Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. He took a large tablet, and wrote therein in "popular characters," i.e. in large text, distinct from the literary character, perhaps a character half pictorial, the words "Hasten-booty, Speed-spoil," or "Booty-quick, Spoil-speed." In those days there were no newspapers, no puffing placards staring from the walls, and books were only for the learned. This was suggestive to write up a sentiment or suggestion like this for the public eye. To this day in the East, if you ask the people their reason for believing this or that, their answer will be, "Is it not written? Men did not write books to deceive us." To write this pregnant phrase was, then, to impress it on the popular imagination. "Go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever" (Isaiah 30:8). "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it" (Hebrews 2:2). Then, to fix the solemn act of putting up the tablet in memory, he takes two witnesses - Uriah the high priest (2 Kings 16:10), and Zechariah, perhaps "mayor of Jerusalem" at the time.
2. Next, he gave this same mystic name to a son born about the same time, so that the boy might be, as it were, a "living epistle" by means of his significant name, "known and read of all men," and keeping alive in their hearts the hopeful prophecy of his father. Before the boy can lisp his parents' names, that prophecy will be fulfilled, and the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the Assyrian king.
(1) The lessons of the teacher need to be addressed to the senses of the multitude. The sign for the eye, the parable for the imagination, the illustration which "strikes," the epigram and "winged word" which fastens in the memory, - all may be pressed into the service.
(2) Pith and condensation should be studied. A sermon is not wasted if the text sticks, or if a single pregnant saying has lodged itself in the mind, as a seed to stir and quicken thought to purpose. - J.
I. UNWILLING SERVICE. We may conclude, from 2 Kings 16:10, 11, that Uriah the priest (ver. 2) had no real interest in the service of Jehovah; that he did what Isaiah requested of him with an indifferent, if not a positively reluctant mind. We may be "requisitioned" by the great King in the long warfare he is conducting. He who is rebelliously refusing to place his intelligence, his spiritual nature, his resources, at the command of the Divine Savior, need not be surprised if he finds himself constrained to serve his generation against his will. By violent excesses sinful men have made their own cause odious; by shameful cruelty, calling out heroic endurance, they have made the cause of truth most honorable in the eyes of men. God can make the wrath and the foolishness and even the stubbornness (e.g. Pharaoh) of men to praise him.
II. UNCONSCIOUS SERVICE. The little infant was a "sign" to the prophet and the people; it rendered a service in its own way, but it must have been an entirely unconscious one. It is a painful, and should be a preserving thought, that when we do wrong we "know not what we do," - how heinous is our offence, or how large and long will prove to be its issues. On the other hand, it is a pleasant and inspiring thought, that when we are doing right, in our several spheres and according to our various powers and opportunities, we do not know what service we are rendering. It may be one much more highly esteemed than we imagine at the time (see Matthew 25:37-40). It may be one that has far more valuable and lasting results than we could possibly calculate. Especially is it true of the little child, that he is unconsciously serving his kind. The infant in the family has a softening, sweetening, humanizing influence of which it knows nothing, but which is very beautiful and valuable. Ever and everywhere will it be found that "the little child shall lead them whom no other force will either draw or drive."
III. ACCEPTABLE SERVICE. This is:
1. Intelligent. Whatever the exact significance of "writing with a man's pen" (ver. 1), it is suggestive of the double truth that, in working for God, we should
(1) put out all our powers in their fullness and in their maturity, and should
(2) speak (or write) words adapted to the capacity of those whom we address. Many who seek to serve throw away their opportunity, because they do not the fitting as well as the excellent thing; only too often "the best is the enemy of the good."
2. Prudent. (Ver. 2.) The prophet placed his prophecy beyond reach of cavil by securing two unexceptionable witnesses, one of them being the more convincing because his sympathies were on the other side; his testimony, therefore, none could challenge. Though conscious of the most complete integrity, it is often wise and well to be fortified by the evidence of others. Prudence as well as zeal has its place in the catalogue of Christian graces.
3. Faithful. It was no smooth message which the prophet was to deliver (ver. 4). The very name of the child was to be a standing threat of impending evil (ver. 3). Not only he who now speaks for God, but every Christian man, is bound to render this faithful service; his words and his life are to testify against the vice, the levity, the worldliness, the ungodliness, of his age; they are also to bear witness to the excellency and beauty of unselfish and loyal service. - C.
