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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Isaiah 51

 

 

Verses 1-23

EXPOSITION

Isaiah 51:1-8

AN ADDRESS TO FAITHFUL ISRAEL, SUGGESTING TOPICS OF COMFORT.

The address consists of three nearly equal strophes or stanzas, each commencing with a call, Shim'u elai, "Hearken unto me," or Haqshibu elai, "Attend to me." The prophet appears to be the speaker, and to address himself to the more faithful portion of the people.

Isaiah 51:1

Ye that follow after righteousness; i.e. "ye that endeavour to lead righteous lives" (comp. Isaiah 51:7). Ye that seek the Lord. And do not "seek after idols," as too many of the exiles did (Isaiah 40:19; Isaiah 41:7; Isaiah 44:9-20; Isaiah 46:5-8, etc.). Look unto the rock … the hole; i.e. look back at your past history, especially at the early beginnings of it. Consider from what a slight and poor commencement—an aged man and a barren woman (Isaiah 51:2)—ye were raised up to be God's people, a numerous nation, a multitude like the sand of the sea. How came this result about? Was it not simply by the blessing of God?

Isaiah 51:2

I called him alone; or, I called him when he was but ode; i.e. before he had any children (comp. Ezekiel 33:24, "Abraham was one, and he inherited the land"). And blessed him (see Genesis 24:1, Genesis 24:35). And increased him; i.e. "made him a father of many nations" (Genesis 17:5). If God could multiply the progeny of ode man, much more could he make a flourishing nation out of the exiles, who, though but a "remnant" of the pro-Captivity Israel, were yet many thousands in number (see Ezra 2:64).

Isaiah 51:3

The Lord shall comfort Zion (comp. Isaiah 40:1; Isaiah 49:3; Isaiah 51:12; Isaiah 52:9, etc.). Literally, the word used is has comforted; i.e. has so determined the matter in his counsels that it may be considered as already accomplished. Her waste places her wilderness … her desert. Though Nebuchadnezzar "left of the poor of the land to be vinedressers and husbandmen" (2 Kings 25:12; Jeremiah 52:16), yet the population was not sufficient to maintain cultivation generally. Thus, much of Judaea, during the absence of the exiles, became a "wilderness" and a "desert" (see Ezekiel 36:34). Like Eden … like the garden of the Lord. The Prophet Joel compares Judaea before its desolation to "the garden of Eden" (Joel 2:3): and Ezekiel, like Isaiah, prophesies that it shall once more become "like the garden of Eden," when the exiles have returned to it (Ezekiel 37:1-28 :35). With the last-named writer, Eden represents all that is glorious, not in nature only, but in art (Ezekiel 28:13; Ezekiel 31:8, Ezekiel 31:9, Ezekiel 31:16, Ezekiel 31:18). The voice of melody (comp. Isaiah 35:10, and infra, verse 11). As music ceases out of the land in time of affliction (Isaiah 24:8), so when a "time of refreshing from the Lord" arrives, there is at once singing and "melody" (comp. Revelation 5:8; Revelation 14:2; Revelation 15:2).

Isaiah 51:4

Hearken unto me; rather, attend to me—a stronger term than "hearken"—attend, and hear of a greater blessing than the restoration of the land of Judah to cultivation and fruitfulness. God, enthroned anew in Zion, will from thence send forth his light and his truth to the nations, will make his Law known to them, and allow them to partake of his salvation. O my nation. Some manuscripts have "O ye nations." But the reading is undoubtedly a wrong one. A law shall proceed from me. The Christian "law"—the new covenant—is probably intended. This became, by the preaching of the apostles, a light of the people, or rather, of the peoples.

Isaiah 51:5

My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and. a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). Isaiah always speaks as if the Messianic kingdom was to supervene almost immediately on the return of the exiles to Palestine. It was not revealed to him that there would be an interval of from five hundred to six hundred years between the two events. By God's "righteousness" here we must understand his righteous plans for the redemption of his people through Christ, and for the punishment of those who resist his will and remain impenitent. The salvation and the judgment are the two parts of the "righteousness.'' The isles shall wait upon me (comp. Isaiah 41:1, Isaiah 41:5; Isaiah 42:4, Isaiah 42:10, Isaiah 42:12; Isaiah 49:1; Isaiah 60:9, etc.; and the comment on Isaiah 42:4). On mine arm shall they trust. God's "arm" is his executive power—that might by which he effects his purposes. The "isles" or "countries" that have been expecting the coming of a Deliverer will have faith in his power to redeem and save them. Christianity was received with more readiness by the Gentiles than by the "peculiar people" (Acts 11:21; Acts 13:42, Acts 13:46; Acts 14:1, Acts 14:2; Acts 17:4, Acts 17:5; Acts 18:6, etc.).

Isaiah 51:6

Lift up your eyes to the heavens. Look to that which seems to you most stable and most certain to endure—the vast firmament of the heavens, and the solid earth beneath it, of which God "bears up the pillars" (Psalms 125:3). Both these, and man too, are in their nature perishable, and will vanish away and cease to be. But God, and his power to save, and his eternal law of right, can never pass away, but must endure for evermore. Let Israel be sure that the righteous purposes of God with respect to their own deliverance from Babylon, and to the conversion of the Gentiles, stand firm, and that they will most certainly be accomplished. The heavens shall vanish away like smoke (comp. Psalms 102:26; Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10-12). And the earth shall wax old like a garment. So also in Psalms 102:26 and Hebrews 1:11. The new heaven and new earth promised by Isaiah (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22), St. Peter (2 Peter 3:13), and St. John (Revelation 21:1) are created in the last times, because "the first heaven and the first earth have passed away." They that dwell therein shall die in like manner. Dr. Kay observes that the Hebrew text does not say, "in like manner," but "as in like manner.'' Man is not subject to the same law of perishableness as the external world, but to a different law. External things simply "pass away" and are no more. Man disappears from the earth, but continues to exist somewhere. He has, by God's gift, a life that is to be unceasing.

Isaiah 51:7

Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness. The highest grade of faithfulness is here addressed—not those who "seek" (Isaiah 51:1), but those who have found—who "know righteousness," and have the "law" of God in their "hearts." Such persons may still be liable to one weakness—they may "fear the reproach of men." The prophet exhorts them to put aside this fear, remembering

Isaiah 51:8

The moth shall eat them (comp. Isaiah 50:1-11 : 9). If men themselves never wholly pass away (see the comment on Isaiah 51:6), yet it is otherwise with their judgments. These perish absolutely, disappear, and are utterly forgotten.

Isaiah 51:9-11

AN APPEAL OF THE PROPHET TO GOD TO AROUSE HIMSELF, WITH A PROMISE OF ISRAEL'S RESTORATION. There has been much doubt as to the utterer of this "splendid apostrophe." Zion, the prophet, the angels, Jehovah, and God the Son pleading with God the Father, have been suggested. To us it seems simplest and best to assign the passage to the prophet.

Isaiah 51:9

Awake, awake (comp. Psalms 7:6; Psalms 35:23; Psalms 44:23; Psalms 78:65). When God neglects the prayers and supplications of his people, he is spoken of as "asleep," and needing to be awoke by a loud cry. The anthropomorphism is obvious, and of course not to be taken literally (see 1 Kings 18:27, ad fin.). Put on strength. Gird the strength to thee (Psalms 93:1) which thou hadst laid aside while thou wept asleep. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab? rather, was it not thou that didst cleave Rahab in pieces? Here, as in Psalms 87:4 and Psalms 89:10, "Rahab" would seem to be a symbolical expression for Egypt. "Rahab" is literally "pride," or "the proud one." The event alluded to, both here and in Psalms 89:10, is the destruction of Pharaoh's host in the Red Sea (see Psalms 89:10). And wounded the dragon. "The dragon" is another symbol of the Egyptian power (comp. Ezekiel 29:3, "Pharaoh, King of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers"). Originally designating God's great enemy, Satan (Genesis 3:14; Revelation 12:7-9; Revelation 20:2), it is a term which comes to be applied to the adversaries of the Almighty generally.

Isaiah 51:10

Art thou not it which hath dried the sea? rather, was it not thou that didst dry up the sea? (comp. Exodus 14:21, Exodus 14:22). The waters of the Red Sea are called those of "the great deep," because they are a portion of the circumambient ocean, not a tideless land-locked basin, like the Mediterranean. That hath made; rather, that madest. The allusion is to the single occasion of the passage of the Red Sea by the Israelites. Isaiah 51:11.—The redeemed of the Lord (see the comment on Isaiah 35:10. where the same passage occurs with scarcely any variation). Isaiah is not averse to repetitions (see Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 9:12, Isaiah 9:17, Isaiah 9:21; Isaiah 10:4; Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 65:25; Isaiah 48:22;Isaiah 57:21, etc.).

