Thursday, June 1st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ isaiah-14.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL, AND HER SONG OF TRIUMPH OVER BABYLON. The destruction of Babylon is to be followed by the restoration of Israel, with the good will of the nations, and by their exercising rule over their late oppressors (Isaiah 14:1, Isaiah 14:2). In this time of rest and refreshment they will sing a song of triumph over Babylon. The song extends from Isaiah 14:4 to Isaiah 14:23. It consists of five stanzas, or strophes, each comprising seven long lines, after which there is a brief epode, or epilogue, of a different character. This epode is comprised in Isaiah 14:22 and Isaiah 14:23.
For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob. God's purpose of mercy upon Israel requires, as its preliminary, the destruction of Babylon, and may be considered as the final cause of that destruction. His desire to have mercy on Israel soon is the reason why the days of Babylon are not prolonged (see Isaiah 13:22). Will yet choose Israel. The Captivity was a rejection of Israel from their position as a favored race—God's peculiar people; their restoration was a fresh "choice" of them out of all the nations of the world, a free act of grace on his part; to which they had no claim or right whatsoever. And set them in their own land; or, on their own ground. The land that once was theirs, but which they had forfeited by their disobedience, could only become "their own" again by a fresh gift from God. The strangers shall be joined with them; rather, the stranger shall join himself to them. On the return from the Captivity, there would be an influx of proselytes from the nations, who would voluntarily join themselves to those whom they saw favored both by God and man (comp. Esther 8:17). Though the Jews did not commonly seek proselytes, they readily received such as offered themselves. A further fulfillment of the prophecy took place when the Gentiles flocked into the Church of God after the coming of Christ.
And the people shall take them; rather, peoples shall take them. The heathen nations among whom they have dwelt shall rejoice at the restoration of Israel to their own land, and even escort them in a friendly spirit to their borders (comp. Ezra 1:4, Ezra 1:6; Nehemiah 2:7-9). Some shall go so far as voluntarily to become their bondservants in Palestine. They shall take them captive, whose captives they were. This can scarcely have been intended literally. The Jews were at no time a conquering people, nor one that set itself to "take captives." The true meaning is that Jewish ideas shall penetrate and subdue the nations generally, and among them those with whom Israel had dwelt as captives. The Jews did become very powerful and numerous both in Assyria and Babylonia about the first century after Christ, and Christian Churches were early formed in Mesopotamia, Adiabene, and even Babylon.
The hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve (comp. Isaiah 47:6). We have no detailed account of the Babylonian, as we have of the Egyptian, servitude; but it was probably well-nigh as grievous. A few, of royal descent, might be eunuchs in the palace of the great king (2 Kings 20:18; Daniel 1:3), and hold offices of trust; but with the bulk of the nation it was otherwise. Psalms 137:1-9, has the plaintive ring which marks it as the utterance of a sorely oppressed people. And there are passages of Ezekiel which point in the same direction (see especially Ezekiel 34:27-29).
Thou shalt take up this proverb; rather, this parable, as the word is translated in Numbers 23:1-30, and Numbers 24:1-25.; in Job 26:1; Job 29:1; Psalms 49:4; Psalms 78:2; Ezekiel 17:2; Ezekiel 20:49; Ezekiel 21:5; Ezekiel 24:3; Micah 2:4; Habakkuk 2:6; or "this taunting speech," as our translators render in the margin (see Cheyne, ad loc.; and comp. Hebrews 2:6). The golden city. There are two readings here—madhebah and marhebah. The latter reading was preferred anciently, and is followed by the LXX; the Syriac and Chaldee Versions, the Targums, Ewald, Gesenius, and Mr. Cheyne. It would give the meaning of" the raging one." Madhebah, however, is preferred by Rosenmüller, Vitringa, and Dr. Kay. It is supposed to mean "golden," from d'hab, the Chaldee form of the Hebrew zahob, gold. But the question is pertinent—Why should a Chaldee form have been used by a Hebrew writer ignorant of Chaldee and Chaldea?
The staff … the scepter. Symbols of Babylonian power (scrap. Isaiah 10:5).
He who smote the people; rather, which smote the peoples. The participle translated "he who smote" refers to "staff" or "scepter." With a continual stroke; i.e. incessantly, one war following another without pause or stop. He that ruled, etc.; rather, which ruled the nations in anger with a persecution that held not back.
At rest … singing. The first result of the fall of Babylon is general peace, rest, and quiet; then the nations, recognizing the blessedness of the change, burst out into a song of rejoicing. The peace did not really continue very long; for Persia took up the role of conqueror which Babylon had been forced to drop, and, under Cambyses and Darius Hystaspis, produced as much stir and disturbance as had been caused by Babylon; Still, there was an interval of about eleven years between the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus, and the expedition by Cambyses against Egypt.
Fir trees …cedars. We may detect a double meaning here—one literal, the other metaphorical. Literally, the trees of Lebanon and the other mountain ranges would be spared, since, while both the Assyrian and Babylonian kings cut timber in the Syrian forests for building purposes, the Persians had no such practice; metaphorically, the firs and cedars are the kings and nobles of the countries (comp. Ezekiel 31:16), who likewise had a respite. Since thou art laid down; rather, since thou liest low. The first stanza here ends, and the second begins with the next verse.
Hell from beneath. The Hebrew Sheol corresponded nearly to the Greek Hades, and the Latin Inferi. It was a dismal region in the center of the earth, whither departed souls descended, and where they remained thenceforth. There were various depths in it, each apparently more dismal than the preceding; but there is no evidence that it was considered to contain any place of happiness, until after the return from the Captivity. The prophet here represents Sheol as disturbed by the advent of the Babylonian monarch, and as rousing itself to receive him. The great ones of the earth, and the kings, who are kings even in Hades, and sit upon thrones, are especially moved by the occasion, and prepare to meet and greet their brother. Personal identity and continued consciousness of it after death are assumed; and the former earthly rank of the inmates seems to be recognized and maintained. It stirreth up the dead. Hell in the aggregate—the place personified—proceeds to arouse the individual inmates, who are called rephaim—the word commonly translated "giants" (Deuteronomy 2:11, Deuteronomy 2:20; Deuteronomy 13:12; Joshua 12:4; Joshua 13:12, etc.), but meaning properly "feeble ones." The shades or ghosts of the departed were regarded as weak and nerveless, in comparison with living men (compare the Homeric εἴδωλα καμόντων). All the chief ones; literally, the he-goats (comp. Jeremiah 1:8; Jeremiah 51:40; Zechariah 10:3). Raised up from their thrones; i.e. "caused to rise up from their thrones," and stand in eager expectation of what was about to happen.
Art thou also become weak as we? rather, So thou also art made weak as we! (On the supposed weakness of the dead, see the comment on Isaiah 14:9.)
The noise of thy viols. (On the fondness of the Babylonians for music, and the number and variety of their musical instruments, see Daniel 3:7, Daniel 3:10, etc.) The word here translated "viol" is more commonly rendered "psaltery." (On the probable character of the instrument intended, see note on Isaiah 5:12.) The worm is spread under thee, etc.; rather, beneath thee is spread the maggot, and the worm covereth thee. The thought of the grave brings the thought of corruption with it. For cushion and for coverlet the royal corpse has only the loathsome creatures which come with putrescence. At this point the second stanza terminates.
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer! Babylon's sudden fall is compared, with great force and beauty, to the (seeming) fall of a star from heaven. The word translated "Lucifer" means properly "shining one," and no doubt here designates a star; but whether any particular star or no is uncertain. The LXX. translated by ἑωσφόρος, whence our "Lucifer." The subjoined epithet, "son of the morning" or "of the dawn," accords well with this rendering. How art thou cut down to the ground! One of Isaiah's favorite changes of metaphor. It is a favorite metaphor also to which he reverts—that of representing the destruction of a nation by the felling of a tree or of a forest (comp. Isaiah 2:12, Isaiah 2:13; Isaiah 10:33, Isaiah 10:34, etc.). Which didst weaken the nations; rather, which didst prostrate the nations. The word used is one of great force (comp. Exodus 17:13; Job 14:10).
For thou hast said; rather, and thou—thou saidst; i.e. weak as thou art now shown to have been, it was thou that didst dare to say. I will ascend into heaven, etc. (comp. Isaiah 10:13, Isaiah 10:14; Isaiah 37:24, Isaiah 37:25). Isaiah represents rather the thoughts of the Babylonian monarch than his actual words. The Babylonian inscriptions are full of boasting egotism; but they do not contain anything approaching to impiety. The king may regard himself as, in a certain sense, Divine; but still he entertains a deep respect and reverence for those gods whom he regards as the most exalted, as Merodach, Bel, Nebo, Sin, Shamas. He is their worshipper, their devotee, their suppliant. The Babylonian monarchs may have believed that after death they would mount up to heaven and join the "assembly of the great gods"; but we scarcely know enough as yet of the religions opinions of the Babylonians to state positively what their belief was on the subject of a future life. I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation. The early commentators explained this of Mount Zion, especially on account of the phrase, "in the sides of the north," which is used of the temple-bill in Psalms 48:2. But it is well objected that Mount Zion was a place of no grandeur or dignity or holiness to the Babylonians, who had made it a desolation; and that no Babylonian monarch would have desired to "sit" there. Moreover, the "mountain" of this passage must be one which is "above the heights of the clouds" and "above the stars of God," which the most imaginative poet could not have said of Mount Zion. A mythic mountain, belonging to the Babylonian theosophy, was therefore seen to be intended, even before the times of cuneiform decipherment (Rosenmüller, Michaelis, Knobel). Now that the Babylonian inscriptions can be read, it is found that there was such a mountain, called "Im-Kharsak," or "Kharsak-Kurra," which is described as "the mighty mountain of Bel, whose head rivals heaven, whose root is the holy deep," and which "was regarded as the spot where the ark had rested, and where the gods had their seat". In Babylonian geography this mountain was identified, either with the peak of Rowandiz, or with Mount Elwend, near Ecbatana. In the sides of the north. Both Elwend and Rowandiz are situated to the northeast of Babylou—a position which, according to ancient ideas, might be described indifferently as "north" or "east."
I will be like the Most High (comp. Isaiah 47:8). It is a mistake to say that "the Assyrians gave the name of God to their monarchs" (Kay), or, at any rate, there is no evidence that they did. Nor does any king, either Assyrian or Babylonian, ever assume a Divine title. There is a marked difference in this respect between the Egyptian and the Assyro-Babylonian religions. Probably Isaiah only means that Babylonian monarchs thought of themselves as gods, worked their own wills, were wrapped up in themselves, did not in heart bow down to a higher Power.
Thou shalt be brought down; rather, thou art brought down (comp. Isaiah 14:9-11). The sides of the pit; or, the recesses—the "lowest parts" of the pit. With those words the third stanza terminates.
They that see thee. Dr. Kay well observes that "here the scene of the parable is changed back to earth. The corpse of the mighty conqueror is lying unburied." Shall narrowly look upon thee. Like the inhabitants of hell (Isaiah 14:10), those of earth also shall scarcely believe their eyes. They shall look close to see if it is indeed the great king that is slain.
That opened not the house of his prisoners; literally, that loosed not his prisoners homewards. The long imprisonment of Jehoiachin by Nebuchadnezzar (thirty-six years, 2 Kings 25:27) is an illustration; but perhaps it is rather the retention in captivity of the entire Jewish people that is brought to the prophet's cognizance.
