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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 35

 

 

Verses 1-7

TRANSFORMATION

Isa ; Isa 35:7. The wilderness and the solitary place, &c.

Chapters 34, 35, form one prediction, first announcing the doom of Edom, and then taking us into a new sphere where all is light, beauty, and gladness; a prediction which had a fulfilment in the return of the Jews from the captivity of Babylon to Jerusalem, which they set above their chiefest joy. But the prophecy is one of those in which the co-called secondary meaning is, in truth, the primary; the spiritual takes precedence of the natural, and the fulfilment is to be looked for, not in a remnant of Israel returning to the land of their fathers, but in these grand Gospel times, in which humanity, cursed and bloated by sin, is blessed, saved, and dignified by the influences that stream from the Cross of Calvary.

I. The sad condition of the localities on which the Gospel is intended to operate.

Even we can appreciate the value of water and the beauty of its effects. But to Orientals water is a matter of life and death. Hence as an emblem it is employed to bring before the mind the blessed and joy-giving results of the kingdom of Christ. Note these results as they are brought before us in our text.

1. Gladness. "The wilderness and the solitary place," &c. Music of Nature after copious rains following on scorching heat. This an emblem of the joy brought to human hearts by the Gospel. The wilderness state one of sorrow; the river of the water of life running through the heart makes it glad. This is seen in cases where sin and terror are cast out of the heart by the love of God. How this result has been manifested in modern times in nations converted from idolatry to Christianity (H. E. I. 1134).

2. Fertility. "It shall blossom," &c. The desert is barren. The Gospel changes moral wilderness into fruitful gardens; the individual, the nation.

3. Beauty. Think first of a part of the earth's surface parched, desert, and barren, and then of it as a garden covered with the fairest flowers. The first and most striking impression made upon the mind by such a transformation would not be so much that of fertility as of surpassing beauty. So with this moral transformation. Contrast the state of a country before with its condition after having received the Gospel (H. E. I. 1126, 1127). Look at the annals of missionary effort: Madagascar, Samoa, the Fiji Islands, &c. The same change occurs in individual character.

4. Glory and majesty. "The glory of Lebanon," &c. Symbols of all that is glorious and majestic. To live by the power of Jesus the secret of a noble life. Alliance with heaven raises men to regal dignity. The Gospel elevates the character and dignifies the pursuits of men. Our lower pursuits are ennobled by a Christian aim, whilst the higher life has the very glory of God resting on it.

This chapter is an anticipation of the great prophecy of the restoration (40-66) The firm confidence in God, the boundless hopefulness, the glowing visions of the future, the vigour and joyousness that spread so broad a splendour over that famous Scripture are here in a brief compendium. It has been assigned to the state of Judah under Hezekiah, to the return from the exile, to the Christian dispensation, to a future condition of Palestine, to some future state of the Church or of the world, as well as to some other occasions. Two plain facts are before us—

1. At no period of Jewish history was there any approach to a perfect realisation of the magnificent promises of this and allied predictions.

2. God has already given to us so substantial a foretaste of the blessings here promised, that we may rest assured that the one satisfying fulfilment of the prophecy will be in the triumph of the kingdom of heaven through the power of the Gospel of Christ.

Let us look at the picture in the light of its growing fulfilment.

I. THE OLD SCENE OF THE GARDEN.

We are not independent of things around us. Christianity has a transforming influence over our earthly surroundings. It is the most beneficent factor in material civilisation, the truest patron of art, science, literature, commerce (H. E. I. 1124-1131, 1134). But behind this lies a deeper truth. By transforming our hearts the Gospel changes all things to us. This transforming influence is shown in various relations.

1. The wilderness of old bad things is cleared, and gives place to new and better things. The axe must come before the plough.

2. The solitary place and the desert. It is not all weeds and bushes. The task of fertilising the desert with irrigation not less difficult than that of clearing the wilderness.

(1.) So there are souls that seem to have lost all soil for spiritual life.

(2.) Then there are deserts of ruin, the remains of old withered hopes and joys and loves.

II. THE NEW CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GARDEN.

1. Life. This is the first and most important thing. Christ, the one Saviour of society, was the greatest of iconoclasts. But He was also the greatest founder, originator, constructor. He sows seed, gives increase, brings life.

2. Beauty. The desert blossoms as the rose. The garden is not to be solely utilitarian. The Church is the bride of Christ, and as such she is to be adorned with every grace.

3. Gladness. Life and beauty bring joy. The Church not a prison-house of melancholy devotion.

4. Varied accessories. The garden will not only produce its own seedlings, but plants from all quarters are to be carried into it. Lebanon gives his cedars; Carmel his woods for the lower slopes; Sharon his far-famed rose. Christians are heirs of all things. "All things are yours."

In conclusion, observe two important points:—

1. This wonderful transformation will be brought about by the power of God (Isa ). We have tried long enough to reform the world by merely human agency. The Hebrew prophets promised Divine help. Christ fulfils that promise. He comes with life-giving power. Seek Him in faith and obedience.

2. All this is a picture of the future. Christ has done much for the weary world. But the old promises are as yet fulfilled in but a small part. The Hebrews set the golden age not in the past, but in the future. We too must assume their attitude of faith, and hope, and patience (H. E. I. 3421). Are we ready to cry, "Why tarry the wheels of His chariot?" Let us remember that God has all eternity to work with. Meanwhile, let us do what we can to convert our little corner of the vast wilderness into some beginnings of the garden of the Lord.—W. F. Adeney, M.A.: Clerical World, i. 231.

ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE TIMID

Isa . Strengthen ye the weak hands, &c.

The Christian ministry addresses itself to men of various character in various states. It must be adapted to all. Sometimes warning and denunciation, sometimes tenderness, but always love. The text is addressed to the officers and leading men of Jerusalem in a time of general alarm. The prophet declares that the power of the enemy shall be broken, and that instead of desolation there shall be gladness. The timid and weak were to be encouraged. God's strength is made perfect in man's weakness.

I. THE PERSONS TO WHOM THIS ENCOURAGING MESSAGE IS ADDRESSED.

"The weak hands,"—"the feeble knees,"—"them that are of a fearful heart." Timidity has paralysed them. After a desolating war the nation might thus lose heart. A timid woman who sees insuperable difficulty always in the way. A man in a storm at sea lies lamenting that he ventured on the waters. Some characters shrink from every touch. They are well-intentioned, but their faint hearts bar every effort; and they pass through life purposing and projecting, but never accomplishing anything (H. E. I. 2053, 2054).

This timid and feeble disposition may be manifested in spiritual as well as in other things. For instance—

1. In relation to Christian experience. It is the privilege of believers in Christ to know their salvation. But many fail to attain it. They do not doubt His sufficiency, but their own interest in it. They fear their sins are not forgiven, their spiritual experience not genuine. Sometimes this is the result of a tendency to view every subject in its darker aspects. Sometimes it is the result of disease. Sometimes of unwatchfulness, negligence, and sin. Sometimes of defective conceptions of the Gospel. Sometimes of a microscopic self-scrutiny which exposes failings and defects with severe faithfulness. The victim of such fears is like one who wishes to reach the city but is never sure that he is in the right way.

2. In relation to Christian enterprise. Christians are not converted merely for their own safety. There is a work to do. Sinful habits, dispositions, tempers to be overcome. The dark mass of humanity to be brightened. The Gospel is to be carried to the destitute. This work requires the gifts and opportunities in the hands of Christians. But the weak and faint-hearted tremble at every undertaking. To them the missionary enterprise is a hopeless expenditure of money and life. The time for useful labour in the Church never arrives. If it is commenced, it is abandoned when difficulties present themselves. These weak brethren do nothing themselves and repress the plans and efforts of bolder and more enterprising Christians (H. E. I. 2057, 2058). Among your fears let there be the fear lest by your fears you should hinder the cause of Christ!

II. ITS NATURE AND IMPORT.

It is intended to strengthen and confirm the feeble. God's messengers are to speak words by which faith and courage may be reanimated. They contain—

1. An assurance of deliverance. The deliverance of the Jewish people included the punishment of their enemies. God saves in a way suitable to each case. If your own resources are inadequate, the Divine resources are equal to the emergency. He will save you from your spiritual fears. Has He not sent His Son? Has not Jesus died? Does He not intercede? Does not His Spirit work? His willingness to save is equal to His ability. What wondrous love to man in the work of redemption! Do you fear that you will be eventually rejected, or that you will fail in the service to which He calls you? (Joh ; Mat 28:20). The message is addressed to your faith. It reminds you of God's power and grace in Christ. It casts you on the all-sufficiency of God.

2. A rebuke of fear. "Fear not." Hope is the opposite of fear and the accompaniment of courage. The fear of the unaccustomed sailor is dissipated when the captain announces that the storm is passing away. The little child alone in a dark room is afraid, although she knows not why. But the mother comes and says there is nothing to fear; there is no fear where she is. So let God's presence and promise drive away all fear respecting our spiritual condition and our Christian work (P. D. 1248, 1257, 1258).

3. An incitement to labour. "Be strong." When God's work calls, we must neither yield to fear nor indolence. The father leads his child to the post of duty where his life-work must be done. He sees something of the complicated work of the manufactory, and fears that he will never be equal to it. His father says, "Be a man; face your work, and strength for it will come." So God says, "Be strong." Here is work in the Church and the world. You are weak. Use the strength He gives. It will grow by use. "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." "Strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might."

Thus God sends the message of encouragement. Weak hands are strengthened. Feeble knees are confirmed. Fearful hearts are rendered courageous. And His encouragement is necessary to comfort in the Christian life, performance of duty, endurance of suffering and reproach. And it helps to recommend the Gospel.—J. Rawlinson.

Presumption and fear are the Scylla and Charybdis of the Christian life, and it requires Divine guidance, together with all our own watchfulness, to steer safely between them. On the one hand, many are inclined to indulge in vain confidence, and take to themselves the Christian name and hope when not entitled to them; and on the other, many are fearful and disposed to shrink back from duties and privileges which really belong to them. It demands much wisdom on the part of a pastor so to speak as not to encourage false hopes, nor discourage weak and timid piety, especially in reference to a public profession of religion. My object is, to suit the case of those who are well entitled to hope for the Divine mercy through Christ Jesus, but are disquieting themselves, or are disquieted by the enemy, with needless fears. In meeting their wants I will state, and reply to, the reasoning by which I know that many disturb their own peace.

1. "I cannot indulge the hope that I am a Christian, because I have never passed through the same religious exercises and experiences that others profess to have felt and enjoyed." It is not necessary to dwell at large upon this difficulty. God has brought many sons to glory, but no two of them have been led thither in precisely the same way, or have been exercised with precisely the same feelings. If, in the main, our experiences correspond with the Word of God in the great points of faith and love, it need not disquiet us though we never heard of another case exactly like our own (H. E. I. 1410-1429).