i.e. such as the common workmen used for sign-boards, that might fix the gaze of the careless passer-by, and on that tablet, as though it were the heading of a proclamation or dedication, he was to write 'to Maher-shalal-hashobaz.'" This name recalls the prophecy which Isaiah had already given (Isaiah 7:14-16). The word actually and precisely means "Speed plunder, haste spoil." It refers to the Assyrians whom Isaiah sees hurrying to spoil both Syria and Samaria. First the public sign, and then the child, bearing the prophetic name, were to be a constant testimony to the truth of Isaiah's words, and a means of keeping the cheering prophecy ever before the people. The passage reminds us of the value attached to, and the use made of, Old Testament names. On this subject F. W. Robertson has a very suggestive passage (vol. 1:41, 42): "In the Hebrew history are discernible three periods distinctly marked, in which names and words bore very different characters. These three, it has been observed by acute philologists, correspond to the periods in which the nation bore the three different appellations of Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews. In the first of these periods names meant truths, and words were the symbols of realities. The characteristics of the names given then were simplicity and sincerity. The second period begins about the time of the departure from Egypt, and it is characterized by unabated simplicity, with the addition of sublimer thought, and feeling more intensely religious. Words mean realities, but they are impregnated with deeper religious thought. The third period was at its zenith in the time of Christ; words had lost their meaning, and shared the hollow unreal state of all things." Keeping in mind how conveniently and efficiently Isaiah wraps up his prophecy into a name which will at once arrest attention, this use of names may be illustrated:
1. In relation to families. We recall to mind loved relatives, or acts of kindness done to us, or persons whose heroic lives we admire, by giving to our children some significant name.
2. In relation to the sale of articles. The skill of the advertiser is shown in the discovery of some taking name, which will draw public attention to the article offered.
3. In relation to science and invention. The results of research and discovery do not become public property until they can be fixed in a name; even men's theorizings getting thus labeled for use.
4. In relation to doctrines. Statements of Divine revelation do not become public property until they get a name, which is a sort of handle, by which the ordinary mind may grasp them. By such illustrations the practical wisdom of Isaiah's act may be shown, and then the truth which he sought thus to keep before the minds of the people may be impressed, The staring name, calling the attention of all the passers-by, said plainly, "Trust God, not man." "Fear nobody but God; nothing but God." "His word is surely true: though you see it not, it is hurrying even now to its accomplishment." That name said, "Trust in the Lord forever." "He maketh the wrath of man praise him, and restrains the remainder of wrath." - R.T.
I. TEMPORAL ALLUSIONS.
1. The foreign sympathies of the people. Tired of the inefficient reign of Ahaz, they watch for the approach of the two northern kings with interest. They have forgotten their patriotism, which once rallied round the house of David as a political and spiritual center. The "softly flowing brook of Siloah" by Jerusalem was symbolic of that house. 'Twas the river that made glad the city of God, the holy place of the Highest's dwelling (Psalm 46.). Small was it compared with the great flood of Nile or Euphrates, but mild and gentle. "Nile, with its monstrous crocodile and behemah, might be the image of the cruel Egyptian rule; and mighty Euphrates, with its frequent overflowings, that of the Assyrian power and of its swift extension." As in ancient folk-lore dragons were supposed to haunt the waters, so the Assyrian power was like the daemon of the great river (cf. Isaiah 27:1).
2. The wave of Assyrian conquest. Onward it will come, a magnificent flood, to punish, to purify. The Assyrian king, with all the "pomp and circumstance of war," an awful array, will, as the river breaking its bounds and overflowing all banks, rush into Judah, overflowing and rolling, till the flood reaches to men's necks; or, as with the outspread wings of the flying dragon, the foe will cover all the breadth of the land - land of the passionately hoped-for Immanuel.
II. VICTORIOUS SPIRITUAL HOPES. The name of the Messiah, "God with us," acts like a charm on the troubled spirit of the seer. His discourse suddenly becomes a bold menace against all heathendom.
1. Material power defied. Let the nations rage and let them - despair! Let them fit out their armaments and - despair! exclaims the prophet. Let them form their plans - they shall be broken; speak their words - they shall not stand. For "with us is God!" What magic in a name, in a phrase! Carrying our thought forward through the centuries, we recall what powers were defied, what wonders wrought, what force reduced to impotence, what counsels reduced to folly, by the magic of the Name of Jesus. Yet it is not the mere name, but the reality denoted by the name, believed and felt to he operating through the human spirit, which is the source of energy.
2. Personal inspiration Idle had been these defiances, if the prophet did not know of a secret warranty for them in his own breast, in his own spiritual record. "Thus said Jehovah unto me in the ecstasy." He had heard a voice which all could not hear, and had cleared his vision in a light not vouchsafed to the vulgar. It was a discriminating light. He was taught to see that not all the multitude called rebellious was really such, nor all that it feared was really to be dreaded. The allusion is somewhat obscure. Probably under the guise of fear the people were secretly rejoicing, and meditating the dethronement of Ahaz. The language strikes a side-blow at the pusillanimity of the time. The prophet has learned that Jehovah is the true Object of fear; that noble and steadfast reverence which, a mighter passion, expels the feebler and baser.
