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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Isaiah 48

 

 

Verses 1-22

CHAPTER XIII

THE CALL TO GO FORTH

Isaiah 48:1-22

On the substance of chapter 48, we have already encroached, and now it is necessary only to summarise its argument, and to give some attention to the call to go forth from Babylon, with which it concludes.

Chapter 48 is addressed, as its first verse declares, to the exiles from Judah: "Hear this, Oh House of Jacob, that call yourselves by the name of Israel, and from the waters of Judah have come forth": that is, you so-called Israelites, who spring from Judah. But their worship of Jehovah is only nominal and unreal: "They who swear by the name of Jehovah, and celebrate the God of Israel, not in truth and not in righteousness; although by the Holy City they name themselves, and upon the God of Israel they lean-Jehovah of Hosts is His Name!"

"The former things I published long ago; from My mouth they went forth, and I let them be heard-suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. Because I knew how hard thou wert, and a sinew of iron thy neck, and thy brow brass. And I published to thee long ago; before it came to pass I let thee hear it, lest thou shouldest say: Mine idol hath wrought them, and my Image and my Casting hath commanded them. Thou didst hear it: look at it whole," (now that it is fulfilled), "and you I should ye not publish it?"

All the past lies as a unity, prediction and fulfilment together complete; all of it the doing of Jehovah, and surely enough of it to provide the text of confession of Him by His people. But now, -

"I let thee hear new things" (in contrast with former things) "from now, and hidden things, and thou knewest them not. Now are they created, and not long ago; and before today thou hadst not heard them, lest thou shouldest say, Behold I knew them. Verily, thou hadst not heard, verily thou hadst not known, verily, long since thine ear was not open; because I knew thou art thoroughly treacherous, and Transgressor-from-the-womb do they call thee."

The meaning of all this is sufficiently clear. It is a reproach addressed to the formal Israelites. It divides into two parts, each containing an explanation "Because I knew that," etc.: Isaiah 48:3-6 a, -and Isaiah 48:6-9. In the first part Jehovah treats of history already finished, both in its prediction and fulfilment. Many Of the wonderful things of old Jehovah predicted long before they happened, and so left His stubborn people no excuse for an idolatry to which otherwise they would have given themselves (Isaiah 48:5). Now that they see that wonderful past complete, and all the predictions fulfilled, they may well publish Jehovah’s renown to the world. In the first part of His reproach, then, Jehovah is dealing with stages of Israel’s history that were closed before the Exile. The former things are wonderful events, foretold and come to pass before the present generation. But in the second part of His reproach (Isaiah 48:6-9) Jehovah mentions new things. These new things are being created while His prophet speaks, and they have not been foretold (in contradistinction to the former things of Isaiah 48:3). What events fulfil these two conditions? Well, Cyrus was on his way, the destruction of Babylon was imminent, Israel’s new destiny was beginning to shape itself under God’s hands: these are evidently the things that are in process of creation while the prophet speaks. But could it also be said of them, that they had not been foretold? This could be said, at least, of Cyrus, the Gentile Messiah. A Gentile Messiah was something so new to Israel, that many, clinging to the letter of the old prophecies, denied, as we have seen, that Cyrus could possibly be God’s instrument for the redemption of Israel. Cyrus, then, as a Gentile, and at the same time the Anointed of Jehovah, is the new thing which is being created while the prophet speaks, and which has not been announced beforehand.

How is it possible, some may now ask, that Cyrus should be one of the unpredicted new things that are happening while the prophet speaks, when the prophet has already pointed to Cyrus and his advance on Babylon as a fulfilment of ancient predictions? The answer to this question is very simple. There were ancient predictions of a deliverance and a deliverer from Babylon. To name no more, there were Jeremiah’s and Habakkuk’s; and Cyrus, in so far as he accomplished the deliverance, was the fulfilment of these ancient r’ishonoth. But in so far as Cyrus sprang from a quarter of the world not hinted at in former prophecies of Jehovah - in so far as he was a Gentile and yet the Annointed of the Lord, a combination not provided for by any tradition in Israel-Cyrus and his career were the "new things not predicted beforehand, the new things" which caused such offence to certain tradition-bound parties in Israel.