2. "If I were truly a child of God, sin would not prevail against me as I find it does." Answer:—Sin is never perfectly subdued in our hearts as long as we remain upon earth. Some boast of having attained to sinless perfection, but they seem to be labouring under a sort of hallucination, like that of one in an insane asylum, amid his straw and rags, who fancies himself a king, when he is indeed but a poor pitiable object. "The righteous falleth seven times a day," &c. Read St. Paul's experience in the last part of the 7th of Romans and be encouraged thereby (H. E. I. 329, 1057, 2313, 2861, 4571-4573).

3. "I find that sin not only prevails against me, but I seem to be worse than when I first strove against it; my heart appears to grow more wicked, my corruptions stronger, and my strength to resist to be less." Answer:—To perceive more of our sin than usual does not always prove that we are more sinful, but often the reverse, just as when one cleanses a room, though the air is filled with dust floating in the sunbeams, there is no more of it actually there than before, and there will soon be less of it as the operation goes on. We do not know the strength of our evil passions until we begin to oppose them. It is also undoubtedly true that when one is making a special effort to lead a Christian life, that then he is especially tempted and hindered, and that the motions of sin are then more violent. And further than this, when any are endeavouring to break away from the dominion of Satan, then he assails them with his most powerful temptations (H. E. I. 1060-1062, 1066-1068, 2524, 2525).

4. Another class of disquieted ones affirm that they cannot hope they are true Christians, because they seem to love everything else more than God. But in estimating our love to God compared with our love to earthly things, we are not to conclude that we love that most which most excites our affections. It has been well remarked "that a man may be more moved when he sees a friend that has long been absent, and seem to regard him more for the moment than he does his own wife and children, and yet none would think that the friend was loved the most;" so neither must we conclude because when we are abroad in the world we find our affections vehemently stirred towards its various objects, that therefore they are supreme in our hearts. We should judge of our comparative affection by asking ourselves soberly which of the two objects we should prefer to part with (H. E. I. 3365, 3366, 4188, 4189).

5. "A person may in appearance be like a Christian, and yet be really destitute of any true piety." Answer:—Fear is usually the best remedy against the thing feared, and none are farther from the danger of making a false profession than those who are most afraid of it (H. E. I. 339, 2050-2053).

6. Some again have fears that they are not true Christians, because they come so far short of the attainments of some eminent Christians of their acquaintance. We reply that the worst part of the character of those exalted saints may not be known to us, or they may not have our hindrances, or they may have been long in growing up to that state, while we are only, as it were, babes in Christ (H. E. I. 2508-2526).

7. Another class say that they cannot think any real Christian ever was so tempted and distressed with evil thoughts as they are. We reply, Job was tempted to curse God, and Christ Himself to worship Satan. We may have very wicked thoughts entering our minds, but if we strive against them and they are painful to us, they are no evidence against us. Christ had thoughts as vile as these suggested to Him, but He remained sinless (H. E. I. 4767-4779).

8. Another class say that they have doctrinal difficulties, that certain things in the Bible do not appear clear to them, and they fear to make any public confession of Christ till these things are made plain. We reply that the best way to solve doctrinal difficulties is to engage in practical duties. Any one perplexed upon points of doctrine should read but little on those points, but engage earnestly in all acts of obedience which the Bible enjoins, praying fervently and humbly to be guided into all truth. One day's labour in the field of charity, or one step onward in the path of known duty, will bring more light into the soul upon disputed points than weeks of speculation and controversy (H. E. I. 590-596, 1797). It would be endless to recount all the ways in which doubts and fears assail us. Their name is legion, and our prayer should be that Christ would command them to come out of the man who is troubled with them, and to enter no more into him.—W. E. Lewis, (404) D.D.: Plain Sermons for the Christian Year.

THE HEALER AND JOY-GIVER

Isa . Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, &c.

This beautiful prophecy is not exhausted by the first fulfilment of the promise which immediately precedes. However great the political deliverance, it did not include the literal giving of sight to the blind or hearing to the deaf. Nor is it only poetic imagery. It points to something in the time of the Messiah, to whose manifestation the scheme of Old Testament history and prophecy is subordinate. We find in this text—

I. THE BLESSINGS CHRIST IMPARTS.

1. We find in the life of Christ a literal fulfilment of the text, which compels us to regard it as fulfilled in Him (Mat ; Mar 7:32-35; Joh 5:5-9, &c.) Now these are historical facts. Useless to say they are miracles, therefore incredible, because a miracle is impossible. Who taught you that a miracle is impossible?. You are assuming what you are bound to prove. The testimony of the writers of this history is worth as much as that of any other historical writers (H. E. I. 3527-3529). Many things have occurred in the world the like of which we have never seen. Moreover, the power of God must be taken into account in deciding whether a thing is possible or not. Is it not astounding presumption for a man to measure Divine power by his own; to say, because neither himself nor any man at present can work a miracle, therefore God cannot and never has? After all the argument, he fact remains.

2. We find that the coming of Christ is identified with improvements in the general character and condition of mankind, such as may be shadowed forth in these physical blessings. Where Christianity comes, the intellectual, moral, and material standard rises. Savage peoples become civilised; civilised nations reach a higher plane. The influence of personal Christianity commonly improves the social position of the individual.