"Fear him, ye saints, and you will then III. SOLEMN WARNINGS. He who will ever prove an Asylum to the faithful and an Altar of refuge, will be to the faithless a Stone of stumbling, a Rock of offence, a Trap, and a Snare. We know how these thoughts were applied to the coming Christ, and how they were fulfilled. Set "for the fall and rising again of many in Israel," and for the "revealing of the thoughts of many hearts," he is to them that believe precious "a Stone, a tried Stone; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded." 1. The Name of God is an object of dread or of delight to us according to the state of our own affections. 2. Truth is a touchstone. Either we recognize in it the "pearl of great price," and are willing to sacrifice all to possess it, or it is like a certain stone of which Plutarch tells, found in the river Inachos, which turned black in the hand of the false witness. Truth seems like falsehood to the debased imagination and depraved will. - J.
III. SOLEMN WARNINGS. He who will ever prove an Asylum to the faithful and an Altar of refuge, will be to the faithless a Stone of stumbling, a Rock of offence, a Trap, and a Snare. We know how these thoughts were applied to the coming Christ, and how they were fulfilled. Set "for the fall and rising again of many in Israel," and for the "revealing of the thoughts of many hearts," he is to them that believe precious "a Stone, a tried Stone; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded."
1. The Name of God is an object of dread or of delight to us according to the state of our own affections.
2. Truth is a touchstone. Either we recognize in it the "pearl of great price," and are willing to sacrifice all to possess it, or it is like a certain stone of which Plutarch tells, found in the river Inachos, which turned black in the hand of the false witness. Truth seems like falsehood to the debased imagination and depraved will. - J.
I. THE FALSE STANDARD. The world has always been witnessing illustrations of this error. The history of the Hebrew nation supplied many such: Noah and the mocking world that laughed at him; Abraham and the Canaanites; Moses and Pharaoh; David and Goliath; Joseph and his persecuting brethren; Elijah and Ahab, etc. The apparently weak man (or nation)had the strength of the Divine arm to sustain him (it); the apparently strong one was essentially weak and unreliable. We may see the same thing in:
1. Christianity itself, which in its first beginnings was a "softly going" stream as compared with the strong tumultuous waters of Jewish fanaticism and Roman militarism.
2. Divine truth, which sometimes goes so softly that it may almost be said of it that "there is no speech nor language, its voice is not heard;" that it "does not strive nor cry," etc., as compared with the complicated organizations of men.
3. Holy love, which flows on unseen, unheard, "like subterranean rivers," as compared with noisy vehemence and untempered zeal.
4. The promises of God, which flow so quietly and graciously through the sacred Scriptures from the beginning even to the end, as compared with the pretentious securities of worldly wisdom. If we wish to know whether we may commit the keeping of our soul, or even of our earthly interests, to those men who (or those things which) offer themselves to our choice, we must not be satisfied with the shows and semblances; we must look to the heart of things; we must ask whether there is soundness, rectitude, within; we must ask, above all other questions - Have they the approval of God with them, and the power of God behind them? For without that the strong river is to be shunned, and with that the softly going stream is to be sought.
II. THE FATAL ISSUE.
1. Roman imperialism passed away, dragging down many thousands with it in its fall.
2. Splendid but corrupt organizations have overflowed the land, even as the "waters of the strong river" were to cover Immanuel's land, and beneath their deathful influence multitudes have perished.
3. Rampant zealotry has slain its thousands, not only of those whom it ruthlessly assailed, but of those who wielded its weapon, and were partakers of its evil spirit.
4. Earthly properties and possessions have buried innumerable souls beneath their destructive weight. It is a fatal thing to trust that which is not worthy of our confidence: for that on which we lean falls on us and slays us; the river to whose waters we resort, instead of fertilizing and saving, floods and drowns us. The peril here is one which threatens the Church as well as the world. The overflowing river "fills the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel." - C.
Psalm 46:4, 5), "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God. God is in the midst of her." And Jeremiah speaks of the people having "forsaken the Lord, the Fountain of living waters" (Jeremiah 16:13). Taking these waters of Shiloah as the figure for Jehovah, they may be shown to illustrate -
I. THE GENTLENESS OF JEHOVAH. His kingdom "cometh not with observation." There is no cry, no lifting up of voice. He never rolleth like a desolating flood, save in times of special judgment. He bubbleth gently as a fountain; and those who read their lives aright learn to say, "Thy gentleness hath made me great." This characteristic comes out strongly in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was a gentle persuasion of truth, and a gentle example of righteousness. And still it is true that the regenerative force, in individual life and in society, "flows softly," like the waters of Shiloah.
II. THE CONSTANCY OF JEHOVAH. A fountain is fed from unfailing sources; it is always flowing, ready with its supplies at all times; no enemies can limit it or cut it off; in the secret places of the earth it has its storehouse, and it is ready with its help for every time of need. These suggest what God ever has been and is to his people. We have never to search for him; he is always here. We have never to force him; he is always ready - "A very present Help;" "A Refuge and Strength."
III. THE SUITABILITY OF JEHOVAH. This may not be the best term for the thought, which is, that the perennial fountain, at constant command, was better adapted to the circumstances of Judah than the river of Euphrates, which, if turned towards them, could only rush over them in desolating flood. Jehovah was more precisely adapted to their conditions. He could more fittingly meet their demands than any "arm of flesh," however strong it might seem to be. The thought may be enlarged upon under the guidance of the following passage (2 Corinthians 9:8): "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work."