Isaiah 51:12-16

AN ADDRESS OF GOD TO HIS CAPTIVE PEOPLE. There is no very clear connection between this passage and the preceding, to which it is certainly not an answer. God comforts the captives under the oppression which they are suffering

Isaiah 51:12

I am he that comforteth you (comp. Isaiah 51:3, and the comment ad loc). Who art thou? Art thou a poor, weak, powerless, unprotected people, which might well tremble at the powerful Babylonians: or art thou not rather a people under the special protection of Jehovah, bound, therefore, to fear no one? As grass (comp. Isaiah 37:27; Isaiah 11:6-8).

Isaiah 51:13

And forgettest the Lord thy Maker. It is not so much apostasy as want of a lively and practical faith with which captive Israel is here reproached. They did not deny God—they only left him out of sight, neglected him, forgot him. That hath stretched forth the heavens (comp. Isaiah 40:22; Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 45:12, etc.). And laid the foundations of the earth (see Isaiah 48:13; Psalms 102:25; Hebrews 1:10). And hast feared continually … because of the fury of the oppressor. (On the sufferings of the Israelites under their Babylonian oppressors, see the comment on Isaiah 42:22, and again on Isaiah 47:6.) By the present passage it would appear that life itself was not safe from their cruel fury, when their victims had exasperated them. Where is the fury of the oppressor? All their violence and rage will come to nought, when they in their turn become subject to the conquering Persians.

Isaiah 51:14

The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed; rather, he that is bent down hasteneth to be released; i.e. such of the exiles as were cramped and bent by fetters, or by the stocks, would speedily, on the fall of Babylon, obtain their release. They would not "die unto the pit," i.e. so as to belong to the pit and to be east into it, but would live and have a sufficiency of sustenance.

Isaiah 51:15

But I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea; rather, for I, the Lord thy God, am he that divided the sea (comp. Isaiah 51:10). The reference is once more to the great miracle wrought at the Exodus, when the Red Sea was "divided" before the host of Israelites (Exodus 14:21; comp. Psalms 74:13). Whose waves roared (see Exodus 14:27; Exodus 15:10).

Isaiah 51:16

And I have put my words in thy mouth. Some commentators detach this verse altogether from the preceding passage, and regard it as a fragment intruded here out of its proper place by some unaccountable accident. From the close resemblance of the expressions used to those in Isaiah 49:2, they consider that the person addressed must be "the Servant of Jehovah," and hence conclude that the verse "originally stood in some other context" (Cheyne). It is, however, quite possible to regard Israel as still addressed; since Israel too was the recipient of God's words (see Isaiah 59:21), and was protected by God's hand from destruction, and kept in existence until the happy time should come when God would create a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17) for Israel's dwelling-place, and say unto Zioni.e. to the "new Jerusalem" Revelation 21:2)—Thou art my people. This crowning promise well terminates the comforting address wherewith Jehovah at this time saw fit to cheer and encourage his captive people.

Isaiah 51:17-23

AN ADDRESS OF THE PROPHET TO JERUSALEM. The comfort afforded to Israel generally is now concentrated on Jerusalem. Her condition during the long period of the Captivity is deplored, and her want of a champion to assert her cause and raise her out of the dust is lamented (Isaiah 51:17-20). After this, an assurance is given her that the miseries which she has suffered shall pass from her to her great enemy, by whom the dregs of the "cup of trembling" shall be drained, and the last drop wrung out (Isaiah 51:21-23).

Isaiah 51:17

Awake, awake (comp. Isaiah 51:9 and Isaiah 52:1). Isaiah marks the breaks in his prophecy, sometimes by a repetition of terminal clauses, which have the effect of a refrain (Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 9:12, Isaiah 9:17, Isaiah 9:21; Isaiah 10:4; and Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:21); sometimes by a repetition of initial clauses of a striking character (Isaiah 5:8, Isaiah 5:11, Isaiah 5:20; Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 15:1; Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 19:1; Isaiah 21:1,Isaiah 21:11; Isaiah 22:1; Isaiah 23:1; Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 29:1; Isaiah 30:1; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 33:1; Isaiah 48:1, Isaiah 48:12, Isaiah 48:16; Isaiah 50:4, Isaiah 50:7, Isaiah 50:9, etc.). Here we have thrice over "Awake, awake"—not, however, an exact repetition in the Hebrew, but a near approach to it each summons forming the commencement of a new paragraph or subsection. Which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury. The cup of God's fury was poured out on Jerusalem when the city was taken by Nebuchadnezzar, the temple, the royal palace, and the houses of the nobles burnt (2 Kings 25:9), the walls broken down (2 Kings 25:10), and the bulk of the inhabitants carried away captive to Babylon. "The cup of God's fury" is an expression used by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:15). The dregs of the cup; rather, perhaps, the goblet-cup (Cheyne), or the out-swollen cup. It is the fulness of the measure of Jerusalem's punishment, not its character, which is pointed at.

Isaiah 51:18

None to guide her. From the time that Johanan, the son of Kareah, and the other "captains of the forces," quitted Judaea and fled into Egypt, taking with them Jeremiah and Baruch (Jeremiah 43:5-7), there was no one left in the country with any authority or any ability to direct affairs. The city, no doubt, suffered by this state of things, becoming more ruined and more desolate than it would have been otherwise. Had Johanan and the Jews under him remained in the land, God had promised to "build them, and not pull them down;" to "plant them, and not pluck them up" (Jeremiah 42:10). Thus Jerusalem's extreme desolation was not wholly the result of the Babylonian conquest, but was partly due to the after-misconduct of the Jews left in the country.

Isaiah 51:19

These two things. What are the "two things," it is asked, since four are mentioned—desolation, and destruction, and the famine, and the sword? The right answer seems to be that of Aben Ezra and Kimchi, that the two things are "desolation,'' or rather "wasting" within, produced by "famine;" and "destruction" without, produced by "the sword." Who shall be sorry for thee? rather, who will mourn with thee? Jerusalem is without friends; no man condoles with her over her misfortunes. God alone feels compassion; but even he scarce knows how to comfort. By whom? rather, how? (comp. Amos 7:2, Amos 7:5).

Isaiah 51:20

Thy sons have fainted, they lie; rather, thy sons fainted; they lay. The prophet describes the siege and capture of Jerusalem as past, because his standpoint is the time of the Captivity. He depicts tile inhabitants of Jerusalem as "faint" through famine, and so weak that they lie prostrate about the streets. As a wild bull in a net; rather, like a gazelle in a net—panting, exhausted, incapable of the hast resistance. They are full of the fury of the Lord; i.e. the fury of the Lord has been fully poured out upon them.

Isaiah 51:21

Drunken, but not with wine (comp. Isaiah 29:9; and see above, Isaiah 29:17, which shows that the appearance of drunkenness had been produced by Jerusalem drinking the cup of God's wrath).

Isaiah 51:22

The Lord … that pleadeth the cause of his people (comp. Jeremiah 50:34, which contains an allusion to this passage). As his people have a relentless adversary, who accuses them continually, and pleads against them (Revelation 12:10), so it is needful that they should have an untiring advocate. God himself is this Advocate. The dregs of the cup (see the comment on Isaiah 51:17, ad fin.).

Isaiah 51:23

I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee. Babylon, the oppressor of Judah, shall in her turn be made to drink of the cup of which Judah had so long drunk, and shall suffer nearly the same woes which she had inflicted. Meanwhile, Judah should cease to drink of the cup, and have "a time of refreshing." Bow down, that we may go over; i.e. "submit yourselves to the uttermost, that we may put upon you the most extreme indignity." The metaphor is drawn from the actual practise of conquerors, who made captive kings prostrate themselves, and placed their feet upon their necks, or otherwise trampled upon them.

HOMILETICS

Isaiah 51:7

The servants of God must not fear the reproach of men.

