It will break in pieces like a potter's jar, shattered so that no fragment can be found. Not a shard will be found in the dust large enough to scoop the coals from a hearth or to skim the water from a cistern."
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.
שֶׁבֶר shever, from which perhaps comes our 'shiver') shall be like the shivering of a potter's vessel, a shattering unsparingly; so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a potsherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water out of the pit." Bearing in mind the size and strength of many potters' vessels in Palestine, it is clear, that a mere dashing out of the hand upon the ground would fail to effect a "shivering" anything like this. To what then do the prophets refer? We think the matter admits of a very clear explanation. One of the most constant features of the land is the well or "beer," which, as no rain falls for many months together, and springs and streams are rare, becomes an essential adjunct to every house. In these large underground structures rainwater is collected from surface drainage, and stored for use during the year. The "Moabite stone" records an act, passed by Mesha, King of Moab, so far back as the days of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, directing every man to make a "beer," or rain cistern, in his house. But such testimony would not be needed to establish the great age of these huge artificial cisterns. They abound everywhere, and many of them, In fine preservation, mark the sites of very ancient cities, where no other structure remains. There are no less than thirty of them, some of vast size, built on piers, and arched like the crypt of a church, to be found within the precincts of the temple area at Jerusalem. They are specially numerous in the fine olive grove to the north of the city, where they are in such a ruinous condition, apparently from extreme age, that they now form a series of dangerous pitfalls. In addition to these wells is to be found a system of immense artificial pools, or rain reservoirs, which are often referred to in the Bible, and of which no less than seven may now be traced in and around Jerusalem itself. To all these cisterns and reservoirs, whether cut in the rock, or built of rough masonry, one thing is common. To render them perfectly watertight, a peculiar cement has to be used. This cement is composed partly of lime and partly of a large admixture of what is called in Arabic, "homrah." This "homrah" is nothing else than broken pottery of every description, ground down generally into very small pieces, and sometimes into powder. It answers excellently the purpose for which it is employed. Every year it grows harder; until, in the case of those wells and pools where it is presumably many hundred years old, it is as firm as the rock to which it adheres. This "homrah" is consequently an article of daily commerce throughout the country. Its preparation by the peasants still remains the same simple and striking sight that must always have been familiar to the dwellers in every Judean town, but especially to those who lived within the waterless precincts of Zion.
He shall break it as the breaking of the potter's vessel.
(H. Macmillan, D. D.)
(J. Neil, B. A.)
(J. Neil, B. A.)
(H. Maxmillan, D. D.)
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