Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
B.C. 710 by Sargon the Assyrian. The King of Babylon at that time was Merodach-Baladan, who sent letters and a present to Hezekiah when he was sick (Isaiah 39:1; 2 Kings 20:12). The prophet may well grieve over the fall of Babylon, as likely to drag down with it weaker kingdoms.
I. THE SOUND OF THE TEMPEST. What sublime poesy have the prophets found in the tempest! We are perhaps impressed more through the perception of the ear than that of the eye, by the sense of vague, vast, overwhelming power working through all the changes of the world. The sweeping up of a tempest from the southern dry country of Judah is like the gathering of a moles belli, and this, again betokens that Jehovah of hosts is stirring up his might in the world unseen. Hence his arrows go forth like lightning, his trumpet blows (Zechariah 9:14). This movement comes from the terrible land, the desert, the haunt of serpents and other horrible creatures.
II. THE VISION OF CALAMITY. The march of the barbarous conqueror is marked by cruelty and devastation. The prophet's heart is overpowered within him. He writhes with anguish as in the visions of the even-tide the picture of Babylon's fall passes before his mind. He beholds a scene of rivalry. There is feasting and mirth. We are reminded of that description which De Quincey adduced as an example of the sublime: "Belshazzar the king made a great feast unto a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand" (Daniel 5:1); and of Byron's description of the eve of the battle of Waterloo at Brussels. Suddenly an alarm is given; the walls have been stormed, the palace is threatened; the banqueters must start from the couch and exchange the garb of luxury for the shield and the armor. The impression of the picture is heightened by the descriptions in Herodotus (1. 191) and Xenophon ('Cyrop.,' 7:5), whether they refer to the same event or no. It is the picture of careless ease and luxury surprised by sudden terror. "Let us go against them," says Cyrus in Xenophon. "Many of them are asleep, many intoxicated, and all of them unfit for battle." The scene, then, may be used parabolically to enforce those lessons of temperance, of watchfulness, of sobriety, and prayerfulness which our religion inculcates.
III. THE WATCHMAN. The word of Jehovah directs that a watchman shall be posted, the prophet "dividing himself into two persons" - his own proper person and that of the speculator or scout upon the height of the watch-tower. So Habakkuk "stands upon his watch, and sets him upon the tower" (Habakkuk 2:1). And what does the prophet see? Cavalry riding two abreast, some on horses, others on asses, others (with the baggage) on camels. This he sees; but he hears no authentic tidings of distant things, though straining his ear in utmost tension. Then he groans with the deep tones of the impatient lion. How long is he to remain at his post? We cannot but think of the fine opening of the 'Agamemnon' of AEschylus, where the weary warder soliloquizes -
"The gods I ask deliverance from these labors,
IV. THE ANGUISH OF THE PATRIOT. "O my threshed and winnowed one!" Poor Israel, who has already suffered so much from the Assyrian, how gladly would the prophet have announced better tidings! The threshing-floor is an image of suffering, and not confined to the Hebrews. It may be found in old Greek lore, and in modern Greek folk-poesy. No image, indeed, can be more expressive (comp. Isaiah 41:15; Micah 4:12, 13; Jeremiah 51:33). "But love also takes part in the threshing, and restrains the wrath."
V. GENERAL LESSONS. The Christian minister is, too, a watcher. He must listen and he must look. There are oracles to be heard by the attentive ear, breaking out of the heart of things - hints in the distance to be caught by the wakeful and searching eye. "They whom God has appointed to watch are neither drowsy nor dim-sighted. The prophet also, by this example, exhorts and stimulates believers to the same kind of attention, that by the help of the lamp of the Word they may obtain a distant view of the power of God." - J.
1. That God uses not only elemental forces but human agents for the accomplishment of his righteous purposes. The winds and the waves are his ministers; but sometimes, as here, the whirlwinds he invokes are not the airs of heaven but the passions and agitations of human minds.
2. That the greatest human power is nothing in his mighty hand. Babylon was a "great power" indeed in human estimation at that time, but it needed only the whirlwind of God's holy indignation to sweep it away. Concerning the judgments of the Lord, we mark -
I. THEIR EFFECT ON THE GUILTY.
1. The suddenness and surprise of their overthrow. "Prepare the table... eat, drink," say they in the palace. But even while they are feasting comes the cry from the watchman on the walls, "Arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield" (ver. 5). How often, when the ungodly are in the midst of their unjust exactions or their unlawful pleasures, comes the blow which strikes the weapon from their hand, the cup from their lips (see Daniel 5:30; Acts 12:22, 23; Luke 12:20)!
