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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 37

 

 

Verse 1

A FOOLISH KING AND A WISE ONE

Isa . And it came to pass, &c.

The message to which our text refers was sent by a foolish king to a wise one. Look at them both.

I. THE FOOLISH KING.

Sennacherib. Ignorant of God, he fell into various follies.

1. Pride and arrogance. Unaware that he was but an instruments in the hand of God (chap. Isa ), he imagined that his triumphs were due entirely to his military genius and the power under his control. Blind as to the true nature of his past career, he looked into the future with boastful confidence; he had no doubt that he would go on conquering and to conquer. His proud survey of the past and this arrogant outlook into the future are follies repeated by many men much smaller than Sennacherib. But every wise man will remember that he owes all his past successes to God (Deu 8:10-18), and that all his future is absolutely in the hand of God (Jas 4:13-15).

2. Blasphemous undervaluing of the power of God (Isa ). He therefore imagines that God's people are in his hand. On this account he presents to them a curious reason why they should surrender (chap, Isa 36:16-17). He promises them a quiet possession of their own vines, which they possessed already but for his disturbance; and in the same breath he adds, "Until I come and take you away;" and then, to soften that sentence, he promises to take them to a land like their own. He promises them no more, after all, than they had already on the safe tenure of their own laws.

This reason for surrender was either a mockery of men whom he believed incapable of resisting him, or an indication of the mental weakness into which pride was betraying him. Ere long there was a terrible demonstration of his folly (Isa , P. D. 3413), an appalling fulfilment of the prediction concerning him (Isa 10:12-19).

II. THE WISE KING.

Hezekiah. His disposition does not appear to more advantage in any passage of life, nor his conduct exhibit lessons more generally useful, than in the circumstances to which our text alludes. A message is brought from a proud invader; threats mixed with blasphemies are sounded in his ears; a force far superior to his own draws near to his city. In his extremity he sought help, not from man, but from God. In drawing near to God, he testifies his penitence for his own sins and the sins of the people by rending his garments and covering himself with sackcloth, the usual tokens of sorrow in the East; his faith and hope by resorting to the house of God, his accustomed place of prayer. Observe the wisdom of the order of his procedure.

1. He began with demonstrations of repentance. He knew well that without repentance there could be no hope towards God.

(1.) This is the true order for individuals (H. E. I. 145-147).

(2.) For the Church of God.

2. Beginning with repentance', he could cherish hope (Isa ). Why? He felt that the Lord would not permit Sennacherib's words to pass unpunished; and that, if the sins of the people did not operate to prevent it, help would surely be sent him. But he spoke with caution, "it may be," &c. The best reasons may be found for what we call "delays" in providential helps. There was room for expectation that help would be given, room for prayer that it might be given, but no room for overweening confidence that it must be so. With his hope there was mingled submission to the will of God, and that doubtless helped to win for his prayer a favourable hearing.

CONCLUSION.—This narrative presents us with the results, on the one hand, of pride and arrogance; and on the other, of repentance and an humbled spirit. In times of extremity let us not entertain hope without an humble and repentant suit to God; and when that ground of penitence is laid for its support, let us not dismiss our confidence. God is always able to help His people. Like Hezekiah, then, to Him let us resort in every time of trouble, whether it be a time of public danger or of domestic affliction.—J. H. Pott: Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 282-299.


Verse 14

SPREADING THE LETTER BEFORE THE LORD

Isa . And Hezekiah received the letter, &c.

The letter was an insolent cartel of defiance from the Assyrian king Sennacherib, full as much of blasphemous defiance against God as of insolence to God's servant. It represents the conflict between Assyria and Judah as being a struggle between the gods of one nation and the God of the other. The point of it is: "Don't let the God in whom thou trusteth deceive thee, saying Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hands of Assyria. Thou hast seen what Assyria has done to all lands, and is thy God any better than theirs?" So the king of Judah, very simple and child-like, picks up the piece of blasphemy and goes up to the temple and spreads it out before God. A very nave piece of unconscious symbolism! The meaning of it comes out in the prayer that follows: "Open Thine eyes, O Lord, and see," &c. It is for Thee to act. That is the essential meaning of Hezekiah's action.