We cannot overestimate the importance of this passage. It supplies us with the solution of the problem, how the presently-happening deliverance of Israel from Babylon could be both a thing foretold from long ago, and yet so new as to surprise those Israelites who were most devoted to the ancient prophecies. And at the same time such of us as are content to follow our prophet’s own evidence, and to place him in the Exile, have an answer put into our mouths, to render to those, who say that we destroy a proof of the Divinity of prophecy by denying to Isaiah or to any other prophet, so long before Cyrus was born, the mention of Cyrus by name. Let such objectors, who imagine that they are more careful of the honour of God and of the Divinity of Scripture, because they maintain that Cyrus was named two hundred years before he was born, look at Isaiah 48:7. There God Himself says, that there are some things, which, for a very good reason, he does not foretell before they come to pass. We believe, and have shown strong grounds for believing, that the selection of Cyrus, the mention of his name, and the furtherance of his arms against Babylon, were among those new things, which God says He purposely did not reveal till the day of their happening, and which by their novel and unpredicted character, offended so many of the traditional and stupid party in Israel. Must there always be among God’s people, today as in the day of our prophet, some who cannot conceive a thing to be Divine unless it has been predicted long before?

In Isaiah 48:3-8, then, God claims to have changed His treatment of His people, in order to meet and to prevent the various faults of their character. Some things He told to them, long before, so that they might not attribute the occurrence of these to their idols. But other things He sprang upon them, without predictions, and in an altogether novel shape, so that they might not say of these things, in their familiarity with them, We knew of them ourselves. A people who were at one time so stubborn, and at another so slippery, were evidently a people who deserved nothing at God’s hand. Yet He goes on to say, Isaiah 48:9-11, that He will treat them with forbearance, if not for their sake, yet for His own: "For the sake of My Name I defer Mine anger, and for My praise" (or renown, or reputation, as we would say of a man) "I will refrain for thee that I cut thee not off. Behold I have smelted thee, but not as silver: I have tested thee in the furnace of affliction. For Mine own sake, for Mine own sake, I am working; -for how was My Name being profaned!-and My glory to another I will not give."

Then He gathers up the sum of what He has been saying in a final appeal.

"Hearken unto Me, O Jacob, and Israel My Called:

I am He; I am First, yea, I am Last.

Yea, My hand hath founded Earth, and My right hand hath spread Heaven; when I call unto them they stand together."

"Be gathered, all of you, and hearken, Who among them" (that is, the Gentiles) "hath published these things?" that is, such things as the following, the prophecy given in the next clause of the verse: "Whom Jehovah loveth shall perform His pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans." This was the sum of what Jehovah promised long ago; not Cyrus’ name, not that a Gentile, a Persian, should deliver God’s people, for these are among the new things which were not published beforehand, at which the traditional Israelites were offended, -but this general fiat of God’s sovereignty, "that whomever Jehovah loves, or likes, he shall perform His pleasure on Babylon. I, even I, have spoken" - this, in Isaiah 48:14 b, was My speaking. "Yea, I have called him; I have brought him, and he will make his way to prosper." Again emphasise the change of tense. Cyrus is already called, but, while the prophet speaks, he has not yet reached his goal in the capture of Babylon.

Some ambassador from the Lord, whether the prophet or the Servant of Jehovah, now takes up the parable, and, after presenting himself, addresses a final exhortation to Israel, summing up the moral meaning of the Exile. "Draw near to me, hear this; not from aforetime in secret have I spoken; from the time that it was, there am I: and now my Lord, Jehovah, hath sent me with His Spirit."

"Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, Holy of Israel, I am Jehovah thy God, thy Teacher to profit, thy Guide in the way thou shouldest go;

Would that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments, then were like the River thy peace, and thy righteousness like the waves of the sea!

Then were like the sand thy seed, and the offspring of thy bowels like its grains!

He shall not be cut off, nor shall perish his name from before Me."

And now at last it is time to be up. Our salvation is nearer than when first we believed. Day has dawned, the gates are opening, the Word has been sufficiently spoken.

Go forth from Babel: fly from the Chaldeans;

With a ringing voice publish and let this be heard,

Send ye it out to the end of the earth,

Say, Redeemed hath Jehovah His Servant Jacob.

