pointing (as Delitzsch remarks) to destructive occurrences of nature, and the sword to destructive occurrences of history. God himself is represented as guiding and directing both agencies, to the punishment of the ungodly and the relief of those who trust in him.
Behold, the Lord will come with fire. "Fire" is a usual accompaniment of a "theophany." God descended on Sinai "in fire" (Exodus 19:18), and led the Israelites through the wilderness by the pillar of the cloud and of fire (Exodus 13:21, Exodus 13:22), and filled the tabernacle with a glory as of fire (Exodus 40:34), and "answered David from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering'' (1 Chronicles 21:26), and in the same way answered Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:1) and Elijah (1 Kings 18:38). Isaiah almost always describes a theophany as a "coming with fire" (see Isaiah 10:16-18; Isaiah 27:4; Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:27, Isaiah 30:30; Isaiah 33:12, Isaiah 33:14, etc.). The agency of fire in the judgment that will overtake the wicked simultaneously with Christ's second coming, appears in 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 2 Peter 3:7-10. With his chariots (comp. Psalms 68:17; Habakkuk 3:8). "Chariots," in the plural, may be regarded as symbolizing the "hosts" of natural and supernatural forces that God has at his command (Cheyne). Like a whirlwind. The whirring of the wheels of chariots, their noise, the swiftness of their pace, and the destruction that they cause, make this simile most appropriate. To render his anger; or, to expend his anger—to vent it.
By fire and by his sword (see the introductory paragraph). The "sword of Jehovah" is spoken of also in Isaiah 27:1 and Isaiah 34:5, Isaiah 34:6 (comp. Revelation 19:15, Revelation 19:21). Will the Lord plead with all flesh; rather, will the Lord judge all flesh (comp. Jeremiah 25:31, where the same phrase occurs).
They that sanctify … themselves in the gardens (comp. Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 65:3; and see the comment on the latter passage). Behind one tree in the midst; literally, behind one in the midst. It seems quite impossible that "one" can mean "one tree," when no tree has been mentioned, and gardens do not necessarily contain trees. The marginal rendering, "one after another," is also impossible. The "one in the midst" must have been either a hierophant who directed the ceremonies (Gesenius, Hitzig, Knobel, Delitzsch), or an image of a deity (Scaliger, Voss, Grotius, Lagarde, Cheyne). In the latter case, we must suppose that the worshippers had a scruple about mentioning the deity's name, and were accustomed to call him "one," or "a certain one" (comp. Herod; 2.171). Isaiah adopts their usage. Eating swine's flesh (comp. Isaiah 65:4). And the abomination. The word is used generically of all the "abominable things" forbidden to be eaten in Le Isa 11:4 -30, as the camel, the coney, the hare, the eagle, the vulture, the ferret, the chameleon, the lizard, etc. The mouse. Probably the jerboa (see Leviticus 11:20).
For I know their works. There is no verb in the Hebrew text, from which something has evidently fallen out. Mr. Cheyne supplies, "I will punish;" Gratz, "I have seen." "I know" is supported by the Targums, the Syriac Version, several manuscripts of the Septuagint, and the authorities of Saadiya, Vitringa, and Gesenius. And their thoughts; i.e. I know, not only their works, but even the thoughts from which the works proceeded. It shall some; i.e. "the time shall come." (For the full phrase, see Jeremiah 51:33; Ezekiel 7:7, Ezekiel 7:12.) All nations and tongues. This expression has been corn-pared with Daniel's "kindreds and nations and languages" (Daniel 3:4, Daniel 3:7, Daniel 3:29; Daniel 4:1; Daniel 5:19, etc.), and has been regarded as a sign of late authorship. But "nations' and "tongues" are coupled together in Scripture as early as Genesis (Genesis 10:5, Genesis 10:20). They shall come, and see my glory; i.e. "see the glory that I shall get me upon my enemies" (verses 15-17).
THE FINAL CONDITION OF THE CHURCH OF THE REDEEMED ON EARTH. When the enemies of God have been consumed, there shall go out from the Church missionaries, who shall convert the distant Gentiles, and unite them, and the Jews who dwell among them, into a single body of worshippers, which shall inhabit the new Jerusalem on equal terms, and join continually in a common worship of Jehovah. The awful destruction of the wicked, and their eternal sufferings, shall at the same time be held in remembrance.
.—I will set a sign among them. Dr. Kay suggests that the "sign" is the resurrection of our Lord, or possibly a miraculous manifestation of Christ which is to precede his coming in judgment. Mr. Cheyne, less venturesome, finds in the prophet's words merely a suggestion of "some mysterious event, which he leaves his awestruck readers to imagine." Those that escape of them. Not, surely, those of God's enemies that survive the slaughter, but "the remnant" of Jews, that are not among God's enemies, and so "escape." These shall be sent (as missionaries) to the distant nations; not literally to those enumerated, but to such as at the end of the world occupy a position which the nations mentioned occupied on Isaiah's horizon. Of these nations, Tarshish (Tartessus) was at the furthest limit westward, Pul and Lud, or rather Phut and Lud, at the furthest limit southward, Tubal and Javan at the furthest limit northward, Pul, which occurs nowhere else in Scripture as a geographic name, is almost certainly a wrong reading for Phut, which occurs in Genesis 10:6, and also three times (Jeremiah 46:9; Ezekiel 27:10; Ezekiel 30:5) in connection with Lud. Phut designates an African nation, probably the Nubians, whom the Egyptians called Pet, and who were noted as bowmen. Wetstein's conjecture of "Pun" (Punici, 'Phoenicians '), commended by Mr. Cheyne, is quite unsupported and highly improbable. Lud. It is tempting to connect "Lud" with the Lydians, who were certainly known as "Lndi" to the Assyrians of the time of Asshur-bani-pal. But the other scriptural notices of "Lud" (Jeremiah 46:9; Ezekiel 27:10; Ezekiel 30:5), which uniformly connect it with Phut, point rather to an African people. See also Genesis 10:13, where the Ludim are a subdivision of the Egyptians. That draw the bow (comp. Jeremiah 46:9). To Tubal, and Javan. Tubal stands, no doubt, for the Tibareni, a people of the Asiatic highland west of the Upper Euphrates, called Tuplai or Tabali by the Assyrians. They would occupy Isaiah's northern and north-western horizon, in company with Javan, or the Ionians (Ἰάβονες), who were among the chief people of Asia Minor. Javan, Tubal, and Mesheeh (Μόσχοι, Muskai) are joined in Genesis 10:2 and Ezekiel 27:13. The isles afar off; i.e. the shores and islands of the Mediterranean.
They shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord. When the distant Gentiles have been converted, they shall bring to Christ the Jews of the dispersion, who dwell with them in the remote parts of the earth (comp. Zephaniah 3:10). Upon horses. The "new Jerusalem" being localized, the converts from the distant regions are represented as journeying from their own lands to the "holy mountain," and bringing the Jewish exiles with them by various methods of conveyance—upon horses, mules, and dromedaries, in chariots, and finally in palanquins or litters. "Litters" were used by the great men among the Egyptians from a very early date. They were also employed by the Persians (Herod; 3.146) and by the later Romans. As the children of Israel bring an offering; rather, bring the meat offering. The existence of the temple, and the continuance of the Levitical rites at the time of the delivery of this prophecy, are clearly implied.
And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites; literally, and I will also take of them unto the priests and unto the Levites; i.e. I will add to the existing body of priests and Levites, who are pro-sumably Jews, fresh members from the newly converted Gentiles. The existence of a sacerdotal order, with distinctions of ranks, in the Church of the redeemed, is implied, and the gracious declaration is made that the privilege of furnishing members to both ranks of the order shall be conferred upon the Gentile proselytes.
.—As the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain. The "new heavens and the new earth," once created, continue for ever (comp. Revelation 21:1-27; Revelation 22:1-5). So shall your seed and your name remain. This statement is usually taken to be a promise of some special pre-eminence to the Jew over the Gentile in the final kingdom of the redeemed. But St. Paul speaks of all such privileges as already abolished in his day (Colossians 3:11); and, if the priesthood is to be common to both Gentile and Jew, the principle of equality would seem to be conceded. Perhaps no more is here meant than that, as the "new heaven and new earth" will always remain, so there will always remain a seed of true believers to worship God in them.
From one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another. Not that "new moons" and "sabbaths" will continue to be observed, for "new moons" have already lapsed, and "sabbaths" too will lapse when life is one perpetual sabbath passed in the worship of God. The phrase, used by the prophet is intended to express absolute continuance without an interval. Shall all flesh come to worship before me (comp. Psalms 65:2). The prophet still uses habitual modes of expression, though speaking of a time and circumstances to which they are no longer appropriate. "The literal meaning," as Dr. Pusey says, "was physically impossible." "All flesh," in all regions of the "new earth," could not worship in one spot, "and so it was plain that Isaiah spoke of a worship other than that at any given place"—of a worship such as that whereof our Lord spoke to the Samaritan woman, "Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father" (John 4:21).
And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases, etc. Here is more imagery, which it is impossible to understand literally. The carcases could not remain always to be looked at, nor while they remained could the sight of them be otherwise than loathsome to God's redeemed saints. Again, they could not be at the same time burnt with fire and eaten by worms. "The prophet, by the very mode of description adopted by him, precludes the possibility of our conceiving of the thing set forth as realized in any material form in this present state. He is speaking of the future state, but in figures drawn from the present world" (Delitzsch). Does he mean more than this—that the redeemed shall have in their thoughts, at any rate from time to time, the fact that, while they have by God's great mercy been saved and brought into His kingdom, there are those who have not been saved, but lie for ever under the awful sentence of God's wrath? This is a knowledge which the redeemed must have, and which may well produce a salutary effect on them, intensifying their gratitude and maintaining in them a spirit of reverent fear. Their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched. It cannot be by chance that the evangelical prophet concludes his glorious prophecy with this terrible note of warning. Either he was divinely directed thus to terminate his teaching, or he felt the need that there was of his emphasizing all the many warnings dispersed throughout his "book" by a final, never-to-be-forgotten picture. The undying worm and the quenchless fire—images introduced by him—became appropriated thenceforth to the final condition of impenitent sinners (Jude 1:16:17; Ecclesiasticus 7:17), and were even adopted by our Lord himself in the same connection (Mark 9:1-50.). The incongruity of the two images shows that they are not to be understood literally; but both alike imply everlasting continuance, and are incompatible with either of the two modern heresies of universalism or annihilationism. They shall be an abhorring unto all flesh (comp. Daniel 12:2, where the word deraon is rendered "contempt"). The Jewish rabbis regarded it as anomalous that any portion of Scripture should conclude with words of ill omen. When, therefore, this chapter was read in the synagogue, or the last of Ecclesiastes, or Lamentations, or Malachi, they directed that after the reading of the last verse, the last verse but one should he repeated, to correct the sad impression that would otherwise have been left upon the mind. But Isaiah thought it salutary to leave this sad impression (comp. Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:21).
God to be worshipped in buildings, though no building can be worthy of him.
Of a surety, God "dwelleth not in temples made with hands" (Acts 7:48) in any such sense as to be accessible in such places exclusively. There is truth, as well as grandeur, in the words—
''My altars are the mountains, and the ocean,
Earth, air, sea, all that springs from the Great Whole,
Who hath produced, and will receive, the soul."
And it is always to be borne in mind that we are in his presence everywhere; that he may be worshipped everywhere; that "the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him" (2 Chronicles 2:6); that he inhabits all space, as he inhabits all eternity (Isaiah 57:15). But, in condescension to the infirmity of human nature, he has been pleased in all ages that men should build him "houses" and has condescended, in a certain sense, to localize himself therein. At Sinai he gave exact and most elaborate commands for the construction of the tabernacle and its appurtenances (Exodus 25-30.) To David he communicated by his Spirit "the pattern" of the first temple'' of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlours thereof, and of the place of the mercy-seat, and of the courts of the house of the Lord, and of all the chambers round about, and of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the dedicated things" (1 Chronicles 28:11, 1 Chronicles 28:12). On the return from the captivity he required the Israelites to "go up into the mountain, and bring the wood, and build the house," and declared that he would "take pleasure in it and be glorified" (Haggai 1:8). Under Christianity the first church was the "upper room" where "all continued with one accord with prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (Acts 1:13, Acts 1:14). Churches are human, not Divine, necessities; but God has been pleased to give them his sanction, as needed by man. Without them worship would decay, if not disappear; for men cannot live in the rare atmosphere of mere spiritualism.
The blessedness of the restored Church.
The restored Church is to Isaiah the Church that will endure from the return of the captives to the end of the world. The later Jewish period and the entire Christian period are with him blended into one, and present themselves to him as constituting a single phase of the Church's life. Here he speaks to encourage the exiles, and dwells especially, though not exclusively, on the immediate blessings.
I. THE CHURCH WILL TEACH HER CHILDREN SOUND DOCTRINE. This is the special object of the existence of a Church, which claims to have a revealed "deposit" committed to it by God, and has, as the first end and aim of its being, to communicate this revelation to all who come within the sphere of its teaching. Doctrine is the milk on which the Church nourishes her children, and the restored Church will teach a doctrine which may well "satisfy" and which will be full of "consolation" (verse 11).
II. THE CHURCH WILL BE GLORIOUS, AND WILL IMPART TO HER CHILDREN OF HER GLORY. Though the Church is frequently, if not even continually, oppressed and downtrodden by the world, yet a glory attaches to her, whereof no persecution, no contempt, no contumely, can altogether deprive her. She is, whatever the world may think or say, "the holy Catholic Church," with Christ as her Founder, with Christ as her Lord and Master, with Christ as her King, the oldest and most venerable society in the Western world at any rate, and one in which membership cannot but ever be a high honour.
