Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Their webs shall not become garments.—See the same figure in Isaiah 30:1. The point of the comparison lies chiefly in the uselessness of the spider’s webs, but the second clause emphasises also the fact that the only purpose which the webs serve is one of mischief. They may catch flies, they cannot clothe men.
Isaiah 59:6. - Revelation 3:18.
The force of these words of the prophet is very obvious. He has been pouring out swift, indignant denunciation on the evil-doers in Israel; and, says he, ‘they hatch cockatrice’s eggs and spin spiders’ webs,’ pointing, as I suppose, to the patient perseverance, worthy of a better cause, which bad men will exercise in working out their plans. Then with a flash of bitter irony, led on by his imagination to say more than he had meant, he adds this scathing parenthesis, as if he said, ‘Yes, they spin spiders’ webs, elaborate toil and creeping contrivance, and what comes of it all! The flimsy foul thing is swept away by God’s besom sooner or later. A web indeed! but they will never make a garment out of it. It looks like cloth, but it is useless.’ That is the old lesson that all sin is profitless and comes to nothing.
I venture to connect with that strongly figurative declaration of the essential futility of godless living, our second text, in which Jesus uses a similar figure to express one aspect of His gifts to the believing soul. He is ready to clothe it, so that ‘being clothed, it will not be found naked.’
I. Sin clothes no man even here.
Notice in passing what a hint there is of the toil and trouble that men are so willing to take in a wrong course. Hatching and spinning both suggest protracted, sedulous labour. And then the issue of it all is- nothing.
Take the plainest illustrations of this truth first-the breach of common laws of morality, the indulgence, for instance, in dissipation. A man gets a certain coarse delight out of it, but what does he get besides? A weakened body, a tyrannous craving, ruined prospects, oftenest poverty and shame, the loss of self-respect and love; of moral excellences, of tastes for what is better. He is not a beast, and he cannot live for pure animalism without injuring himself.
Then take actual breaches of human laws. How seldom these ‘pay,’ even in the lowest sense. Thieves are always poor. The same experience of futility dogs all coarse and palpable breaches of morality. It is always true that ‘He that breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him.’
The reasons are not far to seek. This is, on the whole, God’s world, a world of retribution. Things are, on the whole, on the side of goodness. God is in the world, and that is an element not to be left out in the calculation. Society is on the side of goodness to a large extent. The constitution of a man’s own soul, which God made, works in the same direction. Young men who are trembling on the verge of youthful yieldings to passion, are tempted to fancy that they can sow sin and not reap suffering or harm. Would that they settled it in their thoughts that he who fires a fuse must expect an explosion!
But the same rule applies to every godless form of life. Take our Manchester temptation, money or success in business. Take ambition. Take culture, literary fame. Take love and friendship. What do they all come to, if godless? I do not point to the many failures, but suppose success: would that make you a happy man? If you won what you wanted, would it be enough? What ‘garments’ for your conscience, for your sense of sin, for your infinite longings would success in any godless course provide? You would have what you wanted, and what would it bring with it? Cares and troubles and swift satiety, and not seldom incapacity to enjoy what you had won with so much toil. If you gained the prize, you would find clinging to it something that you did not bargain for, and that took most of the dazzle away from it.
II. The rags are all stripped off some day.
Death is a becoming naked as to the body, and as to all the occupations that terminate with bodily life. It necessarily involves the loss of possessions, the cessation of activities, the stripping off of self-deceptions, and exposure to the gaze of the Judge, without defence. The godless soul will ‘be found naked’ and ashamed. All ‘works of darkness,’ laden with rich blossom or juicy fruit though they have seemed to be, will then be seen to be in tragic truth ‘fruitless.’ A life’s spinning and weaving, and not a rag to cover the toiler after all! Is that ‘productive labour’?
III. Christ will clothe you.
‘White raiment.’ Pure character. Covering before the Judge. Festal robe of Victory.
‘Buy’-how? By giving up self.Isaiah 64:6). Their webs shall not become garments, i.e. their contrivances and deep designs shall not advantage them, they being like a thin and raw garment, either through which all their wretchedness and malice will appear, as the next words intimate; or, for want of solidity and substance, shall not be able to defend them from their impending evils.
Works of iniquity, i.e. works of injustice, whereby their grieve and vex their brethren, which the next words do clear. The act of violence is in their hands, i.e. they exercise themselves in all acts of violence and oppression. Job 8:14,
their works are works of iniquity: both of preacher and hearer; even their best works are sinful; not only as being imperfect, and having a mixture of sin in them, and so filthy rags, and insufficient to justify them before God; but because done from wrong principles, and with wrong views, and tending to set aside the justifying righteousness of Christ, and God's way of justifying sinners by it, which is abominable to him:Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)6. Development of the second image of Isaiah 59:5, the point of comparison being the uselessness for any good social end of the schemes devised by the ungodly.
shall not become garments] i.e. “shall not serve for a garment.”
