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THE SIGN OF MAHER-SHALAL-HASH-BAZ. The sign of Immanuel was recondite. In its more spiritual sense it appealed to faith in an event far distant. Even in its literal import, it was not calculated to cheer and encourage more than a few, since neither the maiden nor the child was pointed out with any distinctness. A fresh sign was therefore given by God's goodness to reassure the mass of the people—a sign about which there was nothing obscure or difficult. Isaiah himself should have a son born to him almost immediately, to whom he should give a name indicating the rapid approach of the spoiler, and before this child should be able to utter the first words which childhood ordinarily pronounces, "Father," "Mother," Damascus and Samaria should be despoiled.
Take thee a great roll; rather, a large tablet. The word is the same as that used for "mirror" in Isaiah 3:23. Write in it with a man's pen; i.e. "write upon it with the pen used by ordinary men"—in opposition to the implements of an engraver. The tablet was probably to be hung up to view in a public place (comp. Isaiah 30:8), so that all might read, and the writing was therefore to be such as was in ordinary use. Concerning Maher-shalal-hash-baz. These were the words which were to be written on the tablet, which was to be otherwise left blank. They would naturally excite curiosity, like the strange names placarded in modern streets. The name is literally, "Plunder speeds, spoil hastens." It has been imitated by Goethe in his "Habebald-Eilebeute" ('Faust,' Acts 4:0. sc. 3).
And I took unto me; rather, and I will have taken for me. It is still God who is speaking. Uriah the priest. Probably the high priest of the time, mentioned in 2 Kings 16:10-16, as the ready tool of Ahaz at a later date. Though a bad man, he may have been a trustworthy witness to a fact. Zechariah. Perhaps the father of Abi or Abijah, Ahaz's queen (2 Kings 18:2; 2 Chronicles 29:1). It would serve to call public attention still more to the tablet, if it bore the names of two such eminent persons as witnesses.
The prophetess. It is not necessary to suppose that the wife of Isaiah must have uttered prophecies because she is called "the prophetess." Titles were given in the East to the wives, daughters, etc; of officials, which merely reflected the dignity of their husbands, fathers, etc. Even Miriam seems to be called a "prophetess" (Exodus 15:20) from her close relationship to Moses, rather than from any supernatural power that she had. In the Mishna, a priest's wife or daughter is called "priestess" (Cheyne). Call his name. There is no reason for doubting that the name was actually given. Other Israelites had such names as Jushab-hosed (1 Chronicles 3:20), Haah-ashtari (1 Chronicles 4:6), Romamti-ezer (1 Chronicles 25:4), Machnadebai (Ezra 10:40), and the like. Assyrian names were even longer; e.g. As-shur-bel-nisi-su, Asshur-kinat-ili-kain, etc. In ordinary parlance, names of this type were commonly shortened, "Shalman-eser' becoming "Shalmau" (Hosea 10:14), "Sennacherib Jareb" (Hosea 10:6), and the like.
My father … my mother. "Abi," "Immi," would have been among the first utterances of childhood—simple sounds, combinations of primary vowels with labials, corresponding in easiness of utterance to "Pappy," "Mammy," rather than to the expressions of the text. A child commonly utters such sounds when it is about a year old. The riches of Damascus. The position of Damascus lay in the direct path of the main trade that was carried on between the West and East, which was conducted by the merchants of Tyro chiefly, and passed from the Syrian coast by way of Damascus and Tadmor to Nineveh and Babylon. This commerce greatly enriched the cities lying upon its route. "Damascus," says Ezekiel, addressing Tyre, "was thy merchant in the multitude of the wares of thy making, for the multitude of all riches; in the wine of Helbon, and white wool" (Ezekiel 27:18). The "palaces of Benhadad" seem to have been noted for their magnificence (Jeremiah 49:27; Amos 1:4). The spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the King of Assyria. Scripture does not record the fulfillment of this prophecy, which makes the same Assyrian king carry off the spoil of Samaria and the spoil of Damascus, fixing also the time of the carrying off as within a few years of the time when the prophecy was given. But the inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser himself supply the deficiency. They state that this monarch "sent the population, the goods of the people of Beth-Omri, and their furniture to the land of Assyria;" after which he "appointed Husih (Hoshea) to the dominion ever them," and fixed their annual tribute at two talents of gold and a thousand talents of silver.
THE FLOOD OF ASSYRIAN INVASION WILL PASS FROM SYRIA AND SAMARIA INTO JUDAEA, BUT WILL THERE BE ARRESTED. Syria and Samaria were barriers, breakwaters, so placed as to stem the tide of invasion, and be a defense to Judaea against Assyrian attack. When once they were overwhelmed, the waters would have free course, and the submersion of Judaea was certain. It might be delayed by the Divine favor, and would be, so long as the people, or even a remnant of them, remained faithful, but only through the might of the name Immanuel, "God with us."
Forasmuch as this people. It is a question which people is intended, Judah or Israel. Ewald supposes Judah, and draws the conclusion that there was a strong party in Jerusalem which favored "the son of Tabeal." Dr. Kay does the same, but understands the charge against Judah to be, not that it sympathized with Rezin, but that it fell into the same sins. Other commentators suggest that Israel is the people intended (as in Isaiah 9:16), the sense being carried on from Isaiah 8:4, where the word "Samaria" is suggestive of the Israelite people. Refuseth the waters of Shiloah. The "pool of Siloah" (Nehemiah 3:15) was the tank or reservoir at the southwestern foot of Ophel, which is supplied with water by a narrow conduit cut through the limestone rock for a distance of 1750 feet from the "Pool of the Virgin" on the opposite side of Ophel, in the Kedron valley. This pool itself is fed from reservoirs under the temple area, which have not yet been fully explored. It is probable that Isaiah uses the expression "waters of Shiloah" in a general sense for the streams, springs, reservoirs, conduits, which supplied the temple, and were connected with its service. "Refusing the waters of Shiloah" would then be, without any violent metaphor, refusing the temple service and worship, which was exactly what the Israelites had done from the time of Jeroboam. That go softly. In contrast with the "waters of the river, strong and many," of the next verse. They who refused the mild and gentle government of Jehovah should experience the impetuous and torrent-like rush of the Assyrian armies. Rejoice in Rezin; rather, rejoice with Rezin; i.e. sympathize with him, rejoice when he rejoices.
The waters of the river, strong and many. "The river" is, of course, the Euphrates, as in Isaiah 7:20. In its lower course the Euphrates often overflows its banks, and inundates the adjacent districts, causing vast damage to crops, and some-limes threatening to break down the walls of cities. It is scarcely likely, however, that Isaiah had any acquaintance with this fact. His experience would probably have been limited to the "swellings of Jordan" (Jeremiah 12:5; comp. Joshua 3:15). All his glory (comp. Isaiah 10:12, Isaiah 10:16, Isaiah 10:18, etc.). He shall come up over all his channels. A graphic description of the swelling of rivers in the East. These, when they are low, contract their waters from the many channels, in which they ordinarily flow, into some one or two, leaving the others dry. The first effect of a flood is to fill all the channels, after which it may proceed further and overflow the banks.
And he shall pass through Judah; rather, he shall pass on into Judah ("He shall sweep onward into Judah," Revised Version). The Assyrians will not be content with invading Syria and Samaria; they will "pass on into Judaea." It is not clear whether this is to be done immediately by Tiglath-Pileser, or by one of his successors at a later date. There is reason to believe from Tiglath-Pileser's inscriptions that he used the territory of Ahaz for the passage of his armies as those of a vassal king, but did not ravage them. He shall reach even to the neck. The Assyrian attacks on Judaea shall stop short of destroying it. The flood shall not submerge the head, but only rise as high as the neck. This prophecy was fulfilled, since it was not Assyria, but Babylon, which destroyed the Jewish kingdom. The stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land. The Assyrian armies shall visit every part of the land. The sudden change of metaphor is in the manner of Isaiah (see Isaiah 1:30, Isaiah 1:31; Isaiah 5:24, Isaiah 5:30, etc.). O Immanuel. On the importance of this address, as indicating the kingly, and so (probably) the Divine character of Immanuel, see the notes on Isaiah 7:14. Isaiah could not speak of the land as belonging to his own infant son.
Associate yourselves. It is impossible to obtain this meaning from the existing Hebrew text, which must be translated, "Be angry," or "Rage" ("Make an uproar," Revised Version). The prophet passes from the consideration of the opposition offered to Jehovah by Israel, Syria, and Assyria, to a general consideration of all the nations of the earth. He challenges them to the combat against Jehovah, and confidently predicts their defeat. O ye people; rather, O ye peoples (compare the corresponding expression in the next clause, "All ye of far countries").
Take counsel together; literally, devise a device; i.e. form some plan, even the cleverest possible, against God's people, and the result will be utter failure. It shall not stand (comp. Isaiah 7:7). For God is with us. In the Hebrew, ki 'immanu-El, "for with us (is) God" words declarative of the true meaning of the name which God had made a sign to his people (Isaiah 7:14). It was his being "with them" that could alone save them from their enemies.
THE GROUNDS OF ISAIAH'S CONFIDENCE. Having declared his absolute confidence, not only that the attack of Pekah and Rezin will fail (Isaiah 8:1-4), but that Assyria also (Isaiah 8:8), nay, that all the nations of the earth (Isaiah 8:9) will fail, and bring destruction upon themselves, if they "devise devices" against God's true people, the prophet explains the ground of his confidence by relating a special "instruction" which he had received from God some time previously, he had been bidden to separate himself from the mass of his countrymen in thought and feeling, and to cling only to Jehovah, who would "be for a Sanctuary" (Isaiah 8:14) to his own, but "for a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offence" to all others.