I. It was an appeal to God's knowledge. For his comfort it was necessary to make this appeal. That which influences and agitates us, we need in some way to spread before the Lord. When some great anxiety strikes its talons deep into our hearts, we need to have the truth made clear to ourselves. The Eyes up yonder see all about it. A plain old piece of commonplace, but, oh! there is a deep, unutterable consolation when a man realises this. "Thy Father which is in secret, seeth in secret."

II. It was an appeal to God's honour. His prayer was this in effect: "Hear all the words of Sennacherib, who hath sent to reproach the living God. I say nothing about myself, but it is Thine honour that is threatened. If this insolent braggart does the thing which he threatens, then it will be said, ‘Forasmuch as this Jehovah was not able to save His people, therefore He let them perish;' those who worship other gods will say, ‘Jehovah is a name without meaning'—Thy name, which is above every name!" If a man has not got something like that in his prayers, they are poor prayers. With all humility, yet with all self-confidence, ask Him, not so much to deliver you, as to be true to His character and His promises, to be self-consistent with all that He has been; and let us feel, as we have a right to feel, that if any human soul, that ever in the faintest, poorest, humblest manner put out a trembling hand of confidence towards His great hand to grasp it, was suffered to go down and perish, there is a blight and blot on the fair fame of God before the whole creation which nothing can obliterate. But the feeblest cry shall be answered, the feeblest faith rewarded! Let us grasp the thought that not only for our own poor selves—though, blessed be God, He does take our happiness for a worthy object—but because His honour and fair fame are so inextricably wound with our well-being, He must answer the cries of His people (Eze ).

III. Let us take out of the story, not only what we ought to do when we go to God in prayer, but the kind of things we ought to take to Him. Every difficulty, danger, trial, temptation, or blasphemy by which His name is polluted, should be at once spread out before the Lord. But most of all the common things of everyday life! The small boy, whom one of our writers tells of, who used to pray that he might have strength given him to learn his Latin declension, had a better understanding of prayer than the men of the world can understand (H. E. I. 3756, 3757).

IV. Another lesson: If you have not been in the habit of going to the House of God at other times, it will be a hard job to find your way there when your eyes are blinded with tears, and your hearts heavy with anxiety. Hezekiah had cultivated a habit of trusting God and referring everything to Him; so he went straight into the Temple as by instinct, where he could have found his way in the dark, and spread this letter before the Lord as a matter of course. It is a poor thing when a man's religion is like a waterproof coat, that is only good to wear when it rains, and has to be taken off when the weather improves a little! If you want to get the blessedness of fellowship with God and help from Him in the dark days, learn the road to the Temple in sunshine and gladness, and do not wait for the bellow of the pitiless storm and darkness upon the path, before you go up to the Temple of God (H. E. I. 3877-3879).

V. What do we get by this habit of spreading out everything before God?

1. Valuable counsel. I do not know anything that has such a power of clearing a man's way, scattering mists, removing misconceptions, letting us see the true nature of some dazzling specious temptations, as the habit of turning to prayer. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the thing that perplexes us is that the steadiness of the hand that holds the microscope is affected by the beating of the heart and the passionate desires and wishes, and so there is nothing defined and clear; it is all a haze. Firmness of hand, clearness of vision, come in prayer to the man who is accustomed to take the harassing "letter" and spread it out before the Lord (H. E. I. 3741-3743).

2. A very accurate and easily applied test. I do not wonder that so many of us do not like to pray about our plans and about our anxieties; it is either because the plans have no God in them, or the anxieties have no faith. Anything we cannot pray about, we had better not touch. Any anxiety that is not substantial enough to bear lifting and laying before God, ought never to trouble us. Test your lives, your thoughts, your affairs, your purposes by this. Will they stand carriage to the Temple? If not, the sooner you get rid of them the better. And then, "In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God; and," in spite of all the blatant Sennacheribs who have poured out their insolent blasphemies, "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus."—Alexander Maclaren, in Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, pp. 81-85.


Verse 15-16

NOBILITY AND SECURITY

Isa . He that walketh righteously, &c.