All the kings of the nations, etc.; i.e. the other kings, speaking generally, died in peace, and had an honorable burial, each one in the sepulcher that he had prepared for himself as his final abode or "house" (comp. Isaiah 22:16). The care taken to prepare tombs was not confined to Egypt, though there obtaining its greatest development. Among others, the Persian kings certainly prepared their own sepulchers; and probably the practice was general.
But thou art cast out (see Isaiah 14:13). Again "thou" is emphatic. Translate, But thou—thou art cast out. The Babylonian monarch did not rest in the tomb which he had prepared for himself. His body was "cast out"—left, apparently, where it fell in battle. If there is allusion to any individual, it is probably to Belshazzar (Daniel 5:30). Like an abominable branch. As a shoot from a tree, which is disapproved, and so condemned and cut away. As the raiment of those that are slam. The garments of the slain, soaked in blood (Isaiah 9:5), were useless, and were consequently flung away or left to rot uncured for. So was it with the corpse of the great king. That go down to the stones of the pit. This clause is thought to be misplaced. It deranges the meter and damages the sense. Corpses were not interred on fields of battle in the East (Herod; 3.26). They were left to be "trodden underfoot." It is best, with Ewald and Mr. Cheyne, to transfer the clause to the commencement of the next verse. Thus the fourth stanza is relieved, and the fifth properly filled out.
If we make the alteration suggested in the preceding note, this verse will begin as follows: "They that have gone down to the stoner of the pit, with these thou shalt not be joined in burial"—a repetition certainly of the first clause of Isaiah 14:19, but with amplification, and with the reason appended. Thou hast destroyed thy land; i.e. "brought ruin on it by displeasing God, and causing him to visit it with a judgment." The seed of evil-doers shall never be renowned; rather, shall not be named forever (comp. Psalms 109:13). The meaning is that they shall have no seed, or, if they have any, that it shall be early cut off, and the whole race blotted out. Pretenders rose up under Darius Hystaspis, claiming descent from Belshazzar's father, Nabenidus; but the claim is characterized as false, and a false claim would scarcely have been set up had real descendants survived.
Prepare slaughter for his children. Belshazzar had "wives and concubines" (Daniel 5:2), and therefore probably children. The magnanimity of Cyrus may have spared them; but neither Cambyses nor Darius Hystaspis had the same merciful disposition. As soon as there was seen to be danger of Babylon revolting, they would almost certainly be put to death. For the iniquity of their fathers (comp. Exodus 20:5). The destruction of their posterity was a part of the punishment of the fathers. That they do not rise; i.e. "that they do not recover themselves and become great monarchs once more, and once more build great cities, "such as those which they were famous for Babel, Erech, Accad, Calneh, Ur, Sepharvaim, Borsippa, Opts, Teredon, etc. It was as city-builders that the Babylonians were especially celebrated (Genesis 10:10; Daniel 4:30; Herod; 1:178, etc.).
Isaiah 14:22, Isaiah 14:23
These verses constitute the epode of the poem. Their main object is to make it clear that the punishment about in fall on Babylon comes from none other than Jehovah, whose Name occurs twice in Isaiah 14:22, and emphatically closes Isaiah 14:23. The lines are much more irregular than those of the strophes, or stanzas.
And cut off from Babylon the name. It is not quite clear in what sense her "name" was to be "cut off" from Babylon. One of the main masses of ruin still bears the old name almost unchanged (Babil), and can scarcely be supposed to have lost it and afterwards recovered it. Perhaps "name" here means "fame" or "celebrity" (comp. Deuteronomy 26:19; Zephaniah 3:20). Son and nephew; rather, son and grandson, or issue and descendants. The same phrase occurs in the same sense in Genesis 21:23 and Job 18:19.
A possession for the bittern. Some water-bird or other is probably intended, since the word used is joined in Isaiah 36:11 with the names of three other birds, and is also certainly a bird's name in Zephaniah 2:14; but the identification with the "bittern" is a mere guess, and rests on no authority. And pools of water. The swampy character of the country about the ruins of Babylon is generally noticed by travelers. It arises from neglect of the dams along the course of the Euphrates. Ker Porter says that "large deposits of the Euphrates water are left stagnant in the hollows between the ruins".
A FURTHER PROPHECY OF DELIVERANCE FROM ASSYRIA. From the distant prospect of an ultimate deliverance from the power of Babylon, the prophet turns his gaze to a nearer, if not a greater, deliverance. The present enemy is Assyria. It is she who has carried Samaria into captivity, and who now threatens the independence of Judah. Deliverance from her has already been promised more than once (Isaiah 10:16-19, Isaiah 10:25-27, Isaiah 10:33, Isaiah 10:34); but apparently the people are not reassured—they still dread the foe who is so near, and who seems so irresistible. God, therefore, condescends to give them a fresh prophecy, a fresh assurance, and to confirm it to them by an oath (Isaiah 14:24). The Assyrian power shall be broken—her yoke shall be cast off (Isaiah 14:25); God has declared his purpose, and nothing can hinder it (Isaiah 14:27).
Hath sworn. This is the emphatic word—the new thing in the prophecy. God but seldom declares his purposes with an oath—never but in condescension to the weakness of his creatures, who, though they misdoubt his word, can feel the immutability of an oath (Hebrews 6:17), and yield it the credence and the confidence which they refuse to a bare assertion. As I have thought … as I have purposed. A reference to the prophecies previously given in Isaiah 10:1-34. So shall it come to pass; literally, so it hath been—a striking instance of the "preterite of prophetic certainty." So shall it stand; literally, as I have purposed, that shall stand.
I will break the Assyrian in my land. This is referred by some critics to the miraculous destruction of Sennacherib's army, and regarded as a proof that the scene, of that destruction was Judaea. But it is possible that a disaster to the forces of Sargon may be intended (see the comment on Isaiah 10:28-32). His yoke shall depart from off them (comp. Isaiah 10:27). The Assyrian yoke, imposed by Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 16:7-10), and (according to his own inscriptions) again by Sargon, was thrown off by Hezekiah, who "rebelled against the King of Assyria, and served him not" (2 Kings 18:7). It was this rebellion that provoked the expedition of Sennacherib, described in 2 Kings 18:13-16; and it may be this rejection of the yoke which is here prophesied.
The whole earth … all the nations. Blows struck against Assyria or Babylonia affected all the then known nations Each, in its turn, was "the hammer of the whole earth" (Jer 1:1-19 :23), and a check received by either caused world-wide disturbance. No sooner did one subject nation recover her freedom, than an electric shock ran through all the rest—plots were laid, confederacies formed, revolts planned, embassies sent hither and thither. The complete destruction of Assyria involved a complete change in the relations, not only of the principal powers—Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media, Elam, but even of the minor ones—Philistia, Edom, Moab, Syria, Phoenicia, Ammon.
His hand is stretched out; literally, his is the outstretched hand, which is more emphatic.
THE BURDEN OF PHILISTIA. The Philistines had suffered grievously at the hands of Judah in the reign of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6), and had retaliated in the reign of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:18). It would seem that after this they were invaded by Tiglath-Pileser, who penetrated as far as Gaza, which lie took and made tributary, as he also did Ascalon. Tiglath-Pileser died shortly before Ahaz, and the present "burden" seems to have been uttered in connection with his death. Isaiah warns Philistia (equivalent to "Palestina") that her rejoicing is premature; Tiglath-Pileser will have successors as powerful and as cruel as himself, and these successors will carry destruction and ravage over the whole land.
In the year that King Ahaz died was this burden. These words introduce the "burden of Philistia," and shows that it is chronologically out of place, since the prophecies from Isaiah 10:1-34. to Isaiah 14:1-27 have belonged to the reign of Hezekiah. Ahaz appears to have died early in B.C. 725.
Whole Palestina. The Greeks called Philistia τὴν Παλαιστίνην Συρίαν, or "Syria of the Philistines," whence the Latin "Palestina" and our "Palestine." Isaiah addresses the country as "whole Palestine," because, while it was made up of a number of principalities (1 Samuel 6:18), his message concerned it in its entirety. The rod of him that smote thee is broken. This can scarcely refer to the death of Ahaz, since Ahaz did not smite the Philistines, but was smitten by them (2 Chronicles 28:18). It may, however, refer to the death of Tiglath-Pileser, which took place only a year or two previously. Out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice; i.e. a more poisonous serpent (see note on Isaiah 11:8). Shal-maneser can scarcely be meant, since he does not, appear to have attacked the Philistines. Probably Sargon is intended, who "took Ashdod" (Isaiah 20:1), made Khanun, King of Gaza, prisoner, and reduced Philtstia generally to subjection. And his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent. The fruit of the cockatrice will be even more terrible and venomous. He will resemble the "fiery flying serpent" of the wilderness (Numbers 21:6). Sennacherib is, perhaps, this "fruit." He conquered Ascalon and Ekron, and had the kings of Gaze and Ashdod among his tributaries.
The firstborn of the poor shall feed. The "firstborn of the poor" are the very poor (Jarchi, Rosenmüller). The refer-once is to the poor Israelites, who will "feed" and "lie down in safety" when Philistia is held in subjection. I will kill thy root with famine, and he shall slay thy remnant. God kills with famine, man with the sword (see 2 Samuel 24:13, 2 Samuel 24:14). When the Philistines had resisted behind their strong walls till hunger had done its work by thinning their ranks, the Assyrian conqueror would storm their strongholds and slaughter "the remnant."
Howl, O gate; cry, O city. Each city of Philistia is hidden to howl and lament. All will suffer; not one will be spared. Art dissolved; literally, art melted; i.e. "faintest through fear" (comp. Joshua 2:9; Jeremiah 49:23). There shall come from the north a smoke. The "smoke" is the Assyrian host, which ravages the country as it advances, burning towns, and villages, and peasants' cots, and watchmen's towers. It enters the country "from the north," as a matter of course, where it adjoins upon Judaea. The coast route, which led through the Plain of Sharon, was that commonly followed by Egyptian armies. None shall be alone in his appointed times; rather, there shall be no straggler at the rendezvous.
What shall one then answer, etc.? What answer shall be made to the Philistine ambassadors, when they come to Jerusalem and entreat for aid? Simply this—that God has founded and will protect Zion, and that the poor and weak among God's people—whether Jews or Philistines—had better betake themselves to the shelter of the "city of the great King."
Triumph over enemies.
The "taunt-song" of Israel, as it has been called (Cheyne), like the "song of Deborah" in the Book of Judges (5.), raises the question how far triumph over a national enemy is a feeling that can be indulged with propriety. There can be no doubt that it is—
I. A NATURAL FEELING. "The song of Deborah and Barak" expresses the feelings which have usually animated the victors in national contests from the beginning of the world to the present day. The poems of Homer show us the great warriors of the heroic age giving the freest possible vent to their passions of scorn and hatred on such occasions. The heroes of Germany and Iceland indulge in the same strain. North American Indians are said to have been equally outspoken. The "natural man" would, beyond all question, on every occasion of the kind, give free and unfettered expression to his feelings of triumph and delight, nor would he see any reason for checking his feelings, or making any effort to moderate them. There is also a good side to the feeling, inasmuch as it is—
II. CONNECTED WITH THANKFULNESS TO GOD FOR DELIVERANCE. In the song of Deborah and Barak, and again in the song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-21), this is very marked. "Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel" (Judges 5:2, Judges 5:3). "The Lord is my Strength and Song, and is become my Salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his Name" (Exodus 15:2, Exodus 15:3). "Sing ye to the Lord, for he bath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea" (Exodus 15:21). It is not their own valor, or strength, or prudence, and warlike skill that the Hebrew leaders vaunt in their songs of triumph, but the greatness and strength and wisdom of the God who has given to them the victory over their enemies. And so the Christian song of joy for a victory has ever been the "To Deum"—"We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord." So long as wars continue, so long as swords are not beaten' into ploughshares, or spears into pruning-hooks (Isaiah 2:4), it must be right for the combatants to look to the God of battles for aid and countenance and success; and if so, it must be right for them to return him thanks for his aid given, which can best be done by songs of praise and psalms of thanksgiving. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that the feeling of triumph is one which ought to be very carefully watched and kept under control, since it is—
III. LIABLE TO DEGENERATE INTO SELF-GLORIFICATION. When Assyria was victorious, her song of triumph was as follows: "By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man: and my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people; and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or chirped" (Isaiah 10:13, Isaiah 10:14). There is something of the same spirit in the song of Deborah and Barak: "The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel" (Judges 5:7). "Awake, awake, Deborah, awake, awake, utter a song; arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abiuoam" (Judges 5:12). Weak human nature is apt to have its head turned by success, and to attribute the result to its own prowess, instead of the mercy and goodness of God.