3. But beyond this we find that the coming of Christ is identified with the bestowment of spiritual blessings and the effectuation of spiritual changes as remarkable as the miracles it wrought in the physical region. The spiritual disease of sin, analogous to the physical diseases it has caused, is cured by the Gospel. Take a case. One thoroughly imbued with hatred to Christ. Not content with simple indifference to Him, or rejection of His claims, he throws all the energy of an unusually energetic nature into the active measures that were adopted for the suppression of His cause. But the saving power of Christ finds him in a way unexpected and unusual. He surrenders on the spot, and puts himself under the command of Christ to do whatsoever He wills. He becomes a missionary of the cross. He is sent to the Gentiles "to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God." And this case is a type of multitudes whose spiritual diseases have been healed, some of them the most virulent and malignant. It is a work within their souls, which the power of God alone can effect. It is a change of the heart's deepest principles and affections under the influence of spiritual considerations only. It is a moral revolution. The blind eyes are opened to the glory of Christ's truth. The deaf ear listens to His voice. The dumb tongue is eloquent of His salvation, and sings His praise. And the lame man gladly walks in the way of His commandments.

II. THE JOY HE CREATES.

Gladness runs through the text. Leaping and singing are expressions of joy. The blessings of salvation find the soul in the condition of a traveller in the sandy desert, weary, footsore, lame, and silent, who unexpectedly finds a springing well, and begins to talk, and sing, and leap for joy. Joy arises in the heart—

1. From the supply of a conscious need. Imagine the joy of those whom Christ healed, when the blind saw the light and became interested in the objects around him, when the deaf heard the sound of the human voice, when the dumb was able to make himself understood, when the lame recovered the use of his limbs. What joy was brought into many a home! And when He comes to the heart with His forgiving, cleansing, healing love, what gladness He brings! It is the beginning of days. It is the enjoyment of life. Christians have sources of happiness of which the world knows nothing. "Ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory" (H. E. I. 3041).

2. From the manifestation of a compassionate Saviour. His healing miracles illustrate His character. Beneficence, tender sympathy with human suffering, love to man marked His steps. It brought Him down from heaven. It nailed Him to the cross. And He is still the same. He is personally interested in His people (H. E. I. 952-957). He is the object of Divine love, and therefore joy.

3. From the satisfaction of settled faith. Faith connects the soul with Him. But it is often assailed. It needs support even where it exists. The disciples sometimes wavered, then some new confirmation was afforded. John the Baptist in prison doubted, therefore received the message (Mat ). Jesus used His miracles in evidence. Nor must we surrender their evidential power. And there is the confirmatory evidence of experience. This is always fresh.

1. This subject calls for grateful love. Give evidence of your cure by getting the spirit of Christ's compassionate love, and by being His instruments for the cure of others.

2. You too are still in the power of the disease; come to Him for healing.—J. Rawlinson.

THE CURSE DONE AWAY

Isa . Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, &c.

The years of fulfilment linger, and faith is weak and faint. The picture of hopeless helplessness is painted in the context (Isa ). If we fail, God's promise cannot (Isa 35:1-2). The transformation of the desert, the planting of Eden there, and the coming of God with vengeance and recompense are one. They signify one vast display of gracious power. It is no abstract salvation that we wait and hope for, but a Saviour. The text describes the blessings of Messiah's kingdom.

I. "Is not this poetry?" Yes, but is poetry the opposite of truth? Have not prophets ever been poets? Is not poetry the sweetest or strongest or sublimest expression of man's noblest conceptions of truth? This poem of Isaiah is an expression of God's realities. The poetry, the prophecy has its answering reality in history. The age of Christ spake back to it, and both speak on to us. Nothing shall be wanting to complete the scene. The glorious in nature shall but typify the more glorious in man's body, mind, morals, and spiritual satisfaction and joy.

II. Spiritual and physical evil are intimately connected.

1. They are cause and effect. The physical is the sign of the spiritual. Something radical was wrong before the wrong things could come. This doctrine is philosophic as well as biblical.

2. It is not meant that any and every special personal affliction is the result of any given or particular personal transgression. A man is not blind because he or his parents are sinners, but because of sin. We are living in a violated order.

III. The cessation of physical evil can only follow the cure of evil that is spiritual. God's life, God's health, God's gladness must be poured into the dumb before his tongue can sing. The spirit of the blind must be thrilled with a heavenly vision before his eye can open on the outer world. God must come and save before the cripple can bound as the deer.

1. Man's sin must be cured, then his sorrow. The miracles of healing in the Gospels teach us this. We can never overlook the moral element in them. It was when Christ saw faith He said, "Thy sins be forgiven thee" (Mat ).

2. Health and soundness could not be given to mankind by a mere miracle power apart from spiritual considerations. No mere almightiness could effect it. Pentecostal gifts, if repeated, would probably produce similar signs and wonders; still miracles can never be more than periodic and intermittent The progressive life of the Spirit of God must achieve in the race what they in the individual only foretoken. Physical healing must keep pace with moral. The body must protest against sin.

3. Any philanthropy springing from other hope lacks truth and wisdom, and must fail. It proceeds upon a mistaken conception of human nature. It only deals with symptoms. All true philanthropy must begin at the Cross. The Cross is the sign that God has come for vengeance and for recompense.

CONCLUSION.—Learn counsel and courage.

