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Title: The Book of Isaiah, Volume I (of 2)
Author: Smith, George Adam, 1856-1942
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  _Editor of "The Expositor," etc._




  _VOLUME 1._






  _Professor of Hebrew in the Free Church College, Glasgow_




_Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ltd., London and Aylesbury._



  INTRODUCTION                                                        ix

  TABLE OF DATES                                                     xvi




  I. ISAIAH'S PREFACE--THE ARGUMENT OF THE LORD.                       3


  II. THE THREE JERUSALEMS                                            19

  ISAIAH ii.-iv. 740-735 B.C.

  III. THE VINEYARD OF THE LORD                                       35

  ISAIAH v.; ix. 8-x. 4. 735 B.C.

  IV. ISAIAH'S CALL AND CONSECRATION                                  57

  ISAIAH vi. 740. WRITTEN 735 OR 727 B.C. (?).

  V. THE WORLD IN ISAIAH'S DAY AND ISRAEL'S GOD                       91


  VI. KING AND MESSIAH; PEOPLE AND CHURCH                            103

  ISAIAH vii.-ix. 1-8. 735-732 B.C.

  VII. THE MESSIAH                                                   131


  727-705 B.C.

  VIII. GOD'S COMMONPLACE                                            151

  ISAIAH xxviii. ABOUT 725 B.C.

  IX. ATHEISM OF FORCE AND ATHEISM OF FEAR                           168

  ISAIAH x. 5-34. ABOUT 721 B.C.

  X. THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN MAN AND THE ANIMALS                        179

  ISAIAH xi.; xii. ABOUT 720 B.C. (?).

  XI. DRIFTING TO EGYPT, 720-705 B.C.                                196

  ISAIAH xx. (711 B.C.); xxi. 1-10 (710 B.C.); xxxviii.; xxxix.


  705-702 B.C.

  XII. ARIEL, ARIEL                                                  209

  ISAIAH xxix. ABOUT 703 B.C.

  XIII. POLITICS AND FAITH                                           221

  ISAIAH xxx. ABOUT 702 B.C.

  XIV. THREE TRUTHS ABOUT GOD                                        238

  ISAIAH xxxi. ABOUT 702 B.C.

  DISCRIMINATE CHARACTER                                             248

  ISAIAH xxxii. 1-8. ABOUT 702 B.C. (?).

  XVI. ISAIAH TO WOMEN                                               262


  XVII. ISAIAH TO THE FOREIGN NATIONS                                271

  ISAIAH xiv. 24-xxi.; xxiii. VARIOUS DATES.

  XVIII. TYRE; OR, THE MERCENARY SPIRIT                              288

  ISAIAH xxiii. 702 B.C.



  XIX. AT THE LOWEST EBB                                             306

  ISAIAH i.; xxii. Early in 701 B.C.


  ISAIAH xxii.; xxxiii. LATER IN 701 B.C.

  XXI. OUR GOD A CONSUMING FIRE                                      331

  ISAIAH xxxiii.

  XXII. THE RABSHAKEH; OR, LAST TRIALS OF FAITH                      343

  ISAIAH xxxvi. 701 B.C.

  XXIII. THIS IS THE VICTORY ... OUR FAITH                           352

  ISAIAH xxxvii. 701 B.C.

  THE DELIVERANCE OF JERUSALEM                                       368

  DIFFERENCE CHRIST HAS MADE                                         375

  ISAIAH xxxviii.; xxxix. DATE UNCERTAIN.

  XXVI. HAD ISAIAH A GOSPEL FOR THE INDIVIDUAL?                      389



  XXVII. BABYLON AND LUCIFER                                         405

  ISAIAH xii. 12-xiv. 23. DATE UNKNOWN.



  XXIX. GOD'S POOR                                                   428

  ISAIAH xxv.-xxvii.; xxxiv.; xxxv. DATES UNKNOWN.

  XXX. THE RESURRECTION                                              444

  ISAIAH xxvi.; xxvii.

  INDEX OF CHAPTERS                                                  453

  INDEX OF SUBJECTS                                                  455


As the following Exposition of the Book of Isaiah does not observe the
canonical arrangement of the chapters, a short introduction is necessary
upon the plan which has been adopted.

The size and the many obscurities of the Book of Isaiah have limited the
common use of it in the English tongue to single conspicuous passages,
the very brilliance of which has cast their context and original
circumstance into deeper shade. The intensity of the gratitude with
which men have seized upon the more evangelical passages of Isaiah, as
well as the attention which apologists for Christianity have too
partially paid to his intimations of the Messiah, has confirmed the
neglect of the rest of the Book. But we might as well expect to receive
an adequate conception of a great statesman's policy from the epigrams
and perorations of his speeches as to appreciate the message, which God
has sent to the world through the Book of Isaiah, from a few lectures on
isolated, and often dislocated, texts. No book of the Bible is less
susceptible of treatment apart from the history out of which it sprang
than the Book of Isaiah; and it may be added, that in the Old Testament
at least there is none which, when set in its original circumstance and
methodically considered as a whole, appeals with greater power to the
modern conscience. Patiently to learn how these great prophecies were
suggested by, and first met, the actual occasions of human life, is
vividly to hear them speaking home to life still.

I have, therefore, designed an arrangement which embraces all the
prophecies, but treats them in chronological order. I will endeavour to
render their contents in terms which appeal to the modern conscience;
but, in order to be successful, such an endeavour presupposes the
exposition of them in relation to the history which gave them birth. In
these volumes, therefore, narrative and historical exposition will take
precedence of practical application.

Every one knows that the Book of Isaiah breaks into two parts between
chaps. xxxix. and xl. Vol. I. of this Exposition covers chaps. i.-xxxix.
Vol. II. will treat of chaps. xl.-lxvi. Again, within chaps. i.-xxxix.
another division is apparent. The most of these chapters evidently bear
upon events within Isaiah's own career, but some imply historical
circumstances that did not arise till long after he had passed away. Of
the five books into which I have divided Vol. I., the first four contain
the prophecies relating to Isaiah's time (740-701 B.C.), and the fifth
the prophecies which refer to later events (chaps. xiii.-xiv. 23;
xxiv.-xxvii.; xxxiv.; xxxv.).

The prophecies, whose subjects fall within Isaiah's times, I have taken
in chronological order, with one exception. This exception is chap. i.,
which, although it published near the end of the prophet's life, I treat
of first, because, from its position as well as its character, it is
evidently intended as a preface to the whole book. The difficulty of
grouping the rest of Isaiah's oracles and orations is great. The plan I
have adopted is not perfect, but convenient. Isaiah's prophesying was
determined chiefly by _four_ Assyrian invasions of Palestine: the first,
in 734-732 B.C., by Tiglath-pileser II., while Ahaz was on the throne;
the second by Salmanassar and Sargon in 725-720, during which Samaria
fell in 721; the third by Sargon, 712-710; the fourth by Sennacherib in
701, which last three occurred while Hezekiah was king of Judah. But
outside the Assyrian invasions there were three other cardinal dates in
Isaiah's life: 740, his call to be a prophet; 727, the death of Ahaz,
his enemy, and the accession of his pupil, Hezekiah; and 705, the death
of Sargon, for Sargon's death led to the rebellion of the Syrian States,
and it was this rebellion which brought on Sennacherib's invasion.
Taking all these dates into consideration, I have placed in Book I. all
the prophecies of Isaiah from his call in 740 to the death of Ahaz in
727; they lead up to and illustrate Tiglath-pileser's invasion; they
cover what I have ventured to call the prophet's apprenticeship, during
which the theatre of his vision was mainly the internal life of his
people, but he gained also his first outlook upon the world beyond. Book
II. deals with the prophecies from the accession of Hezekiah in 727 to
the death of Sargon in 705--a long period, but few prophecies, covering
both Salmanassar's and Sargon's campaigns. Book III. is filled with the
prophecies from 705 to 702, a numerous group, called forth from Isaiah
by the rebellion and political activity in Palestine consequent on
Sargon's death and preliminary to Sennacherib's arrival. Book IV.
contains the prophecies which refer to Sennacherib's actual invasion of
Judah and siege of Jerusalem, in 701.

Of course, any chronological arrangement of Isaiah's prophecies must be
largely provisional. Only some of the chapters are fixed to dates past
possibility of doubt. The Assyriology which has helped us with these
must yield further results before the controversies can be settled that
exist with regard to the rest. I have explained in the course of the
Exposition my reasons for the order which I have followed, and need only
say here that I am still more uncertain about the generally received
dates of chaps x. 5-xi., xvii. 12-14 and xxxii. The religious problems,
however, were so much the same during the whole of Isaiah's career that
uncertainties of date, _if they are confined to the limits of that
career_, make little difference to the exposition of the book.

Isaiah's doctrines, being so closely connected with the life of his day,
come up for statement at many points of the narrative, in which this
Exposition chiefly consists. But here and there I have inserted chapters
dealing summarily with more important topics, such as The World in
Isaiah's Day; The Messiah; Isaiah's Power of Prediction, with its
evidence on the character of Inspiration; and the question, Had Isaiah a
Gospel for the Individual? A short index will guide the student to
Isaiah's teaching on other important points of theology and life, such
as holiness, forgiveness, monotheism, immortality, the Holy Spirit, etc.