And they thirsted not in the deserts He caused them to walk;

Waters from a rock He let drop for them,

Clave a rock and there flowed forth waters!

No peace, saith Jehovah, for the wicked.

We have arrived at the most distinct stage of which our prophecy gives trace. Not that a new start is made with the next passage. Chapter 49 is the answer of the Servant himself to the appeal made to him in Isaiah 48:20; and chapter 49 does not introduce the Servant for the first time, but simply carries further the substance of the opening verses of chapter 42. Nor is this urgent appeal to "Go forth from Babylon," which has come to Israel, the only one, or the last, of its kind. It is renewed in Isaiah 52:11-12 so that we cannot think that our prophet has even yet got the Fall of Babylon behind him. Nevertheless, the end of chapter 48 is the end of the first and chief stage of the prophecy. The fundamental truths about God and salvation have been laid down; the idols have been thoroughly exposed; Cyrus has been explained; Babylon is practically done with. Neither Babylon, nor Cyrus, nor, except for a moment, the idols, are mentioned in the rest of the prophecy. The Deliverance of Israel is certain. And what now interests the prophet is first, how the Holy Nation will accomplish the destiny for which it has been set free, and next, how the Holy City shall be prepared for the Nation to inhabit. These are the two themes of chapters 49 to 66. The latter of them, the Restoration of Jerusalem, has scarcely been touched by our prophet as yet. But he has already spoken much of the Nation’s Destiny as the Servant of the Lord; and now that we have exhausted the subject of the deliverance from Babylon, we will take up his prophecies on the Servant, both those which we have passed over in chapters 40-48 and those which still lie ahead of us.

Before we do this, however, let us devote a chapter to a study of our prophet’s use of the word righteousness, for which this seems to be as convenient a place as any other.


Verse 14

CHAPTER X

CYRUS

Isaiah 41:2;, Isaiah 44:28-28;, Isaiah 46:11;, Isaiah 48:14

CYRUS, the Persian, is the only man outside the covenant and people of Israel, who is yet entitled the Lord’s Shepherd, and the Lord’s Messiah or Christ. He is, besides, the only great personality of whom both the Bible and Greek literature treat at length and with sympathy. Did we know nothing more of him than this, the heathen who received the most sacred titles of Revelation, the one man in history who was the cynosure of both Greece and Judah, could not fail to be of the greatest interest to us. But apart from the way in which he impressed the Greek imagination and was interpreted by the Hebrew conscience, we have an amount of historical evidence about Cyrus, which, if it dissipates the beautiful legends told of his origin and his end, confirms most of what is written of his character by Herodotus and Xenophon, and all of what is described as his career by the prophet whom we are studying. Whether of his own virtue, or as being the leader of a new race of men at the fortunate moment of their call, Cyrus lifted himself, from the lowest of royal stations, to a conquest and an empire achieved by only two or three others in the history of the world. Originally but the prince of Anshan, or Anzan, -a territory of uncertain size at the head of the Persian Gulf, -he brought under his sway, by policy or war, the large and vigorous nations of the Medes and Persians; he overthrew the Lydian kingdom, and subjugated Asia Minor; he so impressed the beginnings of Greek life, that, with all their own great men, the Greeks never ceased to regard this Persian as the ideal king; he captured Babylon, the throne of the ancient East, and thus effected the transfer of empire from the Semitic to the Aryan stock. He also satisfied the peoples, whom he had beaten, with his rule, and organised his realms with a thoroughness unequalled over so vast an extent till the rise of the Roman Empire.

We have scarcely any contemporary or nearly contemporary evidence about his personality. But his achievements testify to extraordinary genius, and his character was the admiration of all antiquity. To Greek literature Cyrus was the Prince pre-eminent, -set forth as the model for education in childhood, self-restraint in youth, just and powerful government in manhood. Most of what we read of him in Xenophon’s "Cyropaedia" is, of course, romance; but the very fact, that, like our own King Arthur, Cyrus was used as a mirror to flash great ideals down the ages, proves that there was with him native brilliance and width of surface as well as fortunate eminence of position. He owed much to the virtue of his race. Rotten as the later Persians have become, the nation in those days impressed its enemies with its truthfulness, purity, and vigour. But the man who not only led such a nation, and was their darling, but combined under his sceptre, in equal discipline and contentment, so many other and diverse peoples, so many powerful and ambitious rulers, cannot have been merely the best specimen of his own nation’s virtue, but must have added to this, at least much of the original qualities-humanity, breadth of mind, sweetness, patience, and genius for managing men-which his sympathetic biographer imputes to him in so heroic a degree. It is evident that the "Cyropaedia" is ignorant of many facts about Cyrus, and must have taken conscious liberties with many more, but nobody-who, on the one hand, is aware of what Cyrus effected upon the world, and who, on the other, can appreciate that it was possible for a foreigner (who, nevertheless, had travelled through most of the scenes of Cyrus’ career) to form this rich conception of him more than a century after his death-can doubt that the Persian’s character (due allowance being made for hero-worship) must have been in the main as Xenophon describes it.