Those were terrible times in Jerusalem. The Assyrian power was exceedingly formidable; it was as ferocious as it was strong. The Assyrian had come up into the land, yet God had given a promise to His people that they should be preserved (chap. Isa ). Some in the city rested con tent with the promise of God, and went about their daily business feeling perfectly safe. But there were few such. A great number were afraid they would be destroyed—they were sure of it. Who was to save them, or what power could stand in the way of Sennacherib? These were the sinners and hypocrites, and the time of trial developed them. They could not live, they said; the land was smoking, for the Assyrian had set everything on fire. Some who dwell among God's people are sinners and not saints, hypocrites and not believers. When all goes well with the Church of God you cannot detect the difference. But when the time of trial comes, the hypocrites and sinners will be discovered by their own fear. Let us not be satisfied with being in Zion—in the Church; let us not rest till we are quite sure we are not sinners or hypocrites in it. If our religion is worth anything, it is worth most in the hour of trial; and if it does not stand us in good stead in the time of temptation and sorrow, what is the use of it?

I. THE CHARACTER OF GOD'S PEOPLE. They are partly described in the words of our text, but I am obliged to go a little farther afield for one part of their character. Those who in the time of danger will be kept and comforted are a people who have a humble, patient, present faith in God. I am sure these are such, for they are described—they describe themselves—in the second verse of the chapter before us. They are a humble people, who dare not trust themselves, but trust in God. They are a praying people, who make their appeal to God under a sense of need. Their appeal is to His free grace. They are a waiting people. If at once they have not comfort and joy, they tarry and are perfectly content to abide His time, for it is sure to be best. They have a present faith in God, for "Be Thou their arm every morning" is their prayer. They did not trust in God years ago and get saved, and think they can live without faith, but they believe "the just shall live by faith." They look for everything to their God: "Thou art our salvation in the time of trouble."

Our text gives a description of these people by their various features. It describes how they walk: "He that walketh righteously." Faith has an elevating, ennobling effect upon our entire manhood. The promise belongs only to the people who come under the description; see to it that you do not take the comfort, if you do not come under the character! Study the description of the daily walk and conversation of this blessed man who is to dwell on high.

The first feature which is described is his tongue. "He speaketh uprightly." If you drew a portrait of a man, you could not paint his tongue; but if you give a description of a man's character, you cannot omit his speech. A man that lies, talks obscenely, &c., is no child of God. The grace of God very speedily sweetens a man's tongue. A doctor says, "Put out your tongue," and he judges the symptoms of health or disease thereby; and surely there is no better test of character than the condition of the tongue.

Next, the heart. "He that despiseth the gain of oppression." Not only does he not oppress any man, nor wish to gain anything by extortion, or by any act of unrighteousness, but he looks upon it as contemptible and despises it. He likes gain if it comes cleanly to him, and it is as welcome to him as to another, but he will not have a thing he cannot pray over.

Next comes the ear. "That stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood." Men of war and those who delight in war will tell to one another what they did in battle and whom they slew; and in those old times there were tales of bloodshed that would have made our ears to tingle, but the good men in Jerusalem would not hear them; they could not endure it. It is not the hearing of blood alone we must avoid, but the hearing of anything tainted. The genuine Christian feels he has mischief enough in his own heart without adding to it.

Again, "He shutteth his eyes from seeing evil." He cannot help seeing it as he goes his pilgrimage through life, but as far as possible he tries to avoid it. He does not go and find an evening's amusement gazing upon it. It were better to be blind, deaf, and dumb than to see, and hear, and speak in some places. The true believer is a man who has himself well in hand. He has a bit in the mouths of all the horses that draw the chariot of life, and he holds them in, and will not let his ear, eye, tongue, foot, or hand carry him away. He will have nothing to do with evil: "He shaketh his hand from holding of bribes."

II. THE SECURITY OF SUCH A MAN. Notice it first, as it is pictorially described: "He shall dwell on high." The Assyrians were attacking the country, and in times of invasion men always went to the highest parts of the country to escape from the enemy. Well, this man shall have a quiet resting-place on the heights, so high up that his enemies cannot get at him. They may plunder all round, but cannot plunder him. The sentinel on the crags of inaccessible rock shall, standing out in the sunlight gleaming calmly and brightly, bid defiance to every foe. He shall dwell on the heights, out of reach of the arrows. "His place of defence shall be the munitions of rock;" not one rock, but rocks; mass upon mass of mountain shall stand between him and the foe, and there shall he dwell in perfect security. "Oh," but says one, "they will starve him out. There will be nothing for the people to eat, and they will open the doors and say, ‘Come in! only give us bread.'" "Bread shall be given him," and as he could not be driven out, so he shall not be starved out, for the bread of Heaven shall be given him, if it come from nowhere else. "But even," says one, "if there may be bread brought into the city, they will run short of water, and must eventually capitulate through thirst." No, says the promise, "his water shall be sure." There shall be springs that never can be dried up within the castle itself, and they shall drink and drink as much as they will, and yet the supplies shall never be exhausted. "Now," says one, "this is poetry." Just so: it is a poetical description, but it is all founded on facts.