2. The completeness of their downfall. "Babylon is fallen, is fallen (ver. 9) - fallen utterly, never more to rise; her tyranny broken to pieces, her fires of persecution put out. When God arises to judgment his enemies are not merely defeated, they are scattered.
3. The abasement of their pride. Babylon is fallen." The word is suggestive of an inglorious descent from a high seat of assumption and is certainly descriptive of the destruction of the Babylonian power. We know that God wills to humble the haughty, and that nothing is more certain to ensure humiliation than the spirit of pride (Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 17:17; Isaiah 10:33; Luke 14:11).
4. The rebuke of their impiety. "The graven images he hath broken," etc. As idolatry was visited with the signs of God's wrath, so impiety, covetousness, absorbing worldliness - which are idolatry in modern form - must expect to receive the proofs of his displeasure.
II. THEIR EFFECT ON THE GOOD.
1. Merciful relief from oppression. "All the sighing thereof have I made to cease." The downfall of the tyrant is the deliverance of the oppressed; hence the close connection between Divine judgments and human praise. As God, in his providence, brings cruelty, injustice, inconsiderateness, to its doom, he makes sighing and sorrow to flee away. There is much tyranny still to be struck down before all burdens will have been taken from the heavy-laden, and before all sighs shall cease from the heavy-hearted.
2. Conversion frown resentment to compassion. The vision which the prophet saw, albeit it was one of triumph over his enemies, excited his compassion; it was "a grievous vision" (ver. 2). He was even "bowed down at the hearing of it," "dismayed at the seeing of it" (ver. 3). The night which he loved (the night of his pleasure), instead of bringing him the sacred joy of communion with God and prophetic inspiration, brought to him sympathetic pain and distress. Thus was burning patriotic indignation turned into humane compassion. It may be taken, indeed, as an anticipation of that Christian magnanimity which "loves its enemies, and prays for them that despitefully use and persecute" it. When God's judgments on our enemies thus soften our spirits and call forth the kindlier and more generous sentiments, then do they serve an even higher end than when they make our sighs to cease and our songs to sound. - C.
burden is to Babylon, which was the successor to Assyria in executing the Divine judgments on the Jews. Babylonia is called the desert of the sea," as a poetical figure, suggested by the fact that its surging masses of people were like a sea-desert; or because it was a flat country, and full of lakes, like little seas. It was abundantly watered by the many streams of the river Euphrates. The prophet, writing when Babylon was the rising and triumphing nation, sees in vision her terrible fall and humiliation. Which siege of Babylon he refers to cannot be assured, but much can be said for Cheyne's suggestion, that the depression under which Isaiah writes is best explained by referring the vision to the first siege of Babylon, when Merodach-Baladan was king ( B.C. 709), whose interests were in harmony with those of Hezekiah, and whose humiliation Isaiah would regard as injurious to Judah. Watching the movements of these several nations, Assyria, Babylonia, Elam, Media, Judah, we meditate on -
I. RIGHT IDEAS OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. We do not speak of providence so freely as our fathers did, because we have less impressive views of the Divine rule and control. As Dr. Bushnell expresses it, "our age is at the point of apogee from all the robuster notions of the Divine Being." We are more interested in the ordinary workings of Law, than in the continuous adjustments and qualifications of Law by the ever-pre-siding Lawgiver. Yet, if our eyes were opened, we might see manifest signs of what our fathers called "providence" in the personal, the family, and the national spheres of today. The proper idea of providence may be thus expressed - it is God using for moral purposes commonplace events, and therefore adjusting, arranging, and fitting together those events. Providence ordering or controlling the nations is "God in history." And the illustrations of Divine overruling which we see in the large spheres of the world-kingdoms, are designed to convince us of the reality of that overruling in the small details of our personal life.
II. THE PROVIDENTIAL DISTINGUISHED FROM THE MIRACULOUS. The distinction is in our apprehension; we cannot conceive of the distinction as recognized by God. As by the "providential" we mean God intervening to readjust the usual order of material events, it is plain that sometimes he may use forces with which we are familiar, and then we call his working "providential;" but at other times he may use forces with which we are unfamiliar, and then we call his working "miraculous." There need be no difficulty in recognizing resources in God beyond what he has been pleased to explain to man. God has not exhausted himself in making revelations to man. If we could see clearly we should see that "providential" and "miraculous" are convertible terms.