Treating Isaiah's prophecies chronologically as I have done, I have
followed a method which put me on the look-out for any traces of
development that his doctrine might exhibit. I have recorded these as
they occur, but it may be useful to collect them here. In chaps. ii.-iv.
we have the struggle of the apprentice prophet's thoughts from the easy
religious optimism of his generation, through unrelieved convictions of
judgement for the whole people, to his final vision of the Divine
salvation of a remnant. Again, chap. vii. following on chaps. ii.-vi.
proves that Isaiah's belief in the Divine righteousness preceded, and
was the parent of, his belief in the Divine sovereignty. Again, his
successive pictures of the Messiah grow in contents, and become more
spiritual. And again, he only gradually arrived at a clear view of the
siege and deliverance of Jerusalem. One other fact of the same kind has
impressed me since I wrote the exposition of chap. i. I have there
stated that it is plain that Isaiah's conscience was perfect just
because it consisted of two complementary parts: one of God the
infinitely High, exalted in righteousness, far above the thoughts of His
people, and the other of God the infinitely Near, concerned and jealous
for all the practical details of their life. I ought to have added that
Isaiah was more under the influence of the former in his earlier years,
but that as he grew older and took a larger share in the politics of
Judah it was the latter view of God, to which he most frequently gave
expression. Signs of a development like these may be fairly used to
correct or support the evidence which Assyriology affords for
determining the chronological order of the chapters.

But these signs of development are more valuable for the proof they give
that the Book of Isaiah contains the experience and testimony of a real
life: a life that learned and suffered and grew, and at last triumphed.
There is not a single word about the prophet's birth or childhood, or
fortune, or personal appearance, or even of his death. But between
silence on his origin and silence on his end--and perhaps all the more
impressively because of these clouds by which it is bounded--there
shines the record of Isaiah's spiritual life and of the unfaltering
career which this sustained,--clear and whole, from his commission by
God in the secret experience of his own heart to his vindication in
God's supreme tribunal of history. It is not only one of the greatest,
but one of the most finished and intelligible, lives in history. My main
purpose in expounding the book is to enable English readers, not only to
follow its course, but to feel, and to be elevated by, its Divine

I may state that this Exposition is based upon a close study of the
Hebrew text of Isaiah, and that the translations are throughout my own,
except in one or two cases where I have quoted from the revised English

With regard to the Revised Version of Isaiah, which I have had
opportunities of thoroughly testing, I would like to say that my sense
of the immense service which it renders to English readers of the Bible
is only exceeded by my wonder that the Revisers have not gone just a
very little farther, and adopted one or two simple contrivances which
are in the line of their own improvements and would have greatly
increased our large debt to them. For instance, why did they not make
plain by inverted commas such undoubted interruptions of the prophet's
own speech as that of the drunkards in chap. xxviii. 9, 10? Not to know
that these verses are spoken in mockery of Isaiah, a mockery to which he
replies in vv. 10-13, is to miss the meaning of the whole passage.
Again, when they printed Job and the Psalms in metrical form, as well as
the Hymn of Hezekiah, why did they not do the same with other poetical
passages of Isaiah, particularly the great Ode on the King of Babylon in
chap. xiv.? This is utterly spoiled in the form in which the Revisers
have printed it. What English reader would guess that it was as much a
piece of metre as any of the Psalms? Again, why have they so
consistently rendered by the misleading word "judgement" a Hebrew term
that no doubt sometimes means an act of doom, but far oftener the
abstract quality of justice? It is such defects, along with a frequent
failure to mark the proper emphasis in a sentence, that have led me to
substitute a more literal version of my own.

I have not thought it necessary to discuss the question of the
chronology of the period. This has been done so often and so recently.
See Robertson Smith's _Prophets of Israel_, pp. 145, 402, 413, Driver's
_Isaiah_, p. 12, or any good commentary.

I append a chronological table, and an index to the canonical chapters
will be found before the index of subjects. The publishers have added a
map of Isaiah's world in illustration of chap. v.



  745. Tiglath-pileser II. ascends the Assyrian Throne.

  740. Uzziah dies. Jotham becomes sole King of Judah. Isaiah's
  Inaugural Vision (Isa. vi.).

  735. Jotham dies. Ahaz succeeds. League of Syria and Northern
  Israel against Judah.

  734-732. Syrian Campaign of Tiglath-pileser II. Siege and Capture
  of Damascus. Invasion of Israel. Captivity of Zebulon,
  Naphtali and Galilee (Isa. ix. 1). Ahaz visits Damascus.

  727. Salmanassar IV. succeeds Tiglath-pileser II. Hezekiah succeeds
  Ahaz (or in 725?).

  725. Salmanassar marches on Syria.

  722 or 721. Sargon succeeds Salmanassar. Capture of Samaria.
  Captivity of all Northern Israel.

  720 or 719. Sargon defeats Egypt at Rafia.

  711. Sargon invades Syria (Isa. xx.). Capture of Ashdod.

  709. Sargon takes Babylon from Merodach-baladan.

  705. Murder of Sargon. Sennacherib succeeds.

  701. Sennacherib invades Syria. Capture of Coast Towns. Siege
  of Ekron and Battle of Eltekeh. Invasion of Judah. Submission
  of Hezekiah. Jerusalem spared. Return of
  Assyrians with the Rabshakeh to Jerusalem, while Sennacherib's
  Army marches on Egypt. Disaster to Sennacherib's
  Army near Pelusium. Disappearance of Assyrians from
  before Jerusalem--all happening in this order.

  697 or 696.   Death of Hezekiah. Manasseh succeeds.

  681. Death of Sennacherib.

  607. Fall of Nineveh and Assyria. Babylon supreme. Jeremiah.

  599. First Deportation of Jews to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar.

  588. Jerusalem destroyed. Second Deportation of Jews.

  538. Cyrus captures Babylon. First Return of Jewish Exiles, under
  Zerubbabel, happens soon after.

  458. Second Return of Jewish Exiles, under Ezra.



727 B.C.


     "     ii.-iv. 740-735 B.C.

     "     v., ix. 8-x. 4. 735 B.C.

     "     vi. About 735 B.C.

     "     vii.-ix. 7. 734-732 B.C.




The first chapter of the Book of Isaiah owes its position not to its
date, but to its character. It was published late in the prophet's life.
The seventh verse describes the land as overrun by foreign soldiery, and
such a calamity befell Judah only in the last two of the four reigns
over which the first verse extends Isaiah's prophesying. In the reign of
Ahaz, Judah was invaded by Syria and Northern Israel, and some have
dated chapter i. from the year of that invasion, 734 B.C. In the reign
again of Hezekiah some have imagined, in order to account for the
chapter, a swarming of neighbouring tribes upon Judah; and Mr. Cheyne,
to whom regarding the history of Isaiah's time we ought to listen with
the greatest deference, has supposed an Assyrian invasion in 711, under
Sargon. But hardly of this, and certainly not of that, have we adequate
evidence, and the only other invasion of Judah in Isaiah's lifetime took
place under Sennacherib, in 701. For many reasons this Assyrian invasion
is to be preferred to that by Syria and Ephraim in 734 as the occasion
of this prophecy. But there is really no need to be determined on the
point. The prophecy has been lifted out of its original circumstance
and placed in the front of the book, perhaps by Isaiah himself, as a
general introduction to his collected pieces. It owes its position, as
we have said, to its character. It is a clear, complete statement of the
points which were at issue between the Lord and His own all the time
Isaiah was the Lord's prophet. It is the most representative of Isaiah's
prophecies, a summary, perhaps better than any other single chapter of
the Old Testament, of the substance of prophetic doctrine, and a very
vivid illustration of the prophetic spirit and method. We propose to
treat it here as introductory to the main subjects and lines of Isaiah's
teaching, leaving its historical references till we arrive in due course
at the probable year of its origin, 701 B.C.[1]

  [1] See p. 343.

       *       *       *       *       *

Isaiah's preface is in the form of a Trial or Assize. Ewald calls it
"The Great Arraignment." There are all the actors in a judicial process.
It is a Crown case, and God is at once Plaintiff and Judge. He delivers
both the Complaint in the beginning (vv. 2, 3) and the Sentence in the
end. The Assessors are Heaven and Earth, whom the Lord's herald invokes
to hear the Lord's plea (ver. 2). The people of Judah are the
Defendants. The charge against them is one of brutish, ingrate
stupidity, breaking out into rebellion. The Witness is the prophet
himself, whose evidence on the guilt of his people consists in
recounting the misery that has overtaken their land (vv. 4-9), along
with their civic injustice and social cruelty--sins of the upper and
ruling classes (vv. 10, 17, 21-23). The people's Plea-in-defence,
laborious worship and multiplied sacrifice, is repelled and exposed (vv.
10-17). And the Trial is concluded--_Come now, let us bring our
reasoning to a close, saith the Lord_--by God's offer of pardon to a
people thoroughly convicted (ver. 18). On which follow the Conditions of
the Future: happiness is sternly made dependent on repentance and
righteousness (vv. 19, 20). And a supplementary oracle is given (vv.
24-31), announcing a time of affliction, through which the nation shall
pass as through a furnace; rebels and sinners shall be consumed, but God
will redeem Zion, and with her a remnant of the people.