neither shall they cover themselves &c.] Better, neither shall men cover themselves &c. (indefinite subj.).Verse 6. - Their webs shall not become garments. The unsubstantial fabrics which they weave shall not serve them in any way as garments, or be of any real value or utility. Their devices shall not take objective shape in such sort as to afford them "cover" or protection. Their works are works of iniquity; rather, works of nothingness, works that make a mere pretence of being works at all, and are in reality mere shams, impotent and delusive. And the act of violence is in their hands; rather, and it is an act of violence that is in their hands. Violence creates nothing. At the best, it destroys. Jeremiah 17:19.) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 20:12., Ezekiel 22:8, Ezekiel 22:26), and the neglect of this duty severely condemned. Chapter 56 has already shown the importance attached to it by our prophet. The Sabbath, above all other institutions appointed by the law, was the true means of uniting and sustaining Israel as a religious community, more especially in exile, where a great part of the worship necessarily feel into abeyance on account of its intimate connection with Jerusalem and the holy land; but whilst it was a Mosaic institution so far as its legal appointments were concerned, it rested, in a way which reached even beyond the rite of circumcision, upon a basis much older than that of the law, being a ceremonial copy of the Sabbath of creation, which was the divine rest established by God as the true object of all motion; for God entered into Himself again after He had created the world out of Himself, that all created things might enter into Him. In order that this, the great end set before all creation, and especially before mankind, viz., entrance into the rest of God, might be secured, the keeping of the Sabbath prescribed by the law was a divine method of education, which put an end every week to the ordinary avocations of the people, with their secular influence and their tendency to fix the mind on outward things, and was designed by the strict prohibition of all work to force them to enter into themselves and occupy their minds with God and His word. The prophet does not hedge round this commandment to keep the Sabbath with any new precepts, but merely demands for its observance full truth answering to the spirit of the letter. "If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath" is equivalent to, if thou do not tread upon its holy ground with a foot occupied with its everyday work.
עשׂות which follows is not elliptical ( equals מעשׂות answering to משּׁבּת, an unnecessary and mistaken assumption), but an explanatory permutative of the object "thy foot:" "turn away thy foot," viz., from attending to thy business (a defective plural) on my holy day. Again, if thou call (i.e., from inward contemplation and esteem) the Sabbath a pleasure (‛ōneg, because it leads thee to God, and not a burden because it leads thee away from thine everyday life; cf., Amos 8:5) and the holy one of Jehovah (on this masculine personification of the Sabbath, see Isaiah 56:2), "mekhubbâd," honoured equals honourable, honorandus, and if thou truly honourest him, whom Jehovah has invested with the splendour of His own glory (Genesis 2:3 : "and sanctified it"), "not" (מן equals ὥστε μὴ) "to perform thy ways" (the ordinary ways which relate to self-preservation, not to God), "not to attend to thine own business' (see at Isaiah 58:3) "and make words," viz., words of vain useless character and needless multitude (דּבּר־דּברas in Hosea 10:4, denoting unspiritual gossip and boasting);
(Note: Hitzig observes, that "the law of the Sabbath has already received the Jewish addition, 'speaking is work.' " But from the premiss that the sabbatical rest of God was rest from speaking His creating word (Psalm 33:6), all the conclusion that tradition has ever drawn is, that on the Sabbath men must to a certain extent rest מהדבור as well as ממעשׂה; and when R. Simon b. Jochai exclaimed to his loquacious old mother on the Sabbath, "Keeping the Sabbath means keeping silence," his meaning was not that talking in itself was working and therefore all conversation was forbidden on the Sabbath. Tradition never went as far as this. The rabbinical exposition of the passage before us is the following: "Let not thy talking on the Sabbath be the same as that on working days;" and when it is stated once in the Jerusalem Talmud that the Rabbins could hardly bring themselves to allow of friendly greetings on the Sabbath, it certainly follows from this, that they did not forbid them. Even the author of the ש לה (הברית לוחות שׂני) with its excessive ceremonial stringency goes no further than this, that on the Sabbath men must abstain from חול דברי. And is it possible that our prophet can have been more stringent than the strictest traditionalists, and wished to make the keeper of the Sabbath a Carthusian monk? There could not be a more thorough perversion of the spirit of prophecy than this.)
then, just as the Sabbath is thy pleasure, so wilt thou have thy pleasure in Jehovah, i.e., enjoy His delightful fellowship (על־ה תּתענּג, a promise as in Job 22:26), and He will reward thee for thy renunciation of earthly advantages with a victorious reign, with an unapproachable possession of the high places of the land - i.e., chiefly, though not exclusively, of the promised land, which shall then be restored to thee - and with the free and undisputed usufruct of the inheritance promised to thy forefather Jacob (Psalm 105:10-11; Deuteronomy 32:13 and Deuteronomy 33:29) - this will be thy glorious reward, for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it. Thus does Isaiah confirm the predictions of Isaiah 1:20 and Isaiah 40:25 (compare Isaiah 24:3).
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