Give you ear, and hear my voice; listen, and hear my speech.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Give ye ear . . .—The words remind us of the style of the “wisdom” books of the Old Testament (Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 5:1; Psalm 34:11) in which Isaiah had been trained. Isaiah is about to set before those who have ears to hear a parable which he does not interpret, and which will, therefore, task all their energies. The idea that lies at the root of the parable is like that of Matthew 16:2-4, that men fail to apply in discerning the signs of the times the wisdom which they practise or recognise in the common phenomena of nature and the tillage of the soil. As that tillage presents widely varied processes, differing with each kind of grain, so the sowing and the threshing of God’s spiritual husbandry presents a like diversity of operations. What that diversity indicates in detail the prophet proceeds to show with what may again be called a Dante-like minuteness.
THE HUSBANDMAN AND HIS OPERATIONS
Isaiah 28:23 - Isaiah 28:29.
The prophet has been foretelling a destruction which he calls God’s strange act. The Jews were incredulous, ‘scornful men.’ They did not believe him; and the main reason for their incredulity was that a divine destruction of the nation was so opposite to the divine conservation of it as to amount to an impossibility. God had raised up and watched over the people. He had planted it in the mountain of His inheritance, and now was it going to be thrown down by the same hand which had built it up? Impossible.
The prophet’s answer to that question is this parable of the husbandman, who has to perform a great variety of operations. He ploughs, but that is not all. He lays aside the plough when it has done its work, and takes up the seed-basket, and, in different ways, sows different seeds, scattering some broadcast, and dropping others carefully, grain by grain, into their place-’dibbling’ it in, as we should say. But seedtime too, passes, and then he cuts down what he had so carefully sown, and pulls up what he had so sedulously planted, and, in different ways, breaks and bruises the grain. Is he inconsistent because he ploughs in winter and reaps in harvest? Does his carrying the seed-basket at one time make it impossible that he shall come with flail and threshing-oxen at another? Are not all the various operations co-operant to one end? Does not the end need them all? Is not one purpose going steadily forward through ploughing, sowing, reaping, threshing? Is not that like the work of the great Husbandman, who changes His methods and preserves His plan through them all, who has His ‘time to sow’ and His ‘time to reap,’ and who orders the affairs of men and kingdoms, for the one purpose that He may gather His wheat into His garner, and purge from it its chaff?
This parable sets forth a philosophy of the divine operations very beautiful and true, and none the less impressive for the simple garb in which it is clothed.
I. All things come from one steady, divine purpose.
We may notice in passing how reverentially the prophet believes that agriculture is taught by God. He would have said the same of cotton-spinning or coal-mining. Think how striking a figure that is, of all the world as God’s farm, where He practises His husbandry to grow the crops which He desires.
What a picture the parable gives of sedulous and patient labour for a far-off result!
It insists on the thought of one steady divine purpose ever directing the movements of the divine hand.
That is the negation of the godless theory that the affairs of men are merely the work of men, or are merely the result of impersonal causes. The world is not a jungle where any or every plant springs of itself, but it is cultivated ground which has an Owner who looks after it.
It is the affirmation that God’s action is regulated by a purpose which is intelligent, unchanging, all-embracing to us because revealed.
II. That steady purpose is man’s highest good.
The end of all the farmer’s care is the ripening of the seed. God’s purpose is our moral, intellectual, and spiritual perfecting.
Neither His own ‘glory’ nor man’s ‘happiness,’ which are taken by different schools of thought to be the divine aim in creation and providence, is an object worthy of Him or adequate to explain the facts of every man’s experience, unless both are regarded as needing man’s perfecting, for their attainment. God’s glory is to make men godlike. Man’s happiness cannot be secured without His holiness.
God has larger and nobler designs for us than merely to make us happy.
‘This is the will of God concerning you, even your sanctification.’
Nothing short of that end would be worthy of God, or would explain His methods.
III. That purpose needs great variety of processes.
This is true about nations and about individuals.
Different stages of growth need different treatment.
The parable names three operations:-
Ploughing, which is preparation;
Sowing, or casting in germinating principles;
Threshing, which is effected by tribulation, a word which means driving a ‘tribulum’ or threshing-sedge over ears of grain.
