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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 8

 

 

Verses 1-4

MAHER-SHALAL-HASH-BAZ

In order to realise the practical impressiveness of such symbolic acts and names upon Isaiah's contemporaries, we must remember that Jerusalem was a very small town for size and population compared with the notion we insensibly get of a capital from our own vast London; and also that there was as little in the ways of thinking and living of that age and country as in the extent of the city to effect such a separation between a public man's political and private life as exists in England. We respect the domestic reserve of our neighbours, and we fortify ourselves in the like reserve, by our habit of learning what they are doing that concerns us through the newspaper which we read by our own fireside. With no newspapers, and a climate which encouraged an out-of-door life, the people of Jerusalem would become as familiar with that personal demeanour of Isaiah in the market-place or elsewhere which he made a part of his public ministry, as we are with the mental habits and political conduct of Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Disraeli, though the greater part of us would recognise neither of them by sight, and still fewer know anything of their personal and private life.—Strachey.

This singular record reminds us,

I. How marvellously varied are the means which God employs to bring men to the knowledge and belief of saving truth. That which God's ancient people needed to save them from their mistakes and miseries was real faith in the elementary truth that God is the only safe counsellor, for this simple reason, that He alone sees the end from the beginning. All their circumstances, interpreted by merely human wisdom, seemed to point to the desirableness of an alliance with Assyria, the very thing which God by His prophets emphatically forbade. That it might be easier for them to believe what seemed so incredible, namely, that the Assyrian alliance would be a calamity and not a blessing to them, God gave, in addition to the testimonies of His prophets to this effect, a prophecy of an event seemingly as incredible, namely, that the great power of the two nations, Israel and Syria, from which they had suffered so much, and which seemed so likely to be permanent, and on account of which they sought Assyrian help, should be utterly broken, and that speedily. God predicted this in words (chap. Isa ), and He condescended to a symbolic act that He might impress this truth more vividly on their minds. It is of that symbolic act that we have the record here. Now that God took so much trouble for such a purpose is a fact worth thinking about. As a matter of fact, it is but one instance of His constant method of dealing with men. He is so bent on bringing them to a knowledge and belief of truth that to them would be saving, that He shrinks from no trouble at all likely to secure this result (Jer 7:13; Jer 7:25; Heb 1:1; Luk 20:10-13). Illustrate, e.g., how various are the methods by which He endeavours to awaken a careless soul to anxiety, and to effect its conversion! What is the explanation of this versatility and ingenuity of methods in dealing with us? It is the tenderness of His love for us; it is His yearning solicitude for our welfare.

Alexander remarks on Isa :—"Samaria is here put for the kingdom, and not for the capital city. But even if the name be strictly understood, there is no reason to doubt that Samaria was plundered by Tiglath-pileser (2Ki 15:29), although not destroyed.… The carrying away of its wealth does not necessarily imply anything more than such a spoiling of the capital as might be expected in the course of a brief but successful invasion."


Verses 5-8

THE STREAM REJECTED FOR THE RIVER

Isa . Forasmuch as this people refuseth, &c.

For "rejoice in Rezim and Remaliah's son," read "rejoice concerning Rezim and Remaliah's son," i.e., rejoice in the disaster which had befallen the allied powers who had inflicted such disasters upon Judah, and had threatened it with utter destruction.

Considered in a commercial respect, as well as with regard to its uses in agriculture, the Euphrates manifestly stood in the same relation to Babylon and the surrounding region that the Nile did to Egypt; it was the source, to a large extent, of its prosperity, and the most important element of its greatness. It is in this relation that the symbolical use of the Euphrates in Scripture proceeds, and by keeping it in view the several passages will be found to admit of an easy explanation. Contributing so materially to the resources and wealth of Babylon, the river was naturally taken for an emblem or representative of the city itself, and of the empire of which it was the capital. In this respect a striking application is made of it by the prophet Isaiah (chap. Isa ), where the little kingdom of Judah, with its circumscribed territory and its few earthly resources, on the one hand, is seen imaged in the tiny brooklet of Shiloah; while, on the other, the rising power of Babylon is spoken of under the emblem of "the waters of the river, strong and many, even the King of Assyria and all his glory." And he goes on to expose the folly of Israel's[Judah's] trusting in this foreign power on account of its material greatness, by declaring that in consequence of this mistaken trust, and in chastisement of it, the mighty stream would, as it were, desert its proper channel, and turn its waters in a sweeping and desolating flood over the Holy Land.—Fairbairn.

