The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD!Prophetic Warnings
Remember that. If on hearing that you choose to trust to Egypt, so be it; only, walk in the light, understand your position, make your choice deliberately, and abide by it. All that the Bible, a revelation from God, can do is to make distinctions, announce issues, address appeals to reason and to conscience, and there even an inspired volume ends its labour. The people imagined that Egypt was a sanctuary: the prophet said, It is so, in a very temporary and partial sense; it is a sanctuary of straw: if you care to seek protection in so frail a pavilion, so be it You are delighted when you see the strong horses of Egypt; they are strong for horses, but they are only horses of flesh, they are not steeds of fire, horses of spirit,—those mighty flying horses stabled in the sanctuary of the skies, and sent forth with swift messengers to the ends of the universe. Understand what you are buying: it is a horse of flesh; it will sicken, and die; it may be crippled, or poisoned; it may throw you: but if after hearing these things you choose to elect the horses of Egypt in preference to the steeds of God, so be it; you must answer for it all. The fool cannot come in like the wise man at the last, and say, Pray excuse me: I was mistaken. No! you were not mistaken; you were perverse, headstrong, self-determined; there was no mere mistake about it. Understand the terms, and then proceed. The Bible is the finest book of reason. It appeals to the understanding, to the judgment, asking that judgment to reserve itself until the light is perfectly clear and all the evidence is before it, and then saying, Now decide.
The Lord reveals himself under a vivid figure as the protector of those who put their trust in him. Egyptian horses cannot fly, but "as birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem" (Isaiah 31:5). The image is clear and impressive. There lies the fair city, more a thought than a thing, a poem in architecture God's poetry set forth in types and letters of stone, and the Lord himself is as a thousand birds, curling, circling, watching, protecting his loved Zion. No figure is to be driven to its furthest issues; we are to take out of it that which is substantial in reason and in truth: and from this figure we extract the doctrine that God hovers about his people, cares for them, watches them, sometimes sends a raven, it may be, to help them when they come out of their dream-sleep, wondering in daze and bewilderment what the universe was made for, and what they themselves can do. Any image that brings God nearer to us is an image that the memory should treasure. Hang up the picture in the halls of your imagination, and look upon it when your heart is sore and faint. The Lord knows what the issue of trusting in Egyptian horses will be, and what the end of all idolatry will be.
"For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you for a sin" (Isaiah 31:7).
There is to be a day of awakening, a day memorable for its religious penetration; men are to see that they have been making idols where they thought they were making deities. When men become ashamed of their religion, and pray that its very name may not be mentioned to them; when they seek out of their secret places idols of silver and idols of gold, and say, Throw them anywhere—but let it be out of sight! then has come to pass the realisation of divinest prophecy. Who would have all his old ideas named to him? Though they be innocent, yet they be so imperfect, so poor, so shallow, so wanting in insight and sagacity, their own thinker would not hear of them any more, but would say with somewhat of penitence and shamefacedness, but with no sense of guilt, When I was a child, I thought as a child: I am a man now, and I have seized a wider philosophy: spare me the recollection of infantile thinking. But a man may become ashamed of his religion; he may have to say in plain terms: I have been a fool herein, for I have been bowing the knee to gold and silver, and fame and influence and office and position, and now they cannot help me one whit: when I am ill they never call to see me, and if they did call their comfort would be cold and their touch would be death: where is the true God, the living Spirit—call it by what name you may—God—or Holy Ghost—or dying Christ—or truth, complete and eternal? Where is the true deity, that knows me and can come into my heart and make it warm with love, that can come into my barren spirit, and make it grow with trees that bloom and blossom and fructify for the soul's satisfaction? Preach to me the true gospel, that is as much a gospel in the darkness as in the light, in the winter as in the summer, the gospel that will sit up with me all night, see my last friend depart, and then say, Now they have all gone, let us talk it out in the music of absolute confidence. Do not be distressed about the living God. All the issue is mapped out. God himself is in no agitation; by right of eternity he is eternally calm. They who have the truth can wait until the lies all take fire, and burn themselves: meanwhile, all they have to do is to speak the truth, and deliver divine comfort to souls that want to be right; though they may have a thousand intellectual errors, still their supreme desire is to be right and good and true, and therein they shall conquer, though at the last their poor understanding be thickly sown with innumerable weeds. Herein is the mercy of God, that it recognises the supreme motive and purpose of life, and has an infinite charity for all intellectual aberration that is not inspired by moral obstinacy or moral selfishness.
Then the true king is predicted. We have had judgment upon judgment, great shocks of thunder; we have seen the horizon red as blood with the gathering storm, and we have heard God's voice breaking out into ten thousand tones severe and awful: it is time we had a little music, somewhat of benediction, a hint of tenderness; the sky is never so blue as after the storm, the tempest seems to have cleared all the atmosphere, and dear, sweet, beautiful heaven looks down upon us like a smile that wants to come all the way if it could, and cover our lips with love. Isaiah has been dispensing woes; he has not done with maledictions yet: but who can always be comminatory, denunciatory? Who can be severe all the day? The prophet breaks down in tenderness, but rises in intellectual majesty when he says—
"Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly" (Isaiah 32:1-4.)
The war is now over: Asher has been crushed like a serpent, and this sweet voice is heard when the enemy has been driven out of the land—
"Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass" (Isaiah 32:20).
What wondrous music, then, we have heard in all these prophecies! Yet, as we have just pointed out, the maledictions have not altogether ceased. The prophet resumes his threnody in the thirty-third chapter; there he mourns, and in the course of his deliverance he uses one of those ironical expressions which come upon us again and again in Holy Writ. In the fourteenth verse he talks about "the sinners in Zion." What a contradiction in terms! what a shock to the fancy! Zion! fair Zion, a dewdrop, a glittering star, a garden of beauty, a sweet flower, porcelain without a flaw, honey without wax—Zion! Then, "sinners in Zion"—sinners out of place; they spoil the situation; they are an evil blot in the fair landscape. Sinners in the wilderness, sinners in polluted cities, sinners in hell,—there you have a kind of music that has an accord and consonance of its own; but sinners in Zion! And the sinners in Zion are afraid—"fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites." Yesterday their faces were bright, and their voices glad, and their feasts were merry; but in the nighttime something has happened that has struck the whole horde with fear and shame and distress. Now the question comes—"Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" How often have preachers preached everlasting hell from these words! They have no relation whatever to the future life. We must keep to the meaning of the speakers and writers in Holy Writ, and not import into their words significations and dogmas of our own. The question is an awful one—"Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?"—when God comes to judge the city, when he comes to judge Assyria or Jerusalem, or any land. "Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?"—when God tries man by fire. The fire shall not only try every man's work, but shall try every man's self. Our quality must be tested by flame. From these words how easy to dilate upon the horrors of the lost, the agonies of the damned! But the words were local, and they constitute a question to which a noble reply was made. The question is in the fourteenth verse, the answer is in the fifteenth. Read the question—
"Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil; he shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure" (Isaiah 33:14-16).