III. THE CHURCH WILL ENJOY, BY GOD'S BLESSING, MUCH OUTWARD AND INWARD PEACE. Peace was our Lord's legacy to his Church: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you" (John 14:27); and notwithstanding the facts of external persecutions, and internal quarrels and schisms, which occupy so large a space in Church histories, and so large a share in the thoughts of most Christians, it is nevertheless true that, on the whole, peace has flowed over the Church "like a river," and has flowed into the hearts of the bulk of her true members like an abounding stream. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked" (Isaiah 57:21); but in the soul of the true Christian is a "peace that passeth all understanding," that wells up continually as from an inexhaustible fountain, and spreads around him an atmosphere of happiness.
IV. THE CHURCH WILL DERIVE HONOUR FROM THE COMING IN OF THE GENTILES. Further and further, as time goes on, does the light of Christianity shine, and more and more are the dark places of the earth illuminated. Long since did the Gentiles begin to come to the Church's light, and "kings to the brightness of her rising" (Isaiah 60:3). But the process is not yet complete. Not a year passes but the gospel is carried into some new region by faithful and true missionaries, and the Lord adds to the Church fresh souls whom he wills to be saved. The incoming of the Gentiles does not now bring her wealth or worldly honor; but it is yet more for the true honour of the Church than it was when she converted the court and camp and people of the Caesars. For now her efforts bring her no worldly gain. She has to go out into the highways and hedges—the wild lauds of savage tribes or the yet wilder courts and allies of great towns—and to bring in the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind, the downtrodden, and the ignorant, and the criminal, and the houseless; to civilize and train them, and frequently to feed them and clothe them; thus following the commands of her blessed Master, and preparing for herself the high honour of hearing one day the glorious words, "Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord"
V. THE CHURCH WILL DERIVE CONTINUAL COMFORT FROM HER LORD. "I will not leave you comfortless," said the blessed Jesus; "I will come to you" (John 14:18). In all their difficulties, in all their troubles, Christ comforts his people—comforts them with his Word of truth, comforts them with his gracious promises, comforts them with his presence in their hearts and souls. He comes to them, and makes his abode with them, and is a continual inward sustaining power, raising them above the cares and troubles and vexations of the world, inspiring in their hearts love and joy and peace.
The purging of the earth by the destruction of the wicked.
The kingdom of Christ cannot be fully set up in all its blessedness until the earth is prepared for its reception; and the main preparation required is the elimination from it of those wicked persons who, while they remain, must always constitute a disturbing element, inimical to the earth's peace and a hindrance to the Church's happiness. The teaching of Scripture is that, before the Church is finally established in the blissful position which it is intended to occupy, the removal of this element will have taken place. Partly by wars and tumults, by their swords being turned against each other, but still more completely by some miraculous outpouring of God's wrath, typified under the figure of fire, the wicked will be cleared out from all parts of the earth's surface, and only the godly will remain. The description of the day of vengeance is given, with the greatest fulness, in the Revelation of St. John (John 19:11-21), where, however, it is difficult to determine how much is imagery, how much literal description. "I saw heaven opened," says the beloved apostle, "and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True [comp. Isaiah 3:14], and in righteousness does he judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God [comp. Isaiah 63:1-6]. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords. And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him,… these both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh."
Eternal suffering and eternal glory.
Holy Scripture sets before us,. as Moses set before the people of Israel in the wilderness, a tremendous alternative—"life and death;" one the eternal foil and counterpart of the other, with the exhortation a thousand times repeated in a thousand different forms—"Choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19). Man's desire is to separate what God has inseparably connected, and to retain "everlasting life," "eternal glory," "endless bliss," but to get rid altogether of their counterparts—"eternal suffering," "everlasting contempt," "endless death." But man cannot alter the system of God's universe, nor, could he do so, is it to be supposed that he would find himself able to improve it. Deep down in the nature of things lies the eternal antagonism between good and evil—an antagonism which would seem to be necessary to the very existence of good in created beings; and the teaching of Scripture clearly is that this antagonism continues for ever. Of the nature of the eternal glory and the eternal suffering reserved for souls in the world to come, it is impossible for us in this life to have anything more than a dim and faint conception. But some points may be laid down negatively.
I. THE PAINS AND JOYS ARE NOT, NECESSARILY, IN ANY SENSE MATERIAL. For
(1) they exist in the intermediate state (Luke 16:23-25), where men have no bodies, the resurrection not having as yet taken place; and
(2) they are described by contradictory material images, which would certainly not have been the case had the descriptions been intended literally.
II. THE PAINS AND JOYS ARE OF VARIOUS DEGREES OF INTENSITY. For
(1) we hear of "few stripes" and "many stripes," of rule over "five cities" and over "ten cities" (Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48; Luke 19:17, Luke 19:19); and
(2) we are told that the rewards and punishments shall be apportioned exactly according to men's deserts, and men's deserts vary infinitely by infinitesimal degrees.
III. THE MAIN PUNISHMENT OF MANY MAY NOT CONSIST IN POSITIVE PAIN AT ALL. Mediaeval divines spoke of many souls in the place of punishment as suffering only the paena damni, or "sense of loss" inseparable from being shut out from God's presence, from the presence of the holy angels, and from that of the spirits of just men made perfect. This is quite possible, and in no way contradictory to the statements of Scripture.
IV. THERE MAY NOT IMPROBABLY BE AN AMELIORATION IN THE CONDITION OF SOME OF THE SUFFERERS. It cannot but be the case that the sufferers may bear their punishment with different degrees of patience, of obduracy, or of rebellion. As the determinedly rebellious would deserve, and may receive, an augmentation of punishment, so the more submissive and patient may conceivably have their burdens lightened. The very act of submission lightens the weight of a suffering, and a merciful God might be expected to show his approval of the submission by some positive alleviation of the pain.
These are thoughts which may tend to mitigate the horror wherewith some persons regard the entire doctrine of eternal punishment, and prevent them from viewing it as incompatible with God's essential attribute of mercy. At the same time, it must be granted that the whole subject is mysterious, and awful in the extreme—so mysterious and so awful that the greatest caution is needed lest we dogmatize upon it beyond the teaching of Scripture. Here, if anywhere, the warning of the preacher applies, "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and thou on earth: therefore let thy words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Spiritual and unspiritual worship.