The reproach of men is a thing of small account—

I. BECAUSE MEN ARE APT TO BE MISTAKEN IN THEIR JUDGMENTS. The bulk of men have no wish even to be fair in their judgments. They praise and blame, acquit and condemn, either as their own interests—party or other—are concerned, or sometimes quite at random, according as the fancy takes them. Even such as wish to be fair very often misjudge, either

II. BECAUSE MEN'S JUDGMENTS SO FREQUENTLY CHANGE. The idol of a nation to-day becomes their detestation to-morrow; or, if not to-morrow, at any rote within a few years. Nothing is more fickle than the popular voice, which will cry one day, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" and, a week later, "Crucify him! crucify him!" The opinion formed of a man by his contemporaries is frequently reversed by posterity; and even posterity is not always steadfast, a later age often contradicting the decisions of an earlier. Historic characters, long condemned with almost absolute unanimity, are rehabilitated from time to time by clever writers, and are given niches in the Valhalla of the future.

III. BECAUSE MAN HIMSELF IS ALTOGETHER SO FLEETING, SO WEAK, AND SO LITTLE WORTHY OF REGARD. "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (Isaiah 2:22). At the best, what is human praise or blame? An opinion, founded on imperfect data, which can at most affect us during the brief term of our sojourn here. What are reproaches and revilings? The weak ways which men have of venting their spite or their ill humour, when some one, of whom they know very little, has acted otherwise than they expected or wished. "Hard words," it is often remarked, "break no bones." Human censure is but a breath. Why should we allow it to affect us at all? It does not matter what men think of us, but what God thinks. No one was ever more reviled than the One only perfect Man whom the world has ever seen.

Isaiah 51:11

No sorrow nor mourning in the final kingdom of the Redeemer.

The promise here set forth with all brevity is graciously expanded in the revelation of St. John, and is inexpressibly comforting to grieved and harassed souls. "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men," says the apostle, "and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelation 21:3, Revelation 21:4). It may be well to consider—

I. THE CAUSES OF THE CHANGE. The apostle notes two causes of the change.

1. There is no more death. The "first death" is past, and the "second death" is not for those who have attained to the glories of the Redeemer's final kingdom. They are secure of "life for evermore"

2. There is no more pain. No bodily pain, since the resurrection-body shall not be liable to any of those pains and sufferings which cause our present body to be a burden to us here below. No mental pain, since the mind shall be at rest, securely stayed upon him who has given it life, and who is its Life. To these causes we may add two more:

3. There is no more parting: no more separation of loving souls, no more loss of friends, or parents, or children, or wife, or brother. or sister; no more tearing of heartstrings through such separation; no more giving or receiving of last adieus.

4. And there is no more sin. "Old things have passed away; all things have become new." New hearts have been given to the redeemed—hearts that are "from sin set free;" hearts sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and so made clean and pure. The sense of sin is gone; shame is gone; remorse, regret, are gone; and so the worst of all the pains of which man is susceptible are fled away.

II. THE GREATNESS OF THE CHANGE. This world is well called "a vale of tears." Pain and suffering cling to us throughout the whole course of our lives from our first breath to our last. We enter life with a cry. All the bodily functions are painful, till use dulls the pain. Life is little but "labour and sorrow," disappointment and illusion. Hunger, thirst, toil, weariness, cold, heat, desire, passion, accompany us through the whole of our worldly existence, and are all of them pains. All of us experience sickness at times, and many of us have chronic ailments which never quit us, and from which we suffer constantly, more or less. There is so much misery in life that numbers quit it voluntarily, at, d thousands more would do the same were they not restrained by a religious motive. Can a greater change be imagined than a transfer from "the miseries of this sinful world" to the glories of the heavenly kingdom?

"There is a blessed home

Beyond this hind of woe,

Where trials never come,

Nor tears of anguish flow;

Where faith is lost in sight,

And patient hope is crown'd,

And everlasting light

Its glory throws around.

"Look up, ye saints of God,

Nor fear to tread below

The path your Saviour trod

Of daily toil and woe.

Wait but a little while

In uncomplaining love,

His own most gracious smile

Shall welcome you above."

III. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE CHANGE. It is scarcely necessary to enlarge on this—it is involved in all that has been said. On the one hand, pain, grief, labour, sickness, partings, tears, qualms of conscience, fear of coming evils, sense of sin; on the other, rest, peace, the sense of pardon, of security, of God's favour, of God's love; no more vicissitudes, no more partings, no more lapses into sin—one constant, unending life of perfect peace and restful joy, in the midst of those we love, and in the continual presence and sight of him who so loved us as to die for us!

"O Paradise, O Paradise,

'Tis weary waiting here;

We long to be where Jesus is,

To feel and see him near—

Where loyal hearts and true

Stand ever in the light,

All rapture through and through,

In God's most holy sight."

Isaiah 51:12-16

A just confidence in God is a security against cowardly fears.

Men "fear continually every day" because of the emnity, or fury, or malignity, or cunning, of those who oppress them, or of those who would fain oppress them. They tremble before the wrath of men; they give little thought to the wrath of God. Half the sins that are committed spring from cowardice—a short-sighted cowardice, which consists in fearing those who can, at most, "kill the body," and not fearing him who after death can "destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matthew 5:28). A just confidence in God will secure us against such cowardice, since it will make us feel—

I. RELIANCE UPON GOD'S WILL TO SAVE US. God's mercy is "over all his works," over man especially; in a peculiar manner over such as love him and trust in him. He will not suffer them to be tried "above that they are able." He loves them, and watches over them, and sympathizes with their sufferings, and counts their wrongs, and hears their groans (Exodus 2:23), and "knows their sorrows" (Exodus 3:7). Oppressors are hateful to him (Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 3:15; Isaiah 5:7, etc.). They provoke him to send upon them "swift destruction." The greater their fury, the more they rouse against them God's indignation, and the closer their destruction draws nigh.

II. RELIANCE UPON GOD'S POWER TO SAVE US. Men are finite; God is infinite. Man is the creature of a day; God is "from everlasting to everlasting." Man fades as grass; God is "strong in power" (Isaiah 40:26), unwearied, unfailing. The "fierceness of man turns to God's praise," for that fierceness he is able at any moment to "refrain" (Psalms 76:10). He who "has stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth," and created man and placed him on the earth, and alone sustains him in life, can at any time sweep him into nothingness, destroy him, and make "all his thoughts perish."

Isaiah 51:22

God pleads the cause of his people.

How can God, it may be asked, be at once Judge and Advocate? Can he plead at his own tribunal; entreat himself to show mercy; deprecate his own anger? if not, before what tribunal does he plead? whose mercy does he entreat? whose anger does he deprecate? The prophet himself could, perhaps, scarcely have explained his own words; but the Holy Spirit who inspired them knew exactly in what sense they were true. The riddle has to be solved by the consideration of the distinction of Persons in the Godhead. God the Father is the Judge of man, before whose tribunal all men must one day appear. God the Son is the Advocate (1 John 2:1), who pleads with the Father on their behalf, intercedes for them (Hebrews 7:25), deprecates the Father's wrath, implores his mercy, entreats for and obtains their pardon. Satan, on the one side, accuses (Revelation 12:10); but on the other, the Lord Jesus Christ defends. He defends his own, and he overcomes by his own blood (Revelation 12:11), wherewith he has washed away their sins. He "justifieth" (Romans 8:33), and then "who is he that condemneth?" Assuredly, no one.

HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON

Isaiah 51:1-8

Instructions to the spiritual Israel.

The people are described as "possessing righteousness," i.e. following a way of life in accordance with the Divine commands; and "seeking Jehovah," i.e. attending to all that his mind approves and his will commands.

I. THE LESSON OF THEIR ORIGIN. They had been, as it were, hewn from a rock and dug out of a pit. The allusion is to Abraham. They had sprung from one, and him as good as dead (Hebrews 11:12). They had been as rough as unhewn materials fresh from the quarry when Jehovah took them in band for his moulding. He had formed the nation out of its primary materials—had taken Abraham and Sarah from a distant land, and formed them into a nation for his own purpose. And then the argument is that he who had done this in the past was able to do as great things in the future—to restore the people from captivity to their own land. The words may be applied more generally (cf. Matthew 3:9, "God is able to raise up of these stones children unto Abraham"). From the rudest material God can fashion masterpieces of grace. The greatest sinner may furnish the elements of character for the greatest saint. In any true and humble view of his condition the Christian will feel that the language is apposite to himself. "He was found in his natural state as a block of marble; he was moulded and formed by the agency of the Holy Spirit; he was fitted into the spiritual temple. Christians owe all the beauty and grace of their Christian deportment to him. This is an argument to prove that they are dependent on him for all that they have, and that he will keep them and accomplish all his purposes by them. He who has transformed them from rough and unsightly blocks to polished stones fitted for his spiritual temple on earth, is able to keep them still, and to fit them wholly for his temple above."