Yet it is very remarkable that our Scripture states not one moral or religious virtue as the qualification of this Gentile to the title of "Jehovah’s Messiah." We search here in vain for any gleam of appreciation of that character, which drew the admiring eyes of Greece. In the whole range of our prophecy there is not a single adjective, expressing a moral virtue, applied to Cyrus. The "righteousness," which so many passages associate with his name, is attributed, not to him, but to God’s calling of him, and does not imply justice or any similar quality, but is, as we shall afterwards see when we examine the remarkable use of this word in Second Isaiah, a mixture of good faith and thoroughness, -all-rightness. The one passage of our prophet, in which it has been supposed by some that Jehovah makes a religious claim to Cyrus, as if the Persian were a monotheist-"he calleth on My name"-is, as we have seen, too uncertain, both in text and rendering, to have anything built upon it. Indeed, no Hebrew could have justly praised this Persian’s faith, who called himself the "servant of Merodach," and in his public proclamations to Babylonia ascribed to the Babylonian gods his power to enter their city. Cyrus was very probably the pious ruler described by Xenophon, but he was no monotheist. And our prophet denies all religious sympathy between him and Jehovah, in words too strong to be misunderstood: "I woo thee, though thou hast not known Me I gird thee, though thou hast not known Me". [Isaiah 45:4-5] On what, then, is the Divine election of Cyrus grounded by our prophet, if not upon his character and his faith? Simply and barely upon God’s sovereignty and will. That is the impressive lesson of the passage: "I am Jehovah, Maker of everything; that stretch forth the heavens alone, and spread the earth by Myself that say of Koresh, My shepherd, and all My pleasure he shall accomplish." [Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 44:28] Cyrus is Jehovah’s because all things are Jehovah’s; of whatsoever character or faith they be, they are His and for His uses. "I am Jehovah, and there is none else: Former of light and Creator of darkness, Maker of peace and Creator of evil; I, Jehovah, Maker of all these." God’s sovereignty could not be more broadly stated. All things, irrespective of their character, are from Him and for His ends. But what end is dearer to the Almighty, what has He more plainly declared, than that His people shall be settled again in their own land? For this He will use the fittest force. The return of Israel to Palestine is a political event, requiring political power; and the greatest political power of the day is Cyrus. Therefore, by His prophet, the Almighty declares Cyrus to be His people’s deliverer, His own anointed. "Thus saith Jehovah to His Messiah, to Koresh:…That thou mayest know that I am Jehovah, Caller of thee by thy name, God of Israel, for the sake of My servant Jacob and Israel My chosen. And I have called thee by thy name. I have wooed thee, though thou hast not known Me". [Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 45:3-4]

Now to this designation of Cyrus, as the Messiah, great objections rose from Israel. We can understand them. People who have fallen from a glorious past, cling passionately to its precedents. All the ancient promises of a deliverer for Israel represented him as springing from the house of David. The deliverance, too, was to have come by miracle, or by the impression of the people’s own holiness upon their oppressors. The Lord was to have made bare His arm and Israel to go forth in the pride of His favour, as in the days of Egypt and the Red Sea. But this deliverer, who was announced, was alien to the commonwealth of Israel; and not by some miracle was the people’s exodus promised, but as the effect of his imperial word-a minor incident in his policy! The precedents and the pride of Israel called out against such a scheme of salvation, and the murmurs of the people rose against the word of God.