"Brook that flowed

Hard by the oracle of God."

But, more than this, it was the image which entered into the very heart of the prophetical idea of Jerusalem (Psa ; Psa 87:7; Isa 12:3). It is the source of all the freshness and verdure of the vale of Hinnom. In Ezekiel's vision the thought is expanded into a vast cataract flowing out through the Temple rock eastward and westward into the ravines of Hinnom and Kedron, till they swell into a mighty river, fertilising the desert of the Dead Sea. And with still greater distinctness the thought appears again, and for the last time, in the discourse, when in the courts of the Temple, "in the last day, that great day of the feast"[of Tabernacles], "Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me … out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."—Stanley.

The expression in Isaiah, "waters of Shiloah that go softly," seems to point to the slender rivulet, flowing gently, though once very profusely, out of Siloam into the lower breadth of level, where the king's gardens, or "royal paradise," stood, and which is still the greenest spot about the Holy City, reclaimed from sterility into a fair oasis of olive groves, fig-trees, pomegranates, &c., by the tiny rill that flows out of Siloam. A winter-torrent, like the Kedron, or a swelling river like the Euphrates, carries havoc with it by sweeping off soil, trees, and terraces; but this Siloam-fed rill flows softly, fertilising and beautifying the region through which it passes.—Bonar.

1. Whatever be our life-work, there are two ways of seeking success in it—with God, or without God.

2. If we take God to be our ally, we must do our work on His terms and plans. But these are frequently contrary to our natural expectations, and opposed to what the world calls "common sense." As helps to a speedy and great success, they seem to most men as despicable as the little stream of Shiloah in comparison with the broad river Euphrates.

3. Consequently the vast majority of men reject them, and seek for success without God, and contrary to His methods (H. E. I. 4198).

4. In this way, they frequently speedily attain to a success which appears to be a complete justification of the wisdom of their policy. When the prophecy contained in our text was uttered, the forces of Syria and Israel were being swept away by the triumphant Assyrian host, and no doubt Ahaz and His court felt they could afford to laugh at Isaiah, who had steadily opposed the alliance which appeared to have been so advantageous.

5. But the triumph of the wicked is short. The unholy success in which bad men rejoice contains within itself the seeds of peril and pain, of retribution and ruin (H. E. I. 4609, 4612). The ally in whom Ahaz had trusted presently became his oppressor; it was a verification in actual life of the fable of the horse that took a man for its ally. So is it to-day with all who prosper without God and against God. Their prosperity is, strictly speaking, unnatural, and everything that is unnatural speedily brings on disorder. For example, a family has been enriched by godless plans; to those who have no fear of God in their hearts, there is nothing so perilous as wealth; it is used for the gratification of the baser passions; by this gratification health is broken down; when the physical frame is shattered, conscience, that has been suppressed, breaks forth into freedom and activity, and remorse turns the gilded palace into a hell. The illustrations of the working of this great law are endless.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS.—

1. In the conduct of daily life, as well as in our spiritual concerns, let us walk by faith, not by sight. God's help, though it may seem inconsiderable as Shiloah's stream, is yet, like that stream, constant. Our reliance upon it will never issue in disappointment. By means of it we shall certainly attain to all the prosperity that would be for our real welfare (H. E. I. 3984-3986, 5059, 5060).

2. Let us not envy the prosperity of the wicked (H. E. I. 4943-4948, 4961-4966). It is short-lived, like the mighty flood of Euphrates itself. Out of that very prosperity heart-aches innumerable will spring. The rejoicing that is so exultant and scornful to-day, to-morrow will be turned into lamentation and woe. Then those who triumphed without God will find that in defeat they are without Him: this will be their description, "Without God, and without hope in the world."

3. When Jesus of Nazareth was called to choose between the stream and the river, His decision was prompt and unhesitating (Mat ). Up to the very end of His life His choice seemed to have been a foolish one (Mat 8:20); on Calvary it seemed to have been madness: but all history since has been a vindication of its wisdom (Php 2:9-10).


Verses 6-8

THE WATERS OF SHILOAH

Isa . Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, &c.