II. COMFORT FOR THE FUTURE.

1. External blessings. The ruined places of Zion are to be restored, the present wilderness of Judaea to be transformed into a garden of Eden—a scene of joy, thanksgiving, and music. The idea of a terrestrial paradise enters into the lore of other nations. Arab legends tell of a garden in the East, on a mount of jacinth, inaccessible to man, of rich soil and equable temperature, well watered and abounding in trees and flowers of rare colours and fragrance. "In the background of man's visions lay a paradise of holy joy, secured from profanation and inaccessible to the guilty; full of objects fitted to delight the senses and elevate the mind; a paradise that granted to its tenant rich and rare immunities, and fed with its perennial streams, the tree of life, and immortality" (Hardwick). There is no reason why we should not think of heaven under such a figure; and every happy renewal of the soul by Divine grace may be termed a transformation of the waste and desert of the heart into the garden of God.

2. Spiritual blessings. "Enthroned anew in Israel, Jehovah shall send forth his light and his truth among the distant nations." His righteousness is new—which means "his consistent adherence to his revealed line of action which involves deliverance to faithful or at least repentant Israel, and destruction to those who thwart his all-wise purposes." "Mine arms shall judge the peoples" includes "the darker side of Jehovah's righteousness" (Cheyne). The countries "shall wait" for Jehovah, and trust upon his "arm," i.e. his mighty help. Distant lands shall become interested in the true religion, and acknowledge and worship the true God.

3. The eternity of God's salvations. The order of the world is elsewhere described in Scripture as everlasting (Genesis 8:21, Genesis 8:22; Genesis 9:9-11; Genesis 49:26; Psalms 148:6). The heavens and the earth appear to be firm and fixed. Yet—against all appearance and probability, against all that specious constancy—they are doomed to vanish away. The most mighty and fixed of created things must disappear; but the promise of God is unfailing, This is one of the finest passages in all poetry. The heavens are to "glide away," disappearing like wreaths of smoke in the air (cf. Isaiah 34:4; Hebrews 1:11, Hebrews 1:12; Psalms 102:26; 2 Peter 3:10-12). The Hebrew was wont to look upon the sky as a "firmament," a solid overarching vault. Yet here it seems thin as a soap-bubble, which the breath of a child may blow into nothingness. There are times when the soul is sick (like Hamlet), and all the magnificence of the heavens seems to pall upon it—a hint that the soul feels it partakes of a life higher than that of the natural world. There are times when the soul triumphs in the transiency of the natural world, conscious that it enjoys an immortality in common with the Eternal. "The earth shall fall to pieces like a garment, and the dwellers therein shall die like gnats; but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be annulled." It is not the contempt of a self-poised soul for the material world and its dimensions and its splendours; but the joy of a trustful soul in affiance with the Saviour-God. That this world will pass away, and that God will remain, are certain. But of what comfort is this to me, unless I am united to the Eternal? He by whose will material things perish and pass away is he by whose will the soul is redeemed and saved for ever. To live in faith upon God is to live the life of intellect and the life of love, neither of which can pass away; for they belong to the eternal essences. In such assurance material things may be seen evaporating, heaven turning to smoke, earth becoming as a tattered robe, "ocean's self turning dry;" while we ourselves pass to him who has been and will be the Dwelling-place and the Saviour of all successive generations.—J.

Isaiah 51:9-11

The arm of Jehovah.

Either the people call on Jehovah, or he is concerned as calling on himself to awake and rouse up his might for the defence of his people as in the days of old,

I. THE ARM OF JEHOVAH AS SYMBOLIC OF HIS POWER. It is the symbol of spiritual power opposed to that of darkness, death, the under-world, He is said to have "smitten Rahab, and wounded the dragon." Commonly this has been understood of Egypt, but the reference seems to be more general. It was in ancient thought, generally, the property of a god to be the slayer of monsters, who all of them represent hellish influences. It is spiritual power opposed to worldly violence. He had dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, and made therein a way for the released to pass over. Egypt was the dark historic memory of the people. Its king might well be compared with the fiendish monster of darkness (Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2; Psalms 34:13, Psalms 34:14). And so the passage of the Red Sea was the standing symbol of deliverance, of redemption (see Psalms 105:1-45). And in our own hymns and sacred allusions Egypt stands for the bondage of sin, the captivity of the mind to sense, to the devil. And the passing over the Red Sea may be fitly symbolic of salvation by grace, of regeneration or conversion. The argument is from the past to the future. The God who had overcome all obstacles in the way of their deliverance from Egypt was able to overcome all obstacles in the way of their deliverance from Babylon. He might be expected again to manifest his mercy, and save the nation from oppression. And so, in general, the argument holds good for the Church and for the individual: "Because thou hast been my Refuge, under the shadow of thy wings I will put my trust." The principle is ever applicable. All God's past interpositions on behalf of his people constitute an argument that he will continue to regard them.

II. THE FUTURE SEEN BY THE LIGHT OF THE PAST.

1. The ransomed of Jehovah shall return. The power that lies in the word "redeemed," "ransomed! All the notions of love, sacrifice, purchase, that are connected with it! The assurance that flows from the realization of such a state! God will not desert; he cannot lose those whom he has made by so many ties his own.

2. The joy of the return. "The custom of singing on a journey is still common in the East. It relieves the tediousness of a journey over extended plains, and stirs the camels to greater speed. So the long tedium of the way from Babylon shall be cheered by songs expressive of gladness and praise." "We are travelling home to God." We are under the guidance of a good Pastor, who goes before, who knows his sheep; of a Leader of salvation who has released his people, and will crown his work el' redemption by glorification.

"Then let our songs abound,

And every tear be dry."

We are on the way to new releases and fresh redemptions from ill.—J.

Isaiah 51:12-16

Expostulation against unbelief.

If the Eternal be the Pastor and the Comforter of Israel, what has Israel to fear?

I. THE NATURAL TIMIDITY OF THE HEART. We are cravens, all of us. We stand in dread of our own image; we quail before "frail man that dieth, and the son of the earth-born who is given up as grass." A frown makes us tremble; a menace unmans us. We are the slaves of custom and opinion. Anxiety is ever conjuring up dangers which exist not, and forecasting calamities which do not occur. So were the Jews ever "on the tenter-hooks of expectation. When the 'aiming' of the enemy seems to fail, their spirits rise; when it promises to succeed, they fall." How much do we all suffer from "ills that never arrive"!

II. TIMIDITY CORRECTED BY RELIGION. Its cause is touched—forgetfulness of God. Is forgetfulness the result of want of faith, or the origin of faithlessness? Both may be true. Faith needs to be fed from memory, and memory exerts its proper activity under the instigation of faith. Old truths need constantly to be recalled, and to become new truths through the act of attention—the "giving heed to the things we have heard, lest at any time we let them slip." That God is Creator of heaven and earth is an elementary truth of religion. How much may be deduced from it! He who made the earth made the nations that dwell on the face of it; therefore made Israel, and every member of Israel. God creates to preserve. His character of Deliverer flows from that of Creator. There is, then, hope for the fettered captive. For he who is Almighty in nature is equally so in the sphere of human life. He who raises storms is able to still them, so that his friends have no cause to fear. The commitment of the truth to the Jewish people, their protection and restoration, seems to be compared to the vast work of creation. The lesson for the timid apprehensive heart is to learn that Omnipotence is engaged in its protection and defence.

"This awful God is ours.

Our Father and our Friend."

—J.

Isaiah 51:17-23

Encouragement for Jerusalem.

The prophet, or chorus of prophets, is supposed to salute the holy city with a cheering cry.

I. PICTURES OF DISTRESS. The draught from the cup of Divine wrath. "The cup of his fury"—"the goblet-cup of reeling." These are figures for the horror and bewilder-meat caused by a (great catastrophe. It is "to drink the wine of astonishment" (Psalms 60:3; Ezekiel 23:2). Then there is utter helplessness. No guide for Jerusalem to be found in all her sons; no strong and helping hand to grasp hers in the hour of her dire need. Desolation, death, famine, and sword—the latter without, the former within (Ezekiel 7:15)—such is the state of the city. The afflicted mother and her sons. It is a picture resembling that of Niobe and her doomed offspring. The sons of this mother-city swoon, and lie at the corners of the streets. "Israel the mountain people is likened to a gazelle, which all its swiftness and grace have not saved from the hunter's snare." All these things are signs of "the fury of Jehovah, the rebuke of God."