IV. LIABLE TO DEGENERATE INTO SCORN OF, AND INSULTATION OVER, THE ENEMY. Scorn and insult are utterly unchristian, and a Christian "song of triumph" should most carefully avoid them; but they are very dear to the "natural man," and very apt to show themselves in the outpourings of a human heart on the occasion of a triumph. The closing passage of the song of Deborah is of the nature of insult, and so is a considerable portion of Isaiah's "taunt-song." The "evangelical prophet" was not himself fully possessed of the evangelical spirit. In his time the precept had not yet gone forth, "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44), and men believed it to be natural and right to hate them (see Psalms 139:22). Insult and scorn were but indications of hate, or of hate mingled with contempt for those who had been proved weal;, and so seemed to be legitimately bestowed on beaten foes. But the Christian may hate no man, may despise no man, knowing that each human soul is in God's sight of priceless value. Consequently, although he may rejoice in victory, and even compose songs of triumph, he is bound to avoid anything like insultation over the defeated. They are his brethren, they are souls for whom Christ died; they may be among those with whom he will hold sweet converse in the world to come.
God's condescension in confirming promises by oath.
It is a weakness on the part of man to need any confirmation of a promise which God makes. "God cannot lie" (Tit 2:1-15 :18); "He keepeth his promise forever" (Psalms 146:6). When he condescends to swear that his promise shall hold good, it does not really add to the certainty of the thing promised, since the certainty was absolute from the first. But man is so accustomed to misdoubt his fellows that he will even misdoubt God, as though with him were "variableness or shadow of turning." And God, knowing man's heart and compassionating his weakness, does sometimes, though but rarely, add to his promises, for man's greater contentment, the confirmation of an oath. After the Flood God covenanted with mankind that he would never again destroy the earth by water (Genesis 9:11), and confirmed the covenant by oath (Isaiah 65:9). On the call of Abraham, he swore that he would give the land of Canaan to his posterity (Genesis 24:7), and afterwards that in his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed. With David he made a covenant, and swore to it, that he would "establish his seed forever, and build up his throne to all generations" (Psalms 89:3, Psalms 89:4). To his own Son he swore, at what time we know not, "Thou art a Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalms 110:4). And here we find that he condescended to swear to Israel that the Assyrians should "be broken," and their yoke "depart off them." Wonderful condescension of him whose word is truth! Not merely not to punish those who doubt him, but to compassionate them, to make allowance for them, to yield compliance to their weakness, and give them such an assurance as compels their belief. "God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, they might have a strong consolation"—a hope on which to anchor their soul (Hebrews 6:17-19).
No sure refuge but Zion.
When danger threatens men commonly invoke human aid—"trust in Egypt, fly to Assyria"—think to be safe if some great king, or powerful statesman, or important country, will take them under protection. But every such refuge is untrustworthy. States prove themselves" braised reeds" in the time of trouble, "piercing the hand which leans on them" (2 Kings 18:21). Princes disappoint expectation, and show that "there is no help in them" (Psalms 146:3). Statesmen find it inconvenient to redeem the pledges which they have given, and turn a deaf car to the appeals for aid addressed to them. But the ear of God is always open to men's cries. They may appeal with confidence to him either in—
I. THE EARTHLY ZION, his holy mountain, the "city set upon an hill" (Matthew 5:14), in which he has promised that there shall dwell his presence forever. The Church of God, founded upon the sure rock of faith in Christ, is a refuge from the assaults of doubt and unbelief, from the wiles of Satan, from the seductions of evil men. When the great army of unbelief advances, like a smoke from the north (Isaiah 14:31), and threatens to obscure the whole world with the dark mantle of agnosticism, marshalling its hosts with military precision, so that "there is not one straggler at the rendezvous," let men remember one thing, "The Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people may trust in it" (Isaiah 14:32). The poor of his people, such as feel themselves "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17), may find in the Church of Christ—the Church with which he continues always, "even unto the end of the world"—a refuge, a defense, a rallying-point, from which they may defy the dark host of their enemies. Against the Church the gates of hell shall not prevail. Her Lord is her Defender, and will give her victory over all her foes. The Lord's people may safely trust in her. Or, if this does not suffice, if (as happens to men in some moods) every earthly stay seems vain, they may go "boldly to the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16), and address themselves directly to God in—
II. THE HEAVENLY ZION—the "heaven of heavens"—the sphere where he sits enthroned above angels and archangels, yet from which he is ever lending an attentive ear to the cry of all his creatures. The earthly Zion is but a temporary abiding-place for individuals; the heavenly Zion is alone their true home. In the heavenly Zion alone are they wholly safe—saved, garnered, gathered in, secure forever. There is the throne of God and of the Lamb (Revelation 22:1); there is "the river of the water of life, clear as crystal" (Revelation 22:1); there is the "tree of life," with its "twelve manner of fruits," and its leaves which are "for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2). The earthly Zion is but a type of the heavenly; it is on the heavenly that our thoughts should rest, our minds dwell, our spirits stay themselves (Colossians 3:1-3).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Song of redeemed Israel
I. THE OCCASION OF THE SONG. (Isaiah 14:1-3.) The immediate purpose of that awful convulsion of the nations described in the preceding chapter was judgment; but beyond this lies the purpose of mercy. The inspired song of Israel is ever of "mercy and judgment." One loving purpose works, whether through the hiding of the cloud and the storm, or in the manifest brightness of the calm summer day. Whether he makes himself known to us amidst terror and trembling, or in peace and tranquilly flowing hours, "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." After the storm comes the still small voice, heard in the sanctuary, echoed in the heart, "Fear not; I am with thee." Jehovah will give his people rest in their land from the cruel sufferings of slavery. The heathen will look on, astonished at the deliverance of Israel, and wilt be convinced that there is a truth in the religion of Israel superior to that of their own. They will escort the people of Jehovah to the sacred place, and there become attached to their service as dependents. To the prophetic conscience it seems that this is but in accordance with the law of compensation. It seems preposterous, nothing less than an invasion of the true order of things, for a community which holds the purest principles to be enslaved to one whose power is built on falsehood. The conscience of the prophet teaches him that as God is right, so there must be a rectification of the world's wrong. The present first must become the last, and the last first, and the world must be turned upside down, that Israel may obtain and retain her destined lead among the nations. This is a leading ideal of prophecy, and we find it reappearing in the days of Christ. We may, indeed, without straining a point, say that such predictions, born of the profoundest religious convictions, have been fulfilled in the course of our religion. It will hardly be denied that the great spiritual principles summed up in the phrase, "the kingdom of God upon earth" have grown upon the world, have obtained a larger and more commanding recognition with every great change among the nations. Israel, Greece, broke up as nations only to resign their deposit of truth to a larger stewardship; and Rome's work was fulfilled when she became the vehicle of Christianity to the wide Western world. The forms of Divine fulfillment seen by the prophets in their forecast may not have been always the truest forms, limited as they were by conditions of space and time. The substance and spirit of their message was of eternal truth.
II. THE CONTENTS OF THE SONG. (Isaiah 14:4-8, )
1. The picture of rest from tyranny. The Babylonian oppressor shall be quelled; his lordly pride and wrath shall cease. For the staff of authority wielded by impious hands shall be broken, the tyrant's scepter dashed from his hand. His part will be reversed; having incessantly smitten the people in his cruel rage, and trodden them beneath Ills feet in the exercise of arbitrary and unchecked power, he will himself be powerless, as all injustice must be, disjoined from physical force. See the critical notes for the discussion of the meaning of the words, and the strong images of violence, inspired by tyrannic caprice and cruelty, which they call up in the imagination. "The oppressor's scorn, the proud man's contumely," are enumerated by our great poets among those conditions which tempt men to doubt the worth of existence. Take away the freedom of religious life, the placid enjoyment of old customs of family and social life, from a people, and you extract from them the relish for life.
"'Tis liberty, fair liberty alone,
That gives the fleeting flower of life its sweetness and perfume."
There is no deeper passion, nor one more just, than the hatred of tyranny, m the human breast. If we look at the question from the point of view of the tyrant himself, his lot is odious. Xenophon represents Hiero of Syracuse lamenting to the poet Simonides his unhappiness. He must surround himself with guards whom he cannot trust. Intimate friendship, such as blesses the meanest of his subjects, must be to him denied. He cannot close the sleepless eye of suspicion. Amiable ha may be and sympathetic by nature, yet his heart may not expand in the chilling atmosphere which surrounds him. The cruel necessities of power may even render the lot of the oppressor less enviable than that of the oppressed. The heart of the people in every hind and age cries out against tyranny as an abuse of the moral order, a violence done to the nature of things. And the true prophet, ever feeling in unison with that heart, translating its dim yearnings into articulate oracles, denounces and predicts the downfall of tyranny as inevitable, if the kingdom of Jehovah on earth is a reality. "There remaineth a rest for the people of God." "The empire is peace." These words, once uttered vainly by a potentate in our time, and soon sternly refuted by the roar of artillery from around the walls of his fair city and from a score of battle-fields throughout his pleasant land, contain the policy of the kingdom of the Messiah. Selfishness, ambition, tyranny of individual wills,—these are the most constant causes of restlessness and war. When "all man's good" shall be "each man's rule," such evils will be impossible; the "unsuffering kingdom" of the Messiah will come, and the meek will inherit the earth.
2. The sympathy of nature with man. How exquisite is the poetic feeling for nature in the next verses (7, 8)! Like all the imagery of Hebrew poesy, they are full of simplicity, sublimity, pathos. "Now resteth, now is quiet all the earth; songs of jubilation break forth. The cypresses rejoice on thy account, the cedars of Lebanon. Since thou liest low (they say) none will come up to lay the axe against us." The Chaldean used the wood of these trees, of great durability, for his buildings, his besieging apparatus, his ships. A small remnant, heirs of those magnificent trees on Lebanon of the prophet's time, still stands on the spot. They seem, in their robust and beautiful forms, the very type of human life in the ideal freedom and independence of its growth. There is a strong poetic feeling for the tree in the Hebrew psalmists and prophets. The just man is like the tree planted by the flowing stream, or like the palm flourishing in the desert, the image of outward suffering and deprivation. We all yearn for the sight of the trees. We cannot see their leaves fall in autumn without something of a pang. We hail the returning blush on the beech woods of our own land in the springtime, and the dimly deepening green of the hedgerows. A silent sense of sympathy steals to our heart, as if sickness, old age, and death were illusions, life the only reality. The dimpling reflections of the sunlight on the leaves are as smiles, and as a whisper from the spiritual world the rustle or' the wind among them. We can understand how in olden time men felt the trees to be oracular, and believed, or half believed them to be tenanted by supernatural beings. A landscape without a tree, like a sea without a sail, is a sight we cannot long endure without pain. Such feelings have undoubtedly a religious meaning and value. As we listen to them and cultivate them, the faith grows stronger that a Divine love and sympathy is stirring at the very heart of things. It is an ill thing if we permit on every occasion our cold scientific conscience to chide us out of such a mood. In the present exalted mood of the prophet, the trees seem not merely to offer a silent sympathy, but to find tongue and to break forth into articulate triumph. Still more boldly, in Isaiah 4:1-12, they are conceived as clapping their hands in joy. Here the cypresses and cedars, appropriated by the patriotic eagerness of the prophet, as it were, exult in deliverance from the axe of the alien feller, as he exults in the breaking of the alien scepter.