1. Counsel as to life's mysteries, burdens, sufferings, and sorrows.

2. Courage to endure them, and strive with them in manful faith and hope.

(1.) Broken health, pains, malformations, insanities, idiocies, and all bodily and mental degeneracies and anomalies are the dreadful issue of spiritual depravity and alienation from the life of God.

(2.) Sin's destined Victor is in the combat, and with His own shield and spear will take the throne. The world in which He reigns will be a world where evil is not, but good is all in all.—William Hubbard: Christian World Pulpit, xvi. 232.

BEAUTIFUL VISIONS EXCHANGED FOR REALITIES

Isa . And the parched ground shall become a pool.

Some years ago we were riding over a desert in intense and almost distressing heat. We could but lie still and endure it. We turned our eyes to the south, and, lo! in the horizon there suddenly appeared a beautiful lake, which appeared studded with islands of palms! But it was only appearance, there was no water; and had we been perishing from thirst, the beautiful vision would but have mocked our need.—Clemance.

No one can imagine, without actual experience, the delight and eager expectation (when the vision first is seen), or the intense and bitter disappointment which the appearance of a mirage occasions to travellers, specially when their supply of water is spent.

"Still the same burning sun! No cloud in heaven!

The hot air quivers, and the sultry mist Floats o'er the desert, with a show

Of distant waters mocking their distress."

Kitto.

The primary sense of sharab, giving the key to both applications, is the dazzling, vibrating, noonday heat. Thence it is here taken as a name for its effect, or the mirage in the desert caused by the intense meridian rarefaction and refraction. It is a well-known delusive appearance, arising from the motions of the heated atmosphere, taking great varieties of form, but especially suggesting pictures of grove and fountain scenery—lakes, rivers, green valleys, waving trees, cool and sequestered shades, with every image most grateful to the imagination of the wearied traveller. These often seem so vivid as to be mistaken for realities.

The very common use of the same word (sarab) by the Arabian poets, in this mirage sense, makes certain the real meaning here. It gives it, too, a glorious significance of which our translation, though etymologically correct, and, to a certain extent, quite plausible, falls far short. It should be rendered: "The mirage shall become a lake (a real lake, not a mere mockery of one), and the thirsty land springs of water." For the expressive meaning of the word rendered "thirsty land," see Deu —"that great and terrible wilderness." So Gesenius, very happily: Et desertum aquœ speciem referens commutabitur in lacum—in veram. aquam. (And the desert having the appearance of water shall be changed into a lake—into true water.)

The spiritual idea which the passage, thus interpreted, suggests is most striking, whilst at the same time commending itself as having a solid basis, and far removed from the character of an arbitrary sentimentalism. It has a substantial philological support, and comes so directly from the peculiar word employed, that we are compelled to regard it as entering into the prophet's conception.

"The shadows are gone, truth has come." Mohammed seems to have, in some way, caught a spark from the prophetic inspiration, when he represents the righteous saying this, as they lift up their heads in the morning of the resurrection. In the Arabic, as in the Hebrew, the power comes from the graphic mode which both languages possess, in so high a degree, of picturing the future in the present, and even in the past. "Joy and triumph are overtaking them, sorrow and sighing have fled away." This is not the land of reality. The idea comes down from the pilgrim language of the patriarchs, who so pathetically declared themselves to be but "travellers and sojourners upon the earth." They were looking for "the better country," the real home, the "city which hath foundations," firm and everlasting. Something of the same idea, and from the same early source, perhaps, may be traced in the most ancient Arabian poets who lived before the days of Mohammed. From them he most probably borrowed the strikingly similar figure we find in the Koran (Sura xxiv. 29), entitled "Light." It has the same word (sharab), and in other respects is immediately suggestive of the passage in Isaiah: "As for the unbelieving, their works are like the sarab, the mirage of the plain. The thirsty traveller thinks there is water there; but lo, he comes and finds it nothing." The latter parts remind us of the description in Job , which may be cited, too, as one of the examples of its Arabian imagery. It is a picture of the thirsty traveller sustained by the hope of finding the refreshing wady stream; but instead of the imagined reality, nothing meets the eye but the dried-up bed whose waters have vanished, "gone up to tohu," the formless void, as the Hebrew so graphically expresses it

"What time they shrink deserted of their springs,

As quenched in heat they vanish from their place;

'Tis then their wonted ways are turned aside:

Their streams are lost, gone up in emptiness.

The caravans of Tema loo for them;

The companies of Sheba hope in vain;

Confounded are they where they once did trust;

They reach the spot and stand in helpless maze."

Another very striking passage, where the same word is used, may be found in the Koran (Sura lxxviii. 20): "When the hills are set in motion, and become like the sarab"—the vanishing mirage. It is a description of the day of judgment, when the world will be found to have been a sarab, a departing dream. Or it may represent its exceeding transitoriness, like that other name ajalun, the rolling, hastening, passing world, which the Koran and the early Arabian poets give to this present mundane system as compared with the reality of Paradise. Hence the word sarab becomes a common or proverbial expression, pro reevanida, for anything light, transient, and unsubstantial. There is a beautiful allusion to it in the very ancient poem of Lebid (Moallaka de Lebid, De Sacy's ed., p. 294). See also the account of the phenomenon as given by Diodorus Siculus, lib. iii. ch. 50. It differs, however, from the picture usually presented by the Arabian poets, in that the appearances are those of animals and wild beasts, rather than of rivers and fountains. The particular kind of phantoms, however, would depend very much on the kind of imagination possessed by the travellers, and the circumstances by which it was excited. It is, in any way, an apt representation of a delusive world, whether in its images of terror or of attraction. That the word is thus frequently used in the Arabic, and that it corresponds well to its ancient Hebrew etymology, is sufficient to warrant us in thus interpreting the idea the prophet so impressively sets forth.—Tayler Lewis.