III. THE RELATION OF PROVIDENCE TO MORAL LAW. This may be put into a sentence. It is the executor of its sanctions. The rewards of obedience and the penalties of disobedience are not things deferred until some yet far-distant day. They are continually operating in all spheres, private and public. Ann what we call "providence" is the agency in their distribution. But our "providence" differs from "fate," or the pagan conception of the "furies," because it is the working of an infinitely wise and good Being, who acts upon comprehensive knowledge and sound judgment.
IV. THE RELATION OF PROVIDENCE TO NATIONS. Here we take one single point. Nations have a corporate life, so they are, as it were, individuals, with a distinct individual character and action. Just as God uses the individual man for his purposes, so he uses the individual nation. For the characteristics of nations, see Greece, Rome, Germany, France, etc. The natural expression of a nation's character or genius becomes the providential agency for carrying out God's purposes. Illustrate the conquering genius of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar doing God's work in the destruction of the kingdom of Judah. The fact that a nation employed as an executor is still in God's control, is shown in God's judging that nation for evils that become manifest in its doing of that executive work. Efficient illustrations may be found in the movements and enterprises of the European nations during the last century. - R.T.
Ezekiel 21:6; Nahum 2:10). The most familiar illustration of the sympathy between body and mind is the expression of mental emotion by tears. Ministers and public speakers know, from bitter experience, how nervous excitement stands related to sharp bodily pain and serious bodily depression. The connection may be seen in Job, in Hezekiah, in the Apostle Paul, and in David, who, with vigorous poetical figures describes the bodily distress which accompanied his months of restraining himself, in his hardness and impenitence: "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day tong."
I. SOUL AND BODY ARE KIN. Our normal condition is the perfect harmony of the two, so that the soul only uses the body for good and right purposes; and the body responds perfectly to all the demands which the soul makes upon it. Combat the idea that the body is evil, or that evil lies in matter, and so our great effort should be to get free of our bodies. The true triumph is to win the use of our body, or, as the Apostle Paul puts it, to get "the body for the Lord, and the Lord for the body."
II. BODY MAY MASTER SOUL. This is the abnormal condition into which men have passed. They are practically ruled by "sensations" which dominate the will, and so the mass of men are merely animated bodies, in whom the soul is silenced and crushed. Illustrate by the demoniacs in our Lord's time, in whom the man was crashed by the vice.
III. SOUL SHOULD CONTROL BODY. This is the recovered normal condition and relation; and to energize the soul unto a full and efficient mastery and use of the body is precisely the work of the Divine redemption. The indwelling Spirit of God is a new life for the soul, in the power of which it may overcome the body and the world. - R.T.
B.C. 709 by Sargon, and in 703 and 691 by Sennacherib. Mr. George Smith, writing of the last of these three sieges, says, "Babylon was now wholly given up to an infuriated soldiery; its walls were thrown down, its temples demolished, its people given up to violence and slavery, the temples rifled, and the images of the gods brought out and broken in pieces." Herodotus is our authority for the supposed aversion of the Medes and Persians to all images. "They not only thought it unlawful to use images, but imputed folly to those who did so." But modern researches do not confirm the statement of Herodotus, and we need see in the destruction of the Babylonian idols no more than the signs of a humiliating and overwhelming conquest. Cyrus has been hitherto regarded as a Persian and monotheist; it is now argued that he was an Elamite and a polytheist. Illustrating the subject, we note -
I. SOME MEN'S LIFE-WORK IS BUILDING UP. They make businesses; they found families; they start theories; they commence organizations; they build churches; they initiate societies. Such men are full of schemes. Moses founds a nation. David organizes a kingdom. Paul establishes a Christian society in the Gentile world. Wesley begins a sect.
II. SOME MEN'S LIFE-WORK IS KEEPING UP. They cannot begin. They are not fertile in resources. Initial difficulties crush them. But quiet perseverance, good faithful work, enables them well to sustain what others have begun.
III. SOME MEN'S LIFE-WORK IS BREAKING DOWN. As was Carlyle's. He broke down society shams, and conceits and hypocrisies of modern thought. So Mahomet broke down corrupt Christianity. The skeptic is an iconoclast; but he breaks down for the pleasure of breaking down. The critic is an iconoclast; but he only attacks the evil. The reformer must often be an iconoclast; but he breaks down only that he may rebuild. Sometimes things reach such a pass that they cannot be reformed, and then "destruction cometh from the Lord," whatever agents he may use; as in the old world, Sodom, captivity of Israel, destruction of Babylon, etc. - R.T.