III. LESSON ON THE SYMPATHY OF MIND WITH NATURE. Let us not be tempted to idle words in speaking of that high faculty of poetic fancy exercised upon the objects and scenes of nature, and illustrated in this passage. A great spiritual poet of our age—Wordsworth—has taught us religiously to cherish it. We accept the teaching, but not in its exaggerated forms. It has been asserted as a principle of primary and universal import, that "it has pleased God to educate mankind from the beginning through impressions derived from the phenomena of the natural world." A sounder theology and a juster theory of the imagination teaches otherwise. The home, the school, the Church, the state, society,—these are the scenes of our spirit's training in religion and in morals, for time and for eternity. We cast upon the forms of the external world reflections of sentiments and truths we could not divine from that world. We know the physical cosmos through the moral cosmos, not vice versa. As to poets of the highest order, all have been at home in the grandeurs of the spiritual world, not all have been affected by the forms of nature. This has been especially remarked of Dante. This observation is fixed almost exclusively upon the Divine and human world. And, indeed, it must be admitted that the noblest objects of contemplation are God and man himself. "The universe and all its fair and glorious forms is indeed included in the wide empire of imagination; but she has placed her home and her sanctuary amidst the inexhaustible varieties and impenetrable mysteries of the human mind …. Is it not the fact that external objects never strongly excite our feelings but when they are contemplated with reference to man, as illustrating his destiny or as influencing his character?" (Macaulay). We can find in Nature only what we take to her. The key to her mystical meanings is to be found in the awakened conscience, the heart made pure. Petrarch, unlike Dante, loved the face of nature. But on one occasion, in the midst of a glow of delight in a glorious prospect, he remembered that he had a volume of St. Augustine in his pocket. Opening the book at random, he read these words: "Men go to admire the lofty mountains, the mighty sea-billows, the broad courses of the rivers, the circuit of the ocean, the orbit of the stars; and they neglect themselves." He closed the book and reproached himself. Even the heathen philosophers might have taught him a deeper truth. Doubtless. Socrates said that "trees did not teach him anything, but man." Let us adapt the saying to religious feeling. The trees will yield no oracles but those which have been first heard in the inmost conscience. And if there are times when they seem to whisper of gladness, or to smile and clap their hands for joy, it is because God has already opened a fountain of perennial trust and hope within the soul. Then "fruitful trees and all cedars" will praise the Lord, when the heart is filled with praise. "The outward face of nature is a religious communication to those who come to it with the religious element already in them, but no man can get a religion out of the beauty of nature. Those who have first made the knowledge of themselves and their own souls their care, its glory has ever turned to light and hope. They have read in nature an augury and a presage; they have found in it a language and a revelation' (Moztey).—J.
Song of redeemed Israel: the scene in Hades.
I. ENTRANCE OF THE TYRANT INTO THE UNDERWORLD. (Isaiah 14:9-11.) The realm of the departed trembles with the excitement of expectation as the great potentate of Babylonia approaches to take up his abode in those gloomy regions. The shades of departed chiefs and kings bestir themselves, and rise from their thrones in amazement to greet the newcomer. "Hast thou also become weak like us? Art thou become one of us?' His pomp and splendor is cast down to the lowest depth, the sound of his festive harp is silenced in that joyless place. Instead of his costly rugs, maggots are now his bedclothes, and his counterpane worms.
II. IDEAS OF THE UNDERWORLD. These pictures reach far back into antiquity, and represent a deep and universal belief in the heart of mankind. Sheol among the Hebrews, Hades and Tartaros among the Greeks, the realm of Dis or Pluto among the Romans, are different representations of the same ideas of conscience. But with the Hebrew it is connected more sublimely and simply with the faith in the one supreme and righteous God.
1. It is viewed as a stale of physical exhaustion. In Homer ('Odyssey,' 11.) the departed are described as faint, helpless ghosts, who recover nor memory and consciousness till they have drunk of the blood poured by Odysseus into the trench. And when his mother has thus revived and has spoken to him—
"Thrice in my arms I strove her shade to hind;
Thrice through my arms she slipp'd like empty wind,
Or dreams, the vain illusion of the mind ….
All, all are such when life the body leaves
No more the substance of the man remains,
Nor bounds the blood along the purple veins."
Pale and wan beneath those "nether skies," their lot is in extreme contrast to that of their friends who still "breathe in realms of cheerful day."
2. It is a place of profound sadness and regret. Who can forget the piercing pathos of Achilles' words when Odysseus hails him as a king among the shades, even as on earth he had been a guardian divinity to his countrymen—
"Talk not of ruling in this dolorous gloom,
Nor think vain words (he cried) can ease my doom.
Rather I'd choose laboriously to bear
A weight of woes and breathe the vital air,
A slave to some poor hind that toils for bread,
Than reign the sceptered monarch of the dead."
Oh, how gladly, exclaims Virgil, in describing the suicides in hell, would they now endure poverty and toil beneath the deep sky! But vain the wish; justice forbids, and they must remain confined in the horrid swamp, with its melancholy waters, shut in by the ninefold stream of Styx. A sullen discontent is the mood of others, like Ajax, brooding over the loss of the prize of arms. It is a scene of hopelessness. The descent is easy; but to retrace the steps—the Roman poet admits the possibility only to a few, sons of gods, favored by Jupiter, or inspired by superhuman virtue. Says the gloomy Italian, "All hope abandon, ye who enter here." In the soul, where all these dread events must happen, first and last, what is this weakness, this unavailing regret, this void of hope, but the reaction of powers abused, of passions indulged beyond their proper bound? According to our sowing must be our reaping, and our daily deeds must be reflecting their color upon the wall of the inner chamber of the mind, till it becomes to us either prison or palace, a hell or a heaven.
III. THE CONTEMPLATION OF PAST GREATNESS. From the depth of sorrow men learn to measure past blessings, from the lowest point of abject humiliation the height of previous greatness. Two things, in all history, in all legend, in the experience of daily life, impress the imagination, and through the imagination the moral conscience—the rise of the obscure into glory, and the fall of the great into ignominy. Such changes hint at a great law, the principle of which is one, the effects of whose operation are dual and diverse. The King of Babel had been as the morning star, the type of the Orient in all its splendor of intellectual light, heralding the dawn and the onward march of the sun. How true a proposition is it in reference to human culture, "Light comes from the East!" Babylonia was an early center of such culture; and dimly through the records of the past we may there discern all those passions and energies at work in that great kingdom which lead first to external greatness, then to moral corruption, finally to external ruin. The remains of Oriental architecture, as significant to those who understand the ethical meaning of art as a whole literature could have been, speak of a towering ambition, such as the prophet here describes. In no way can we be more astonished at the vastness of the passions of man's little heart, than in contemplating those colossal tombs and temples and palaces of ancient lands. They seem a visible challenge to time, a defiance of death, an arrogation of divinity and of immortality. To the prophet they, with other accompaniments of despotic power, appeared as the attempt of vain man to measure himself with heaven. The secret thought he detects in the heart of the tyrant is, "To heaven I will ascend, beyond God's stars I will raise my throne, and sit down on the mount of all the gods, in the extreme north; will ascend to the heights of the clouds, and make myself like the Most High." The north was in ancient thought generally the sacred quarter. Zeus dwelt in Olympus, on the north borders of Greece. Apollo came from the Hyperboreans, the people beyond the north wind. Zion is "on the sides of the north, the city of the great king." And in his epiphany in the tempest, Jehovah comes in majesty from the north. The magnificent heathen would then have rivaled him. He said in his heart as he looked on his palaces and hanging gardens, as he reviewed his troops, as he listened to the echoes of Western alarms, "By the strength of my hand I have done it;" "As one gathereth deserted eggs, I have gathered all the earth" (Isaiah 10:11, Isaiah 10:14). He felt himself to be like a magnificent tree, deftly striking his roots through the whole succulence of the earth, overtopping all other growths, sheltering all fowls in his branches, all beasts, yea, all nations, in his shade. All other trees, the cedar in the garden of God, the fir tree and the chestnut, seemed to envy him (Ezekiel 30:1-26.). And now! Oh, tragic change! his boughs are broken, his branches scattered on the earth, his shade deserted; the birds and beasts remain, but only as haunters of a ruin. "Now thou art east into hell, into the lowest depth."
IV. ASTONISHMENT AT PRESENT IGNOMINY.
1. The world looks on. "Is this the man who made the earth tremble through and through, who shook the kingdoms to their base? who made the world as a desert, and destroyed its cities, and let not his captives return home?" The scene is changed from Hades; no longer is the monarch viewed even as in the underworld, to which only the buried could pass. It is an outcast corpse the spectators look upon, and no sight could to ancient feeling be more abhorrent, or signify more deeply the curse of a hero's end. The other kings of the peoples rest each in his magnificent mausoleum; he lies amongst the meanest corpses of those slain upon the battle-field; not even hastily interred in a hole filled with stones, but liable to be trampled underfoot by the victor. He who would have grasped the earth in his ambitious embrace, cannot now find six feet of it to shelter his remains. The lurid light of such an end is cast back upon the beginning. To a prophetic eye false greatness is already smitten by the Divine judgment, the effects of which will be one day the amazement and the horror of men.
2. The prophet reads the moral. Such an end of the waster of lands and fierce murderer of peoples must serve as example and prototype to all times. It is no mere personal, but a dynastic doom. The seed of evil-doers, the tyrant's progeny, will pass into oblivion; his sons will expiate his offences in a bath of blood, so that the very species of human savages called "tyrants" shall no more be propagated. Every general truth has its particular application to a given time and condition; so every particular catastrophe that fills the nations with amaze is to be traced up to some great central ever-working cause. And for good or for evil, there is organic sympathy in the lives and fates of individuals. If we wrench ourselves not free from the family vice, what can we expect but the family doom? If we are partakers, by the force of custom or example, of the sins of our party, profession, class, we may not be exempt from the moral disgrace which must sooner or later overtake it.
V. CLOSING ORACLE. It uses images of the utmost energy and tragic vehemence. Jehovah will root out of Babylon name and remnant, sprout and shoot. It shall become the heritage of "hedgehogs and swamps," shall be swept with the besom of destruction. The doom of great cities—what is it but the doom of individuals "writ large?" In that doom may be seen eternal justice; can we find mixing with it eternal mercy, eternal love? In these scenes of horror on earth, in the reflected miseries of Hades? Must history ever pursue its spiral course, and epicycle upon epicycle of sin and damnation eternally succeed? Let us fall back upon our deepest hopes, and think that the yearning of the creature cannot exceed that of the Creator, and that at the foundation of hell's floor must still be Divine justice and love. So Dante sang—
"Justice the founder of my fabric moved;
To rear me was the task of power Divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love."
Oracle concerning Asshur.
The fate of Sennacherib and his host appears to be introduced in order to confirm the solemn oracle just delivered concerning Babylon (see Exposition).