Reminded, I. That the peaceful blessings of the people of God appear in lovely contrast to the false and tumultuous pursuits and pleasures of the world (H. E. I. 1080-1084, 4163-4168). II. That those who despise and neglect God's promised blessings expose themselves to His severe displeasure.—Samuel Thodey.

I. The state of mind referred to: A disposition to reject God's promises of salvation, and rest on the hopes, promises, and resources of the world. We see it manifested,

1. In the systems of religion men prefer.

2. In the schemes of worldly aggrandisement they pursue.

3. In the sources of consolation to which they betake themselves (H. E. I. 174). II. The consequence of continuance in this state of mind.

1. Mental darkness and sorrow of heart.

2. Providential chastisements.—Samuel Thodey.


Verses 11-15

THREATENED, BUT SAFE

Isa . Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces, &c.

This is a shout of triumphant defiance which Ahaz and his people might have raised, had they listened to Isaiah's counsels, and turned to the Lord with full purpose of heart. Then they might have been threatened by foes numerous, powerful, determined, and confederated, but they would have been safe. Its doctrine clearly is, that it matters not who may be against us, if God be with us. This has been the faith of God's people in all generations.

I. On what ground does it rest?

1. On what may be regarded as a settled conviction of the human mind, that this world, disordered as it is, is really governed by a righteous Ruler, omnipotent and all-wise, and that it must be well with those who have Him on their side.

2. On the declarations of God's Word (Gen ; Psa 34:7; Isa 54:17, &c.)

3. On the experience of His people as recorded in His Word. The promise to Abraham was kept; David (1Sa ); Hezekiah (2Ki 19:32-35); Daniel and his companions (Dan 6:22; Dan 3:28); Peter (Act 12:7). On these accounts His people have felt and expressed the utmost contempt for, and defiance of, their foes (Psa 27:1-6; Mic 7:8-10). Old as these utterances are, they express the confidence of countless thousands to-day. But, II. Let us look at the grounds that might cause us to hesitate to receive it.

1. There is the undoubted fact that we are living in a world in which many things happen that are contrary to what we would have expected; and it would be only one more contradiction of our priori expectations if a good man, or a number of good men, were utterly destroyed by a number of bad men.

2. As a matter of fact, this has often happened. Who were "the noble army of martyrs," but good men who suffered intolerable wrongs, and were put to cruel deaths? If Peter was delivered, James, his fellow-apostle, was left to his fate (Act ); yea, Peter himself at last died by the hands of the executioner, as did nearly all the Apostles. See what a terrible record of the sufferings of righteous men we have in Heb 11:35-37.

III. How are these two sets of facts to be harmonised? How account for it that, notwithstanding the latter set, which are obvious and not denied, it is still the settled conviction of pious and otherwise sensible men, that it shall be well with the righteous?

1. This is undoubtedly true, on the whole. We see what is the teaching of experience, taken on any considerable scale, in the familiar proverb, "Honesty is the best policy." Deadly as is the conflict between the powers of good and of evil, on the whole, the victory is on the side of goodness, of righteousness, of truth. The world grows better, not worse (H. E. I. 1161, 1162). And it is manifest that "godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well of that which is to come."

2. The exceptions to which our attention is directed are necessary. Without them the difficulties in the way of the existence and growth of virtue would be immensely increased. If those who served God ran no risk in doing so, it would be as difficult for them to show that they loved Him for His own sake, as it would be for soldiers to prove their bravery, if it were possible to send them forth to battle in absolutely impregnable armour. If the safety assured to God's people were absolute and without exceptions, there would be no room for the exercise of faith and loyalty.

3. This life is not all. It is but the prelude to our real existence; and for whatever we suffer in God's cause here, we shall be abundantly compensated hereafter. So that, with Sir Thomas More, we may say, "They may take off my head, but hurt me they cannot."

This is a plain and sober statement of the facts of this great problem. What are the practical inferences to be drawn from it?

1. Let us dismiss from our minds all fears for the cause of truth and rightcousness. That is safe (2Co ). God's Church and God's Word will survive all the assaults that are made upon them (H. E. I. 642-645, 1246-1251, 2449).

2. Let us not be greatly concerned as to what may happen to ourselves. If God pleases, He can deliver us from any danger that may threaten us. If He is not pleased to do so, He knows how to make our sufferings promote the cause we have at heart. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" (P. D. 2421, 2422, 2426).

