Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. The POLICY CHARACTERIZED. It is that of "unruly sons," and they "carry out a purpose which is not from Jehovah." So in Hosea we read, "They have set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, and I knew it not" (Hosea 8:4). They "weave a net" or "plait alliances" without his Spirit, and add sin to sin. They go down into Egypt without having inquired of Jehovah's mouth, and flee to the fortress of Pharaoh, to take refuge in the shadow of Egypt.
1. The Divine leading and inspiration make men humble, while self-will and self-reliance are stubborn, obstinate.
2. Where the first step has been wrong, every subsequent step aggravates the error.
3. The root of a mistaken policy is a false reliance, dependence on an "arm of flesh." There is a true and a false self-reliance: that which forgets God is ignorant and impious that which recognizes him as the Source of all true intelligence is genuine. To the external observer the difference between acting from the self-center and the God-center, between "going in one's own strength" and "going in the strength of the Lord of hosts," may not be perceptible. It must be known in the feeling of the actor, and in the results of his action.
II. THE RESULTS OF THE POLICY. The fortress of Pharaoh will become a shame to them, and the refuge in Egypt's shadow confusion. "Shame and confusion of face;" great Scripture words, most expressive of the results of false principles, false policy, obstinate error.
1. It is the very bitterness of ill success to feel that it is the harvest of our own faults; while misfortune is sweetened at its bitterest by the consciousness of having followed the light to the best of one's ability. The prophet follows in imagination this mistaken embassy into the heart of Egypt. They will come to Zoan (or Tanis), and to Hanes (or Heracleopolis), but will be abashed to find that in the expected saviors and helpers no salvation is to be found.
2. That bitterness is aggravated by the sense of the great toil and suffering which has only led to failure. How different the journey from Egypt and that to Egypt! Then men were led through "that great and terrible wilderness," full of the fiery serpents and scorpions and lions, the land of drought, and there were fed with manna (Deuteronomy 8:15; Jeremiah 2:6). And now, after encountering all these dangers, they are to find, after all, that there is no help in Egypt, though they have carried thither rich presents on asses and on camels. Emphatic is the prophet, "Yea, the Egyptians; in vain, and empty is their help, therefore I proclaim concerning it, Rahab, they are utter indolence." There is a play on the name here, which cannot well be rendered in English. But Egypt may stand as a type of the "world," the absence of true principle, or the principle of policy as opposed to reliance on God. And then the lesson will be the inherent weakness of all worldly policy, as compared with simple trust in God and obedience to his dictates. - J.
I. THEIR SIN. It is threefold.
1. Desertion of God. They take counsel, but not now of God, as in better days (Joshua 7:6; Judges 20:27; 1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 30:8); they made alliance, but not with the Divine consent - not "of my Spirit" (ver. 1); they did not ask "at God's mouth" (ver. 2). Once they would not have dreamed of acting without encouragement from God; now they look elsewhere for sanction. This desertion of him who was their Lord, and who had so often proved himself their Deliverer, had its root in:
2. Distrust of God. They trusted in "the shadow of Egypt" (ver. 2), because they had come to distrust the "shadow of his wings" in whom David found his refuge until his calamity was overpast (Psalm 57:1). It was the loss of their faith in God which made them cast about for another power which should befriend and deliver them. And this deplorable distrust was due to:
3. The spirit of materialism. They preferred the visible nation to the invisible God; the fleshly "power" to the Divine Spirit; the material army of Egypt, whose forces they could count and whose weapons they could handle, to the unseen One whose angels were beyond the range of vision, and whose instruments were unfashioned by human hands. This is the sin of mankind. Desertion of God, departure from his side and from his service; desertion springing from distrust, and this distrust rooted in a wretched and pitiful materialism.
II. THEIR PUNISHMENT.
1. Fruitless expenditure. (Vers. 4-6.) They would take the trouble to secure princely ambassadors, and these would travel through inhospitable and perilous regions, laden with costly gifts, paying servile attention to the foreigner - and all for nothing; an immensity of trouble and no profit whatever.
2. Bitter disappointment. (Ver. 7.) The land from which they hoped so much would prove utterly useless; their expectations would end in nothing but chagrin;, their exasperation could only find expression in an opprobrious epithet, in a bitter epigram directed against Egypt.
3. Mortification. "The strength of Pharaoh shall be their shame," etc. (vers. 3, 5). The result of this attempted alliance would be political reproach; and the court and the nation would be ashamed of having taken a step that turned out so ill. These are the common penalties of sin: the waste of that which is precious - time, money, strength, reputation, energy, affection, etc.; disappointment - the soul finding out that that in which it trusted cannot do what it hoped, that it leaves it still empty, still athirst, still poor; shame - the position in which it is dishonored of men, and has keenly to reproach itself for folly into which it need not have fallen, for sin which it might easily have shunned.
III. THEIR ALTERNATIVE. God was with them; one of his truest and most faithful prophets was at hand, accessible at any hour. Why not trust in the Almighty? Why not take counsel of the All-wise? The alternative to sin is always at hand. The gates of obedience are unfastened; the oracles of God are open; the paths of piety are such as every foot may tread. - C.
I. SIN IS ADDED TO SIN IN THE NATURAL ORDER OF EVENTS. It is but the simple fact of life that a sin never goes alone. It always has its companions and its followers. It must, if for this one reason only - every sin is a disturbance of order by man's self-will; that self-will is sure to go on sinning in the effort to get the order right. The child who finds order disturbed by some wrong act, goes on to tell lies in its vain effort to get the order straight again.
