The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin:Isaiah 30
1. Woe to the rebellious children [not to be read in a harsh tone, but rather as if it were, "alas, for the rebellious children:" into such vocatives does God put the expression of his pity], saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me [they go to the wrong spring for water, and find it poison]; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit [with tow that can be burned up], that they may add sin to sin [in quick and pestilent evolution]:
2. That walk to go down into Egypt [that place of fascination], and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! [Even to this does beauteous, highminded Hezekiah come: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."]
3. Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion.
4. For his princes were at Zoan [where Pharaoh had his court, and Moses wrought; one of the oldest cities in Egypt], and his ambassadors came to Hanes.
5. They were all ashamed of a people that could not profit them, nor be an help nor profit, but a shame, and also a reproach. [For they could not understand their language, and thought their very eloquence was mockery. You want a burden from the Lord, an oracle from on high? You shall have one; and this is the heading thereof.]
6. The burden of the beasts of the south [that is your oracle: take it; make the most of it]: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent [all emblems of Egypt], they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the bunches of camels, to a people that shall not profit them [they shall sow the wind and reap the whirlwind: God is not mocked].
7. For the Egyptians shall help in vain [help in nothingness; shall draw water with a sieve, and put money into bags with holes in them], and to no purpose [for the night will find them no farther on than the morning: all time fights against the wrongdoer]: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still [the great mouth is to be silenced].
8. Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book [for here the prophet feels that he is not talking to a locality, but to a world; not to a day, but to all duration and time: set it down, chronicle it], that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever [how poetry itself gives out when it would measure duration!]:
9. That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord [but any other law that lays no burden upon them, imposes no discipline upon them, does not tone their flaccid lives to tension with a view to the utterance of music]:
10. Which say to the seers, See not [shut your eyes]; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things [straight, direct things], speak unto us smooth things [inanimate things, round, polished nothings], prophesy deceits [flatter us, cover our tongues, like your own, with butter and oil]:
11. Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us. [Holiness is always hateful to wickedness: get rid of holiness, and then we shall have all hell to play in.]
12. Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel [the very name which you yourselves have uttered], because ye despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon:
13. Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant. [First the bursting plaster, then the bulging wall, then the crash, and then the chaos.]
14. And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters' vessel that is broken in pieces [he shall not be content with that]; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd [a small piece of earthenware, or porcelain] to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit. [Men shall not only be broken, they shall be pulverised: so grindeth God's mills!]
15. For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not
16. But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses [Ye babes! you long for horses as children long for toys: you shall have horses, innumerable horses; but they shall not be to charge with, they shall be to flee away upon]; therefore shall ye flee [your honour shall be turned to discredit: the swiftness of your horse shall in very deed be its value, for you shall have but one purpose, and that is to run away]: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift [there shall be horses enough].
17. One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon [a pine; a solitary ill-grown tuft] upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign [a poor little fluttering flag showing itself on the background of the sky] on a hill.
18. And therefore will the Lord wait [in silence], that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted [away, far into the heavens, and where all is silent], that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment [that is, a God of righteousness]: blessed are all they that wait for him.
19. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem [love must repeat its favourite names: Zion was Jerusalem, Jerusalem was Zion, for all the purposes of this prophecy: unite the words, and say, "Dwell in Zion—Jerusalem]: thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee.
20. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity [that is, the bread of scantiness], and the water of affliction [that is, not water enough to cool your parched tongues], yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers:
21. And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee [mysterious, ghostly word], saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.
22. Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornament of thy molten images of gold [there shall be a way found for the spoiling of precious metals: God will discover a way by which silver shall be turned into pewter and gold into common mud that no man will touch]: thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence.
23. Then shall he give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; and bread of the increase of the earth, and it shall be fat and plenteous: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures.
24. The oxen likewise and the young asses that ear the ground shall eat dean provender [the very finest mash that can be used for cattle food; not inferior barley, but winnowed grain], which hath been winnowed with the shovel and with the fan. [Not only shall the higher cattle eat this food, but the young asses, the very tie plus ultra of abundance.]
25. And there shall be upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill, rivers and streams of waters in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. [Fountains shall be upon the hills; there shall be rivers and pools in high places; all levels shall be altered: God hath undertaken to provide plentifully.]
26. Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound.
27. Behold, the name of the Lord cometh from far, burning with his anger, and the burden thereof is heavy: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire:
28. And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity [that is, with the sieve of nothingness]: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err. [They like the devil: unto the devil they shall fly as on swift steeds; the bridle shall pull them towards their loved perdition: a strong delusion shall be sent upon them to believe a lie.]
29. Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty One of Israel.
30. And the Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard [full of health, and music, and jubilance, and gospel], and shall shew the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones. [He shall disclose all his attributes in one tremendous apocalypse.]
31. For through the voice of the Lord shall the Assyrian be beaten down, which smote with a rod.
32. And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which the Lord shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps: and in battles of shaking will he fight with it. [The battles of swinging: the Lord's arm shall swing to and fro, and every time he swings it he will destroy the adversary.]
33. For Tophet [the valley of Hinnom, outside Jerusalem] is ordained of old [was meant to be a receptacle for refuse]; yea, for the king [of Asher, the proud king of Assyria] it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood [there shall be no want of fuel when the Lord shall burn his enemies]; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it. [O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord!]
The Source of Strength
There is a strange expression in the seventh verse, namely, "Their strength is to sit still." Innumerable sermons of very wise counsel and tender comfort have been preached from these words, and will probably be preached from them until the end of time. The sermons have been excellent in inspiration and most beneficent in purpose, and have no doubt tended to cool irregular passion, and irrational energy that would insist upon doing something when there was really nothing to be done. Men have been exhorted to sit still, to take nothing into their own hands, to allow the divine will to operate according to the mystery of its own purpose and issue; and all such exhortations can be justified by many passages of Scripture, and can be confirmed by many volumes of experience. Unfortunately, the sermons have no connection whatever with this text. Most people would care nothing for that, because many people hear neither the text nor the discourse, but only little portions of each, which they almost instantly forget. Provided the sermon itself is full of comfort, what need is there to inquire whether it has any vital connection with the subject. There is no comfort in this text; there is no exhortation to patience and self-control in this mocking word. This is a political sarcasm—what we might term in modern language a political squib. There is no religion in a passage out of which rivers of religion have been extracted! Sometimes a policy is summed up in an epigram, or in an easily-quotable sentence; and it can be used as a war-cry or as an election-cry; it can be adapted to political uses of many sorts. Thus it was said of the Bourbons that "they forgot nothing, and remembered nothing." It was said of an illustrious statesman in Europe that his policy was "blood and iron." In relation to many persons we are recommended to use "masterly inactivity"—to be appearing capable of doing miracles, and yet to take infinite care not to attempt the peformance of one of them. This is precisely the spirit of the text The peoples to whom the words were addressed were mocked, and the paraphrase which the spirit of the text would justify is this:—They have great mouths, but say nothing; the hippopotamus cannot make his voice heard; the ox-mouth is closed: their energy is inaction; when they are about to come forward to do wonders they shrink back and do nothing. It is a taunt—an exclamation wholly ironical, thrown in the face of a detested enemy, or an absconding friend, or one who has great appearance of energy, and yet is unable to move the tiniest of his fingers. It is always important to be perfectly sure of the meaning of the text. Having exhausted the grammatical meaning, it is open to preachers and teachers to accommodate their text to other uses: but the fact of accommodation should be broadly set forth, lest the divine oracles be perverted, and men come under the condemnation of that which we have seen in the twenty-ninth chapter, namely, of turning things upside down. It is perfectly true that our strength is often to sit still. It is a truth which we have confirmed ourselves in many an instance after we have done everything by doing nothing. To have attained this pitch of discipline is to have advanced very far in the course of Christian education. Who does not like to be doing something? Impatience cries, Issue a manifesto; make a deliverance; publish a contradiction; be up and doing. It is a poor exhortation; it is a fool's philosophy. Many a time we should be most eloquent if we were most silent. There is an expressive silence. We might have been further on the road if we had not made so many circuitous excursions. As for the taunts of men, they are worth exactly what they are felt to be worth by the man who receives them. They break themselves in pieces when they are dashed against righteousness, but if they excite shame and inflict humiliation, then they are well-deserved.
