All you people of the world and dwellers of the earth, when a banner is raised on the mountains, you will see it; when a trumpet sounds, you will hear it.
I. AGITATION IN ETHIOPIA. The oracle opens with a scene full of life. Hosts of Egyptian and Ethiopian warriors are seen, like buzzing swarms of flies moving to and fro. Messengers are speeding in papyrus boats to announce the approach of the Assyrians. The Ethiopians are described as a nation "tall and polished," terrible, strong, and all-subduing, whose land rivers cut through. A sense of mystery and greatness hung about this! and from the earliest times - the land of the source of the Nile, opened up by our countryman Spoke and others. The prophet lifts up his voice to this people. A signal will be seen on the mountains, the blast of a trumpet will be heard. There will be symptoms of the Divine presence, restraining, overruling the wrath of men for ends of Divine wisdom. "When wars are carried on, every one sees clearly what is done; but the greater part of men ascribe the beginning and end of them to chance. On the other hand, Isaiah shows that all these things ought to be ascribed to God, because he will display his power in a new and extraordinary manner; for sometimes he works so as to conceal his hand, and to prevent his work from being perceived by men, but sometimes he displays his hand in it in such a manner that all men are constrained to acknowledge it; and that is what the prophet meant" (Calvin).
II. THE WAITING OF JEHOVAH. Impressive is the contrast between the noise and stir and agitation below, and the calmness above. Jehovah "will be still" - as the blue sky behind a moving host of clouds, above a surging sea below. In the second psalm we have the picture of him sitting in the heavens and "laughing" at the vain attempts of the enemies of the Messianic kingdom. There are three thoughts here.
1. The repose of God. It seems as if we must ever contemplate him resting from his toils of designing and creating and providing - entered on an eternal sabbath. The consciousness of vast force, sleeping, held in reserve, we must conceive of in God. Hence his stillness amidst our excitement. At times when vague movements are passing through the bosom of society, many voices rend the air with opposing cries, deep questions agitate the heart and conscience of thoughtful men. We long to hear the one infallible voice, to see the signal extended; and yet "God speaks not a word." Perhaps it may be said, a still small voice, saying, "Be still, and know that I am God!" may be heard by acuter spiritual ears. His stillness must be the effect of infinite strength and profoundest confidence.
2. His contemplativeness. He "looks on in his mansion." Not as the Epicureans represented the gods of the heathen, sitting apart, reckless of the weal or woe of men; but intently watchful of the development of things, the ripening of good, the gathering up of evil towards the day of sifting and judgment. In a powerful biblical image, "his eyes are in every place, beholding the good and the evil." And our thought, to be in harmony with his, must in many matters and at many times fall into the mood of contemplation. Instead of seeking to theorize rashly upon the strange mixture of tendencies life at any troubled epoch presents, it were well to possess our souls in patience - to look on and "let both grow together till the harvest."
3. His waiting attitude. "While there is clear heat in sunshine, while there are clouds of dew in harvest-heat," he is waiting "till the fruit of Assyrian annoyance is all but ripe." The heat and the clouds of dew hasten the powers in nature; there are corresponding forces at work in the moral world, seen by him to be working towards certain results. God can wait because he knows. And may not we in a measure compose our souls into that attitude of waiting? Some things we, too, know; about many others we can say, "God knows," and so leave them. Especially so in times or in moods of alarm. In the present case men below see one picture of the future; quite another is seen by God above. To them a vast black cloud is gathering over the horizon; he sees the sun that will presently smite it asunder. They see a fell harvest of woe for themselves ripening; he has the pruning-knife in his hand, with which he will make havoc among the growth. They see an immense host of irresistible warriors; he the birds of prey and the beasts that will soon be feeding upon their remains. Let us think of the immense reserves of force at the disposal of Jehovah. The statesman, in times of alarm, assures a trembling country that the "resources of civilization" are not yet exhausted; yet they have their limit. Behind them lie the absolutely inexhaustible resources of the living and eternal God. Let our hearts be stayed on him, and all will be well.
III. THE EFFECT ON ETHIOPIA. They will bring a tribute to Jehovah Sabaoth, to the Lord of hosts, in his seat on Mount Zion. It is he who has done these things. We find the like impressive picture passing before a prophetic eye in Psalm 68:32: "Kingdoms of splendor come out of Egypt, Ethiopia stretches out her hands to God." The gathering of so glorious a people into the true Church is to be the result of the manifestation of the power of Israel's God.
1. The providence of God over the Church. "He shows that he takes care of the Church, and that, though he determines to chastise it, still he comes forward at the proper season to hinder it from perishing, and displays his power in opposition to tyrants and other enemies, that they may not overthrow it or succeed in accomplishing what they imagined to be in their powers. In order, therefore, to excite them to patience, he not only distinguishes them from the Ethiopians, but likewise reminds them that God mitigates his judgments for their preservation" (Calvin).
2. The indestructibility of the spiritual life. This must not be confounded with the institutions in which it dwells for a time. But, understanding the "Church in the spiritual or mystical sense, it cannot perish. Calvin wrote in his day, The Church is not far from despair, being plundered, scattered, and everywhere crushed and trodden underfoot. What must be done in straits so numerous and so distressing? We ought to lay hold on these promises so as to believe that God will still preserve the Church. The body may be torn, shivered into fragments and scattered; still, by his Spirit, he will easily unite the members, and will never allow the remembrance and calling on his Name to perish."
3. The self-concealment of God. The trial of faith in all ages. Oh that he would show his face, bare his arm, disclose his majesty, exert his power, appear as Judge to end once for all the strifes of the world! But we must learn to say, "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." At the proper season he will come forth. "If he instantly cut the wicked down and took them away like a sprouting blade of corn, his power would not be so manifest, nor would his goodness be so fully ascertained, as when he permits them to grow to a vast height, to swell and blossom, that they may afterwards fall by their own weight, or, like large and fat ears of corn, cuts them down with pruning-knives."
4. The unity of religion the prophetic ideal. Mount Zion was its ancient symbol; for us it is not Rome, nor any other city or mount, - it is the human heart, with all its pathos, its faith, hope, and love, its regenerate life and aspirations, it is one spirit universal in mankind. - J.
All ye inhabitants of the world...see ye.
I. THE LANGUAGE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT ON THIS SUBJECT. What does that give us reason to expect under the present dispensation? An elect Church, though in one sense it is called an universal Church, because it is gathered out of all nations on the earth.
II. THE EXPERIENCE OF THE CHURCH AS STRENGTHENING THIS ARGUMENT. For long years the Gospel has been preached, and what is the result? But is it not written in the Scriptures that all flesh shall see the salvation of God, etc.? Do we not, then, rightly expect the conversion of all the people on the earth? Yes, it is written, and shall come to pass. But the means are also written, and the time. What are the means? What is the time? "All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye!" When? "When He lifteth up an ensign on the mountains, and when He bloweth a trumpet, hear ye!" I will read you an extract from a missionary sermon preached by Dr. Buchanan shortly before his death: "The ensign to be lifted up is the Jewish Church restored to Zion; and the Gospel trumpet is to be sounded by Jewish missionaries, for to them is reserved the evangelising of the heathen." But before this will be the coming of the Son of God.
(Hugh M'Neile, M. A.)
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