I. THE ORACLE OF JEHOVAH. "The heavens are my throne." What majestic poetry in that word! How sacred, then, the heaven! How profane, if once we rightly think of the force of what we say, to use the adjuration, "By heaven"! So Jesus teaches (Matthew 5:34; Matthew 23:22). It is natural to "look up" when we think of God; and then to "look down" on the "things of earth," which is but his footstool. "What manner of house would ye build for me?" The Infinite cannot be defined; God may not be localized. All forms may represent him; none can adequately set him forth. "His abode is not known; no shrine is found with painted figures; there is no building that can contain him". Herodotus says that the Persians impute folly to those who raise statues and temples and altars to the gods, "because they do not think the gods to be of human nature, as do the Greeks" (1:131; cf. Acts 17:24). But why should God despise the beautiful temple? Is anything more beautiful or true than the work of art? To disparage art we have to give way to dark superstition. Everything that proceeds from the mind God has made, he must delight in—it is his work. But, above all, he delights in the humble, throbbing, trembling human soul. "The most acceptable temple is a pious mind." The allusions which follow are to some of the darkest features of heathen worship—the animal sacrifice, and the animal worship—a form of religion hardly intelligible to ourselves, but once widely diffused in ancient times, and prevailing still in some parts of the world. According to the religion of Jehovah, man is made in the image of God, and in the ëïãïò or reason of man must be found the true reflection of him. To worship an animal must be to lower the intelligent and spiritual tone of religion. And some consciousness of this we must believe to have been dimly present in such worshippers' minds.
II. THE DENUNCIATION OF JEHOVAH. False worship is rooted in the depraved will. They have "chosen their own ways;" they "have pleasure in their abominations." For religion is either stagnant or progressive. The soul rests in sloth upon custom, upon the clear and apprehensible object, or it strives and strains after the higher and yet higher and invisible good—not to be found in the creature, but only in the Creator. God will exercise retribution upon such idolaters, sending on them calamity and terror. "The man who places all his confidence, hope, and comfort in his estate, his friend, or greatness, so that upon the failure of any of these his heart sinks, and he utterly desponds as to all enjoyment or apprehension of any good or felicity to be. enjoyed by man, does as really deify his estate, his friend, or his greatness, as if in direct terms he should say to each of them, 'Thou art my god,' and should rear an altar or temple to them, and worship before them in the humblest adoration. Nay, it is much more; since God looks upon himself as treated more like a deity by being loved, confided in, and depended upon, than if a man should throng his temple with a whole hetacomb, sacrifice thousands of rams, and pour ten thousand rivers of oil upon his altars" (South).
III. WORDS TO THE FAITHFUL. "Men who tremble at his Word." It is another way of describing those of humble and contrite heart. They are hated by their brethren; they have suffered in the cause of true religion. They are exposed to taunts—Where is their God? Let Jehovah show himself glorious! Nevertheless, his fiat has gone forth, "They shall be ashamed." Shame and pain are the inseparable effects of sin; the "wages assigned to it by the laws of Heaven:" the rightful inheritance of the sinner. Nor is there anything which the nature of man does so abhor as these. They are destructive of all our enjoyments. They touch both soul and body—shame being the torment of the one, and pain of the other. "The mind of man can have no taste or relish of any pleasure in the world while it is oppressed and overwhelmed by shame. Nothing does so intolerably affect the soul as infamy; it drinks up and consumes the quickness, gaiety, and activity of the spirit; it dejects the countenance made by God to look upwards; so that this noble creature, the masterpiece of the creation, dares not much as lift up either his head or his thoughts, but it is a vexation to him even to look upon others, and yet a greater to be looked upon by them" (South).—J.
The enemies of Jehovah and his people.
I. HE IS HEARD FROM HIS TEMPLE. With "a sound of uproar, a sound from the temple." He is issuing forth to render their deserts to his foes. "He will render to every man according to his deserts" is a great leading word in religion. God must be feared as well as loved—nay, cannot be truly loved unless feared. From that same seat whence go forth the sweet sounds of reconciliation, the sound of the gospel's silver trumpet, go forth the thunders of the God who appears to execute judgment upon human guilt. He is a "consuming Fire." His wrath may be "kindled;" we need to beware "lest he be angry." He is an awful God of whom, nevertheless, it may be said, "This awful God is ours."
II. THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL. With great energy the thought is put before us that Israel in these last days has sprung into new birth and life. The gift of male children was especially dear to the Israelitish heart. Now there is to be a great and sudden increase of Zion's children. "This refers, probably," says Barnes, "to the sudden increase of the Church when the Messiah came, and to the great revivals of religion which attended the preaching of the gospel. Three thousand were converted on a single day (Acts 2:1-47.), and the gospel was speedily propagated over the known world." Something unlike the usual course of nature and of human affairs is hinted. Slow is the growth of vegetation, slow the growth of human institutions. Here an event as startling as the breaking forth of the tree out of the seed in a single day is contemplated; "a nation born at once!" In fact, Christianity is such a wonder. A plant out of a dry ground, mysterious in its origin, despised in its professors, humble in its early associations, yet speedily, almost suddenly, overshading the lands with its branches, and yielding fruit and healing for the nations. "The expansiveness of Zion is such that nought but Omnipotence will be able to check it; and as Omnipotence has no motive for checking it, Zion has nothing to fear in heaven or earth" (Cheyne).—J.
Sympathy with the Church's joy.
I. SYMPATHY SHOULD BE FELT WITH THE PROSPERITY OF THE CHURCH. Zion stands for the Church of the ages; in her weal is wrapped up the weal of the world. If we love humanity, we love the institution created for the good and salvation of humanity. Every revival of religion at home, every fresh conquest in the fields of heathendom, affords fresh occasion of such joy. "Those who have no true joy when souls are born into the kingdom of God; when he pours down his Spirit, and in a revival of religion produces changes as sudden and transforming as if the earth were suddenly to pass from the desolation of winter to the verdure and bloom of summer; or when the gospel makes sudden and rapid advances in the heathen world,—have no true evidence that they love God or his cause. They have no religion. Such scenes are fitted to excite the highest joy and praise. They awaken deep interest in the bosoms of angels, and of God the Saviour, and they who love that God and Saviour will rejoice at such scenes, and mingle their joys and thanksgivings with those of the converted and saved" (Barnes).
II. THE IDEAL OF THE CHURCH. She is like a mother, and the blessings she imparts are like mother's milk (cf. Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 60:16). "They who sympathize with her shall be nourished by the same truth and comforted with the same sources of consolation.'' She is a mother full of tenderness, even of caressing, towards her children; full also of sweetest power to comfort. Such is in every age the true ideal of the Church. All that is rich and sweet, deep and tender, should be associated with her; and in her the hearts of weary men should find full expansion and rest. Peace is also strongly associated with the Church; and that in the comprehensive sense in which the prophet uses the word—for all manner of prosperity (Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 26:12; Isaiah 32:17; Isaiah 45:7; Isa 46:1-13 :16; Isaiah 52:7; Isaiah 54:13; Isaiah 55:12; Isaiah 57:19). The image seems to be that of a broad majestic river, like the Nile, overflowing its banks, and producing prosperity on every hand. Another image is that of the bones, dried up like the branches of a withered tree, now full of sap and vigour (Isaiah 58:11; Proverbs 3:8; Proverbs 15:20; Proverbs 16:24). It is true religion which causes the family, the home, the ecclesiastical institution, the state, to flourish. Religion stimulates all that it touches—morality, art, political life; and decay of patriotism and of morals may be traced to the languor of religious life.—J.
