Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.The Mark for Recognizing God's Peace
I. It is not said, 'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed'. There is nothing in mere movelessness which is suggestive of peace. A mind may be motionless without being rested; nay, it may be motionless by reason of its unrest. What, for example, is the numbness of despair, but just a mind which has been deprived of movement by its own unrest. Grief by its excess lifts stopped the pulses of feeling; fear has paralysed energy; inward struggle has ended in inward exhaustion.
II. In the peace of a human soul everything depends on the thing which fastens it. There are various kinds of fastenings by which a spirit may be bound. It may be bound by sleep; it may be bound by apathy; it may be bound by old age. The peace of which the Psalmist speaks is that of a soul bound by God; its perfection lies in the fact that it is stayed on something which is itself constantly moving.
III. What would be the difference between a soul bound to a rock and a soul bound to a star? The soul fastened to the rock would be stationary; the soul fastened to the star would be ever on the wing. That is the difference between the peace of God and the world's peace. The world's peace is a standing still; God's is a moving on. The world's peace is silence; God's is a living voice. The world's peace is languor after toil; God's is inspiration of strength to begin toil. To be stayed by God is to be stayed not by death but by life, not by exhaustion but by energy, not by folding the hands but by spreading the sails to reach a wider sphere. The peace of God descends on every man as it descended on Jesus—in the midst of the waters.
—G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 173.
References.—XXVI. 3.—J. H. Thom, Laws of Life (2nd Series), p. 136. W. J. Knox-Little, The Journey of Life, p. 159. A. G. Mortimer, Studies in Holy Scripture, p. 58. B. Wilberforce, Sanctification by the Truth, p. 97; see also The Hope That is in Me, p. 165. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 275. F. W. Farrar, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 187. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1818.
Kept Peaceful in the Midst of Strife
Looked at from any viewpoint life appears to be a struggle. The man of science, for example, pursues his investigations not as a mere search for facts but as a conflict against ignorance. Every discovery he makes is a fort captured from the enemy, and ensures the liberation of some who have hitherto been bound. And the ordinary individual, too, the one who is distinguished by no special rank in the array of contestants, but who has set his heart upon living a high and pure life, is entered for a struggle. His very ambition, itself an echo of Christ's command, involves him in a lifelong campaign against the powers of evil.
I. Hence the audacity of Christ's Gospel of peace, whose promises run counter to the entire natural order. Indeed, it is part of the proof of Christ's Divinity that He should offer to men peace at the heart of an endless and inevitable agitation, a gift about which the Apostle uses no mere hyperbole when he speaks of it as 'peace which passeth understanding'. For the human heart cannot conceive, apart from all that Christ Himself is, that in a world of this sort peace should perfectly possess any one. But this, the very mystery of the Evangel, is a large part of its fascination. Christ is ever willing to submit Himself to personal subjective tests, and is for ever calling men to come and try for themselves the reality of His claim and covenant. Faith may and often does begin as an experiment, but it always leads on to an experience of heart-rest which these words alone describe. 'How do you explain the possibility of peace in a world where even Nature is red in tooth and claw, and where all the activities of men are bent upon ceaseless strife?' is asked by the unbelieving cynic. And the only answer which we can give is that, while we cannot explain the possibility, we have experienced and continually enjoy the reality. And in its last analysis Christ's Gospel is found to be true as it responds not to speculative but to subjective tests.
II. It is significant that these words do not identify the experience of peace with the absence of loss and sorrow, but rather with the presence of God. It is not that we are to be withdrawn from the reach of the influence of these things, but that we are to be drawn into close union with Himself.
III. It is significant also that this prophetic declaration with its Gospel fulfilment should reveal God as the One upon whom the responsibility of the covenant really rests. 'Thou wilt keep him' is at once an encouragement to the one who knows his own grasp to be weak, his emotions fitful, his own power of fidelity inadequate—and robs him of all his fearful apprehensions. Just as He alone bestows, so He alone can maintain unbroken this experience of strengthening and recreative peace. It is His work to hold us, not ours to hold Him. And this truth, if once apprehended, will rid our lives of much of the worry and meaningless anxiety which often beclouds and weakens them. If we surrender to Him His own possession, it is but little to expect that the King will carefully guard His own crown-jewels. It is indeed as a sentinel on duty keeps the trustful garrison in peace that the watchful Lord guards the yielded heart to the exclusion of false love, keeps the mind to the exclusion of wrong thoughts, and controls the will to the exclusion of unholy purposes.
—J. Stuart Holden, The Pre-Eminent Lord, p. 71.
References.—XXVI. 3, 4.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Isaiah, p. 111; see also Paul's Prayers, p. 245.
Trust in God
Ignorance and unbelief are man's foes, and unrest is man's misery. The purpose of revelation is to impart knowledge and to awaken faith, and thus to fill the mind with that peace which is spiritual strength.
I. The Object of Trust.
a. 'The Lord Jehovah,' the self-existing, the eternal, the Almighty. A contrast to all created beings. Put not your trust in man—in the sons of men—in princes.
b. 'The Rock of Ages' (marg.). The everlasting hills are an emblem of strength, unchangeableness, solidity, eternity. God is often, by Moses and by the Psalmist, described as 'the Rock,' 'the Stronghold,' 'the Fortress'. He whose feet are on the mountain peak feels his station solid and secure; he who builds upon the rock has a strong and safe foundation. A faint, poor emblem of the everlasting strength which is in God, the sure foundation upon which His people rest.
II. The Trust Required.
a. A sincere trust, such as arises from a consciousness of need and weakness, and such as goes out towards a Being who is able to strengthen, to comfort, and to save.
b. A steadfast trust, such as is described by the expression, 'Whose mind is stayed upon Thee'. This is leaning and resting upon God. It is the trust of the scholar in the teacher, the patient in the physician, the traveller in the guide, the child in the parent.
c. A perpetual trust: 'For ever,' in all circumstances, for all time, and unto eternity.
III. The Result of Trust 'Perfect Peace'.—Whilst self-confidence, trust in man, distrust of God, bring restlessness, faith brings peace. Peace of conscience, peace of heart, peace of life, are all included; and these may be enjoyed even in circumstances likely to disquiet and distress. We are not, indeed, able to keep ourselves in such peace; but what we cannot do God can do, and will, if He be sought and honoured.
The Poor and Needy
'The foot shall tread it down' Shall tread what down? 'The lofty city,' as it says in the verse before: 'the city of the terrible nations,' as it is in another place. Those blessed feet shall indeed, by their journeys over the Holy Land, and then by their rest upon the Holy Cross—painful journeys, a more painful repose—overthrow that empire of Satan.
I. 'The feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy.' And what a world of love there is in those two clauses! not to be slurred into one, as if both meant one and the same thing. A man may be poor enough, and not needy: for his poverty may content him, and he may need nothing further. A man may be needy enough, and not poor; is it not so every day? for all his riches may not satisfy him, and there is the insatiable craving for more wealth, more power, more honour. But it pleased our dear Lord to be both poor and needy for our sakes. So poor, that He was indebted to love only for the grave-cloths in which He laid Him down to sleep, and took His rest in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea. He would be helped as well as help; He would accept the offerings of love as well as pour them forth; He would fulfil the future law of His own Apostles, 'Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ'. And where did the steps of the needy first lead Him?
'The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow Me.'
Would go forth into Galilee? and why? Because He would seek for assistance there.
'Now as He walked by the sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after Me.'
And there you have the words, as well as the steps, of the needy. Now, take an example from this very thing. Remember: the next most blessed thing to affording help as you should, is accepting it as you should. It is more blessed—He Himself said it—to give than to receive. Therefore it inevitably follows, it is also blessed to receive. Of His fullness have all we received: but He vouchsafes to receive of our emptiness.