II. SIN IS ADDED TO SIN BY THE INFLUENCE OF HABIT. There is a strange tendency in us all to do a second time what we have done once. This has not been sufficiently noticed, though it is the basis on which criminals are often detected. A sin done once, we are actually disposed to do again; and there seems to be even a bodily bias towards tiffs formation of habits. Parents and teachers have to watch for it, that they may check and correct it.
III. SIN IS ADDED TO SIN BY THE ENTICEMENTS OF SATAN. For an act of sin is giving Satan the advantage over us, putting ourselves into his power. And the increase of that power depends on leading us to do evil again. He will not let us stop and think. We must go on, as the gambler does, until we are enslaved and ruined.
IV. SIN IS ADDED TO SIN AS A BEGINNING OF PUNISHMENT. A man is usually "heady and high-minded" at the successful result of his first wrong; so, in order that he may be smitten and humbled, God lets him go on from sin to sin, until shame whips him awake, so that he may see his iniquity. The way round to right has often to be by the mire of sin added to sin. There is a gracious sense in which God lets willful men alone awhile, as he left these Jewish leaders who advocated the Egyptian alliance, that they might convince themselves of their own wickedness and folly. - R.T.
Relying upon human aid, involving a distrust of the Divine promises, was a crying sin of the ancient Church, not at one time only, but throughout her history. It is quite as truly the crying sin of the modern Church, and of the Christian individual. In every time of pressure and need we first fly to some form of human help. It is either the expression of "first simplicity," or else of "cultured sanctity," to act on the words, "Our help is in the Lord our God."
I. THE DELUSIONS ON WHICH OUR TRUSTING OTHERS REST. Some of these take shape, and we can recognize them. Others lie down in men's souls, doing their mischievous work, but never getting put into propositions, which can be fairly dealt with. They are such as the following:
1. God is far away, and his help is not anything really practical.
2. God does not heed; he is so largely concerned in the great affairs of the universe that it is only an imagination that he can take interest in an individual life.
3. God is so long about his work; and impatient man cannot bear waiting - if he is in any trouble, he wants it dealt with at once. Compare the King of Israel, in the famine-time, saying pettishly to Elisha, "What should I wait for the Lord any longer?"
4. God makes such hard terms. He always wants repentance and submission, and letting our own hands hang down; he crushes human energy and enterprise. The very statement of these cherished delusions of men suggests their correctives. Surely to all who cherish them the great Father is an unknown God.
II. THE FORMS WHICH OUR TRUSTING OTHERS MAY TAKE. The Jewish nation leaned on the help of another nation in her extremity. We, in our individual life and experience, are in danger of some form of sacerdotalism; we pin our faith to some sect-leader, some scientific teacher, some admired statesman, some popular preacher, some assertive priest. Thousands of people find individual responsibility in religion too heavy a burden for them to bear, and do not grasp the truth that God is with them in the bearing, and that it is their dignity to stand under the yoke only with God. Sacerdotalism is just the "man-trust" which prophets denounce. In public life and association the tendency is to lean on, and worship material strength. We seek the help of riches for the carrying out of all our religions schemes. We fly to men rather than to God.
III. HISTORY AND EXPERIENCE ALIKE PROVE THE PRACTICAL FOLLY, AS WELL AS THE INGRATITUDE AND REBELLIOUSNESS, OF THUS FORSAKING GOD. Our trusts prove, like Egypt, only shebheth, inactive, do-nothings (see ver. 7). Egypt promised much, but failed utterly in the day of trial. - R.T.
Rahab. As in Isaiah 8:1, the inscription is to be on a large tablet, set up in a conspicuous place, so that he who runs may read. Then he is to inscribe the prophecy more fully on a scroll. Litera scripta manet. The oracle, the oral utterance, transferred to parchment, becomes a κτῆμα εἰς ἀεί, a "possession forever." The perpetuity of his protest and warning must be secured. The word rendered" inscribe" is more literally rendered "carve." Every earnest man has surely something worth thus carving, inscribing, engraving, somewhere, on some material - tablet, book, or "fleshy table of the heart;" the condensation of a life-experience, the sum of life-truths, the whole self-revelation, which is at the same time God's revelation to his soul of what is substantial and eternal.
I. THE NEED FOR SUCH INSCRIPTION. The people refuse to listen to any but flattering prophecies. They are disobedient and untruthful at heart. They refuse to listen to the prophet's message; then they must be made to look upon it in a permanent form. None are so blind as those who will not see, unless it be those who will not let others see. Light, more light, is our constant need: what shall be said of those who would stay the hand that is drawing up the blinds from the windows of the soul? What more precious than insight? How should we cherish the man who sees deeper into the heart of things, or gathers up the scattered fragments of truth into one inspiring unity of representation; the mind gifted with the power to shed luminous effects upon what were otherwise gloomy in life's outlook! How all-precious is that purer eloquence, not of ephemeral and party passion, but of the truth which is of no party nor time! How shall these elements of indispensable worth be preserved? Can we trust them to the popular memory and heart? Alas! no, or not entirely. In the hour of excitement and passion all will be forgotten. "You shall not prophesy unto us right things," has been, in effect, the cry of the multitude again and again at such hours. The Jewish prophets themselves felt these things keenly. "Don't preach!" is, in effect, the cry by which they are met. Or, "Preach to us of wine and strong drink" - any doctrine of indulgence, is the demand (Micah 2:6, 11; of. Amos 2:12). If the prophet sternly resisted this temper of the people, and told the homely truth that God had forsaken them because they had forsaken him, a shower of stones was likely to be the dreadful answer, as in the case of the martyr Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:20, 21). Greedy is the appetite for "smooth things" and "illusions," and never wanting a supply of such flattering prophets who will run, though Jehovah has not sent them, and utter what he has not said (Jeremiah 23:21). There is a demand for those who will make flexible what he has made inflexible, mark out a deviating path from that which he has traced straight and plain. Nay, some would be glad to efface the thought of God from their minds, because thus they would efface the sense of responsibility, "Abolish out of our sight the Holy One of Israel." For then there will be free course for all license. From all this we see the need of religious literature. Libraries may be burned; a few manuscripts worth more to mankind than gold and silver will be preserved. The truth in Isaiah has been preserved for us by the art of writing, has come down to us in the form of Scripture. Let us thank God for art as the handmaid of religion. At every epoch in the history of the world, religions life is threatened with decay or degeneration; but it will renew itself from the sacred "records of the past."