For the Lord. Mr. Cheyne regards this passage as "a short oracle, complete in itself," and entirely unconnected with what has preceded. But the initial ki, "for," is in that case inexplicable. Spake thus to me with a strong hand; literally, with strength of hand—i.e. laying a strong grasp upon him; and, as it were, constraining him to attend (comp. Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:14, Ezekiel 3:22, etc.). That I should not walk in the way of this people. Isaiah was bidden not to "follow a multitude to evil" (Exodus 23:2). It was not merely idolatry against which he was warned, but the whole spirit and tone of the society of his day. He was not to entertain their suspicions, or to hope their hopes, or to fear their fears. He was to take a line of his own, to fear God and him only; then God would be "for a Sanctuary" to him.
Say ye not. The transition from the singular to the plural is noticeable. It implies that Isaiah did not stand alone, but had followers—a "little flock," it may be—but still enough to give him the support of sympathy (comp. verse 16). A confederacy; rather, treason, or conspiracy (see 2 Samuel 15:12; 1 Kings 16:20; 2Ki 11:12; 2 Kings 12:20; Jeremiah 11:9; Ezekiel 22:25, etc.). The command is, not to call a course of conduct treasonable simply because the people generally so call it. Jeremiah was charged with treason for preaching the hopelessness of offering resistance to Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 20:1; Jeremiah 26:8-11). Those who opposed an Assyrian alliance were probably now taxed with treason. To all them to whom; rather, everything which. Translate the entire clause thus: Call ye not conspiracy everything which this people shall call conspiracy. Neither fear ye their fear. They feared man (Isaiah 7:2). Isaiah and his disciples are commanded to fear no one but God.
Sanctify the Lord of hosts. God was sanctified by being believed in (Numbers 20:12). They who feared Rezin and Pekah, despite of God's assurances that their design should fail, did not believe in him, and so did not "sanctify" him.
He shall be for a Sanctuary (comp. Ezekiel 11:16, "Yet will I be to them as a little Sanctuary"). A sanctuary is "a refuge" (Psalms 90:1; Psalms 91:9), and something more. It is a holy refuge, a place which is a refuge because of its holiness. Its material counterpart in the Mosaic system is, not "the city of refuge," but the altar (1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28). Both the houses of Israel; i.e. "the two reigning houses of Samaria and Judaea," both of which were Israelite. Both the "houses" would ultimately forsake Jehovah, and find in him a "Snare" and a "Rock of offense."
Many among them (so the Vulgate, Ewald, Delitzsch, and Knobel). But most others translate, "Many shall stumble thereon,"i.e. on the stone and the rock (Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Vance Smith, Kay, Cheyne). Fall, and be broken. The effect of stumbling against a stone (Matthew 21:44; Luke 20:18). Be snared, and be taken. The effect of being caught in a gin (Psalms 9:15, Psalms 9:16).
Bind up the testimony, etc. The words are still those of Jehovah, addressed to his servant Isaiah. God commands that the prophecy shall be written in a roll, which is then to be carefully tied with a string and sealed, for future use. Seal the Law; rather, the instruction—the advice given in verses 12-15 (comp. Daniel 12:4).
Isaiah 8:17, Isaiah 8:18
ISAIAH DEFINES HIS OWN ATTITUDE AND THAT OF HIS CHILDREN. It is questioned whether something has not fallen out between Isaiah 8:16 and Isaiah 8:17. The transition is exceedingly abrupt, undoubtedly; but perhaps not more abrupt than elsewhere in Isaiah and the prophets contemporary with him. The Divine "instruction" comes to an end in verse 16; and Isaiah might have been expected to comment on it, or enforce its teaching; but he does neither. He simply states what his own attitude will be under the coming calamity (verse 8). He will "wait for the Lord and look to him" (verse 17), and consider himself and his children as doing a work for God in being "signs" (verse 18)—signs to which the rest of Israel may look, and from which they may derive sufficient hope and confidence to carry them through the dark time which is approaching.
I will wait upon the Lord; rather, I will wait for the Lord; i.e. "await the time of his relenting" (see Isaiah 30:18; Isaiah 64:4, etc.). That hideth his face from the house of Jacob (compare the threats in Deuteronomy 31:17; Deuteronomy 32:20). The light of God's countenance is to the spiritual what that of the sun is to the material world. All life, health, joy, happiness, proceed from it. This light was now to be withdrawn for a time on account of the people's sins. But Isaiah would "wait" for its reappearance.
I and the children … are for signs. Isaiah's children seem to have been "for signs," especially in respect of their names. Shear-Jashub meant "A remnant shall return" (Isaiah 10:21), and thus held out two hopes; one that a remnant of Israel would return to God and become his true servants, another that a remnant would return from the captivity that had been prophesied (Isaiah 5:13). Maher-shalal-hash-baz—"Plunder speeds, spoil hastens"—was a "sign" of a different kind. Primarily, his name referred to the spoiling of Damascus and Samaria (verses 3, 4); but it may further have indicated a time of general disturbance, plunder, and ravage. It is not quite clear in what respects Isaiah was a "sign." Perhaps he, too, in his name, which meant "(Our) salvation is Jehovah"—certainly also in his symbolical acts (Isaiah 20:3), and possibly in the firmness of his faith, which never wavered. From the Lord of hosts; literally, from by the Lord of hosts—an expression like the French de chez. God had supernaturally appointed the sign in one case (verses 1-4), but in the other two had merely brought them about by the secret working of his providence. But the prophet treats all three as coming equally from him. Which dwelleth in Mount Zion. Hero, again, is encouragement. God has not quitted Zion. The Shechinah still rests between the cherubim in the holy of holies. While this is so, God is still with his people (Immanuel).
ISAIAH RECOMMENDS LOOKING TO GOD AND THE REVEALED WORD RATHER THAN TO NECROMANCY. AFFLICTION WILL BRING ISRAEL TO GOD. Isaiah returns, in verse 19, to the consideration of his disciples. In the terrible times impending, they will be recommended to have recourse to necromancy; he urges that they should look to God and the Law. He then further suggests that, in the coming affliction which he describes (verses 21, 22), men will generally turn for relief to the same quarter (verse 20).
Seek unto them that have familiar spirits. In times of great distress the Israelites seem always to have been tempted to consult those among them who pretended to magic and divination. So Saul in the Philistine war resorted to the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:7-20); Manasseh, threatened by Esar-haddon, "used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards" (2 Kings 21:6). Israel generally, oppressed by Syria and Assyria, "used divination and enchantments" (2 Kings 17:17). There was the same inclination now on the part of many Jews. The vexed question of the actual powers possessed by such persons cannot be discussed within the limits of a footnote. It has, moreover, already been treated in the present Commentary, in connection with Leviticus 19:31. Wizards that peep, and that mutter; rather, that chirp and mutter. Tricks of the ventriloquists, probably, who disguised their voices, and represented that they were the voices of ghosts (comp. Isaiah 29:4). The natural speech of some tribes has been compared to the "chirping of birds". Should not a people, etc.? Very abrupt and elliptical Isaiah means to say, "Do not attend to them; but answer, Should not a people," etc.? For the living. This may either mean "instead of the living," or "on behalf of the living seek to the dead?" or, Would not that be plainly preposterous?
To the Law and to the testimony. A sort of watchword or battle-cry, to be used by the faithful when God's enemies assailed them. Compare Gideon's cry (Judges 7:18), "For the Lord and for Gideon." If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them; rather, Surely they will speak according to this word, when there is no dawn for them; i.e. when they are plunged in darkness (Isaiah 8:22) and distress, and see no prospect of better days, surely they—the people generally—will rally to this cry, and repeat it, "For the Law and for the testimony." They will not always trust in necromancy.
Isaiah 8:21, Isaiah 8:22
are supposed by some to be cut of place, and to belong properly to the description of the Assyrian invasion, given in Isaiah 8:7, Isaiah 8:8. But this bold solution of a difficulty is scarcely to be commended, there being no limit to its use. An order followed in all the manuscripts should not be disturbed, if it gives any tolerable sense. Such a sense can, it is thought, be found here by regarding the two verses as exegetical of the last clause of Isaiah 8:20—"when there is no dawn for them."
They shall pass through it. "It," which is feminine, must mean "the land." The Jews left in it shall wander about it (comp. Isaiah 7:21-25), seeking pasture for the remnant of their cattle. They shall fret themselves; rather, they shall be deeply angered (Cheyne). And curse their king and their God. As the causes of their sufferings. And look upward. Not in hope, but in rage and defiance.
They shall look unto the earth. For necessary nutriment, or simply as the place to which downcast and despairing eyes are turned naturally. They shall be driven to darkness. So Kay, who thinks the Captivity is meant; but it seems better to render the whole passage, with Mr. Cheyne, "They shall look to earth, and behold, distress and darkness, gloom of affliction, and thick darkness driven (upon them)." The darkness is spoken of as if it were a thing palpable, like rain or snow (comp. Exodus 10:21).
Waters of Shiloah.