II. 'The feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy.' The feet of the poor are true to their title still. The King is exalted above all blessing, and worship, and glory, above every name that is named, of things present, or things to come; but He is the poor King still. Therefore He comes to you—not as that arch-hypocrite came to St. Martin in his cell, in gold and pearls, and costly array, commanding to be worshipped as the Christ, but in poverty still and humbleness, under the form of Bread and Wine. And does He come solely to give, and not to receive? Does He bestow Himself, and ask for nothing in return? Not so. If they are the feet of the poor, they are the steps of the needy also. He needs yourselves. This needy One seeks your full love: will you deny it? your most earnest help; will you withhold it? your very selves: and already they ought to be His.
III. 'The foot shall tread it down, even the feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy.' Why the singular in the first clause and the plural in the second? Why is the 'foot' of the beginning multiplied into the 'feet' and 'steps' of the end? And here we see, as in so many other passages, how the same prophecy tells of the Head, and tells of the members: of both, as engaged in one work: of both, as combining in one battle: of both, as to share in one victory. The Captain of our salvation goes forth first into the field: 'the foot shall tread it down': His servants follow Him to the war: 'even the feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy'.
—J. M. Neale, Occasional Sermons, p. 86.
References.—XXVI. 8, 9.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2430. A. Murray, Waiting on God, p. 93. XXVI. 9.—W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches (2nd Series), p. 15. J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 106. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (1st Series), p. 75. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. i. p. 71. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 31. XXVI. 12.—Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons,, vol. iii. p. 275.
People Who Think They Have Done No Good in Life
Israel was mourning before God. They deemed they had accomplished nothing. They thought nobody was any better in all the land for anything they had attempted.
How often God's people thus judge and condemn themselves! They conclude they have only cumbered the ground. Life appears to them a failure. What Israel wailed of old is their lamentation still: 'We have not wrought any deliverance in the earth'.
It was pathetic that Mrs. Oliphant inscribed these doleful words upon the title-page of her latest volume of stories. She appeared to think all her labour had resulted in little or nothing. And yet we cannot doubt that in many senses that gifted and heroic authoress did work deliverance in the earth.
This is frequently the retrospect which God's best and most useful people take of their life. Even C. H. Spurgeon at the last charged himself with 'uselessness'. He did this in a letter to his friend Bishop Thorold. Think of Spurgeon, of all men, self-accused of uselessness. It is one of Satan's most depressing devices that he causes God's people to cry, 'We have not wrought any deliverance in the earth'.
Let me speak to people who think they have done no good in life. May I but check this sore complaint which they utter to the Lord! Oh to give them, through grace, a more sanguine review!
I. Varied forms of deliverance are to be wrought. In many ways the earth is embondaged. 'The whole creation groaneth and travaileth.' Whichever region we contemplate there is abundant need of 'deliverance'. Captive souls are all around us; fettered intellects; bodies bound of Satan these long weary years. Who is entirely free? Verily there is abundant scope for 'deliverance' to be 'wrought'.
II. To work deliverance is a supreme end in life.
III. We are all apt to declare that we have wrought no deliverance.
IV. This is a dangerous lamentation.
V. Only the people of God can work true deliverance in the earth.
VI. We shall not know in this life what deliverance we have wrought.
—Dinsdale T. Young, The Gospel of the Left Hand, p. 151.
References.—XXVI. 19.—F. B. Meyer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 312. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 70. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 306. J. M. Neale, Occasional Sermons, p. 13.
The Lord Coming Out of His Place
What is the object of the retirement which is thus recommended to Israel.
I. Israel in retirement will see that God is the author of the great judgment on the nations—on the great monarchies of the Eastern world. One of the faults of this people, which haunted it from age to age, was that it did not see God in history—in its own history, in the history of the world.