I. THE STRONG ASSURANCES OF JEHOVAH. He is represented here and in other passages as taking an oath that he will fulfill his Word. But in such oaths he can appeal to no mightier name, he can invoke no power more awful than his own. Homer makes Zeus swear by the Styx, the dark river of the underworld. And Zeus is himself subject to necessity, to fate. But the God of the Hebrews comprises in himself all the associations of woeful necessity, of irresistible fate; in a word, of law, of intelligence at one with will, of will equal to the execution of all the designs of intelligence. Where men are weak it is that the brain is separated from the hand and the foot. The thoughts that rise before them, they either cannot or they dare not translate immediately into fact. A chain of means, of secondary causes, lies between them and their ends. And so we have the great thinkers who cannot act, and the great actors who fail in thought. Magnificent poets, philosophers, dreamers, on the one side; on the other, magnificent conquerors—Alexanders, Napoleons; both stupendous failures. In God are united omniscience and omnipotence—the All-Thinker, the All-Doer. His purposes are equivalent to deeds; his deeds are living and visible thoughts.
II. THE DOOM OF THE ASSYRIAN. (See Isaiah 10:1-34.) The prophetic tense and the prophetic mode of contemplation may refer to the past; so here. The thought is expressed in Jeremiah 1:18, Jeremiah 1:19, "Behold, I will punish the King of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the King of Assyria." The one event was a pledge of the other (Delitzsch). Asshur had been broken in Canaan, had been subdued upon the mountains of the Holy Land, and the people been released from his yoke and his burdens.
"Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
The host with their banners at sunset were seen;
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay wither'd and strewn ….
And the widows of Asshnr were loud in their wail,
And the idols were broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!"
III. THE IMMUTABLE COUNSEL OF JEHOVAH.
1. Its contents. It is earth-embracing, and its symbol is the" hand stretched out over all the heathen." Assyria and Babylon destroyed, heathendom must vibrate through all its extent, and totter to its fall. Turning from the particular to the general—for only in this way can we reap the full instruction of such oracles—and standing amidst the ruins of fallen, or on the ground of now shaking empires, we may listen in awe to the ever-living voice of him who saith, "I will shake all nations, till their Desire come." About a thousand years later, and we find Rome shaking beneath that outstretched hand. We may see the mementoes of that shock to-day, in the ruins of the Palatine and the Forum and the Sacred Way. Yet a thousand years, and again she shakes, this time to her inmost conscience, beneath that hand, that voice of judgment. At the Reformation it might seem that the Almighty was about to make a short work in the earth. But a thousand years are in his sight but a day. "The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small." Let us remember that the great cycles of history are repeated in small in the round of each man's life. The great world, the macrocosmos, is mirrored in the microcosmos, the small world of each conscience. Above every one of us the hand is outstretched—shall it be to bless or to curse? "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
2. Its inflexibility. Who can break this counsel, who hinder or turn back that hand? And what people or confederacy of peoples, knit in closest alliance of arms and girt with all the furniture of war, can resist dissolution, when once his thought is against them, his hand upraised? "Take counsel together, and it shall come to naught; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us" (Isaiah 8:10). So may the lovers of the truth and the right confidently exclaim, "God is with us." What the superstitious man calls his luck or fortune, what the metaphysician obscurely designates as necessity, or the nature of things, or the supremacy of the moral Law, is to the religious man the inflexible will of a personal Being. The duty, the art, the wisdom, the salvation of life, is in obedience to that will. It is to know that we are here to be acted upon by that will rather than to act from our own self-center. We are "God's puppets." He gives to men and to nations a certain space Wherein to learn what freedom is, and what its soon-reached limits. Then comes the higher lesson, to know that freedom can only be secured by obedience; that in the choice of the supreme will for our own will, we recover that better freedom in which is strength and peace and stability forever.—J.
Oracle concerning Philistia.
I. THE HISTORICAL OCCASION. It dates from about the time of the death of Ahaz, and was on his death incorporated with the book. The Edomites and the Philistines, who had given way before the powers of David, had taken advantage of the weakness of Ahaz's government to invade Judah They had taken possession of several towns in the south of the land (2 Chronicles 28:17, 2 Chronicles 28:18). The Syrians in the front and the Philistines in the rear seemed to threaten and devour the land with open mouth (Isaiah 9:12). But the year of the death of Ahaz brought Hezekiah to the throne, who successfully resisted Assyria and smote the Philistines to Gaza (2 Kings 18:8), not only recovering the cities, but defeating them in their own land. To this eventful time, then, the oracle belongs.
II. WARNING TO PHILISTIA.
1. The might of the Davidic house. Its symbols are a rod, a staff, a serpent, a cerastes or basilisk, and a flying dragon. The "rod that smote Philistia" was the scepter of David and of Solomon, later wielded by Azariah or Uzziah (2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1), who broke down the wall of Gath and of Gabneh and of Ashdod. But the conflict with Syria and Ephraim had brought the power of Judah low; the rod was broken in pieces. But the power of Judah is no mere rod; a root is the fitting symbol of its inexhaustible vigor. The tembinth oak is not perished when its leafy honors have fallen (Isaiah 6:13), and from the root of Jesse a young sucker shall yet spring (Isaiah 11:1). With this symbol is connected that of the serpent, also widely viewed in antiquity as a chthonic symbol, i.e. as representing the powers supposed to be seated in the heart of the earth. The serpent is a "son of earth," and this significance may be seen illustrated in the story of the appearance of the serpents, which were devoured by horses, to Croesus. The horses symbolized the invading enemy, under Cyrus (Herod; 1:78). The Greek legends of the slaying of a serpent or dragon by a hero, seem in several cases to denote the taking possession of a land—or of a sanctuary—Apollo, Perseus, Bellerophon. If such be the meaning of the serpent here, then, says the prophet, so far from destroying the serpent of Judah, its power in the land, the Philistine will encounter a more dangerous and deadly form of that power. A cerastes or basilisk shall arise in the person of Hezekiah; nay, a flying dragon shall be the ripe fruit from the indestructible root. The flying dragon is explained by the Targum to be the Messiah, so that the reference would be to the Davidic government of the immediate future under Hezekiah, and that of the ultimate future under the coming Anointed (Delitzsch). Ewald, however, refers to the Assyrian. In religious symbolism the dragon stands for the foul fiend; in historical symbolism he may stand for the avenger, as here. The tribal ensign of Dan was in like manner the serpent (Genesis 49:17), whose deadly hatred to the Philistines appeared in the deeds of the hero Samson.
2. Effects of the Davidic rule. The poor will feed upon Jehovah's pasture, and the helpless lie down in peace. Deeply depressed, menaced on every hand, they shall nevertheless find, under the care of the good Shepherd, nourishment and tranquility unbroken by fears (cf. Zephaniah 3:12, Zephaniah 3:13). The foe will be eradicated by starvation or put to the sword. The picture may be regarded, as other similar pictures, as an allegory of the rule of the eternal Messiah, the enjoyment of the eternal sabbath. For historical relations ever give back some reflection of eternal verities, and these verities enter into and govern the events of every epoch. From every time of national distress, of personal trouble, the spiritual song, undying in its truth and assurance, may be heard arising, "Jehovah is my Shepherd; I shall not want … He prepareth for me a table in the presence of mine enemies."
III. CALM AMIDST THE STORMS. Let the strong cities of Philistia lift up the cry of wailing. A smoke, and behind the smoke dense unbroken ranks of men are rolling from the north. Firm is their discipline, united and invincible their army. What, then, will be Judah's fate? Shall she, too, melt away in the fire? What answer do the messengers of the nations bring? "That Jehovah hath founded Zion, and upon it the sufferers of my people trust." Nothing can bring us triumph but the adherence to principle; nothing should dismay us where that adherence is constant. "Reverence the Lord of hosts himself, and let him be your Fear, and let him be your Dread; and he shall be for a Sanctuary" (Isaiah 8:13). "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a Stone, a tried Stone, a precious Cornerstone, a sure Foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste" (Isaiah 28:16). The "poor of the flock" (Zechariah 11:7), the despised, suffering, and persecuted in every age, are welcome to the sanctuary and to the heart of the great God. While the tempest rages without and his judgments are abroad in the earth, they are sheltered in his pavilion, concealed in the secret place of the Most High. The lowly heart, looking up to that hand, so awful in menace towards all that is "high and lifted up," sees it relax, expand, become as a canopy of protecting tenderness. The suffering are stronger than they seem; they know a way of escape from the worst; they can flee to the Name of Jehovah as a strong Tower; they can enter their closet and shut to the door; they can pray to the Father in secret. The thought of eternal Love is itself a "little sanctuary," whose walls, as they tarry there, recede, open, and afford the prospect of eternal day.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
The false staff.
"The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked." True of the King of Babylon, this is true also of every evil man. It was a sentence that God commanded to be taken up as a proverb against him, and it may be illustrated as a universal proverb in all ages and nations. Men lean on a staff; and unless God be the Rod and the Staff, assuredly it will be broken.
I. HEALTH IS A STAFF. Men lean on that. A well-organized frame and a well-strung nervous system cause men to mistake the tranquil composure of good spirits for the peace which only religion can bestow. Then comes the season of affliction; the silver cord, if not loosened, is weakened; the golden bowl, symbol of the brain, if not broken, is sadly shaken; and with broken health, all else seems broken too. The spirits fail, the inspirations of enterprise and endeavor are weakened, and the proud staff is broken.
II. WEALTH IS A STAFF. Wicked men find that money "answereth all things." It is the key that unlocks the gates of art and travel, and the loadstone that draws genius and beauty to their festivals. It seems a strong support, and, leaning on it, many are tempted to pity the noblest hero if he be poor, and the rarest intellect if it be linked with low estate. But riches take to themselves wings and flee away. The bank breaks, the factory burns, the funds fall, the mines are exhausted; and then, with the departure of riches, departs also feigned affection and the flatterer's praise. "How hath the golden city ceased!"
III. POWER IS A STAFF. They shall say (Isaiah 14:4), "How hath the oppressor ceased!" etc. For wicked men often have such power over others that they can use them for their evil schemes, and bribe them so that they tell no tales that shall bring shame and dishonor. But this does not last. Some "revealing hour" comes. The man that has been "lifted up" is laid low; he can no longer use his old power. Lost character has left him discrowned. Even worldly men will not trust him now. The Josephs are honored; the Daniels are trusted. The Mordecais are doomed. No staff will support in life or death but the old staff: "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The reign of sin and the rest of God.
Taking the period of exile as a picture of the condition of the human soul when it is in a foreign land, under the sway of the enemy, apart and afar from its true heritage, and regarding the return and the "rest" (Isaiah 14:3) in their own laud as a picture of the soul's condition when it has been brought back to God and has re-entered on his service, we have here some valuable suggestions.
I. OUR SPIRITUAL CONDITION UNDER THE REIGN OF SIN.
1. It is one in which we may look for sorrow, and sorrow unrelieved by those alleviations in which godliness finds its solace (Isaiah 14:3). Sin and sorrow go hand-in-hand, or, if not thus conjoined, the latter follows surely and steadily on the steps of the former. The grosser transgressions bring the sterner miseries, but all departure from God and from rectitude leads down to trouble, to dissatisfaction, to sadness of spirit.
2. It is one in which anxiety is always appropriate. "Thy fear" (Isaiah 14:3). For it is a condition in which the Divine Disposer of everything is unreconciled to us, is decidedly and seriously displeased with us, is warning us of an evil doom; in which we have no right to reckon on the continuance of his kindness for another hour, and in which the termination of our earthly course places us before a judgment-bar at which we are not prepared to stand.