II. UNEXPECTED ENCOURAGEMENT. "The transition from threatening to promise is marked by "therefore "(Isaiah 10:24; Isaiah 27:9; Isaiah 30:18). The Lord Jehovah, the God who is the Advocate of his people, speaks. This cup, which makes men reel with the madness of bewilderment, shall be taken from them, and put into the hands of their tormentors—the proud conquerors who had placed their feet upon their necks (c.f. Joshua 10:24; Psalms 129:3). Such sudden transitions remind us of the fact of providence, and of the coincidence of human extremity with Divine opportunity. God will not leave himself at any age without a witness in the world—which shall see that the hand of Divine power is not shortened, nor the bowels of Divine goodness straitened; but that God is as able and ready to save his Church as ever. "The difficulty of affairs has baffled and laughed at all resistances of created power, and so made the omnipotent Author of the deliverance visible and conspicuous."—J.

HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM

Isaiah 51:2

Ancient memories.

"Look unto Abraham your father." It is wise to surround the young with the statues of great and brave and wise men, and to have hanging in the halls of a nation the portraits of their true leaders. So in the Hebrews we are in a chamber of inspired images of the heroes and heroines of faith.

I. THE EYE IS ALWAYS ON SOME OBJECT. We are looking always to objects that elevate or that debase us. Israel at this time was looking to military leaders, longing for some Messiah who should gather together a power sufficient to break the iron yoke of oppression. They were looking, not to the faithful Abrahams, but to the warrior Sauls. The eye thus becomes a window to the heart.

II. THEY HAD FORGOTTEN THEIR ANCIENT POWER. Abraham was a man of faith. He believed in God, and he lived a life of faith in God. When the spirit of Abraham filled their hearts, then they acted as men who believed that "righteousness exalteth a nation." The true Hebrew power was righteousness. Their psalms glorified, not the sword, but the moral Law of God. The right hand of the Most High was with them when they were a nation that loved righteousness and hated iniquity. "Therefore God, thy God, hath exalted thee above thy fellows." The call to all godly men in every age is, "Look to Abraham."—W.M.S.

Isaiah 51:12

God the Comforter.

"I, even I, am he that comforteth you." All depends upon who it is that comforts us in the great crises of life. We are so apt to lean on those that excuse our weaknesses and comfort us in our sins.

I. GOD HIMSELF IS A COMFORTER. This is his nature. There is emphasis in it. "I even I"—the Lord of hosts; the God of whom it is said, "There is nothing too hard for the Lord." We gain comfort when we gain confidence. It is faithlessness that makes us feeble. Let us read the revelation of what God is, and study the history of what God has done for his saints in every age, and we shall find comfort.

II. MAN AT THE BEST IS BUT MAN. Why be afraid of him? Study yourself, your failings, timorousness, and frailty, and be sure that your brother man is just like this.

1. We are unreasonably afraid of men. Their power is limited. Their pretension is greater than their power. Do not be deceived by appearances.

2. We are the subjects of forgetfulness. "Man shall be made as grass!" We cannot have a better image of the feebleness of human strength. We think too much of man, and forget the Lord our Maker. Look at the heavens.. Look at the foundations of the earth. What can shake what God upholds? "Where is the fury of the oppressor?" Ask Pharaoh; and be at rest.—W.M.S.

Isaiah 51:13

The nervous temperament.

"Hast feared continually every day." We are not all constituted alike. The instrumentalities by which the great soul within us does its work are diverse in quality. In a material sense we are but dust, yet the dust itself has more steel in it with some than with others. Many have iron nerves and hereditary health, which make them strangers to the trepidations of others. They never walk those caves of terrible gloom in which others often are doomed to wander, nor have they felt the sensitiveness which often turns the experiences of life into torture. We are to meditate now on the nervous temperament, and to study especially the relation which the gospel occupies in relation to it. There may be other anodynes of consolation, physical and mental; but my argument will be this—that the religion of Christ stands in special relationship of solace and succour to those who feel with the psalmist, "I am feeble and sore broken, because of the disquietness of my heart." We cannot help being, in one sense, what we were born. The mimosa plant cannot avoid being a mimosa plant, and nothing else. The sensitiveness of a highly wrought nervous system is born with many, and, do what they will, they must carry it with them to the grave. Often misunderstood and misrepresented, often verging on despair, they are bowed down greatly, and go mourning all the day long. Much depends, of course, on the law of association, and on relationships of persons and things. Much, too, depends on religious ideas. There is, for instance, a form of piety sincere enough in itself which feeds perpetual introspection, and is ever tremulous concerning its own state. How different this from the rest which comes from entire trust in Christ! Then, again, there are human relationships which, instead of being ministrants of consolation, strain the heart and irritate the nerves. Oh, the depression that must come, the anxiety that will do its wear and tear, which is derived from alliance with unthankful and foreboding hearts, from fellowship with those who, if they do not consciously know the science of disheartenment, are at all events au fait at its practice! When Moses spake with Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, he had in his thought the carping spirit of those whose criticism suggests difficulty and danger too great to be overcome. Some men always see lions in the way, and do an anticipative roaring themselves. Thus he spoke of some who said," Whither shall we go up? our brethren have discouraged our heart, saying, The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven." What an insight this gives on those whose imagination creates giants! Now though we may apply specially the words of our text to a nervous temperament—they simply represent a special occasion of depression in the prophet's life; they represent inward fears.

I. THE TRUE PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE IS LIFE IN CHRIST. Not in self. Not in society. But in Christ. We must go out of ourselves, out of our "moods" and "feelings," that we may look unto Christ and be saved! I am speaking of those who are ever nervously anxious and sensitive. First of all about their salvation, which, alas! is like a "variable quantity" with them. But I wish, also, to apply the idea to human life. Christ is a perfect Brother as well as a perfect Saviour. Redemption is his. Yes; and so is common home-life; so is the gift of daily bread. The great realm of providence is under his sceptre.

1. Meditate well on this dual aspect of the subject. First of all, when you are tempted to be morbid analysts of your own spiritual state, to use the scales of weight and measurement for the depth of your love and the height of your faith. There can be no escape from trepidatory alarms so long as we apply aquafortis to the gold of our affection, so long as we microscopically survey the minutiae of our neglected duties and our multitudinous sins. We must ponder the consolatory words, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." And this argument applies as much to the ordinary life of every day. Do things happen to us, or are our times in God's hands? Our dread of fatalism, with its results of inertia and indifference, has sometimes hindered that quiet trust in God which is the secret of all true strength. Events are in his hand. You cannot make one hair black or white, or add one cubit to your stature. You will become worn and weary by retrospective fears. And what power have you over the dark, deep waves of coming tribulation, or over the advent-hours of grief and death? Bewise. Resolve with promptitude. Persevere with energy. Rise early with alacrity for the service of the day, but cast all anxious thoughts of to-morrow on your Lord.

2. I do not say that so doing all your fears will cease. No act of faith is so complete as to shut out all weakness of the soul. But I do say this will be your most perfect anodyne. Other things will help. The bracing air, the oxygen and ozone of the sea-coast, may tone your nerves, but it cannot create new ones. The gospel

the weak-hearted? Sometimes a sense of rectitude sustains us in trouble, for unquestionably the upright Corinthian column can bear a greater weight than the leaning one. That erect attitude of the soul which the Scriptures call" uprightness" will enable many a man to be strong. But this cannot do all. We have all sinned, and come short of the glory of God; and we have sinned against each other also. We want, above all else, a Saviour. Some suspect their own motives, and are questioners, not of their Lord's Divinity, but of their own sincerity. Yea! and some are sensitively anxious concerning the very foundations of their first repentance towards Go,t, and their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Study, then, Christ's infinite compassion, his perfect knowledge of every human heart—yes, of yours. "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee." Never rest in yourself alone. Wait and pray! Not for ever will you tremblingly bear the burden of nervous sensibility. Not for ever will the immortal spirit dwell in so frail a tabernacle. In God's own good time, you will be clothed upon with your house from heaven. The day will come when the poor harp will be restrung, sorrow and sighing will be done away; and there shall be no night there.—W.M.S.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Isaiah 51:3

The garden of the Lord.