That is the plan of the chapter--a Trial at Law. Though it disappears
under the exceeding weight of thought the prophet builds upon it, do not
let us pass hurriedly from it, as if it were only a scaffolding.

That God should argue at all is the magnificent truth on which our
attention must fasten, before we inquire what the argument is about. God
reasons with man--that is the first article of religion according to
Isaiah. Revelation is not magical, but rational and moral. Religion is
reasonable intercourse between one intelligent Being and another. God
works upon man first through conscience.

Over against the prophetic view of religion sprawls and reeks in this
same chapter the popular--religion as smoky sacrifice, assiduous
worship, and ritual. The people to whom the chapter was addressed were
not idolaters.[2] Hezekiah's reformation was over. Judah worshipped her
own God, whom the prophet introduces not as for the first time, but by
Judah's own familiar names for Him--Jehovah, Jehovah of Hosts, the Holy
One of Israel, the Mighty One, or Hero, of Israel. In this hour of
extreme danger the people are waiting on Jehovah with great pains and
cost of sacrifice. They pray, they sacrifice, they solemnize to
perfection. But they do not _know_, they do not _consider_; this is the
burden of their offence. To use a better word, they do not _think_. They
are God's grown-up children (ver. 2)--_children_, that is to say, like
the son of the parable, with native instincts for their God, and _grown
up_--that is to say, with reason and conscience developed. But they use
neither, stupider than very beasts. _Israel doth not know, my people
doth not consider._ In all their worship conscience is asleep, and they
are drenched in wickedness. Isaiah puts their life in an
epigram--_wickedness and worship: I cannot away_, saith the Lord, _with
wickedness and worship_ (ver. 13).

  [2] At least those to whom the first twenty-three verses were addressed.
  There is distinct blame of worshipping in the groves of Asherah in the
  appended oracle (vv. 24-31), which is proof that this oracle was given
  at an earlier period than the rest of the chapter--a fair instance of
  the very great difficulty we have in determining the dates of the
  various prophecies of Isaiah.

But the pressure and stimulus of the prophecy lie in this, that although
the people have silenced conscience and are steeped in a stupidity worse
than ox or ass, God will not leave them alone. He forces Himself upon
them; He compels them to think. In the order and calmness of nature
(ver. 2), apart from catastrophe nor seeking to influence by any
miracle, God speaks to men by the reasonable words of His prophet.
Before He will publish salvation or intimate disaster He must rouse and
startle conscience. His controversy precedes alike His peace and His
judgements. An awakened conscience is His prophet's first demand. Before
religion can be prayer, or sacrifice, or any acceptable worship, it must
be a _reasoning together_ with God.

That is what mean the arrival of the Lord, and the opening of the
assize, and the call to know and consider. It is the terrible necessity
which comes back upon men, however engrossed or drugged they may be, to
pass their lives in moral judgement before themselves; a debate to which
there is never any closure, in which forgotten things will not be
forgotten, but a man "is compelled to repeat to himself things he
desires to be silent about, and to listen to what he does not wish to
hear, ... yielding to that mysterious power which says to him, Think.
One can no more prevent the mind from returning to an idea than the sea
from returning to a shore. With the sailor this is called the tide; with
the guilty it is called remorse. God upheaves the soul as well as the
ocean."[3] Upon that ever-returning and resistless tide Hebrew prophecy,
with its Divine freight of truth and comfort, rides into the lives of
men. This first chapter of Isaiah is just the parable of the awful
compulsion to think which men call conscience. The stupidest of
generations, formal and fat-hearted, are forced to consider and to
reason. The Lord's court and controversy are opened, and men are whipped
into them from His Temple and His altar.

  [3] _Les Misérables_: "a Tempest in a Brain."

For even religion and religiousness, the common man's commonest refuge
from conscience--not only in Isaiah's time--cannot exempt from this
writ. Would we be judged by our moments of worship, by our
_temple-treading_, which is Hebrew for church-going, by the wealth of
our sacrifice, by our ecclesiastical position? This chapter drags us out
before the austerity and incorruptibleness of Nature. The assessors of
the Lord are not the Temple nor the Law, but Heaven and Earth--not
ecclesiastical conventions, but the grand moral fundamentals of the
universe, purity, order and obedience to God. Religiousness, however,
is not the only refuge from which we shall find Isaiah startling men
with the trumpet of the Lord's assize. He is equally intolerant of the
indulgent silence and compromises of the world, that give men courage to
say, We are no worse than others. Men's lives, it is a constant truth of
his, have to be argued out not with the world, but with God. If a man
will be silent upon shameful and uncomfortable things, he cannot. His
thoughts are not his own; God will think them for him as God thinks them
here for unthinking Israel. Nor are the practical and intellectual
distractions of a busy life any refuge from conscience. When the
politicians of Judah seek escape from judgement by plunging into deeper
intrigue and a more bustling policy, Isaiah is fond of pointing out to
them that they are only forcing judgement nearer. They do but sharpen on
other objects the thoughts whose edge must some day turn upon

What is this questioning nothing holds away, nothing stills, and nothing
wears out? It is the voice of God Himself, and its insistence is
therefore as irresistible as its effect is universal. That is not mere
rhetoric which opens the Lord's controversy: _Hear, O heavens, and give
ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken_. All the world changes to the
man in whom conscience lifts up her voice, and to the guilty Nature
seems attentive and aware. Conscience compels heaven and earth to act as
her assessors, because she is the voice, and they the creatures, of God.
This leads us to emphasize another feature of the prophecy.

We have called this chapter a trial-at-law; but it is far more a
_personal_ than a legal controversy; of the formally forensic there is
very little about it. Some theologies and many preachers have attempted
the conviction of the human conscience by the technicalities of a system
of law, or by appealing to this or that historical covenant, or by the
obligations of an intricate and burdensome morality. This is not
Isaiah's way. His generation is here judged by no system of law or
ancient covenants, but by a living Person and by His treatment of
them--a Person who is a Friend and a Father. It is not Judah and the law
that are confronted; it is Judah and Jehovah. There is no contrast
between the life of this generation and some glorious estate from which
they or their forefathers have fallen; but they are made to hear the
voice of a living and present God: _I have nourished and brought up
children, and they have rebelled against Me_. Isaiah begins where Saul
of Tarsus began, who, though he afterwards elaborated with wealth of
detail the awful indictment of the abstract law against man, had never
been able to do so but for that first confronting with the Personal
Deity, _Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?_ Isaiah's ministry started
from the vision of the Lord; and it was no covenant or theory, but the
Lord Himself, who remained the prophet's conscience to the end.

But though the living God is Isaiah's one explanation of conscience, it
is God in two aspects, the moral effects of which are opposite, yet
complementary. In conscience men are defective by forgetting either the
sublime or the practical, but Isaiah's strength is to do justice to
both. With him God is first the infinitely High, and then equally the
infinitely Near. _The Lord is exalted in righteousness!_ yes, and
sublimely above the people's vulgar identifications of His will with
their own safety and success, but likewise concerned with every detail
of their politics and social behaviour, not to be relegated to the
Temple, where they were wont to confine Him, but by His prophet
descending to their markets and councils, with His own opinion of their
policies, interfering in their intrigues, meeting Ahaz at the conduit of
the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field, and fastening _eyes
of glory_ on every pin and point of the dress of the daughters of Zion.
He is no merely transcendent God. Though He be the High and Holy One, He
will discuss each habit of the people, and argue upon its merits every
one of their policies. His constant cry to them is _Come and let us
reason together_, and to hear it is to have a conscience. Indeed, Isaiah
lays more stress on this intellectual side of the moral sense than on
the other, and the frequency with which in this chapter he employs the
expressions _know_, and _consider_, and _reason_, is characteristic of
all his prophesying. Even the most superficial reader must notice how
much this prophet's doctrine of conscience and repentance harmonizes
with the _metanoia_ of New Testament preaching.