The manifestation of Jehovah.
I. IT IS A MANIFESTATION IN FIRE. Very common is the representation of this coming by or in the element of fire. Its associations are of judgment, vengeance—devouring fire (Psalms 50:3). So it is associated with the pestilence (Habakkuk 2:5). It consumes God's enemies (Psalms 97:3). Nor can we deny that such representations do in part enter into Christianity (2 Thessalonians 1:8; Heb 10:27; 2 Peter 3:7; cf. also Psalms 18:8; Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:30). The whirlwind is poetically congruent with the fire: a swift and sudden descent is thought of (Psalms 104:3 : Jeremiah 4:13). The image of the charioteer is full of warlike energy (cf. Habakkuk 3:8), and the furious and fiery anger of his advance points to the same conception; and the slain will fall before him in multitudes. Do these figures strike us as inconsistent with the Christian conception of God—the "Father of Jesus, God of love"? How are we to reconcile them? If there is a Providence in the violent revolutions of the nations; if "the wrath of man praises him;" if no terrible war but becomes the means of a purification:—then these figures may be taken as the poetic representation of a great truth. We can hardly conceive deep-rooted evils giving way except to some violent agency of change.
II. THE DENUNCIATION OF IDOLATRY. This is the great evil, in all its forms, which draws down God's fulminations. Men are seen undergoing purifications preparatory to initiation into heathen mysteries, probably of some licentious god or goddess. Unclean things have been indulged in, contrary to the Law of Moses. We may, perhaps, take the general description of idolatry and of idolaters as pointing to the enemies of God, who are destined to be consumed by his vengeance. These enemies are to be gathered together—in some valley, perhaps (Joel 3:2); and the glory of his judicial splendour will be unveiled to them. The section closes with vague adumbrations of coming judgments.
III. VISIONS OF FUTURE WORSHIP. Amid all that is obscure in the imagery, we may discover some great leading thoughts.
1. There is the universal effulgence of Jehovah's glory, which is to shine among distant lands, and those that have not hitherto heard of his Name. And this is equivalent to the spread of one religion throughout the earth.
2. There is to be unity of worship. Jerusalem and the sacred hill of Zion are to form the great centre. From all quarters, and by different modes of conveyance, the dispersed ones are to come thronging thither. There will be a renewed consecration of the chosen people to its God; they will be like the sacred meal offering.
3. Exclusiveness will be broken down. The strict Levitical system, it seems, will give way; and Gentile converts as well as Jews will be admitted to share in the sacred ministry of the temple. For the Jewish priestly system was only for a time, was provisional; and the people were one day to be, as a whole, "priests of Jehovah" (Isaiah 61:6).
4. The permanence of true religion. The seed and the name of the people shall stand, even so the new heavens and the new earth. No more of the old order changing and giving place to the new, the successive efforts of men after frivolity in religion being successively defeated; but at last fixity and rest.
5. Simplicity of true religion. "The old forms of religion have been reduced to the utmost; new moons and sabbaths alone remain." For the multitude of times and seasons and of ceremonies is burdensome to flesh and blood, and they tend to obscure the spirituality of true religion. We are reminded of the first chapter, where it is said that" Jehovah cannot away with them."
6. Universality of true religion. We take the language as poetical, symbolic, to be understood in the ideal and inward sense. Where is the true seat of worship? Not on Mount Gerizim, nor even on Mount Zion (John 4:21). The spirit of man is the true temple. And who, in best and most loving moments of worship, does not feel that the heart of humanity beats with one pulse, is stirred by one faith, is secretly gathering around one spiritual centre? Let us cease with this verse, which we are told the Jewish readers repeated to correct the sad impression of the last.—J.
"As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." These are the analogies of truth that reach the heart through the life-experience when mere intellectual disquisition is vain.
I. THE MOTHER-IDEAL CREATES THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF TENDERNESS. God is the great Mother as well as the great Father of all flesh. Therefore Christ, who came to reveal the Father, was perfect humanity. In taking, as the Divine Son of the Father, our flesh, he revealed in "humanity" not only perfect manhood, but perfect womanhood too.
II. THE MOTHER-IDEAL REVEALS WHAT TRUE COMFORT MEANS.
1. Sympathy with our frailties and mistakes.
2. Succour at supreme self-cost.
3. Hopefulness even to the last.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Isaiah 66:1, Isaiah 66:2
(Vide homily on Isaiah 57:15, Isaiah 57:16.)—C.
Isaiah 66:3, Isaiah 66:4
The rebuke of unrighteousness.
I. FOUR OFFENCES SPECIALLY HATEFUL TO THE HOLY ONE.
1. Insincerity. These worshippers who brought their bullocks, their lambs, their prescribed oblations, were as guilty in the judgment of God as if they brought to his altar that which was an abomination in his sight. Their guilt lay in their insincerity; their heart was far from God when their feet were nigh his house.
2. Heedlessness. When God calls and we pay no heed to his voice, we commit an aggravated offence against him.
3. Wilfulness. The "choosing of our own ways," instead of submitting to the Divine will, is a perpetual disobedience, a sustained disloyalty.
4. Arrogance. "Doing evil before mine eyes," though conscious of the presence and the observation of God.
II. GOD'S GRAVE REBUKE OF THIS UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. He will make the fears of the guilty to be fulfilled—will "bring their fears upon them." The apprehensions of guilt may safely be taken as prophecies of evil. Sin is at least as mischievous as it seems to the sinner. If men who are living in obdurate rebellion against God have impressions or intimations of evil consequences, they may be sure that ruin is on the road, and will before long confront them.
2. He will visit with unexpected sorrow. "I will choose their delusions [calamities]." Not that God ever arbitrarily punishes his children, but that he does often bring down upon the guilty sorrows and calamities which they did not apprehend—from which, indeed, they imagined themselves to be secure. No man can possibly foresee where a sinful course will lead him, and in what it will land him.—C.
God our Comforter.
It is the province of the teacher to instruct, of the father to direct, of the elder brother to lead, and of the mother to console. She is the comforter of the troubled heart. God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, is to us all of these in one. Like as a mother comforts her children, he comforts us.
I. AS TENDERLY AS SHE. In a way so gracious and considerate that one who had received much of his healing ministry could write—
"Oh, 'tis a blessed thing for me
To need thy tenderness!"
II. AS UNFAILINGLY AS SHE. No child feels that the number of times he (or she) has come before us is any reason for doubting the welcome that ha will receive if he comes again. There is an inexhaustible supply of sympathy in that pitying heart.