I. TRIBULATION. The instrument by which corn was threshed (tribula) has given us the word with which we are so familiar. To some it speaks of long-continued sickness, or weakness, or pain; to others of depressing disappointment; to others of bereavement and consequent desolation; to others of loss and the inevitable struggle with poverty; to others of human frailty or even treachery and of the wounded spirit which suffers from that piercing stroke. The heart knows its own bitterness, and every human soul has its own peculiar story to tell, its own especial troubles to endure. But this human suffering is only appropriately called tribulation when it is recognized that the evil which has come is sent (or allowed) of God as Divine chastening, when it is understood that the Divine Father takes a parental interest in the well-being of his children, that he is seeking their highest good, and that he is passing his threshing-instrument over "his floor" in the exercise of a benign and holy discipline.
II. SEPARATION. When the "tribula" passed over the reaped corn it separated the valuable grain from the worthless chaff; one was then easily distinguishable from the other. Sorrow, persecution, trial, tribulation, is a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Before it comes, the genuine and the pretentious may be mingled indistinguishably; after it has come, it is apparent who are the loyal and true disciples, and who are they that have nothing but "the name to live." We cannot be sure of "the spirit of our mind" or the real character of others until we, or they, have been upon the threshing-floor, and the Divine instrument of threshing has done its decisive and discriminating work. It comes, like Christ himself, "for judgment;" and then many who were supposed not to see are found to have a true vision of God and of his truth, while many who have imagined that they saw have been found to be blind indeed (see John 9:39).
III. SYMPATHY. Israel in Egypt may have thought itself unpitied and even forgotten of God; but it would have been wrong in so thinking (Exodus 3:7). The Jews in Babylon may have imagined themselves disregarded of Jehovah; but they were mistaken if they so thought. "0 my threshing," etc., exclaims the sympathetic voice of the Lord. When we are tempted to bewail our unpitied and forgotten condition, we must check ourselves as the psalmist had to do (Psalm 73.), or we shall be unjust and even ungrateful; "for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." The mark of tribulation is the sign of parental love and care.
IV. PREPARATION. The process of threshing prepared the corn for the granary, and so for the table, and thus for the fulfillment of its true function. When God stretches us on his floor and makes us undergo the process of tribulation, it is that we may be refined and purified; that we may be made "meet for his use" both on earth and in heaven; that we may be prepared for such higher work and such nobler spheres as we should have remained unfitted for, had he not subjected us to the treatment which is "not joyous but grievous" at the time. - C.
tribulation," it will be remembered, is taken from the Latin word tribulum, a heavy threshing-roller. The comparison of severe oppression or affliction to threshing is a common one. We may work the figure out by saying - Life is God's floor; his people are the corn laid upon it; dispensations of providence are the sharp threshing-instruments; but their Working only proves how anxious God is for the final good of his people; and over their separating and refining he anxiously and lovingly presides. The reference of the text is to Judah, suffering under Babylonian oppression. Isaiah sees the fall of Babylon, and he would gladly have reported that the success of its enemies would prove a permanent relief to Judah; but alas! he only sees more trouble, and heavier trouble still, in store for his country.
I. THRESHING AND WINNOWING ARE ALWAYS TRYING PROCESSES. They crush and cut and bruise; they seem to fling away as we fling away worthless things. And the answering providential dealings of God try faith, try patience, try endurance, try submission. They are trying only because they must be. No man would bruise his corn, if it could be separated from its husk in some simpler and easier way. When we think of the work God would do in us - get the corn of goodness quite free from the husk of evil - then the wonder is that, even with such threshing-instruments of trouble, suffering, humiliation, disappointment, as he uses, he yet can accomplish so great a result. Only Divine grace can make such means adequate to such an end. On this dwell further.
II. THRESHING AND WINNOWING ARE PROCESSES HAVING A GRACIOUS END IN VIEW. That end is variously stated. It is "holiness;" it is our "sanctification;" it is knowing how rightly to use these "vessels of our bodies;" it is "likeness to Christ;" it is "meetness for the inheritance of the saints in the light;" it is the "liberty of righteousness." God would have the grain clean, free from all chaff, or dust, or straw; it must be "meet for the Master's use." The ends of Divine threshing are the further ends sought by the Divine redemption. God forms a people for himself; by providential threshings and winnowings, he beautifies them for himself.