I. Past prediction has become actual fact: in Christ ideal visions have become realities.

1. In bygone days some nobler souls dreamed dreams of a perfect human character. The "Phdo" of Plato is an illustration of this. But the dream remained a dream until Jesus of Nazareth lived among men. In Him all excellences that were scattered were localised, focussed, centralised; and in Him we see of what nobleness our nature is capable.

2. The yearning of some is for truth, pure truth, stripped of all human accretions and confusions. How earnestly search has been made for it! In this search philosophy and theology have been traversed and ransacked. But it is to be found only in Christ. He Himself declared, not vainly, "I am the truth." In Him are "hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

3. In others, conscience is the most active faculty. Sin is to them a burden and a torment. They yearn for peace of conscience. No suffering seems to them too great if this can be attained. But they never find it until they seek it in Christ. Coming to Him, they are filled with "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding." The vision has become a reality; the reality goes beyond the vision.

4. There are others led on by visions of a strong virtue and a noble life. They struggle against their passions and the allurements of the world. But alas! how numerous and lamentable are their defects! They never learn the secret of victory until they come to Christ; but when they have done this, presently they find that with truth they can say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me."

5. Happiness. Who has not had visions of it? Who has not sought it?. But, alas! the confession to which we are all brought is that of Solomon: "Vanity of vanities! all is vanity!" And yet even this thirst is satisfied in Christ—profoundly, exultantly satisfied. In Him we find a happiness that breaks forth in song, and triumphs over the pains and sorrows of this mortal life. The mirage has become a pool.

II. Actual fact is present prediction; in Christ ideal vision will become realities. The soul still thirsts—

1. For perfect purity;

2. For perfect rest from the carking cares of earth, and infinite calm in Jesus' love;

3. For the perfect communion of saints. In vision John saw all this in the new Jerusalem; and to all who are Christ's indeed they shall all become realities (1Co ).

1. Let those to whom the prediction of our text has been fulfilled tell the glad news to others.

2. As for those who have had these visions all their lives, but up to this moment have been utterly disappointed,

(1) let them learn from the experience of others, who tell them they never knew truth and happiness until they sought them in Christ;

(2) let them listen to the voice of Christ, who promises to give them rest;

(3) let them be sure that until they do come to Christ, the parched ground will never become a pool. The soul needs more than the vision, however bright and beautiful it may be; it needs the reality, and the reality can be found only in Christ.—Clement Clemance, D.D.


Verses 8-10

THE EXILES' RETURN

Isa . And an highway shall be there, &c.

The chapter of which these words are a part testifies of Christ. The prophet, while foretelling in it the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, is enabled to look forward to a more spiritual and much greater deliverance. With the eye of faith he sees the kingdom of the Messiah established in the earth, and beholds Him open a new and blessed road by which a multitude of the enslaved and perishing escape from their miseries and are led to His kingdom. This prophecy calls upon us to consider—

1. The travellers of whom it speaks;

2. The way along which they are journeying;

3. The home to which it is leading them.—Charles Bradley: Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 127, 128.

Whatever primary reference this prophecy might have to the return of the tribes from captivity, it is evident that all its interesting and beautiful descriptions can only be fully realised in the blessedness and glory of the Gospel dispensation. Consider it as spiritually referring to the Gospel way of salvation.

I. THE WAY ITSELF.

A religious course is often spoken of as a way (Pro ; Jer 21:8; Mat 7:14). The way of which our text speaks is described—

1. As a highway. It is not a secluded private path, but a public highway opened by the authority of the King of kings; a way designed for the general accommodation of the human race, and leading to the metropolis of the universe.

2. It is a holy way.

3. It is a plain way. Not a way requiring extensive philosophical knowledge or deep metaphysical research to comprehend it. Ali the Gospel requirements and duties are plain.

II. THE CHARACTER OF ITS TRAVELLERS.

"The redeemed," &c.

1. Once they were slaves. Slaves of sin and Satan.

2. They have been redeemed. By the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Redeemed to God; redeemed from sin, the power of Satan, and the wrath to come.

3. They are now the Lord's freemen. Now sons, members of the Divine family; sharers of the Divine goodness and peace; and they bear a holy resemblance to their Elder Brother.

III. HOW THEY TRAVEL ALONG IT. "They shall return and come to Zion with songs."

1. They sing the praises of their great Deliverer (Rev ).

2. They sing on account of the deliverance itself.

3. They sing on account of the joys of their present experience.

4. They sing on account of their glorious prospects.

IV. THE BLESSEDNESS TO WHICH IT LEADS THEM.

1. They shall be crowned with joy.

2. They shall possess a perfect fulness of felicity.

3. Their felicity shall be uninterrupted and eternal.—Jabez Burns, D.D.: Four Hundred Sketches and Skeletons of Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 160-163.

THE ROAD TO THE CITY

Isa . And a highway shall be there, &c.

Human life is a journey—a journey to the grave. The Christian life is a journey—a journey to a better country. Abraham journeyed to the land of Canaan; Israel in the wilderness; their descendants on the return from Babylon (Ezr ). If you would reach your destination, it is necessary to know and traverse the way.