IV. THE SUFFICIENCY OF JEHOVAH. The fountain flows on, day and night, pouring forth its fullness of blessing; whosoever will may drink and live. We are never "straitened in God." He can do abundantly for us, above all that we ask or think. Judah could only be dissatisfied with Jehovah because they did not prove his faithfulness and mercy; they did not cast themselves upon him. "Trust in the Lord forever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." Advance to show how this figure of the waters of Shiloah gained new form in the teachings of the Lord Jesus, who said, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." - R.T.
Isaiah 7:14). The distant reference may be to the coming of the Lord Jesus, as Immanuel, to the land of Judah, or rather of Canaan. But probably the name should be translated, and used as a succinct description of Palestine. This is its great and characteristic peculiarity; it is the "God with us" land. This may be illustrated, and the lesson from it enforced, under the following divisions.
I. IT IS THE LAND PREPARED FOR IMMANUEL. It was selected, and other countries were set in relation to it, so that it might be the "God with us," land, in which a special manifestation and relationship of God might be tried, in the face of the whole world. The country was remarkably isolated geographically. And it was as remarkably centered. These corrected each other. Israel had the best opportunities for preserving the great truths of the unity and spirituality of God which were entrusted to it. And at the same time it was set in the "eye of the world," so that all nations could watch the singular experiment of the theocracy.
II. IT IS THE LAND HONORED BY THE ABIDING OF IMMANUEL. That direct and sensible presence of God which was the condition of the covenant was indicated by the Shechinah-symbol in tabernacle and temple. The glory of Israel wandering was God present. The glory of Israel settled was God abiding and ruling. The presence of God with us, as we know it, is Christ, the Temple-body, apprehended by our senses; and the Holy Ghost, the Temple-spirit, apprehended as witnessing and working within us.
III. IT IS THE LAND THAT MUST BE WORTHY OF IMMANUEL. It was the fundamental idea of Judaism that the land was holy, because God walked to and fro in it; and, therefore, the people must be holy. And still this is the persuasion, "Be ye holy; for I am holy." The figure may stand for the land of each man's life. That ought to be a "God with us" land. - R.T.
I. THAT SIN SOMETIMES APPEARS IN IMPOSING ASPECTS. There were four aspects, not to say elements, of power in these world-kingdoms - confederation, preparation (gird yourselves), consultation (take counsel together), authority (speak the word). Sin, which is the great enemy conducting a long campaign against the Church of Christ, certainly seems as superior in strength to its present foe as did these great kingdoms of the East to Judah and to Israel; indeed, far more so. Sin has on its side:
1. Vastly preponderating numbers.
2. Rank and authority.
3. The greater material resources, including military power and money.
4. Ancient tradition and inveterate habit.
5. An apparently impregnable seat; it is defended by the strong fortresses of worldly interests, animal appetite, spiritual pride, moral indifference.
II. THAT THE PROPHETIC EYE SEES ITS UTTER OVERTHROW. "Ye shall be broken in pieces;" "it shall come to naught;" "it shall not stand." Under the shadow of the first promise we see the head of the serpent bruised (Genesis 3:15). At the feet of the prophet we see the "little stone" "break in pieces and consume all these (earthly) kingdoms," itself "standing forever" (Daniel 2:44). Standing at our Master's side, we "behold Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18). With apostolic hope, we look on the time when Christ "will have put down all rule, and all authority, and power," all his enemies being "under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:24, 25). The world-power shall be utterly broken, and on its ruins shall rise "the kingdom which cannot be moved."
III. THAT OUR CONFIDENCE IS IN THE PRESENCE OF THE INVINCIBLE SAVIOR. "For God is with us." We may rejoice to reckon our trophies already gained; we may point, with congratulation, to the growing intelligence and enthusiasm of the army of the Lord; we may hail signs of decay in ancient, enfeebled systems; but this is our confidence: we have with us, working m us and for us, the Holy Spirit of the Divine Redeemer: "For Immanuel" - C.
I. THAT GOD SOMETIMES ACTS UPON US WITH CONSTRAINING POWER. "The Lord spake with a strong hand" (ver. 11; see Ezekiel 3:14). The Divine impulse was one that the prophet felt he must not resist. Not that it was absolutely irresistible, but one that a faithful man knew that he must not hesitate to obey. God often acts upon the soul of men with strong and urgent power to constrain or to restrain. He approaches and influences us thus by
(1) his Divine providence;
(2) one or other of the privileges he has provided for us;
(3) his Holy Spirit.
II. THAT GOD HIMSELF IS THE TRUE REFUGE OF THE HUMAN SOUL. (Vers. 13, 14.) Here is:
1. Our duty. We are to fear God, to pay a reverential regard to his will, to shrink from that which grieves him, to "dread his wrath.