The waters of Shiloah issued from the rock where God had set his Name and fixed the symbol of his presence. They were a copious supply, ever welling forth from an inscrutable source for the refreshment and delectation of Israel. Their overplus irrigated numerous gardens in the valley at the base of the temple bill, and made the desert "blossom like the rose." Shiloah is the same as "Shiloh" (Genesis 49:10), and "Shiloh" means "sent," or "he who is sent." Hence we may view as "waters of Shiloah"—
I. THE TEACHING OF THE TEMPLE AND ITS RITES, which God sent to Israel by the hard of his servant Moses for their refreshment and delight—a stream of living water to those who accepted the truths which the temple rites embodied or symbolized; a "river" which "made glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High (Psalms 46:4).
II. THE TEACHING OF THE PROPHETS, whom God continually sent, "rising up betimes and sending" (2 Chronicles 36:15), of which Isaiah said primarily, "Lo, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters" (Isaiah 55:1)—these waters representing the truth of God which he was commissioned to preach. This teaching welled forth from the true "Rock;" for it was "the Spirit of Christ" which inspired the prophets, and made them ever approximate more and more toward the standard of evangelical teaching which was to be set up later. The prophets' doctrine was for the refreshment and comfort of the Jews primarily; but its influence was felt beyond the limits of Judaism. In many a pagan wilderness the superfluous waters flowing, from this source created gardens, where blossoms bloomed, which, without the "living water" of revealed truth, could never have come into being.
III. THE TEACHING OF THE EVER-BLESSED SON, the true "Shiloh"—sent by the almighty and most merciful Father to redeem the world and reconcile it to him. He is "the Fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness" (Zechariah 13:1); "the Well-spring of wisdom" (Proverbs 18:4); the inexhaustible and inscrutable Source, to whom all may come freely and drink (John 7:37). His doctrine doth "drop as the rain," and his speech doth "distil as the dew" (Deuteronomy 32:2); he gives to all men to "take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17). From depths unsearchable in the nature of him who is "the Rock of our salvation" flow forth rivers of living water, cleansing, purifying, refreshing, satisfying the soul. He washes us once, in a material way, in baptism; he washes us ten thousand times spiritually, as often as he cleanses us from sin; he gives us to drink of a water that is henceforth to us "a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). True "waters of Shiloh" are these. All may "take of them freely." The fountain is absolutely inexhaustible. Nor are its benefits confined to those only for whose sake especially it was given—baptized members of the Church; they flow on to others also. Great are the uncovenanted mercies of God. The child Christ was proclaimed to be "a Light to lighten the Gentiles," no less than "the Glory of his people Israel" (Luke 2:32). And so it is. The stream of Christian teaching flows on from the Church into the world, if not with sufficient force to create a garden, at any rate so as to bring forth amid the arid wastes many a green plant, many a blooming flower. The washing of atonement is extended, we confidently believe, to thousands who are not formally within the covenant. And the flow of the water will never cease. Even in heaven there will be "a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb" (Revelation 22:1), of which the saints of God will drink eternally (Revelation 22:17).
Isaiah 8:12, Isaiah 8:13
The fear of man and the fear of God contrasted.
These two fears may be compared
(1) in respect of their grounds;
(2) in respect of their results.
I. IN THEIR GROUNDS. Our fear of man rests upon our apprehension of the power of man to do us hurt. Men may injure us
(1) in our reputation,
(2) in our property,
(3) in respect of those who are near and dear to us,
(4) in respect of our persons.
A certain fear of the supreme civil power in the state under which we live is natural and proper; it is one of the elements which bind society together, and could not cease to exist without disadvantage. Malefactors are restrained by it (Romans 13:4); and even the mass of well-meaning men are strengthened in their good intentions by the knowledge that there is a human authority above them which notes their conduct and will punish any serious departure from the rules of right behavior. So far, then, the fear of man has a sound basis. We also naturally, and almost necessarily, fear our enemies, if they are powerful, whether public or private, our fear being proportional to our belief in their power and malignity. It is this ground of fear which is apt to be unduly influential upon us, from our exaggerated notions of what man is able to effect. We too often forget that man can do nothing but what God permits (John 19:11), that he is absolutely impotent against God, who can shatter his designs, or strike him with sudden death at any moment. Again, we do not always bear in mind the fact that man can only injure us in respect of temporal things, his utmost punishment being to "kill the body," whereas God's power extends beyond the grave. The fear of God has for its ground a double apprehension or conviction:
(1) our belief in his power, and
(2) our conception of his absolute holiness.
These grounds are unassailable, and admit of no exaggeration, so that we cannot fear God too much, though we may fear him in a wrong way. If God's character be misconceived, if he be viewed as malignant or even as revengeful, then our fear of him, being based upon a Wrong ground, may lead us astray. Such was the δεισιδαιμονία of too many in the ancient world, whose deities were objects of fear, but not of love.
II. IN THEIR RESULTS. The fear of man has no good effect except upon evil-doers, and upon those who but for such fear might become evil-doers. These it may in some degree restrain. But if, so far, it may have a good result, it is apt in other ways to have results that are anything but good.
1. Fear of man causes the morally weak to follow the bad example of the wicked, who would otherwise ridicule or even persecute them.
2. Fear of man makes feeble and oppressed classes servile, untruthful, cowardly.
3. Fear of man induces many to keep back their honest convictions, and even applaud the evil courses which in their heart they condemn and dislike.
4. Fear of man has in some cases led to an absolute denial of God and of Christ, making men renegades to their religion, and professors of a creed which they detest.
5. On the other hand, fear of man may sometimes cause men to be hypocrites, to pretend to a faith and a piety which they do not possess, if those who have power over them require it. Hence the fear of man is so often condemned in Scripture (Isaiah 35:4; Isaiah 51:7; Jeremiah 1:8; Ezekiel 3:9; Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4; 1 Peter 3:14, etc.).
The fear of God, if it be of the kind called above δεισιδαιμονία, may harden men in sin, or lead them to despair of God's mercy; but if it be the true fear of God, that is to say, if it have an element of love in it, the results cannot but be excellent.
1. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalms 111:10); it restrains from evil in early life (Proverbs 16:6); it deepens into awe as time goes on; it produces hatred of sin (Proverbs 8:13); it becomes "a fountain of life" (Proverbs 14:27).
2. They who grow up in the fear of God acquire a solidity and strength of character that nothing else can give; they have a firm foundation on which to rest; they "do not fear what flesh can do unto them" (Psalms 56:4); they are truthful, manly, brave. And, further, they are reverent. The fear of God checks over-familiarity, begets reserve, produces silence. "Keep thy foot when thou goest into the house of God," etc. (Ecclesiastes 5:1, Ecclesiastes 5:2).
3. Though "perfect love casteth out fear" (1 John 4:18), yet "the fear of the Lord endureth forever" (Psalms 19:9). There is no age, however advanced, that can dispense with it; for no man in this life is ever "perfect in love." The beloved apostle even represents the fear of God as continuing in heaven. They that stood on the sea of glass, having the harps of God, and sang the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, before God's throne, exclaimed, "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy Name?" (Revelation 15:2-4); and again, when the "great voice of much people was heard in heaven, saying, Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God, and the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen, Alleluia, a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye saints, and ye that fear him, both small and great" (Revelation 19:1-5).
Waiting for God.
"Waiting for God" is submitting ourselves to his good pleasure in respect of time, being content that he should settle the question, "How long?" and looking still to him from first to last, however extended the term during which our "waiting" has to continue. It is important that we wait—
I. PATIENTLY. "I waited patiently for the Lord," says holy David, "and he inclined unto me, and heard my calling" (Psalms 40:1). A thousand years are with God as one day, and one day as a thousand years—"our age is even as nothing in respect of him" (Psalms 39:5). It is, no doubt, hard for man to be patient, not to weary in well-doing, not to fret at what seems to him useless and unnecessary delay, not to desire to expedite matters and bring about the accomplishment of any end which seems to him good at once. But God's ways are not as our ways. God is never in a hurry. God tries his people by delay, and forms in them the temper of patience, and "lets it have its perfect work" (James 1:4). God knows that we "have need of patience" (Hebrews 10:36), and makes our life a discipline of patience, that so we may be the more conformed to his image.
II. CHEERFULLY. It is not enough to wait patiently, unless we also wait cheerfully. "Rejoice in the Lord always," says the apostle; "and again I say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4). We should do the will of God "from the heart." If he makes our cross to be one of waiting, we should feel that waiting is what we need, what is best for us; and we should be thankful that God deals with us so lovingly as to lay this burden upon us.
III. FAITHFULLY. All waiting is a trial of faith. God "hides his face from us." Will he ever cease to do so? Will he ever again cheer us with the light of his countenance? He does not grant our petitions. Will he ever grant them? Our ghostly enemy continually suggests these questions, endeavoring to undermine and destroy our faith and trust in God. It is our part, with Isaiah, to defeat him by continually "looking for God" and resting upon him. We must "have him always before our face;" hold fast by him, cling to him, look to him, and pray to him "without ceasing" for support and strength during the whole weary time of waiting, or our faith may fail, and our trial prove too much for us. We must, therefore, also wait—
IV. PRAYERFULLY; i.e; with continued earnest supplication to God, both for the end that we desire and for his help while he keeps us waiting. His help alone will keep us patient, cheerful, and faithful during the time that our trial lasts, and render it the blessing that he intends it to be to us.
Seeking for the living to the dead.
