Isaiah 28:20
This verse is very possibly a popular proverb, which suggested a condition of painful uneasiness. Matthew Henry gives, briefly and suggestively, its meaning as used here by Isaiah, and as applicable to us: "Those that do not build upon Christ as their Foundation, but rest in a righteousness of their own, will prove in the end thus to have deceived themselves; they never can be easy, safe, or warm; the led is too short, the covering is too narrow." This line of thought may be followed out, and duly illustrated. First make a fair and true picture of a human life fashioned by the man himself. Let him win good measures of success; and let him stand forth the envy of his fellows. Let us see the bed he makes for himself to lie on; and the coverlet with which he proposes to wrap himself up - a fine bed, a beautiful coverlet. But all life-creations have to be tested; they must be "tried so as by fire." Let us see this human life tested. Time tests; success tests; trouble tests; the true Man, Christ Jesus, as our standard, tests; the future tests. How does the self-ordered life stand these testings? It is plain -




IV. IT MAKES NO PROVISIONS FOR THE SPIRITUAL AND ETERNAL NEEDS, and every advancing year makes these more and more the supremely important ones. Verify "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Then what can he do? What should he do? (see Isaiah 27:5). - R.T.

For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it.
The Jewish beds were only mattresses, laid on the floor; and the cover was s sheet, or carpet, laid over it, in which the person wrapped himself. In this adage, there is an allusion to the condition of one who, being weary and inclined to rest, goes to bed, that he may get refreshing repose. Having betaken himself to a bed that is too short for him, and having got a covering that is too narrow to wrap himself in, he is disappointed of the comfortable rest that he expected to enjoy; and, instead of getting agreeable warmth and refreshment, he becomes cold, restless, and uneasy. This painful state represents the distressed, disappointed condition of those who hide themselves under falsehood and refuges of lies, in order to obtain either temporal or spiritual deliverance. The truth of this aphorism, thus explained, was exemplified in the Jews, who resorted to other expedients for safety than Divine wisdom had ordained, and found all their expectations frustrated.

(R. Macculloch.)

This proverb of Isaiah about the growth of religious conception has had many applications. Again and again it has happened since Isaiah's time that the framework of theological theory formed by the intellect has become too narrow for the growing knowledge and spirit of man; and there has followed the discomfort, the strain, the struggle, the stretching or the dissolution of conventional beliefs, and out of them the reconstruction on a larger scale of a theology that somewhat inadequately expresses the actual revelation to man of the Unseen and the Divine. The foundations of religion are ever the same — the elementary force in the heart of man, the sense of weakness, of sin, of fear; the upward reaching of man to the unattainable God, and the blessed shining downwards of God into the heart of man. But the speculations, the imagery, the language of theology have varied with human knowledge, and are varying now before our eyes.

(J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

It was in Isaiah's age that, for the first time, the Jews became pressingly conscious of their own littleness compared with the vast nations that pressed on them from either side. They lay between the vast continental empires of Assyria and Egypt, and in the grasp of these great barbaric, almost inhuman forces, they felt themselves as nothing. There was, for the first time, a painful contrast between the political insignificance of the Jews and their boundless pretensions to the favour of Jehovah, the Lord of hosts. They were stricken with terror. But Isaiah was inspired with heavenly wisdom to see that the agony of the terror sprang rather from the theology of the Jews than from the might of their enemies, for their theology was, in brief, this — that Jehovah was the God of the Jews only, and that the Assyrian was the foe of God. They now saw that he might be the victorious foe. To them the victory of the Assyrian would be the defeat of God and the shattering of their faith, and it seemed inevitable. It was the undivine, the material, relentlessly crushing God that they deemed Divine; it led straight to practical atheism, Now, Isaiah dared to think and to see that God was the God of the Assyrians also, that He wielded their forces in His hand, and that His one supreme aim was righteousness, and not favour to Israel; it was an extension of their theology, beyond what they could bear. It was not only latitudinarian; it was absurd. They ridiculed him and his message, and finally, it is said they put him to death. But, nevertheless, Isaiah had a vision of a truth which the world has now made its own — that God's providence extends to all mankind, and that no nation and no Church can monopolise God's blessing and protection, and that God has one moral aim only — the growth of righteousness and the coming of His kingdom on earth. He thus extended his conception of God.