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE TESTIMONY.
1. Simple faith in the Eternal opposed to worldly policy. We must, in order to apprehend the nature of the "testimony forever," strip away the temporary references, and regard Rahab and Israel as types of permanent phases of character (Cheyne). What does "Rahab" stand for? "Perverseness and crookedness" (or oppression). Crookedness and frowardness mean what we mean by "unprincipled conduct" (comp. Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 4:24). To trust in shrewdness and policy - this is worldliness. It is one of the many ways in which man's wit would contend with eternal wisdom. And punishment must surely attend upon this sin, according to the laws of the Divine kingdom. Various is the imagery under which Scripture represents the connection between evil in the mind and the result - first in sin, then in destruction. The strong will be as tow, and burn unquenchably; the foolish will conceive chaff, and bring forth stubble, or will be burned as thorns (Isaiah 1:31; Isaiah 33:11, 12). Here guilt is compared in its result to the cracking or bulging of a wall, which suddenly crashes down in ruin; to a pitcher dashed violently to the ground, and broken into a multitude of fragments, so that it can never be of the slightest use again. But the vessels of God's fashioning shall endure. Let us be content to be what God would make of us; self-devices that would contravene his purpose will be "ground to powder."
2. The condition of deliverance, returning. From what? Is it the general sense of conversion - the absolute turning once for all, in choice and conduct, from moral evil? Or is it rather, more specifically, the relinquishment of the search for worldly aids? "Self-chosen ways," "self-confident works," seem certainly to be meant. Would they but lay aside this restless eagerness and over-anxious care for safety, and simply fall upon the Almighty arms! Such lessons can never be obsolete. Trust in God does not imply supineness, but it should still excessive and feverish fears. Behind all our plans and proposals, he is thinking and acting; if they are unsound, they must come to naught; if sound, they will be furthered. "Take heed and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted." The worldly mind will lean on worldly support - swift horses of Egypt or the like, only to find themselves outmatched upon their own chosen ground. "One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one." Mere numbers give no strength. Strength is in being able to stand alone, if need be. To find one's self suddenly deserted, "as a mast on the top of a mountain, a signal on a hill," is often the fate of those whose only policy is to side with numbers and with power.
3. The compassion of Jehovah. Human needs call forth Divine deeds. We are to think of God as One who longs to manifest and exert himself for the good of his creatures; as One who is hindered by human pride, impatience, petulance; as One who therefore waits for his opportunity and fit season to be gracious; as One who is ever true to himself, constant to his covenant, keeping favor for his people and wrath for his foes. How happy, then, those who in turn "long for Jehovah!" - whose eyes are directed to the "hills whence cometh help!" who watch his pleasure as the servant that of his master, the handmaiden that of her mistress! "To possess God there must be that in us which God can possess. Still to aspire after the Highest is our wisdom; to cease from aspiration is to fall into weakness." - J.
I. THE PERMANENCY OF ITS RECORD. Isaiah was to record the guilt of "the rebellious children" in a book, that it might be there inscribed "for the time to come forever and ever." And in the sacred volume there stand written, to be read for all time, the accusations which the Lord brought against Israel; the record of their national perversity remains after all these centuries have passed, and will remain for centuries to come. Apart from such instrumentality as was here employed, the sins we commit find a lasting record. They are printed in the faces and the forms of men, they are legible in their lives, they are apparent in their characters, they survive in their reputation, they live on forever m the ineffaceable influences which are left behind them and which are transmitted from age to age. The sins of the fathers may be read in the lowered and injured lives of the children unto the third and the fourth generation. We little think how and where and when our guilt is being recorded in one or other of the many books of God.
II. ITS OBDURACY. "Children that will not hear the Law of the Lord" (ver. 9). Contumacy reaches its utmost length when it closes its ears against the Word of the all-wise and almighty God. It is by degrees that the heart becomes thus hardened. Diminished pleasure, inattention, avoidance, the closed ear of the soul - by such stages as these man descends to the obduracy which is here rebuked.
III. ITS POWER OF IMPOSING ON ITSELF. (Vers. 10, 11.) When sin is in full possession of the soul it makes men believe that to be false which they do not wish to be true, and that true which they do not like to consider false; it prevails on them to regard the rugged things to be wrong, and the smooth things to be sound; then it leads them to find a voice for this palatable and comforting doctrine; so that they encourage those to speak who will keep silence as to all Divine but disagreeable truth, and give utterance to pleasant and profitable perversions.