3. If we are called to suffer, let us rejoice (Php ; 2Ti 2:9; P. D. 2419).

BIBLICAL POLITICIANS

God's people are to be "a peculiar people." Their whole life is to be governed by divine principles.

2. By these principles they will be guided and kept amid all the duties and difficulties of public life. They will be uplifted above party spirit in all its narrow and debasing forms. Theirs will be that true patriotism which consists in a steady loyalty to truth, and righteousness, and mercy.

If we are to be Biblical politicians, and this is the duty of every man among us,

I. We shall not necessarily be found on the side of the majority (Isa ). How often God's people have been called to stand in what is called "a miserable minority!" (Exo 23:2.)

III. We shall not necessarily share in the prevalent feelings of our time, whether they be those of fear or of hope (Isa ). We shall know that no permanent hurt can be done to our nation while it is in pursuit of righteousness, and that no real advantage can be gained by methods that will not bear the divine scrutiny.

V. We shall never lose sight of the fact that the penalty of ungodliness in public life is ruin (Isa ). The real Ruler of the world is God, who governs it according to a plan of truth, righteousness, and mercy; and every human "policy" which is not consistent therewith, though it may win for its authors a short-lived triumph, will inevitably plunge those who accept it into disaster. From those who fight against God, utter defeat cannot be far off.

When these facts are inwrought into the understandings and consciences of God's people, and have become influential in their public and political life, much will have been done to usher in the millennium for which we daily pray, and of which Isaiah himself has given us such glowing pictures (chaps. Isa , Isa 32:16-17; Isa 60:17).


Verse 13

"HALLOWED BE THY NAME!"

Isa . Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, &c.

I. What is it to "sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself"? It is,

2. To fill our hearts with right feelings towards Him (P. D. 1492-1526).

II. How is this to be done? By frequent, devout, prayerful, intense meditation on the revelations of Himself which He has been pleased to give (H. E. I. 3507-3514).

III. What will be the effect of doing it?

1. All other fear and dread will vanish from our minds (1Sa ; 1Sa 17:37; Jer 32:17; 1Pe 3:14-15).

2. Thus we shall unconsciously and inevitably attain to that heroism of which some of us dream (Psa ; Dan 3:16-18; Act 4:19-20).

3. Thus we shall be qualified for the noblest service of God and man (Heb ; 1Co 4:3-4).

4. Thus a divine peace and joy will fill our whole being, as a mighty tide fills every nook and cranny of a wide-stretching bay (Psa ). We shall rejoice in God as a soldier rejoices in a mighty fortress in which he feels secure from all assaults (2Sa 22:2-3).


Verse 14

SANCTUARY IN GOD

Isa . And He shall be for a sanctuary.

Not a few mourn, in the midst of a busy, bustling age, a loss of sacredness in life. Not the false "sacred"—that which is merely ascetic separation from life and duty; nor that which is merely solemn "sacred"—the dull heavy monotony of gloominess.

We naturally say that if this is God's world, if civil and civic duties, social responsibilities, are God-ordained, it is likely, at least, that here we may be able to secure a heavenly citizenship amid earthly cares and customs. This is exactly what God reveals in the text. Sanctuary, He says, is not in mere place; not in separation from manly duty: I open up my very nature to you. How often this idea recurs in the Scriptures! God is our refuge and rest, our hiding-place, our dwelling-place.

I. THE SACREDNESS THAT A REVERENT HEARTDESIRES. Something within us asserts its dignity when society is frivolous and gay, and when the routine of life brings us into association with lives where the light even of conscience burns low, when the reverent wonder that filled even Pagan hearts has given place to scientific explanations of every spiritual function. When we are brought into contact with all this, then it is that we find how the high tides of the world cover the little green knolls of devotion, and sweep away alike the altar of prayer and the harp of praise. In all earnest natures there comes, at times, resentment at all this. We believe the divinity within us. We believe the high call of seer and prophet to nobler ends; we believe, above all, that Lord of life and light who tells us that the life is more than meat, and who fed His own life by the mountain prayer and the garden solitude. We should seek to secure the sacredness we feel we need, not in morbid methods, but in ways that are human, and ways that are Divine because they are human. Christ lived and worked amongst men. We, too, may secure sacredness for our lives; we may carry in our mien and breathe in our converse the springs of hope and faith and love which flow still from Zion's sacred hill.