III. THE TRYING PROCESS MAY BE BORNE IF WE KEEP THE GRACIOUS END IN VIEW. "No affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous." Yet does the child of God yield submissively, singing his restful refrain, and saying, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Even in view of further threshing-times, Judah may be quiet; they would but be God's threshings, with a view to final good. - R.T.
I. THE CALL FROM SEIR. The Edomites are asking, "Will the light soon dawn? What hour is it?" Like the sick man tossing on his bed, they long for the first tidings that the night of tribulation is past.
II. THE ENIGMATIC ANSWER. "Morning cometh, and also night." There were "wise men" in Edom, and probably the answer is couched in the style they loved. What does it mean? We can but conjecture. It may mean that the coming light of prosperity and joy is soon to be quenched in the night of calamity again. Or, the dawn of joy to some will be the night of despair to others. "When the morning comes, it will still be night" (Luther). Even if morning dawns, it will be swallowed up again immediately by night. And in what follows, also obscure, seems to be a hint that only in case of Edom's conversion can there be an answer of consolation and of hope. The design may be -
(1) "to reprove them for the manner in which they had asked the question;
(2) to assure them that God was willing to direct humble and serious inquiries;
(3) to show in what way a favorable answer could be obtained, viz. by repentance."
1. Historical. "History was quite in accord with such an answer. The Assyrian period of judgment was followed by the Chaldean, the Chaldean by the Persian, the Persian by the Grecian, and the Grecian by the Roman. Again and again there was a glimmer of morning dawn for Edom (and what a glimmer in the Herodian age!); but it was swallowed up directly by another night, until Edom became an utter Dumah, and disappeared from the history of nations." Herod the Great, "King of the Jews," was son of Autipater of Edom, who became procurator of Judaea. Under the Mussulman rule in the seventh century A.D., the cities of Edom fell into ruin, and the laud became a desolation (comp. Ezekiel 35:3, 4, 7, 9, 14). The famed rock-built city of Petra was brought to light in our own time by Burckhardt, 1812.
2. General. The prophetic outlook upon the world at any epoch is of the same general character. Night struggles with morning in the conflicts and changes of nations, in the controversies of truth with error. In the closing chapters of St. Matthew's Gospel we do not find a prospect of unmingled brightness, very far from it. Christianity will call into existence vast organized hypocrisies; the shadow attends closely upon the light. At the conversion of the empire under Constantine, at the Reformation, etc., "the morning came, and also night." History pursues a spiral line; old errors return, decayed superstitions revive; then again the day breaks. And so with the individual; the light we gain at happy epochs must yield to fresh doubts or fears, again to be dispelled by redawning faith. Such is the condition of our life; we dwell in the chiaroscuro, the twilight of intuition; we "see as in a glass, enigmatically." But hope and endeavor remain to us; and the looking forward to the everlasting light of Jehovah, the glory of God, the rising of the sun that shall no more go down; the end of mourning; the "one day" that shall be neither day nor night; the evening time when it shall be light (Isaiah 60:19, 20; Zechariah 14:7). - J.
the question which ever occupies earnest minds. That the darkness of sin is here wise men note, without wasting metaphysical thought upon the how or why. Here is sin. On that all are agreed. Is there salvation too?
I. PROPHETIC VISION. Isaiah sees. Far away on the world's horizon he beholds a rising light; and, in anticipation of that, he himself is permitted to reveal truths which shall brighten the darkness of Israel. All deliverance is a prophecy of the great Deliverer; all returnings of Israel are foreshadowings of that day when to Christ shall the gathering of the people be.
II. PROPHETIC DECLARATION. "The morning cometh." Always a musical note that. To the sufferer in the chamber of affliction, longing for the first beams of day; to the dismantled ship out far away on the melancholy sea; to the oppressed people waiting for deliverance; to the idolatrous Israel in returning to the true and living God. "The morning cometh." A thought to be meditated on in all long and weary nights of disappointment, disaffection, doubt, and trial. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Patience, poor heart! The morning cometh to the penitent Peter and the doubtful Thomas. "The morning cometh." Not for Israel only, but for the world. The nations that sat in darkness have seen a great light. Isaiah was right.