(J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

The terror of our time to those who feel it is the aggregate of the brute unspiritual powers of nature, whether of human passion or material force, in whose ceaseless whirl man seems to be a mere plaything. Our Assyria is materialism. We may learn from Isaiah how to meet it, — not by denying the existence of these forces, or underrating them or their mystery, but by enlarging our conception of God. Perhaps if God would give England an Isaiah now, his message would be the consecration of natural forces, a declaration that all things are working towards spiritual end for the coming of the kingdom of God.

(J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

We need to expand also our whole conception of theology and of religion, giving it a wider foundation in human nature and in facts, and thus making faith more obviously compatible with intellectual honesty.

(J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

the widening of the covering, is generally effected without a fracture or a rent. It is altered partly by the infusion of new life and meaning by the spiritual interpretation of what were thought to be physical and scientific statements, partly by the transference of emphasis from worship to life, partly by the ever-varying meaning assigned to old words and old forms. Jehovah did not cease to be Jehovah when the Jews ceased to regard Him as the God of the Jews only.

(J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

and for what might seem to him a rational religion. It cannot be invented prematurely; it must grow as daylight grows, and this is a very slow and gradual process.

(J. M. Wilson, D. D.)

God has so made men, that there are two things essential for their comfort, if not for their very existence, namely, sleep and clothing. Man's body is, after all, only a picture of his inner being; just what the body needs materially, that the soul needs spiritually. It requires rest, which is pictured to us in sleep. And it needs covering; the naked soul would be unhappy, noxious to the eye of God, and utterly miserable in itself.

I. MEN TRY TO MAKE BEDS ON WHICH THEIR SOULS MAY REST. One of the most uncomfortable things in the world, I should think, would be a spare bed — a bed so spare that a man should not have room to stretch himself on it. But that is just the condition of all men while they are seeking a rest anywhere else but in the "rest that remaineth for the people of God."

1. As to the present world, how many beds are there of man's own invention.(1) One man has made himself a bedstead of gold; the pillars thereof are of silver, the covering thereof is of Tyrian purple, the pillows are filled with down, such as only much fine gold could buy him; the hangings he hath embroidered with threads of gold and silver, and the curtains are drawn upon rings of ivory. Lo, this man hath ransacked creation for luxuries, and invented to himself all manner of sumptuous delights. He becomes a merchant prince, a millionaire, and he says unto himself, "Soul, take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry; thou hast much goods laid up for many years." If he makes riches his God, and seeks in them his happiness, you never find the man has money enough, his lands are still too narrow and his estate too small The soul is wider than creation, broader than space; give it all, it would be still unsatisfied, and man would not find rest.(2) Other men have been ambitious. "Oh," says one, "if I might be famous, what would I not do? Oh, if my name might be handed down to posterity, as having done something, and having been somebody, a man of note, how satisfied would I be!" And the man has so acted, that he has at last made for himself a bed of honour. He has become famous. But did you ever read the history of famous men, or hear them tell their tale in secret? "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown," even though it be the laurel coronet of honour. When the man is known, it is not enough; he asks for wider praise.(3) There is another bed on which man thinks he could rest. There is a witch, a painted harlot, who wears the richest gems in her ears, and a necklace of precious things about her neck. Her name is Madam Wanton. She keeps a house wherein she feasteth men, and maketh them drunken with the wine of pleasure, which is as honey to the taste, but is venom to the soul This witch, when she can, entices men into her bed.(4) You may have all the vices and pleasure and mirth of this metropolis, and when you have it all you will find it does not equal your expectation nor satisfy your desires. When the devil is bringing you one cup of spiced wine, you will be asking him next time to spice it higher; and he will flavour it to your fiery taste, but you will be dissatisfied still, until at last, if he were to bring you a cup hot as damnation, it would fall tasteless on your palate. Now think of the Christian, and see the picture reversed. In the Christian religion there is a rest that no one can enjoy elsewhere. And now let me stretch myself upon this bed. Let me think of the largest desire that heart ever had, and I find it not at all greater than this bed. I pant to be God's child, I have it here. I pant to be rich to all intents of bliss, I have the promise here, and I shall have the fruition of it hereafter. I long for perfection. Is not that a stretch indeed? And that I have, "perfect in Christ Jesus."

2. Now, think of this bed in the sense of another world. And here we may say of all the sinner's hope, that it is a bed shorter than that he can stretch himself upon it. Let conscience strain you, let death put you on the rack, and pull you out a little, and the bed is not long enough for you. You are uneasy. There is no man who has a solid peace, a perfect satisfaction in his own mind, but the man who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, trusts Him entirely for his soul's salvation, and puts his hopes and his expectations only in the Lord his God.