2. Its recompense. He shall be for a Sanctuary." In him, as in a pavilion, we shall hide. He will either deliver us from trouble by saving US from our enemies or in trouble, by granting us the sustaining grace which makes us "more than conquerors" in the midst of it. If we who are his "saints" will but "fear him" with obedient reverence, we shall then "have nothing else to fear."
"How was it, lovers of your kind,
III. THAT TO RESIST GOD IS TO WALK IN THE WAY OF WRONG AND RUIN. God is, to the perverse and the rebellious, "a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense" (ver. 14). God must be everything to us, for life or death. If our relation to him is not to us the fountain of everlasting joy, then it will be to us the source of unspeakable sorrow. The rejection of his truth and of himself will be our sin on earth, our condemnation in judgment, the subject and source of our remorse and retribution in the long hereafter. Our God is One whom it is infinitely worth while to make our Friend, and One whom we must not make our Enemy, if we have any love for ourselves, any interest in our own destiny. - C.
2 Corinthians 2:1, 6. "To the one we are the savor of death unto death, and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?" God is to men as men are to him (see Psalm 18:25, 26), But is this saying anything strange? Surely it is the secret of good motherhood and fatherhood. They who order their households well are wisely responsive to the various states of the children, adapting and adjusting conduct to the dispositions and circumstances of each member of the home. No skillful parent treats all the children alike, and differing modes of treatment are no indications of varying degrees of love. He who loves us all must deal with each upon his perfect understanding of each one. He must be, he had better be, a "Rock of offense" to some. To the trustful child he can be a "Sanctuary;" but to the willful child he must be a Severity. His dealings will, at first, cause offense. There is a very deep and searching truth indicated here, which may be illustrated from God's dealings with his people, and with individuals from among his people, through all the ages. It is that a man may compel God to be otherwise towards him than he would be. The passage which clearly states this, and will be a key to many other passages and illustrations, is the following: "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God" (Ezekiel 18:23). It is difficult to realize, but it is not beyond belief, that the same infinite goodness makes God both a "Sanctuary" and a "Rock of offence." In very grave measures - sometimes we feel in overwhelming measures - the responsibilities of our life-issues, and even the character of Divine relations with us, rests upon ourselves. After the willful ones, hurrying to their doom, God, hastening, pleads thus: "Why will ye die? O house of Israel, why will ye die?" - R.T.
I. THE ORACLE SEALED. 'Tis time to make an end. Let what has been written remain, rolled up and sealed and kept, until the day when those taciturn letters shall find their tongue and burst into flame. And, indeed, every true thing may be said to be "written down for the time to come, forever and ever." It may be lost sight of for a time, but only to be recovered. For though the records of human thought, nay, the human mind itself, is a palimpsest, oft scribbled over, the eternal writing of God upon the conscience is indelible, and will be seen, despite willful blindness and pedantic glosses. The testimony we bear is first and last for the eyes of God. The Roman poet (Hor., 'Ep.,' 1:20) seems to dread the fate of oblivion for his verse at certain moments - cannot brook the thought that his roll shall be packed into its case and left unread. But such was not to be the fate of the poetry of Horace, nor of any true poetry. God can read through the closed pages of true lives, and faithful utterances find audience in the court of angels, in the hails of eternity.
II. PLEDGES OF FUTURE GOOD. "I and the children whom Jehovah hath given me are signs and omens in Israel on the part of Jehovah of hosts, who dwelleth on the Zion-mount." His own name meant "God's salvation;" those of his children, as we have seen, "The remnant will return" (or, "be converted"), and "Hasten-booty, Speed-spoil." For the soul that is strong in faith is also strong in hope, and it makes its own omens, or finds omens where others can see none.
III. MAGICAL SUGGESTIONS REPUDIATED. The wizard, the magician, the "medium," as he is now called, was in great vogue in the days of Ahaz. Just as at modern séances, these media would imitate the supposed voices of ghosts in some low chirping or muttering tone. What keener satire could be launched against such practices than that of the prophet! It is indeed turning to the dead, instead of to the living and the true God. Where the taste for truth is spoiled, the appetite for the extraordinary and marvelous springs up; and men will fall headlong into the greatest follies, provided they flatter their self-conceit, though wide awake to their interest, and keen to detect the impositions of others in general.
IV. TOO-LATE REPENTANCE. The language is condensed, the thought fused in a mass. But the meaning seems to be - too late will the weak and wicked apply to the true oracles they had forsaken for the false. "In extreme distress, and afflicted with the pangs of starvation, the man rushes as a maniac through the land, curses in the moment of his terrible distress and exasperation his god and lord whom he vainly and slavishly served, and directs his eyes upwards to the true God. But when he looks down to the earth again because he had discerned no light above, he sees there the most dreadful darkness and distress, without any ray of light, without any hope breaking through it, and thus he is hunted forth again into the darkness to perish therein (cf. Job 15:22, 23; Job 18:5, 13)" (Ewald). - J.
I. HIS SPECIAL TRIALS, the answer to that question is this: Apparent failure in his work, with all the sorrows such discomfiture involves. It is an intensely bitter experience for a human soul to pass through. What can be more distressing to one who earnestly longs for, and is striving to promote, "the kingdom of God," than to look on and see faithful labors break down and issue in nothing? Such was the keen sorrow of Isaiah. It seemed to him as if God were "hiding his face from the house of Jacob" (ver. 17); for the people would not welcome his truth, would not walk in his ways, would not trust in his mighty power. So was it with the preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5-8), and with the psalmist (Psalm 119:136), and with Elijah (1 Kings 19:10), and with Paul (Galatians 1:6; Galatians 3:1; Philippians 2:21; Acts 20:29, 30); and so was it with the Master himself (John 6:66, 67). The human teacher at such times is grievously troubled, for he is apt to conclude
(1) that God may be dissatisfied with his testimony; or
(2) that he himself has not been as wise or as faithful as he might have been; or
(3) that those whom he has been addressing have incurred serious guilt. But let us ask what are -
II. HIS CONSOLATIONS. They are such as these:
1. There are disciples who learn the truth and love it. "Bind up the testimony... among my disciples" (ver. 16). Isaiah was not without some who received his word, and for whom he could pray that it would be engraven on their hearts. Elijah and Paul had their disciples; the Master, we know, had his. If we will look further, we shall find that there are fruits, on the bough, though many branches be barren; good results are not invisible, though they are not so apparent as we could wish.
2. The God of all truth is with us, and his ear is open to our appeal. "I will wait upon the Lord" (ver. 17). All hearts are in his hand; he is earnestly desirous of blessing his children; his promised aid is a strong assurance.
3. The human teacher is the organ of Divine truth. "I and the children are for signs and wonders... from the Lord of hosts" (ver. 18). Even their very names were significant of some truth which came from Jehovah himself. Everything about the prophet, down to his children's names, was ordered from above. The prophet only taught that which he was inspired to teach, and the truth of the everlasting God must ultimately prevail. God will not let the words of him who speaks faithfully "fall to the ground" (1 Samuel 3:19). Even as the word of him who was "the Truth" should never pass away, so shall the words of his faithful disciples abide, doing their work in unsuspected places and in unimagined ways. The truth we have received from the Lord of hosts may long be hidden, but it will not be lost. - C.
I. DARK HOURS. The Lord "hides his face." This expression is used, because the face is the expression of character and feeling. It reveals our emotions of love and anger, of confidence and distrust. To hide it, is to turn away in disgust, in sorrow, in shame. God is ashamed of his people Israel, whom he had set apart for his glory. A hidden face is a terrible punishment. The child feels that, and longs for the returning smile of approval and love. How beautiful is the prayer, "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us!"
II. DIVINE SUPPLICATION. "I will wait upon the Lord." Not with hurried petition does the prophet come, but with an attitude of soul that shall show depth of desire and earnestness of purpose. Prayer is a sign of renewed life. We cannot long continue to ask for blessings that we do not really desire. Hypocrisy soon fatigues, even where it is not found out; and our poor human nature, sinful as it is, wearies of subterfuges. In waiting upon God we have the surest evidence that our penitence is sincere and our faith vital.
III. UPLIFTED VISION. "I will look for him." Men look for so much, and not for God. For human approval, for earthly success, for ambition's tinsel crown. In looking for God his Savior, the prophet is looking for all that the house of Jacob needs. It is a wistful eye that we read of here. Anxious, but yet hopeful. Some had "sought unto familiar spirits, and wizards that peep and mutter;" and it seems as if the world had not yet grown wise enough to forsake all that kind of seeking today! "Should not a people seek unto their God?" asks the prophet; and in every age those who look alone unto him have never been disappointed. When the eyes are opened, and the heart is full, even if the lips be not eloquent, God can read deep meaning in the earnest gaze of faith; and he will return and bless his people Israel, according to his Word. - W.M.S.
the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob;" and Jeremiah uses a similar figure in one of his prayers: "Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through" (Lamentations 3:44). Aside from the historical associations of the text, the expression itself is a suggestive one, and may be made the basis of meditation. Whatever may be the fact concerning God, this at least is the fact of the pious man's experience - it feels to him as if God had hidden his face and covered himself with a cloud. Two thoughts are suggested by the figure.
I. THE TWILIGHT GLOOM OF THE CHRISTIAN OFTEN ARISES FROM THE SENSE OF CHANGE IN HIMSELF. There are more twilight-times than night-times in the circle of the year, and in the circle of a religious life. Isaac Taylor reminds us that, in a whole year, there are only two or three absolutely dark nights. Nature gets a great blessing out of those two or three, but could not bear more. And in a religious life there are many things large enough to dim the rays of hope, and cast long and dark shadows over the spirit, but very few things strong enough to blot out the sun and stars, and make a midnight for the soul. Now, we need to see clearly that the gloom of spirit we feel usually comes from changes in ourselves. We are so ready to settle our twilight glooms upon God, as though in his sovereignty he had thus dealt with us; and then we fail to see our own mistakes, and we make no efforts to remedy the evils which are the immediate occasion of our fears.
1. Much inward trouble comes from the state of our bodies. The action and reaction of body and mind are exceedingly subtle.
2. Much of our inward distress comes from unwatchfulness. We may easily pass through most important changes of circumstances unheedingly. We often are in new circumstances before we are at all prepared for them, and then their influence may prove depressing or overwhelming. Life is to be for us all a succession of surprises, and yet we are never to be taken unawares. Our bodily weakness, our unwatchfulness, our indulgence in sin, hides God's face from us by putting a cloud across it. It is hidden, but we must see that we ourselves are the occasion and cause of the hiding. It lies with us to get the cloud away.
II. THE MIDNIGHT GLOOM OF THE CHRISTIAN OFTEN ARISES FROM THE IDEA OF CHANGE IN GOD. Christian joy comes from a clear consciousness of the Divine nearness - "the face of God shining upon his servant." Christian woe comes when God seems to be afar off, hidden; it is as though the sun had passed in behind a cloud; the face that made heaven for us shows frowns. It may well he called midnight darkness when the soul has conceived the idea of changed relations in God. One or two comforting considerations may be dwelt on.
1. Change in God only comes as a consequence of change in the Christian. He is the unchangeable One; but in his role he adjusts relations to those whom he would bless. To the sinner, he is a God of holy indignations. To the penitent, he is a God of saving mercies. To the earth-child, trying to live a godly life, he is a watching, guiding Father. To the Christian in trouble or pain, he is a tender, comforting Mother. He is not varying and uncertain; that would make him untrustworthy. He is adapting himself to us, so that if ever God seems to have changed towards us, we may be quite sure that the truth is we have changed towards him. If he hides himself, there must be some cherished wrong in us, as certainly as there was in the Israel of Isaiah's times.
2. Change in God is never change in his feelings, only in sensible relations. It should be settled, as one of our immovable truths, that there can be no real change in God, whatever appearances we may discern. Look long with our human eyes, and the firmest steeple will seem to be trembling and tottering to a fall; but the trembling is only in our vision. For a "little moment God may hide his face from you, but with great loving-kindness he will gather you." Change in sensible relations there may be. The joy of his love we may lose, not his love. The impulse of his grace we may lose, not the grace. The comfort of his presence we may lose, not the presence. It should, indeed, humble us that we may lose so much, but even in our soul's midnight hours we need not despair. As the child in the dark whispers "Father!" and is at peace when the father-arms press closer, so we, in the night, may find that if our Father's face is hidden, our Father himself is near. - R.T.
I. How a man's body may be consecrated to God.
II. How a man's health may be consecrated to God.
III. How a man's gifts may be consecrated to God.
IV. How a man's possessions may be consecrated to God.
V. How a man's personal friendships may be consecrated to God.
VI. How a man's family life may be consecrated to God.
VII. How a man's social influences may be consecrated to God. - R.T.
I. THE CONFESSION OF UNGODLINESS AND ITS DEGRADATION. When men have thrown off their allegiance to God, when they have denied the existence of their Creator, when they have explicitly refused to seek and to serve him "in whom they live and move and have their being," they may imagine themselves to be free from all spiritual bonds; but they are miserably mistaken. They forsake a homage which is honorable and a service which is ennobling, to fall into a superstition which is contemptible and degrading. So closely, so inseparably is man associated with the spiritual world, that, try how he may, he cannot escape from it. He that will not serve God must honor demons or consult spirits, or engage in some "cultus" which is discreditable to his intelligence and injurious to his moral nature. It is notorious that Rome never sank so low as when, losing its faith in the gods, it sank into debasing superstitions of this kind. And in this respect a corrupted civilization and an unredeemed barbarism "meet together." The penalty of ungodliness is terrible. Corruptio optimi pessima.
II. THE DEMAND OF INTELLIGENT PIETY. "Should not a people seek unto their God?... To the Law and to the testimony" (Vers. 19, 20). A right-minded, rational people, possessed of that fear of God which is the beginning and also the end of wisdom, wilt ask - What does God say? For they will consider that:
1. He who made them knows, as they cannot know, what are the capacities of their nature, and what is the purpose of their life.
2. He who has all power in his hand, and who makes large requirements of his creatures, both can anal will bless those whom he approves, and ban those whom he condemns.
3. Therefore it is infinitely desirable to secure his approbation and his help. Such a people will, consequently, ask - What does his Word state? What can we gather from his "Law" as to his will concerning us? An intelligent piety will resort to "the Law and to the testimony," not that it may find minute correspondences and detailed injunctions, but that it may light on living principles which it may itself apply to all new forms and changing conditions.