This doctrine, that God has an interest in every detail of practical
life and will argue it out with men, led Isaiah to a revelation of God
quite peculiar to himself. For the Psalmist it is enough that his soul
_come to God, the living God_. It is enough for other prophets to awe
the hearts of their generations by revealing _the Holy One_; but Isaiah,
with his intensely practical genius, and sorely tried by the stupid
inconsistency of his people, bends himself to make them understand that
God is at least a _reasonable_ Being. Do not, his constant cry is, and
he puts it sometimes in almost as many words--do not act as if there
were a Fool on the throne of the universe, which you virtually do when
you take these meaningless forms of worship as your only intercourse
with Him, and beside them practise your rank iniquities, as if He did
not see nor care. We need not here do more than mention the passages in
which, sometimes by a word, Isaiah stings and startles self-conscious
politicians and sinners beetle-blind in sin, with the sense that God
Himself takes an interest in their deeds and has His own working-plans
for their life. On the land question in Judah (v. 9): _In mine ears,
saith the Lord of hosts_. When the people were paralyzed by calamity, as
if it had no meaning or term (xxviii. 29): _This also cometh forth from
the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in
effectual working_. Again, when they were panic-stricken, and madly
sought by foolish ways their own salvation (xxx. 18): _For the Lord is a
God of judgement--i.e._, of principle, method, law, with His own way and
time for doing things--_blessed are all they that wait for Him_. And
again, when politicians were carried away by the cleverness and success
of their own schemes (xxxi. 2): _Yet He also is wise_, or clever. It was
only a personal application of this Divine attribute when Isaiah heard
the word of the Lord give him the minutest directions for his own
practice--as, for instance, at what exact point he was to meet Ahaz
(vii. 3); or that he was to take a board and write upon it in the vulgar
character (viii. 1); or that he was to strip frock and sandals, and walk
without them for three years (xx). Where common men feel conscience only
as something vague and inarticulate, a flavour, a sting, a foreboding,
the obligation of work, the constraint of affection, Isaiah heard the
word of the Lord, clear and decisive on matters of policy, and definite
even to the details of method and style.

Isaiah's conscience, then, was perfect, because it was two-fold: _God is
holy; God is practical_. If there be the glory, the purity as of fire,
of His Presence to overawe, there is His unceasing inspection of us,
there is His interest in the smallest details of our life, there are His
fixed laws, from regard for all of which no amount of religious
sensibility may relieve us. Neither of these halves of conscience can
endure by itself. If we forget the first we may be prudent and for a
time clever, but will also grow self-righteous, and in time
self-righteousness means stupidity too. If we forget the second we may
be very devotional, but cannot escape becoming blindly and
inconsistently immoral. Hypocrisy is the result either way, whether we
forget how high God is or whether we forget how near.

To these two great articles of conscience, however--God is high and God
is near--the Bible adds a greater third, God is Love. This is the
uniqueness and glory of the Bible's interpretation of conscience. Other
writings may equal it in enforcing the sovereignty and detailing the
minutely practical bearings of conscience: the Bible alone tells man how
much of conscience is nothing but God's love. It is a doctrine as
plainly laid down as the doctrine about chastisement, though not half so
much recognised--_Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth_. What is true of
the material pains and penalties of life is equally true of the inward
convictions, frets, threats and fears, which will not leave stupid man
alone. To men with their obscure sense of shame, and restlessness, and
servitude to sin the Bible plainly says, "You are able to sin because
you have turned your back to the love of God; you are unhappy because
you do not take that love to your heart; the bitterness of your remorse
is that it is love against which you are ungrateful." Conscience is not
the Lord's persecution, but His jealous pleading, and not the fierceness
of His anger, but the reproach of His love. This is the Bible's doctrine
throughout, and it is not absent from the chapter we are considering.
Love gets the first word even in the indictment of this austere assize:
_I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled
against Me_. Conscience is already a Father's voice: the recollection,
as it is in the parable of the prodigal, of a Father's mercy; the
reproach, as it is with Christ's lamentation over Jerusalem, of outraged
love. We shall find not a few passages in Isaiah, which prove that he
was in harmony with all revelation upon this point, that conscience is
the reproach of the love of God.

But when that understanding of conscience breaks out in a sinner's heart
forgiveness cannot be far away. Certainly penitence is at hand. And
therefore, because of all books the Bible is the only one which
interprets conscience as the love of God, so is it the only one that can
combine His pardon with His reproach, and as Isaiah now does in a single
verse, proclaim His free forgiveness as the conclusion of His bitter
quarrel. _Come, let us bring our reasoning to a close, saith the_ LORD.
_Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though
they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool._ Our version, _Come,
and let us reason together_, gives no meaning here. So plain an offer of
pardon is not reasoning together; it is bringing reasoning to an end; it
is the settlement of a dispute that has been in progress. Therefore we
translate, with Mr. Cheyne, _Let us bring our reasoning to an end_. And
how pardon can be the end and logical conclusion of conscience is clear
to us, who have seen how much of conscience is love, and that the
Lord's controversy is the reproach of His Father's heart, and His
jealousy to make His own consider all His way of mercy towards them.

But the prophet does not leave conscience alone with its personal and
inward results. He rouses it to its social applications. The sins with
which the Jews are charged in this charge of the Lord are public sins.
The whole people is indicted, but it is the judges, princes and
counsellors who are denounced. Judah's disasters, which she seeks to
meet by worship, are due to civic faults, bribery, corruption of
justice, indifference to the rights of the poor and the friendless.
Conscience with Isaiah is not what it is with so much of the religion of
to-day, a _cul de sac_, into which the Lord chases a man and shuts him
up to Himself, but it is a thoroughfare by which the Lord drives the man
out upon the world and its manifold need of him. There is little
dissection and less study of individual character with Isaiah. He has no
time for it. Life is too much about him, and his God too much interested
in life. What may be called the more personal sins--drunkenness, vanity
of dress, thoughtlessness, want of faith in God and patience to wait for
Him--are to Isaiah more social than individual symptoms, and it is for
their public and political effects that he mentions them. Forgiveness is
no end in itself, but the opportunity of social service; not a sanctuary
in which Isaiah leaves men to sing its praises or form doctrines of it,
but a gateway through which he leads God's people upon the world with
the cry that rises from him here: _Seek justice, relieve the oppressed,
judge the fatherless, plead for the widow_.

Before we pass from this form in which Isaiah figures religion we must
deal with a suggestion it raises. No modern mind can come into this
ancient court of the LORD's controversy without taking advantage of its
open forms to put a question regarding the rights of man there. That God
should descend to argue with men, what licence does this give to men? If
religion be reasonable controversy of this kind, what is the place of
doubt in it? Is not doubt man's side of the argument? Has he not also
questions to put--the Almighty from his side to arraign? For God has
Himself here put man on a level with Him, saying, _Come, and let us
reason together_.

A temper of this kind, though not strange to the Old Testament, lies
beyond the horizon of Isaiah. The only challenge of the Almighty which
in any of his prophecies he reports as rising from his own countrymen is
the bravado of certain drunkards (chaps. v. and xxviii.). Here and
elsewhere it is the very opposite temper from honest doubt which he
indicts--the temper that _does not know_, that _does not consider_.
Ritualism and sensualism are to Isaiah equally false, because equally
unthinking. The formalist and the fleshly he classes together, because
of their stupidity. What does it matter whether a man's conscience and
intellect be stifled in his own fat or under the clothes with which he
dresses himself? They are stifled, and that is the main thing. To the
formalist Isaiah says, _Israel doth not know, my people doth not
consider_; to the fleshly (chap. v.), _My people are gone into captivity
for want of knowledge._ But _knowing_ and _considering_ are just that of
which doubt, in its modern sense, is the abundance, and not the defect.
The mobility of mind, the curiosity, the moral sensitiveness, the hunger
that is not satisfied with the chaff of formal and unreal answers, the
spirit to find out truth for one's self, wrestling with God--this is the
very temper Isaiah would have welcomed in a people whose sluggishness
of reason was as justly blamed by him as the grossness of their moral
sense. And if revelation be of the form in which Isaiah so prominently
sets it, and the whole Bible bears him out in this--if revelation be
this argumentative and reasonable process, then human doubt has its part
in revelation. It is, indeed, man's side of the argument, and as history
shows, has often helped to the elucidation of the points at issue.

Merely intellectual scepticism, however, is not within Isaiah's horizon.
He would never have employed (nor would any other prophet) our modern
habits of doubt, except as he employs these intellectual terms, _to
know_ and _to consider_--viz., as instruments of moral search and
conviction. Had he lived now he would have been found among those few
great prophets who use the resources of the human intellect to expose
the moral state of humanity; who, like Shakespeare and Hugo, turn man's
detective and reflective processes upon his own conduct; who make
himself stand at the bar of his conscience. And truly to have doubt of
everything in heaven and earth, and never to doubt one's self, is to be
guilty of as stiff and stupid a piece of self-righteousness as the
religious formalists whom Isaiah exposes. But the moral of the chapter
is plainly what we have shown it to be, that a man cannot stifle doubt
and debate about his own heart or treatment of God; whatever else he
thinks about and judges, he cannot help judging himself.