II. MEN MUST HAVE A COVERING. And here we are told that there are some people who make a covering, but it is narrower than they can wrap themselves in it. There is one garment that never is too narrow, though the sinner be the hugest sinner that ever trod this earth, and that is the perfect righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

You can hardly imagine a more unpleasant position for a man to find himself in. A traveller has just come a long journey, weary, footsore, cramped; he longs for "tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep." On reaching his bed, however, he finds it altogether inadequate for purposes of rest. Man has been so constituted by his Almighty Creator that sleep and clothing are essential to his existence. Angels, for aught we know to the contrary, may be eternal watchers, sleepless workers. "They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty." It is otherwise with man. He must sleep or die. Inability to sleep has often been the punishment inflicted by the Almighty Avenger upon the murderer, as foretaste of the pains of hell. Between him and placid sleep a great gulf has been fixed. Pausanias, from the hour Cleonice fell pierced by his sword, is a haunted man. "Sleep no more," is the dread fiat of Him who maketh inquisition for blood. The spectre of his victim, says the historian, disturbed him every night. Now, as every reader of the Bible knows well, God has seen fit to illustrate and set forth the needs of the soul by referring to the well-known wants and necessities of the body. Therefore, just as man's corporeal frame needs sleep and clothing, so the seal, the spiritual part of man, needs rest and covering, without which it can be neither happy nor safe. The prophet's complaint in the context is not that man seeks for these things if haply he may find them, but seeks for them in wrong places, and in wrong ways — fashions for himself beds which are too short to give him comfortable repose, and weaves coverings which are too narrow to conceal his spiritual nakedness. Favour me with your company while I walk forth and watch some of these spiritual bed makers. We have not gone very far before our steps are arrested by the spectacle of a man who is fashioning for himself a golden bed. A very splendid piece of workmanship it is, and we can hardly wonder at the incredulous look and compassionate smile with which the maker turns upon us when we whisper, Too short, you'll never be able to find soul rest there! Solomon lay in just such a bed as that, and he tossed and rolled from side to side, exclaiming, "All is vanity and vexation of spirit." Over the front of this bed is written a text out of the Bible: "Money answereth all things." Wait a moment: the splendid piece of upholstery is just receiving its finishing touch, the owner will lie down on it presently, and we shall hear what he thinks of his work. Hush! what is that you say, sir? No rest, no peace! Sleep is a shy goddess, which all this magnificence cannot woo. Do you really mean to tell us that you slumbered more peacefully and soundly when, a poor apprentice lad, you lay beneath the counter of your master's shop, ere you had heaped up all these thousands of gold and silver? Ay, ay, he says, it is even so. Oh, replies one of my hearers, I think I should be happy and satisfied if I only had a little more. Keep the wolf of poverty at a respectable distance from my door, give me all the necessaries of life, and a few of its comforts, and I should be as happy as the day is long. I must be rude enough to contradict you; you would not, you do not know yourself. If your affections and desires are of the earth, earthy, you would find your appetite growing with every fresh indulgence. The human heart is like the horse leech, ever crying, Give, give. "Did you not assure me that your ambition would be satisfied with a revenue of one hundred thousand crowns?" said Charles the Ninth, to a lordly abbot who was begging further preferment. Having been already made Bishop of Auxerre, Grand Almoner of France, and holder of numerous rich abbacies, the king thought his greed was inexcusable. How suggestive the reply of the insatiable pluralist: "True, sire, but there are some appetites which grow as you feed them." Oh, here another dainty looking couch, it belongs to the man of ambition, worldly ambition. This man is an enemy to all greed and avarice. He says public opinion serves the money grubber right, when it fixes on him the stigma of miser, which, being interpreted, is wretch. Thank God, he says, I can give, and spend, and lend. The accursed thirst for gold has not struck its fangs into me. No, this man despises money, but he pants for fame. Oh, he says, that I could become famous. If my name were only handed down to posterity as the great , I should be satisfied. He thirsts for fame as the fever-stricken patient thirsts for the cool refreshing fountain. Well, after a while his wish is granted. The world gladly prepares his bed of honour, and bids her favourite lie down and rest. But, lo! the thorns are there. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," although it be the laurel coronet of honour and worldly fame. Oh, he says, these thorns, they pierce to the very quick — let me return to my original obscurity. I can get no rest here, the bed is too short, the covering is too narrow! Let them pursue the history of Alexander the Great; the life of Napoleon Buonaparte, of whom it was said by a companion in arms, when at the very zenith of his prosperity, "He has gained everything, and yet he is unhappy"; the life of Cardinal Wolsey, whose advice to Cromwell might well have been, as our great poet represents it, I charge thee, fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels; how can man then, the image of his Maker, hope to win by it?" and whose dying regret was that he had not served his God as faithfully as he had served the king who had forsaken him, and left him to die unhonoured and unwept. The truth is, the soul cannot live upon the incense of human applause any more than the body can exist upon the fumes of smoking frankincense. But look once more. See this pretty and, one would think, sleep-enticing couch, the bed of worldly pleasure. There are men who despise saving and hoarding, nor do they care to climb the slippery ladder of earthly fame. The cares of popularity are not for them. But they are seeking rest too, and they hope to find it in the pleasures of the world. Let us eat and drink," is their maxim, "for tomorrow we die." "A short life. and a merry one." is their motto. Let us have our fill of pleasure. Let the most successful pleasure seekers relate their experience. Suppose we take the evidence of the celebrated Chesterfield. He was no fox crying sour grapes because the fruit was out of his reach. Probably s more fortunate man, so far as this world is concerned, never lived. He was high-born, wealthy, and honoured. In almost everything he undertook he was successful He was one of the most brilliant speakers in the House of Lords, a most accomplished gentleman, and one of the best scholars of the day. He had troops of friends, honours were showered upon him, ribbons, royal approbation, and diplomatic appointments. Prime ministers honoured him as the ablest of their supporters; princesses and peeresses gave him their smiles, and called him the greatest of men. In all history there is no greater instance of worldly success. All that the world could give of pleasure — he had good measure, shaken together, pressed down, and running over — men poured into his bosom. Did he fine] rest on this sumptuous couch? Hear his own testimony. "I have recently read Solomon with a kind of sympathetic feeling. I have been as wicked and vain, though not as wise, as he; but I feel the truth of his reflection, 'All is vanity and vexation of spirit.' I have been behind the world's gaudy scenes, have smelt the tallow candies, and seen all the clumsy machinery by which the raree-show is worked, and the spectators deceived; I have no desire to repeat the nauseous dose." "I have tried both services, God and the world," said Captain Hedley Vicars, who perished gallantly leading on his regiment in the war with Russia. "For twenty-four years I lived under the yoke of sin. The retrospect of my past life is now miserable to me, and yet I thought and called it a life of pleasure. The very name, when applied to sin, makes my heart sicken; even then? could never enjoy reviewing the occupations of a single day." All who have tried this daintily spread couch assure us that soul rest comes not there. Is there a couch in all this wide world whereon man, wearied, deceived, disappointed, can find repose? There is a bed on which the sinner, were he as tall as the pole, and as broad as the earth, could not fail to find rest. Rest and peace are only to be found in God. In that dread yet sweet name is found the answer to man's sin, man's sorrow, and man's yearnings after something better, truer, and holier. Believe me, you will find that rest nowhere else. What a comfort it must be to stretch one's self upon this bed and to feel that all is well, for time and for eternity.