III. THE HOPELESSNESS OF SIN. If we read the prophet thus, "There is no light in them," we reach the truth that sin brings men down to a condition in which the light that has shone from reason, conscience, revelation, has gone out; in that ease the sources of enlightenment are stopped, and our Lord's graphic and painful picture is realized (Matthew 6:22, 23). But if we take the words of the text thus, "They are a people for whom no morning dawns," then we arrive at another, though a kindred truth, that sin leads down to utter spiritual hopelessness, to evil without prospect of amendment, to death without hope of life, to darkness without gleam of morning light. Men do, by the path of refusal and delay, reach a moral condition in which:
1. Privilege does not benefit them; additional services only add to their accountability without touching their soul.
2. Chastisement does not awaken, but only aggravate them (see Isaiah 1:5).
3. Direct Divine influence fails to lead them into the path of life. The night of spiritual death only deepens and darkens; there dawns no morning of the eternal life which is in Christ Jesus. - C.
personal characters, such as Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, Abraham. To this was by-and-by added the revelation of the Divine will in written and spoken words, for which advancing civilization and culture prepared men. At the very beginning, as the written revelation could not get into the hands and use of all men, it was presented for a time in the pictures of an elaborate ceremonial. Later on it was expressed in the free speech of prophets and teachers, and then the pictured ceremonials might fade away. At the very last the Divine standard of truth and morals for humanity was exhibited, in its completeness and perfection, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Truth, duty, virtue, were here among men. Christ was the perfect realization of God's idea of a moral being. The standard man is not on earth now, but his record remains. That record is in all our hands; it is as if we lived our daily life in the presence of the Divine ideal. We have in our Bible God's great rule of truth and duty. Consciously of unconsciously we do test every action by our standard; all the questions arising in connection with our moral life are brought to the test of the "Law and the testimony."
I. THE BIBLE EXERTS ITS MORAL FORCE UPON US BY THE TRUTHS WHICH IT CONTAINS AND REVEALS. These truths test all received opinions. Each man really is according to his opinions and beliefs; the whole temper and conduct are toned by the truths received. If they are according to the "Law and testimony," their fruit will be righteousness and mercy. The Bible does not, indeed, contain any formulated system of theology or of morals, but it does contain such an harmonious setting forth of all necessary truth as, in fact, constitutes a complete system both of doctrine and of duty. The Bible has its own sphere; within this it is infallible. It is the sphere of character; it is no standard of appeal for geographers, or arithmeticians, or astronomers, or ethnologists, or literati, or philosophers. For all such the Bible is a book of the age in which it was written, and it embodies the thought which was the common property of the men of the time. Man does not want a written revelation of science, for he has not lost the key which enables him to unlock its mysteries for himself. Man does need a written revelation of standard morals, because he flung away his key in Eden, and, with ages of painful searching, he has failed to find it again.
II. THE BIBLE EXERTS ITS MORAL FORCE BY THE PRINCIPLES WHICH IT EMBODIES. The structure of the Bible compels us to search out its principles. They do not lie on the surface, like seeds on beaten paths, ready for every passing bird to pick up. They are given to us embodied in history, illustrated in incidents of individual lives, and in phases of personal experience. Nothing seems to be said in the New Testament about ecclesiastical politics, or orders of Church government; but there are to be found great principles, which can be wisely adapted in their practical expression to the varying conditions of men in different ages. There are no announcements concerning social manners; there is nothing taught in a direct way concerning monarchy or slavery, for instance; but the Bible gives principles which, gradually gaining sway over the minds of men, constitutionally attemper monarchy, and will after a while banish slavery from the earth. A principle is more searching than a maxim. Men may think they could have done better with a Bible like the books of Confucius, full of maxims, shaping into order the whole minutiae of life. Such a Bible could only make automata, not living men. God gives a Bible full of quick effective principles; these, getting into the soul, are the seeds whence come flowerings and fruitings of righteousness. A maxim will guide us in one case, a principle will put us right in ten thousand. Circumstances may always limit the application of an express commandment; a principle fits and shapes itself to every new occasion, as the rising tide into every bay and nook and creek of the winding stream.
III. THE BIBLE EXERTS ITS MORAL FORCE BY THE EXAMPLE WHICH IT PRESENTS. Its men, except the Lord Christ, are fallible, struggling men. Their wrongdoing is never covered over. You never get the impression of a character painted rose-color. The moral quality of a man's action is never confused. Evil is always evil. Wrongdoing in a good man is only worse wrongdoing in view of his goodness; and it is never palliated. There is found in the Bible virtue to incite us and evil to warn us; a great "cloud of witnesses" putting to shame our meaner lives. But the great standard example is the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He "tries every man that cometh into the world." The final test of moral conduct for us all is the Lord Jesus Christ. Full acceptance with God can come only from being perfectly like Christ. And if the suggestion makes us feel that we are far down below him, only just climbing the first ridge of the mountain-side, this is our encouraging assurance, "Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord." - R.T.