So sorrow is indispensable for our perfecting.
By it earthly affections are winnowed away, and our dependence on God increased. A certain refinement of spirit results, like the pallor on the face of a chronic invalid, which has a delicate beauty unattainted by ruddy health. A capacity for sympathy, too, is often the result of one’s own trials. Rightly borne, they tend to bend or break the will, and they teach how great it is to suffer and be strong.
But sorrow is not enough; joy is indispensable too. The crop is threshed in tribulation, but is grown mostly in sunshine. Calm, uneventful hours, continuous possession of blessings, have a ministry not less than afflictions have. The corn in the furrow, waving in the western wind, and with golden sunlight among its golden stems, is preparing for the loaf no less than when bound in bundles and lying on the threshing-floor, or cut and bruised by sharp teeth of dray or heavy hoofs of oxen, or blows of swinging flails.
So do not suppose that sorrow is the only instrument for perfecting character, and see that you do not miss the sanctifying and ripening effect of your joyous hours.
Again, different types of character require different modes of treatment. In the parable, ‘the fitches’ are sown in one fashion, and ‘the cummin’ in another the ‘wheat’ and ‘barley’ in still another; and similar variety marks the methods of separating the grain from the husk, one kind of crop being threshed another having a wheel turned upon it. Thus each of us gets the kind of joys and pains that will have most effect on us. God knows where is the tenderest spot, and makes no mistakes in His dealing. He sends us ‘afflictions sorted, sorrows of all sizes.’
Let us see that we trust to His loving and wise adaptation of our trials to our temperaments and needs. Let us see that we never let clouds obscure the clearness of our perception, or, failing perception, the serenity of our trust, that all things work together, and all work for our highest good-our being made like our Lord. We should less often complain of the mysteries of Providence if we had learned the meaning of Isaiah’s parable.
IV. All the processes end in garnering the grain.
There is a barn or storehouse for the ripened and threshed crops. The farmer’s toil and careful processes would be absurd and unintelligible if, after them all, the crop, so sedulously ripened and cultivated and cleansed, was left to rot where it fell. And no less certainly does the discipline of this life cry aloud for heaven and a conscious personal future life, if it is not to be all set down as grim irony or utterly absurd. There must be a heaven if we are not to be put to intellectual bewilderment.
What was needed for growth here drops away there, as blossoms fall when their work is done. Sunshine and rain are no more necessary when the fields are cleared and the barn-yard is filled. Much in our nature, in our earthly condition, in God’s varying processes, will drop away. When school-time is done the rod is burned. But nothing will perish that can contribute to our perfecting.
So let us ask Him to purge us with His fan in His hand now, lest we should be found at last fruitless cumberers of the ground or chaff which is rootless, and fit only to be swept out of the threshing-floor.Isaiah 28:23-25. Give ye ear — Observe what I say, and do you judge if it be not reasonable. “We have here the last member of this section, in which this severe judgment of God, denounced in the preceding verses, is defended by a parable taken from agriculture, wherein the prophet represents allegorically the intentions and methods of the divine judgments.” “As the husbandman uses various methods in preparing his land, and adapting it to the several kinds of seed to be sown, with a due observation of times and seasons; and when he hath gathered in his harvest, employs methods as various in separating the corn from the straw and the chaff by different instruments, according to the nature of the different sorts of grain; so God, with unerring wisdom and with strict justice, instructs, admonishes, and corrects his people; chastises and punishes them in various ways, as the exigence of the case requires; now more moderately, now more severely; always tempering judgment with mercy; in order to reclaim the wicked, to improve the good; and finally, to separate the one from the other.” — Bishop Lowth.Isaiah 28:21 was his 'strange work.' To vindicate this and to show the propriety "of God's adopting every measure, and of not always pursuing the same course in regard to his people," he draws an illustration from the farmer. He is not always doing the same thing. He adopts different methods to secure a harvest.