(W. H. Langhorne.)

A proverb contains soul of truth for every age and people. The words apply to —



1. Self. In the expression "self-help" there is much that is commonly suggestive; but when it comes to religious interests we may soon make mistakes. Sin is too much for a man.

2. Mere formal religion.

3. Comparison with others. "Common sins I shudder at; the self, indulgent, disgraceful life of many I hate. I love culture; am a good husband — wife — sister — brother." God looks at the heart.


1. Temptation was so subtle and my nature weak. Remember, the key of the door is inside. You must consent. Did you pray?

2. I was surrounded by bad examples and influences. But were there no times when conscience corrected and truth attracted? no means by which you may have been fortified?

3. I have no time for piety. If piety consisted in a succession of onerous duties this plea might stand. But it is the spirit of a life, the heart centred in Christ.

4. I have no power for self-renewal. Have you availed your. self of impressions; allowed the attractions of Christ on your heart?


1. After all, it may be otherwise than preachers say. Will a man be so mad as to trust his life to a peradventure?

2. I may feel more inclined as I advance in life. Are you likely to do so in resistance of impressions?

3. I may repent at the last. That is, you will sin no more when you have no more power to sin. May not accident or disease suddenly overtake you? Can anyone who has a spark of generosity or right feeling think such conduct a fit return to Christ?

(G. M'Michael, B. A.)

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