The Lord would comfort Zion, and make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness would. be found therein. The expression, "garden of the Lord," signified everything that was choice, inviting, eligible, that ministered to peace and satisfaction. It may be taken as suggestive of the Church of Christ, which ought to be, to the outside and unreclaimed world, what the cultivated garden is to the surrounding wilderness. The Church—each separate Church—of Christ should be as the garden of Lord in respect of—

I. CULTURE, DIVINE AND HUMAN. The garden is marked out from other spaces by the superior culture which it receives; every square inch of it has attention flora the gardener's hand. The ideal garden is carefully and regularly weeded, digged, planted, pruned, etc. The Church of Christ should show the signs of heavenly, of spiritual culture. On it the Divine Husbandman has bestowed the greatest care. He has wrought upon it, suffered for it, watched over it, tended it with wondrous condescension and inexhaustible love. Human culture has also been expended upon it: the ministry of man, the watchful love, the earnest 'prayer, the faithful admonition, the solemn vows of its own members, have been given to improve and perfect it: it is, or it should be, well-cultivated ground.

II. SECURITY. The garden is fenced on all sides, that no wild animal, that no intruder of any kind, may enter, to steal or to ravage. The Church of Christ should be a sphere of the greatest possible security. In it there should be no occasion to be dreading the presence of the marauder, of "the thief who comes … to steal or to destroy," of the enemy that undermines faith, or that wins away holy love, or that deadens sacred zeal. There we should be free to walk without apprehension, without fear of harm.

III. BEAUTY. We aim to make our gardens as beautiful as the finest taste can make them; to exclude all that is unsightly, and so to introduce and arrange everything that, in part and in whole, it shall be attractive and inviting. From the Church of Christ should be excluded all that is distasteful to the Divine Lord—all that is irreverent, untruthful, discourteous, ungenerous, inconsiderate. Within the Church should grow and flourish all these graces of the Spirit of God which are fair and comely in the sight of God and man.

IV. FRUITFULNESS. What the fruitage of the productive garden is to the house-bolder, that the many-sided usefulness of the active and earnest Church is to the Lord of the vineyard.

V. VARIETY. That is a poor and imperfect garden in which are only two or three kinds of flowers, and where the beds and lawns are laid out so as to suggest monotony. That is a poor and imperfect Church where only one or two orders of intelligence or moral excellence or piety are found. Our Lord does not want to see all the flowers and shrubs and trees in his garden cut and trimmed so as to be of an unvarying pattern.

VI. PEACE AND HAPPINESS. We associate with the garden the thought of tranquility and peace. It is the abode of domestic felicity; there friendship spends its golden hours; it is the resort of happy love. The Church should be the home of peace and joy. To it we should be glad to retire from the bustle and strife of life; in its fold we should find the purest and the sweetest satisfaction which earth can yield. There have been Churches which might justly be called the arena of conflict or the wilderness of neglect. The ideal Church—that at which we should aim, and for which we should strive and sacrifice—is one that might be appropriately designated, "The garden of the Lord."—C.

Isaiah 51:7, Isaiah 51:8, Isaiah 51:12,Isaiah 51:13

A sure criterion of character, etc.

This address of Jehovah to the good and worthy among his people contains—

I. A SURE CRITERION OF CHARACTER.

1. It is well to be hearers of God's Word. All the Jews were that; they were all the children of privilege. This, however, was by no means sufficient to prove that they were the children of God.

2. It is better to know his Word and to understand his will. It says something for us if we can be thus addressed, "Ye that know righteousness." But there are many who clearly apprehend their duty, and who, for one reason or another, refrain from doing it.

3. The certain test of spiritual worth is that God's Law is in the heart: "In whose heart is my Law." They who can say with the psalmist," Oh how love I thy Law! it is my meditation all the day" (Psalms 119:97, Psalms 119:111); who esteem God's precepts as more desirable than gold and more sweet than honey (Psalms 19:10); who delight to do his will, for his Law is within their heart, the object of their affection, the source of their joy, the well-spring of their comfort, the treasury of their hope;—these are they whom God loves and honours; and theirs is the kingdom of heaven (see John 14:15, John 14:16, John 14:21, John 14:23; Matthew 7:21).

II. A PROBABLE INCIDENT OF A FAITHFUL LIFE. "Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings." It is highly probable, indeed morally certain, that if we are thoroughly loyal to our Lord and true to our own convictions we shall incur the secret dislike and also the active opposition of men. Implicitly, if not explicitly, we shall condemn their theories and their doings, and they will turn upon us in anger or in self-detente. He who never comes into sharp collision with the sentiments and habits of wicked men must either live a life of very unusual seclusion or else have grave reason to suspect his fidelity to Christ.

III. TWO DECISIVE CONSIDERATIONS.

1. Fidelity to conviction means the preference of God to man. Men are saying, "Hearken unto us"—unto us, thy fellows, thy partners, thy confederates; unto us who will share thy responsibility and thy sin, and perish with thee when thou tallest. But God is saying, "Hearken unto me"—unto me, thy Creator, thy Benefactor, thy Divine Friend. A Divine Saviour is saying unto us, "Follow me," in the paths of purity, of integrity, of piety, of consecration (see Isaiah 51:12, Isaiah 51:13).

2. Fidelity to conviction means ultimate triumph, but unfaithfulness means final ruin. The devices of iniquity will come to nought, and the guilty themselves will perish. "The moth shall eat them up like a garment." But "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." "God's righteousness shall be for ever," and they who are loving and living it shall never be confounded. Theirs is the present favour and everlasting friendship of the Eternal.—C.

Isaiah 51:9, Isaiah 51:10

The force in reserve.

It has been said that the battle goes to him who has the best force in reserve. The general who brings all his regiments to the front may expect to be beaten; but he who holds a strong force in reserve may look for victory. ]n the great spiritual struggle now proceeding, the people of God have in reserve that on which they can and will fall back with infinite advantage to their cause.

I. OUR URGENT NEED OF EFFECTUAL SUCCOUR. The battle seems to go against us. We note:

1. The prevalence of evil—of poverty, of misery, of vice, of crime, of unbelief, of superstition, of gross idolatry.

2. The comparative failure of the Church to subdue it. Looking at the entire field of activity, we are obliged to own that complete victory is a very long way off; that the millions of men and women whom the gospel has not reached, and those other millions whose spirit and whose life it has not succeeded in transforming, present a view which is very disappointing. Or looking at particular fields of Christian work, either at home or abroad, regarding the towns and villages of our own land, we do not find that the truth of God has the redeeming and elevating influence which answers to our hopes. We am not conquering the evil which surrounds and assails us; our heart sinks at the thought of the stupendous work before us, which seems to grow rather than to lessen, spite of all our struggle.

II. THE DIVINE FORCE IN RESERVE. Behind us is the arm of the Lord, and on this we lean.

1. It is a great thing that we are armed with a truth which is so fitted to do the renewing work on which we are engaged, a truth which so exquisitely meets the necessities of the human soul.

2. It is a great thing that this truth has triumphed gloriously in the case of individual men, families, tribes, and even nations.

3. But our last and best hope is in the presence and power of God. "The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our Refuge." There are two sustaining thoughts here. One is that Almighty God cannot be defeated. The "arm of the Lord" is the power of the Omnipotent; it is the overcoming energy of him who is the Source of all might and strength, and in whom reside all riches and all resources whatever. The other is that God has shown the exceeding greatness of his power many times before, and can work as glorious marvels in the future as in the past. He who smote Egypt could slay Assyria; he who made a passage across the sea could open a way from Babylon to Jerusalem. The God who has smitten the idolatries of Europe can slay the superstitions of Asia. He who has turned the sensuality and savagery of the islands of the sea into purity and peace can and will overcome the mightiest obstacles which remain. subdue the most hostile forces, and cause the "armies of Israel" to be crowned with victory.

Isaiah 51:17-23

Spiritual stupefaction.