The necromancy of ancient times was a system of appeal to the dead on behalf of the living. The shades or ghosts of dead men were supposed to be brought up from Hades by the necromancer, who compelled them to answer his questions, and was supposed to make their answers useful to the living. A system not very dissimilar has prevailed of recent years in many parts both of England and of America, whereby "spirits" are believed to be brought into communication with living men for the presumed benefit of the latter. To all such cases the reproach of the prophet would seem to apply: "Should men seek for the living to the dead?" What help is it likely that the dead can give more than the living, even if they can be communicated with, which must always be doubtful? Why appeal to them when we do not know whether they can hear, nor whether, if they hear, they can render aid? We can usually appeal for the living to the living, who can certainly hear, and in most instances can help to some extent. And there is one living One on whom it is always possible to call, who always hears, and can always help if he sees fit. Thus every form of necromancy is folly, since
(1) we have no assured ground for believing that any good can result from it, and
(2) we can resort to One who is certainly able to do all and more than all that we require.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
THE PROPHET'S POPULAR METHOD. He wished to inspire hope in the people as well as in the king—to expel the panic fear of the two northern kings, and impress the expectation that the two capitals of these kings would themselves be taken and sacked. The way in which he set about this was simple yet remarkable.
1. He took a large tablet, and wrote therein in "popular characters," i.e. in large text, distinct from the literary character, perhaps a character half pictorial, the words "Hasten-booty, Speed-spoil," or "Booty-quick, Spoil-speed." In those days there were no newspapers, no puffing placards staring from the walls, and books were only for the learned. This was suggestive to write up a sentiment or suggestion like this for the public eye. To this day in the East, if you ask the people their reason for believing this or that, their answer will be, "Is it not written? Men did not write books to deceive us." To write this pregnant phrase was, then, to impress it on the popular imagination. "Go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever" (Isaiah 30:8). "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it" (Hebrews 2:2). Then, to fix the solemn act of putting up the tablet in memory, he takes two witnesses—Uriah the high priest (2 Kings 16:10), and Zechariah, perhaps "mayor of Jerusalem" at the time.
2. Next, he gave this same mystic name to a son born about the same time, so that the boy might be, as it were, a "living epistle" by means of his significant name, "known and read of all men," and keeping alive in their hearts the hopeful prophecy of his father. Before the boy can lisp his parents' names, that prophecy will be fulfilled, and the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the Assyrian king.
(1) The lessons of the teacher need to be addressed to the senses of the multitude. The sign for the eye, the parable for the imagination, the illustration which "strikes," the epigram and "winged word" which fastens in the memory,—all may be pressed into the service.
(2) Pith and condensation should be studied. A sermon is not wasted if the text sticks, or if a single pregnant saying has lodged itself in the mind, as a seed to stir and quicken thought to purpose.—J.
God with us.
The prophet looks out on the troubled prospect as on a deluge, amidst which the ark of promise carrying the elect, the remnant, the Church of the faithful and chosen, is seen riding.
I. TEMPORAL ALLUSIONS.
1. The foreign sympathies of the people. Tired of the inefficient reign of Ahaz, they watch for the approach of the two northern kings with interest. They have forgotten their patriotism, which once rallied round the house of David as a political and spiritual center. The "softly flowing brook of Siloah" by Jerusalem was symbolic of that house. 'Twas the river that made glad the city of God, the holy place of the Highest's dwelling (Psalms 46:1-11.). Small was it compared with the great flood of Nile or Euphrates, but mild and gentle. "Nile, with its monstrous crocodile and behemah, might be the image of the cruel Egyptian rule; and mighty Euphrates, with its frequent overflowings, that of the Assyrian power and of its swift extension." As in ancient folk-lore dragons were supposed to haunt the waters, so the Assyrian power was like the daemon of the great river (cf. Isaiah 27:1).
2. The wave of Assyrian conquest. Onward it will come, a magnificent flood, to punish, to purify. The Assyrian king, with all the "pomp and circumstance of war," an awful array, will, as the river breaking its bounds and overflowing all banks, rush into Judah, overflowing and rolling, till the flood reaches to men's necks; or, as with the outspread wings of the flying dragon, the foe will cover all the breadth of the land—land of the passionately hoped-for Immanuel.
II. VICTORIOUS SPIRITUAL HOPES. The name of the Messiah, "God with us," acts like a charm on the troubled spirit of the seer. His discourse suddenly becomes a bold menace against all heathendom.
1. Material power defied. Let the nations rage and let them—despair! Let them fit out their armaments and—despair! exclaims the prophet. Let them form their plans—they shall be broken; speak their words—they shall not stand. For "with us is God!" What magic in a name, in a phrase! Carrying our thought forward through the centuries, we recall what powers were defied, what wonders wrought, what force reduced to impotence, what counsels reduced to folly, by the magic of the Name of Jesus. Yet it is not the mere name, but the reality denoted by the name, believed and felt to he operating through the human spirit, which is the source of energy.
2. Personal inspiration Idle had been these defiances, if the prophet did not know of a secret warranty for them in his own breast, in his own spiritual record. "Thus said Jehovah unto me in the ecstasy." He had heard a voice which all could not hear, and had cleared his vision in a light not vouchsafed to the vulgar. It was a discriminating light. He was taught to see that not all the multitude called rebellious was really such, nor all that it feared was really to be dreaded. The allusion is somewhat obscure. Probably under the guise of fear the people were secretly rejoicing, and meditating the dethronement of Ahaz. The language strikes a side-blow at the pusillanimity of the time. The prophet has learned that Jehovah is the true Object of fear; that noble and steadfast reverence which, a mighter passion, expels the feebler and baser.
"Fear him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear."
If this condition be fulfilled, Jehovah will be found an inviolable Sanctuary, a Shelter from all coming trials. We find the same thought in Ezekiel 11:16. He will be a "little Sanctuary" to the fugitive and dispersed among the nations. Fleeing from the pursuer, men laid hold of the "horns of the altar." These things are to us a parable. Religion is the spirit's asylum from all distress. In times when the newspaper teems with war, revolution, rumors of dread, or the evils of social life seem intolerable, we may go into our chamber, shut to the door, pray to our Father in secret, flee to the steps of the altar that slopes through darkness up to God, and lo! a new scenery unfolds, and from the secret place of the Most High fear vanishes, and reverential contemplation reigns in the spirit.
III. SOLEMN WARNINGS. He who will ever prove an Asylum to the faithful and an Altar of refuge, will be to the faithless a Stone of stumbling, a Rock of offence, a Trap, and a Snare. We know how these thoughts were applied to the coming Christ, and how they were fulfilled. Set "for the fall and rising again of many in Israel," and for the "revealing of the thoughts of many hearts," he is to them that believe precious "a Stone, a tried Stone; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded."
1. The Name of God is an object of dread or of delight to us according to the state of our own affections.
2. Truth is a touchstone. Either we recognize in it the "pearl of great price," and are willing to sacrifice all to possess it, or it is like a certain stone of which Plutarch tells, found in the river Inachos, which turned black in the hand of the false witness. Truth seems like falsehood to the debased imagination and depraved will.—J.
The helplessness of superstition.
Here a mass of thought is found, struggling for expression as the new-lighted fuel struggles into flame.
I. THE ORACLE SEALED. 'Tis time to make an end. Let what has been written remain, rolled up and sealed and kept, until the day when those taciturn letters shall find their tongue and burst into flame. And, indeed, every true thing may be said to be "written down for the time to come, forever and ever." It may be lost sight of for a time, but only to be recovered. For though the records of human thought, nay, the human mind itself, is a palimpsest, oft scribbled over, the eternal writing of God upon the conscience is indelible, and will be seen, despite willful blindness and pedantic glosses. The testimony we bear is first and last for the eyes of God. The Roman poet (Hor; 'Ep.,' Ephesians 1:20) seems to dread the fate of oblivion for his verse at certain moments—cannot brook the thought that his roll shall be packed into its case and left unread. But such was not to be the fate of the poetry of Horace, nor of any true poetry. God can read through the closed pages of true lives, and faithful utterances find audience in the court of angels, in the hails of eternity.
II. PLEDGES OF FUTURE GOOD. "I and the children whom Jehovah hath given me are signs and omens in Israel on the part of Jehovah of hosts, who dwelleth on the Zion-mount." His own name meant "God's salvation;" those of his children, as we have seen, "The remnant will return" (or, "be converted"), and "Hasten-booty, Speed-spoil." For the soul that is strong in faith is also strong in hope, and it makes its own omens, or finds omens where others can see none.
III. MAGICAL SUGGESTIONS REPUDIATED. The wizard, the magician, the "medium," as he is now called, was in great vogue in the days of Ahaz. Just as at modern séances, these media would imitate the supposed voices of ghosts in some low chirping or muttering tone. What keener satire could be launched against such practices than that of the prophet! It is indeed turning to the dead, instead of to the living and the true God. Where the taste for truth is spoiled, the appetite for the extraordinary and marvelous springs up; and men will fall headlong into the greatest follies, provided they flatter their self-conceit, though wide awake to their interest, and keen to detect the impositions of others in general.
IV. TOO-LATE REPENTANCE. The language is condensed, the thought fused in a mass. But the meaning seems to be—too late will the weak and wicked apply to the true oracles they had forsaken for the false. "In extreme distress, and afflicted with the pangs of starvation, the man rushes as a maniac through the land, curses in the moment of his terrible distress and exasperation his god and lord whom he vainly and slavishly served, and directs his eyes upwards to the true God. But when he looks down to the earth again because he had discerned no light above, he sees there the most dreadful darkness and distress, without any ray of light, without any hope breaking through it, and thus he is hunted forth again into the darkness to perish therein (cf. Job 15:22, Job 15:23; Job 18:5, Job 18:13)" (Ewald).—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Waiting and looking.