3. It is one of spiritual bondage. "Thy hard bondage" (Isaiah 14:3). How truly sin is a slavery we see when we regard it in its more flagrant forms. We see the drunkard, the opium-eater, the liar, so enslaved by their respective vices, that, try how they may to free themselves, they are held down as by an unseverable chain. The children of folly are its pitiable victims, held in a "hard bondage" from which they strive to escape, and often strive in vain. All sin, that of omission as well as commission, is enslaving. The withholding from God that which he claims leads the soul down into a confirmed habit of neglect, of indifference, of procrastination, which holds it fast in its evil toils.
4. It is one of exile. They who are living in sin are living in a country which, emphatically, is not" their own land" (Isaiah 14:1). They were created to live with God, consciously near to him, rejoicing in him, engaged perpetually in his service; under the sway of sin, human souls are living afar off; in a foreign country, in a "strange land" (Psalms 137:4).
II. THE REST WHICH GOD GIVES US HERE.
1. He sets his heart on us to deliver us. He "has mercy on us; he chooses us" (Isaiah 14:1). He looks upon each one of us with distinguishing interest, affection, yearning. He "earnestly remembers" us, that he may save us.
2. He leads us back to himself. By different ways he leads us home, and "sets us in our own land." He so acts upon our souls, in his grace and in his providence, that we are led to penitence and faith, and thus find ourselves back in his favorer and his service.
3. The condition to which God restores us is one of spiritual rest.
(1) We rest from sorrow in the possession of inward peace and abiding joy.
(2) We rest from fear in the enjoyment of well-grounded trust, and a hope which will never make ashamed.
(3) We rest from bondage in the heritage of a spiritual freedom (John 8:36; Romans 8:21; Galatians 5:1, Galatians 5:13).
4. The rest which we have from him is consistent with a large measure of holy usefulness. The children of Israel were to take back with them to their own land these "strangers," who were thenceforth to be their servants instead of their oppressors (Isaiah 14:1, Isaiah 14:2). So are the children of God, by patient, strenuous activity, to win their adversaries to the faith and love of Christ; to make them possessors of the privileges of the kingdom of God even with themselves, and to secure their active help in the conquests they have still to make.—C.
Sin and its humiliations.
This strong, poetical utterance of Isaiah, though primarily directed against one particular city and, probably, one individual king, may convey to us all some serviceable lessons respecting sin generally, and more especially the humiliations which are in its train. We gather therefrom—
I. THAT THE OPPRESSIVENESS OF SIN, THOUGH LONG CONTINUED, WILL CERTAINLY BE BROKEN DOWN. (Verses 4-7.) Sin is constantly, naturally, oppressive. It grasps at power that it may wield it to its own satisfaction, irrespective of the rights of the weak and the helpless. Often its usurpation, like that of Babylon, is very long continued. The oppressed are weary under their affliction; they cry patiently to Heaven for deliverance and redress; they are sometimes apt to think that they are forgotten by the righteous and merciful One. But they are not unobserved by him (Exodus 3:7). He hears their cry; he determines on their relief; at the right moment he intervenes. "The staff of the wicked is broken." "He who smote" is smitten down, and "the whole earth is at rest."
II. THAT SIN MAKES NO TRUE FRIENDS. Adversity is the test of faithfulness. Until the dark hour comes we cannot be quite sure whether our acquaintances are, or are not, our friends; then we "know the proof" of them. In the hour of Babylon's discomfiture there would be found "none to hinder" (verse 6) her destruction. Her allies would fail her then; her dependencies would make no effort to save her; she would be "alone when she fell" (Ecclesiastes 4:10). The "friends" whom sinners make are not "friends in deed," for they will not prove to be "friends in need." If financial ruin, the loss of his good name, overwhelming bereavement, protracted sickness, the near prospect of death, should overtake a man, it is not to his ungodly companions he would resort, for to them he would look in vain. The man of God will not be without those who will graciously and generously intervene to "hinder" the calamity which impends, to alleviate the sorrows which are wounding the spirit.
III. THAT THE REACH OF SIN, IN ITS EFFECTS, IS EXCEEDINGLY WIDE. (Verse 8) The trees of the mountain forest rejoice in the downfall of Babylon. The requirements of that selfish and remorseless power extended even so far as to the cedars of Lebanon. They felt the weight of its tyranny, the edge of its exactions. The evil consequences of the unlawful exercise of power are never confined within a narrow compass; they spread far and wide; they reach places, people, generations, which we might have supposed they would not touch. No man who uses his powers wrongfully can calculate how far the evil will extend, or how many will be glad when there is "no more strength in his right hand." The most striking lesson in this vivid and eloquent passage is—
IV. THAT SIN CARNIES SAD HUMILIATIONS IN ITS EVIL TRAIN. (Verses 9, 19.) The humiliation to which the proud monarch of Babylon is subjected is painted in rich and glowing colors (see Exposition). From the loftiest height of honor he is cast down to the lowest depth of shame; from the softest bed of luxury to the "narrow house of death," where the worm will be his couch and his coverlet (verse 11). God abases the sinner; to whatever height he climbs, from that summit he must come down to the ground and suffer the painful smart of humiliation.
1. It may be from the point of impious assumption. (Verses 13-15, 18, 19; see Daniel 5:22, Daniel 5:23, Daniel 5:30; Acts 12:21-23.)
2. It may be from the summit of human, authority and power. (Verses 9-12, 16, 17.)
3. It may be from the position of the common heritage of man. They who have climbed the highest must fall the furthest, but inasmuch as we have all sinned we must all pay one of the invariable penalties of sin. We cannot continuously ascend, we cannot maintain our position at a certain height. The hour comes when we must decline. Even if there be not for us a sudden and precipitous fall—as to most of the vain-glorious and oppressive there will be—there must come the gradual descent: the fading of faculty, the diminution of strength, the waning of influence, the advance of conscious feebleness, increasing dependence on others, the sick-chamber, death, and the dark, lonely grave. Nothing can save us from this declension, this dishonor. But there are in the gospel of Christ blessed and glorious compensations. Instead of death, is life eternal; instead of humiliation, everlasting glory.—C.
The children of the ungodly; or, parental responsibility.
"The seed of evil-doers shall never be renowned." We must not insist on a literal fulfillment of these words. It is not intended that there has never been an instance in which the children of wicked parents have attained to celebrity. Here, as elsewhere, the spirit, not the letter, "giveth life." The ill fortune which attends the sons of the guilty may be regarded as—
I. A DISTINCT, DIVINELY ORDERED PENALTY. Under the old dispensation it certainly was this. That was a dispensation in which temporal rewards and punishments were almost everything; then the spiritual and the eternal were only faintly felt as motives to action. And one of the most potent considerations which could be brought to bear was the effect of a man's behavior on the fortunes of his children; consequently we continually meet with the prospects of "thy seed," for good or for evil, as a powerful incentive to righteousness, or dissuasion from sin. There can hardly be a stronger force than this; where everything else would fail, this might succeed. There is nothing that reaches us so surely, that moves us so mightily, as an argument in which our children's fortunes are concerned. Whatever "touches them touches the apple of our eye." And here God is saying to those who were showing signs of wandering from his service, "If you fall into great sin and grievous condemnation, you not only do yourselves irreparable wrong, but you involve your children also in misery and shame. The penalty of your guilt will go down to them."
II. THE INEVITABLE RESULT OF RIGHTEOUS LAW. It is likely, in a very high degree, that the children of evil-doers will follow in the steps of their parents, and stoop to the shame to which they fall. All things are against them.
1. They are without the incentive which comes from inheriting a good name and the natural desire to perpetuate it.
2. They are weighted with the positive and most serious disadvantage of bearing a name which is dishonored.
3. They are depressed by a positive and disheartening sense of shame, if they have not imbibed the spirit and acquired the habits of their parents. In the latter case (which is by far the worse of the two):
4. They suffer in their character, and therefore in their career, from the degenerating influences to which they are subjected. And without the preserving and directing principles which make life a true success, impelled by the passions, the prejudices, the ambitions which constitute it a lamentable failure, they do not rise to "renown;" they sink down into disregard, into actual disrepute, into open shame.
(1) This is not positively inevitable. A determination to pursue a holy course, under the guidance of God, in the service of Jesus Christ, will redeem the unlikeliest life from failure, and lift it up to honor and usefulness.
(2) If not for other reasons, then for the sake of our children, let us walk in the ways of godliness; for their present and lasting interests are bound up in the choice we make as to the path we will ourselves pursue.—C.
Divine purpose and Divine power.
We have our thoughts directed in this passage to—
I. THE DIVINE PURPOSE. "I have thought … I have purposed … this is the purpose … upon the whole earth," etc. God had a special purpose respecting Assyria, and he may have had a distinct purpose in inspiring Isaiah to pronounce at this especial time what it was, viz. that, in the dark days of Babylonian captivity, his people might remember its fulfillment, and be assured of an accomplishment for which they had still to wait. But these expressions suggest to us the existence of Divine purposes in the mind of God, dating from the remote past and stretching on into the far future. God's purposes in regard to his creatures have been or are:
1. Creative. In the "far backward and abysm of time" he determined to call worlds, beings, intelligent and immortal spirits, into existence, to be the objects of his thought, care, love; to many of whom he himself should be the Object of worship, affection, service.
2. Ministrative. His purpose was that of boundless benefaction—of conferring on multitudes and millions of sentient beings a life of happiness and, to a vast, number, that of true dignity and worth.
3. Punitive. His purpose has been to punish, never indeed under the impulse of mere resentment, but always in the interests of righteousness and, ultimately, in that of true happiness also.
4. Restorative. He has purposed, and does purpose, to restore; either
(1) his people to a heritage they have forfeited, or
(2) those who have wandered from his service to the spiritual and moral integrity from which they have fallen.
II. THE DIVINE POWER. "So shall it come to pass … so shall it stand … I will break … I will tread under foot … This is the hand that is stretched out … Who shall disannul … who shall turn back" (his hand)? It is true that:
1. God has taken time to effect his purpose; e.g. the building of this world for man's residence, the preparation of the world for Christ's coming.
2. God has permitted his rebellious children to lessen the sum of happiness and worth they would otherwise have possessed.
3. God's beneficent design for the redemption of the world by the gospel has been hindered by external opposition and by internal shortcoming. Yet it remains true, and this is the larger as it is the brighter half of the truth, that:
(1) God's purpose of beneficence, if it can be said to have been checked, has not been defeated: from his strong and bountiful hand he has been bestowing life, joy, blessedness, excellency, which is quite incalculable, which entirely baffles our imagination as it is beyond our reckoning.
(2) God's purpose of punishment has been and will be fulfilled; witness the Flood, the outcasting of the guilty Canaanites, the destruction of "the cities of the plain," the decimation of Sennacherib's army and "the breaking of the Assyrian," the extinction of Babylon, etc. And now, though impiety holds up its head for years, and though vice staves off the evil day of disease and death, and though crime long eludes the pursuer, yet the hand of God does come down in retribution; his holy purpose cannot be disannulled. "Let sinners look to it" (see Numbers 32:23; Proverbs 11:21; Psalms 37:35, Psalms 37:36).
3. God's purpose of restoration will one day be accomplished. "This is the purpose which is purposed upon the whole earth," and "this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations." "The Lord of hosts hath purposed." There may be many obstacles in the way. Difficulties may, to the eye of human calculation, seem actually insurmountable; the estimable forces of truth may appear unequal to cope with the overwhelming agencies of error and evil. But this our great hope is not a bold enterprise of man; it is the purpose of the living God, the Lord of hosts. "His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" Let the Christian worshipper offer expectant prayer; let the Christian workman go up to his post with holy confidence; for the purpose of God, though it be long delayed, shall assuredly be fulfilled.—C.