The passage presents one of the most pitiable of all possible spectacles—a nation reduced to utter helplessness and prostration, lying like one that is brought down by intoxication to a motionless stupidity. We learn from this picture, and from the opening summons and concluding promise—

I. THAT THE HUMAN SPIRIT AS WELL AS THE HUMAN BODY IS SUBJECT TO STUPEFACTION. It is a striking and suggestive fact that the very thing which at first excites will ultimately stupefy. This is notoriously the case with intoxicants; these first stimulate, then dull and deaden the system. It is also true, though in a less degree, of those things which are called narcotics: both opium and tobacco at first awaken and enlarge faculty; but this condition soon passes away, and is succeeded by one of depression, inactivity, and (in the case of the more noxious drug) stupor and insensibility. So is it with things which act hurtfully upon the soul. At first they excite, then they blunt and deaden. This applies to:

1. Continuous enjoyment of any kind.

2. Excessive responsibilities, demanding exertion beyond the power to maintain them.

3. Heavy and repeated trials. It was from this last that Israel was suffering. The nation had been required to drink of the cup of Divine retribution, and, owing to her persistency in evil, had been compelled to drain that cup. Beside the two evils specified (Isaiah 51:19), desolation or famine and the violence of the enemy, was the sense of her utter friendlessness (Isaiah 51:18); and in addition to this was her abject humiliation (Isaiah 51:23). These calamities would account for her pitiable despondency, her attitude of despair. The sore and accumulated trials which sometimes befall individual men may not justify, but they explain, the complete brokenness and despondency of their spirit. They give themselves up as those abandoned to an evil course and a fatal doom; they are in a state of spiritual stupefaction.

II. THAT THE STRONGEST AND SHARPEST SUMMONS TO AROUSE IS THE FRIENDLIEST VOICE WE CAN THEN HEAR. "Awake, awake, stand up." These are the words of the God of Israel. And from whomsoever or from whatsoever shall come the summons to arouse ourselves from a guilty and perilous spiritual torpor, however harsh be the tone, however startling be the terms of the awakening, that voice is of the friendliest, and may be taken to be none other than the voice of God.

III. THAT FOR THE NATION OR THE SPIRIT THAT HEARKENS AND ARISES THERE MAY BE COMPLETE RECOVERY. (Isaiah 51:22, Isaiah 51:23.) Jehovah would turn humiliation into triumph for his people, arrogance into disaster for her enemies. As complete a reversal, though of an entirely different kind, will God grant to those who arouse themselves from spiritual torpor and walk in his ways: for them shall be peace instead of insensibility: holy usefulness instead of disgraceful helplessness; sacred joy instead of a miserable despair.—C.

HOMILIES BY R. TUCK

Isaiah 51:1

Lessons of the past.

This passage has been somewhat misused. The appeal is not made to the miserableness of our spiritual condition before receiving the Divine redemption. It is simply a recalling of the early history of the race, and an appeal that the goodness, care, and mercy of God to the first progenitors of the race should be recognized. The wonder involved in the origin of Israel may be treated as a ground of faith in its restoration and perpetuity. Cheyne gives the meaning thus: "Unlikely as the fulfilment of such exceeding great and precious promises may seem, it is not more unlikely than the original wonder of a great nation being descended from one man, and him as good as dead." Abraham may be understood by the "rock," and Sarah by the "pit." Look unto Abraham, and see what he got by trusting in the promise of God, and take example by him to follow God with an implicit faith. The metaphors are taken from the quarry, and express the general idea of extraction or descent. Retrospection is an important, though difficult and dangerous, Christian duty. It ought to

But it may, and often does, nourish that subtle form of spiritual pride which poisons the soul, and which is peculiarly difficult to cure. We only recall the past healthily when it is our set purpose to find the traces of God's gracious working in it all. Studied aright—

I. THE PAST TELLS OF OUR INSIGNIFICANCE. Compare the wonder over the insignificance of Israel in its beginnings. So of the Christian Church. It began with the one or two who responded to the call of Christ. Some of us began our Christian lives in childhood, some in ignorance, and some when self-indulgence had marred the powers we possessed. All of us can say, "Chosen not for good in me."

II. THE PAST TELLS OF GOD'S CARE AND MERCY. We have been led, guided, provided for, chastised, and taught, even as Israel was. God's first dealings seem to us a key to all his dealings.

III. THE PAST TELLS OF OUR WILFULNESSES. Israel could never look back without remembering his "way in the wilderness." Their past was full of murmurings and rebellions.

IV. THE PAST TELLS OF GOD'S REDEMPTIONS. Exactly the name for God is our Redeemer. And the long and varied past assures us that he will ever be to us, in all times of need, what he always has been.—R.T.

Isaiah 51:4

God's revelation a light.

"I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people." The terms "law" and "judgment" are designed to include all forms of Divine revelation—the various ways in which the Divine will is made known to man. Revelation means light. It is a mistake to assume that there are things revealed which are not intended for our comprehension; they are revealed precisely with the purpose of unfolding so that we might understand them. There are hidden and secret things, but Moses carefully distinguishes them from the revealed things, saying thus: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but the things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this Law" (Deuteronomy 29:29). Only this much is true—revelation is not light to every age equally. Some things seem mysterious at one time that are clear enough at another. And in each fresh generation we may say—

"The Lord hath yet more light and truth

To break forth from his Word."

This, at least, we may assert, prove, and illustrate—in all essential matters relating to moral conduct and religious faith, God's revelation is light.

I. GOD'S REVELATION IS LIGHT THAT SHOWS UP SIN.

1. It gives us proper apprehensions of God himself, and shows sin by our contrast with him.

2. It unfolds before us the graciousness of his relations with us, and convicts of sin as it makes us feel the weakness of our response to such relations (Daniel 5:23, last clause).

3. It declares to us the laws by which both our conduct and our spirit ought to be ruled; and by the Law is the knowledge of sin.

4. It presents to us the Lord Jesus Christ as the Gift of God; and "this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil."

II. GOD'S REVELATION IS LIGHT THAT SHOWS THE WAY OUT OF SIN.

1. By removal of the penalties it has involved.

2. By restoring the broken relations it has caused.

3. By changing the spirit of the sinner—melting him to penitence, quickening him to believe. Illustrate one feature from the parable of the "prodigal son," and other features by such passages as Romans 3:19-26; Romans 5:8-10.

III. GOD'S REVELATION' IS LIGHT THAT SHOWS THE WAY FOR THOSE REDEEMED FROM SIN. There is the "way of holiness" in which they have to walk. There is a sanctifying, through cares and chastisements, which they have to experience. There is a personal and practical application of the Christian principles to the details of common life which has to be made. And, for all this, God's Word is a "lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path."—R.T.

Isaiah 51:6

Things earthly and things spiritual.

"They that dwell therein shall die in like manner; but my salvation shall be for ever." Some render, "Shall die like gnats;" that is, shall live their little day, and then pass away (comp. Psalms 102:26; Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10-13). We get one of our chief impressions of the value of a thing out of the length of time that it will last. Permanence is one of the principal notes of value. The insect that hums through the air of one summer's evening is. comparatively worthless; the elephant that lives through a hundred years is valuable The wayside weed that lives its brief months is worthless; the giant oak that outlives the storms of generations is valuable. And so our idea of extreme value, of absolutely priceless worth, is put into the figure of permanence—eternal, abiding, and continuing. The highest conceivable good is eternal life; the worst conceivable woe is eternal death. This note of value tests things earthly; they are short-lived, and comparatively worthless. It tests things spiritual; they are long-lived, good, cannot die, and they alone are truly worthy of the pursuit of those in whom God has breathed the breath of life.

1. The material heavens and material earth are the types of all material things. They are the "treasure on earth," which moth or rust are always corrupting, which thieves are constantly breaking through to steal. "Here we have no continuing city" (see the force of this in view of the ruins of great ancient cities which abound in the East). "The fashion of this world passeth away." The world is a moving panorama. The generations go by like the ships that sail to the West. "The place that knows us now must soon know us no more for ever." Everything on which the earthly stamp rests is in its very nature fading. There is no safe holding of what we only get, only become possessed of.

2. But "salvation" and "righteousness" are the types of spiritual things. They bear relation to the man himself, and not to his mere circumstances or surroundings. We can keep for ever only that which we are. Character is our "treasure in heaven, which neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and which no thieves can break through and steal." But the yet higher truth—the one concerning which we need to gain ever new impressions—is that we can only hope to hold on for ever that which we are through Divine grace; that which we are through the Divine redeemings and sanctifyings. God's "salvation shall be for ever; and his righteousness shall not be abolished," as the salvation is wrought in us, and the righteousness shines from us.—R.T.

Isaiah 51:7, Isaiah 51:12, Isaiah 51:13

Fear, and Fear not.