III. AS EFFECTUALLY AS SHE. The true mother knows in what way to comfort, whether in silence, or by speech, or by action. God, who knows our hearts as even a parent does not, will adapt his comforts to our natures and our necessities.—C.
The slain of the Lord.
While it is doubtful as to what special juncture the prophet refers when he says that" the slain of the Lord shall be many," it is painfully and practically certain that at all times these slain ones are many. For—
I. THE VICTIMS OF SIN ARE THE SLAIN OF THE LORD. The laws which work the penalty they suffer are God's laws. It is under his administration that pain, weakness, impotence, trouble, sorrow, death, slay guilty souls. These are his sword, and they do his work, his "strange work," but yet his.
II. THEIR NUMBER IS TERRIBLY LARGE. Who shall count the number of those that have fallen, or of those that are falling now? In every city, town, village, hamlet, men are to be found who, through their folly, or their vice, or their crime, or their ungodliness, are suffering pitifully from the sword of Divine retribution.
III. WE MAY BRING THEM INTO THE PRESENCE OF THE DIVINE HEALER. Many of the slain survive. Our mission is to bring these to that merciful and mighty One who can and will "make them whole."—C.
A vision of the future.
From these verses, which present us with a glowing vision of future triumph and blessedness, we learn—
I. THAT GOD MAY CALL US TO UNWELCOME BUT EXCELLENT SERVICE. The Jews could not have anticipated, nor would they have desired, such a disposition of themselves, and such a use of their powers as is indicated in the nineteenth verse. It was strange to their thought, alien to their sympathy. Yet it was a most admirable service, with which they might well be contented. Thus God often blesses us now with opportunities we do not court, hut which prove to be excellent and admirable indeed. Possibly he may deal with us in a way very similar to that before us. As the persecution of the early disciples resulted in their going everywhere, away from home and friends, preaching the gospel (Acts 8:8), so some providential ordering which is unpleasant at the time, removing us from scenes that are inviting or from persons that are dear to us, may place us in conditions of great usefulness and blessing.
II. THAT GOD INVITES US ALL TO A NOBLE VICTORY. There had been bitter hatred and bloody strife between Jew and Gentile; each had sought to triumph over the other on the battle-field; each longed to have his feet on the other's neck. The peaceful picture of the text (Isaiah 66:20) supplies a beautiful and blessed substitute. One is to bring the other, in friendly and honourable conveyance, and to present him in holy sacrifice to God. Not to wreak vengeance; not to obtain civil supremacy; but to bring to God's house and to introduce to his service, is to gain the true victory over our brother.
III. THAT GOD IS EFFECTING A WONDROUS AND LASTING RENOVATION. He is creating new heavens and a new earth which will endure (Isaiah 66:22 and Isaiah 65:17). He will make all things new. This kingdom of sin and folly which has so long prevailed shall disappear, and in its place shall be seen a kingdom of "righteousness, peace, and joy;" a far greater change, more wonderful, more difficult of accomplishment, more to be desired, than the displacement of the material elements and the substitution of others in their place. This new kingdom is one which will be essentially Divine.
1. It will be of God. He "will make it."
2. It will be characterized by reverence for him, and one of its main features will be regular and universal worship (Isaiah 66:23). It will be durable as the strongest of his handiworks. It "shall remain."
IV. THAT GOD WILL RECEIVE THOSE FURTHEST AWAY TO NEAREST INTERCOURSE WITH HIMSELF. Of the Gentiles themselves God would take "for priests and for Levites" (Isaiah 66:21). This was a startling promise, and never was literally fulfilled. But it finds a glorious fulfilment in the kingdom of Christ. Now we (Gentiles) who were afar off are brought nigh. We worship and serve in the sanctuary; we sit down at "the table of the Lord;" we have freest and fullest access to God; every harrier in the way of perfect intercourse has disappeared; we are admitted to the royal presence, and "stand before the King;" nay, we ourselves are "kings and priests unto God." That which once seemed hopelessly impossible has become a constant privilege under Jesus Christ.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Isaiah 66:1, Isaiah 66:2
The place of God's rest.
This passage should be associated with that second temple which was raised by the returned captives from Babylon, at the direction of Ezra and Nehemiah, and under the inspirations of the prophets Isaiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. A subtle peril lies in building any house for God. That peril lay in the building of the first house. It still lies in the erection of every new house. It is the danger of thereby limiting and materializing our idea of God. If, in our thought, God actually comes to dwell in any earthly temple, we limit the infinite; we lose that wide, sublime, spiritual, unnameable glory that properly belongs to the Deity. We are in danger of making him take a place among the idol-gods who are attached to a certain mountain, or stream, or wind, or country, or shrine. To this peril the people were exposed who watched the second temple arise from amidst the ruins of the first. Though cured of their idolatries by their sufferings in Babylon, they yet might fail to retain those nobler thoughts of God which were the treasure of their race. Therefore Isaiah pleads with them as in this text.
I. GOD REVEALING HIMSELF. By the aid of outward, sensible figures God discloses his spiritual nature, his moral attributes, his character. "The heaven is my throne, the earth is my footstool." We are bidden to look for help towards realizing God from the great, the solemnizing things of nature. All creation with which we have to do was made to serve the moral and spiritual culture of God's reasoning and free creatures. Everywhere around us things are full of God. They are pictures, illustrations, words, suggestions, of the Divine. The great, the majestic, the oppressive, is around us. The noonday sky, with its serene height of blue; the midnight sky, with its myriad worlds crowding the infinite depths; mountains rising to pierce the clouds, or hanging in frowning precipice; the great floods of water rolling in their ceaseless tides:—all compel us to say, "How marvellous are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy greatness." One instance, illustrating the figure "Heaven is my throne," may be given. A star in the far depths attracted the attention of an observer. it seemed to be a single star, but to his educated eye it resolved itself into two stars. Those two proved to be each a star, centre of a planetary system like our own. Those two stars, which seemed but one, were really distant from each other five hundred times the distance separating our earth and the sun. Who of us can conceive such sublime spaces as are thus unfolded? What must he be who walketh among the shining lights, whose throne rises higher than these stars, whose canopy is gemmed with myriad suns! And if the telescope can put such meaning into the figure of the heavens, the microscope puts equal meaning into the figure of the earth. God needs this whole earth for a" footstool." This great earth, with its giant trees, and inaccessible mountains, and unfathomable waters, and millionfold forms of life, cannot hold God; it is but a resting-place for his foot.
II. GOD APPEALING TO MAN TO FIND HIM REST. "Where is the place of my rest?' We should not have dared to represent God as seeking rest. The marvel of his condescension is, that he does need his creatures, and even seeks his rest in them. If God were only the embodiment of wisdom, greatness, and power, then his rest might be found in some of the everlasting hills. But every being seeks rest according to his spiritual nature, his character. The infinitely pure One can only seek rest in goodness. The infinitely condescending One seeks rest in humility. The infinitely loving One seeks rest in love. The eternal Father finds his satisfaction in his sons and his daughters.