II. THE SACREDNESS THAT MAKES SANCTUARY IN GOD HIMSELF. "He shall be for a sanctuary." He whom wicked men dread and flee from; for, as of old, darkness cannot dwell with light, nor irreverence with reverence, nor mammon-worship with devotion to God. We may carry very bad hearts into very beautiful places. Place is easily made unsacred, but into fellowship with God there can enter nothing that is false, or worldly, or vile. "Sanctuary in a person?" Yes; for even here, in this dim sphere of earthly friendship, our best sanctuaries, apart from Christ, have been men and women,—those who bear His likeness, and who do His will. "Sanctuaries?" Yes; for with them we are ashamed of unworthy motive, of impure thought, of unsacred aim. Take Christ with you, and every place is sacred. This is our living sanctuary; we abide in Him who says, "I am He that liveth, and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore." And if by His own Divine nature He is a sanctuary, He is also by experience too. How much the human sanctuary of friendship is beautified when there is oneness of feeling about the battle and burden of life! Is it nothing, then, that when we speak of sanctuary in Christ we should mean "sympathy," all that belongs to a brother born for adversity—to Him who, as a "Man of Sorrows," was "acquainted with grief" (Isa )? We know indeed but little of the realities of religion unless we have found such a living sanctuary in Christ Jesus the Lord (H. E. I. 968-975).

III. THE SACREDNESS OF ALL THE FUTURE DAYS. "He shall be." Names vary in interpreting what God is to suit need and experience. We translate the want, and then God's name is translated to meet it. I am hungry—He is Bread; thirsty—He is water, &c. The word "sanctuary" meets special wants. Life is not always a seeking for a refuge, but it is so especially at certain times and in strange and desolate experiences. We are alone in a strange city. The child must leave home to teach, to toil, to live; the weakness will come which presages decline and death; the soul does feel that some lights are lost to faith and that others are growing dim. He shall be for a sanctuary. Let the hours come: He will come too. Who can make retreat into his own heart and find perfect sanctuary there? Christ alone could do that. We cannot. Nature cannot afford us the sanctuary we need; she has healthy anodynes of atmosphere that afford us deep and quiet retreats, but sanctuary, in the highest sense, she has not. Christ, and He alone, will be now and for ever a sanctuary (H. E. I. 2378-2387).

IV. THE SACREDNESS OF PERSONAL LIFE IN GOD. We can have no safety or rest in Churches as such. They are helpful; they are houses of fellowship and centres of usefulness. But we cannot say, as Mediævalism said, "Enter the Church and be saved." The soul's relation to God is personal and individual. Whether the relation of faith is real, vital, each soul can attest for itself; and that living relationship is all that can ever make life sacred to any man. When the life is hid with Christ in God, all is well, for all is sacred; and nothing that He has created us to do or to enjoy is common or unclean. So may God help us to keep a sacred life which finds sanctuary in the Saviour, until we find it where there is no temple, but where there is sanctuary in God (Rev ).—W. M. Statham: Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii. pp. 131-133.


Verses 16-18

THE DUTY OF TEACHERS OF TRUTH IN TIMES OF NATIONAL PERVERSION

Isa

In Heb the commencement of Isa 8:18 is quoted as an utterance of the Messiah. This opens up questions concerning the New Testament quotations from the Old which cannot be fully discussed in this commentary. It may suffice to remark that the Spirit inspiring Isaiah was the Spirit of Christ, and that therefore Isaiah's utterances generally may be regarded as the utterances of Christ; and further, this is especially true in those cases in which there is a close similarity in the position occupied by the great prophet of the Messiah and the Messiah Himself. At times Isaiah appears to be merely the spokesman of the Messiah; but in others, while his words had their ultimate and highest fulfilment in Christ, they were primarily true of himself, and this appears to be the case here.

There are times when a nation goes utterly wrong, politically, socially, and, as the root of all the evil, religiously. God is forgotten, and the people give themselves over to purposes of ambition or of sensual pleasure. It is a time of formalism and pharisaism, of infidelity and blasphemy, of luxury and vice. So strong is this current of evil that it seems a hopeless and foolish thing for any man or body of men to resist it. What, then, is the prophet or faithful preacher to do? Prudence counsels compliance with the prevailing temper (2Ch ), or at least a temporary silence. Shall he listen to prudence, and bid principle wait for a more fitting season? Nay, but—

II. Let him wait upon God with immovable confidence that His truth shall yet prevail in the earth (Isa ). Thus did the Primitive Christians, the Puritans, and the Covenanters in the evil days in which they lived.