"Fear ye not the reproach of men;" "Afraid of a man that shall die;" "Forgettest the Lord thy Maker." It has been said, "Fear God, and thou shalt have none else to fear." And the apostle, glorifying the fear of God by calling it love, says, "Perfect love casteth out fear." The immediate connection of the passage is Israel's fear of the Babylonians. But they need not have feared if they had looked to the "Lord as their Defence, and to the God of Jacob as their Refuge"—unto the Lord who "could perform all things for them." "Let not those who embrace the gospel righteousness be afraid of those who will call them Beelzebub, and will say all manner of evil against them falsely. Let them not be afraid of them; let them not be disturbed by these opprobrious speeches, nor made uneasy by them, as if they would be the ruin of their reputation and honour, and they must for ever lie under the load of them. Let them not be afraid of their executing their menaces, nor be deterred thereby from their duty, nor frightened into any sinful compliances, nor driven to take any indirect courses for their own safety. Those can bear but little for Christ that cannot bear a hard word for him" (Matthew Henry).

I. NATURAL FEAR OF MAN. Because the conquest of man by the spirit of self, self-will, self-pleasing, has set every man, in greater or less degree, upon getting advantage over his brother; and so we all go in suspicion and fear of one another. Illustrate from the jealousies and rivalries of society, the competitions of business, the ambitions and conflicts of nations. Governments are organizations to keel) within safe limits men's fears of one another. The only natural triumph over such fear is for men to become possessed with the idea of serving one another, instead of taking advantage of, and getting something out of, one another. George Macdonald has a dream in one of his works ('Wingfold, Curate'), in which heaven is pictured as busy earth, just as we know it, only everybody is set upon serving his neighbour, and nobody ever gets the idea of making his neighbour serve him. Nobody has anything to fear in such a heaven or in such an earth.

II. PROPER FEAR OF GOD. That must be supreme. It must be the fear that draws us near to him in trust; that gives us the joy of obeying and following him; and that really is filial love. That fear is a sanctifying force to us, just as reverent fear of his father mightily helps the boy to do right. That fear is a resting, quieting influence upon us; it makes us feel safe as the boy feels in the storm, if the father whom he fears is at the helm.—R.T.

Isaiah 51:11

Joy-song on the way to Zion.

(See Isaiah 35:10.) There may be an allusion to the custom, so common in the East, of singing upon a journey, particularly with a view to quicken the pace of the camels. Bush writes, "We should not have passed this plain so rapidly, but for the common custom of the Arabs of urging on their camels by singing. The effect is very extraordinary; this musical excitement increases their pace at least one-fourth. First one camel-driver sings a verse, then the others answer in chorus. It reminded me somewhat of the Venetian gondoliers. I often asked the camel-drivers to sing, not only to hasten our progress, but also for the pleasure of hearing their simple melodies! Some of their best songs possess a plaintive sweetness that is almost as touching as the most exquisite European airs." And Pitts, in describing the order of the caravans, tells us, "Some of the camels have bells about their necks, and some about their legs, like those which our carders put about their fore-horses' necks, which, together with the servants (who belong to the camels and travel on foot) singing all night, make a pleasant noise, and the journey passes away delightfully." The picture is of the return of Israel from captivity to Jerusalem. ]t is an ideal picture of what might have been, but the actual circumstances of the return came very far short of the pictured ideal. As an earlier homily has dealt with this verse, only a fresh line of thought need be suggested. It is that through all the Christian pilgrim-way there ought to be joy and song; the "joy of the Lord our Strength."

I. THE JOY OF BEGINNING A CHRISTIAN LIFE, This is usually an intense joy, born of the freshness of our experience, the brightness of our newly kindled hope, and our ignorance of the conflict which the Christian life must witness. It is the joy of the ransomed. Illustrate from the freed slave. It is the joy of the delivered. Illustrate by song of Israel on the Red Sea shore. People usually set out on an expedition with much song and hope.

II. JOY ON THE WAY IN CHRISTIAN LIVING. This is a calmer joy; found rather in what God's grace proves able to do for us, than in any circumstances through which we pass; for the way itself is often rough and hard—we can seldom sing about it.

III. JOY AT THE END WHEN HOME IS WON. Illustrate by Moore's 'Paradise and the Peri'—

"Joy, joy for ever! the work is done,

The gate is passed, and heaven is won."

True joy, be it remembered, is not a fitful response to circumstances, but an ever-bubbling and upspringing soul-well—R.T.

Isaiah 51:16

Man, God's agent.

"I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand." This statement was most perfectly realized in the ideal Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who could say, "The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself; but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." Possibly the figures in the text are designed to represent the re-establishment of Jerusalem as the centre of a restored Jewish nation, and God likens this to the putting up of a fallen tent, and intimates that his faithful ones should be used as his agents, in setting up the poles, driving in the pegs, and straining the cords.

I. MAN'S POWERS FITTED FOR GOD'S SERVICE. God made him, adapted him, and endowed him, precisely with a view to service. We recognize a design and an aim in everything God has made. We set before ourselves a distinct purpose in anything we make—it is to serve us. Because man has the trust of what he calls "independence'' and "free-will," he does not cease to be God's servant, God's agent; though, turning his free-will into self-will, be too often spoils his powers, and renders them unfit for God's service. Each one of us ought to find out precisely the powers with which we are endowed; and in the line of them we must look for our spheres and our work. What we can do, that we must do for God.

II. MAN'S POWERS OUGHT TO BE AT GOD'S DISPOSAL. The call should be heard by us each new morning, "Who is willing to consecrate himself this day unto the Lord?" God should have first choice of our service. It should ever be enough to us that God calls. "As the eyes of a servant.; to the hand of the master, so our eyes should wait on God." The practical rule of life should be this—"I belong to God. My service is for him, my leisure may be for others and myself."

III. MAN'S POWERS ARE IN GOD'S USE. It is not a question that he may use us, he does use us, we are his voice, his sword, his staff. He is now working out his purposes on earth by human agencies. Nothing alters the fact; but the joy of being willing workers may be ours. And our doings are ennobled when we can see them to be God's doings by us. Man realizes Iris noblest individuality, the design of his being, only as thus he is willing to be mouthpiece for God, and to be covered in the shadow of God's hand, as he plants, or digs, or builds.—R.T.

Isaiah 51:22

God our Advocate with himself.

"Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, and thy God who is the Advocate of his people." He will plead for his people when none else will plead (comp. Isaiah 63:5). In this we find a foreshadowing of the idea of Christ as our Advocate with God, which, most deeply, most spiritually apprehended, is God pleading with God—God an Advocate with himself. This may be worked out thus—

I. JESUS PLEADS FOR US WITH GOD. "There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus;" "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous."

II. BUT JESUS IS GOD. "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." "The Word was God." He was God "manifest in the flesh." "The Brightness of the Father's glory, and express Image of his Person."

III. THEN THIS IS GOD PLEADING WITH GOD. It is a way of figuring for our apprehension what seems to be the fact, that God holds argument with himself.—R.T.

Isaiah 51:23

Divine judgment on persecutors.

"Thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over." This is a figure for the last humiliation of an Eastern conquest. Joshua called his captains, and even his soldiers, to put their feet upon the necks of the conquered kings (Joshua 10:24). Matthew Arnold's note on this verse is as follows: "A trait of the humiliation of the conquered and the insolence of the conqueror in Eastern kingdoms. So it is related that when Sapor, King of Persia, got on horseback, the Roman Emperor Valerian had to kneel down, and make his back a step for him." Henderson, quoting from Ibn Batuta, says that "when the negroes who appeared before the black sultan at Mall, in Nigritia, fell down, they laid bare their backs, and covered their heads with dust, as tokens of the most profound submission." Further illustration may be found in the Eastern custom called the doseh, which is still prevalent, or only very recently extinct. Dervishes lay themselves down side by side on the ground, backs upward, legs extended, and their arms placed together beneath their foreheads. Over these the sheikh on horseback rides. The assurance made is that the enemies and persecutors of Israel, and notably Babylon, should be made to drink of the same bitter cup that they had made Israel drink so deeply. And Babylon had to taste the bitterness of captivity. Very striking facts are narrated concerning the Divine retributions which persecutors have suffered, and though some may be but imaginative creations under impressions of what ought to be, there are sufficient cases that are strictly historical to convince us that, in this sphere, "though hand join in hand, the wicked do not go unpunished;" and not infrequently what is known as "poetical justice ' is meted out to them even in this life. If the persecutor should escape the retribution, the judgment comes upon his fame. After-generations say worse things of persecutors than of any of the ancestors. They live in the execration of the ages. Yet the persecutor can never permanently harm the Church. Its conquest is ,well assured, and that conquest involves the judgment, humiliation, and degradation of the persecutors, who shall have measured to them what they meted out to others; for "our God is known by the judgments which he executeth."—R.T.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 51:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/isaiah-51.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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