"And I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him." There is life in a look. It is so true that the eye is the window of the soul, even as speech is the door of the soul. "Look unto him, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth," teaches us how the whole nature of man can concentrate itself in a look.
I. DARK HOURS. The Lord "hides his face." This expression is used, because the face is the expression of character and feeling. It reveals our emotions of love and anger, of confidence and distrust. To hide it, is to turn away in disgust, in sorrow, in shame. God is ashamed of his people Israel, whom he had set apart for his glory. A hidden face is a terrible punishment. The child feels that, and longs for the returning smile of approval and love. How beautiful is the prayer, "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us!"
II. DIVINE SUPPLICATION. "I will wait upon the Lord." Not with hurried petition does the prophet come, but with an attitude of soul that shall show depth of desire and earnestness of purpose. Prayer is a sign of renewed life. We cannot long continue to ask for blessings that we do not really desire. Hypocrisy soon fatigues, even where it is not found out; and our poor human nature, sinful as it is, wearies of subterfuges. In waiting upon God we have the surest evidence that our penitence is sincere and our faith vital.
III. UPLIFTED VISION. "I will look for him." Men look for so much, and not for God. For human approval, for earthly success, for ambition's tinsel crown. In looking for God his Savior, the prophet is looking for all that the house of Jacob needs. It is a wistful eye that we read of here. Anxious, but yet hopeful. Some had "sought unto familiar spirits, and wizards that peep and mutter;" and it seems as if the world had not yet grown wise enough to forsake all that kind of seeking today! "Should not a people seek unto their God?" asks the prophet; and in every age those who look alone unto him have never been disappointed. When the eyes are opened, and the heart is full, even if the lips be not eloquent, God can read deep meaning in the earnest gaze of faith; and he will return and bless his people Israel, according to his Word.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Orders of service.
We may serve God in more ways than one. There is—
I. UNWILLING SERVICE. We may conclude, from 2Ki 16:10, 2 Kings 16:11, that Uriah the priest (2 Kings 16:2) had no real interest in the service of Jehovah; that he did what Isaiah requested of him with an indifferent, if not a positively reluctant mind. We may be "requisitioned" by the great King in the long warfare he is conducting. He who is rebelliously refusing to place his intelligence, his spiritual nature, his resources, at the command of the Divine Savior, need not be surprised if he finds himself constrained to serve his generation against his will. By violent excesses sinful men have made their own cause odious; by shameful cruelty, calling out heroic endurance, they have made the cause of truth most honorable in the eyes of men. God can make the wrath and the foolishness and even the stubbornness (e.g. Pharaoh) of men to praise him.
II. UNCONSCIOUS SERVICE. The little infant was a "sign" to the prophet and the people; it rendered a service in its own way, but it must have been an entirely unconscious one. It is a painful, and should be a preserving thought, that when we do wrong we "know not what we do,"—how heinous is our offence, or how large and long will prove to be its issues. On the other hand, it is a pleasant and inspiring thought, that when we are doing right, in our several spheres and according to our various powers and opportunities, we do not know what service we are rendering. It may be one much more highly esteemed than we imagine at the time (see Matthew 25:37-40). It may be one that has far more valuable and lasting results than we could possibly calculate. Especially is it true of the little child, that he is unconsciously serving his kind. The infant in the family has a softening, sweetening, humanizing influence of which it knows nothing, but which is very beautiful and valuable. Ever and everywhere will it be found that "the little child shall lead them whom no other force will either draw or drive."
III. ACCEPTABLE SERVICE. This is:
1. Intelligent. Whatever the exact significance of "writing with a man's pen" (verse 1), it is suggestive of the double truth that, in working for God, we should
(1) put out all our powers in their fullness and in their maturity, and should
(2) speak (or write) words adapted to the capacity of those whom we address. Many who seek to serve throw away their opportunity, because they do not the fitting as well as the excellent thing; only too often "the best is the enemy of the good."
2. Prudent. (Verse 2.) The prophet placed his prophecy beyond reach of cavil by securing two unexceptionable witnesses, one of them being the more convincing because his sympathies were on the other side; his testimony, therefore, none could challenge. Though conscious of the most complete integrity, it is often wise and well to be fortified by the evidence of others. Prudence as well as zeal has its place in the catalogue of Christian graces.
3. Faithful. It was no smooth message which the prophet was to deliver (verse 4). The very name of the child was to be a standing threat of impending evil (verse 3). Not only he who now speaks for God, but every Christian man, is bound to render this faithful service; his words and his life are to testify against the vice, the levity, the worldliness, the ungodliness, of his age; they are also to bear witness to the excellency and beauty of unselfish and loyal service.—C.
The false standard and the fatal issue.
The cardinal error into which Israel fell was that of judging by appearances instead of by the reality. The "softly flowing waters" of the Davidic kingdom seemed far less reliable than the "strong and many waters" of Syria and of Assyria, and therefore Ephraim trusted in the one and Judah in the other of these great "powers." But they were utterly misplacing their confidence. Those waters that "went softly" and seemed so strengthless, were the river of God, and held healing virtues in their waves; these strong, tumultuous rivers which seemed so mighty contained no remedy for the stricken and declining nation. Often has it been proved that it is not the apparently insufficient which is to be despised, and as often that it is not the apparently irresistible which is to be trusted.
I. THE FALSE STANDARD. The world has always been witnessing illustrations of this error. The history of the Hebrew nation supplied many such: Noah and the mocking world that laughed at him; Abraham and the Canaanites; Moses and Pharaoh; David and Goliath; Joseph and his persecuting brethren; Elijah and Ahab, etc. The apparently weak man (or nation)had the strength of the Divine arm to sustain him (it); the apparently strong one was essentially weak and unreliable. We may see the same thing in:
1. Christianity itself, which in its first beginnings was a "softly going" stream as compared with the strong tumultuous waters of Jewish fanaticism and Roman militarism.
2. Divine truth, which sometimes goes so softly that it may almost be said of it that "there is no speech nor language, its voice is not heard;" that it "does not strive nor cry," etc; as compared with the complicated organizations of men.
3. Holy love, which flows on unseen, unheard, "like subterranean rivers," as compared with noisy vehemence and untempered zeal.
4. The promises of God, which flow so quietly and graciously through the sacred Scriptures from the beginning even to the end, as compared with the pretentious securities of worldly wisdom. If we wish to know whether we may commit the keeping of our soul, or even of our earthly interests, to those men who (or those things which) offer themselves to our choice, we must not be satisfied with the shows and semblances; we must look to the heart of things; we must ask whether there is soundness, rectitude, within; we must ask, above all other questions—Have they the approval of God with them, and the power of God behind them? For without that the strong river is to be shunned, and with that the softly going stream is to be sought.
II. THE FATAL ISSUE.
1. Roman imperialism passed away, dragging down many thousands with it in its fall.
2. Splendid but corrupt organizations have overflowed the land, even as the "waters of the strong river" were to cover Immanuel's land, and beneath their deathful influence multitudes have perished.
3. Rampant zealotry has slain its thousands, not only of those whom it ruthlessly assailed, but of those who wielded its weapon, and were partakers of its evil spirit.
4. Earthly properties and possessions have buried innumerable souls beneath their destructive weight. It is a fatal thing to trust that which is not worthy of our confidence: for that on which we lean falls on us and slays us; the river to whose waters we resort, instead of fertilizing and saving, floods and drowns us. The peril here is one which threatens the Church as well as the world. The overflowing river "fills the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel."—C.
Isaiah 8:9, Isaiah 8:10
The impotence of ungodliness.
I. THAT SIN SOMETIMES APPEARS IN IMPOSING ASPECTS. There were four aspects, not to say elements, of power in these world-kingdoms—confederation, preparation (gird yourselves), consultation (take counsel together), authority (speak the word). Sin, which is the great enemy conducting a long campaign against the Church of Christ, certainly seems as superior in strength to its present foe as did these great kingdoms of the East to Judah and to Israel; indeed, far more so. Sin has on its side:
1. Vastly preponderating numbers.
2. Rank and authority.
3. The greater material resources, including military power and money.
4. Ancient tradition and inveterate habit.
5. An apparently impregnable seat; it is defended by the strong fortresses of worldly interests, animal appetite, spiritual pride, moral indifference.
II. THAT THE PROPHETIC EYE SEES ITS UTTER OVERTHROW. "Ye shall be broken in pieces;" "it shall come to naught;" "it shall not stand." Under the shadow of the first promise we see the head of the serpent bruised (Genesis 3:15). At the feet of the prophet we see the "little stone" "break in pieces and consume all these (earthly) kingdoms," itself "standing forever" (Daniel 2:44). Standing at our Master's side, we "behold Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18). With apostolic hope, we look on the time when Christ "will have put down all rule, and all authority, and power," all his enemies being "under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:24, 1 Corinthians 15:25). The world-power shall be utterly broken, and on its ruins shall rise "the kingdom which cannot be moved."
III. THAT OUR CONFIDENCE IS IN THE PRESENCE OF THE INVINCIBLE SAVIOR. "For God is with us." We may rejoice to reckon our trophies already gained; we may point, with congratulation, to the growing intelligence and enthusiasm of the army of the Lord; we may hail signs of decay in ancient, enfeebled systems; but this is our confidence: we have with us, working m us and for us, the Holy Spirit of the Divine Redeemer: "For Immanuel"—C.