IV. THE APPARENT SUDDENNESS OF ITS PENALTY. (Ver. 13.) The spendthrift is getting poorer every month for many years, but bankruptcy comes on him suddenly at last. The dishonest man is getting hopelessly involved for years, but his reputation is blasted in an hour. The fascinations of the cup are long gaining ascendency, but in some evil day the victim of this baleful vice is seen staggering in the streets. Passion may have been winning the mastery from youth upwards, but at a certain point it blazes forth, and the life-blood is shed. Penalty generally comes at last with seeming suddenness, like the breaking wall that has long bent but comes down in a moment.
V. THE COMPLETENESS OF ITS PENALTY. (Ver. 14.)
VI. ITS APPROPRIATENESS. (Ver. 16.) The punishment of Judah's sin should have a marked correspondence with the guilt itself. This is constant. Sins of the flesh make their mark upon the body; sins of the mind leave their stain upon the spirit; folly in the home will end in domestic sorrow; he that withholds from others starves himself; he that oppresses others does violence to his own soul, etc. There will always be found a fitness in the penalty to the sin for which a man is suffering. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;" he that soweth the wind, shall reap the whirlwind (Galatians 6:7; Hosea 8:7). - C.
I. THE DICTUM IS DIVINE. "Thus saith the Lord God." There is direct and special emphasis given to this promise. And he calls himself "the Holy One of Israel." So that the "holy people" need not fear, inasmuch as the Holy One cannot lie, cannot prosper anything opposed to holiness, cannot therefore let evil overcome goodness. What we have to look to is our state. We need not dream that quietness will help us if it be the indifference of sloth or the quiescence of an indulgent soul in evil. But if "holiness unto the Lord" be written on our hearts and lives, God, who is the Holy One, will surely prosper us.
II. THE DECLARATION IS DUAL. "Quietness and confidence." Because there, is a quietness which comes from the paralysis of fear, or from the coma of fatalism. We are to have a confidence which keeps the soul alive, and fills it with intense ardor and devotion. Nature is intensely active, but all her ministrations, as in the light and the dew, are quiet. Fussiness and loudness are no true signs of energy. Nay, rather they bespeak a superficial and shallow nature. Confidence is the child of wisdom and courage. It is not the result of ignorance, or of under-estimating the power of our foes. It takes cognizance of them all - their number and their variety and their ubiquity, but then, looking up to him who is mightier than them all, it says, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
III. THE STRENGTH IS WITHIN. What we need is not so much a lessening of the forces without us, but a strength in the inward man to overcome them. Take temptation. We are told that no temptation shall come but such as we are able to bear. We are not promised immunity from keen attacks. Everything depends upon the state of the soul. Temptation, to be successful, requires correspondency within. Sparks falling upon the ocean are not dangerous. Christ said, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me." Take trial. Sorrow, coming to the worldly heart, breaks it down - it ends in the death of hope and energy and joy. Sorrow to the Christian is an angel of discipline. The soul is sustained by the presence within us of the Man of sorrows, who can make all grace abound. So even the martyr and the confessor have been able to rejoice; even Paul and Silas sang "songs in the night." "As thy day thy strength shall be." This, then, is proven true in human history, and must be accepted as a fact. Spiritual consciousness is worthy of as much honor and to be accepted with confidence, as the boasted facts of science. The promise, therefore, is comforting to every generation. "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength." - W.M.S.
I. THE FIRST DUTY OF THE ERRING. Judah had forsaken God to find a refuge in another power; the first duty of the nation, therefore, was "to return" unto the Lord, and to find its rest and its salvation in him. This is now and ever the immediate duty of all wanderers from God; both of those who have never been reconciled to him through Jesus Christ, and of those who, like the Jews on this occasion, have temporarily forsaken his service. The way of return is that of penitent confession (Romans 10:10), of trust in the Divine promise (Acts 10:43), of surrender to the Divine will (Acts 9:6).
II. THE STRENGTH OF QUIET ACTIVITY. "In quietness... shall be your strength." It is a common fallacy that noise and strength are closely allied. On the contrary, it is the quiet and even the silent things which are the strong ones. The thunder startles or appalls, but it effects nothing; gunpowder deafens the ear, but it enriches no one; tempestuous rhetoric excites to momentary force of feeling, but it adds nothing to character. It is the silent forces of gravitation and electricity acting for ages without being known to exist; it is the soft sunshine and the still rains of heaven; it is the quiet words of the calm teacher finding their way to the mind and working conviction and conversion there; - it is in these things, and in things like these, that real power resides. The quiet strength of a gentle mother's purity and love, of a faithful father's warning, of an honored teacher's counsel and example, of an earnest Church's testimony and work; - these are the God-given agencies by which the world is to be won to righteousness and truth. Noisy, spasmodic, irregular outbursts may be auxiliaries, but they are only that.
III. THE POWER OF FAITH. "In confidence shall be your strength." Sometimes we have simply to wait for God, and the best thing we can do is to "be still" and wait; our activity would only be harmful (see Exodus 14:13). So it was on this historical occasion (see Isaiah 37.). So was it often with our Lord's disciples (Mark 4:39, 40; Acts 1:4). So is it now, when in duty or in danger we have done all that we can do;. then we wait for God - our expectation is in him only (Psalm 39:7; Psalm 62:5). - C.
I. A GREAT ATTAINMENT. So great, so nearly impossible for men while on the earth, that, despairingly, men have thought of it as only reached in the grave whither man hastens. Byron says, "I found in the Certosa Cemetery such a beautiful inscription; in Italian the words are absolute music: 'Luigi Martini implora eterna quiete.' On the restless, tossing, changing earth who can be quiet?" "The word is like an angry sea. The vessel of our life is rocked and dashed hither and thither, as blast after blast assails it, and wave after wave comes rolling on. Think what that power must be which comes into a human life in such a condition as this, and gives 'quietness' - a quietness so deep that none can make trouble." Quietness never comes by the smoothing of circumstances. They never are smoothed for more than a very "little while." And fears of the clouds that are gathering disturb even the "little while." Quietness only comes by soul-mastery over circumstances. Hearts must win peace, and then only can they make peace.
