Isaiah 47
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
This is a scoffing song at the overthrow of Babylon. It is divided into four nearly equal stanzas. Luxury, ambition, and the practice of magic - the one sin worse than the others - were prevalent at Babylon. Each of these is lashed in the first three stanzas. There is a climax, the scorn of the prophet reaching its highest point in the last stanza (Ewald). Spiritually considered, the picture may represent the course of "this present world" in its godless pride.

I. BABYLON AS TYPICAL OF LUXURY. The city in ancient fancy is ever thought of as a woman - in all her beauty and glory, or in all her shame. The great city here appears as the haughty and luxurious courtesan. The just judgment has fallen upon her impurity. She is violently torn away from her life of softness and refinement, and reduced to the status of a common slave - has to ply the hard labour of grinding meal (Exodus 11:5, 12; Job 31:10). Or, like a captive stripped of all her finery, she has to wade barefoot through streams. Every hidden shame will be exposed to the light of day. Only in Israel - as Isaiah 42-46, have repeatedly proclaimed - is salvation to be found. These calamities of the proud city are in retribution for her sins - the just vengeance of an offended God.

II. BABYLON AS TYPICAL OF PRIDE AND AMBITION. This "daughter of the Chaldeans" is no longer to be termed "lady, or mistress, of kingdoms." When Jehovah was wroth with his people, and desecrated his heritage, giving them into her hands, she showed no pity, but laid a heavy yoke upon the aged, thinking in her heart, "1 shall be mistress for ever." She did not consider the end, which has now come upon her. While Israel enjoys freedom, she must pass into the darkness of the prison-house (Isaiah 42:7, 22).

III. AS TYPICAL OF SUPERSTITION. In her carelessness and pride she has exalted herself above Jehovah (Zephaniah 2:15). She thinks she will never lose her protector, the Chaldean king; and her children, the stout burghers of the city. But sudden conquest will deprive her of both, and she will be as a widow, forlorn. Her third and inexcusable sin is superstition. Her wisdom and science have led her astray to a point of blinding self-conceit. But now an evil has come upon her which no incantations and spells can charm away - a mischief for which none of her rites can atone. Her false confidence has blinded her to the true faith in the eternal God (with vers. 10, 11, cf. Isaiah 45:18; Isaiah 19:11, etc.). And tile result must be sudden and crushing ruin.

IV. BABYLON'S FALL AS TYPICAL OF THE WISDOM THAT IS BROUGHT TO NOUGHT. What can all her learned astrologers and magicians do for her now - they whose guidance has so long been followed (cf. Isaiah 46:6, 7; Isaiah 44:12; Isaiah 43:23)? Let them stand by her in her need, those star-gazers and moon-gazers. But all are dumb, and, so far from helping, flee for their own safety from the fire - no gently warming hearth-fire (Isaiah 44:16), but one most horrible and devouring, from which there is no escape (Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 33:11-14; Isaiah 5:24).

V. LESSONS. All the great sins are connected together as links in a chain. They are drawn as with a cart-rope. Sensuality and luxury bring pride and contempt in their train; and these, again, blindness and bewilderment of mind. And where no affliction nor humiliation have been known, there will be no sympathy nor pity towards others. Yet religion is ever a necessity to man; and, if the true religion be rejected, some counterfeit must take its place. The most foolish and the darkest superstitions flourish in such times. So it was again when Christianity was making its way in the decaying Roman world. True religion, rooted in humanity and the fear of God, and in light-loving intelligence, alone can deliver the nation and the individual. - J.

The point here, according to some, is that Babylon loudly boasted about her never having been captured; so she called herself, and was called, a "virgin" city. The figure suggests all the delicacy, all the luxuriousness, all the pride, of the Eastern princess. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." The humiliation of Babylon is presented in precise accordance with the circumstances and sentiments of a grand and proud princess. The hands that were never soiled shall do menial work; the lady who sat in state, in her lovely boudoir, shall sit on the ground and work the household handmill; she who walked alone, attended by her maids, shall be tied to a group of captives, and dragged to foreign slavery; and the delicate dame who had been royally clothed and modestly veiled shall be exposed to the jests and sneers and rude gaze of rough and brutal men. It is a picture of crushing judgments, such as must surely, sooner or later, overtake proud persons, proud cities, and proud nations. God works by humblings, as well as by actual sufferings. The force of the picture presented here lies in the command to the exquisite princess to "take the millstones, and grind meal." This was the most servile form of female labour, and those engaged in it are often squalid and half-clad. Poor blind people go from house to house to grind, and thus earn a pittance. The indignity expressed in the command to "uncover thy locks" can only be understood as it is known that Jewish women are not permitted to show their hair after marriage, and their head-dress is so contrived as completely to conceal the hair. The expression, "pass over the rivers," alludes to the demand to wade the streams as the humiliated princess journeys to the place of her captivity. Illustrate -

I. THE HUMILIATION OF PROUD NATIONS. Such striking cases may be dealt with as the ruin of commercial Tyre; the dismantling of strong and gorgeous Babylon; the overthrow of imperial Rome; the discomfiture of Xerxes and his immense army; the prostration of Napoleonic France. Bushnell has a fine argument for the dignity of human nature as shown by its ruins, and he illustrates by references to the utter desolation and ruin of what were once the great cities of great nations.