III. Let him recognise and glory in the position he occupies (Isa ). He and his spiritual children are God's witnesses (Isa 44:8); what position could be more honourable? Let them not shrink from its conspicuousness (Php 2:15); let them not be disheartened by the singularity it involves (H. E. I. 1042-1045, 3906, 3914; P. D. 1188). Amid all that is depressing and threatening in the position to which they have been Divinely called, let them remember their Lord's declarations (Mat 10:32; Rev 3:5).


Verse 17

WAITING ON THE LORD IN DESERTION AND GLOOM

Isa . And I will wait upon the Lord, &c.

II. The implied mysteriousness of His dealings with His people. It is not merely from Babylon or Egypt, from Tyre or Nineveh, that He hides His face, but from "the house of Jacob."

1. The persons referred to may be regarded as typical of the Church. Though descended from Abraham, they were called "the house of Jacob," to denote that they were a chosen people—a praying people (this at least was true of the best men among them)—a people in whom God delighted.

2. With these persons He dealt in a manner contrary to what we should have expected. Looking only at the relation in which He stood to them, we should have expected that the light of His countenance would have gladdened them continually. Yet He hid Himself; and He frequently hides himself not only from the world, but from the Church; not only from the wicked man, but from the believer. Yet here is a difference: in the one case it is total and constant, in the other it is but partial and temporary. In the one case it is in anger, in the other it is in love (Rev ).

3. The modes in which He hides Himself.

(1) In the cloud of providential darkness—affliction, bereavement, &c. (Isa ).

III. The resolve of the believer under this visitation. In nothing does the grace of God shine more unmistakably than in the way in which the Christian bears trouble. "Behold, this evil is of the Lord; why should I wait for the Lord any longer?" said a wicked man of old; but "I will look unto the Lord, and will wait for Him," is the prophet's resolve.

1. As to looking for Him.

(1.) For whom do we look? For our God—our Father—our Friend—our Deliverer.

(2.) Where shall we look for Him? He is near, though concealed. Then look for Him in Christ, in whom He is reconciling the world unto Himself, in whom He is well pleased even with us. Look for Him in His promises—in His ordinances—in your closet.

(3.) How shall we look for Him? With faith—zeal—energy—determination (Job ; Jer 29:13).

2. As to waiting for Him. This is a state of mind frequently enjoined and commended in the Bible. Waiting implies faith—desire—patience (P. D. 2643). When you have found Him, fall at His feet and confess your unworthiness. Resolve to follow Him fully. Cleave to Him with purpose of heart Pray, "Abide with me!"—George Smith, D.D.

PENITENTIAL WAITING ON GOD

Isa . And I will wait upon the Lord, &c.

Believers are in the Scriptures abundantly encouraged to wait upon God (Psa ; Isa 25:9). In Psa 62:5, it is suggested that this waiting upon God is connected with hopeful expectation of receiving a blessing. The same truth is taught us by our Lord in His parable on prayer (Luk 18:1-8). However long God delays, we must wait expectantly. In our text, however, we have the idea of waiting upon God while He is hiding His face from His people. The very possibility that He should assume this attitude towards us is depressing, and not unfrequently in our religious exercises we are haunted by the fear that this is the attitude He has assumed towards us. Through fears and doubts that intercept our vision of Him, we look up to see the face of our Father, and behold only a cloud! In such a case our faith needs quickening, that our hopes may be raised and our courage renewed. The following thoughts may conduce to this end. I. God does not hide His face from us because His blessings have diminished (Isa 40:26-31; Jer 2:13; Jer 17:13). II. God does not hide His face from us on account of any weariness in His love (Joh 13:1; Isa 49:15). III. God does not hide His face from us because of any caprice in His nature (Jas 1:16-17). IV. If God does hide His face from us, it is only on account of our sinfulness. This is the dark atmosphere in which God becomes lost to us (chap. Isa 49:1-2). V. Consequently, if God's face is hidden from us, it is at once our only hope and our positive duty to wait upon Him (Jas 4:8). Let us wait for Him and look for Him.