Is it not much the same among ourselves? How do the majority of us Englishmen look at passing events, and especially at misfortunes, whether they happen to the world at large, or to our own country, or to our families, or to ourselves? If we think about them steadily at all we trace them to their causes—their 'second causes,' as our popular language religiously puts it—that is, to the forces or the events which appear to us immediately to produce these misfortunes. We ought not to stop at these secondary causes just as if they were living forces—just as if they were, to all intents and purposes, gods—as if there were no power beneath, behind them, to set them in motion, to control, or to check them—no Cause of causes Who is the real agent always and everywhere.
And if we would see God behind the agencies which, when governing us and governing the world, He employs, whether in judgment or in mercy, we must detach ourselves from the imperious, the binding power of sense: we must retire within the chambers of the soul, into an atmosphere of prayer.
II. And Israel in retirement may learn something of God's purposes in judgment What a judgment means does not by any means always lie upon the surface. It only appears upon consideration, and it is missed if we do not make a serious personal effort to discover it.
Society as a whole has no eye for the drift of the judgments of God. God who rules the world unveils His mind to pure and holy souls, while He hides it from those who believe themselves to be the wise and prudent. To study the Divine mind in God's judgments in time is to learn before they appear—to learn to read—the signs of the Son of Man in heaven. It is to prepare in the most intelligent and effective way for the final doom.
III. And Israel in retirement may have power with God in judgment The Israel of Isaiah's day could do little or nothing directly. But indirectly Israel might yet do as much as, or rather more than, in those ancient times.
If prayer can thus reach the physical and inanimate world, much more can it reach the moral and the human world; and so now, while the world goes on its way as if it held its own future bound in its hand, its course is really swayed by those of whom it takes the very least account—by poor and uninfluential and simple people who live much alone with God, and who have ready access to His ear and to His heart Israel, in his chambers, Isaiah would say, might yet do more for the future of the world than if David had been still ruling from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean.
—H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, vol. xii. No. 689, p. 182.
Illustration.—An old writer tells us that he was reminded of this passage in Isaiah when he visited those remarkable sepulchres of the early Christian dead, the catacombs beneath the city of Rome. As he looked on those narrow cells cut out in the soft rock, with a brief inscription on a tablet in front of each, and read how first one and then another aged man, or youth, or maiden, had, in one of the last great imperial persecutions, laid down life itself for Christ, he could not but feel that God had called that soul to enter into the chambers of the blessed dead, and had shut the doors about and hidden it as it were for a little moment until the indignation was overpast—until the blessed day of the resurrection when the Lord Jesus should come out of His place for judgment, when it would enter on its new and on its splendid inheritance of life.
—H. P. Liddon.
References.—XXVI. 20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xl. No. 2387. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, p. 104. H. Hensley Henson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxii. 1902, p. 393. XXVI. 20, 21.—H. P. Liddon, Advent in St. Paul's, vol. i. p. 78. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2459. XXVI.—H. Hensley Henson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1908, p. 410. XXVII.—1-9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2459. XXVII. 3.—Ibid. vol. xxv. No. 1464; vol. xl. No. 2391. XXVII. 5.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture —Isaiah, p. 121.
Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength:
For he bringeth down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, he layeth it low; he layeth it low, even to the ground; he bringeth it even to the dust.
The foot shall tread it down, even the feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy.
The way of the just is uprightness: thou, most upright, dost weigh the path of the just.
Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O LORD, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee.
With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.
Let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the LORD.
LORD, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see: but they shall see, and be ashamed for their envy at the people; yea, the fire of thine enemies shall devour them.
LORD, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us.
O LORD our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us: but by thee only will we make mention of thy name.
They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.
Thou hast increased the nation, O LORD, thou hast increased the nation: thou art glorified: thou hadst removed it far unto all the ends of the earth.
LORD, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.
Like as a woman with child, that draweth near the time of her delivery, is in pain, and crieth out in her pangs; so have we been in thy sight, O LORD.
We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.
Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.
For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.