II. THE HUMILIATION OF PROUD CLASSES. The calamities of war, famine, pestilence, trade depression, most quickly and grievously affect them, because of the thousandfold fictitious wants which their pride creates. There are no miserable creatures so miserable as those who are born to riches, and, having none or losing all, are left in their helplessness.

III. THE HUMILIATION OF PROUD INDIVIDUALS. Show the various shapes it takes in this life, and illustrate from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the certainty and hopelessness of it in the next life. Of this we may be quite sure - God has woe in store, in this life and in the next, for all the proud. - R.T.

Upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke. This wrong-doing is selected, out of all others, to point the reproaches of the prophet. If Babylon would do that, it was merciless enough to do anything. Hard, indeed, is the heart that will show no pity for old age, but will lay a heavy yoke on its shoulders. We may let this sentence suggest to us the light in which a Christian man will look at age. What is its due? How shall we exhibit the temper our Master would approve in our bearing towards it?

I. THE CONSIDERATENESS WHICH IS DUE TO THE WEAK. Many passages from both Testaments invite our attention to the considerateness of the Divine Father, of the gracious Lord, to the weak, to the burdened, to the defenceless (see Isaiah 40:11). To be patient and considerate in our relations with those whose power is reduced, and who are going back to the feebleness out of which they once came, is to be "the children of our Father who is in heaven," is to be "disciples indeed" of the great Exemplar.

II. THE RESPECT WHICH IS DUE TO THE EXPERIENCED. There are truths which nothing but experience seems able to teach. What evils might not be shunned, what sorrows escaped, what happiness and what usefulness secured, if we would but let the wisdom of the experienced direct our thoughts and guide our steps! They only who have sounded the waters of life can tell their depth; they only who have drunk of its many cups can tell us where the killing poison or where the curing medicine is to be found. Age, instructed by experience, has a wisdom Which youth and maturity do well to reverence and to master.

III. THE GRATITUDE WHICH IS DUE TO THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED US. There are many aged men who have lived selfish lives, and to whom we owe no gratitude at all; but there are others who have toiled and suffered, not perfunctorily or of constraint, but freely and magnanimously, - to these far more is due than the pecuniary payment they may have received, and they win go to the grave unrecompensed if those who reap the fruits of their labours and trials do not render them the honour they have earned.

IV. THE SERVICE WE SHOULD RENDER TO THOSE WHO WILL SOON BE BEYOND OUR REACH It is an affecting and constraining thought that there remain but a very few times more when we can do anything for one of our neighbours - that he will soon be where our band cannot reach to rescue or to enrich him. The aged will soon be gone from amongst us. A few weeks or months will take them where no kindness of ours can make their path smoother, their heart happier, their character more noble. To them, most of all, applies the gracious sentiment " Be kind to each other; The night's coming on, When friend and when brother, Perchance, will be gone."

1. Unkindness to the aged is peculiarly displeasing to God.

2. Considerateness and succour shown to the aged will draw down the special favour of Christ. They, too, are among the "little ones" whom it is at our peril that we "offend," to render whom the simplest act of love is to win a Saviour's blessing. - C.

Thou didst not show them compassion. God had entrusted Babylon with the work of executing his Divine judgments on his people. The work was done, but God could not approve of the way in which it was done. Compare, for illustrative purposes, the cases of King Saul and of John. Saul was made executioner of the Divine judgment on Amalek, but God could not approve of his work: he erred on the side of laxity. Jehu was made executioner of the Divine judgment on the house of Ahab, but God could not approve of his work: he erred on the side of severity. The complaint God makes against Babylon is that it had "shown no mercy," and one specific instance is given - there had been no considerateness shown towards the aged among the captives; even "upon the ancient hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke." Even the old people were made to do the tasks of bond-slaves. "They respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders" (Lamentations 4:16); "Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honoured" (Lamentations 5:12); "I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction" (Zechariah 1:15). "The writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel do not suggest that the Jewish exiles were great sufferers. Perhaps the prophet may refer to the cruelties which disfigured the first days of the Babylonian triumph; or possibly the conduct of the Babylonians varied, according to the flexibility and submissiveness of the conquered" (Cheyne). The general topic suggested is that God's work entrusted to us becomes a Divine agency for the searching and testing of our characters. God will be sure to take account, not only of the fact that we have done the work, but also of the spirit and the manner in which we have done it. No parent can be satisfied with obedience that is a mere act. God watches the character of our obedience. It may be shown that we do God's work unworthily, and come under his reproof, when we -