III. PROPHETIC COUNSEL. "If ye will inquire, inquire ye." But do more than that. "Return, come." This is the condition on which the morning glory rests. "Return." Give up your love of darkness, and "come." God waits to forgive and bless. "Come." The curiosity of inquiry may belong to mere intellectual states of being. The return of the soul means a great moral change. We must feel the truth of these words, "The morning cometh, and also the night." For the morning will be no morning unless the veil of night is taken away from our hearts. - W.M.S.
1. We take this to be a bitter taunt on the part of the Idumaean. "Watchman," he says, "what of this long night of national calamity through which you are passing? Where is the God of David, of Josiah, and of Hezekiah? What about those promises of Divine deliverance which have been your trust," etc.?
2. Then we have the calm retort of the prophet. He says, "'The morning cometh.' You may see nothing but darkness; but to me, on my watch-tower, there are apparent the grey streaks of dawn. I see afar off, but approaching, a glorious deliverance and return - a repopulated city, rebuilt walls, a reopened temple, a rehonored sabbath, a regenerate and a rejoicing people. 'The morning cometh, and also the night: 'to us the morning, to you the night. The sun that shines on you is a setting sun; it is sloping to the west. The dark pall of defeat, captivity, destruction, will soon veil your skies; you have little reason to triumph. We are down, but we are moving up; you are up, but you are moving down."
3. And then comes the prophet's overture. "I do not want," he says, "to gain a barren victory of words. If you will approach me in the spirit, not of mockery, but of inquiry, really wishing to know the mind of God, I will reply to your question. 'If ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.'" As the scoffing Idumaean thus assailed the Jewish Church, so the skeptical European assails the Christian Church, and we have -
I. THE TRIUMPHANT TAUNT OF THE SCOFFER. "What," says the scoffer, "of this long night through which the Church is passing? Eighteen centuries have gone since Jesus Christ declared that his cross would attract all men unto him; but barbarism is still found on island and continent, idolatry still prevails among the millions of Asia, corrupt Christianity still deludes the peoples of Europe, and infidelity, immorality, crime, and ungodliness still hang, like angry clouds, over 'Christian England.' What about this long night of Christendom?" Similarly the hostile critic speaks concerning the individual Christian life. "What of this long night of protracted sickness, of unsuccessful contest with financial difficulties, of undeserved dishonor, of repeated losses in the family circle by death, etc.?"
II. THE CALM RETORT OF THE CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE. He says, "'The morning cometh.' Barbarism is steadily disappearing before Christian civilization; superstition is being honeycombed by doubt; unbelief is finding itself unsatisfied with its hollow husks; earnest, practical religion is making its attack, by a hundred agencies, on immorality and irreligion; the Churches of Christ are putting on strength, and there is a sound of victory in the air, there are streaks of morning light in the sky. On the other hand, there are signs that overthrow and utter discomfiture will overtake and overwhelm the unholy doubts of the scoffer. To the oppressed Christian man, even though weeping should endure for the whole night of this mortal life, 'joy cometh in the morning' of the everlasting day."
III. THE OVERTURE OF THE CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE. He does not content himself with an effective retort. His mission is not to silence, but to convince and to help. He knows that beneath the sneer is doubt or disbelief, and this is too serious and too sad a thing to be left unanswered. So he says, "If you will 'inquire,' do inquire. Come into the court of inquiry with a candid, honest spirit; do not delude yourself by holding up one or two modern objections before your eyes and declaring that there is nothing to be seen. Take into account all the evidence - of prophecy; of miracle; of the life, character, truth, works, of Jesus Christ; of the effects of his gospel on the world, on human hearts, homes, lives; on man, on woman, on the slave, the poor, the prisoner, etc. Set against this what has to he considered on the other side, and then decide whether this redemption in Jesus Christ is not from heaven. Or, again, if you have any serious doubts as to the efficacy of true piety and its actual worth to a man as he goes through life, inquire; but take heed of whom you inquire. Ask of one who has had large and varied experience of life; ask of one who has seen much of men, in whom men have trusted and who knows the thoughts of their hearts; take the testimony of men to whom religion has been not a mere name, or a mere ceremony, but a solid conviction and a living power; and you will find, on such fair inquiry, that it is not only a stay and succor, but is the mainstay and the strength of the human soul in the labors and conflicts of life." - C.