I. It is a way easily known. Some are difficult to find. They are crossed and intersected so often, and so imperfectly supplied with guiding-posts, that mistakes are almost inevitable. This is a way in which "the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err." Serious mistake is almost impossible. You have a directory so clear that reference to it settles every question. God's Word is the guide of life. He may read who runs. It is true there are difficulties in the Bible. But there are no difficulties in the ascertainment of the way of life. The road the child travels to his home is quite plain and easy, yet he may be ignorant of the means by which it was made, the materials of which it is constructed, the sources whence they were obtained, the engineering appliances by which they are bound together, the quarters from which the cost was defrayed. At present he has no information, or it is beyond his comprehension. Thus in the Bible there are many things difficult and beyond the present knowledge of the student. They diminish with advancing knowledge and thought. And even if they remain, they do not affect the matters on which certainty is necessary. The way of forgiveness through the Saviour's death is written with the clearness of a sunbeam. The rule of life in its application to all circumstances is so clearly laid down that all cases in the court of conscience find an easy settlement; where there is a disposition to follow it, no practical difficulty exists. It is like the pillar of cloud and fire which infallibly guided the children of Israel in the wilderness.

II. It is a purified way. "The unclean shall not pass over it." It is a holy way. The text fastens attention on those who traverse the road as giving it its character. They are holy persons in the company of holy persons. What is holiness? It is separation, setting apart, purity, always with reference to God.

1. Its meaning is not covered by morality. That term is ordinarily met by the performance of the duties that arise between man and man.

2. Nor is the meaning of the term "holy" covered by humanity. We hear much of what is called "the religion of humanity," which means a benevolent desire for the well-being of mankind. Like morality, it is to be commended as far as it goes. It is, indeed, a step in advance of morality. It is a man's worldly interest to practise its virtues. Humanity rises higher. It looks beyond self. In proportion as a man looks out from himself to the well-being of others, he is ennobled. Holiness includes them both, but they do not necessarily include holiness. They terminate in man, whereas holiness is in immediate relation to God. It is the separation of a man's nature from all sin against God, and is consecration to Him. God brings a sinner under the power of His grace, and a saint emerges. The love of God in Christ, which pardons him, so influences his nature that he comes into sympathy with God, and desires to be like Him. He makes the divine will the rule of his life. He is born anew. He is holy in heart. His growing practical obedience to the Divine authority is his walk in the way of holiness. Those who have not experienced such a change cannot walk in it. They tire. Holiness of heart precedes holiness of life (H. E. I. 2813-2817).

III. It is a pleasant way. There are pilgrim songs. The walk through the country may be so pleasant that nothing is thought of its difficulty or its fatigue. The way of holiness is rendered pleasant by congenial companions, by Divine thoughts, by heavenly communings. There are difficulties. The way is sometimes steep; here and there are formidable obstructions. There are temptations to weariness and abandonment of the way. Yet the difficulties are not insurmountable. They disappear before the traveller's sanctified determination. The ability of anything to give pleasure depends on our feeling in relation to it. Especially in things of a moral nature. The regenerated nature of a Christian makes every step of his progress a source of pleasure. Christians are the happiest of men, partly because happiness is not sought as their main end (H. E. I. 1080-1084, 4161-4163).

And it is safe as it is pleasant. All pleasant paths are not safe. Some pleasant ones are extremely perilous. The Lord of the way has cleared it of dangers. "He will keep the feet of His saints." "No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon."

IV. It is a completed way. Some roads lead to nothing. They abruptly terminate, and you must retrace your steps. This is continued to the destination. "They shall come to Zion." As the Jews reached the earthly Jerusalem we shall arrive in heaven. The holy city a fit termination of the holy way.

Are you in the way? Keep in it. Turn not aside. Advance toward your destination. Anticipate arrival.

Are you not in the way? Consider whither you are going. Renounce the world. Enter the road. Do not say it is hard. Do not say you cannot encounter the difficulties. God will help.—J. Rawlinson.

There are a thousand wrong roads, but only one right one.

1. The road of the text is the King's highway. It spans all the chasms of human wretchedness; it tunnels all the mountains of earthly difficulty; it is wide and strong enough to hold all the millions of the human race. The King sent His Son to build the road. He put head, and hand, and heart to it, and after it was completed cried, "It is finished."

2. It is spoken of as a clean road. "The unclean shall not pass over it" (Pro ; Heb 12:14).

3. A plain road. "The way faring men, though fools, shall not err therein." The pardon is plain. The peace is plain (1Ti ). If you are saved, it will be as a little child (Mat 18:3).

4. A safe road. "No lion shall be there," &c. His soul is safe. His reputation is safe (Psa ).

5. A pleasant road. God gives a bond of indemnity against all evil to every man that treads it (Rom ; Mat 6:26; Mat 6:28; Pro 3:33; 1Co 10:13). He enables him to be glad with a great joy (Psa 27:1; Rev 7:14; Rev 7:16-17; Exo 15:1).

6. What is its terminus? "The ransomed of the Lord shall come to Zion." Zion was the King's palace, a mountain fastness, impregnable. Heaven is the fastness of the universe. And Jesus is there!—T. De Wilt Talmage in 412, D.D.: Christian Age, vol. ix. pp. 3-5.

THE HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN

Isa . And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, &c.