I. DO IT TO SERVE SELFISH ENDS. This spoils all obedience. The motive in it is wrong. But how searching it would be to us all to try and read our actions in the light of the motives that prompted them! Babylon served itself, so it can expect no approval or acceptance from God.

II. DO IT OTHERWISE THAN AS GOD WISHES. For he who properly takes up a work for God keeps himself open to Divine leadings and teachings as to the way in which it should be carried out. We often err by taking up work, and then severing ourselves from any close and daily dependence on God in the doing of it.

III. DO IT WITHOUT DUE CONSIDERATIONS AND QUALIFICATIONS. Here the reproach is that no "mercy" was shown. God's judgments are always considerate in their applications; they are mercy-tempered; they take due account of "remnants" and "faithful few." In this man almost always tails, and so he does not represent or honour God even in his work for him. - R.T.

This is a striking picture of infatuation. We note -

I. ITS ESSENTIAL NATURE. Under the perverting influence of sin men come into a mental and spiritual condition in which everything is strange, unnatural, distorted. Something has "perverted" them (ver. 10). It is a condition in which things seem to them other than they are - in which they fail to discern what ought to be quite palpable to them, in which they are subject to unhappy and hurtful delusions. Knowledge does not instruct them, facts do not affect them, reasons do not convince them, truth does not enlighten them. They are duped by semblances, betrayed by errors, ruined by the falsehoods which they entertain and cherish.


1. An extravagant and offensive egotism. "Thou sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me." It is a very common effect of sin to produce in men a sense of their own importance carried to a painfully high degree; they think and feel as if their present interests were the only things to be consulted. Everything else must make way, every one else must give way to them; their comfort, their advantage, absorbs all other considerations whatever. None else beside them is of any account.

2. A blind disregard of the future. "Neither didst remember the latter end of it." Many men regulate their lives as if they would always remain as strong and healthy as they are to-day. Many indulge in courses which tend to weakness or to dishonour, or even to utter ruin, without concerning themselves as to the goal toward which they are travelling. They know that death is in front of them, that judgment awaits them; but they do not "lay it to heart" - they remember not "the latter end of it."

3. An overweening estimate of their own power. "I shall be a lady for ever... I shall not sit as a widow." Men "say in their heart," "Other men have made great mistakes, but I shall avoid them; other men have suffered in their circumstances or in their health, but I shall escape; on other men judgment and penalty have fallen, but I know how to avert the blow," etc. They imagine themselves to be possessed of an ingenuity, a sagacity, a power of defeating the operation of penal laws, which does not. belong to them. No one else credits them with this extraordinary faculty; everybody else is convinced that they will he bitterly undeceived: they are infatuated by their sinful folly.

4. A belief in the excellency of animal enjoyment. They are "given to pleasures" (ver. 8). One of the infatuations of sin is that sensuous delights will satisfy a human soul. It is a complete delusion. As men yield to the temptations of the flesh they find that pleasure lessens as the craving grows: they eat, but are hungry still; they drink, but are thirsty as before. The lower gratifications do not fill the heart which God created for himself and for his service and friendship.

5. A fatuous infidelity. "None seeth me" (ver. 10).

III. ITS INEVITABLE DOOM. "Therefore shall evil come upon thee," etc. (ver. 11). The doom of spiritual infatuation is:

1. Sometimes sudden. "Desolation comes suddenly;" when men are saying, "Peace, peace," then sudden destruction.

2. Often mysterious. Men do "not know whence it ariseth." Concealed beneath the surface are the seeds of sorrow and of death; they are invisible, but they are there.

3. Always inevitable. Men are "not able to put it off." Wealth cannot purchase its departure; authority cannot order it away; ingenuity cannot escape its power. A voice which none may disregard or disobey will be heart exclaiming, "Get thee into darkness" (ver. 5). - C.