I. NIGHT-TIMES OF LIFE HAVE THEIR MISSION. They stand, in private life, for the times in which we are put aside from active work, compelled to rest. In national life they stand for the times in which national enterprise is checked by calamities, invasions, plagues, famines, etc. It is found that night has an important and necessary place in the economy of nature. Isaac Taylor has, in a very interesting way, proved that one or two absolutely dark nights in a year are essential to the well being of vegetation. Resting-times are important for individual growth, and national calamities are found to bear directly on the conquest of national evils and the culture of national virtues. We may thank God that in our moral life he never gives continuous day, but relieves the overstrain by recurring nights.
II. NIGHT-TIMES OF LIFE HAVE THEIR BELIEFS, There are the moon and stars to shine in them; and they presently give place to the "garish day." Pain is never intense for more than a little while. The light of love and friendship and sympathy relieves the darkness of suffering. National calamities develop national unity and energy, that presently issue in national triumph and stability; as is well illustrated in Prussia's night-time when she was humiliated by Napoleon I. Out of that night-lime came German unity, and the recovery of German territory. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment."
III. NIGHT-TIMES OF LIFE HAVE THEIR RETURNS. They are like the tunnels on some of our railways. We are scarcely out of one, and enjoying the open sky, the free air, and the sunshine, before we rush screaming into another. "If there be a morning of youth and health, there will conic a night of sickness and old age; if a morning of prosperity in the family, in the public, yet we must look for changes." And such returns of trying experiences are so essential for our moral training, that it is the most serious calamity to an individual, or to a nation, that they should be spared then, "Because they have no changes, therefore they forget God." "Moab hath been at case from his youth, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent hath not changed." Only of the heavenly and the sinless world may it be said, "There is no night there." These two thoughts may suggest an effective conclusion. No explanations can avail for more than just the piece of life now over us. We cannot know God's meaning for us until the whole of life is before us, and we can fit together the missions of the darkness and the light. Well did our Lord quiet our restless desire to read the mystery of life by saying, "Ye shall know hereafter." And David turned away from the mystery, saying, "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness." And nobody can ever know the meanings of a life if he fixes attention only on its nighttimes. They are the shades in the picture, necessary to bring out the picture, but they are not the picture. We must rise to the outlook of God, of whom it is said, "The darkness and the light are both alike to thee." - R.T.
I. THE FATE OF THE DEDANITES. Their caravans must hide in the thorn-bushes away from the beaten track. These Dedanites belong to Edom (Jeremiah 49:8; Ezekiel 25:13). They were merchants, and among others traded with wealthy Tyre (Ezekiel 27:15). And probably the meaning is that when on their way from Tyre they would be compelled to camp in the desert, because of the wide spreading war from north to south.
II. THE SYMPATHY OF THE PROPHET. He calls the people of Tema to supply the thirsty and hungry fugitives with water and with bread. Tema lay on the route between Palmyra and Petra. The tribe was among the descendants of Ishmael. In these sad scenes the light of human kindness in the heart of the prophet, reflected in the picture of Temanite hospitality, shines forth.
"These are the precious balsam-drops
III. THE PROPHECY OF DOOM. In a year, "as the years of a hireling," i.e. swiftly, certainly, without delay, and without time of grace, Kedar's glory shall be at an end, the powerful tribes of nomad archers will be reduced to a remnant. Those tents, "black but comely," of which the bard of the Canticles sang (Song of Solomon 1:5), those splendid flocks, and the famed "rams of Nebaioth," shall disappear, or melt down to a fraction of the former numbers. So again the night sets on Edom, after a brief dawn.
IV. THE WORD OF THE GOD OF ISRAEL.
1. These events were to happen by Divine appointment.
2. The God of Israel is the true God.
Let us take the saying to heart, amidst all that is most saddening in the fates of nations and institutions, "God hath done it, God hath said it." The true God who revealed himself to the fathers, and manifested himself to men in Christ, is the Being whose will is made known in the course of history. And amidst his heaviest punishments we have this consolation, that he chastises gently, and does not "give men over to death" (Psalm 118:18). ? J
I. THE ILLS TO WHICH FLESH IS HEIR.
1. Being turned out of our course. The caravans of Dedan are obliged to forsake their track and find refuge in the forests or stony retreats of the desert (ver. 13). Continually are we compelled to change our route as travelers along the road of life. We mark out our course and set out on our way, but the irresistible obstacle is confronted and we are obliged to deviate into some other track, or wait in hope until the hindrance be removed.