Our personal relation to God.
It is clearly insufficient to know that we are on the same side as that of the majority of the good. The voice of God's people is not always his voice; their way not always his way (Isaiah 8:11). They may call for "a confederacy" when he disapproves of it. They may cry "peace" when he sees only present confusion and future disaster. They may be shaken with fear when they ought to be calm and trustful (Isaiah 8:12). They may be full of complacency when they ought to be overwhelmed with shame. We shall not be to God that which he demands of us, except we come into distinct, direct relation to himself.
I. THAT GOD SOMETIMES ACTS UPON US WITH CONSTRAINING POWER. "The Lord spake with a strong hand" (Isaiah 8:11; see Ezekiel 3:14). The Divine impulse was one that the prophet felt he must not resist. Not that it was absolutely irresistible, but one that a faithful man knew that he must not hesitate to obey. God often acts upon the soul of men with strong and urgent power to constrain or to restrain. He approaches and influences us thus by
(1) his Divine providence;
(2) one or other of the privileges he has provided for us;
(3) his Holy Spirit.
II. THAT GOD HIMSELF IS THE TRUE REFUGE OF THE HUMAN SOUL. (Isaiah 8:13, Isaiah 8:14.) Here is:
1. Our duty. We are to fear God, to pay a reverential regard to his will, to shrink from that which grieves him, to "dread" his wrath.
2. Its recompense. "He shall be for a Sanctuary." In him, as in a pavilion, we shall hide. He will either deliver us from trouble by saving US from our enemies or in trouble, by granting us the sustaining grace which makes us "more than conquerors" in the midst of it. If we who are his "saints" will but "fear him" with obedient reverence, we shall then "have nothing else to fear."
"How was it, lovers of your kind,
Though ye were mocked and hated,
That ye, with clear and patient mind,
Truth's holy doctrine stated?
In God as in an ark ye kept;
Around, and not above you, swept
The flood till it abated."
III. THAT TO RESIST GOD IS TO WALK IN THE WAY OF WRONG AND RUIN. God is, to the perverse and the rebellious, "a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense" (Isaiah 8:14). God must be everything to us, for life or death. If our relation to him is not to us the fountain of everlasting joy, then it will be to us the source of unspeakable sorrow. The rejection of his truth and of himself will be our sin on earth, our condemnation in judgment, the subject and source of our remorse and retribution in the long hereafter. Our God is One whom it is infinitely worth while to make our Friend, and One whom we must not make our Enemy, if we have any love for ourselves, any interest in our own destiny.—C.
The teacher's distress and his consolation.
Those who have taken positions of prominence or of influence in the Church of Christ have to bear their own peculiar burdens as they are gladdened with their own especial joys. The teacher of Divine truth, in whatever particular sphere he may be engaged, whether it be a high or a humble one, is subject to his own discouragements and encouragements. If we ask what are—
I. HIS SPECIAL TRIALS, the answer to that question is this: Apparent failure in his work, with all the sorrows such discomfiture involves. It is an intensely bitter experience for a human soul to pass through. What can be more distressing to one who earnestly longs for, and is striving to promote, "the kingdom of God," than to look on and see faithful labors break down and issue in nothing? Such was the keen sorrow of Isaiah. It seemed to him as if God were "hiding his face from the house of Jacob" (verse 17); for the people would not welcome his truth, would not walk in his ways, would not trust in his mighty power. So was it with the preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5-8), and with the psalmist (Psalms 119:136), and with Elijah (1 Kings 19:10), and with Paul (Galatians 1:6; Galatians 3:1; Philippians 2:21; Acts 20:29, Acts 20:30); and so was it with the Master himself (John 6:66, John 6:67). The human teacher at such times is grievously troubled, for he is apt to conclude
(1) that God may be dissatisfied with his testimony; or
(2) that he himself has not been as wise or as faithful as he might have been; or
(3) that those whom he has been addressing have incurred serious guilt. But let us ask what are—
II. HIS CONSOLATIONS. They are such as these:
1. There are disciples who learn the truth and love it. "Bind up the testimony … among my disciples" (verse 16). Isaiah was not without some who received his word, and for whom he could pray that it would be engraven on their hearts. Elijah and Paul had their disciples; the Master, we know, had his. If we will look further, we shall find that there are fruits, on the bough, though many branches be barren; good results are not invisible, though they are not so apparent as we could wish.
2. The God of all truth is with us, and his ear is open to our appeal. "I will wait upon the Lord" (verse 17). All hearts are in his hand; he is earnestly desirous of blessing his children; his promised aid is a strong assurance.
3. The human teacher is the organ of Divine truth. "I and the children are for signs and wonders … from the Lord of hosts" (verse 18). Even their very names were significant of some truth which came from Jehovah himself. Everything about the prophet, down to his children's names, was ordered from above. The prophet only taught that which he was inspired to teach, and the truth of the everlasting God must ultimately prevail. God will not let the words of him who speaks faithfully "fall to the ground" (1 Samuel 3:19). Even as the word of him who was "the Truth" should never pass away, so shall the words of his faithful disciples abide, doing their work in unsuspected places and in unimagined ways. The truth we have received from the Lord of hosts may long be hidden, but it will not be lost.—C.
The confession of ungodliness, etc.
The prevalence of the evil and sinister arts of necromancy is exceedingly significant. The attempt to supply knowledge for the living by appealing to the dead (Isaiah 8:19) has been made in every latitude and longitude, in every age, in every condition of society. What is the significance of this fact? We have here—
I. THE CONFESSION OF UNGODLINESS AND ITS DEGRADATION. When men have thrown off their allegiance to God, when they have denied the existence of their Creator, when they have explicitly refused to seek and to serve him "in whom they live and move and have their being," they may imagine themselves to be free from all spiritual bonds; but they are miserably mistaken. They forsake a homage which is honorable and a service which is ennobling, to fall into a superstition which is contemptible and degrading. So closely, so inseparably is man associated with the spiritual world, that, try how he may, he cannot escape from it. He that will not serve God must honor demons or consult spirits, or engage in some "cultus" which is discreditable to his intelligence and injurious to his moral nature. It is notorious that Rome never sank so low as when, losing its faith in the gods, it sank into debasing superstitions of this kind. And in this respect a corrupted civilization and an unredeemed barbarism "meet together." The penalty of ungodliness is terrible. Corruptio optimi pessima.
II. THE DEMAND OF INTELLIGENT PIETY. "Should not a people seek unto their God? … To the Law and to the testimony" (Isaiah 8:19, Isaiah 8:20). A right-minded, rational people, possessed of that fear of God which is the beginning and also the end of wisdom, wilt ask—What does God say? For they will consider that:
1. He who made them knows, as they cannot know, what are the capacities of their nature, and what is the purpose of their life.
2. He who has all power in his hand, and who makes large requirements of his creatures, both can anal will bless those whom he approves, and ban those whom he condemns.
3. Therefore it is infinitely desirable to secure his approbation and his help. Such a people will, consequently, ask—What does his Word state? What can we gather from his "Law" as to his will concerning us? An intelligent piety will resort to "the Law and to the testimony," not that it may find minute correspondences and detailed injunctions, but that it may light on living principles which it may itself apply to all new forms and changing conditions.
III. THE HOPELESSNESS OF SIN. If we read the prophet thus, "There is no light in them," we reach the truth that sin brings men down to a condition in which the light that has shone from reason, conscience, revelation, has gone out; in that ease the sources of enlightenment are stopped, and our Lord's graphic and painful picture is realized (Matthew 6:22, Matthew 6:23). But if we take the words of the text thus, "They are a people for whom no morning dawns," then we arrive at another, though a kindred truth, that sin leads down to utter spiritual hopelessness, to evil without prospect of amendment, to death without hope of life, to darkness without gleam of morning light. Men do, by the path of refusal and delay, reach a moral condition in which:
1. Privilege does not benefit them; additional services only add to their accountability without touching their soul.
2. Chastisement does not awaken, but only aggravate them (see Isaiah 1:5).
3. Direct Divine influence fails to lead them into the path of life. The night of spiritual death only deepens and darkens; there dawns no morning of the eternal life which is in Christ Jesus.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Isaiah 8:1, Isaiah 8:3
Prophecy in a name.