Sternly replies the Almighty: "Woe to him that striveth with his Moulder, a potsherd among the potsherds of the ground! Saith clay to its moulder, What doest thou? or thy work" of thee, "No hands hath he? Woe to him that saith to a father, What begettest thou? or to a woman, With what travailest thou? Thus saith Jehovah, Holy of Israel and his Moulder: The things that are coming ask of Me; concerning My sons, and concerning the work of My hands, command ye Me! I have made Earth, and created man upon her: I, My hands, have stretched Heaven, and all its hosts have I ordered." In that universal providence, this Cyrus is but an incident. "I have stirred him up in righteousness, and all his ways shall I make level. He"-emphatic-"shall build My City, and My Captivity he shall send off-not for price and not for reward, saith Jehovah of Hosts." [Isaiah 45:9-13]

To this bare fiat, the passages referring to Cyrus in chapter 46 and chapter 48, add scarcely anything. "I am God, and there is none like Me Who say, My counsel shall stand, and all My pleasure will I perform. Who call from the sunrise a Bird-of-prey, from a land far-off the Man of My counsel. Yea, I have spoken, yea, I will bring it to pass. I have formed, yea, will do it." [Isaiah 46:9-11] "Bird-of-prey" here has been thought to have reference to the eagle, which was the standard of Cyrus. But it refers to Cyrus himself. What God sees in this man to fulfil His purpose is swift, resistless force. Not his character, but his swoop is useful for the Almighty’s end. Again: "Be gathered, all of you, and hearken; who among them hath published these things? Jehovah hath loved him: he will do His pleasure on Babel, and his arm" shall be on "the Chaldeans. I, I have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and will cause his way to prosper," or, "I will pioneer his way". [Isaiah 48:14-15] This verb "to cause to prosper" is one often used by our prophet, but nowhere more appropriately to its original meaning than here, where it is used of "a way." The word signifies "to cut through"; then "to ford a river"-there is no word for bridge in Hebrew; then "to go on well, prosper."

In all these passages, then, there is no word about character. Cyrus is neither chosen for his character nor said to be endowed with one. But that he is there, and that he does so much, is due simply to this, that God has chosen him. And what he is endowed with is force, push, swiftness, irresistibleness. He is, in short, not a character, but a tool; and God makes no apology for using him but this, that he has the qualities of a tool.

Now we cannot help being struck with the contrast of all this, the Hebrew view of Cyrus, with the well-known Greek views of him. To the Greeks he is first and foremost a character. Xenophon, and Herodotus almost as much as Xenophon, are less concerned with what Cyrus did than with what he was. He is the King, the ideal ruler. It is his simplicity, his purity, his health, his wisdom, his generosity, his moral influence upon men, that attract the Greeks, and they conceive that he cannot be too brightly painted in his virtues, if so he may serve for an example to following generations. But bring Cyrus out of the light of the eyes of this hero-worshipping people, that light that has so gilded his native virtues, into the shadow of the austere Hebrew faith, and the brilliance is quenched. He still moves forcibly, but his character is neutral. Scripture emphasises only his strength, his serviceableness, his success. "Whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and I will loosen the loins of kings; to open doors before him, and gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee, and make the rugged places plain. I will shiver doors of brass, and bars of iron will I sunder". That Cyrus is doing a work in God’s hand and for God’s end, and therefore forcibly, and sure of success-that is all the interest Scripture takes in Cyrus.

Observe the difference. It is characteristic of the two nations. The Greek views Cyrus as an example; therefore cannot too abundantly multiply his morality. The Hebrew views him as a tool; but with a tool you are not anxious about its moral character, you only desire to be convinced of its force and its fitness. The Greek mind is careful to unfold the noble humanity of the man, -a humanity universally and eternally noble. By the side of that imperishable picture of him, how meagre to Greek eyes would have seemed the temporary occasion, for which the Hebrew claimed Cyrus had been raised up-to lead the petty Jewish tribe back to their own obscure corner of the earth. Herodotus and Xenophon, had you told them that this was the chief commission of Cyrus from God, to restore the Jews to Palestine, would have laughed. "Identify him, forsooth, with those provincial interests!" they would have said. "He was meant, we lift him up, for mankind!"

What judgment are we to pass on these two characteristic pictures of Cyrus? What lessons are we to draw from their contrast?