A truth, a test, and a solution.
We have here—
I. A TRUTH RESPECTING AN INDIVIDUAL DEATH; viz. that we may hope or may fear too much from the death of one man. Philistia was evidently inclined to hope too much from the death of a Jewish king; another was arising (Hezekiah) who would be to his predecessor what a cockatrice was to a serpent—a still more formidable enemy. (2 Kings 18:8). The wicked nation, or the unprincipled party, or the unscrupulous man that indulges a feeling of security because some strong opponent is dead may, probably will, find itself (himself) miserably disappointed. The resources of a righteous providence are not exhausted, though a very pillar of justice be fallen. Or, on the other hand, the righteous may fear too much from the death of a powerful friend. Will not the good cause perish now that the tongue of its most able advocate is silent in death? Christianity did not perish with the departure of Christ or with the death of the apostles. The Father of spirits will not let righteousness expire for want of righteous men, whom he can create and endow and send forth into the world.
II. A TEST FOR THE COMMUNITY. IS the nation, is the Church, doing its work, fulfilling its Master's will concerning it? One good, if not faultless, test is found in the answer to the question—Is it carting for its humblest members? If nothing better can be said for the nation than that its monarch is living in magnificence, or that its rulers or nobles are possessed of great wealth and rejoicing in splendid luxury, then is that nation rapidly descending to ruin. If nothing better can be said for the Church than that its hierarchy is powerful or its ministers well sustained, then is that Church a long way from its Lord's ideal. It is when it can be said of the one that "the firstborn (the poorest) of the poor feed, and the needy lie down in safety" (Isaiah 14:30), and of the other that "the poor of the people trust in it," or "betake themselves unto it" (Isaiah 14:32),—it is then that the end of their existence is answered. The "community" exists for "the common people," and especially the Church exists for the "little ones," the poor, the needy, the unbefriended, the young, the dependent.
III. THE SOLUTION OF PROSPERITY. What should be the answer given to the "messengers of the nation" inquiring about the deliverance of Jerusalem? This: "The Lord hath founded Zion" (Isaiah 14:32). This is the best account we can give to others, as it is the best we can give to ourselves, of any deliverance or of any prosperity we may be enjoying. To refer it to good fortune is shallow and irreverent. To ascribe it to our own ability or energy, or to that of our friends, is insufficient and, it may be: spiritually harmful. We are safe and wise in attributing it to God (Psalms 87:7; Psalms 89:17; Psalms 115:1; 1 Corinthians 4:7). Our faculties, our resources, our opportunities, are all of him; and from him come the energizing force and the overruling power without which all our efforts must be in vain. The reverent and religious spirit
(1) gladly dedicates to the cause of Christ and of his Church all that it can yield, and
(2) thankfully refers all prosperity enjoyed to his guiding finger, his protecting power, his life-giving Spirit.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
God's mercy may delay, it does not fail.
The captivity in Babylon seems to be in the thought of the prophet, and it would be a long and weary time, during which the people, even the faithful among the people, might think God had "forgotten to be gracious," or "delayed his coming;" so assurances are given that, however it may please God to tarry, holding back the fulfillment of his promises, they are always "yea and amen," and at the last it wilt be found that "not one word hath failed of all that the Lord hath spoken." The historical connection of the passage is that the fall of Babylon, to which previous reference has been made, was to be designed, overruled, by Jehovah for the fulfillment of his promise and the restoration of his people. God is said to "yet choose Israel," because permitting them to go into captivity was an appearance of having temporarily cast them off. In illustration of the topic suggested by the passage, we note—
I. MERCY CAN PROMISE. Judgment is always blended with mercy. Mercy must get in its gracious and comforting word. Judgment without mercy is only crushing. Mercy holds before us the hope that enables us to endure the judgment, and learn the lessons of it. Show what the Captivity would have been to Israel without the promises, and the hope of return when the judgment had wrought its work.
II. MERCY CAN HOLD BACK FULFILMENT OF PROMISE. Illustrated in the forty years of wandering in the desert: an unexpected holding back, necessitated by the willfulness and murmuring of the people. Or by David, promised the kingdom, but required to wait for it, even after the death of Saul.
III. MERCY CAN KEEP FIRM TO CONDITIONS OF PROMISE. This is the real reason of the delay. All promises are conditional; and it could be neither wisdom nor kindness on God's part to show indifference to the conditions. Our not meeting conditions is the real reason for prolonged and renewed delays. God never really tarries. His deliverances and benedictions always come at the first possible moment. This may be shown in relation to the Captivity; and the promised Messiah only appeared "when the fullness of time was come."
IV. MERCY CANNOT BE SATISFIED WITHOUT FULFILLING, PROMISES AT LAST. We are to think of God's mercy as a most active attribute. It is watching for its opportunity; determined not to be frustrated; working to secure its ends; and, sooner or later, accomplishing its gracious purpose. Mercy will be finally triumphant.—R.T.
The Lord's rest.
"The Lord shall give thee rest." The word "rest" summarizes God's deliverances, and God's protections, and God's provisions, for his captive people. Assurbanipal boasts that he made his Arabian prisoners carry heavy burdens and build brickwork. And the wearied Hebrews in Egypt were promised the Lord's rest in Canaan. Treating the topic in a comprehensive manner, we may say that the rest which God provides for his creatures must be like himself, and it must be adapted to the deepest and best in them.
I. WHAT GOD'S REST IS. It must stand related to character, not to mere attributes, nor to mere conditions. God must, indeed, be thought of as feeling the differences of outward conditions; the varied states of his creatures do move him to pity, sympathy, anger, or grief. "In all their affliction he is afflicted." But he is always at rest, because the changes in circumstances never imperil the basis-principles of his character. "Justice and judgment are always the habitation of his throne." We are "restless unquiet sprites," as Keble calls us, not because we are in the midst of variable conditions and circumstances, or because these affect our feeling, but because the varying circumstances put in peril the principles of our character. God has eternal rest, because if "the elements melted with fervent heat, the earth and all therein were burned up," God would never question the perfect fatness and righteousness of his rule. Or we may put it in this way. Rest comes from the dominion of one faculty in us; under that dominion all the various powers of our nature fall into order, take their place, keep the peace, and secure for us rest. War may be a thing of the soul as well as of the circumstances, and the inward war consists in the conflict of motives. Mind, and will, and judgment, and affections are out of harmony, and make the war in the soul. But we can conceive of nothing like this in God. He is at rest because in his Divine nature, which is the true after which we are imaged, there is the order and harmony that follow upon the rule of the highest faculty. And what, for God, may we think is the highest faculty? This surely is the fullest revelation of God—"God is love." Ruling love secures rest. And if, for God, the highest is "love," what is the highest for man? Surely it must be "trust." Then the rest of God is the rest of character and of love; and the rest for man is the rest of character and of trust—of that character which grows up out of the root "trust." But, treating the subject in another way, we may see what is involved in saying that God's rest, as provided for man, must be adapted to man, to the deepest and best in him. Rest is the great longing of every heart. All men everywhere have this for their supreme quest.
1. Man, as man, is ever seeking rest. It is his "good time coming."
2. Man, as a sinner, is ever seeking rest.
3. Man, as redeemed, is ever seeking rest.
God's rest for man is a glorious whole, beginning within us, in the faith we set on God, spreading through all the forces of our being its hallowing influence, and bringing the quietness and peace of settled, centered character; reaching even to the circumstances in which we are placed, modifying them, bringing them into its obedience, and so growing from the rest of the soul to the sublime, eternal, all-embracing rest of heaven.
II. WHO MAY WIN THE LORD'S REST? It is very easy to say that, since it is the rest of faith, only believers win it. But we have come to talk about "faith" and "believing" in such a way that they are rather magical words to conjure with, than deep, full, rich expressions whose divinest meanings we grasp and use. Are believers only those who accept a particular creed, and have a common intellectual conception of the "plan of salvation?" Or is the true believer the man who possesses the spirit of trust; whose heart leans on God; whose loving reliances are on the heavenly Father? Surely the faith that saves is the yielding of the self to God; it is the heart's grasp of the righteousness and mercy which are revealed in Jesus Christ. This we can all win, and this is the Lord's rest.
III. How FAR MAY THIS REST BE A PRESENT CONSCIOUS POSSESSION? It is a mistaken notion that all the facts and processes of the religious life must come into conscious recognition. Our Lord taught us that the growth of souls was like that of the plants. It goes on secretly, no man knoweth how; no man can trace all the processes of change from seed to blade, from blade to ear, from ear to full corn in the ear. Rest may be ours, and we may not think about it. It will never be won merely by seeking for it. It will be won by doing our duty, by simple obedience, by living in the grace of Christ, by perseverance in well-doing, by "holding fast the profession of our faith without wavering." Be "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord," and it will be plain to others that you have reached the Lord's rest; and it may be that sometimes the joy of that rest will come into your own consciousness, and you wilt feel that "peace passing understanding" which is the foretaste of the "sweet rest of heaven."—R.T.
God's judgments on other nations than our own.
The "burdens" are given as a series of prophetic visions; events pass before the prophet's mind as in a moving panorama, and he notes down just the things that more particularly arrested his attention. A prophetical description of an event will differ from an historical account of the same event, by being a irate outline, or else a vigorous word-painting of certain salient features, rather than a circumstantial detail. Prophetical work is akin to poetical work, and its due apprehension depends on spiritual sympathy rather than on logical precision. The passage commencing with Isaiah 14:4 is perhaps the most striking passage in this series of burdens. It is an ode of triumph on the fall of the Babylonian monarch. Bishop Lowth says of it that he "knows not a single instance, in the whole compass of Greek and Roman poetry, which in every excellence of composition can be said to equal or even approach it. It may with truth be affirmed that there is no poem of its kind extant in any language, in which the subject is so well laid out, and so happily conducted, with such variety of images, persons, and distinct actions, with such rapidity and case of transition, in so small a compass, as in this ode of Isaiah. For beauty of disposition, strength of coloring, greatness of sentiment, brevity, perspicuity, and force of expression, it stands among all the monuments of antiquity unrivalled." Babylon may be treated as a representative of all the nations surrounding and related to Israel. They are the great nations of the ancient world, but they fringed round the land of Canaan on the north, the east, and the south. The prophet denounces Babylon, and Moab, and Syria, and Egypt, and Tyro, and solemnly warns Edom.