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH QUIETNESS MAY BE REACHED. Through confidence; heart-confidence - heart-confidence in God. "We must keep our spirits calm and sedate by a continual dependence upon God and his power and his goodness; we must retire into ourselves with a holy quietness, suppressing all turbulent and tumultuous passions, and keeping the peace in our own minds. And we must rely upon God with a holy confidence that he can do what he will, and will do what is best for his people. And this will be our strength; it will inspire us with such a holy fortitude as will carry us with ease and courage through all the difficulties we may meet with" (Matthew Henry). In this matter the principle holds that our own endeavor must go along with God's bestowments. "Work out your own salvation... for it is God that worketh in you." Some of us make no effort to get outside the whirl of life. How can we expect God to give us quietness?
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE USE OF SUCH MEANS. Found in God's gracious ways of giving his people heart-peace, and then peace in circumstances, when they have fully trusted in him. - R.T.
We will - there is man's sin. That is not a fit position for dependent man ever to take. "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare." "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain For that ye ought to say, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that." From some points of view these strong-willed men may be regarded as the noble-men of earth. They have a purpose in life, which holds in and guides, as with bit and bridle, all the forces of their being. They are the great men in our mills and warehouses; the foremost as statesmen, and in carrying out great social and national enterprises. They seem to have a power of control over all the circumstances surrounding them, and a power of recoil from the greatest disappointments and disasters. Yet this disposition lays men open to peculiar dangers. Strong will is liable to become self-will - to refuse the ordinance of God; to refuse the help of God; to refuse to wait for God. It stands up in fancied majesty and says, "I will." "Whatever God may say or do, I will. I will be rich, I will be successful, I will be great." When a man in such a spirit says, "I will," he is on the very pit-edge, and on the pit-edge blindfolded.
I. WILFULNESS IS REBELLIOUSNESS. Because man is God's servant, pledged to carry out his Master's will, and not his own will. Man is God's child, and in duty bound to fulfill his Father's commands. Disobedience is rebellion.
II. WILFULNESS IS WEAKNESS. Because man is entirely dependent on the God whose will he refuses, for the means of accomplishing what he determines to do. His willfulness is as weak as a child's who has no money, no power, but depends entirely on his parents.
III. WILFULNESS IS FOOLISHNESS. For it is a setting of ourselves against the Almighty God, as if he would allow us to shift and rearrange his plans. Man's willfulness may make a noise, and bring him into trouble; but it is only a child's attempt to hold back the flowing of the great river of God. A little time of vain trying, and then the child is swept away by the flood, which still rolls on.
IV. WILFULNESS IS PERIL. It will be a marvel, almost a miracle, if such a man do not "fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition." - R.T.
I. GOD'S WAITING FOR US. "Will the Lord wait." We may look at:
1. The occasions of his waiting. He waits "that he may be gracious."
(1) That he may show his grace in forgiveness; in "having mercy upon as," or in making us to feel that we are the subjects of his mercy.
(2) That he may show his grace in interposition, delivering from danger, relieving from distress, saving in sickness.
(3) That he may show his grace in final and complete redemption (Romans 8:23) - the taking his children away from the struggle and sorrow of earth to the rest and joy of heaven.
2. The reason of his waiting. It is because "the Lord is a God of judgment," or of rectitude.
(1) He cannot forgive us till we return in spirit to him and accept his rule, until we obey his supreme command (John 6:29).
(2) He cannot interpose until his intervention is fitted to purify and sanctify us.
(3) He cannot call us home until the privilege and discipline of time have prepared us for the scenes and spheres of eternity.
II. OUR WAITING FOR GOD. "Blessed are all they that wait for him."
1. Blessed is the patient inquirer; for he who seeks the truth and waits till light shines in upon his soul will surely find his goal.
2. Blessed is the patient worker; for he who sows the good seed of the kingdom and waits for God to give the increase will "doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."
3. Blessed is the patient sufferer; for he who "waits for the morning" through the night of pain, or loneliness, or poverty, or any other ill, will find that the glory which is to be revealed will make the sufferings of the present time incomparably small (Romans 8:18). Now God waits for us, and we for him. A few steps more and his largest promises and our highest hopes will be all fulfilled. - C.
I. JOY IN GOD. There will be "no more weeping." Tears are significant of the lot of humanity; and in the poetry of the Old Testament we hear, as Lord Bacon says, "as many hearse-like airs as carols," and the pencil of the Holy Ghost has labored more in depicting the sorrows of David than the felicities of Solomon. It is because the gospel meets the mood of tears in us that its assurances fall so sweetly on the heart. Burns the poet said, "After all that has been said on the other side of the question, man is by no means a happy creature. I do not speak of the selected few, favored by partial Heaven, whose souls are tuned to gladness, and riches, and honors, and prudence, and wisdom; I speak of the neglected many, whose nerves, whose sinews, whose days, are sold to the minion of fortune." It is this way of thinking - it is these melancholy truths, that make religion so precious to the poor miserable children of men. If it is a mere phantom, existing only in the heated imagination of enthusiasm, "what truth on earth so precious as the lie?" What is needed is "the expulsive power of a new affection in the sense of the nearness of God - the sense that he does hear and that he does answer out of the vastness and the void." And he will so answer, if he be sought for with "all the heart" (Jeremiah 29:12-14).