_Note on the Place of Nature in the Argument of the Lord._--The office
which the Bible assigns to Nature in the controversy of God with man is
fourfold--Assessor, Witness, Man's Fellow-Convict, and Doomster or
Executioner. Taking these backward:--1. Scripture frequently exhibits
Nature as the _doomster of the Lord_. Nature has a terrible power of
flashing back from her vaster surfaces the guilty impressions of man's
heart; at the last day her thunders shall peal the doom of the wicked,
and her fire devour them. In those prophecies of the book of Isaiah
which relate to his own time this use is not made of Nature, unless it
be in his very earliest prophecy in chap. ii., and in his references to
the earthquake (v. 25). To Isaiah the sentences and scourges of God are
political and historical, the threats and arms of Assyria. He employs
the violences of Nature only as metaphors for Assyrian rage and force.
But he often promises fertility as the effect of the Lord's pardon, and
when the prophets are writing about Nature, it is difficult to say
whether they are to be understood literally or poetically. But, at any
rate, there is much larger use made of physical catastrophes and
convulsions in those other prophecies which do not relate to Isaiah's
own time, and are now generally thought not to be his. Compare chaps.
xiii. and xiv. 2. The representation of the earth as the
_fellow-convict_ of guilty man, sharing his curse, is very vivid in
Isaiah xxiv.-xxvii. In the prophecies relating to his own time Isaiah,
of course, identifies the troubles that afflict the land with the sin of
the people, of Judah. But these are due to political causes--viz., the
Assyrian invasion. 3. In the Lord's court of judgement the prophets
sometimes employ Nature as _a witness_ against man, as, for instance,
the prophet Micah (vi. 1, _ff_). Nature is full of associations; the
enduring mountains have memories from old, they have been constant
witnesses of the dealing of God with His people. 4. Or lastly, Nature
may be used as the great _assessor_ of the conscience, sitting to
expound the principles on which God governs life. This is Isaiah's
favourite use of Nature. He employs her to corroborate his statement of
the Divine law and illustrate the ways of God to men, as in the end of
chap. xxviii., and no doubt in the opening verse of this chapter.



ISAIAH ii.-iv. (740-735 B.C.).

After the general introduction, in chap. i., to the prophecies of
Isaiah, there comes another portion of the book, of greater length, but
nearly as distinct as the first. It covers four chapters, the second to
the sixth, all of them dating from the same earliest period of Isaiah's
ministry, before 735 B.C. They deal with exactly the same subjects, but
they differ greatly in form. One section (chaps. ii.-iv.) consists of a
number of short utterances--evidently not all spoken at the same time,
for they conflict with one another--a series of consecutive prophecies,
that probably represent the stages of conviction through which Isaiah
passed in his prophetic apprenticeship; a second section (chap. v.) is a
careful and artistic restatement, in parable and oration, of the truths
he has thus attained; while a third section (chap. vi.) is narrative,
probably written subsequently to the first two, but describing an
inspiration and official call, which must have preceded them both. The
more one examines chaps. ii.-vi., and finds that they but express the
same truths in different forms, the more one is confirmed in some such
view of them as this, which, it is believed, the following exposition
will justify. Chaps. v. and vi. are twin appendices to the long summary
in ii.-iv.: chap. v. a public vindication and enforcement of the results
of that summary, chap. vi. a private vindication to the prophet's heart
of the very same truths, by a return to the secret moment of their
original inspiration. We may assign 735 B.C., just before or just after
the accession of Ahaz, as the date of the latest of these prophecies.
The following is their historical setting.

For more than half a century the kingdom of Judah, under two powerful
and righteous monarchs, had enjoyed the greatest prosperity. Uzziah
strengthened the borders, extended the supremacy and vastly increased
the resources of his little State, which, it is well to remember, was in
its own size not larger than three average Scottish counties. He won
back for Judah the port of Elath on the Red Sea, built a navy, and
restored the commerce with the far East, which Solomon began. He
overcame, in battle or by the mere terror of his name, the neighbouring
nations--the Philistines that dwelt in cities, and the wandering tribes
of desert Arabs. The Ammonites brought him gifts. With the wealth, which
the East by tribute or by commerce poured into his little principality,
Uzziah fortified his borders and his capital, undertook large works of
husbandry and irrigation, organized a powerful standing army, and
supplied it with a siege artillery capable of slinging arrows and
stones. _His name spread far abroad, for he was marvellously helped till
he was strong._ His son Jotham (740-735 B.C.) continued his father's
policy with nearly all his father's success. He built cities and
castles, quelled a rebellion among his tributaries, and caused their
riches to flow faster still into Jerusalem. But while Jotham bequeathed
to his country a sure defence and great wealth, and to his people a
strong spirit and prestige among the nations, he left another bequest,
which robbed these of their value--the son who succeeded him. In 735
Jotham died and Ahaz became king. He was very young, and stepped to the
throne from the hareem. He brought to the direction of the government
the petulant will of a spoiled child, the mind of an intriguing and
superstitious woman. It was when the national policy felt the paralysis
consequent on these that Isaiah published at least the later part of the
prophecies now marked off as chaps. ii.-iv. of his book. _My people_, he
cries--_my people! children are their oppressors, and women rule over
them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy
the way of thy paths._

Isaiah had been born into the flourishing nation while Uzziah was king.
The great events of that monarch's reign were his education, the still
grander hopes they prompted the passion of his virgin fancy. He must
have absorbed as the very temper of his youth this national
consciousness which swelled so proudly in Judah under Uzziah. But the
accession of such a king as Ahaz, while it was sure to let loose the
passions and follies fostered by a period of rapid increase in luxury,
could not fail to afford to Judah's enemies the long-deferred
opportunity of attacking her. It was an hour both of the manifestation
of sin and of the judgement of sin--an hour in which, while the majesty
of Judah, sustained through two great reigns, was about to disappear in
the follies of a third, the majesty of Judah's God should become more
conspicuous than ever. Of this Isaiah had been privately conscious, as
we shall see, for five years. _In the year that king Uzziah died_
(740), the young Jew _saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and
lifted up_. Startled into prophetic consciousness by the awful contrast
between an earthly majesty that had so long fascinated men, but now sank
into a leper's grave, and the heavenly, which rose sovereign and
everlasting above it, Isaiah had gone on to receive conviction of his
people's sin and certain punishment. With the accession of Ahaz, five
years later, his own political experience was so far developed as to
permit of his expressing in their exact historical effects the awful
principles of which he had received foreboding when Uzziah died. What we
find in chaps. ii.-iv. is a record of the struggle of his mind towards
this expression; it is the summary, as we have already said, of Isaiah's

_The word that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and
Jerusalem._ We do not know anything of Isaiah's family or of the details
of his upbringing. He was a member of some family of Jerusalem, and in
intimate relations with the Court. It has been believed that he was of
royal blood, but it matters little whether this be true or not. A spirit
so wise and masterful as his did not need social rank to fit it for that
intimacy with princes which has doubtless suggested the legend of his
royal descent. What does matter is Isaiah's citizenship in Jerusalem,
for this colours all his prophecy. More than Athens to Demosthenes, Rome
to Juvenal, Florence to Dante, is Jerusalem to Isaiah. She is his
immediate and ultimate regard, the centre and return of all his
thoughts, the hinge of the history of his time, the one thing worth
preserving amidst its disasters, the summit of those brilliant hopes
with which he fills the future. He has traced for us the main features
of her position and some of the lines of her construction, many of the
great figures of her streets, the fashions of her women, the arrival of
embassies, the effect of rumours. He has painted her aspect in triumph,
in siege, in famine and in earthquake; war filling her valleys with
chariots, and again nature rolling tides of fruitfulness up to her
gates; her moods of worship and panic and profligacy--till we see them
all as clearly as the shadow following the sunshine and the breeze
across the cornfields of our own summers.

If he takes wider observation of mankind, Jerusalem is his watch-tower.
It is for her defence he battles through fifty years of statesmanship,
and all his prophecy may be said to travail in anguish for her new
birth. He was never away from her walls, but not even the psalms of the
captives by the rivers of Babylon, with the desire of exile upon them,
exhibit more beauty and pathos than the lamentations which Isaiah poured
upon Jerusalem's sufferings or the visions in which he described her
future solemnity and peace.

It is not with surprise, therefore, that we find the first prophecies of
Isaiah directed upon his mother city: _The word that Isaiah the son of
Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem._ There is little about Judah in
these chapters: the country forms but a fringe to the capital.

Before we look into the subject of the prophecy, however, a short
digression is necessary on the manner in which it is presented to us. It
is not a reasoned composition or argument we have here; it is a vision,
it is the word which Isaiah _saw_. The expression is vague, often abused
and in need of defining. Vision is not employed here to express any
magical display before the eyes of the prophet of the very words which
he was to speak to the people, or any communication to his thoughts by
dream or ecstasy. They are higher qualities of "vision" which these
chapters unfold. There is, first of all, the power of forming an ideal,
of seeing and describing a thing in the fulfilment of all the promise
that is in it. But these prophecies are much more remarkable for two
other powers of inward vision, to which we give the names of insight and
intuition--insight into human character, intuition of Divine
principles--_clear knowledge of what man is and how God will act_--a
keen discrimination of the present state of affairs in Judah, and
unreasoned conviction of moral truth and the Divine will. The original
meaning of the Hebrew word _saw_, which is used in the title to this
series, is to cleave, or split; then to see into, to see through, to get
down beneath the surface of things and discover their real nature. And
what characterizes the bulk of these visions is _penetrativeness_, the
keenness of a man who will not be deceived by an outward show that he
delights to hold up to our scorn, but who has a conscience for the inner
worth of things and for their future consequences. To lay stress on the
moral meaning of the prophet's vision is not to grudge, but to emphasize
its inspiration by God. Of that inspiration Isaiah was himself assured.
It was God's Spirit that enabled him to see thus keenly; for he saw
things keenly, not only as men count moral keenness, but as God Himself
sees them, in their value in His sight and in their attractiveness for
His love and pity. In this prophecy there occurs a striking
expression--_the eyes of the glory of God_. It was the vision of the
Almighty Searcher and Judge, burning through man's pretence, with which
the prophet felt himself endowed. This then was the second element in
his vision--to penetrate men's hearts as God Himself penetrated them,
and constantly, without squint or blur, to see right from wrong in their
eternal difference. And the third element is the intuition of God's
will, the perception of what line of action He will take. This last, of
course, forms the distinct prerogative of Hebrew prophecy, that power of
vision which is its climax; the moral situation being clear, to see then
how God will act upon it.

