Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. That God judges those who are in authority over men; that however these may be placed above the reach of human justice, they will not escape Divine retribution.
2. That God especially requires an account of our treatment of the suffering and the dependent. Whoso wrongs the widow or the orphan must expect a fearful reckoning with the pitiful and righteous One (Matthew 18:6). But the special truth which is provided for us in this passage is the utter impotence of man, and the certainty and severity of his doom when God "arises to judgment." We learn -
I. THAT SIN IS MOVING ON TO A DAY OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. "The day of visitation" (ver. 3) is sure to come. The desolation that is in store may have to "come from far;" it may be out of sight now; it may come "as one that travelleth," may be hidden by intervening days and weeks; but it is on its way. Not more surely does the sun move to the western sky, does the spring move toward the summer, does youth move toward manhood and manhood toward age and death, than does sin move on to a day of wrath, of Divine visitation. All sin takes this sad course; not only such daring and presumptuous sin as that of the text - cruel wrong at the hand of those appointed to administer justice - but all departure from the revealed will of God, and also the deliberate and persistent refusal to enter his service.
II. THAT IN THAT DAY SIN WILL LEAN IN VAIN ON ITS OLD SUPPORTS. Not only will national alliances fail the nation which God is visiting with his displeasure, but all the supports and consolations with which individual souls have surrounded themselves will prove to be of no avail then. "To whom will ye flee for help?" (ver. 3). What human arm will arrest the uplifted hand of God? Of what avail then human friendships, abundant "resources," magnificent estates, royal or princely patronage, the devices of the cunning counselor? How will these be brushed away by the tempest of his holy indignation!
III. THAT SIN WILL THEN BE EXPOSED TO A THREEFOLD PENALTY.
1. Irreparable loss. "Where will ye leave your glory?" (ver. 3). Our earthly treasures, our bodily powers, our worldly honors and positions, - these are things which God's punitive providence will take away from us; and where is the custodian to whose hands we can confide them? Who will receive them from us and restore them to us?
2. Spiritual bondage. "They shall bow down under the prisoners," or "bow down among the captives" (ver. 4). Sin leads down to a cruel bondage. Evil dispositions, bad habits, shameful lusts, "have dominion over us" (Romans 6:16).
3. Spiritual death. "They shall fall under the slain." We add the welcome truth, not stated or even hinted here, but elsewhere revealed -
IV. THAT THERE IS AN UNFAILING REFUGE NOW FOR THE PENITENT AND BELIEVING SPIRIT. - C.
goel, or avenger, belongs to the primitive conditions of society. When there was no settled government, no police, and no magistracy, each individual had to guard his life, liberty, and property as best he could. The first and simplest form that mutual protection took was "the family," and the principle was established that the nearest of kin to an injured or murdered person should avenge the injury or death. As this led to feuds among families and tribes lasting for generations, and as it was a kind of rough justice which often became injustice, Moses set the old custom under limitations, appointing proper courts for the settlement of disputes, and protecting the manslayer from the avenger until due examination could be made into the circumstances of his crime. In fully civilized society a regular system of law and magistracy is organized; the individual commits his right of personal avengement to the recognized authorities It is, therefore, of supreme importance to the welfare of any nation that justice should be free to all, should be perfectly fair, and should be a practical avenger of the poor, the distressed, and the wronged. The nature which Isaiah sets before us in this passage reveals a most perilous condition of society. "All the formalities of justice were observed punctiliously. The decision of the unjust Judge was duly given and recorded, but the outcome of it all was that the poor, the Widow, and the fatherless got no redress." "No people had statutes and judgments so righteous as they had, and yet corrupt judges found ways 'to turn aside the needy from judgment,' to hinder them from coming at their right and recovering what was their due, because they were needy and poor, and such as they could get nothing by nor expect any bribes from." "There is no surer sign of the misery of a people than is found in the corrupt administration of justice." And it may be added that a country is on the borders of revolution, or of calamity, when righteousness has forsaken its judgment-seats, and there are no avengers of social wrongs.
I. THE STATE OF SOCIETY IN WHICH THE POOR FIND NO HELP IN MAN. Two cases are suggested.
1. Failure to obtain just judgment.
2. The painful condition of widows.
Where there is wealth and luxury there is sure to be poverty in marked and terrible features close beside it, as may be illustrated from the great and rich European cities of our day. Wealth has a tendency to go in the direction of classes; it drains away from some classes, and so alienates and embitters them, especially as the result of self indulgence is to harden a man's heart against his neighbor. The condition of widows in the East is an extremely painful one, because they have no rights in their husband's property, no social status, and are the prey of designing and wicked men. The retired life they lead unfits them for contending on behalf of their own rights, or those of their children. The picture of a national life in which the wronged have no judge, the poor no helpers, and the widows no friends, is an exceedingly painful one. Self-seeking, luxury, and class prejudice must have catch the heart out of such a kingdom.
II. IN SUCH A STATE OF SOCIETY THE POOR HAVE HELP IN GOD. This may be illustrated along the following lines. God will help them by:
1. The working of his judgment-laws. In Greece despised helots multiply, and become at last a destructive force, for a time breaking up society. Slaves learn at last to combine, and take their own avengements on their persecutors. Down-trodden races heave awhile, like slumbering earthquakes, and presently burst forth in revolutions that are, in reality, Divine judgments.
2. By the orderings of Divine providence, which bring the nation into such a condition that reformation of its wrongs becomes immediately necessary to secure its continued existence.
3. By the raising up of human helpers. Men who plead the cause of the poor, and make their voice and their condition to be heard even in the high places of a land. At once thought turns to such men as Wilberforce, the friend of the slave, and Howard, the friend of the prisoner.
4. By special Divine consolations. The poor have their ameliorations, and even their superior advantages; and not the least of them is this - they have little prejudice hindering the reception of Divine truth. To "the poor the gospel is preached," and in every age it is found true that "the common people heard Christ," and hear of Christ, "gladly." - R.T.
I. A WARLIKE POWER MAY BE THE PENAL INSTRUMENT OF PROVIDENCE. Assyria is here described as the "staff of Jehovah's anger," the "rod of his wrath," appointed to march against a people who have excited the Divine indignation. As he plunders and spoils, and proceeds on his devastating way, he may be in effect like Attila, the "scourge of God," destined like a wholesome tempest to purify the moral air of a corrupt age, and to prepare for a better sanitary state.
II. YET HE WHO IS BUT AN INSTRUMENT OF ANOTHER WILL MAY IGNORE HIS OFFICE AND WORK. The Assyrian's thoughts are bent on destruction. His motive is personal ambition. In haughty pride he not only overvalues his power, but mistakes its nature. His courtiers, he vaunts, are equal to kings. All foreign lands without distinction are to meet the same doom from him. As the heathen kingdoms of the north have been subdued by him, powerful and many as the gods had been, so the little kingdom of Judah, with its few gods or idols, will not be able to withstand him. As a heathen, the Assyrian recognizes, though in a mistaken way, the power of religion as the mainstay of a state. The idols or fetishes are to him the signs of a real supernatural power residing in the nation.
III. DIVINE DENUNCIATION OF VAIN-GLORY. When Jehovah executes his judgments at the right time, this insolent pride will be punished.
1. Its folly exposed. The prophet reads the heart of the vain-glorious conqueror. He is saying to himself, "It was the strength of my hand, it was the clearness of my own intelligence, that accomplished these victories, that cast down my powerful foes. I was like a boy pillaging a deserted nest."
2. Its fallacy rebuked. It is as it' the axe should boast that it does the work of the hewer, or as if the saw were to brag against the sawyer, or the staff were to boast that it swings the hand of him who holds it - that the lifeless instrument raises the living hand. How deeply do these thoughts run through the lore of Israel down to Paul, who uses the image of the potter and the clay in a similar manner! Says Lord Bacon, "It was prettily devised of AEsop; the fly sat upon the axletree of the chariot-wheel, and said,' What a dust do I raise!' So there are. stone vain persons, that whatsoever goeth alone or moveth upon greater means, if they have ever so little hand in it, they think it is they that carry it." But
"All service ranks the same with God -
I. MAN IN HIS FOLLY. Under the dominion of the folly which is born of sin, man.
1. Indulges in designs which are beyond his strength. (Ver. 7.) It is "in his heart" to do much greater things, often to work much greater wickedness, than he has power to execute. Under sin, men indulge in great-and even gross self-exaggeration; guilt is an infatuating thing.
2. Looks with dangerous complacency on his little triumphs. (Vers. 8, 9.) He has the "stout heart" and the "high looks" (ver. 12) which come from a consciousness of success, and which are the sure precursors of further folly. Few men can stand even the smaller triumphs, and still fewer the greater ones. When a man finds himself indulging the spirit of complacency he had better question himself severely, for he is walking on a "slippery place."
3. Attributes to himself what is his only in a very slight degree. (Ver. 13; vide 1 Corinthians 4:7.) Man can only work with the materials which he has received from God, under the conditions which God determines, within the limits which God imposes. "All our springs are in him." The attitude of arrogant authorship is as preposterous as it is offensive.
4. Comes to hasty and ignorant conclusions. (Vers. 10, 11, 14.) The blind Assyrian ignorantly associated the idols of other lands with "the idols of Jerusalem." He was either ignorant of Jehovah's Name, or he placed him on a level with other gods. He was going forth in a blind confidence that should be rudely shaken, that should be completely shattered. Man in his guilty folly assumes many things to be true which are absolutely false; he fails to make inquiry, and his ignorance utterly and fatally misleads him. And there is nothing in regard to which this is so true as the nature, the character, and the will of God.
5. Is blind to the end and issue of his doings. "He meaneth not so," etc. (ver. 7). Under the sway of sin man moves along a path which he thinks will lead to honor, enjoyment, success, triumph; but "the end of that way is death." Selfishness has its own purpose in view, and confidently reckons on achieving its end; but behind or above it is a Power which it is unable to resist, and which turns it to another anti very different end.
II. GOD IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Everywhere present, sleeplessly watching, mightily interposing, is the righteous Ruler of all.
1. He punishes his own people when they go astray. "I will send him against a hypocritical nation," etc. (ver. 6); "When the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion" (ver. 12). Judgment often "begins at the house of God," with the people of God. Whom the Lord loves he chastens. God has a gracious purpose in his visitations; he desires and designs repentance and restoration, but he does not spare. He speaks of his own people as "the people of his wrath" (ver. 6). Let no "Christian nation, "or" Christian Church," or Christian man wrap itself (himself) up in imaginary security. God may have a rod in his hand even for Judah as well as for Assyria.
2. He will overwhelm with humiliation those who impiously oppose themselves to his holy will. (Vers. 15-19.)
3. He will use the ungodly as instruments in his hand of righteousness and power. (Vers. 5-7.) Sennacherib should be the rod with which the hand of God would smite. God can make and will make the wrath and the ambition of men to serve the high purpose which he has in his mind. Thus he used Pharaoh, Cyrus, Pilate, and many others, who thought that their own aims were the ultimate issue that was being wrought out.
(1) How unspeakably humiliating is the involuntary tribute God may compel us to render!
(2) How immeasurably preferable is the willing service he invites us to offer! - C.
B.C. 1100, the rule of Assyria, under Tiglath-Pileser I., had stretched from Kurdistan to the Grecian Archipelago, including the whole of Lebanon and Phoenicia. But a strong league of the Hittite kings of Syria had effectually humbled it, and torn away from the successors of the great king all his dominions on this side the Euphrates. After a hundred and fifty years of obscurity, Assyria once more, in the middle of the ninth century B.C., under its warlike king, Assur-Nazirhabal, entered on a career of conquest, and cleared its home territories of their Babylonish garrisons. He was succeeded by his son, Shalmaueser II., who proved the Napoleon of his day. After conquering Babylonia, he marched in triumph to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and exacted tribute from the petty kings of Chaldaea. But these triumphs only kindled his military ardor. He now determined to extend his empire to the ancient grandeur it had obtained under Tiglath-Pileser I. The kingdom of Damascus and the states of Palestine were thus in imminent danger. A new era of mortal struggle had come to them - a struggle only to end, after an agony of more than a hundred years, in the destruction of Damascus and Samaria, and the degrading vassalage of all the nations from the Euphrates to the Levant. Henceforth all Western Asia trembled at the name of Assyria. The heavens were black with tempests, driving, with only momentary lulls, across the whole sweep of Syria and Palestine" (Dr. Geikie). Fixing attention on Assyria, we observe -
I. SELF-WILLED ASSYRIA, CARRYING OUT ITS OWN PLANS. Describe the historical facts. The poet seems to be watching this aggrandizing king determined to push his conquests to the Mediterranean, and become master of the world. The career and spirit of the first Napoleon are full of effective comparisons. The lust of conquest ever grows with success, and the Assyrian king had no more thought of God than Napoleon had. He simply meant to serve his own ends. These great world-conquerors are prominent examples of "taking life into our own ordering, and resolutely fashioning it to our own ends;" and they are examples, too, of the curse to all around, and the ruin to the man himself, of every self-willed life.
II. OVERRULED ASSYRIA CARRYING OUT GOD'S PLANS. What a supreme humiliation for conquering Assyria was this prophetic declaration! Assyria was, in actual fact, only carrying out the purpose of Jehovah, who was known to the Assyrians but as the God of one of the little states which they would be obliged to overrun. Assyria and its proud king were only Jehovah's rod and staff, executing for him the fierceness of his indignation. Assyria was now as much the servant of God judging and punishing Syria and Israel, as the Hebrews had been the servants of God in exterminating the Canaanites, whose cup of iniquity had become full, and was running over. God makes "the wrath of man praise him, and the remainder of wrath he restrains."
III. THERE IS EVER CONSOLATION FOR GOD'S PEOPLE IN GOD'S OVERRULINGS. We should always try to look beyond man's little plan, and see how things fit into God's great plan. We may never be satisfied with what things look like, we should ask God to teach us what they are. There are no forces working in the moral or intellectual world of today which are out of God's range. We need never be despondent. The purposes of grace are overmastering purposes. It is always true that "man proposes, and God disposes." As practical appeal, show how important for us it is that we should be kin with God, fit into his purposes, and do his will, not just by his overruling and mastery, but by our own spirit of surrender, submission, and joyous service; never saying, "What shall I do?" but ever looking up to God and saying, "Lord what wilt thou have me to do?" - R.T.
I. THE PERIL OF SUCCESS IN LIFE IS PRIDE. Illustrated in Nebuchadnezzar, Solomon, etc. See the boastings in this passage.
II. PRIDE, KEPT WITHIN LIMITS, MAY BE CORRECTED BY ORDINARY AGENCIES. Such as failure, disappointment, falls into temptation, seasons of affliction. There is some measure of pride in us all, bringing us under God's chastening hand.
III. WHEN PRIDE COMES TO TAKE THE HONOR THAT IS DUE TO GOD ALONE, IT MUST BE OPENLY HUMBLED. As in the cases of Nebuchadnezzar, Herod at Tyre, etc. And if God seems to delay in his humblings, we may be sure it is only that the proud man may get finished the work which, all unknown to himself, God is making him do. Then we may well learn to be always thankful for grace received, talents entrusted, opportunities given, and achievements won; but never boast, never either think or say, "I have done it;" "My arm hath gotten me this victory." Boast, if you must boast, like Paul, of what God has wrought in you and by you; but never boast of what you have wrought, for it is an ever-working and necessary law that "pride must have a fall" and the "Lord alone shall be exalted in that day." - R.T.
restraint of law" can never take the place of the" liberty of righteousness." The Gothic nations were commissioned to overthrow a debased and worn-out civilization. France shows how the passion for "glory" can lead men astray. America illustrates the principles of self-government. England tells what can be achieved under the inspiration of duty. Every prominent man, who stands conspicuously out from his fellows, is a tool of God. Of Pharaoh it is said, "For this cause have I raised thee up, to make known my power in thee." Of Cyrus, who was appointed to arrange the return from captivity, it is said, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." Every man's individuality is precisely arranged for God's purpose in him. It becomes a most oppressive thought that each one of us is not only a tool, but a tool of a specific kind, and shape, and weight, and force, and keenness, adapted and attempered for that precise work which God wants to do by us. What, then, shall we do with this fact, that man is the instrument of God? In what relation shall we stand to it?
I. WE MAY DENY THE FACT, AND MAKE THIS SUPPORT OUR REBELLION. Perhaps no one ever did, soberly and thoughtfully, say, "There is no God." Men say it in the bragging of their pride, as excuse for their wrong-doing; and by the self-pleasing of their lives; but Scripture reveals their secret when it says, "They do not like to retain God in their thoughts." The difficulty is moral, not intellectual. Even a bad man would hardly dare to say, "Even if there be a God, he has no rights in me; I am my own; I rule myself; I shall take care of myself forever." And yet many a man's life does, in effect, say, "I am no axe, no saw, no staff, of God's; I will not be." "The axe boasteth itself against him that heweth therewith, and the saw magnifies itself against him that shaketh it." Scripture refers to such men. Nebuchadnezzar; Jonah; Assyria; Herod at Tyre. And what must always follow when the "potsherd strives against its Maker?"
II. WE MAY ACCEPT THE FACT, BUT PERVERT IT, AND SO MAKE OURSELVES INDIFFERENT TO MORAL DISTINCTIONS. A man may say, "Yes, I am a tool of God's; my life is all planned out for me; it is all fore-ordained where I shall be, what I shall do; therefore there can be no real difference between right and wrong; whatever I do I cannot help doing, I was intended to do; I am only the axe or the saw; the virtue lies only in him who uses me, and whose power I cannot resist." We are all exposed to the temptation of treating this sublime fact of God's relation to us in this most mournful and mistaken way. Losing the distinction between right and wrong out of our lives, we are in peril of losing God altogether as a moral Being, and transforming him into the "cloud-compelling Jove" of whom the pagans dreamed. Cannot we see that when God speaks of men as his axe or his saw, it is as using a symbol, which answers only in part? Man is not according to the nature of the axe or the saw; but his intelligence, his powers, his will, come into a relation of dependence on God and service to him, just as the saw does to man. God's higher will takes into account man's will, and would even work out its gracious plans through that human will.
III. WE MAY RECEIVE THIS FACT, AND MAKE IT NOURISH A DAILY OBEDIENCE. Was the life of the Apostle Paul a free, noble, blessed life? He was but a tool in the hands of God. "Go thy way; thou art a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my Name before the Gentiles." He did not resist; he did not let the fact that he was God's tool lead him to indifference. He cheerfully accepted God's will for him; he fitted his will to God's will, and said, "Yes, the very best thing for me is just the thing that God requires of me, that I should go and preach to the Gentiles." Is there moral glory in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth? It comes out of the fact that even he, in his earthly manifestation, was a tool in the hands of God, and liked to be a tool. He fitted his mind into the mind of God so as to say, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God;" "My meat and my drink is to do the will of my Father who is in heaven." The truth before us, in this our text, staggers and crushes us if we attempt to resist it. It is one rich indeed in comfort and help if we will accept it, fit our will and pleasure into God's will and pleasure for us, and say, "God's plan for me is my plan for myself. God's place, God's work, God's difficulties, God's sorrows, God's helps for me, are the very things that I would have chosen for myself, if I had wisdom enough to choose." The truth of the text will be a stumbling-block to us until we truly know God. Then it becomes to us a glory and a boasting. Why should the infant of a day be set to steer the vessel when the Lord of winds and seas is on board? Why should a stranger lead himself through the trackless forests of life when the all-seeing, all-knowing Father-God offers the guiding hand? What can be better for us than to be axe, saw, staff, in the hands of him who is good, wise, loving, strong, our Almighty Father? - R.T.
I. FIGURES OF JUDGMENT. The Assyrian is viewed under the image of a stout, well-fed body, into which a wasting disease comes by. Divine judgment. Again, that judgment is depicted as a flaming fire, kindling and devouring thorns and making a swift end to the towering beauty of the forest trees, the smiling pleasantness of the fruitful field. The remnant of the host will soon be counted "on one's fingers," as a boy might count the still standing stems in a wood devastated by the fiery element. The decline of a sick man, lastly, may represent the falling away of a nation's power. At best, what is humanity but a flower fading in its pride? As we read in the 'Prometheus' of AEschylus, "Its strength, is it strong; its beauty, is it fair? What hope have they, these dying briers, living one day long? How like a dream they go, this poor blind manhood, drifted from its end!" And in the light of moral disapproval, of Divine judgment, a declining nation seems to be under a blight, whose ravages cannot be checked. Where are the ancient civilizations, Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, Rome? Their root was long ago cankered, and their blossom went up as dust. The explorer, digging out a statue here, or there deciphering an inscription, helps us to construct the picture of cities that were magnificent poems in stone, of a life to which no secret of pleasure or of power was denied. Were such heights in vain reached for mankind? Were yonder works of mighty kings the efforts of giants who fought against God? Rather let us say that it is he who both raises up and sets down - raises up to illustrate the greatness of the spirit of man, his breath; casts down to show the bitterness of human pride and the vanity of human ambitions. As we survey the remains of the "cloud-capp'd towers and gorgeous palaces" of Nineveh and Persepolis, we are reminded that all earth's splendor is but a dream, from which we must again and again awake anew, to find in the spiritual the only eternal; in the right the only enduring throne of potentates; in the sweet happiness of millions, not in the multitude of armed men, the mirror of God's will on earth.
II. CONVERSION THROUGH JUDGMENT. It was false reliances that corrupted Judah and Israel As faith in the true objects of faith is nothing but strength, so the illusion which tempts us to trust where there is nothing in reality to lean on, must betray us. Men under such illusions will confide in their deadly enemy as a bosom friend; will invite the point of the weapon aimed at the heart; will "stay themselves upon them that smite them." We are limp, drooping creatures. Rare is he who walks with head quite erect, with eye undauntedly fixed on the unseen, with heart bound up in principle alone. If we crave countenance in our foibles, much more in our serious projects. And never was there craze, weakness, silliness, or sin, for which abettors may not be found. Never have we so sought confirmation in views that should never have been entertained, but the hour of disenchantment has come, soon or late. The reed breaks, the cistern leaks; the soft foundation gives, and the ominous crack appears in our dwelling. And then we return to "stay ourselves on the Holy One of Israel with faithfulness." Or so the prophet forecasts the effect of his people's disenchantment. "The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob to the Hero-God." He the only Head, the only Battle-leader, as the only Prince of Peace, will be found again in the day of adversity, at least by a few. As in the olden time but a few were saved in the ark from the great flood, so from these overflowing judgments which are to descend, a few, though only a few, will be able to escape. A public end and decision of these controversies between Jehovah and his people is to be made, and it cannot be delayed nor averted.
1. To the prophetic consciousness it seems, at any epoch, that "the whole world lies in wickedness," and that the righteous are but a very small remnant.
2. Historically, such a view seems to hold good. At critical epochs, England has probably been saved by the virtuous, the Christian, the self-denying few.
3. But history is too profound for any mortal reading or rendering. If nations have passed away notwithstanding that they had a core of true hearts among them; if Israel still remains, though her lamp has been removed from its stand, there is, doubtless, a deeper meaning in the prophet's words. It is the "remnant" which has given us our Hebrew Scriptures. From the caldron of suffering, exile, external sorrow, came forth the fine gold of the great prophet of the Captivity, and of many of the psalmists. Every nation that leaves noble and Divine thoughts for the possession of mankind forever; every individual who, out of the wreck of life's mistakes, bequeaths some legacy of truth to posterity, fulfils in a way the prophecies of the recovery of the remnant. - J.
I. THAT THOSE WHO KNOW GOD WELL MAY BE INDUCED TO FORSAKE HIM. Israel had been well taught of God; had been carefully and constantly instructed in Divine truth; had received some lessons which might well have been deeply planted in the mind. Yet Israel forsook Jehovah; ceased to trust in his delivering arm, and sought alliance with Assyria. So we, who should know much better, forsake the Lord, of whose power, faithfulness, and love we have learned so much. Instead of finding our joy and our heritage in his service and friendship, we resort to the fascinations of a seductive world; instead of relying on his promised succor, we have recourse to human help or to material securities.
II. THAT EVERY EARTHLY REFUGE PROVES TO BE PRECARIOUS. Resting on Assyria, Israel was only "staying upon him that smote them." The staff on which they leaned proved to be a rod that bruised them. So has it been, again and again, with national and political alliances. So is it with our individual confidences in earth rather than in heaven. The material securities fail us; the ship sinks, the bank breaks, the mine is exhausted, the company is defrauded and has to be wound up, trade declines, and our earthly prop is gone. The human help we built upon disappears; our friend sickens, or he is killed in the fatal accident, or he is himself stripped and helpless, or he is estranged from us and discards us. Our hope becomes our disappointment, our pride becomes our shame; we have been staying on that which smites us (see Jeremiah 17:5; Psalm 118:6-9; Isaiah 31:1).
III. THAT GOD AWAITS THE RETURN OF HIS PEOPLE TO HIMSELF. "They shall stay upon the Lord;" "The remnant shall return unto the mighty God" (vers. 20, 21). Not only was God not unwilling that his people should return unto him, but he sent them their adversity in order that they might see their folly and incline their hearts unto himself.
1. God is grieved at our departure from himself, but he is willing to welcome us back.
2. He sends the adversity which is suggestive of our return. When the dark hour comes, when the soul sits desolate, when our heart is wounded by the very hand which we hoped would help and heal us, in that day may we hear the voice of the Father we have forsaken, calling to us and saying, "Return unto me;" "I will heal your backslidings, I will love you freely." - C.
The remnant of Israel, and the escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no longer rely upon smiter, but shall rely upon Jehovah, Israel's Holy One, in faithfulness (Cheyne's translation). The point of the verse is that the remnant of Israel is thoroughly weaned from its false confidences, and returns to the true God. The only hope for preserving the liberties of Judah, Israel, and Syria was for them to combine against the growing power of Assyria. But, instead of that, Israel and Syria combined against Judah, and so both weakened their own hands, and drove Judah to seek the help of Assyria, which inevitably hastened the overthrow of all the three kingdoms. However politic the appeal of Judah to Assyria might seem to be, it was utterly unworthy of the people of Jehovah, who had so often proved his faithfulness and power; so they had, by bitter experience, to learn that they should "cease from man," and trust wholly in the living God (Jeremiah 17:5-8). "Their experience of the failure of that false policy should lead them to see that faith in God was, after all, the truest wisdom." From this we learn for ourselves that the sanctified experiences of our life will bring about the same results; self-trusts, and trusts in man, will be wholly broken down, and trust in God will be fully established. We may dwell on the following stages in the experience of life.
I. I CAN. This expresses the spirit of confidence, conscious strength, and hopefulness which characterizes youth. Nothing seems to be impossible. Life must yield its best to energy.
II. I WILL This is man's first effort to meet the sense of failure. Things will not go just as he wishes. He cannot attain all he can desire. But at first he will not admit this. So he calls on will to buttress ability, and make united effort to master disability. The very energy of man's will is a half-confession of man's weakness.
III. I CANNOT. This is the issue of the strife, sooner or later, for every man. Strength and will try hard to shape life otherwise than God appoints; and however cheering temporary successes may prove, every year brings its disappointments and its distresses, and at last the cry rises, more or less bitterly, "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."
IV. I CAN, THROUGH HIM WHO STRENGTHENETH ME. This is the right issue of human experience. The great life-lesson. The teaching of God's Spirit. The meetness for the heavenly service. Untried trust is only profession. Experience brings us to "staying upon the Holy One." - R.T.
I. ENCOURAGEMENT AGAINST FEAR. Let not Judah fear the Assyrian, who, like the Egyptian in the days of yore, wields over her the rod of the slave-driver. In a short time, the hot tide of Divine wrath will pass from Israel, and the Assyrians will in turn feel it. The scourge that was laid in the ancient time on the back of the Egyptian oppressor will be brandished over the heads of the Assyrians. Their burden will fall from Judah's shoulder, from Judah's neck the yoke. The proverb says, "A youth is ruined by fat," and so will the swollen bulk of the Assyrian body melt away. There is a play in the Hebrew on the words "yoke" and "youth." The prophet in a word-picture paints the onward march of the great host. Swiftly he comes on, spreading trembling and causing flight before him. Panic-struck clamors sound through the vales, and from hill to hill the alarum is given. Fugitives pour in through the gates of the city. Already the invader is at Nob, near Jerusalem, and has his hand lifted on high, as it were, to smite the sacred hill with a fatal blow. Then suddenly his own crown is cleft by the hand of Jehovah; the lofty crested warriors fall as the trees in the forest before the woodman's axe. This Lebanon of warlike spears, this moles lelli, is prostrate before the "majestical One" whose seat is on Zion.
II. GENERAL LESSONS. There was an anointed king in Zion, the representation of Jehovah's majesty, then; there are spiritual forces, representative of Divine might and will, ruling in the world now. There were moments of prophetic insight in which the hollowness of worldly might, the doom of kingdoms that were not kingdoms of righteousness, were clearly seen. Them are such moments now. What is force without justice, numbers without principle? One breath from the lips of eternal Truth shall suffice to drive them away. All that has fixed the eye of the people in fascinated terror, filled their ears with tumult, their hearts with commotion, dismayed, not the prophet. He seems to look above, his feet securely planted upon a cliff, on the boiling surge below. There is a hand that can stay these waves, a voice that can command, "Thus far and no further; here shall thy proud billows be stayed." Then shall these hosts become such "stuff as dreams are made of," these onward-rolling columns melt into wreaths of cloud, become thin air, and "leave not a wrack behind."
"The might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
I. THE APPEARANCE OF OVERWHELMING POWER ON THE SIDE OF SIN. The prophet gives a vivid description in vers, 28-38 of the triumphant march of the Assyrian. Everybody and everything yields at his approach; opposition melts before him; his adversary is in his power; already his hand is on the prize he seeks. Sin often seems to be on a march that is irresistible, and to be secure of victory. Numbers, wealth, learning, rank, riches, custom, habit, - the most powerful forces make up its conquering host. Must not truth, virtue, piety, capitulate at its summons and leave their treasures to its impious hands? So was it with sin generally when the Savior appeared, to lift up the standard of the cross against its power. So has it been, again and again, with the forces of superstition, skepticism, vice, ungodliness, as these have assailed some Church of Christ or some servant of God.
II. ITS ARREST AND OVERTHROW BY DIVING POWER. Irresistible as the invading army seemed, its victorious course should be arrested and its confident anticipations dashed (vers. 26, 33, 34). The hand of the boastful warrior, outstretched in scornful threatening (ver. 32), should be smitten down and hang helpless. The smiter should himself be scourged, the proud palm disbranched, the great forest felled. Arrogant impiety should be humiliated, and "by the way that he came he should return." So has it been and thus shall it be, on still more serious and critical occasions, God will say to the spiritual adversaries, "Thus far... and no further." He will raise up the prophet - the Samuel, the Elijah, the John, the Paul, the Luther, the Wesley - or he will introduce the spiritual awakening and moral power which will encounter and defeat the worst efforts of sin and wrong, and impending defeat shall be changed into glorious victory.
III. THE RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Ver. 27.) The burden shall be removed from the shoulder, the yoke taken from the neck; there shall be comfort and freedom for the people of God, that they may walk again in the paths of righteousness, that they may serve again in the vineyard of the Lord. We learn three lessons:
1. That successful sin may well hesitate on its way and tremble for the issue. However appearances may favor it, and though the spoils may seem already in its hand, there is a Power to be reckoned with which will arrest its march and consume its hopes.
2. That threatened uprightness may be reassured. It need not be afraid of any Assyrian (ver. 24), if it continue in or return to its spiritual integrity. God's love for the faithful will remain; his indignation toward the erring who are the penitent will cease (ver. 25).
3. That the removal of sinful servitude must be contemporary with the acceptance of holy and happy service. (Matthew 11:28-30). - C.
one, because containing a poetical figure which modern associations do not readily explain. Literally, it seems to read, "The yoke shall be destroyed from before the oil," or "the fat." For various explanations see the Expository portion of the Commentary. What is clear is, that the yoke referred to is the bondage of Assyria laid on the house of David. This yoke shall be presently removed. The deep reason for the removal is that on the house of David lies the oil, the anointing oil which consecrated it to Jehovah. Jehovah will surely deliver those who are in covenant relations with him (comp. Isaiah 37:35). The reference may be
(1) for Hezekiah's sake;
(2) for David's sake;
(3) for his people's sake;
(4) for Messiah's sake.
The passage which best explains the figure of the text is 1 John 2:27: "But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." Taking the above as the view of the passage, the subject set before us is this: A man's consecration to God is a constant consideration shaping the Divine dealings. Israel was an anointed race, the house of David was an anointed family, therefore for them no calamity could be overwhelming; all must be subject to gracious Divine mitigations, and all must be made remedial in their influence.
I. TO THE "ANOINTED" BURDENS AND YOKES MUST COME.
1. Because they are not perfect.
2. Because they are being perfected.
3. Because such burdens and yokes are precise and efficient moral agencies in the work of perfecting. (For the Christian setting of this truth, see Hebrews 12:4-11.)
II. ON THE "ANOINTED" BURDENS AND YOKES CANNOT STAY, Because, having a definite object, they have also a limited time. They would become unmitigated and useless evils if they remained after their moral purpose had been wrought. This may be applied to all the calamities and afflictions of life. The degree, the time, the form, are all in strict Divine control. In fact, all affliction is "but for a moment."
III. FOR THE "ANOINTED" THERE IS HELP IN BEARING BURDENS AND YOKES WHILE THEY MUST STAY. God is with all loyal Hebrew youths when they are in the fires. "When thou passest through the water, I will be with thee." When thorns pierce, "my grace is sufficient for thee." "Therefore we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear what man can do unto me." - R.T.