II. THE BLESSING OF TEACHERS. On the one hand, here is physical want - "bread of adversity, and water of affliction." On the other hand, a perpetual supply of spiritual food and spiritual consolation. The best of the people felt that it was the saddest thing that could be suffered - to have no more "signs" from God, to be destitute of the prophet, and of the man of superior insight (Psalm 74:9). The famine of "not hearing the Word of Jehovah" (Amos 8:11) is bitterer than hunger or thirst. The effect may be traced to a definite cause - the sin of the people or of the teachers themselves (Isaiah 43:27). The one might be unworthy to listen to, the other to deliver, the truth of God (Isaiah 43:27). There is no calling more glorious, none which leads to a more lustrous immortality (Daniel 12:3), than that of the religious teacher, none which is of greater service in the promotion of the kingdom of God. If so great be the blessing of the ministry of the truth, it flows from the goodness of God that, in the happy times to come, teachers shall never be absent from the people.
III. THE BLESSING OF INWARD ILLUMINATION. The "word behind them" may be the Bath-Kol, the daughter of the Voice, as the Jews say, or, according to a way of thinking more familiar to ourselves, the voice of conscience. "God is not a hidden God in the sense that his life is closed up within himself. His Word goes forth to the world, that it may come into being, and to the children of men that they may know it and find life in it (Psalm 33:6; cf. Deuteronomy 4:12; 1 Samuel 3:4; 1 Kings 19:11, sqq.). (On the Bath-Kol, see Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5; John 12:28.) The notion is that of invisible and unexpected agency. The admonitions of providence, of conscience, of the Holy Spirit, seem often to come behind us - to recall us from the path on which we were going, from the course that would be fraught with danger. When in danger of straying to this side or to that, the voice will call us back. In this respect the Divine voice is like the daemonion of Socrates, which was a restraining influence.
IV. PURITY AND PROSPERITY. A symptom of a return to true religion will be the casting away of the relics and reminders of idolatry - the defiling in the Name of the holy God of that which to heathen eyes was holy. Josiah's conduct was an example of this (2 Kings 23.). The expression of abhorrence for the symbol expresses at the same time abhorrence for the thing symbolized. The repentance of the individual, the reformation of the nation, must be signalized by the "rending of the idol," not merely from its high place, but from the heart itself. When the heart is brought into the fuller knowledge of God, it loves what he loves, and hates what he hates. The thought of what is "an abomination to Jehovah" (Deuteronomy 7:25) is reflected in an intense distaste in the soul.
2. This will be consistent with external prosperity. Rain will come down upon the sown seed. As the withholding of the rain followed upon national iniquity as the greatest curse (Zechariah 14:17, 18), so the giving of the rain meant at once all physical blessing and all Divine favors (Zechariah 10:1, etc.). Bread - rich and abundant produce of the land - cattle teeming in the wide pastures; - it is the happy picture of a golden age. Bread and water - simple elements of living; yet what poetry hangs upon their supply! and what woe, what tragedy and horror, upon the want of them! - J.
I. THAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE THOSE THAT HAVE KNOWN A TIME OF TROUBLE. Dark days have passed over their heads; there has been "the breach of his people, and the stroke of his wound" (ver. 26). God once made them to "eat the bread of adversity," etc. (ver. 20). They have passed through grave spiritual anxieties; they have felt the burden of unforgiven sin; they have sighed for the sense of God's favor; they have known the miseries of separation from God, and the weariness of a life unbrightened with sacred joy.
II. THAT IN THEIR DISTRESS THEY MADE EFFECTUAL APPEAL TO GOD. (Ver. 19.) God is never deaf to the cry of sorrow; but to the appeal of the penitent spirit, longing to return unto him, his ear is peculiarly alive; he will be "very gracious" at the voice of that cry - "when he shall hear it, he will answer thee." No loudest sounds will drown the sigh of the contrite spirit, no multiplied activities will prevent the heavenly Father from giving it his immediate regard.
III. THAT THE DAY OF CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE IS ONE OF VERY BLESSED ILLUMINATION. In the day of its prosperity there should be abundance of light for the Christian Church. Its teachers should not have to hide in obscurity, but should be visible and accessible to all (ver. 20); and there should be times when the light of Divine truth would be not only clear, but brilliant and powerful, making other clays to seem dark by comparison (ver. 26; see 2 Corinthians 3:9, 10). Compared with the condition of heathen lauds, or even with the state of Israel under Samuel or David, or even with many Christian countries now, how blessed the state in which the gospel of the grace of God shall be made known in its freedom and its fullness in every town and hamlet, and in every cottage home!
IV. THAT THIS DAY OF CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE WILL BE ONE OF KIND AND FAITHFUL WATCHFULNESS. (Ver. 21.) The vision is one of high, but not heavenly, blessedness; of advanced, but not absolute excellency. The citizens of the holy kingdom will be found walking in the King's highway, but there will remain a tendency to "turn-to the right hand or to the left," to go off into by-paths of error, or mistake, or unwisdom, if not of actual transgression. In this case there will be the faithful monitor, the Christian teacher, who will be ready with the timely intervention, "This is the way, walk ye in it." This readiness to intervene at the moment of digression ought to characterize our own times; it should be the holy habit, the careful acquirement, of the Christian pastor. On the other hand, a readiness to be admonished is one of the graces of a godly character.