Look at the positive facts in the actual experience of the child of God. First, it is a matter of fact that the man who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, and lives as a Christian should live, lives on high. His mind is elevated above the common cares, trials, and sorrows of life (H. E. I. 1080-1084, 4162, 4163). Many of you know how secure and immutable your defence is, for you have God's promise, "I will never leave nor forsake thee." "No good thing will I withhold from him that walketh uprightly." What munitions of rocks can be compared with these things in which it is impossible for God to lie? You are dwelling where you must be safe; for, first, you were chosen before the foundation of the world, and God will not lose His chosen, nor shall His decree be frustrated. Next, you have been bought with the precious blood of the Son of God Himself, and He will never lose what He has so dearly bought. You have also been quickened by the Holy Ghost and made to live unto God, and that life cannot die. You have been taken into the family of God and made His child, and your name shall never be taken out of the family register. You are joined unto Christ in one spirit; you are a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones; and shall Christ be dismembered, the Son of God be rent in twain? I feel I stand where all the devils of hell cannot reach me, where the angels of God might envy me, and where I can say, "Who shall separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?" and challenge earth and hell and heaven alike—if so it please them—to assail me, for who can harm me, if my confidence be in the living God?

The poetic utterance, "Thy bread shall be given thee," is also literally true. You have sometimes had very little, but have always had enough. When God multiplied the meal and the oil of the widow of Zarephath, I do believe that every day Elijah lived with her she had to scrape the bottom of the barrel. We are not told it filled up at once. Just so, you may often have to reach the bottom of the barrel, and the oil may seem to come a drop at a time: this is about as much as you want, and if you get as much as you can eat at one meal, it is all the fresher, and does not breed worms like the manna in the wilderness. It is the heavenly bread we have sometimes to be anxious about; but if ministers do not feed you, God will Himself.

As for the living waters, they shall always flow both in summer and winter. They shall be within thee a well of living water springing up into eternal life. But words cannot tell the privileges of the man who dwells with God. He need not wish to change places with the Archangels.

Friend, if you are not a Christian, do not profess to be one; do not hope by mere empty profession to win the blessedness of God's people. Confess your sins, and seek the righteousness of God. Fain would I drop into your mouths that prayer, "O Lord, be gracious unto us."

As for you that are really striving to do that which is right and true, at the same time trusting alone in Jesus for your salvation, I would say to you, What a happy people we ought to be! We ought every one of us to have a shining face (H. E. I. 756-762, 3037-3039). I do not know where the Queen is just now, but if I were a dove and could fly in the air, I would soon find her, for I should see the royal flag flying on the flag-staff. Wherever the monarch is, there will the streamer be found flying. Is the King with you to-day? If so, keep the flag flying. Let the banner fly to the breeze, and let the world know that there are no people so happy, none so much to be envied, as believers in Jesus Christ.—C. H. Spurgeon.


Verses 15-20

A KING'S PRAYER

Isa . And Hezekiah prayed, &c.

I. Hezekiah prayed to Jehovah as the God of his nation. "O Lord God of Israel."

1. The nation bore the name of one of its progenitors, who "as a prince had prevailed with God." The name Israel had been more generally applied to the northern kingdom, which had already been overthrown, but Hezekiah claims it for the remnant that was left. When he uttered that name, did he wish to remind himself of Jacob's power in prayer, or of God's special interest in His nation? Perhaps both. God had chosen, defended, saved it. Names which recall Divine deliverance may encourage us in prayer.

2. His nation was Jehovah's peculiar dwelling-place: "Which dwelleth between the cherubim." The Shekinah, symbol of the Divine presence, shone forth from between those weird figures on either side of the mercy-seat. Hezekiah's reference to this peculiar Divine manifestation was intended to suggest that God would protect His own dwelling-place. This is true. God's dwelling-place is always safe, whether it be a nation—a man—a church (H. E. I. 1246-1251).