He adapts his plans to the soil and to the kind of grain; avails himself of the best methods of preparing the ground, sowing the seed, collecting the harvest, and of separating the grain from the chaff. He does not always plow; nor always sow; nor always thresh. He does not deal with all kinds of land and grain in the same way. Some land he plows in one mode, and some in another; and in like manner, some grain he threshes in one mode, and some in another - adapting his measures to the nature of the soil, and of the grain. Some grain he beats out with a flail; some he bruises; but yet he will be careful not to break the kernel, or destroy it in threshing it. However severe may appear to be his blows, yet his object is not to crush and destroy it Isaiah 28:28, but it is to remove it from the chaff, and to save it. In all this he acts the part of wisdom, for God has taught him what to do Isaiah 28:26, Isaiah 28:29. So, says the prophet, God will not deal with all of his people in the same manner, nor with them always in the same mode. He will vary his measures as a farmer does. When mild and gentle measures will do, he will adopt them. When severe measures are necessary, he will resort to them. His object is not to destroy his people, anymore than the object of the farmer in threshing is to destroy his grain. The general dedicate the propriety of God's engaging in what the prophet calls his 'strange act,' and 'strange work,' in punishing his people. The allegory is one of great beauty, and its pertinency and keeping are maintained throughout; and it furnishes a most important practical lesson in regard to the mode in which God deals with his people.Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)23. The introduction to the parable; cf. ch. Isaiah 32:9.
23–29. A parable derived from husbandry. The motive of its insertion in this place was probably the different treatment meted out to Samaria and to Jerusalem. The precise point of the analogy is somewhat uncertain; but perhaps we may interpret the thought as follows. There are two parts. The first (Isaiah 28:24-26) appears to justify Jehovah’s procedure by the end He has in view. As the farmer does not go on ploughing for ever out of a mere blind passion for ploughing, but ploughs in order to sow; so Jehovah’s work of judgment is to issue in the preparation of a seed-plot, and in due time ploughing will give place (in the case of Judah) to sowing. The second (Isaiah 28:27-29) draws the lesson that the operation of threshing varies with the material to be operated on. The delicate fennel, e.g. would be destroyed by the rough implements used on coarser grain; and in Judah there is (what there was not in Samaria) the tender growth of the “holy seed,” the nucleus of the true Israel, for whose sake judgment must be tempered with mercy.Verses 23-29. - A PARABLE TO COMFORT BELIEVERS. Isaiah is always careful to intermingle promises with his threats, comfort with his denunciations. Like his great Master, of whom he prophesied, he was fain not to "break the bruised reed" or "quench the smoking flax." When he had searched men's wounds with the probe, he was careful to pour in oil and wine. So now, having denounced the sinners of Judah through three long paragraphs (vers. 7-22), he has a word of consolation and encouragement for the better disposed, whose hearts he hopes to have touched and stirred by his warning. This consolation he puts in a parabolic form, leaving it to their spiritual insight to discover the meaning. Verse 23. - Give ye ear (comp. Psalm 49:1; Psalm 78:1). A preface of this kind, enjoining special attention and thought, was appropriate to occasions when instruction was couched in a parabolic form. Isaiah 28:16 it is resumed again, the exposition of the sin being inserted between, before the punishment is declared. Their sin is lâtsōn, and this free-thinking scorn rests upon a proud and insolent self-confidence, which imagines that there is no necessity to fear death and hell; and this self-confidence has for its secret reserve the alliance to be secretly entered into with Egypt against Assyria. What the prophet makes them say here, they do not indeed say exactly in this form; but this is the essential substance of the carnally devised thoughts and words of the rulers of the people of Jerusalem, as manifest to the Searcher of hearts. Jerusalem, the city of Jehovah, and such princes as these, who either proudly ignore Jehovah, or throw Him off as useless, what a contrast! Chōzeh, and châzūth in Isaiah 28:18, signify an agreement, either as a decision or completion (from the radical meaning of the verb châzâh), or as a choice, beneplacitum (like the Arabic ray), or as a record, i.e., the means of selecting (like the talmudic châzı̄th, a countersign, a ra'ăyâh, a proof or argument: Luzzatto). In shōt shōtēph ("the swelling scourge," chethib שׁיט), the comparison of Asshur to a flood (Isaiah 28:2, Isaiah 28:8, Isaiah 28:7), and the comparison of it to a whip or scourge, are mixed together; and this is all the more allowable, because a whip, when smacked, really does move in waving lines (compare Jeremiah 8:6, where shâtaph is applied to the galloping of a war-horse). The chethib עבר in Isaiah 28:15 (for which the keri reads יעבר, according to Isaiah 28:19) is to be read עבר (granting that it shall have passed, or that it passes); and there is no necessity for any emendation. The Egyptian alliance for which they are suing, when designated according to its true ethical nature, is sheqer (lie) and kâzâb (falsehood); compare 2 Kings 17:4 (where we ought perhaps to read sheqer for qesher, according to the lxx), and more especially Ezekiel 17:15., from which it is obvious that the true prophets regarded self-willed rebellion even against heathen rule as a reprehensible breach of faith.