Neither didst remember the latter end of it. The experiences of mankind have brought the conviction that moral laws are always and uniformly working, as surely as physical laws. Wrong universally leads on to ruin. Whatsoever a man sows he reaps. "Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death." This is all so certain that, if any man proposes to take any particular course in life, he may duly consider the "latter end of it" - he may estimate it in the light of that "latter end." He is foolish indeed if he does not take into account final issues and results. And yet this is precisely what men usually fail to do. The thief takes no account of the prison; the forger of penal servitude; or the murderer of the gallows. The proud will not see the certainty of life-humblings, or the violent the evil which the bitterness of the crushed and insulted will bring upon them. If we asked ourselves, before entering on self-willed courses, Where shall we be, what shall we be, ten years hence? we should hesitate and step back. Babylon enjoyed pride, and refused to see any consequences resulting from high-handedness and defiance of God and cruelty to man. But if the Nemesis moves slowly, it moves surely; its tread is firm, its advance is certain. The "lady for ever," in her own vain imaginations, sits down at last a desolate captive, a humbled, childless widow, the most helpless and miserable creature that Eastern imagination can conceive (vers. 8, 9). "The guilt of Babylon is intensified by her reckless arrogance. She presumed that the colossus of her power would never be broken, forgetting the danger of provoking the God of gods."

I. CONSEQUENCES HELP US TO UNDERSTAND THE CHARACTER OF THE COURSES WE CHOOSE. We may be hurried into acts and scenes of life by excitement and passions; we may be deluded by the mere appearances of things as they pass. We only know what things really are as we sit down quietly and count up their issues, see them working out their results. We know sensuality thus; for he that soweth to it reaps corruption. We know frivolity thus; for it works out into a wretched unfitness for all the solemn scenes and responsibilities that must come to us all. We know pride thus, when we see it driving from us all who could render us service of love, and leaving us to suffer and die in the hands of the hireling.

II. CONSEQUENCES SHOULD WARN US FROM EVIL COURSES. The drunkard should run from the cup, at the bottom of which lies the awful picture of the drunkard's body, the drunkard's mind, the drunkard's home, the drunkard's hell. And so of other deceitful sins and lusts. Alas! that men will not "consider their ways" in the light of their "latter end"! - R.T.

The point impressed is that disaster takes unexpected and overwhelming forms, against which the wisest man fails to take precautions. Man can only affect the smallest of circumstances that are put into his control, and the few persons who are under his immediate influence. But each one of us belongs to a great whole, and is affected by great forces, which God alone controls. We are carried whither we would not. We are borne down by evils which we seem to have done nothing to create. We are helpless before the hurricanes and earthquakes and pestilences with which God can smite. After illustrating and impressing this point, show how we ought to stand to the Divine order. We may so stand that no event arranged by the Divine wisdom can take shape for us as calamity.



III. WE MAY PUT OURSELVES IN HARMONY WITH THE DIVINE ORDER, That involves our fitting our will to the Divine will; and that self-seeking man will never do until he is "humbled under God's mighty hand." - R.T.

Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. The mind of man will seek counsel. For men everywhere, in the old Athenian groves and gardens, and in the fellowship of modern clubs and associations, will seek for "opinion" to guide and help them. They are so slow to trust alone to conscience and to God.

I. THE UNSATISFYING ORACLES. "Thou art wearied." You have tried them so often without results of guidance and good. All is vain. Men go here and there, but, alas! too often to those who are the most likely to fall in with their desires and whims. Like Absalom, men consult counsellors like Ahithophel, who pander to their folly. Then, when times of real emergency and anxiety come, when the poor tired heart needs rest and peace, it is led to new pleasures, new excitements and interests, until weariness ensues. How contrasted is the Christian's lot! "Commit thy way unto him."

II. THE MANIFOLD FAILURE. It is a failure all round. Think of the multitude of counsellors. Men go to a minister instead of to the Bible; or to a priest instead of to a Saviour; or to their passions instead of their conscience; or to man instead of to God. Humbly let us seek the heavenly guidance. "The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way." - W.M.S.

Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Babylon was trusting self, trying to find its own way out of calamities; and it was proving what weary, hopeless work that always is. Astrologer was the final resource of the despairing Babylonians.

I. THE WEARINESS OF VARIETY. A vain searching for some new device. A restless dissatisfaction with everything.

II. THE WEARINESS OF MULTIPLICITY. Bewildered with the many helpers, who yet were all vain helpers. Multitude is suggested by the different terms, "astrologers, star-gazers, monthly prognosticators." Illustrate by the weariness of Athens, in her multiplicity of idols and altars.

III. THE WEARINESS OF REPEATED FAILURES. Nothing is more depressing than to fail again and again. Yet precisely this is the ever-repeated consequence of self-trust and self-help. Blessed is it when weariness does not pass into despair, but leads to the abandonment of self-reliances, that full trust may be placed in God. - R.T.

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