Under these three powers of vision Jerusalem, the prophet's city, is
presented to us--Jerusalem in three lights, really three Jerusalems.
First, there is flashed out (chap. ii. 2-5) a vision of the ideal city,
Jerusalem idealized and glorified. Then comes (ii. 6-iv. 1) a very
realistic picture, a picture of the actual Jerusalem. And lastly at the
close of the prophecy (iv. 2-6) we have a vision of Jerusalem as she
shall be after God has taken her in hand--very different indeed from the
ideal with which the prophet began. Here are three successive motives or
phases of prophecy, which, as we have said, in all probability summarize
the early ministry of Isaiah, and present him to us _first_ as the
idealist or visionary, _second_ as the realist or critic, and _third_ as
the prophet proper or revealer of God's actual will.

I. THE IDEALIST (ii. 1-5).

All men who have shown our race how great things are possible have had
their inspiration in dreaming of the impossible. Reformers, who at death
were content to have lived for the moving forward but one inch of some
of their fellow-men, began by believing themselves able to lift the
whole world at once. Isaiah was no exception to this human fashion. His
first vision was that of a Utopia, and his first belief that his
countrymen would immediately realize it. He lifts up to us a very grand
picture of a vast commonwealth centred in Jerusalem. Some think he
borrowed it from an older prophet; Micah has it also; it may have been
the ideal of the age. But, at any rate, if we are not to take verse 5 in
scorn, Isaiah accepted this as his own. _And it shall come to pass in
the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be
established in the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills,
and all nations shall flow unto it._ The prophet's own Jerusalem shall
be the light of the world, the school and temple of the earth, the seat
of the judgement of the Lord, when He shall reign over the nations, and
all mankind shall dwell in peace beneath Him. It is a glorious destiny,
and as its light shines from the far-off horizon, _the latter days_, in
which the prophet sees it, what wonder that he is possessed and cries
aloud, _O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the
LORD!_ It seems to the young prophet's hopeful heart as if at once that
ideal would be realized, as if by his own word he could lift his people
to its fulfilment.

But that is impossible, and Isaiah perceives so as soon as he turns from
the far-off horizon to the city at his feet, as soon as he leaves
to-morrow alone and deals with to-day. The next verses of the
chapter--from verse 6 onwards--stand in strong contrast to those which
have described Israel's ideal. There Zion is full of the law and
Jerusalem of the word of the Lord, the one religion flowing over from
this centre upon the world. Here into the actual Jerusalem they have
brought all sorts of foreign worship and heathen prophets; _they are
replenished from the East, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and
strike hands with the children of strangers_. There all nations come to
worship at Jerusalem; here her thought and faith are scattered over the
idolatries of all nations. The ideal Jerusalem is full of spiritual
blessings, the actual of the spoils of trade. There the swords are beat
into ploughshares and the spears into pruning-hooks; here are vast and
novel armaments, horses and chariots. There the Lord alone is
worshipped; here the city is crowded with idols. The real Jerusalem
could not possibly be more different from the ideal, nor its inhabitants
as they are from what their prophet had confidently called on them to

II. THE REALIST (ii. 6-iv. 1).

Therefore Isaiah's attitude and tone suddenly change. The visionary
becomes a realist, the enthusiast a cynic, the seer of the glorious city
of God the prophet of God's judgement. The recoil is absolute in style,
temper and thought, down to the very figures of speech which he uses.
Before, Isaiah had seen, as it were, a lifting process at work,
_Jerusalem in the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills_.
Now he beholds nothing but depression. _For the day of the LORD of hosts
shall be upon every one that is proud and haughty, upon all that is
lifted up, and it shall be brought low, and the Lord alone shall be
exalted in that day._ Nothing in the great civilization, which he had
formerly glorified, is worth preserving. The high towers, fenced walls,
ships of Tarshish, treasures and armour must all perish, even the hills
lifted by his imagination shall be bowed down, and _the LORD alone be
exalted in that day_. This recoil reaches its extreme in the last verse
of the chapter. The prophet, who had believed so much in man as to think
possible an immediate commonwealth of nations, believes in man now so
little that he does not hold him worth preserving: _Cease ye from man,
whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?_

Attached to this general denunciation are some satiric descriptions, in
the third chapter, of the anarchy, to which society in Jerusalem is fast
being reduced under its childish and effeminate king. The scorn of these
passages is scathing; _the eyes of the glory of God_ burn through every
rank, fashion and ornament in the town. King and court are not spared;
the elders and princes are rigorously denounced. But by far the most
striking effort of the prophet's boldness is his prediction of the
overthrow of Jerusalem itself (ver. 8). What it cost Isaiah to utter and
the people to hear we can only partly measure. To his own passionate
patriotism it must have felt like treason, to the blind optimism of the
popular religion it doubtless appeared the rankest heresy--to aver that
the holy city, inviolate and almost unthreatened since the day David
brought to her the ark of the Lord, and destined by the voice of her
prophets, including Isaiah himself, to be established upon the tops of
the mountains, was now to fall into ruin. But Isaiah's conscience
overcomes his sense of consistency, and he who has just proclaimed the
eternal glory of Jerusalem is provoked by his knowledge of her citizens'
sins to recall his words and intimate her destruction. It may have been,
that Isaiah was partly emboldened to so novel a threat, by his knowledge
of the preparations which Syria and Israel were already making for the
invasion of Judah. The prospect of Jerusalem, as the centre of a vast
empire subject to Jehovah, however natural it was under a successful
ruler like Uzziah, became, of course, unreal when every one of Uzziah's
and Jotham's tributaries had risen in revolt against their successor,
Ahaz. But of these outward movements Isaiah tells us nothing. He is
wholly engrossed with Judah's sin. It is his growing acquaintance with
the corruption of his fellow-countrymen that has turned his back on the
ideal city of his opening ministry, and changed him into a prophet of
Jerusalem's ruin. _Their tongue and their doings are against the Lord,
to provoke the eyes of His glory._ Judge, prophet and elder, all the
upper ranks and useful guides of the people, must perish. It is a sign
of the degradation to which society shall be reduced, when Isaiah with
keen sarcasm pictures the despairing people choosing a certain man to be
their ruler because he alone has a coat to his back! (iii. 6).

With increased scorn Isaiah turns lastly upon the women of Jerusalem
(iii. 16-iv. 2), and here perhaps the change which has passed over him
since his opening prophecy is most striking. One likes to think of how
the citizens of Jerusalem took this alteration in their prophet's
temper. We know how popular so optimist a prophecy as that of the
mountain of the Lord's house must have been, and can imagine how men and
women loved the young face, bright with a far-off light, and the dream
of an ideal that had no quarrel with the present. "But what a change is
this that has come over him, who speaks not of to-morrow, but of to-day,
who has brought his gaze from those distant horizons to our streets, who
stares every man in the face (iii. 9), and makes the women feel that no
pin and trimming, no ring and bracelet, escape his notice! Our loved
prophet has become an impudent scorner!" Ah, men and women of Jerusalem,
beware of those eyes! _The glory of God_ is burning in them; they see
you through and through, and they tell us that all your armour and the
_show of your countenance_, and your foreign fashions are as nothing,
for there are corrupt hearts below. This is your judgement, that
_instead of sweet spices there shall be rottenness, and instead of a
girdle a rope, and instead of well-set hair baldness, and instead of a
stomacher a girding of sackcloth, and branding instead of beauty_. _Thy
men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates
shall lament and mourn, and she shall be desolate and sit upon the

This was the climax of the prophet's judgement. If the salt have lost
its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for
nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot. If the women are
corrupt the state is moribund.

III. _The Prophet of the Lord_ (iv. 2-6).

Is there, then, no hope for Jerusalem? Yes, but not where the prophet
sought it at first, in herself, and not in the way he offered it--by the
mere presentation of an ideal. There is hope, there is more--there is
certain salvation in the Lord, but it only comes after judgement.
Contrast that opening picture of the new Jerusalem with this closing
one, and we shall find their difference to lie in two things. There the
city is more prominent than the Lord, here the Lord is more prominent
than the city; there no word of judgement, here judgement sternly
emphasized as the indispensable way towards the blessed future. A more
vivid sense of the Person of Jehovah Himself, a deep conviction of the
necessity of chastisement: these are what Isaiah has gained during his
early ministry, without losing hope or heart for the future. The bliss
shall come only when the Lord shall _have washed away the filth of the
daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the
midst thereof by the spirit of judgement and the spirit of burning_. It
is a corollary of all this that the participants of that future shall be
many fewer than in the first vision of the prophet. The process of
judgement must weed men out, and in place of all nations coming to
Jerusalem, to share its peace and glory, the prophet can speak now only
of Israel--and only of a remnant of Israel. _The escaped of Israel, the
left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem._ This is a great
change in Isaiah's ideal, from the supremacy of Israel over all nations
to the bare survival of a remnant of his people.