III. MAN VAINLY OFFERING GOD REST IN THINGS. The first shrine for human worship was the open firmament of heaven. It was the only worthy one. The only befitting walls were the distant horizon and the eternal hills; the only suitable roof was the illimitable sky. Yet, from the first of human sin, this temple has proved too vast, too glorious, for man to use. So he has planted groves to circle God to a space; and consecrated mountain-peaks to fix God to a point; and built temples and churches to narrow the Infinite to human grasp. Too often man has offered his temples as an act of sacrifice. He has given them to God in the vain hope that, satisfied with them, God would cease to ask for higher and holier things. We, indeed, in these days, flood no altars with the blood of sacrifices, yet do we not think to offer God rest in the beauty of our churches and the charm of our services? Are we not, even under this spiritual dispensation, offering God things instead of persons? And yet even we men cannot be satisfied with things; then how can we expect our God to be? Our hearts cannot rest in the artistic fittings of our dwellings, the creations of genius, or the associations of culture. We want love; we must have persons. Lord Lytton expresses our deepest feeling thus—
"O near ones, dear ones! you in whose right hands
Our own rests calm; whose faithful hearts all day
Wide open wait till back from distant lands,
Thought, the tired traveller, wends his homeward way!
"Helpmates and hearthmates, gladdeners of gone years,
Tender companions of our serious days,
Who colour with your kisses, smiles, and tears,
Life's warm web woven over wonted ways.
"Oh, shut the world out from the heart ye cheer!
Though small the circle of your smiles may be,
The world is distant, and your smiles are near,
This makes you more than all the world to me."
We are "the figures of the true:" shadows in our feeling of the feeling of God. He, too, puts aside all the things we offer him, be they temple, or gold, or work, and persuasively pleads thus with us, "My son, give me thy heart." We may give him our things, if we have given him ourselves. Things dead cannot please him. Things alive with holy love, quickened by the humble, contrite, thankful heart, may find for him the rest he seeks. We may give him our buildings when they are alive with the spirit of consecration, our services when they are filled with the spirit of reverential worship, our works when they are animated with gratitude and devotion. Of the living temple he will say, "This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread."
IV. MAN SUCCESSFULLY OFFERING GOD REST IN HIMSELF—IN THE POOR AND CONTRITE HEART. The one thing towards which we must think God is ever moving, ever working, by creation, by gracious providences, by the mission of his Son, is to sway the heart of man towards himself, and constrain him voluntarily to say, "This God is our God for ever and ever." But it is only the man of poor and contrite spirit who will ever thus turn to God, and give himself over to him. Bruised and broken, in the sense of our ingratitude and sin, penitent and contrite alone, shall we ever be found willing to turn our faces towards our Father. We can give God nothing. We can bring him just our consciously unfaithful and sinful selves. A man can come, unreservedly exposing his whole heart to the eye of God. He can say, "Slay me, O God, if thou wilt; I deserve it. I am miserable, but leave me not sinful thus. Put me to shame; I am shameful. Behold! I hide nothing. Thou art Light; expose my darkness. I will not palliate. I am worse than I know. Show me all that I am. I cannot heal myself. If I must die, I will die in thy light." "In this lies the simplicity of faith. He has trusted himself to the Judge of all the earth; he has abandoned all self-justification; his heart is broken, and is ready to welcome mercy undeserved. Guilelessness (the contrite, humble heart) is the whole secret of Divine peace."—R.T.
Peace like a river.
"Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river." The prophet used the image of a river by intention, and in contrast with the figure of the sea. In ancient times, and Eastern lands, the sea was a terrible thing; so the prophet figures the wicked as like the "troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt." The sea is restless, is storm-test, is a devourer. In ancient times there seemed to be no music in her ripple, her wave-swell, or the bass of her ceaseless moan. We feel quite differently, because for us the sea is almost conquered. It is a servant whom we may employ, and not a vague mysterious god whose trident we must fear. The state of mind and heart, the conditions of relation and circumstances, for those who know the redemption of God in Christ Jesus, will not go into any figures taken from the sea. Their peace is like a river. How does a river differ from a sea? We note that their peace is like a river; it is—
I. SUPPLIED FROM EXHAUSTLESS FOUNTAINS. The peace and joy of the worldly and the wicked can only be likened to the "crackling of thorns under a pot," very noisy, very short-lived. At the back of the good man's peace is the" God of all peace;" and "when he speaks peace, who shall make trouble?" Christ's peace is given to us. "My peace I give unto you." It—
II. FLOWS ON THROUGH A WHOLE LIFE. You cannot stop the rivers. Dam them up a little while, and they are sure to gather, and flood the land until they can find the stream again and flow on. So the cares and sorrows of life may seem to stop the good man's peace. But it cannot be; over and under and round the Divine waters will flow, find their way back to their channel, and flow on again. It—
III. REFRESHES AND BLESSES ALL THE LAND THROUGH WHICH IT FLOWS. The bordering fields are rich with grass and. flowers; the trees drink up its moisture, and hold out great leaf-clad branches, and the "little hills rejoice on every side." So the good man, the man of peace, the peace-lover, and the peace-maker, sweetens, soothes, sanctifies, all the society in which he takes his place. He makes a reviving, delightful atmosphere wherever he may be. We rejoice in him, even as thirsty lands rejoice in the sweet pure river, that day and night flows on unceasingly, past bank and brae.—R.T.
The Lord's indignation; or, the Divine goodness and severity.
"The hand of the Lord shall be known towards his servants, and his indignation toward his enemies." Here two sides of the Divine nature are declared, which we find it difficult to conceive as harmonious in one person. It is not only true that God is gracious toward his people, and angry with the wicked; it is also true that in dealing with his people he is both gracious and severe.
I. IN THE GOD OF REVELATION WE FIND BOTH MERCY AND INDIGNATION. Nature blends rains and storms, sunshine and hurricanes, spring breath and volcanoes. The revelation to the Jews provides illustration.
1. See the early traditions of the world preserved by the Jews—Eden—the Flood—Sodom.
2. See the story of the great Patriarchs of Jacob, of the Israelites in the wilderness.
3. See the records of the Jews as a nation. Raised to heaven with privileges, crushed into the deep with judgments.
4. See the condition of the Jewish nation, as now scattered over the earth. Every scattered, landless, homeless Jew, against whom the world's byword is east, is set forth before men to plead with them and say, "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God."
5. See the last revelation made to men in Christ Jesus.
(1) Note how the Messiah was described beforehand in prophecy (Isaiah 63:3, Isaiah 63:4).
(2) Note the exclamations of those who saw the babe Messiah.
(3) Note the outbursts of righteous indignation during the ministry of Christ.