V. THAT THE TIME OF TRUE PROSPERITY WILL BE MARKED BY THE DECISIVE INTOLERANCE OF EVIL. (Ver. 22.) They that name the Name of Christ will not only "depart from all iniquity," but they will reprobate it; they will thrust it away; they will not like even to allude to shameful things (Ephesians 5:3) - these will be hateful, intolerable to them. We may measure our nearness to God by the degree of our abhorrence of evil (Hebrews 1:13; Romans 12:9).
VI. THAT THE TIME OF CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE WILL BE ONE OF ABOUNDING JOY. (Vers. 23-25.) This language is clearly figurative; it is the utterance of exultation. Everything contributes to joyous prosperity - the timely rain, the large increase of seed, the rich pastures, abundance of food for cattle as well as for man, unfailing "brooks that make the meadows green." The land will laugh with exuberance, the nation will exult in overflowing wealth. In the days of unfettered liberty and universal privilege the Christian Church will delight itself in God; its songs of peace and of hope will arise from every valley; its life will be touched and lighted with the sunshine of a holy gladness. The light of God's countenance will rest upon it, and it will rejoice greatly in his salvation. - C.
man. Therefore, in the revelation which he has given us in a book, God is spoken of as if he had the form of a man (anthropomorphism), and as if he had the feelings of a man (anthropopathism). We, indeed, know no other moral beings beside man, and probably our senses would allow of the apprehension of no other. We are not allowed to create material images representing God, but we are allowed to think of God through the figures of the human being. Answering to this is the truth that we can only know our soul through our body; we have to think of it as a kind of spiritual body. So it needs care, clothing, feed, etc., eves as the body. This is the line on which it can best be shown that adversity is Divine bread for the soul, which must be nourished by appropriate food. Working out this thought, two points may be more especially treated.
I. BREAD IS THE STAPLE FOOD FOR THE BODY. It is in itself sufficient to sustain life; it contains all the necessary elements for the renewal of vitality. So is adversity the staple food for the soul; for it contains all the necessary elements for the renewal of character. Since we are sinners, wayward, and willful, the prosperities of life are but like luxuries; and adversity is our staple food, which nourishes humility, penitence, godly fear, and trust. The expression is used of King Manasseh, the willful, who, in prison, was fed with the bread and water of affliction, and thereby nourished unto penitence, forsaking of sin, and hearty return to the God of his fathers. If we pray, "Feed me with food convenient for me," we must clearly see that the answer may include "adversity and affliction."
II. BREAD IS A GENERAL TERM EMBRACING ALL NECESSARY FOOD. And necessary food for the body includes some things that are unpleasant to the taste. Sometimes even medicine is bread - the very best of bread for us under the circumstances. And so our soul-conditions and our soul-culture may make necessary things that are very trying to feeling. "No affliction for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are exercised thereby." - R.T.
John 12:10; and these two persons will illustrate the classes who were in the mind of Isaiah when he gave the warning of the text - the boldly willful who persisted in the policy of seeking aid from Egypt, and the frail' ones whose faith faltered under the pressure of the anxiety of the times and the delay of the Divine intervention. They were swayed to this side or to that, but, nevertheless, tried hard to keep steadily, Piglet on.
I. JUDAS, TYPE OF THOSE WHO ARE HEART-WRONG, INSINCERE, RULED BY CONSIDERATIONS OF SELF-INTEREST. There are no minute details given of the process of Judas's apostasy. There was, indeed, nothing unusual about it. The covetous spirit made him connect himself with Christ chiefly for personal ends. The essential thing in any one who unites with Christ is surrender of self and self-will, and this surrender Judas never made. The point, however, to be specially dwelt on here is that his great sin was a matter of will, plan, resolve, determination. He did not drift into it; he was not enticed into it; he was not taken at unawares: he schemed it; he willed it; the guilt of it fully rested on him. Whenever men sin with their wills and openly, they must come under the crushings of Divine judgment. Sins of will are rebellions that must be mastered. The distinction between sins of will and. sins of frailty may be further shown in King Saul and King David.
II. PETER, TYPE OF THE SINCERE BUT FAULTY AND FRAIL. Compare David. Peter was hasty, impulsive, uncertain, sometimes even weak. "The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak." lie swayed now to this side, and now to that, and needed just such warnings as are provided in the above text. The Apostle John urges on those who are sincere Christians, that if they "say they have no sin, they deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them." And these, which at first are "goings aside," "frailties," will soon grow to become" willfulnesses, "if they are not checked and corrected. Therefore may we rejoice in God, and assure our hearts in his promise that the voice shall call us back when our feet incline to wander to the right or the left. - R.T.
I. THAT GOD DOES COME IN TERRIBLE JUDGMENTS TO THE CHILDREN OF MEN.
1. Sometimes to men collectively - to societies, to cities, to nations.
2. At other times to individual men. In the special ordering or in the permission of his Divine providence he sends the overwhelming loss and consequently reduced or even impoverished estate, or the wasting and consuming sickness, or the undermining and final destruction of influence, or the shattering of power, or sudden, perhaps violent, death. God lets such things overtake the guilty, that the pictorial and poetical language of the text is applicable. It is as if his "anger bused," as if his "lips were full of indignation;" his judgments come down as an overflowing stream, they cast forth the guilty like a winnowing-shovel; his glorious voice is heard, his arm descends in righteous retribution.
II. THAT THE JUDGMENT OF GOD IS ACCOMPANIED WITH THE JOY OF MAN. "Ye shall have a song, as in the night... and gladness of heart" (ver. 29); "in every place where the grounded staff shall pass it shall be with tabrets and harps" (ver. 32). Here and elsewhere the judgments of God are made the occasion of human thankfulness and joy. It is clear:
1. That in such joy there should be no element of vindictiveness. It would be positively unchristian to find a source of satisfaction in the bodily or mental suffering of men because they have injured us (Romans 12:19, 20). Christian magnanimity should rise to the height of earnestly desiring that its foes may be won to truth, wisdom, and eternal life.