       *       *       *       *       *

Is there not in this threefold vision a parallel and example for our own
civilisation and our thoughts about it? All work and wisdom begin in
dreams. We must see our Utopias before we start to build our stone and
lime cities.

                  "It takes a soul
  To move a body; it takes a high-souled man
  To move the masses even to a cleaner stye;
  It takes the ideal to blow an inch inside
  The dust of the actual."

But the light of our ideals dawns upon us only to show how poor by
nature are the mortals who are called to accomplish them. The ideal
rises still as to Isaiah only to exhibit the poverty of the real. When
we lift our eyes from the hills of vision, and rest them on our
fellow-men, hope and enthusiasm die out of us. Isaiah's disappointment
is that of every one who brings down his gaze from the clouds to the
streets. Be our ideal ever so desirable, be we ever so persuaded of its
facility, the moment we attempt to apply it we shall be undeceived.
Society cannot be regenerated all at once. There is an expression which
Isaiah emphasizes in his motive of cynicism: _The show of their
countenance doth witness against them._ It tells us that when he called
his countrymen to turn to the light he lifted upon them he saw nothing
but the exhibition of their sin made plain. When we bring light to a
cavern whose inhabitants have lost their eyes by the darkness, the light
does not make them see; we have to give them eyes again. Even so no
vision or theory of a perfect state--the mistake which all young
reformers make--can regenerate society. It will only reveal social
corruption, and sicken the heart of the reformer himself. For the
possession of a great ideal does not mean, as so many fondly imagine,
work accomplished; it means work revealed--work revealed so vast, often
so impossible, that faith and hope die down, and the enthusiast of
yesterday becomes the cynic of to-morrow. _Cease ye from man, whose
breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted?_ In this
despair, through which every worker for God and man must pass, many a
warm heart has grown cold, many an intellect become paralyzed. There is
but one way of escape, and that is Isaiah's. It is to believe in God
Himself; it is to believe that He is at work, that His purposes to man
are saving purposes, and that with Him there is an inexhaustible source
of mercy and virtue. So from the blackest pessimism shall arise new hope
and faith, as from beneath Isaiah's darkest verses that glorious passage
suddenly bursts like uncontrollable spring from the very feet of winter.
_For that day shall the spring of the LORD be beautiful and glorious,
and the fruit of the land shall be excellent and comely for them that
are escaped of Israel._ This is all it is possible to say. There must be
a future for man, because God loves him, and God reigns. That future can
be reached only through judgement, because God is righteous.

To put it another way: All of us who live to work for our fellow-men or
who hope to lift them higher by our word begin with our own visions of a
great future. These visions, though our youth lends to them an original
generosity and enthusiasm, are, like Isaiah's, largely borrowed. The
progressive instincts of the age into which we are born and the mellow
skies of prosperity combine with our own ardour to make our ideal one of
splendour. Persuaded of its facility, we turn to real life to apply it.
A few years pass. We not only find mankind too stubborn to be forced
into our moulds, but we gradually become aware of Another Moulder at
work upon our subject, and we stand aside in awe to watch His
operations. Human desires and national ideals are not always fulfilled;
philosophic theories are discredited by the evolution of fact. Uzziah
does not reign for ever; the sceptre falls to Ahaz: progress is checked,
and the summer of prosperity draws to an end. Under duller skies
ungilded judgement comes to view, cruel and inexorable, crushing even
the peaks on which we built our future, yet purifying men and giving
earnest of a better future, too. And so life, that mocked the control of
our puny fingers, bends groaning to the weight of an Almighty Hand. God
also, we perceive as we face facts honestly, has His ideal for men; and
though He works so slowly towards His end that our restless eyes are too
impatient to follow His order, He yet reveals all that shall be to the
humbled heart and the soul emptied of its own visions. Awed and
chastened, we look back from His Presence to our old ideals. We are
still able to recognize their grandeur and generous hope for men. But we
see now how utterly unconnected they are with the present--castles in
the air, with no ladders to them from the earth. And even if they were
accessible, still to our eyes, purged by gazing on God's own ways, they
would no more appear desirable. Look back on Isaiah's early ideal from
the light of his second vision of the future. For all its grandeur, that
picture of Jerusalem is not wholly attractive. Is there not much
national arrogance in it? Is it not just the imperfectly idealized
reflection of an age of material prosperity such as that of Uzziah's
was? Pride is in it, a false optimism, the highest good to be reached
without moral conflict. But here is the language of pity, rescue with
difficulty, rest only after sore struggle and stripping, salvation by
the bare arm of God. So do our imaginations for our own future or for
that of the race always contrast with what He Himself has in store for
us, promised freely out of His great grace to our unworthy hearts, yet
granted in the end only to those who pass towards it through discipline,
tribulation and fire.

       *       *       *       *       *

This, then, was Isaiah's apprenticeship, and its net result was to leave
him with the remnant for his ideal: the remnant and Jerusalem secured as
its rallying-point.



ISAIAH v.; ix. 8-x. 4 (735 _B.C._).

The prophecy contained in these chapters belongs, as we have seen, to
the same early period of Isaiah's career as chapters ii.-iv., about the
time when Ahaz ascended the throne after the long and successful reigns
of his father and grandfather, when the kingdom of Judah seemed girt
with strength and filled with wealth, but the men were corrupt and the
women careless, and the earnest of approaching judgement was already
given in the incapacity of the weak and woman-ridden king. Yet although
this new prophecy issues from the same circumstances as its
predecessors, it implies these circumstances a little more developed.
The same social evils are treated, but by a hand with a firmer grasp of
them. The same principles are emphasized--the righteousness of Jehovah
and His activity in judgement--but the form of judgement of which Isaiah
had spoken before in general terms looms nearer, and before the end of
the prophecy we get a view at close quarters of the Assyrian ranks.

Besides, opposition has arisen to the prophet's teaching. We saw that
the obscurities and inconsistencies of chapters ii.-iv. are due to the
fact that that prophecy represents several stages of experience through
which Isaiah passed before he gained his final convictions. But his
countrymen, it appears, have now had time to turn on these convictions
and call them in question: it is necessary for Isaiah to vindicate them.
The difference, then, between these two sets of prophecies, dealing with
the same things, is that in the former (chapters ii.-iv.), we have the
obscure and tortuous path of a conviction struggling to light in the
prophet's own experience; here, in chapter v., we have its careful array
in the light and before the people.

The point of Isaiah's teaching against which opposition was directed was
of course its main point, that God was about to abandon Judah. This must
have appeared to the popular religion of the day as the rankest heresy.
To the Jews the honour of Jehovah was bound up with the inviolability of
Jerusalem and the prosperity of Judah. But Isaiah knew Jehovah to be
infinitely more concerned for the purity of His people than for their
prosperity. He had seen the LORD _exalted in righteousness_ above those
national and earthly interests, with which vulgar men exclusively
identified His will. Did the people appeal to the long time Jehovah had
graciously led them for proof that He would not abandon them now? To
Isaiah that gracious leading was but for righteousness' sake, and that
God might make His own a holy people. Their history, so full of the
favours of the Almighty, did not teach Isaiah as it did the common
prophets of his time, the lesson of Israel's political security, but the
far different one of their religious responsibility. To him it only
meant what Amos had already put in those startling words, _You only have
I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will visit upon
you all your iniquities_. Now Isaiah delivered this doctrine at a time
when it brought him the hostility of men's passions as well as of their
opinions. Judah was arming for war. Syria and Ephraim were marching upon
her. To threaten his country with ruin in such an hour was to run the
risk of suffering from popular fury as a traitor as well as from
priestly prejudice as a heretic. The strain of the moment is felt in the
strenuousness of the prophecy. Chapter v., with its appendix, exhibits
more grasp and method than its predecessors. Its literary form is
finished, its feeling clear. There is a tenderness in the beginning of
it, an inexorableness in the end and an eagerness all through, which
stamp the chapter as Isaiah's final appeal to his countrymen at this
period of his career.

The chapter is a noble piece of patriotism--one of the noblest of a race
who, although for the greater part of their history without a
fatherland, have contributed more brilliantly than perhaps any other to
the literature of patriotism, and that simply because, as Isaiah here
illustrates, patriotism was to their prophets identical with religious
privilege and responsibility. Isaiah carries this to its bitter end.
Other patriots have wept to sing their country's woes; Isaiah's burden
is his people's guilt. To others an invasion of their fatherland by its
enemies has been the motive to rouse by song or speech their countrymen
to repel it. Isaiah also hears the tramp of the invader; but to him is
permitted no ardour of defence, and his message to his countrymen is
that they must succumb, for the invasion is irresistible and of the very
judgement of God. How much it cost the prophet to deliver such a message
we may see from those few verses of it in which his heart is not
altogether silenced by his conscience. The sweet description of Judah
as a vineyard, and the touching accents that break through the roll of
denunciation with such phrases as _My people are gone away into
captivity unawares_, tell us how the prophet's love of country is
struggling with his duty to a righteous God. The course of feeling
throughout the prophecy is very striking. The tenderness of the opening
lyric seems ready to flow into gentle pleading with the whole people.
But as the prophet turns to particular classes and their sins his mood
changes to indignation, the voice settles down to judgement; till when
it issues upon that clear statement of the coming of the Northern hosts
every trace of emotion has left it, and the sentences ring out as
unfaltering as the tramp of the armies they describe.