2. Being straitened for the necessities of life. The refugees are reduced to such straits that they are glad to receive the bread and water which "the inhabitants of the land of Tema" bring (ver. 14). Though God has made this earth to be large and bountiful enough for a vastly greater population thou even now exists upon it, yet, chiefly owing to human folly or iniquity, though sometimes to misfortune, men are reduced to such extreme hardship that the common necessaries are beyond their reach. Between this exigency and the condition of competence, how many degrees of want, and how many thousands of the children of want, are there to be found!
3. Being assailed and pursued by the enemies of our spirit. (Ver. 15.) There are adverse powers from beneath - the "principalities and powers" of the kingdom of darkness; there are hostile powers that are around us - unprincipled and ungodly men, evil practices and harmful institutions in society; but our worst foes are those which are "of our own household," those that are within the chambers of our own souls - bad habits, evil propensities, those inclinations toward folly and sin which pursue us even when the main battle has been fought and won.
4. Finding our life oppressive and burdensome to us. "According to the years of a hireling" (ver. 16). The time thus counted is reckoned with extreme carefulness; there is no danger that a single day will be left untold. The hireling is impatient for the time to be past that he may lay down the yoke and receive his wage. How many are there to whom life is so much of a burden, who are so oppressed by toil, or weighed down with care, or overwhelmed by sorrow, that they look gladly, if not eagerly, forward to its evening hour, when the night of death will release them from their struggle!
5. Being distinctly and at length fatally enfeebled. "The glory of Kedar shall fail," the bowmen and the mighty men "be diminished" (vers. 16, 17). Up to a certain point human life means, not only enjoyment, but increase; from that point it means diminution - at first unconscious, but afterwards sensible and painful; at length fatal diminution - in the capacity for enjoyment, in intellectual grasp, in physical endurance, in force of character. The glory of life goes; the faculties of soul and of body are palpably diminished; death draws near. Bat we may take into our view -
II. DIVINELY PROVIDED REMEDIES.
1. Pursuing the straight path to the goal which is set before us, from which no enemy need make us turn aside.
2. Trusting in the faithful Promiser.
3. Hiding in the pavilion of Divine power, and securing the mighty aid of the Divine Spirit.
4. Seeking and finding the comfort of the Holy Ghost.
5. Awaiting the immortal youth of the heavenly land. - C.
I. IN THE SACRIFICES IT DEMANDS.
II. IN THE LIVES IT DESTROYS.
III. IN THE TREASURE IT WASTES. The Franco-German War of 1870 cost France £371, 000, 000, and Germany at least £47, 000, 000. The American Civil War cost £330, 000, 000. The Crimean War cost England £167, 000, 000.
IV. IN THE PASSIONS IT ENGENDERS,
V. IN THE NATIONAL ALIENATIONS IT LEAVES BEHIND,
VI. IN THE SUFFERINGS IT ENTAILS. In the Franco-German War, one hundred and thirty thousand soldiers died on the battle-fields or in the hospitals, and thousands more lost limbs and health. What a wail of sorrow from thousands of homes and hearts such facts bring to our ears!
VII. IN THE RESULTS IT SECURES. Which are usually most insignificant when compared with the expenditure and loss. Talk of the glory of war! The Bible reminds us how much wiser and how much truer it is to talk of its grievousness. - R.T.
I. THE DIVINE FOREKNOWLEDGE. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do;" "He knoweth the end from the beginning." God may be pleased to leave man his freedom, and yet he may so know man, and each man, as to see beforehand how each wilt act in given circumstances; and the Divine plans can be based on such foreknowings and fore-estimatings.
II. THE DIVINE UTTERANCES ARE RASED ON SUCH FOREKNOWLEDGE. God may not be pleased to tell us all he knows, but we may have perfect confidence in what he tells. Revelation is limited, but it is absolutely true within its limitation, because based on complete, adequate knowledge.
III. TIME PROVES THE HARMONY OF THE UTTERANCE AND THE EVENTS. Because the utterance was made in full view of the event. To God the unexpected never happens, and his Word never fails. Men do, in their freedom, just exactly what God, surveying their work, anticipated that they would do. "He will let none of his words fall to the ground."
IV. THE CONFIDENCE IN GOD'S UTTERANCES INVOLVES THE PRACTICAL ORDERING OF OUR CONDUCT. This applies to prophetic anticipations; but how much more to announcements of ever-working principles! There are no exceptions to the great laws of righteousness, which are Jehovah's Word to men. "God has said," is enough for us, and it may shape out lives. It will come to pass, if the "Lord God of Israel hath spoken it." - R.T.