The lâkhēn (therefore), which is resumed in Isaiah 28:16, is apparently followed as strangely as in Isaiah 7:14, by a promise instead of a threat. But this is only apparently the case. It is unquestionably a promise; but as the last clause, "he that believeth will not flee," i.e., will stand firm, clearly indicates, it is a promise for believers alone. For those to whom the prophet is speaking here the promise is a threat, a savour of death unto death. Just as on a former occasion, when Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, the prophet announced to him a sign of Jehovah's own selection; so here Jehovah opposes to the false ground of confidence on which the leaders relied, the foundation stone laid in Zion, which would bear the believing in immoveable safety, but on which the unbelieving would be broken to pieces (Matthew 21:44). This stone is called 'ebhen boochan, a stone of proving, i.e., a proved and self-proving stone. Then follow other epithets in a series commencing anew with pinnath equals 'ebhen pinnath (compare Psalm 118:22): angulus h. e. lapis angularis pretiositatis fundationis fundatae. It is a corner-stone, valuable in itself (on yiqrath, compare 1 Kings 5:17), and affording the strongest foundation and inviolable security to all that is built upon it (mūsâd a substantive in form like mūsâr, and mūssâd a hophal participle in the form of those of the verba contracta pe yod). This stone was not the Davidic sovereignty, but the true seed of David which appeared in Jesus (Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:6-7). The figure of a stone is not opposed to the personal reference, since the prophet in Isaiah 8:14 speaks even of Jehovah Himself under the figure of a stone. The majestically unique description renders it quite impossible that Hezekiah can be intended. Micah, whose book forms the side piece of this cycle of prophecy, also predicted, under similar historical circumstances, the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem Ephratah (Micah 5:1). What Micah expresses in the words, "His goings forth are from of old," is indicated here in the preterite yissad connected with hineni (the construction is similar to that in Obadiah 1:2; Ezekiel 25:7; compare Isaiah 28:2 above, and Jeremiah 49:15; Jeremiah 23:19). It denotes that which has been determined by Jehovah, and therefore is as good as accomplished. What is historically realized has had an eternal existence, and indeed an ideal pre-existence even in the heart of history itself (Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 25:1; Isaiah 37:26). Ever since there had been a Davidic government at all, this stone had lain in Zion. The Davidic monarchy not only had in this its culminating point, but the ground of its continuance also. It was not only the Omega, but also the Alpha. Whatever escaped from wrath, even under the Old Testament, stood upon this stone. This (as the prophet predicts in יסהישׁ לא המּאמין יחישׁ׃ the fut. kal) would be the stronghold of faith in the midst of the approaching Assyrian calamities (cf., Isaiah 7:9); and faith would be the condition of life (Habakkuk 2:4). But against unbelievers Jehovah would proceed according to His punitive justice. He would make this (justice and righteousness, mishpât and tsedâqâh) a norm, i.e., a line and level. A different turn, however, is given to qâv, with a play upon Isaiah 28:10, Isaiah 28:11. What Jehovah is about to do is depicted as a building which He is carrying out, and which He will carry out, so far as the despisers are concerned, on no other plan than that of strict retribution. His punitive justice comes like a hailstorm and like a flood (cf., Isaiah 28:2; Isaiah 10:22). The hail smites the refuge of lies of the great men of Jerusalem, and clears it away (יעה, hence יע, a shovel); and the flood buries their hiding-place in the waters, and carries it away (the accentuation should be סתר tifchah, מים mercha).
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