I. AS NEIGHBORING NATIONS, THEIR PROPHESIED DESOLATION BECAME A POWER ON THE JEW. At the time that Isaiah wrote his first prophecy the nation of Israel was in a perilous and painful position. The consequences of prolonged national self-will and idolatry were pressing heavily upon it. The great Asiatic nation, which was to be the Divine agent in their punishment, was coming nearer and nearer to them, swallowing up, in its irresistible progress, the intervening kingdoms. The northern portion, that called Israel in distinction from Judah, was about this time subdued by Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, and its people were carried away captive. The kings of Judah only secured a temporary respite by paying a heavy tribute, and the one or two good kings of the period, such as Hezekiah and Josiah, did but, as it were, make the dying taper flare up for a while ere it suddenly went out in darkness. It must have been a hard thing for a godly man to live in such a time, and in the midst of such surroundings. We can imagine the pious Jew in such an age saying, "Are we not the covenant people of God? Have we not been, through long years, the special objects of his guidance, defense, and care? Yet it seems now as if God had forgotten us. These surrounding nations are in the height of prosperity. See Babylon the magnificent! See Damascus the wealthy! See Tyre the commercial!" To such as these, in Jerusalem and in Judaea, the prophecies of Isaiah, charged with the "burdens" of these prosperous nations, would come as a Divine consolation, and would say to them, "Do not confine your thoughts to that only which you can at present see; take in the future; view things in the larger light of him who has all men and nations in his control, and the long ages in which to work his purposes." Isaiah shows them that sin is sin everywhere, it carries its tremendous consequences everywhere. Delays are, everywhere, but the long-suffering patience of God that loudly calls to repentance. For the unrepentant everywhere—call him Gentile or call him Jew, be he covenanted or be he uncovenanted—there is only a "fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." But these prophecies were intended to be a power upon the many as well as upon the few. The many were heedless and blind, puffed up with their apparent security. For long years the warnings of their earlier national history had been neglected. In their self-security they had even ceased to fear the "Judge of all the earth." To them there came the voice as of a man rapt in sublime vision: "I see the burden of Babylon. Exalted to heaven in privilege; thrust down to hell in disgrace, I see the place of Babylon. Behold, it is not: the hand of the Lord hath swept it away." "Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand: it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty."
II. AS GREAT AND PROMINENT NATIONS, GOD'S DEALINGS WITH THEM CARRY LESSONS FOR ALL AFTER GENERATIONS. In order to reach us with helpful moral influences, God finds it necessary to set the little matters concerning the progress of our little life in large before us in the histories of nations. A nation is, as it were, a man whose entire life-course can be watched through from childhood to decay. The invisible things of morals may be made manifest in the visible scenes of history. An old divine has the following remark: "God can punish nations in this world, but for the punishment of individuals he wants both this world and the next." We live such brief lives here on earth that we cannot get extensive and worthy ideas of the issues of sin from studying merely our own experiences. Nor can we, even from the most striking cases of individual suffering, as a result of sin, discern the full majesty of the Divine indignation. But the life of a nation can be set forth in its completeness; it is a finished whole. We can read the story of Babylon and Tyre, from cradle to grave. The life of a nation is long enough for us to trace in its history its growth, its sin, its fall, and its woe. And the calamities that come at last upon sinful nations are figured in such aspects of terror as to create the profoundest impression on us. This may be illustrated by the Persian overthrow of Babylon, or the Roman siege of Jerusalem, or the manifest decay of the Turkish empire in our own times.
1. From this subject we learn to have faith in God about the nations of the earth. God has set England in the very midst of the world-kingdoms, very much as he set old Canaan in the center of the great ancient empires, on purpose that we might be a gracious power on them, and learn wise lessons from them. God is painting truth for us in his dealings with them. And God's ways, whether in the small for individuals, or in the large for nations, are ways of chastisement, are instinct with love; are intended to do them good. in their latter end. So we may have faith in God concerning the nations of the earth.
2. And we learn to have faith in God about a true and godly life. If we only see lives in the little, as Asaph did, who wailed out the seventy-third psalm, we may easily be bewildered. But see lives in the large, in the mass, and then we are assured that iniquity never flourishes through; at the last it always "biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder." Many a man dies without the suffering and punishment exhausting itself. But a nation never dies without the sin-degradations and the sin-judgments being plain to view upon it. It is true, forever true, that "righteousness tendeth unto life." Sin is simply a tremendous, awful burden, more than any man can bear, such as no man can bear away. Kept, it must crush unto wounding and woe. Somehow, somewhere, outside ourselves, we must find a sin-bearer, who can carry our sin away.—R.T.
The Hebrew conception of Sheol.
Henderson says, "In this verse the state of the dead is represented as thrown into great agitation, on its being announced that the mighty King of Babylon is about to enter. Personages of the same rank, as the fittest to conduct the ceremony of his reception, and the most likely to sympathize with him, are selected to present themselves and address him on the occasion. They rise from their thrones of state on which they had been sitting—perpetuating in mock majesty the pageant which they had exhibited while on earth." "Sheol is here used collectively of the entire population of shades. The word means first a grave, or individual sepulcher, and then the grave as a general receptacle, indiscriminately occupied by all the dead without respect to character." In its further signification it means the abode of disembodied souls, and these are regarded poetically as retaining not only a form, but a position also, analogous to that which they had on earth. It is an interesting and important, though a difficult question, how far we may regard Holy Scripture as colored by the common conceptions of a future state in ancient times. We need not regard such conceptions as tree, because they belonged rather to the imaginations of men than to the revelations of God. The subject may profitably be discussed under the following headings; but little or no treatment is suggested, because different conclusions are reached by different schools of theologians.
I. On the nature and occupations of the future state, or condition of the dead, no precise revelations were made in olden times.
II. Men seem to have been left to fashion the future by their own imaginations. The general line of thought seems to have been started by Egyptian notions concerning the dead; but each nation put its characteristic seal upon its eschatology.
III. There is a very real sense in which "life and immortality have been brought to light" by Jesus Christ.
IV. But the light he sheds falls rather on the character of the future than on the form of it. He meets all that man actually requires to know; he satisfies man in nothing that he too curiously seeks to know. The essence of Christ's revelation of the future is, that moral goodness is crowned with everlasting blessedness.—R.T.
The ambitious spirit in man.
The word "Lucifer" means the "light-bringer," and so has been in modern times associated with our matches. As standing in this text, it has often been taken as a synonym for Satan; but it really is a highly poetical description of the King of Babylon, and the Babylonian empire is in Scripture represented as the type of the ambitions, aspiring, tyrannical, and self-idolizing power. Isaiah 14:13 gives the supreme boasting of this king: "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God." "Babylon had shone forth in the dawn of. the world's history with surprising luster, but was perverted by self-admiration." It should be remembered that the ancient Oriental notion was that kings were incarnations of the Divine, and everything was done to sustain this sentiment. We have evidence of this as regards Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia, Such a sentiment must have fostered national ambition to an extravagant height. Treating the King of Babylon as a type, we consider the general subject of the "ambitious spirit in man," observing—
I. THAT IT IS THE SPRING- OF ENTERPRISE. The true spring of human enterprise should be loyalty and devotion to God. Next to that we place supreme desire for the well-being of others, the "enthusiasm of humanity." But these have been made to give place, and self-interests have fashioned the ambitions which have inspired men to heroic and persevering deeds, in all the various spheres of life. Illustrate, from commerce, science, travel, literature, and extension of kingdoms. Ambition has been the source of achievement and the spirit of progress. It may be shown how far it has thus proved an element in the well-being of the race. Without ambition the world could never have been won for man.
II. IT IS ALSO A CONDITION OF INDIVIDUAL GROWTH. Without it a man remains in the educational anti intellectual range of his class, and the social sphere in which he was born. Illustrate from the farm-laborer, who, through a long life, plods on his simple way, attaining nothing, because utterly lacking the inspiration of ambition. The spread of education is chiefly important for this—it shows higher levels, and starts ambition. A man ceases to grow when he ceases to aspire. And the infinite perfection of God is the sublime height set before us. We may all grow on until we have become like him.
III. IT IS THE SPIRIT IN MAN TO WHICH RELIGION APPEALS. Religion finds it crushed down into hopelessness, and it touches it, quickening it into new vigor and hope. Religion finds it diverted to base and merely self-seeking ends, and it brings it back to the right lines, and makes it noble and self-denying. Man, made in the image of God, and made for God, must want to reach God. Religion sets God before him—so attractively in the person of the Lord Jesus—that the ambitions are drawn in, and become one supreme ambition to be worthy sons and devoted servants of the Lord God Almighty. The Christian ought to be the most ambitious of all men. A Christian without his sacred ambitious does no honor to his name.
IV. IT IS THE SPIRIT IN MAN WHICH MUST BE KEPT UNDER STRICT LIMITATIONS. Because ambition so soon and so easily gets beyond self-control—the control of the sanctified self—and becomes self-willed, self-seeking; a mere striving to attain, whether God will have us attain or not. Then ambition is like that of the King of Babylon, and it must bring us under Divine arrestings, checkings, and judgments. The law of limitation is, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness." There is no fear for the influence of any ambitions that come after, this first and supreme one. The sin and folly of men's usual ambitions lie in their putting God last. It is with them "all of self, and none of thee."—R.T.
Children suffering for the fathers.
The idea finding poetical expression here is, that the judgments of God necessarily fall on the last members—the children-of a corrupt and wicked dynasty. It is in the public and open administrations of providence, it is in the events and circumstances and history of this world, and not in the secret dealings of God with each individual soul, that the law of this text applies. For the sake of moral influence upon the whole race, children are seen to suffer for their parents' wrongdoing. But no children can bear, before God, the burden of their parents' guilt. The law of the children suffering, generation after generation, belongs to the solidarity of the race. But that is a purely material conception. Souls are individual, and every soul must bear entirely its own burden. It may share, it can share, no one else's. "So, then, each one of us must give account of himself to God." This truth may be fully illustrated along the following line.
I. CHILDREN SUFFERING FOR THE FATHERS IS A PHYSICAL LAW. Much has recently been discovered concerning the law of heredity, but only the fringe of a great subject has yet been touched. No greater calamity rests on men than the bodily bias and tendency given by diseased or degraded parentage. The familiar illustration is drunkenness; the fact equally applies to other sins.
II. CHILDREN SUFFERING FOR THE FATHERS IS A MORAL CONDITION. That is, as an established and recognized fact it is designed to be a moral power on parents. It is a persuasion to righteousness for the children's sake. No higher moral force on affectionate natures can be provided than this consideration, "You physically injure those whom you love best, if you are self-indulgent."
III. CHILDREN SUFFERING FOR THE FATHERS IS A DIVINE JUDGMENT. Striking men in one of their tenderest places. Men would bear an extreme of suffering, if they might bear it all themselves; but it is terrible to think that they drag their children under, and the weight will crush them. Only let us see quite clearly, that it is the disability and the suffering of sin, but not the guilt of it, which thus passes from generation to generation.—R.T.
The security of the Divine Word.
Cheyne translates, "Sworn has Jehovah Sabaoth, saying, Surely, according as I have planned, so shall it be; and according as I have purposed, that shall stand." God here declares that it is his fixed and unalterable purpose to destroy Assyria. And who can stop the fulfillment of the Divine Word? In answer to this question, we say—
I. CAN NATURAL FORCES? No, for that was settled when the Red Sea parted asunder, and made a highway for God's people.
II. CAN NATURAL EVENTS? No, for that was settled in the wilderness. Such commonplace things as murmurings and rebellions could destroy a particular generation, but could not keep Israel out of Canaan.
III. CAN INDIVIDUAL MEN? No, for that was settled in Nebuchadnezzar, who had to learn, by humiliation, that God's will would have to be done.
IV. CAN COMBINED MAN? No, for that was settled when the kings of Canaan joined to oppose God's advancing hosts, and were swept away, before them, like a summer cloud before the sun.
Nobody and nothing can stop the fulfillment of God's Word. We may go with it, the flood will carry us with it, like helpless logs, if we struggle to oppose. But the Word and will of God are always righteous, beneficent, and good; so it is well that they should abide.—R.T.
Zion a safety for the poor.
Take Zion as a type of Christ's Church in all the ages. It should be a shelter for the poor in the following five senses which may be attached to the word.
I. In the sense of the ignorant.
II. In the sense of the meek.
III. In the sense of the yoking.
IV. In the sense of the persecuted.
V. In the sense of the doubting.
Every age is, in one form or another, a troublous age for all earnest souls. The Church is ever the abiding earth-shelter, type and suggestion of that soul-rest in God which the poor—in every sense—may always find.—R.T.