1. Penitently.

2. Believingly.

3. Patiently. Then will the Lord turn us again; He will cause His face to shine upon us, and we shall be saved.—William Manning.


Verses 19-22

NECROMANCY

Isa . Seek unto them, &c.

As bearing upon the doctrine of necromancy, an exhaustive discussion of these verses would involve the following points:

1. Under the instigation of a prurient curiosity, or under the pressure of affliction, godless men are wont to seek knowledge and help from the spirits of the dead.

2. Hence, in every age of the world and in every nation of universal history, there have been necromancers, wizards, &c., known by various names, practising various arts of divination and legerdemain; playing with the credulity of men and women, and claiming access to supernatural knowledge and power. The spirits of modern times are the latest species of this genus of necromancers.

3. This passage implies irresistibly that God frowns upon and condemns necromancy in whatever form.

4. The expostulations, rebukes, and threatenings of the Lord, through His prophet in this passage, assumes it to be impossible for man to get knowledge or help for the living from the dead. The power of God to send back to earth the spirits of the dead is quite another thing; yet as to this the practical question is—Does He see fit to use it?

5. Hence, to discard the light of God's revealed Word and to seek light and help from the dead, is to hurl oneself against the impermeable and impassable wall with which God has shut in the living of our world, and involves both positive conflict against God and contemptuous rejection of His Divine Word.

6. As Satan has a natural sympathy with everything abhorrent to God and ruinous to man, we ought to look for his hand in these agencies of necromancy, to whatever extent God may give him scope and range for action. What these limits may be, who can tell? It is man's wisdom to keep himself utterly aloof from the sphere of Satan's agencies and temptations.

7. Necromancers and spirits practically league themselves with Satan against God, and should be aware that his lot must be theirs, and their end be as their works, no dawn of day ever breaking forth on the midnight of their gloom.—Henry Cowles, D.D. Commentary on Isaiah, pp. 68, 69.


Verse 20

THE LAW AND THE TESTIMONY

Isa . To the law and to the testimony, &c.

2. There await them disappointment, disaster, and despair. This is the teaching of the other beautiful translation which many eminent scholars have adopted: "To the teaching of God, and to the testimony! If they do not according to this word, they are a people for whom no morning dawns" (H. E. I. 641).

Here also may be quoted the declaration of the Westminster Assembly of divines:—

"VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are so ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded or offered in some scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.…

X. The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."—The Confession of Faith.

Here also may be quoted the declaration of the Westminster Assembly of divines:—

"VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are so ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded or offered in some scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.…

X. The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."—The Confession of Faith.

Here also may be quoted the declaration of the Westminster Assembly of divines:—

"VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are so ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded or offered in some scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.…

X. The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."—The Confession of Faith.

(1) In regard to the subjects concerning which we seek instruction (H. E. I. 540-542, 558-560).


Verse 21

UNSANCTIFIED SUFFERING

Isa , and Isa 9:13. And they shall pass through it, &c.

I. Sin leads to suffering.

1. This is true of individuals (H. E. I. 4603-4612). But because there is another life and a future retribution, the full results of sin are frequently not seen in this life. Nay, the sinner often appears prosperous even to the end (Psa ).

2. But in the case of nations, which as such have no immortality, it is otherwise (P. D. 2544); it is more prompt; it is often exceedingly terrible. This fact should make those who have any love for their children hostile to any national policy that is unrighteous, however politically "expedient" it may seem.

III. Suffering does nothing in itself to abate God's anger against sinners. We, when we are wronged, often yield to a passion of vindictiveness, which is sated when we have succeeded in inflicting a certain amount of pain on the wrong-doer. But God's anger is not vindictive, but righteous (H. E. I. 2288-2294); hence its terribleness. As it does not thirst for suffering, it is not satisfied by suffering. As long as the sinner holds to his sin, God's anger will burn against him, irrespective altogether of the suffering he may have endured. Nothing will turn away that anger but a genuine repentance (Isa ).

1. In the hour of temptation, let us think of sin not as it then presents itself to us, but as it will certainly appear to us when its results are manifested (H. E. I. 4673-4676).

2. When suffering has come upon us, let us regard it as God's summons to repentance (H. E. I. 56-59); and let us obey it with thankfulness that God is willing to deal with us in the way of mercy.

THE REMEDY OF THE WORLD'S MISERY

(Missionary Sermon.)