(4) Note some sentences used in his public teaching (Matthew 25:1-46.). The following words were characteristic of Christ's teachings: "everlasting punishment;" "destruction:" "death;" "fire;" "worm that never dies;" "gnashing of teeth;" "thirst;" "torment;" "outer darkness."
(5) Note the apostolic doctrine of Christ. In it there is a place for the "wrath of the Lamb."
II. IN THE GOD OF OUR APPREHENSION WE FIND BOTH MERCY AND INDIGNATION.
1. Give the testimony of man's reason. It recognizes that the good man will be sure to blaze into indignation at wrong-doing.
2. Give the testimony of man's fear. What is man afraid of if he has no notion of God as able to, and bound to, punish transgressors? Men do not tremble before a God who is all mercy. We fear the God of indignations, who can cast body and soul into hell. How wicked it is for any of us to go on in sin, presuming upon God's mercifulness! What sinners have to do with is God's indignation.—R.T.
Vain attempts to sanctify self.
"They that sanctify themselves. shall be consumed together." The prophetic allusion is to those who attempted secure themselves by "fearing the Lord, and serving other gods." They wanted to secure all possible Israelite privileges, yet wanted to sanctify themselves by means of the heathen rites which were the fashion of their times. "Such a blending of incompatible elements was eminently characteristic of the reign of Manasseh." The things specially noticed are wilful throwings off of all the restraints of the Mosaic Law. These mistaken ones dared to indulge in swine's flesh, and eat even other unclean foods. Van Lennep has a curious note on eating the mouse. "The mouse is extremely common in Western Asia, and the Mosaic prohibition of its flesh continues to be generally observed. We have reason to believe that those who have tasted the flesh of the mouse acquire as great a relish for it as the Frenchman does for his frog diet, or the German for sauerkraut. We once had a servant from one of the Greek islands who was addicted to this habit, and could be induced to relinquish it neither by expostulation nor by ridicule." Swine are always spoken of in both the Old and New Testaments with horror and disgust, especially for their close association with pagan rites.
I. ATTEMPTS TO SANCTIFY SELF. Explain the forms such work has taken in old times, and is taking now. There is a proper sanctifying of self, which goes with due dependence on God's sanctifying, and is our "working out our own salvation with fear and trembling;" but what is reproved here is trying to sanctify one's self in one's own strength, in one's own way, and for one's own ends.
II. THE VANITY OF ATTEMPTS TO SANCTIFY SELF. We cannot. It is running after a "Will-o'-the-wisp." It is hurrying to drink of the "mirage." Solomon tried to satisfy, if we may not say to sanctify, himself, and ended with a wail, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"
III. THE DEGRADATION OF ATTEMPTS TO SANCTIFY SELF. We are sure to come down from trying high things to trying low ones. We come at last to making much of some tree, or eating swine's flesh, or abominable mice, or counting beads, or grovelling among stones, or drinking of so-called "holy wells." And there is no hope in God for any of us until we are wholly willing to give up all these attempts, and just take God's way of sanctifying us, which is at once the only way, and the best way.—R.T.
The universal worship.
"From one sabbath to another, shall an flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord."
I. IN MEETING TOGETHER FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP WE FOLLOW THE NATURAL IMPULSE OF OUR OWN HEARTS, AS WELL AS OBEY THE COMMANDMENTS OF OUR GOD. To look up and pray is one of the most original and essential impulses of humanity, one of the commonest characteristics of the race. Prayer is properly associated with the whole circle of our relations with God. As spirits we are God's children, and God's erring, wilful children; we must find expression for our conscious need of spiritual blessings. Our bodies are the Divine creation, the care of Divine Providence, and out of the sense of the relation of our bodily life to God we are impelled to pray for temporal blessings. We are set in close associations one with another, as families; and as those having similar preferences and convictions; out of such relations come our united family and sanctuary worship. There are even larger associations into which we enter as fellow-citizens, fellow-countrymen, fellow-men. Our welfare in all these relationships directly depends on him who is Lord of natural laws, Lord of storms, Lord of pestilences, Lord of harvests, Lord of sunshine, Lord of the wrath of men, and Lord of their wealth. So far as we feel this aright we shall be impelled to say to every fellow-creature, made in the image of God, and made for God even as we are, "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." We have not to seek for reasons that may prove persuasions to worship. What men have to seek for is excuse for their neglect of the universal worship. It is not sufficiently recognized that God deals with us collectively here on earth. We have no reason for assuming that there are separate churches in heaven; or organized families; or towns with local interests; or nations with national interests and national characteristics. These are all earthly conditions; and in these conditions is laid the basis for collective prayer, for public and united worship. The man that refuses to unite in public worship is breaking away from the claims of his common humanity; refusing to recognize the conditions under which God has placed him; and withholding the sympathy which his fellow-creatures have a right to demand from him. Further, it may be shown that in meeting for public or universal worship, we do but follow the indications that have been given us of the Divine will. In Jewish history great importance attached to large national gatherings for acts of worship. From the time of the great meeting between the Mounts Ebal and Gerizim down to the times of Messiah, there were three great religious meetings of the people every year, besides occasional special gatherings. The Jewish service included praise and prayer, in which the whole people might unite. The best men, such as David, turned from the joys of private devotion to the yet higher joys of God's house and worship. Our Lord set the example of private prayer, but the evangelists are careful to remind us that "he went, as he was wont, into the synagogue on the sabbath day." And the apostles urge the early Christians "not to forsake the assembling of themselves together."
II. IN NEGLECTING PUBLIC WORSHIP WE HAVE TO DELUDE OURSELVES BY MAKING VERY UNWORTHY EXCUSES. TO put our reasons out into the light, to get them fairly expressed, is to make us feel ashamed of them. Some incline to say, "Your worship is not intended for us; it is meant only for those whom you call specially Christians, and we do not call ourselves by that name." Our worshipping arrangements have certainly been made on this principle; but the worship of God is for men, all men, everywhere. Whether men agree with our ideas or not, let them come and worship the God that made them, clothes them, feeds them, cares for them, loves them, and would save them from their sins. Perhaps most of those who stay away from worship do so in sheer heedlessness; they yield to the indifference which settles down on men who are simply living to self and sin. The real evil is that sinful man is indisposed to worship; the only shrine be cares for is the shrine of ease and self-indulgence. We must try to make God more real to men, and so get the persuasion of his love as the constraint, urging men to offer to him their "gold, frankincense, and myrrh." We must try to make the services of our sanctuaries more suitable for the expression of the universal dependence and the universal praise. Christian worship should be the best possible medium for lifting up the hearts of men, as men, unto God; the best utterance of the universal sense of the Divine Creator-hood. It should be man's acknowledgment of God, our God, the one God, the holy God, the redeeming God. It is "he that hath made us, and not we ourselves." It is he that "redeemeth our life from destruction." It is even he "that sent his Son into the world, that we might live through him." "Let us kneels" let us all kneel together, "before the Lord our Maker."—R.T.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 66". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany