Isaiah 16
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I have set my King upon my holy hill of Zion (Psalm 2.). The destined Ruler of the world, he shall spread the wing of his mild government and protection over the nations in their harassment and despair, as now over Moab.

1. THE CALL TO THE FUGITIVES. They have fled into Edom, as far as to Petra, near Mount Hor. It was a region surrounded by rocky cliffs. Sela itself means rock or cliff. Between Petra - whose ruins the Arab guide of Seetzen said he must weep over every time he saw them - and Jerusalem lies a desert, through which the tribute flocks must pass.

1. Demand of tribute. "Send ye the lambs of the prince of the land from Sela desert-wards to the mount of the daughter of Zion." In former days Mesha, the King of Moab, was said to be a "sheep-master," and he rendered a yearly tribute of a hundred thousand lambs, and a hundred thousand rams, with the wool, to the King of Israel till the death of Ahab (2 Kings 3:4). What was then sent to Samaria must now be sent to Jerusalem. Under the form of this demand is signified an appeal to the people of Moab to submit to the house of David as their Girly hope of safety. Spiritually, the appeal may be construed as the call to nations and to men to submit to the spiritual rule of the Messiah, as anointed King and Savior of the world.

2. Effect of the summons. The "daughters" of Moab, i.e. its cities and villages, are seen in commotion. They flutter about, like birds driven from their nests, at the fords of the Arnon, Moab's chief river. The first effect of the "long-drawn trumpet blast" is fear and agitation. The name of Judah is a spell of terror; the hand of Jehovah is felt to be held out and to be shaken in menace over the nations, and they become like women (cf. Isaiah 19:16). He demands of their flocks and their merchandise. Will they obey? In obedience only will be their salvation. Will these trembling fugitives, seeking escape on the banks of Arnon, hear the timely voice of counsel? How readily do these historical pictures suggest a spiritual application! The first impression of the Divine voice is that of fear; next there is hesitation; next the critical choice, acceptance of the Divine offers, or recalcitration and refusal. The merciful God, the Savior of men, would gather us fugitives from the world's troubles to his arms. Shall we run to him as a strong Tower and be safe, or seek by perilous paths another course, only to rush upon fresh woes? "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."


1. They appeal to Zion for counsel and arbitrament. The powerful neighbor and suzerain is asked to intervene between the contending parties as an umpire, so that the unjustly oppressed may be succored. And here is a sublime image of the Judge and Protector. May he be "a shadow like night at high moon." In our cold northern clime our poets chiefly borrow images from the wintry season to represent distress. We speak of the wintry frost of calamity, the cruel wind, the snows of adversity, etc. Not so the Hebrew; to him the hot season is typical of all that is most cruel in physical or mental suffering. Hence, by opposition, the shadow of the great rock, or the shadow deep as night, remind of all that is most grateful in deliverance and repose. Of a great man it is proverbially said, in the East, "Like the sun, he warmed in the cold, and when Sirius shone, then was he coolness and shade." And in the Sunna seven classes of good men are enumerated, whom "the Lord will overshadow with his shade, when no shade will be like his" (cf. Isaiah 30:2, 3; Isaiah 32:2). So may the outcasts be hidden, the wanderers faithfully protected, and Zion throw her regis over the land of Moab, and guard it from the spoiler.

2. They extol the government of Judah. "Oppression has ceased, the spoiling is at end, the tormentors have vanished from the land." We see what good administration is in the light of the bitter experience of tyranny and its attendant evils. Notice the strong images of harsh rule: pressure, applied so as to press out the marrow from the bones of the people, as it were; preying and spoiling (cf. Isaiah 10:6); trampling and treading down of the multitude of the poor. These tyrants exhibit all "the proud man's scorn, the oppressor's contumely." Iniquity is their pastime, their game. They "watch for it, they lay snares and gins for good men, as the hunter does for wild beasts. The liberty of speech is denied, and men are made offenders for a word" (Isaiah 29:20, 21). They are faithless to the faithful, they break treaties, they despise cities, they regard no man (Isaiah 31:1, 8). Nature seems to mourn beneath the infliction, and society and commerce languish. The highways are deserted of the merchant and the traveler. The glories of Lebanon, the loveliness of Sharon, the fruitful glades of Bashan and Carmel, are dishonored, and seen to weep in sympathy with man. Is there a more odious offence on God's earth than the tyrant - than despotism and all its horrible selfishness? "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless myriads mourn." But these things have passed, are passing, or shall pass away. A new era dawns with the establishment of the throne of David. This throne is symbolic of:

(1) Grace, or graciousness. The word stands for all that is good in principle, benevolent in purpose, benign and healing in administrative effort. No king truly rules except Dei gratis, by the favor of God, nor is kingly unless he illustrates the benignant spirit of the Divine rule.

(2) Faithfulness, or truth. He is the extreme opposite to those treacherous covenant-breakers, who have made tyranny odious and contemptible. His words are kingly because true, and the expression of a truthful character. The character of the liar and the hypocrite sullies the crown more than any blot.

(3) Justice. "A judge both seeking right and expert in justice." A burning zeal in his temper for the right, and the habit of making it prevail. Such are the signs of Messianic times - the dawn of God's kingdom upon earth. The tent of David which had fallen and been ruined is indeed raised up again, and built as in the days of old (Amos 9:11). And it shelters a king in whom the ideal of Jehovah is realized.

III. REBUKE OF MOAB. It seems best to take what follows as the utterance of the prophet, pursuing the thread of meditation. We have heard what Moab might have said, and should have said; but alas! her accustomed pride and haughtiness will be her bane. Her insolence and insincerity are also stigmatized, as in Jeremiah 48:30, 31, "I know his wrath, saith the Lord; but it shall not be so; his lies shall not effect it. Therefore I will howl for Moab, and will cry out for all Moab; my heart shall mourn for the men of Kir-Heres." Some take the words as given from the throne in reply. "If Moab continues to show so little penitence, it cannot be assisted; and therefore the prophet, however it grieves him, must leave Moab to her further chastisements" (Ewald). It seems intended that we should look upon Moab's language here as insincere, and therefore unacceptable. We may remind ourselves of the spiritual lesson, "God draws near to the lowly, but recognizes the proud afar off." It is pride which keeps us aloof from blessings that might be had by stooping; it is pride which makes us blind to opportunity, insensible to the bitter lessons of experience, and lays us open to further chastisements. - J.

The prophet counsels Moab to "make submission meet" to Judah (ver. 1), and to show her such kindness in the day of her distress (vers. 3, 4) as will be remembered in the day when prosperity and power will be again her portion.


1. Submission to the greater power under its lawful claim. "Send ye the lamb to the ruler of the land" - pay the tribute which is due, and which will be accepted as an offering appropriate for the weaker to present and for the stronger to claim. In those days it was generally acknowledged that "might was right, "and that the stronger potentate might properly exact tribute from the weaker, rendering a certain protectorate in return. Even in these days, when there have been happily established some ideas of international righteousness, it is generally acknowledged that a strong nation cannot afford to have a small province in its immediate neighborhood in a condition of absolute independence of it. It considers that it has a right to claim its submission, receiving protection in return. It is undoubtedly the wisdom of the weaker community, in every realm, to submit itself to the stronger, to make terms with it, to give what it demands and accept what it offers.

2. Kindness to the greater power in the day of its trial. (Vers. 3, 4.) A shortsighted policy would advise rebellion, would recommend that the hour of its neighbor's depression should be used to strike a mortal blow and throw off the yoke; but very often a deeper wisdom and a truer sagacity will perceive that the strong power will bend, but cannot be broken - that the day will come (ver. 4) when it will shake off its oppressors and regain its supremacy, and that, therefore, the right course to pursue is to render every possible kindness in its dark and distressing hour, being a shadow from the heat, a refuge for the outcast, a home for the exile. Be quite sure that your rival or your enemy is attacked with a mortal sickness before you defy him, even on the low ground of policy; on the higher ground of rectitude, render aid to the nobler power when it is stricken down, and your magnanimity shall not be forgotten in the day of its revival.

II. THE WISDOM OF THE WEAKER MAN. This corresponds closely with that of the community.

1. Meet at once every claim that is honestly preferred. It is, no doubt, right to resist claims that are unjustly made. The judge, the magistrate, is an authority ordained of God, and to his tribunal we may appeal. But if we cannot dispute a claim that is made, we do well to "send the lamb," to pay the tribute at once. Otherwise we open the sluices through which many waters of suffering will flow in upon us (see Matthew 5:25).

2. Gain the favor of the stroker in the day of her distress. A foolish man will rejoice over the great when he fails - will say, "He is become one of ourselves," and will treat him with indignity. A wise man will only welcome such a day of discomfiture because it enables him to offer succor to the unfortunate, to open wide the door of his hospitality, to be a shadow from the heat to him on whom the scorching rays are falling; and the time will come when he who is thus helped will be able to offer welcome recompense, and in return for the temporary shelter will "receive to everlasting habitations" (Luke 16:9).


1. To meet his righteous claim; not, indeed, to send a lamb to Zion, as in ancient days, for such offerings he asks not of us. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit." Humility of heart; faith in the Son of God, the Divine Redeemer; the presentation of our heart and life to his holy service; the offering of the obedient and submissive spirit; - this is the tribute to bring to his feet. And also:

2. To show kindness to his people. Our Lord is urgent with us that we should show kindness to all them that bear his Name, especially to the weak, the poor, and the despised, the downcast and the outcast, the "little ones" of his flock. Any deed of love we may do for any one of them will be accounted as an act of kindness shown direct to the Lord himself (Matthew 25:34-40). - C.

The word "lamb" in this verse should be rendered "lambs." From 2 Kings 3:4 we learn that the tribute rendered to the King of Israel by Mesha, King of Moab, was a hundred thousand lambs, and a hundred thousand rams, with the wool. At the death of Ahab Mesha refused to pay this tribute, and asserted his independence. In view of the exposure of Moab to attacks from Assyria, this was a false step, and Mesha is here urged to retrace that step, and at once send the tribute as a sign of renewed allegiance. The urgency of the case is shown in the advice to send the tribute round the southern part of the Dead Sea, because the northern end was already blocked by the Assyrians. This introduces the subject of retracing our false steps in undoing the wrongs we have done; stepping back from our willful paths, and beginning once more in the right way.

I. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY WORK. Its necessity may be argued from these points of view:

1. It is due to God that we should prove our sincerity by reparation as a sign of repentance.

2. It is due to those whom we have wronged that when we are brought to a right mind we should remove and undo the wrong.

3. It is due to ourselves that we should clear away from memory and conscience the bad past, as far as its evil consequences can be cleared. It is never enough for a man to "cease to do evil;" he is hound to remove, as far as possible, the issues of his past evil; and the intensest bitterness a good man can ever know arises from the fact that he cannot heal the wounds he has made, or check the evil working of the influences he has exerted, or example he has shown. When pleaded with in respect of his intense religious earnestness, John Newton is said to have replied, "How can the old blasphemer be silent?" He felt that life was not long enough, or powers large enough, for the undoing of the wrong wrought by a godless, vicious youth. And, further, if in life we swerve from the paths of rectitude, we shall find there is no going on round into those paths again; we must do one thing - we must go back the bad road we have chosen.

II. BUT THIS IS MOST DIFFICULT WORK. In either the larger or smaller senses to which reference has been made. And that because:

1. It involves serious self-humiliations. None of us can easily say, "I was wrong."

2. Because it exposes us to the scorn of the unprincipled, who regard all retracing of steps as a sign of weakness, and cannot understand the heroism of conquering the baser self. In the sense of undoing wrong that has been done it is most difficult, because the issues of our words and deeds go on out of our reach. It is as if we dropped poison into the fountainhead of a river, and then in remorse tried to cleanse that fount. It can be done, but away down the valley the poison has been carried, and none can bring back to life the poor dead fish that are borne on the current out to sea. The Apostle Paul never could undo the wrongs of that time when he so bitterly persecuted the disciples of the Nazarene.


1. It satisfies our sense of duty.

2. It rests a conscience which otherwise would ceaselessly reproach.

3. It makes us clean-handed to appear before God.

4. It enables us to receive the assurance of Divine acceptance.

5. It becomes our witness to righteousness. Restitution, reparation, humbly going back the willful way we may have taken, meet gracious Divine response. God surely smiles on the man who is brave enough to set wrongs right, and acknowledge the foolishness of his self-willed way. - R.T.

It does not seem certain whether this counsel is addressed to Moab in relation to the people fleeing for shelter from the invasion of Sennacherib, or to Israel in relation to the outcasts from Moab. Whichever it be, the point of the counsel is that they should act kindly, considerately, charitably. Righteousness is like "pure religion and undefiled;" it is doing something - "visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction." "He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous;" "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." Absolute righteousness, as before the all-searching God, is not a human possibility; but Scripture uses the term in reference to men. The psalmist says, "Judge me according to mine integrity, and according to my righteousness which is in me." And our Lord pleaded thus, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."

I. RIGHTEOUSNESS MAY BE MERE SENTIMENT. A delusion of excited feeling, as it too often is with persons who take up with "holiness theories." The danger of sentiment is that too often it satisfies, and in the pleasant enjoyment of it a man has no care about giving righteousness its due expression. No fruits ever grew on the tree of sentimentality, and its leaves have no virtue for the healing of the nations.

II. RIGHTEOUSNESS MAY BE A PROFESSION. It is assumed in our being Christians. It is the state into which we are called. It is guaranteed in our regeneration. Why, then, may we not be satisfied with this profession? Because such righteousness is, at the best, something belonging to a class, and not to the individual; and the only righteousness worth having is something which the individual has for himself alone.

III. RIGHTEOUSNESS MUST BE A PRACTICE. "Even as he [Christ] is righteous;" and his righteousness was distinctly conduct, and the spirit of conduct. Righteousness is truth, brotherliness, service, charity, self-denial, purity; it is God-likeness, and God is righteous in all his works. It is well for us to have and to cherish right feelings and good resolves, but the question to ask ourselves is this - If we have the opportunity, do we give these good resolves, do we find for these good thoughts and feelings practical expression? The message sent to David has often been misunderstood and misused. In connection with building the temple God said, "Thou didst well that it was in thine heart." But we forget that David went as far as he was allowed, in giving practical expression to what was in his heart; he made preparations for what he might not himself accomplish. - R.T.

On what foundation does power rest? What will secure it to those who have gained it, or into whose hands it falls? We look at the foundations of -

I. HUMAN SOVEREIGNTY. The throne of Judah was to be restored, and it should be "established in mercy" or benignity. He that sat upon it should "sit in truth," "judging and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness;" i.e. engaged in the administration of justice, endeavoring to act justly, and acting, not with a troublesome delay, but with an appreciable promptitude. These are the two foundations on which sovereignty rests everywhere and always - benignity and justice. The throne may rely on centuries of unchallenged rule, may be fortified by venerable tradition and ancient laws, may be guarded by many thousands of muskets; but it does not stand on any secure basis, it is certain to be ultimately overthrown, if it is unjust in enactment or harsh in execution. Righteousness, justice between man and man, between class and class, between sect and sect - a broad and unbroken impartiality; this great virtue, and its most excellent handmaid, benignity - kindness in manner, sympathy shown to the unfortunate, consideration for the poor and unbefriended; - these are the pillars on which alone human sovereignty will be secure. It has been well said by an English statesman that "justice and mercy are the supreme attributes of Deity, but all men everywhere comprehend them; there is no speech nor language in which their voice is not heard, and they cannot be vainly exercised" with the millions of mankind.

II. THE RULE OF CHRIST. Jesus Christ claims to be Sovereign of the world. "Thou art a King, then?" said the astonished procurator. "Thou sayest that I am a King," replied the Son of man. And his word has been justified by the event, for he is ruling now over vast multitudes of human souls. On what does his power rest? On these foundations - righteousness and mercy.

1. He, the Lord of truth, of holiness, of love, has a right to the homage of our minds, to the assent of our conscience, to the unmeasured gratitude and devoted love of our hearts.

2. He, who is full of kindness, of forbearance, of tenderness, of beneficent bestowal and gracious purpose, - he will continue to reign over those who have willingly bowed beneath his spiritual sway. "In mercy shall" his "throne be established."

III. INDIVIDUAL INFLUENCE. Men covet power; they do well to do so. If they seek it in order that they may exert a precious and helpful influence on the minds and on the lives of others, their ambition is no other than an honorable and laudable aspiration. Its possession by any man must be according to "the ability which God giveth" (the original faculty with which his Creator has endowed him), and according to the favoring circumstances which God has thrown around him. But, these being taken into thought, the power which a man will wield and the duration of its exercise must depend on the measure of these two great moral qualities, benignity and righteousness. In mercy - in kindness, in breadth of beneficence, in readiness and reality of sympathy, in genuineness and greatness of self-forgetting love - shall every man's throne be established. But he that would sit long on the throne, he that would continue to exercise power with men, he that would retain his influence over men, must be a righteous as well as a genial and gracious man; he must "seek judgment,' must "haste to righteousness;" he must obviously endeavor to do that which is right between man and man; he must eagerly embrace the opportunity of making the crooked things straight, of restoring that which is wrong, of lifting up that which should no longer be abased. - C.

There is a possible reference here to King Hezekiah, and of him it is said that "seeking judgment and hasting righteousness" should be characteristics. The expression, "hasting righteousness," is a very suggestive one. Cheyne translates, "is prompt in righteousness." The following thought may be worked out and illustrated: Establishing righteousness in the earth is God's purpose, and towards the accomplishing of that purpose - the speedy accomplishment of it - every good man should work. But what are the facts of life, which we cannot fail to observe?

I. RIGHTEOUSNESS HAS ACTIVE OPPONENTS. They who would dethrone God attack righteousness, which is the spirit and the demand of his rule.

II. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS HINDERED BY STOLID RESISTERS. With whom it is much more difficult to deal than with active opponents. They simply block the way of God's chariot-wheels.

III. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS DELAYED BY THE WEAKLY INDIFFERENT. Who put no strength into either good or evil.

IV. RIGHTEOUSNESS HAS EARNEST HASTENERS. Men and women who strive for it, witness for it, suffer for it. Whose whole lives do but repeat the great cry with which the Book of God closes: "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly;" "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." - R.T.

I. THE GUILT OF ARROGANCE. (Ver. 6.) Moab was proud, haughty, insolent, boastful; she lifted up herself in contemptuous defiance of Judah, of the city of God; and the prophet of Jehovah speaks of her arrogance as a very great offence in 'the eyes of the supreme Disposer. There is nothing which is more emphatically, or more repeatedly condemned in Scripture than haughtiness of heart or spiritual pride; it is a very rank offence in the estimation of the Holy One. And well may it be so; for what can be more pitifully wrong, more utterly unbecoming, than that such puny, ignorant, dependent creatures as we are should assert ourselves against the God from whom we came and in whom we live? It should be remembered that there is not only the arrogance of an idolatrous defiance, like that of Moab, but also, as too often found amongst ourselves,

(1) the arrogance of unbelief - the product of intellectual pride;

(2) the arrogance of impiety - the daring determination of the soul to live without God, to delay all attention to his sovereign claims until a late hour of life;

(3) the arrogance of vice - the reckless resolution to snatch forbidden and unholy pleasure, whatever Divine laws may be broken, whatever human hearts may be embittered and human lives despoiled, whatever penal consequences may be entailed.


1. This is seen in the sadness of the circumstances of Moab. Its inhabitants were "stricken (ver. 7) with a crushing blow (see Isaiah 5.; also ver. 8). Perhaps the culminating feature is seen in the shouting of the harvest home being exchanged for the shouting of the enemy's soldiery taking possession of the spoil (ver. 9).

2. It is also seen in, the signs of prevailing misery. Moab shall howl for Moab; every one shall howl (ver. 7). Each one for himself and all for one another; "the people to the city, the city to the provinces." The land should be full of weeping. "Pride cometh before a fall; '"He that exalteth himself shall be abased." These are specimen-passages, representing a large number and a great variety of Divine declarations that arrogance will have a disastrous end. Of course, the special form which the sin takes will usually determine the particular punishment which will ensue. But there will surely come defeat, humiliation, distress; and of this distress the most intolerable element will probably be a lacerating remorse, in which the soul will smite itself because it yielded not, as it might have done, in the day of opportunity.

III. THE COMPASSION OF THE RIGHTEOUS. (Vers. 9-11.) The prophet is so impressed with the deplorableness of Moab's condition that his heart is powerfully touched on its behalf. He "bewails" for it; his heart "sounds like an harp" for it. Human indignation against sin does well to pass into pity for the sorrow and the ruin which sin entails. This is truly God-like, Christian. "God so loved," with the love of an infinite compassion, this sin-ruined world, "that he gave his only begotten Son." Jesus Christ, when lie beheld the doomed city of David, moved with a tender compassion for its coming woes, "wept over it." Let the holy grace of indignation have its due share in the Christian character; the soul that has it not is seriously wanting: but let it by no means exclude from the chambers of the heart that heavenly guest - Christ-like compassion. Let us have a large and generous pity for the fallen, for the guilty, for those who are suffering the bitter pangs of self-reproach; and let sympathetic sorrow pass speedily into a wise and kind helpfulness, which will lead back from the "far country" of sin and shame to the Father's home of righteousness and joy. - C.

I. MOAB'S SELF-LAMENTATION. "Moab will wail for Moab; everything will wail." In her misery and distress, she reflects on her beauty. A fair land is like a fair maiden, and her desolation excites the like poignant self-pity. "I know not a greater grief," said Dante, "than to recall the happy time in the midst of distress." The picture of Moab's former happiness. The vineyard and all its gladdening associations represent the endearing charms of the land. These are no more to be enjoyed in the smitten and drooping fields of Kir-Hareseth and Heshbon. Once a splendid vine threw its noble branches and its trailing shoots far over the borders of the land to the north, to Jazer, near the Dead Sea. The lords of the heathen have beaten it down.

II. THE PROPHET'S SYMPATHY WITH THE LAMENT. He, too, will bewail the noble vine of Sibmah; he will water Heshbon and Elealeh with his tears, as he thinks of the wild uproar that fell upon the midst of the harvest of fruit and corn. In the irony of grief he uses a figure of speech very expressive. The hedad was the shout raised by the treaders of the grapes. It was a mighty heaven-rending cry, giving forth in full volume the joy and thankfulness of the rustic heart of the tillers (cf. Jeremiah 25:30). There was another shout of different import, one that fell like a knell upon the ear - the yell of a swarming host of invaders, of Jeremiah 51:14, bursting in upon the summer fruits and the vintage (Jeremiah 48:32). Then, instead of the rich flow of the trodden grape, there will be "the red rain that makes the battle-harvest grow." The silence of desolation succeeds to the sounds of rejoicing. There is a silence "more dreadful than severest sounds." It is the silence of scenes once thronged with life, and resounding with cheerful songs and cries. The prophet, as he muses, finds

"Remembrance wake with all her busy train,
Swell at his heart and turn the past to pain." Joy and exultation is withdrawn from the fruit-fields, and in the vineyards there is no jubilation or shouting; no treader treads wine in the presses, and the shout of the vintagers is at end.

"The sounds of population fail;
No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale....
Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn;
Amidst thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen,
And desolation saddens all thy green." The prophet's inmost heart is touched, his feelings vibrate like the strings of a harp at the sound of Moab's woes. In like manner Jeremiah compares his heart to the flute. The poet and the prophet are indeed organs of the world's sorrows. And indeed these sorrows turn to music even at the worst, when interpreted by the heart of him who is in sympathy with the universal and eternal love. They are "tears most sacred" which are "shed for others' pain," and athwart them the rainbow of hope seldom fails to glimmer. So here.

III. A GLIMPSE OF HOPE. He sorrows over Moab, because Moab does not know the living God. But "when Moab, in the pressure of the further calamities of the future, again appears, as now in his idol-temple, or wearies himself, vainly wringing his hands, and in utter despair, then he wilt be ashamed of his god Chemosh, and learn true humility in Jehovah." So Ewald, who thinks that the last words, necessary to complete the sense, have been lost. Like the priests of Baal calling upon their god from morning to noon, and saying, "O Baal, hear us!" and when there was no voice, nor any that answered, leaping upon the altar, crying and gashing themselves with knives, so will the Moabites, in the extremity of their despair, appeal to Chemosh. What is more sad in the life of superstition than this passionate resort to any means, however irrational, to wring a favor from the deities of special shrines and sanctuaries? As if the true help were not ever near; as if, that being neglected, there could be hope elsewhere! Calvin observes, "While idolaters have their ordinary temples and places of worship, if any uncommon calamity befalls them, they go to another temple more sacred than the rest, expecting that there they will be more abundantly favored with the presence of their god. In like manner, the Papists of the present day, when they are reduced to any uncommon danger (for this fault has existed in all ages), think that they will more readily obtain their wish by running to St. Claude, or to Mary of Loretto, or to any other celebrated idol, than if they assembled in some neighboring church. They resolve that their extraordinary prayers shall be offered up in a church at a great distance. It is in this sense that the prophet applies the term sanctuary to that most highly celebrated among the Moabites, and says they will go to it without any advantage." One cannot help thinking of those melancholy pilgrimages to Lourdes, that focus of superstition in our own times. So do men continue to hew out to themselves cisterns that hold no water; and so necessary still is the living word of prophecy, to remind the world that only in a genuine spiritual relation to the Eternal, only in a faith and worship which is independent of place, because ever fixed in the heart, can true comfort and help be found.

IV. RATIFICATION OF THE PROPHECY. It is the word spoken long ago by Jehovah concerning Moab. And now he speaks to solemn effect, that in three years, like the years of a hireling, the glory of Moab will be disgraced, together with all the multitude of the great; only a very small remnant will be left. The days or years of the day-laborer or hireling, are those strictly measured, neither more nor less (so in Isaiah 21:16; cf. 20:3). "Of working time the hirer remits nothing, and the laborer gives nothing in." The statement is to be taken in its exactness. As the laborer knows that his time is appointed, and may look for an end of his toil when the shadow comes (Job 7:1, 2), as life itself must surely come to its close (Job 14:6), so with the long-suffering of God, so with the iniquity of nations and men, so with every abuse and oppression; nay, so with every nation and institution.

"They have their day and cease to be;
But thou, O Lord, art more than they." After the lapse of almost three thousand years, says Barnes, "every successive traveler who visits Moab, Idumaea, or Palestine, does something to confirm the accuracy of Isaiah. Towns bearing the same name, or the ruins of towns, are located in the same relative position he said they were; and the ruins of once splendid cities, broken columns, dilapidated walls, trodden-down vineyards, half-demolished temples, and fragments broken and consumed by time, proclaim to the world that those cities are what he said they would be, and that he was under the inspiration of God." And how powerfully come back to us from such scenes those "truths which wake, to perish never!" Amidst the gloom the word of prophecy shines as a light in a dark place. Its voice prevails overtime; imparts warmth to the heart amidst the rigors of Providence; calls to mind with its persuasive strain long-slighted truths; teaches that while

"Trade's proud empire hastes to swift decay,
As oceans sweep the labor'd mole away," the state or the individual that is possessed of moral strength may be blessed in poverty; that there is a good which is not dependent on the fertility of a land, or the strength of its fortresses - which will survive the desolation of its fields, the downfall of its kings, the overthrow of its idols. - J.

These verses bring before us the picture of a country from which, at the proper seasons, there rises no harvest and no vintage song. "Gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in its vineyard there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting." In every age and every land the gladness of the people has found expression in the joy of harvest, and no picture of woe, want, and desolation could be so effective as this simple one of the harvest-fields from which arise no song. Meditatively treated, we consider -

I. A LAND WITH NO JOY IN IT. That must be a land on which rests no Divine benedictions; and it must be the picture of -

II. A LIFE WITH NO JOY IN IT. That must be a life on which rests no Divine smile. We are like the birds, we can only sing in God's sunshine. Inexpressibly sad is human life without God. "The joy of the Lord is our strength;" but the sadness of agnosticism, atheism, Comtism, secularism, is the all-sufficing proof that these can never take the place of religion for man, who fain would sing for joy. Let such systems prevail, and the song of earth would cease. From the silent, songless land a heart-cry to the great heavens would go, saying -

"Oh for a vision! Oh for the face!" R.T.

I have made their vintage shouting to cease. Why? Because the harvest is fallen. In the vineyards there is no shouting, for all the fruits are blighted and withered. Thus is it with every harvest which is evil. Men expect much, and lo! it often comes to nothing. The glory departs if God is forgotten.

I. WE LIVE FOR THE FUTURE. Few live in the present hour alone. Some amass property, looking forward to days of retirement and ease; some go to far-away fields of war to gather the laurels of victory, and to win what the world calls fame; and some seek stores of intellectual wealth, so as to secure the far-off coronet of scholarship and learned renown. But the harvest fails. Jealousy and envy do their work; and the ambassador is recalled, or the mind becomes feeble; through weariness or weakness the anticipated victory becomes a defeat. Somehow or other, either through events without or experience within, when God does not live in the heart and his glory is forgotten, the vintage fails.

II. WE LOOK FOR JOY IN HARVEST. That is the time for music and joy, or, as the prophet says, for singing and shouting. It is a time of stretched-out branches and purple groves. And God intended us to have joy in harvest. All innocent pursuits end in blessing, if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. But if not, then there is dullness and gloom and failure; for the Lord of harvest is not there. The vintage fails, because he is the true Vine, and we are the branches, and every branch separated from him is cut down and withered.

III. WE LOOK FOR FRUIT AS WELL AS LEAFAGE. That is a remarkable sentence, "The treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses." Nothing but leaves! What a significant sentence! Everything seemed to promise well. There was the tender green of spring and the rich foliage of summer, but no blossoms hide under the luxuriant foliage. So it is with all mere convictions and resolves, with all passing sensations and excited feelings. We need ever to remember that the end of religion is fruit. Fruitful service, fruitful sacrifice. And without these, whatever else there be, the vintage fails. - W.M.S.

Moab "will come to his sanctuary to pray, but he shall not prevail." There are two kinds of unavailing prayer -

I. THE PRAYER WHICH IS ADDRESSED TO NON-EXISTENT BEINGS. How pitiable that, as the consequence of the blinding influence of sin, men should have spent so much thought and effort in devotion that must have been absolutely barren of all good result! It is painful to think of the multitude of sacrifices - even human sacrifices - that have been offered up beneath every sky, of the labors that have been undergone, of the pilgrimages that have been made, of the tortures that have been inflicted, of the privations that have been endured, of the observances that have been gone through, and, if last not least, of the prayers that have been presented from full and burdened hearts, that have all been wasted, inasmuch as the devotees have all been making their appeal to an ear that could not hear, to a hand that could not help.

II. THE PRAYER WHICH IS UNAVAILINGLY ADDRESSED TO GOD. It is almost equally sad to think that there must have been, and must be, a vast amount of devotion vainly and fruitlessly directed to the living God. There is

(1) the format prayer - the prayer which goeth forth from feigned lips, in which men "honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far removed from him" (Isaiah 29:13);

(2) the prayer of pride (see Luke 18:9-14);

(3) the prayer of impenitence (Psalm 66:18; Proverbs 15:29; Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:15);

(4) the prayer of unbelief (Hebrews 11:6);

(5) the prayer of irreverence (Hebrews 5:7);

(6) the prayer which is unacceptable by reason of the nature of the request. If we ask God for his interposition in the spirit of vindictiveness rather than of generosity, or if we ask for material enrichment or earthly honors rather than the Divine favor and spiritual progress, we may be asking for that which our heavenly Father will deny in mercy to ourselves. For he may know that the very thing we crave would prove to be the most mischievous thing we could possibly possess. It may be worth our while to look also at -

III. THE PRAYER WHICH DOES NOT SEEM TO PREVAIL, BUT WHICH IS NOT INEFFECTUAL. There are many acts of devotion which do not bring any immediate, desired result, but they are far from being vain and fruitless. Such are:

1. The prayers which are not supplicatory at all - those which begin and end in communion; those in which the reverent and loving heart of the human child finds a holy and satisfying joy in holding fellowship with the heavenly Father, the redeemed spirit with its gracious Savior, its unchanging Friend.

2. The prayers which are not answered at the time, but after some patient waiting.

3. The prayers which are answered in a way altogether different from that expected by the soul. As the prophet of the Lord met Naaman's request in a way which surprised and even angered him, so the Lord himself often meets our requests in a way which surprises and even "offends" us. We should prefer the immediate touch of his mighty hand, renewing, cleansing, enlarging, enlightening. But instead of this, he employs some simple and common instrumentality, or some unpleasant discipline, which brings about the change that 'is to be desired. Thus in Newton's hymn -

"I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace." But instead of "his love's constraining power" subduing sin and giving rest, come assaults from without and wrestlings within; and when the disturbed and questioning spirit asks, "Why is this?" the answer comes -

These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may'st seek thine all in me." ? C.

The immediate reference of this verse is to the vain and hopeless prayers of Moab, offered in his time of distress to his idol-god Chemosh. Idols are only gods for sunshiny days, when their worshippers want nothing. There is no prevailing to secure help from them when life is full of calamities, and when hearts ache. But the expression reminds us that prayer offered to the true God does not always prevail - at least, prevail to the securing of the precise thing asked for; though this comes about, not by reason of the Divine inability, but by reason of the Divine wisdom and love. Our prayer may not always prevail with Jehovah, for such reasons as the following -


1. He may demand, and that God can never allow.

2. He may not have clean hands; and man must put away his evil doings before he seeks God.

3. He may be unforgiving towards his brother; and if we forgive not our brother his trespass, God will heed no prayer from us for the forgiveness of ours.

4. He may fail in that importunity which is before God the sign of earnestness.

5. He may ask with purely selfish intentions - to consume the blessing sought upon his lusts.

II. BECAUSE THE PRAYER IS ONLY A CRY OF DESPAIR. Not a quiet, thoughtful turning to God, but only a feeling, "Nobody can help me - let us see if even God can." There is nothing in such a cry to which God can hopefully respond. For prayer to prevail with God there must be some trust in it.

III. BECAUSE GOD'S GOOD TIME FOR BLESSING MAY NOT HAVE COME. Prayer often only seems not to prevail, because the answer is held over until God's best time has come. And Divine delayings are tests of sincerity and inspirations to importunity. "Though it tarry, wait fur it; it will surely come, it will not tarry."

IV. BECAUSE OTHER PRAYERS MAY BE PRAYING AGAINST OUR PRAYERS. Other people's prayers, and the voice of some things in ourselves. Sodom's iniquity was crying hard against Abraham's prayer, and Abraham could not prevail. Jerusalem was crying hard against the Lord Jesus, and his prayer could not prevail. St. Paul's infirmities of temper were crying hard against his prayer that the thorn in the flesh should be removed; and they prevailed, not Paul, and the thorn stayed piercing on. Here is a hidden secret unfolded. Why have we so often seemed to pray only to feel the heavens like brass above us? We should know if we could hear all the prayers that rise to God, and know how many and how loud are the prayers that plead against us. God weighs them all, and the answer to us is always that which is best, on the whole. - R.T.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Isaiah 15
Top of Page
Top of Page