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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 17



Verses 5-7


Isa . And it shall be as when the harvestman, &c.

God's visitations of judgment are the subject of the prophet's burdens (Isa ). So the text. Adversities and sorrows set in. Blessings gone, except a few. "Two or three berries," &c.

I. The various illustrations of the text.

1. In the adverse changes of life. Many who were rich and prosperous are now poor. All gone, except two or three berries. Some so through their own folly, &c.; others by the allotment of Providence, sickness, &c. (H. E. I., 4403-4406, 4975-4986).

2. In the failure of bodily health and vigour. Once strong and robust, &c.; now left but a few berries, &c.

3. In the bereavements of kindred and friends. Once a crowd of them—parents, brothers, sisters, children—but they have gone, one after another.

4. In the powers and capacities for useful activity. Once active, useful, but now frailty and weakness have superseded. This is distressing to the sensitive, &c. Pushed aside by another generation.

5. It will apply to times and seasons of probation. How wise was old Barzillai! (2Sa ). The indications of age, &c. (Ecc 12:1). Few years left, &c., or even days.

II. The uses we should make of the subject.

1. It should impress us with the vanity of earthly things. All fleeting, all retiring; like the seasons, like streams.

2. The folly of earthly-mindedness. How extreme! Grasping shadows, resting on the moving wave, building castles in the air, &c.

3. The necessity of wisely using our opportunities. For the best ends. Working while it is day—now, while we have light and life.

4. Seeking a fitness for the world of the future (Heb ; Heb 11:3-16).

5. Believing and devotional confidence in God.

Application:—Christ is ever the same. In all His offices, work, and graciousness, He is without a shadow of turning.—Jabez Burns, D.D.: 150 Sketches of Sermons, pp. 296, 297.

This striking passage depicts the process of God's judgments upon Israel. We may take it as suggestive—

I. Of the sweeping destructiveness of calamities in human life (Isa ). How often has the picture been realised!—

1. In the history of nations. The process of the depopulation and misery with which Israel was threatened, may be imagined from the view given in chap. Isa . Modern parallels may easily be found, the wars of the Roses, the plague of London, &c.

2. In the social calamities of families. One after another is broken up, one relationship after another is severed, until only an "outmost" branch is left as a remnant. Widow, orphans, friendless. Such are those who remain to tell the tale.

3. In the physical calamities of individuals.

4. In the degradation of the soul through the deceitfulness of sin. In some extreme cases, what a sad undermining of character and destruction of capacity do we behold.

II. Of the hopefulness of human life even when it is at its worst (Isa ). Though the reaper has made sure work, yet enough remains to give hope. There is here true gospel, suggesting such thoughts as these:—

1. Begin at the point of your ability, however low it may be. Every man is rightly expected to make use of whatever power he has. If it is only sight, or only hearing, or only one hand, one talent out of ten, he must use it. The loss of the other nine will not excuse his neglect of the one he has.

2. Beginning thus low down, yet in earnest, we have the assurance of improvement and progress. We have abundant illustration of this in the history of the "remnant" that was left in Israel (2Ch ; 2Ch 34:6; 2Ch 34:9, &c.). We see here an encouragement for every sinner who will awake, though late, to the true purposes of life. Redemption is the favourite work of God. He is on the side of feeble, struggling men, and delights to encourage and help "the remnant" which is spared (H. E. I., 934-941, 956, 958, 2368, 4790-4792; P. D., 474). The very purpose for which Christ came into the world was to help the struggling, to save the lost. Those who have been brought down to the extremity of need and the verge of despair may find friendship and help in Him (H. E. I., 928, 929).—William Manning.

Verse 7-8


Isa . At that day shall a man look, &c.

In the prophecies of terror to guilty nations there is always some provision of comfort for God's faithful and penitent people. His prophets were commissioned to minister hope to His friends, while they foretold misery to His enemies. In the text Isaiah, predicting the overthrow of the ten tribes, furnishes consolation to the faithful remnant who had not yielded to the prevalent idolatry (Isa ), and declares that the judgments he announced would result in the conversion of many who had been ensnared by it. We are thus led to consider the designs of God in the afflictions of His people.

I. To recall their wandering hearts to Himself. "At that day shall a man look to his Maker" (H. E. I., 56-59, 66-70). This is the result of sanctified affliction. Whenever it is seen, it shows that the processes of grace have been combined with the trials of providence, and that the health of the spirit has been restored by the Physician of souls. Otherwise affliction hardens, and the man goes back with greater eagerness to worldliness or iniquity, as the retreating wave presently rolls back upon the beach with greater velocity than before (H. E. I., 223-228). But not so if the healing influence has been sought and found. Then "a man will look to his Maker"—

1. With a suppliant eye, to find in Him sources of consolation and a rock of defence such as the world cannot furnish (Psa ; Jon 2:1).

2. With a penitent eye (Luk ; Zec 12:10).

3. With a confiding and believing eye (chap. Isa ).

4. With a rejoicing eye (Rom ; Hab 3:18).

II. To raise their estimate of the holiness of the Divine character and the rectitude of the Divine dispensations. "Shall have respect unto the Holy One of Israel." Sin begins with a diminished sense of God's holiness, and conversion is marked by a renewed impression of it (Psa ).

III. To separate them from all sinful and idolatrous dependencies. "He shall not look," &c. The sin of the ten tribes was idolatry (2Ki ), but here it is foretold that it shall be brought to an end. Those who had been guilty of this folly and this sin would not even look at the altars and the images they had fashioned with such care. So God aims by His afflictive providences to separate His people from everything in which they put an exaggerated and unworthy trust (H. E. I., 110, 111).