They do not contradict, but in many particulars they corroborate one another. Cyrus would not have been the efficient weapon in the Almighty’s hand, which our prophet panegyrises, but for that thoughtfulness in preparation and swift readiness to seize the occasion, which Xenophon extols. And nothing is more striking to one familiar with our Scriptures, when reading the "Cyropaedia," than the frequency with which the writer insists on the success that followed the Persian. If to the Hebrew Cyrus was the called of God, upheld in righteousness, to the Greek he was equally conspicuous as the favourite of fortune. "I have always," Xenophon makes the dying king say, "seemed to feel my strength increase with the advance of time, so that I have not found myself weaker in my old age than in my youth, nor do I know that I have attempted or desired anything in which I have not been successful." And this was said piously, for Xenophon’s Cyrus was a devout servant of the gods.

The two views, then, are not hostile, nor are we compelled to choose between them. Still, they make a very suggestive contrast, if we put these two questions about them: Which is the more true to historical fact? Which is the more inspiring example?

Which is the more true to historical fact? There is no difficulty in answering this: undoubtedly, the Hebrew. It has been of far more importance to the world that Cyrus freed the Jews than that he inspired the "Cyropaedia." That single enactment of his, perhaps only one of a hundred consequences of his capture of Babylon, has had infinitely greater results than his character, or than its magnificent exaggeration by Greek hero-worship. No one who has read the "Cyropaedia"-out of his school-days-would desire to place it in any contrast, in which its peculiar charm would be shadowed, or its own modest and strictly-limited claims would not receive justice. The charm, the truth of the "Cyropaedia," are eternal; but the significance they borrow from Cyrus-though they are as much due, perhaps, to Xenophon’s own pure soul as to Cyrus-is not to be compared for one instant to the significance of that single deed of his, into which the Bible absorbs the meaning of his whole career, -the liberation of the Jews. The "Cyropaedia" has been the instruction and delight of many, -of as many in modern times, perhaps, as in ancient. But the liberation of the Jews meant the assurance of the world’s religious education. Cyrus sent this people back to their land solely as a spiritual people. He did not allow them to set up again the house of David, but by his decree the Temple was rebuilt. Israel entered upon their purely religious career, set in order their vast stores of spiritual experience, wrote their histories of grace and providence, developed their worship, handed down their law, and kept themselves holy unto the Lord. Till, in the fulness of the times, from this petty and exclusive tribe, and by the fire, which they kept burning on the altar that Cyrus had empowered them to raise, there was kindled the glory of a universal religion. To change the figure, Christianity sprang from Judaism as the flower from the seed; but it was the hand of Cyrus, which planted the seed in the only soil in which it could have fructified. Of such a universal destiny for the Faith, Cyrus was not conscious, but the Jews themselves were. Our prophet represents him, indeed, as acting for "Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel’s My chosen," but the chapter does not close without proclamation to "the ends of the earth to look unto Jehovah and be saved," and the promise of a time "when every knee shall bow and every tongue swear unto the God of Israel."

Now put all these results, which the Jews, regardless of the character of Cyrus, saw flowing from his policy, as the servant of God on their behalf, side by side with the influence which the Greeks borrowed from Cyrus, and say whether Greek or Jew had the more true and historical conscience of this great power, -whether Greek or Jew had his hand on the pulse of the world’s mare artery. Surely we see that the main artery of human life runs down the Bible, that here we have a sense of the control of history, which is higher than even the highest hero-worship. Some may say, "True, but what a very unequal contest, into which to thrust the poor ‘Cyropaedia’!" Precisely; it is from the inequality of the contrast, that we learn the uniqueness of Israel’s inspiration. Let us do all justice to the Greek and his appreciation of Cyrus. In that, he seems the perfection of humanity; but with the Jew we rise to the Divine, touching the right hand of the providence of God.

There is a moral lesson for ourselves in these two views about Cyrus. The Greeks regard him as a hero, the Jews as an instrument. The Greeks are interested in him that he is so attractive a figure, so effective an example to rouse men and restrain them. But the Jews stand in wonder of his subjection to the will of God; their Scriptures extol, not his virtues, but his predestination to certain Divine ends.