The interpretation of this name demands some acquaintance with the history of the times, and with the views of political parties in the city of Jerusalem. The great danger immediately pressing was the combined attack of Rezin and Pekah, representing the neighbor-kingdoms of Syria and Israel. Isaiah had prophesied the fall of these nations, and, so, encouraged Judah to hold on, and keep trust in Jehovah's protection. But time passed on, and there were no signs of calamity overtaking Rezin and Pekah. On the other hand, they seemed to be only too successful. They had overrun the country, taking many away captive. Rezin had captured Elath, the Red Sea port. And, taking advantage of Judah's time of weakness, the Edomites were harassing the north-eastern frontier. To politicians the state of affairs was hopelessly dark; and they could see no way out of the difficulty, save by seeking alliance with the growing power of Assyria, which was pressing its conquests toward the Mediterranean. But to do this was to declare their unbelief in Isaiah's assurances, and to put public dishonor upon him as the servant of Jehovah. So he repeats his prophecy. In order that the people might know it and understand it, he puts it into one word, one name; he writes it in large letters, sets it up in a public place, and so testifies against the perilous policy which fear of the national enemies was dictating. "The tablet was to be large, and the writing was not to be with the sharp point of the artist, or learned scribe, but with a 'man's pen,' i.e. such as the common workmen used for sign-boards, that might fix the gaze of the careless passer-by, and on that tablet, as though it were the heading of a proclamation or dedication, he was to write 'to Maher-shalal-hashobaz.'" This name recalls the prophecy which Isaiah had already given (Isaiah 7:14-16). The word actually and precisely means "Speed plunder, haste spoil." It refers to the Assyrians whom Isaiah sees hurrying to spoil both Syria and Samaria. First the public sign, and then the child, bearing the prophetic name, were to be a constant testimony to the truth of Isaiah's words, and a means of keeping the cheering prophecy ever before the people. The passage reminds us of the value attached to, and the use made of, Old Testament names. On this subject F. W. Robertson has a very suggestive passage (vol. 1.41, 42): "In the Hebrew history are discernible three periods distinctly marked, in which names and words bore very different characters. These three, it has been observed by acute philologists, correspond to the periods in which the nation bore the three different appellations of Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews. In the first of these periods names meant truths, and words were the symbols of realities. The characteristics of the names given then were simplicity and sincerity. The second period begins about the time of the departure from Egypt, and it is characterized by unabated simplicity, with the addition of sublimer thought, and feeling more intensely religious. Words mean realities, but they are impregnated with deeper religious thought. The third period was at its zenith in the time of Christ; words had lost their meaning, and shared the hollow unreal state of all things." Keeping in mind how conveniently and efficiently Isaiah wraps up his prophecy into a name which will at once arrest attention, this use of names may be illustrated:
1. In relation to families. We recall to mind loved relatives, or acts of kindness done to us, or persons whose heroic lives we admire, by giving to our children some significant name.
2. In relation to the sale of articles. The skill of the advertiser is shown in the discovery of some taking name, which will draw public attention to the article offered.
3. In relation to science and invention. The results of research and discovery do not become public property until they can be fixed in a name; even men's theorizings getting thus labeled for use.
4. In relation to doctrines. Statements of Divine revelation do not become public property until they get a name, which is a sort of handle, by which the ordinary mind may grasp them. By such illustrations the practical wisdom of Isaiah's act may be shown, and then the truth which he sought thus to keep before the minds of the people may be impressed, The staring name, calling the attention of all the passers-by, said plainly, "Trust God, not man." "Fear nobody but God; nothing but God." "His word is surely true: though you see it not, it is hurrying even now to its accomplishment." That name said, "Trust in the Lord forever." "He maketh the wrath of man praise him, and restrains the remainder of wrath."—R.T.
Jehovah like the waters of Shiloah.
The fountain of Siloam, at the mouth of the Tyropaean valley, and so at the roots of both Zion and Moriah, is fed with water which flows through a narrow subterranean conduit from the "Pool of the Virgin." The point of the comparison presented by Isaiah cannot be better stated than in the following passage: "These waters of Shiloah, the sacred waters that came forth from the holy mountain, seemed poor and ignoble in comparison with the Abana and Pharpar of Syria, or the Jordan of Ephraim; how much more, then, with the Euphrates and Tigris! Calm and tranquil faith in the prophetic word which God sent them, in the gently flowing current of his providential dealings (springing out of the depths of his eternal wisdom and goodness),—this was not to their mind. They must have something that appealed to eye and ear, that gratified the fancy with its ambitious cravings" (Dr. Kay). Henderson applies the figure of the text to the house of David, but Cheyne properly argues that it is better to take the phrase as symbolizing the temple, and its almighty and gracious Lord; and he remarks that the figure is not an unfamiliar one. The psalmist says (Psalms 46:4, Psalms 46:5), "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God. God is in the midst of her." And Jeremiah speaks of the people having "forsaken the Lord, the Fountain of living waters" (Jeremiah 16:13). Taking these waters of Shiloah as the figure for Jehovah, they may be shown to illustrate—
I. THE GENTLENESS OF JEHOVAH. His kingdom "cometh not with observation." There is no cry, no lifting up of voice. He never rolleth like a desolating flood, save in times of special judgment. He bubbleth gently as a fountain; and those who read their lives aright learn to say, "Thy gentleness hath made me great." This characteristic comes out strongly in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was a gentle persuasion of truth, and a gentle example of righteousness. And still it is true that the regenerative force, in individual life and in society, "flows softly," like the waters of Shiloah.
II. THE CONSTANCY OF JEHOVAH. A fountain is fed from unfailing sources; it is always flowing, ready with its supplies at all times; no enemies can limit it or cut it off; in the secret places of the earth it has its storehouse, and it is ready with its help for every time of need. These suggest what God ever has been and is to his people. We have never to search for him; he is always here. We have never to force him; he is always ready—"A very present Help;" "A Refuge and Strength."
III. THE SUITABILITY OF JEHOVAH. This may not be the best term for the thought, which is, that the perennial fountain, at constant command, was better adapted to the circumstances of Judah than the river of Euphrates, which, if turned towards them, could only rush over them in desolating flood. Jehovah was more precisely adapted to their conditions. He could more fittingly meet their demands than any "arm of flesh," however strong it might seem to be. The thought may be enlarged upon under the guidance of the following passage (2 Corinthians 9:8): "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work."
IV. THE SUFFICIENCY OF JEHOVAH. The fountain flows on, day and night, pouring forth its fullness of blessing; whosoever will may drink and live. We are never "straitened in God." He can do abundantly for us, above all that we ask or think. Judah could only be dissatisfied with Jehovah because they did not prove his faithfulness and mercy; they did not cast themselves upon him. "Trust in the Lord forever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." Advance to show how this figure of the waters of Shiloah gained new form in the teachings of the Lord Jesus, who said, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."—R.T.
The figure used in this text is that of an overflowing river, sweeping along in desolating flood, and the great stretches of water, covering the cultivated lands on either side of the stream, are poetically likened to the outspread wings of a flying bird. The first reference of the expression, "Thy land, O Immanuel," may be to the prophetic child that was to be born in the land (Isaiah 7:14). The distant reference may be to the coming of the Lord Jesus, as Immanuel, to the land of Judah, or rather of Canaan. But probably the name should be translated, and used as a succinct description of Palestine. This is its great and characteristic peculiarity; it is the "God with us" land. This may be illustrated, and the lesson from it enforced, under the following divisions.
I. IT IS THE LAND PREPARED FOR IMMANUEL. It was selected, and other countries were set in relation to it, so that it might be the "God with us," land, in which a special manifestation and relationship of God might be tried, in the face of the whole world. The country was remarkably isolated geographically. And it was as remarkably centered. These corrected each other. Israel had the best opportunities for preserving the great truths of the unity and spirituality of God which were entrusted to it. And at the same time it was set in the "eye of the world," so that all nations could watch the singular experiment of the theocracy.
II. IT IS THE LAND HONORED BY THE ABIDING OF IMMANUEL. That direct and sensible presence of God which was the condition of the covenant was indicated by the Shechinah-symbol in tabernacle and temple. The glory of Israel wandering was God present. The glory of Israel settled was God abiding and ruling. The presence of God with us, as we know it, is Christ, the Temple-body, apprehended by our senses; and the Holy Ghost, the Temple-spirit, apprehended as witnessing and working within us.
III. IT IS THE LAND THAT MUST BE WORTHY OF IMMANUEL. It was the fundamental idea of Judaism that the land was holy, because God walked to and fro in it; and, therefore, the people must be holy. And still this is the persuasion, "Be ye holy; for I am holy." The figure may stand for the land of each man's life. That ought to be a "God with us" land.—R.T.
God's twofold relations with men.
To some, a "Sanctuary;" to others. a "Rock of offense." For the Christian form of the same truth, comp. 2Co 2:1, 2 Corinthians 2:6. "To the one we are the savor of death unto death, and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?" God is to men as men are to him (see Psalms 18:25, Psalms 18:26), But is this saying anything strange? Surely it is the secret of good motherhood and fatherhood. They who order their households well are wisely responsive to the various states of the children, adapting and adjusting conduct to the dispositions and circumstances of each member of the home. No skillful parent treats all the children alike, and differing modes of treatment are no indications of varying degrees of love. He who loves us all must deal with each upon his perfect understanding of each one. He must be, he had better be, a "Rock of offense" to some. To the trustful child he can be a "Sanctuary;" but to the willful child he must be a Severity. His dealings will, at first, cause offense. There is a very deep and searching truth indicated here, which may be illustrated from God's dealings with his people, and with individuals from among his people, through all the ages. It is that a man may compel God to be otherwise towards him than he would be. The passage which clearly states this, and will be a key to many other passages and illustrations, is the following: "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God" (Ezekiel 18:23). It is difficult to realize, but it is not beyond belief, that the same infinite goodness makes God both a "Sanctuary" and a "Rock of offence." In very grave measures—sometimes we feel in overwhelming measures—the responsibilities of our life-issues, and even the character of Divine relations with us, rests upon ourselves. After the willful ones, hurrying to their doom, God, hastening, pleads thus: "Why will ye die? O house of Israel, why will ye die?"—R.T.
The hiding of God's face.
Jehovah is here spoken of as "the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob;" and Jeremiah uses a similar figure in one of his prayers: "Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through" (Lamentations 3:44). Aside from the historical associations of the text, the expression itself is a suggestive one, and may be made the basis of meditation. Whatever may be the fact concerning God, this at least is the fact of the pious man's experience—it feels to him as if God had hidden his face and covered himself with a cloud. Two thoughts are suggested by the figure.