"Zion," literally speaking, was the proper name of the city where David dwelt (2Sa ). But the name was also given to the ancient Jewish polity in church and state (Psa 102:13; Psa 102:16), to the Gospel Church, with all the spiritual blessings of the Christian dispensation (Isa 28:16; 1Pe 2:6-7); and also to the Church in glory, or the heavenly state of final and complete happiness with God and Christ for ever (Heb 12:22, &c.) We may therefore regard this text as revealing the general features of the happiness of heaven.

I. To whom does the hope of heaven belong? To "the ransomed of the Lord," whom He has delivered from bondage and is bringing back from exile (H. E. I. 2730, 2829-2832).

II. How do those who attain to heaven come there? Triumphantly, "with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads." This is said perhaps with allusion to the ovations of victorious chiefs, or to troops coming home from hard-fought fields and the privations even of a successful campaign, crowned with garlands and waving palms, singing some martial air, and approaching their homes and families with shouts of gratulation.

III. What do the redeemed realise when they reach heaven? "They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." In heaven—

1. There will be an en tire cessation of every occasion of grief (H. E. I. 1629; P. D. 1753, 1767).

2. There will no longer be any possibility of falling. What a blessed peace will spring from this fact! In this world the sincerest believers, like pilots steering into port through narrow and winding channels beset with sunken rocks and hidden shoals, must work out daily their own salvation with fear and trembling (1Co ). But in heaven the spirits of the just are "made perfect," and, like God Himself, "cannot be tempted of evil."

3. We shall meet again with our long-lost loved ones, never more to part (Rev ; P. D. 2996-2998).

4. The companionship of saints and angels. The best and purest friendships here are often marred by the blots and blemishes of good men; but there will be no jarring in the exalted fellowships of heaven.

5. The possession of Christ and the beatific vision of God for ever (1Pe ; Isa 33:7).—R. Bingham, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 128-149.

THE BANISHMENT OF SORROW

Isa . And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, &c.

I. "They shall obtain joy and gladness," &c.—this is undoubtedly the distinctive and ineradicable hope of human nature. Is that hope a glorious, and perhaps in its effects a beneficent, delusion never to be realised? Or is it the earnest of a reality far greater than its highest imagination can conceive? The question receives contradictory answers from the two conflicting voices within the soul, as from time to time one or other gains a temporary predominance. But the Christian revelation allows no doubt on this matter for a moment, and yet it does not bid us shut our eyes to the darker phases of actual life. The picture drawn in this chapter deals with every sphere of human life. It begins with the outward: it tells how the "desert shall rejoice," &c.; it turns, then, to the lower nature of man himself—"the eyes of the blind shall be opened," &c.; lastly, it speaks to the spirit of man: the light of God shows a "highway through the desert of life" on which "the redeemed can walk" safely; and at the end there is a heavenly Zion of perfection, to which the "ransomed of the Lord shall come with songs," &c.

II. When did the prophet look to see his vision fulfilled? He may well have thought first of the all but present deliverance from the gigantic power of Assyria by the redeeming arm of the Lord. Some such shadow of fulfilment there may have been, in the last gleam of unclouded prosperity which ever fell upon Judah, before its sun set in the great captivity: such shadows of fulfilment may have been felt in the history of man again and again. Isaiah unquestionably looked on to the kingdom of the Messiah as the one ideal of a perfect manifestation of God and a perfect exaltation of man. Such fulfilment Christ claimed for Himself; but it is in the actual manifestation of the kingdom of Christ on earth that the prophetic picture is realised in its fulness.

III. If the kingdom of Christ is what it proclaims itself to be, it must necessarily be, as on the Mount He proclaimed it, a kingdom of blessing. What are the two great sources of the sorrow which broods over life?

1. Over our bodily life, and the world of nature which subserves it, there is the blight of pain and suffering.

2. Spiritual evil—the blindness, weakness, sin of man himself. How does the Gospel profess to face and scatter both? By the revelation of the Cross it hallows doubly the law of suffering and death, by overruling it to good for ourselves, and by making it a condition and a means of helping the redemption of others. The Gospel deals still more decisively with the burden of sin: in this lies the essence of its redemption. "God is in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.… We pray you, in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." This is its first message; but it is not all: "Sin," it goes on to say, "shall not have dominion over you." "Ye are sanctified in Christ Jesus."

IV. But is that promise actually realised? We answer boldly, Yes. It must be remembered that by the very nature of the case the kingdom of Christ is seen by us, as yet, only in the first stages of its conflict against the powers of evil. What it can offer, as yet, is a true but only imperfect earnest of the future. In all the three phases of this prophecy, Christ asserted its power to bless the whole world. He held the reins of the forces of Nature; lifted the burden of disease and resisted death; brought in the new life of His grace. He had joy, like no other joy, amid His continuous conflict with evil; and to those who were His, He gave peace in proportion as they entered into His spirit. The last conflict was but for a moment, the chill of dreariness before the dawn. "Then," amidst some fear, and awe, and perplexity, "were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." It is, thank God! a matter of daily Christian experience, that, just in proportion as we are really Christ's, the promise is realised again and again to us. There is joy in nature, and a deeper joy and peace in communion with God. Sometimes we feel that these things are the only reality in a fleeting and unsubstantial world around us. But this reality is yet imperfect; sorrow and sighing are rather kept at bay than driven away; but we have a sure and certain hope of a perfect future. Without the realisation of His peace in the present, without the sure and certain hope of the future, one hardly sees how man can care to live; one dares not think how he can die.—Canon Barry, D.D.: Christian Age, vol. xx. pp. 81-83.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 35:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-35.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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