Now let us say no word against hero-worship. We have need of all the heroes, which the Greek, and every other, literature can raise up for us. We need the communion of the saints. To make us humble in our pride, to make us hopeful in our despair, we need our big brothers, the heroes of humanity. We need them in history, we need them in fiction; we cannot do without them for shame, for courage, for fellowship, for truth. But let us remember that still more indispensable-for strength, as well as for peace, of mind-is the other temper. Neither self nor the world is conquered by admiration of men, but by the fear and obligation of God. I speak now of applying this temper to ourselves. We shall live fruitful and consistent lives only in so far as we hear God saying to us, "I gird thee," and give ourselves into His guidance. Admire heroes if thou wilt, but only admire them and thou remainest a slave. Learn their secret, to commit themselves to God and to obey Him, and thou shalt become a hero too.

God’s anointing of Cyrus, the heathen, has yet another lesson to teach us, which religious people especially need to learn.

This passage about Cyrus lifts us to a very absolute and awful faith. "I am Jehovah, and none else: Former of light and Creator of darkness, Maker of peace and Creator of mischief; I Jehovah, Maker of all these things." The objection at once rises, "Is it possible to believe this? Are we to lay upon providence everything that happens? Surely we Westerns, with our native scepticism and strong conscience, cannot be expected to hold a faith so Oriental and fatalistic as that."

But notice to whom the passage is addressed. To religious people, who professedly accept God’s sovereignty, but wish to make an exception in the one case against which they have a prejudice-that a Gentile should be the deliverer of the holy people. Such narrow and imperfect believers are reminded that they must not substitute for faith in God their own ideas of how God ought to work; that they must not limit His operations to their own conception of His past revelations; that God does not always work even by His own precedents; and that many other forces than "conventional and religious ones-yea," even forces as destitute of moral or religious character as Cyrus himself seemed to be-are also in God’s hands, and may be used by Him as means of grace. There is frequent charge made in our day against what are called the more advanced schools of theology, of scepticism and irreverence. But this passage reminds us that the most sceptical and irreverent are those old-fashioned believers, who, clinging to precedent and their own stereotyped notions of things, deny that God’s hands are in a movement, because it is novel and not orthodox. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Moulder; shall the clay say to its moulder, What makest thou?" God did not cease "moulding" when He gave us the canon and our creeds, when He founded the Church and the Sacraments. His hand is still among the clay, and upon time, that great "potter’s wheel," which still moves obedient to His impulse. All the large forward movements, the big things of to-day-commerce, science, criticism however neutral, like Cyrus, their character may be, are, like Cyrus, grasped and anointed by God. Therefore let us show reverence and courage before the great things of to-day. Do not let us scoff at their novelty or grow fearful because they show no orthodox, or even no religious character. God reigns, and He will use them, for what has been the dearest purpose of His heart, the emancipation of true religion, the confirmation of the faithful, the victory of righteousness. When Cyrus rose and the prophet named him as Israel’s deliverer, and the severely orthodox in Israel objected, did God attempt to soothe them by pointing out how admirable a character he was, and how near in religion to the Jews themselves? God did no such thing, but spoke only of the military and political fitness of this great engine, by which He was to batter Babylon. That Cyrus was a quick marcher, a far shooter, an inspirer of fear, a follower up of victory, one who swooped like a "bird-of-prey," one whose weight of war burst through every obstruction, -this is what the astonished pedants are told about the Gentile, to whose Gentileness they had objected. No soft words to calm their bristling orthodoxy, but heavy facts, -an appeal to their common-sense, if they had any, that this was the most practical means for the practical end God had in view. For again we learn ‘the old lesson the prophets are ever so anxious to teach us, "God is wise." He is concerned, not to be orthodox or true to His own precedent, but to be practical, and effective for salvation.

And so, too, in our own day, though we may not see any religious character whatsoever about certain successful movements-say in science, for instance-which are sure to affect the future of the Church and of Faith, do not let us despair, neither deny that they, too, are in the counsels of God. Let us only be sure that they are permitted for some end-some practical end; and watch, with meekness but with vigilance, to see what that end shall be. Perhaps the endowment of the Church with new weapons of truth; perhaps her emancipation from associations which, however ancient, are unhealthy; perhaps her opportunity to go forth upon new heights of vision, new fields of conquest.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 48:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/isaiah-48.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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