Isa . The people that walked in darkness, &c.

The prophecies contained in this text are of a mixed kind; they are partly fulfilled and partly unfulfilled. We have the authority of the Evangelists to apply the passage to Gospel times, and to prevent it from being restricted to the Jews (Mat ; Luk 1:79; Luk 2:32). Let us consider—

I. The view taken by the Prophet of the moral state of the world previous to the glorious change which makes the subject of his prophecy.

2. But darkness alone appears to the mind of the Prophet only a faint emblem of the state of the heathen: he adds, therefore, "the shadow of death." In Scripture this expression is used for the darkness of that subterranean mansion into which the Jews supposed the souls of men went after death. Figuratively, the expression is used for great distress; a state of danger and terror. It is an amplification, therefore, of the Prophet's thought. The predominant idea is that of a sense of insecurity, accompanied by fear. Darkness increases danger and fear at the same time. Such is the state of the heathen. The religion of the heathen has ever been gloomy and horrible.

There is nothing, however, in the connection to induce us to suppose that the Prophet particularly contemplated the Jewish nation. The same thing must be affirmed of every nation that abandons itself to wickedness. When nations are multiplied, their political strength is increased; and happiness would be multiplied too, were it not for sin. But in wicked nations the "joy is not increased." This negative expression signifies the misery is increased. God has not added His blessing; and there is no joy.—Watson.

II. On this blessed visitation we would now fix your attention.

1. As darkness is an emblem of the religious sorrow which had overcast the world, so light is an emblem of the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel is "light."

(1.) This marks its origin from heaven.

(2.) This notes its truth. It is fitting that what is truth, without mixture of error, should be compared to what is the most simple substance in nature.

(3.) It is called "light" because of its penetrating and subtle nature.

(4.) Because of the discoveries which it makes.

(5.) Because it is life and health to the world.

2. As in the vision light succeeds to darkness, so also joy succeeds to fear and misery (Isa ). The joy here described is no common feeling; it is the joy of harvest, the joy of victory. The effect of the diffusion of the Gospel in producing joy is a constant theme of prophecy (chap. Isa 24:16; Psa 98:8; Luk 2:10). True joy, as yet, there is none upon a large scale; of sorrow and sighing the world has ever been full; and as long as it remains in this state, even sighs might fail rather than cause to sigh. Even that which is called joy is mockery and unreal, an effort to divert a pained and wounded mind; it gleams like a transient light, only to make men more sensible of the darkness. As long as the world is wicked it must be miserable. All attempts to increase happiness, except by diminishing wickedness and strengthening the moral principle, are vain. The Gospel is the grand cure of human woe. When it has spread to the extent seen by the Prophet, a sorrowing world shall dry up its tears, and complaint give place to praise (Isa 45:8; Isa 32:17). They shall joy as in victory, for the rod of the grand oppressor shall be broken; Satan shall fall, his reign be terminated; and one universal, transporting "Hallelujah" ascend from every land, to the honour of Him by whom the victory is achieved.

IV. But it may be said, "Is not all this a splendid vision? You speak of weak instruments effecting a miraculous success; of the display and operation of a supernatural power touching the hearts of men and changing the moral state of the world, but what is the ground of this expectation? This natural and very proper question our text answers (Isa ). In these verses we have the grounds of that expectation of success which we form as to missionary efforts. The plan of Christianising the world is not ours; it was laid in the mind of God before the world was. The principal arrangements of the scheme are not left to us, but are already fixed by the infinite wisdom of God. The part we fill is very subordinate; and we expect success, not for the wisdom or the fitness of the means themselves, but because they are connected with mightier motives, whose success is rapid, and whose direction is divine; because God has formed a scheme of universal redemption, to be gradually but fully developed; because He has given gifts to the world, the value of which is in every age to be more fully demonstrated; and because He has established offices in the person of Christ, which He is qualified to fill to the full height of the Divine idea (text).

Our text has set before us the moral misery of the human race; the purpose of God to remove it by the diffusion of His truth and grace; the means chosen for this purpose; and the ground of that certain success which must attend the application of the prescribed means under the Divine blessing. It now only remains for me to invite you to such a co-operation in this great work as your own ability and the importance of the enterprise demand.—Richard Watson, "Works," vol. iv. pp. 206-224.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 8:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-8.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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