2. That there may be in such joy the element of righteous satisfaction; not, indeed, that men suffer, but that their sin receives its appropriate mark of Divine disapproval; that the integrity of the Divine rule is vindicated; that God's presence and his holiness are seen to be near and not afar off. This is the spirit of the psalmist (Psalm 97:1).
3. That there may be also the element of human sympathy. Often at such times we have great gladness of heart, because, when he that once "smote with a rod" is himself "beaten down" (ver. 31), those who were smitten by the oppressor walk in liberty and security. The humiliation of the wrong-doer is the exaltation of the righteous - is the enfranchisement of the holy and the wise.
4. That there will also be the element of holy expectation. When Sennacherib has God's bridle in his jaws and is caused to wander far from his chosen path, Jerusalem is safe and Jehovah's service is secure. When the enemies of religion are scattered, there is a goodly prospect of opened sanctuaries, of multiplied privileges, of increase of piety and virtue on every hand. When the persecutor perishes the minister of truth rejoices greatly, and there is music in the house of the Lord because there is every reason to hope that the Churches, having rest, will "walk in the fear of God... and be multiplied (Acts 9:31).
1. It is well, in the time of danger or distress, to ask for Divine deliverance.
2. It is better to ask for Divine strength to be enabled to overcome the evil from which we suffer by the good which we do (Romans 12:21). - C.
I. GOD GIVES SONGS IN THE NIGHT OF OUR FEARS, A striking illustration is found in the times of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20.). A time of exceeding peril and fear came through an invasion of Moabites and Ammonites; the matter was committed to God in prayer; deliverance was assured, and we read that the singers went out before the army, to praise the beauty of holiness, and say, "Praise the Lord, for his mercy endureth forever." They were to sing their songs of trust while yet the deliverance tarried. Singing songs when we are well out of fears is easy work; singing songs even while struggling with our fears is the beautiful triumph of faith.
II. GOD GIVES SONGS IN THE NIGHT OF WEEPING. Weeping represents troubles being borne, not troubles only feared. Smiles can break through tears. God gives heart-rest that can give forth a song, even to the sons and daughters of pain and grief.
III. GOD GIVES SONGS IN THE NIGHT OF WEARY PILGRIMAGE. For oftentimes "waiting work," and the work of keeping steadily on, is very trying and hard. Many a man knows the painful depression of "patient continuance in well-doing." This is typified in the long, dreary journey of Israelites from distant parts of the country to the feasts at Jerusalem. Weary work, indeed, in those slow-travelling days. It is said that each band of pilgrims on its way to Jerusalem was headed by a person who played the flute. Nothing cheers a journey like a song. See the power of music on a soldier's march. Then -
"Sing on your heavenward way, IV. GOD GIVES SONGS IN THE NIGHT OF DEATH. Songs in the soul, when lips are sealed in weakness. How often those who watch beside dying saints see the lips moving, and catch faint sounds of the old trustful hymns learned in childhood! Familiar texts and well-loved hymns are the wings that bear many a soul through the long dark valley into the holy realms of light and love and song. - R.T.
IV. GOD GIVES SONGS IN THE NIGHT OF DEATH. Songs in the soul, when lips are sealed in weakness. How often those who watch beside dying saints see the lips moving, and catch faint sounds of the old trustful hymns learned in childhood! Familiar texts and well-loved hymns are the wings that bear many a soul through the long dark valley into the holy realms of light and love and song. - R.T.
king mentioned in the text. He was killed by his two sons, whilst worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god (Isaiah 37:38). Tophet properly begins just where the Valley of Hinnom bends round to the east, having the cliffs of Zion on the north, the Hill of Evil Counsel on the south. It terminates at Beer Ayub, where it joins the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The cliffs on the south side especially abound in ancient tombs. Here the dead caresses of beasts, and every offal and abomination, were cast, and left to be either devoured by that worm that never died, or consumed by that fire that was never quenched. Hinnom was condemned to this infamous service, perhaps, because in it, when Israel fell into idolatry, they offered their children in sacrifice to Baal. Tophet came to represent the place of punishment, especially that kind of punishment which is destructive rather than remedial.
I. DIVINE PUNISHMENTS OF THE INDIVIDUAL ARE REMEDIAL. We are not able to fit together the fatherly relation and the hopeless destruction of any of his sons. Much of our difficulty in dealing with the conditions of the future life arises from our failing to distinguish between the individual and the corporate life of men. Nations, sects, classes, families even, can be destroyed. Their corporate life may once for all cease. God's judgments may reach them in this form for the sake of, and for the duo impression of, the individual. We understand the destruction of an army or of a city, but not the destruction of a man.
II. DIVINE PUNISHMENTS OF THE NATION OR THE CLASS MAY BE DESTRUCTIVE. Tophet here is the figure for the destruction of the army of Sennacherib, and of him as king, not as man. Tophet tells of material destructions, and such only can concern man in human and earthly relations. Sodom and Gomorrah may be burned up in the fires of God, destroyed from off the face of the earth; But we know nothing of the standing of individual Sodomites before God. The Canaanite race was to be swept from the earth, but we are sure the Judge of all the earth will do right by each Canaanite. God's temporal destructions for corporate sins are part of the world's education, but are no basis for belief in any everlasting material punishments for individuals. - R.T.