II. In his prayer Hezekiah recognises the sole supremacy of Jehovah. "Thou art the God," &c., "and have cast their gods into the fire," &c. Polytheism prevailed in the nations surrounding Judæa. Sennacherib had spoken of Jehovah as if He were the God merely of the Jews, and in his ignorance supposed that Hezekiah had offended Him by removing the "high places." Hezekiah asserted—

1. That Jehovah was the only true God.

2. That He exercised supreme control over all the kingdoms of the earth.

III. He appealed to Jehovah as the Maker of heaven and earth. In the sublime acknowledgment these truths are involved:—

1. That He is eternal (H. E. I. 2253; P. D. 1492, 1518).

2. That He is separate from, all His works. He is immanent in them, but independent of them (P. D. 1519).

3. That He is omnipotent. He who made the universe must be almighty (H. E. I. 2270; P. D. 1509).

4. That He has all things under His control (H. E. I. 4023). This conception of God afforded solid ground for Hezekiah's faith. Before the greatness of Jehovah the might of His enemies sank into nothingness. Large conceptions of God will ever give large expectations in prayer. The more we widen our views of God, the more confidence we shall have in Him in trouble.

IV. Hezekiah prayed with great earnestness. "Lord, bow down Thine ear," &c. "Now, therefore, O Lord, our God, I beseech Thee." Fervent desires lead invariably to ardent expressions. Cold prayers are no prayers. Earnestness is needed, not to lead God to observe our condition, nor to create in Him a disposition to help us, but—

1. That the strength of our desires may be revealed.

2. That we may be raised from the low condition of formal devotion.

3. That we may have all the spiritual culture which the outcries of real need may impart.

4. That we may be prepared to receive deliverances thankfully (H. E. I. 3831-3838, 3893).

V. Hezekiah recognised the greatness of the deliverance which he sought. "Of a truth, Lord," &c. Other kingdoms had fallen; why not his? Only that his hope was in God. No human ingenuity or might could deliver him. Men must be brought to see that their need of deliverance is great. Sometimes they are brought to see this by temporal emergencies. Such crises teach us more of God than years of ordinary living (H. E. I. 117-121). Spiritual deliverances must come from God alone. The soul is a besieged city. The forces of Diabolus are around Mansoul. Its Sennacherib is mighty. The deliverance which it needs is great. To recognise the greatness of the deliverance we need will—

1. Deepen our sense of our own helplessness.

2. Stimulate the exercise of great faith.

3. Prepare us for the manifestation of God's great delivering hand.

VI. Hezekiah associated the glory of Jehovah with the deliverance which he sought. The reproaches that had been cast upon him had been cast upon God. The deliverance of Jerusalem would manifest God's sole supremacy in the earth—"that all the kingdoms," &c. No prayers are so powerful as those which seek God's glory, for that is the real and ultimate good of humanity. Many prayers will not bear this test; they are earthly, narrow, selfish (P. D. 2842).

Hezekiah's prayer prevailed. The besieging army was destroyed; whether, as Kingsley suggests, "by a stream of poisonous vapours such as often comes forth out of the ground during earthquakes and eruptions of burning mountains, and kills all men and animals that breathe it," or by a pestilence, or by the simoom, we cannot tell. But it was God's delivering hand put forth in answer to Hezekiah's faith and prayer—

1. That His people might learn to put their trust in Him; and

2. That all the earth might know that none can defy His power and prosper.—W. Osborne Lilley: The Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i. pp. 521-524.


Verse 20

A CHRISTIAN PRAYER

Isa . Now, therefore, O Lord our God, save us, &c.

The conclusion of Hezekiah's prayer. Sennacherib had accomplished the conquest of several countries, notwithstanding the protection of their gods. He declared that the God whom Hezekiah trusted would also be unable to deliver him. What could the king do better than spread the letter before the Lord, cry for help, and make the reproach of the Almighty's power the principal plea? God's honour was at stake. If Jerusalem was saved, it would be a demonstration of God's exclusive divinity to all the nations around. The result was that the angel of the Lord destroyed the Assyrian camp, so that Sennacherib returned to Nineveh. It is one of the most remarkable answers to prayer.