IV. To endear the mercy that mingles with the trials. This appears—

2. In the alleviations of their trials (H. E. I., 117-121).

3. In the triumphant issue of the whole. They are delivered from the idolatry by which they were degraded (H. E. I., 116).—Samuel Thodey.

Verse 10-11


Isa . Because thou hast forgotten, &c.

I. It is possible to forget the God of our salvation.

1. The majority of men habitually forget Him. He very seldom holds a real and commanding place in the hearts of any of us. We are all prone to have our hearts wholly filled with the cares or pleasures of life. Even if our aims be in themselves lawful, we seldom recognise God in framing or prosecuting them. Hence the shock which the thought of God's nearness gives us in times of calamity, sickness, or expected death. The very shock shows that we are open to the prophet's charge.

2. This forgetfulness of God, to which we are all so prone, should be recognised to be a state of peril and guilt. Who is so near to us as God? who so essential to us? who has so many claims upon our grateful and continued remembrance? To be forgetful of Him is a sin of which we should think with shame.

II. This forgetfulness of God leads to false trusts. The throne of our heart cannot remain vacant; if God be not there, unworthy objects will surely take His place. The "pleasant plants" and foreign shoots (or "strange slips") here represent the pursuit of lust and idolatry, and that fatal reliance on human help which is so often denounced (chap. Isa ; Jer 17:5). The sin denounced by the prophet has not become obsolete. All round about us are men who have forgotten God, and are seeking and putting their trust in pleasure, pomp, money, or knowledge. There is a pursuit of knowledge, even a "science" falsely so called that deliberately excludes God from its range, and pronounces Him unknowable! These are the things for which men live, to which they devote all they are and have, from which they look for the happiness for which their hearts crave; these are their gods! Forgetfulness of God necessarily leads to idolatry in some form or other; desires and tendencies, in themselves right when under right control, become occasions of guilt; God is shifted from the centre of operations, and the trust of men fixes itself inevitably on unworthy objects (H. E. I., 39).

III. These false trusts lead to bitter disappointments. "The harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow." At the very time when abundance of fruit was expected, nothing awaits the anxious toiler but disappointment and failure. Mildew, or blight, or drought, or fire has done its deadly work, and nothing is left but rotting masses, heaps of useless and decaying vegetation. What a sad picture! barrenness and dearth where there should be life and plenty! Yet this is a true picture of the fate of many who have persisted in their rejection of God, and in their clinging to false hopes. A life dedicated to fashion, pleasure, money-getting, or worldly ambition, necessarily ends in a reaping-time of blighted hopes, of darkened prospects, of remorse and despair (H. E. I., 246-248, 5021-5025; P. D., 138, 162, 255, 3592).

1. This result of a godless life will be found even in those cases where all the good that was striven after has been realised; the heart is still left unsatisfied (Ecc to Ecc 2:17).

2. "Desperate sorrow" is the natural result of discovering that the time for securing a profitable harvest is gone (Jer ; P. D., 2254).

Earnestly consider God's claims upon you; renounce all false trusts; sow for that harvest in which there can be no real disappointment (Gal ). Redeem the time that yet remains; to the worst of us a gracious promise is still held out (Mal 3:7; Psa 116:7).—William Manning.

Verse 12


Isa . Woe to the multitude, &c.

These verses appear to have no connection with the prophecies that precede or follow them, but they seem to indicate the character and result of the great invasion of Sennacherib. As a description of that event, they are most beautiful and graphic, sufficient to create terror in the most thoughtless and boastful sinners. For they remind them of the ease with which the overthrow of the rebellious is effected when God visits them in the midst of their pride and self-confidence. In regard to the punishment here depicted, think—I. Of the striking contrasts which the day of visitation reveals respecting the conduct and the position of the wicked. Isa shows us the vast and varied host in fancied security; we have a magnificent picture of a state of might, pomp, vainglory, self-confidence; but ere we reach the end of Isa 17:13, we see it scattered! Even while it gloried in its strength, the storm that was to scatter it had already gathered over it. We see the same contrast in everyday life; wicked men secure, strong, boastful—the next moment utterly cast down (Psa 73:18-20); or, by the near approach of death, transformed into the subjects of a pitiable despair (P. D., 684). II. Of the resistless execution of the sentence of doom. In pursuit of their wicked schemes, sinners are often led to a daring defiance of all who threaten their progress, even of God Himself; e.g., Pharaoh (Exo 5:2), Sennacherib (2Ki 18:17, &c.). But how sharp is the rebuke which God administers; with what terrible energy are His decrees executed! The profane boasters become as chaff, as gossamer before the whirlwind (H. E. I., 2298). III. Of the swiftness with which the sentence of doom is executed (Isa 17:14). The morning dawns upon their noise and pomp, but fast as the beams of light does their judgment overtake them; trouble comes at the eventide, and by the next morning they are not (P. D., 3413). It is true that the punishment of the wicked often seems to be delayed (Ecc 8:11); but—

1. Sin and punishment are inseparable (H. E. I., 4603-4610); and,

2. Whenever the punishment comes it is sudden. Such is the blinding and delusive power of cherished sin that its penalty always finds the sinner unprepared to receive it; it is always a surprise and a shock to him.

1. Nations and armies cannot successfully evade the penalties of their sins; how much less can the individual sinner do so!

2. The certainty of the punishment of all unrepented sin should lead us seriously to reflect upon the attitude we are assuming before God.

3. The subject should lead to repentance, but not to despair (Psa ; Joh 3:16-17).—William Manning.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 17:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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Thursday, May 28th, 2020
the Seventh Week after Easter
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