I. THE TWILIGHT GLOOM OF THE CHRISTIAN OFTEN ARISES FROM THE SENSE OF CHANGE IN HIMSELF. There are more twilight-times than night-times in the circle of the year, and in the circle of a religious life. Isaac Taylor reminds us that, in a whole year, there are only two or three absolutely dark nights. Nature gets a great blessing out of those two or three, but could not bear more. And in a religious life there are many things large enough to dim the rays of hope, and cast long and dark shadows over the spirit, but very few things strong enough to blot out the sun and stars, and make a midnight for the soul. Now, we need to see clearly that the gloom of spirit we feel usually comes from changes in ourselves. We are so ready to settle our twilight glooms upon God, as though in his sovereignty he had thus dealt with us; and then we fail to see our own mistakes, and we make no efforts to remedy the evils which are the immediate occasion of our fears.
1. Much inward trouble comes from the state of our bodies. The action and reaction of body and mind are exceedingly subtle.
2. Much of our inward distress comes from unwatchfulness. We may easily pass through most important changes of circumstances unheedingly. We often are in new circumstances before we are at all prepared for them, and then their influence may prove depressing or overwhelming. Life is to be for us all a succession of surprises, and yet we are never to be taken unawares. Our bodily weakness, our unwatchfulness, our indulgence in sin, hides God's face from us by putting a cloud across it. It is hidden, but we must see that we ourselves are the occasion and cause of the hiding. It lies with us to get the cloud away.
II. THE MIDNIGHT GLOOM OF THE CHRISTIAN OFTEN ARISES FROM THE IDEA OF CHANGE IN GOD. Christian joy comes from a clear consciousness of the Divine nearness—"the face of God shining upon his servant." Christian woe comes when God seems to be afar off, hidden; it is as though the sun had passed in behind a cloud; the face that made heaven for us shows frowns. It may well he called midnight darkness when the soul has conceived the idea of changed relations in God. One or two comforting considerations may be dwelt on.
1. Change in God only comes as a consequence of change in the Christian. He is the unchangeable One; but in his role he adjusts relations to those whom he would bless. To the sinner, he is a God of holy indignations. To the penitent, he is a God of saving mercies. To the earth-child, trying to live a godly life, he is a watching, guiding Father. To the Christian in trouble or pain, he is a tender, comforting Mother. He is not varying and uncertain; that would make him untrustworthy. He is adapting himself to us, so that if ever God seems to have changed towards us, we may be quite sure that the truth is we have changed towards him. If he hides himself, there must be some cherished wrong in us, as certainly as there was in the Israel of Isaiah's times.
2. Change in God is never change in his feelings, only in sensible relations. It should be settled, as one of our immovable truths, that there can be no real change in God, whatever appearances we may discern. Look long with our human eyes, and the firmest steeple will seem to be trembling and tottering to a fall; but the trembling is only in our vision. For a "little moment God may hide his face from you, but with great loving-kindness he will gather you." Change in sensible relations there may be. The joy of his love we may lose, not his love. The impulse of his grace we may lose, not the grace. The comfort of his presence we may lose, not the presence. It should, indeed, humble us that we may lose so much, but even in our soul's midnight hours we need not despair. As the child in the dark whispers "Father!" and is at peace when the father-arms press closer, so we, in the night, may find that if our Father's face is hidden, our Father himself is near.—R.T.
Man every way God's instrument.
"Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah hath given me are for signs and for omens in Israel from Jehovah Sabaoth, who dwelleth on Mount Zion" (Cheyne's translation). The thought here is very simple and very familiar, and no more than the statement of divisions, for the ordering of thought, can be necessary. Take St. Paul's figure of the "living sacrifice," as including body, soul, spirit, and relationships, all consecrated to God's service, and illustrate—
I. How a man's body may be consecrated to God.
II. How a man's health may be consecrated to God.
III. How a man's gifts may be consecrated to God.
IV. How a man's possessions may be consecrated to God.
V. How a man's personal friendships may be consecrated to God.
VI. How a man's family life may be consecrated to God.
VII. How a man's social influences may be consecrated to God.—R.T.
The standard of truth and morals.
This text is not merely a Divine declaration. It rests upon the great fact that man can never be satisfied until he gets a standard of truth and duty outside of and apart from himself. No man anywhere can reach an intelligent satisfaction by becoming wholly a law unto himself. The moral sense in every man is vitiated, and its attestations are uncertain. The testimony of conscience is variable; it is not now always prompt, decided, and faithful in its judgments. It may appear at first sight as if there were many men who are living entirely according to their own will, following wholly the "devices and desires of their own hearts." But, if we look a little deeper, we shall find that they are all striving after conformity to some standard, bad or good, that is outside them. It is often custom, etiquette, society, the moral level of the age in which they happen to live. There are common fallacies which tone the lives of some, and multitudes are content to make a standard of the teachings of an authoritative priesthood. Even the hermit, dwelling apart, separated from the associations of his fellow-men, cannot be satisfied with his own standard; he even finds an ideal outside himself, in the life, endurance, and suffering of some more saintly fellow-creature. God has graciously considered this common human necessity. He has not left his creatures to search for such a standard in their blindness. In every age, in forms and terms such as at the time they could understand, God has given models of truth and duty. He has never left men to mere abstract speculations; in some kind of ordinarily understood human teaching, by word, or act, or example, God has always set forth a standard; and so in every age he can make his appeal and say, "To the Law and to the testimony." In the first ages of the world the standard was given in personal characters, such as Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, Abraham. To this was by-and-by added the revelation of the Divine will in written and spoken words, for which advancing civilization and culture prepared men. At the very beginning, as the written revelation could not get into the hands and use of all men, it was presented for a time in the pictures of an elaborate ceremonial. Later on it was expressed in the free speech of prophets and teachers, and then the pictured ceremonials might fade away. At the very last the Divine standard of truth and morals for humanity was exhibited, in its completeness and perfection, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Truth, duty, virtue, were here among men. Christ was the perfect realization of God's idea of a moral being. The standard man is not on earth now, but his record remains. That record is in all our hands; it is as if we lived our daily life in the presence of the Divine ideal. We have in our Bible God's great rule of truth and duty. Consciously of unconsciously we do test every action by our standard; all the questions arising in connection with our moral life are brought to the test of the "Law and the testimony."
I. THE BIBLE EXERTS ITS MORAL FORCE UPON US BY THE TRUTHS WHICH IT CONTAINS AND REVEALS. These truths test all received opinions. Each man really is according to his opinions and beliefs; the whole temper and conduct are toned by the truths received. If they are according to the "Law and testimony," their fruit will be righteousness and mercy. The Bible does not, indeed, contain any formulated system of theology or of morals, but it does contain such an harmonious setting forth of all necessary truth as, in fact, constitutes a complete system both of doctrine and of duty. The Bible has its own sphere; within this it is infallible. It is the sphere of character; it is no standard of appeal for geographers, or arithmeticians, or astronomers, or ethnologists, or literati, or philosophers. For all such the Bible is a book of the age in which it was written, and it embodies the thought which was the common property of the men of the time. Man does not want a written revelation of science, for he has not lost the key which enables him to unlock its mysteries for himself. Man does need a written revelation of standard morals, because he flung away his key in Eden, and, with ages of painful searching, he has failed to find it again.
II. THE BIBLE EXERTS ITS MORAL FORCE BY THE PRINCIPLES WHICH IT EMBODIES. The structure of the Bible compels us to search out its principles. They do not lie on the surface, like seeds on beaten paths, ready for every passing bird to pick up. They are given to us embodied in history, illustrated in incidents of individual lives, and in phases of personal experience. Nothing seems to be said in the New Testament about ecclesiastical politics, or orders of Church government; but there are to be found great principles, which can be wisely adapted in their practical expression to the varying conditions of men in different ages. There are no announcements concerning social manners; there is nothing taught in a direct way concerning monarchy or slavery, for instance; but the Bible gives principles which, gradually gaining sway over the minds of men, constitutionally attemper monarchy, and will after a while banish slavery from the earth. A principle is more searching than a maxim. Men may think they could have done better with a Bible like the books of Confucius, full of maxims, shaping into order the whole minutiae of life. Such a Bible could only make automata, not living men. God gives a Bible full of quick effective principles; these, getting into the soul, are the seeds whence come flowerings and fruitings of righteousness. A maxim will guide us in one case, a principle will put us right in ten thousand. Circumstances may always limit the application of an express commandment; a principle fits and shapes itself to every new occasion, as the rising tide into every bay and nook and creek of the winding stream.
III. THE BIBLE EXERTS ITS MORAL FORCE BY THE EXAMPLE WHICH IT PRESENTS. Its men, except the Lord Christ, are fallible, struggling men. Their wrongdoing is never covered over. You never get the impression of a character painted rose-color. The moral quality of a man's action is never confused. Evil is always evil. Wrongdoing in a good man is only worse wrongdoing in view of his goodness; and it is never palliated. There is found in the Bible virtue to incite us and evil to warn us; a great "cloud of witnesses" putting to shame our meaner lives. But the great standard example is the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He "tries every man that cometh into the world." The final test of moral conduct for us all is the Lord Jesus Christ. Full acceptance with God can come only from being perfectly like Christ. And if the suggestion makes us feel that we are far down below him, only just climbing the first ridge of the mountain-side, this is our encouraging assurance, "Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30