This is pre-eminently a Christian prayer—that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that the Lord is God alone. It is the end toward which all Christian desire and effort is directed. We will consider it in this view, and notice—

I. THE CONSUMMATION WHICH IS DESIRED.

It is that all mankind may believe in the one true God. Most of the nations of ancient times believed in a multiplicity of divinities, as the inhabitants of India do now. But many of these peoples were devoted to some one god in particular, who was supposed to take their country under his protection. The gods were local. They did not exclude each other. In time of war the question, so far as the gods were concerned, was not which nation was protected by the true God, but which god was the strongest.

The spirit of Judaism was entirely antagonistic to this. The unity of God was its great doctrine. It was not missionary; it was a silent protest. So far as they were faithful to the teaching they had received, the belief of the Jewish people was, that while the Divine Being stood in special covenant relations to them, He was the exclusive Divine Being; that until the nations should become acquainted with Him they had no God at all.

Christianity occupies a similar position, only the position is extended. When it commenced its career, it made itself felt, not as a silent protest, but as an active aggressive agency which aimed at the overthrow of all idolatry. It assumed the position that all the religions of the earth are false, while it is the only religion for man. From that position it has not descended. To do so would be to efface itself, therefore it cannot accept the modern paganism. It cannot take its place as one of the many forms, perhaps the most enlightened, in which the religious sentiment is expressed. It cannot accept the courtesies of "thoughtful men" on these terms. It must be all or nothing. It is the channel through which the one God has revealed Himself as the redeeming God. The consummation desiderated by the Christian Church is that all the nations of the earth may be brought to the knowledge of Him as thus revealed.

II. THE REASON WHY IT IS DESIRED.

1. Because it is essential to the Divine honour. God is not regardless of His glory. He might have remained alone; but He chose to call into existence creatures able to contemplate His glory. Before them He has set His works. He wishes to live in their thoughts and affections, not merely as a distant object of awful contemplation, but as one enshrined in their heart's love. He desires to be so real to them as that they shall connect Him with all the events of history and all the experience of life. But this cannot be, if He is unknown or regarded as one of many. The honour of the sovereign cannot be divided; neither can the honour of God. It is something by itself. He is jealous of it. So are His people. They are anxious that He receive His proper honour from all the world.

2. Because it is necessary to religious worship. Some religious worship enters into the life of mankind everywhere. But it cannot be indifferent whether it shall be offered to the only Being capable of receiving it, or to nothing. The notion entertained of the object of worship regulates the nature of worship. Contrast heathen with Christian worship. An unknown God cannot be satisfactorily worshipped. The God of Christianity can be the object of a worship that is real so far as the worshipper is concerned, and acceptable to Him to whom it is presented.

3. Because it affects the experience of life. A man's thoughts respecting God must affect his life at every point. He may not believe in any. He may believe in many. He may believe in one. He will be influenced in relation to the duties, the trials, and the difficulties of life. Is not the ideal of possible excellence for humanity higher under the influence of the Christian than under any other form of belief or unbelief respecting God? In the inevitable sorrows of life, is it not a very different thing to be ignorant of God from what it is to know Him as one who sympathises with the sufferer, and whose hand will remove the suffering when it has accomplished its appointed work? The knowledge of God is the most practical of all knowledge. It moulds our life, character, experience, conduct, at every point.

4. Because it secures the salvation of the soul (Joh ). There must be an experimental acquaintance with Him. It is realised in the friendship with Him that comes through faith in Christ. It is an abiding spiritual life, gradually unfolding into eternal life.

III. THE MEANS BY WHICH IT WILL BE REALISED.

The prayer contemplates Divine action as evidence. "Save us from His hand." According to the reasoning of the time this would be the proof. Reasoning from facts still the most satisfactory. Thus we may reason—

1. From creation. The wisdom and power displayed are the wisdom and power of One.

2. From redemption. God has interposed for many. He has actually saved many. Every conversion strengthens this argument.

3. From the preservation of the living Church. In spite of persecution, infidelity, lapse of time.

We may therefore make it a plea for the bestowment of saving blessings, as Hezekiah did.

Do you believe in Him? Live as you believe. Think what would be the effect if all did so. Tell it to the heathen. Pray for them in praying for yourself.—J. Rawlinson.