Take another instance of a remarkable expression, which is found in the tenth verse:—"Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits." Is there any deeper moral degradation? Yet that this is perfectly possible is a fact which nearly every man can testify. What did the speakers want? They wanted what is desired by every age, namely, to be entertained. It is entertainment that is often frittering away the noblest courage and finest faculty of the Church. We go to church to be entertained, not to be instructed. It would be with infinite difficulty that any instructive minister could make bread enough to live upon. That is the mournful report which I have to make concerning the age in which I live. There may be parts of the service which are instructive, and they are tolerated that the entertainment may be enjoyed:—entertain us with ritual, with music, with stories, with something that will give us intellectual excitement and even a degree of intellectual delight: but do not prophesy, do not teach, do not become rigorously moral: let the day of judgment alone; if we have to go to hell let us go down a bank covered with velvet moss. The people, as we have often had occasion to say, make the pulpit. When the pew insists upon being smoothed down, the pulpit will ultimately yield to the base temptation. It is an unquestionable fact that some ministries have been abandoned because the judgments of God have been proclaimed against sin. It is a fact that can hardly be explained that some parents will never allow their children to hear any other thing than that God is love. They are perfectly right if they will give a right definition to the term "love," which is one of the principal terms in the proposition. Is it right to tell a child or a man that love is all sentiment, all weakness, all pity, all tears? It is love that burns; it is love that judges; it is love that damns. No other love would be worth having: it would be a mere trick of the heart; it would indeed, when really analysed and penetrated to the core, be but exquisite religious selfishness. A religion that is not based on righteousness is a painted bubble, a floating, transient, empty cloud. Every man must examine himself with regard to the truthfulness of this charge, that men call upon the prophets to prophesy smooth things. We must take out of the discourse all hooks, all nails, all instruments that scourge and test the quality; we must watch a white line of milk flowing through a meadow of emerald; then we shall suppose that we have passed through a happy experience. The ministry should be like the Bible which it attempts to expound, now a Sinai, now a Golgotha; now a storm that makes the horizon red, and now a chrism of dew that cools the earth, that loads the flowers with a burden of silver. The word of the Lord must be spoken in its entireness by the faithful teacher.
To show that what has been said upon the seventh verse is justified by the larger Scripture we have only to refer to verse fifteen—"In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength." There we have the truth which we thought we detected in the seventh verse. We have observed that when Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus Christ, the Saviour replied, "It is written, of Satan—it is written again." We must have the two Scriptures. We could escape a great deal of trouble by omitting the "again." We must make the equipoise complete. There is an analogy, a proportion, a harmony, a combination of elements and thoughts, and we must bring all into one view before we can pronounce upon the purpose and doctrine of Scripture. Here is the solemn, noble word, "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength:" not in sullenness, not in that pedantic and personal withdrawment which means—I will take no part and have no lot in your movement, and you must do as well without me as you can; I will stand within scanning distance, and watch your failure. Not that; such is the spirit of perdition: but quietness, the spirit which says, I would like to speak, but I may not, I will not, for God means me to be silent. "He that believeth shall not make haste,"—shall not be in a flurry, shall be guiltless of those spasms and paroxysms which attend the expression of furious and unregulated and unchastened energy. Let God's will be done: I stand, I wait; when the cloud leads, when the fire advances, when the voice comes, it will be enough for me to reply. That is the attitude of filial piety, that the sacred posture of men who have delivered up their lives into the hands of God. What can we do by our excitement, by our energy? In what does our activity end? In vanity, in nothingness, in a flutter which only disturbs the wind, but does not hasten the revolution of a star. The Lord reigneth. To be quiet is to be confident; to be confident is to be quiet; to love God is to leave everything with him: blessed are they who have reached that high estate of love and trust and homage.
A great promise is made in the twentieth verse:—
"And though the Lord gave you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers." (Isaiah 30:20)
Following upon this gift of teaching and teacher—
"Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it" (Isaiah 30:21).
We find great promises in the chapter, wondrous assurances that we know nothing yet about light and glory and grace and heaven—
"Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound" (Isaiah 30:26).
For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Their strength is to sit still."—Isaiah 30:7
The Revised Version reads, "Therefore have I called her Rahab that sitteth still." A poetical name for Egypt is found in Isaiah 51:9, Job 26:12, and in Psalm 87:4. The term seems to suggest the idea of empty boasting, very lofty and inflated self-sufficiency and arrogance. The idea of Rahab sitting still is regarded by some critics as almost a political caricature. The meaning is very different from that which is usually attached to the text. Yet the common signification of the text is true in personal experience and in Church history. We often find that we do everything by doing nothing. Lethargy is not rest. Self surrender to what may be called the spirit of fatalism is entirely without moral merit. The man who gives up the strife because he is weary of it or longing for self-indulgence does not realise the peace of God, He is a coward, and must be regarded as such. We can only truly sit still when we do so with the full consent of our understanding and conscience, our reason and love. Every man ought to give God some opportunity of coming into his life. There is a self-watchful ness which is little better than atheism We are bound to do whatever lies in our power, but we should be spiritually instructed to discern the time when we should literally stand still and await the issues of Providence. Do not stand still as the result of the relaxation of self-discipline. Stand still in the moment when you wish to go forward, but when you are so enabled to control yourselves as to allow God to carry on his own war in his own way. He is rich in heavenly wisdom who knows when to strike, and when to cease from striking; when to go on with desperate energy, and when to stand still with patience and silent expectation.