Verse 31

THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH A CONTINUATION OF THE JEWISH

Isa . And the remnant that is escaped, &c.

When the power and splendour of the family of David were failing, the prophets foretold that the kingdom of the saints should one time be restored. Has this promise yet been fulfilled or not and if fulfilled, in what sense?

There are other prophecies parallel to the text, e.g., Jer ; Eze 34:23; Isa 41:14-15; Isa 62:1-2.

That these and a number of other prophecies are fulfilled in the Christian dispensation is plain from the express assertions of inspired persons (Act ). This explains the language of Moses, in which the perpetual obligation of the law is asserted, "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you," &c.; and after punishment, return of prosperity was promised, on condition of returning to the law (Deu 4:30; Deu 11:22-25).

Consider one or two difficulties—

1. It may be said that the prophecies have not been, and never will be, fulfilled in the letter, because they contain expressions and statements which do not admit, or certainly have not, a literal meaning. But the use of figures in a composition is not enough to make it figurative as a whole; we constantly use figures of speech whenever we speak, although the main course of our conversation is to be taken literally. Now this will apply to the language of the prophets. The words "David," "Israel," "Jerusalem," and the like, are not so much figures as proper names which have a figurative origin, or words which, having first had a confined sense, come, as language proceeds, to have a wide one. All these words convey a literal truth in their substance.

2. It may be asked whether it is possible to consider the Christian Church, which is so different from the Jewish, a continuation of it. It may be argued that Christ founded His Church as a new thing in the earth. Observe—

(1.) That the chosen people had in former ages gone through many vicissitudes, many transformations, before the revolution which followed on Christ's coming. They had been shepherds, slaves; the place of God's presence had moved about; they had been governed by a lawgiver, by judges, by kings, by priests. The change when Christ came from a local into a catholic form, was not abrupt, but gradual; what was first a dispersion became a diffusion. And let it be observed, a change in externals was anticipated as regards the city of God in the Old Testament. "Thou shalt be called by a new name," says the prophet (chap. Isa ).

(2.) It may be objected that the change was internal, not external only; it became a Church of Gentiles, instead of a Church of Jews. But changes of this kind had occurred before, e.g., the change which destroyed the substantive existence of the ten tribes; in an earlier age, only two of those who left Egypt with Moses entered the promised land. The line of continuity, surely, was not less definite when the Church became Christian. The sacred writers show themselves aware of this peculiarity in the mode in which God's purposes are carried on from age to age. They are frequent in speaking of a "remnant" as alone inheriting the promises (Rom ; Isa 1:9; Eze 11:13; Jer 40:15; Hag 1:14; Joe 2:32; Mic 5:8; Zec 8:12). There was no substitution of a new Church for an old; it was but a manifestation of the old law of "the remnant," by which the many were called and the few chosen. We may consider, then, the word "remnant," so constantly used in Scripture, to be the token of identity of the Church, in the mind of her Divine Creator, before and after the coming of Christ. Paul expressly inculcates that the promises made to Israel are really accomplished, without any evasion, in the Divine protection accorded to Christians.

To conclude:—

1. Whether we can clear up these points or no, they are not greater than the difficulties which attend on other confessedly fulfilled and very chief and notable prophecies, as that of the dispersion of the Jews. They were threatened with the evils which have befallen them, supposing they did not keep their law; whereas in the event the punishment has come upon them apparently for keeping it; because they would not change the law for the Gospel, therefore have they been scattered through the nations. In this it is implied that in rejecting the Gospel they in some way or other rejected their law, or that the Gospel is the continuation or development of the law. In a similar way are the prophecies concerning the elect remnant fulfilled in the history of the Christian Church. 2. If the prophecies in their substance certainly have had a literal fulfilment, then this will follow, viz., that the very appearance of separation and contrast does but make it more necessary that there should be some great real agreement and inward unity between one and the other, whether we can discover what it is or not on account of which they are called one. All Scripture has its difficulties; but let us not, on account of what is difficult, neglect what is clear. Perchance, if we had learnt from it what we can learn by our own private study, we should be more patient of learning from others those further truths which, though in Scripture, we cannot learn from it ourselves.—John Henry Newman: Sermons on Subjects of the Day, pp. 180-198.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 37:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-37.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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