Isaiah adopts the resource of every misunderstood and unpopular teacher,
and seeks to turn the flank of his people's prejudices by an attack in
parable on their sympathies. Did they stubbornly believe it impossible
for God to abandon a State He had so long and so carefully fostered? Let
them judge from an analogous case in which they were all experts. In a
picture of great beauty Isaiah describes a vineyard upon one of the
sunny promontories visible from Jerusalem. Every care had been given it
of which an experienced vine-dresser could think, but it brought forth
only wild grapes. The vine-dresser himself is introduced, and appeals to
the men of Judah and Jerusalem to judge between him and his vineyard. He
gets their assent that all had been done which could be done, and
fortified with that resolves to abandon the vineyard. _I will lay it
waste; it shall not be pruned nor digged, but there shall come up briers
and thorns._ Then the stratagem comes out, the speaker drops the tones
of a human cultivator, and in the omnipotence of the Lord of heaven he
is heard to say, _I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain
upon it_. This diversion upon their sympathies having succeeded, the
prophet scarcely needs to charge the people's prejudices in face. His
point has been evidently carried. _For the vineyard of Jehovah of hosts
is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and He
looked for judgement, but behold oppression, for righteousness, but
behold a cry._

The lesson enforced by Isaiah is just this, that in a people's
civilization there lie the deepest responsibilities, for that is neither
more nor less than their cultivation by God; and the question for a
people is not how secure does this render them, nor what does it count
for glory, but how far is it rising towards the intentions of its
Author? Does it produce those fruits of righteousness for which alone
God cares to set apart and cultivate the peoples? On this depends the
question whether the civilization is secure, as well as the right of the
people to enjoy and feel proud of it. There cannot be true patriotism
without sensitiveness to this, for however rich be the elements that
compose the patriot's temper, as piety towards the past, ardour of
service for the present, love of liberty, delight in natural beauty and
gratitude for Divine favour, so rich a temper will grow rancid without
the salt of conscience; and the richer the temper is, the greater must
be the proportion of that salt. All prophets and poets of patriotism
have been moralists and satirists as well. From Demosthenes to
Tourgenieff, from Dante to Mazzini, from Milton to Russell Lowell, from
Burns to Heine, one cannot recall any great patriot who has not known
how to use the scourge as well as the trumpet. Many opportunities will
present themselves to us of illustrating Isaiah's orations by the
letters and speeches of Cromwell, who of moderns most resembles the
statesman-prophet of Judah; but nowhere does the resemblance become so
close as when we lay a prophecy like this of Jehovah's vineyard by the
side of the speeches in which the Lord Protector exhorted the Commons of
England, although it was the hour of his and their triumph, to address
themselves to their sins.

So, then, the patriotism of all great men has carried a conscience for
their country's sins. But while this is always more or less a burden to
the true patriot, there are certain periods in which his care for his
country ought to be this predominantly, and need be little else. In a
period like our own, for instance, of political security and fashionable
religion, what need is there in patriotic displays of any other kind?
but how much for patriotism of this kind--of men who will uncover the
secret sins, however loathsome, and declare the hypocrisies, however
powerful, of the social life of the people! These are the patriots we
need in times of peace; and as it is more difficult to rouse a torpid
people to their sins than to lead a roused one against their enemies,
and harder to face a whole people with the support only of conscience
than to defy many nations if you but have your own at your back, so
these patriots of peace are more to be honoured than those of war. But
there is one kind of patriotism more arduous and honourable still. It is
that which Isaiah displays here, who cannot add to his conscience hope
or even pity, who must hail his country's enemies for his country's
good, and recite the long roll of God's favours to his nation only to
emphasize the justice of His abandonment of them.


The _wild grapes_ which Isaiah saw in the vineyard of the Lord he
catalogues in a series of Woes (vv. 8-24), fruits all of them of love of
money and love of wine. They are abuse of the soil (8-10, 17[4]), a
giddy luxury which has taken to drink (11-16), a moral blindness and
headlong audacity of sin which habitual avarice and drunkenness soon
develop (18-21), and, again, a greed of drink and money--men's
perversion of their strength to wine, and of their opportunities of
justice to the taking of bribes (22-24). These are the features of
corrupt civilization not only in Judah, and the voice that deplores them
cannot speak without rousing others very clamant to the modern
conscience. It is with remarkable persistence that in every civilization
the two main passions of the human heart, love of wealth and love of
pleasure, the instinct to gather and the instinct to squander, have
sought precisely these two forms denounced by Isaiah in which to work
their social havoc--appropriation of the soil and indulgence in strong
drink. Every civilized community develops sooner or later its
land-question and its liquor-question. "Questions" they are called by
the superficial opinion that all difficulties may be overcome by the
cleverness of men; yet problems through which there cries for remedy so
vast a proportion of our poverty, crime and madness, are something worse
than "questions." They are huge sins, and require not merely the
statesman's wit, but all the penitence and zeal of which a nation's
conscience is capable. It is in this that the force of Isaiah's
treatment lies. We feel he is not facing questions of State, but sins of
men. He has nothing to tell us of what he considers the best system of
land tenure, but he enforces the principle that in the ease with which
land may be absorbed by one person the natural covetousness of the human
heart has a terrible opportunity for working ruin upon society. _Woe
unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there
be no room, and ye be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land._ We
know from Micah that the actual process which Isaiah condemns was
carried out with the most cruel evictions and disinheritances. Isaiah
does not touch on its methods, but exposes its effects on the
country--depopulation and barrenness,--and emphasizes its religious
significance. _Of a truth many houses shall be desolate, even great and
fair, without an inhabitant. For ten acres of vineyard shall yield one
bath, and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.... Then shall
lambs feed as in their pasture, and strangers shall devour the ruins of
the fat ones--i.e._, of the luxurious landowners (9, 10, 17. See note
on previous page). And in one of those elliptic statements by which he
often startles us with the sudden sense that God Himself is acquainted
with all our affairs, and takes His own interest in them, Isaiah adds,
"All this was whispered to me by Jehovah: _In mine ears--the LORD of
hosts_" (ver. 9).

  [4] Ewald happily suggests that verse 17 has dropped out of, and should
  be restored to, its proper position at the end of the first "woe," where
  it contributes to the development of the meaning far more than from
  where it stands in the text.

During recent agitations in our own country one has often seen the "land
laws of the Bible" held forth by some thoughtless demagogue as models
for land tenure among ourselves; as if a system which worked well with a
small tribe in a land they had all entered on equal footing, and where
there was no opportunity for the industry of the people except in
pasture and tillage, could possibly be applicable to a vastly larger and
more complex population, with different traditions and very different
social circumstances. Isaiah says nothing about the peculiar land _laws_
of his people. He lays down principles, and these are principles valid
in every civilization. God has made the land, not to feed the pride of
the few, but the natural hunger of the many, and it is His will that the
most be got out of a country's soil for the people of the country.
Whatever be the system of land-tenure--and while all are more or less
liable to abuse, it is the duty of a people to agitate for that which
will be least liable--if it is taken advantage of by individuals to
satisfy their own cupidity, then God will take account of them. There is
a responsibility which the State cannot enforce, and the neglect of
which cannot be punished by any earthly law, but all the more will God
see to it. A nation's treatment of their land is not always prominent as
a question which demands the attention of public reformers; but it
ceaselessly has interest for God, who ever holds individuals to answer
for it. The land-question is ultimately a religious question. For the
management of their land the whole nation is responsible to God, but
especially those who own or manage estates. This is a sacred office.
When one not only remembers the nature of land--how it is an element of
life, so that if a man abuse the soil it is as if he poisoned the air or
darkened the heavens--but appreciates also the multitude of personal
relations which the landowner or factor holds in his hand--the peace of
homes, the continuity of local traditions, the physical health, the
social fearlessness and frankness, and the thousand delicate
associations which their habitations entwine about the hearts of
men--one feels that to all who possess or manage land is granted an
opportunity of patriotism and piety open to few, a ministry less
honourable and sacred than none other committed by God to man for his

After the land-sin Isaiah hurls his second Woe upon the drink-sin, and
it is a heavier woe than the first. With fatal persistence the luxury of
every civilization has taken to drink; and of all the indictments
brought by moralists against nations, that which they reserve for
drunkenness is, as here, the most heavily weighted. The crusade against
drink is not the novel thing that many imagine who observe only its late
revival among ourselves. In ancient times there was scarcely a State in
which prohibitive legislation of the most stringent kind was not
attempted, and generally carried out with a thoroughness more possible
under despots than where, as with us, the slow consent of public opinion
is necessary. A horror of strong drink has in every age possessed those
who from their position as magistrates or prophets have been able to
follow for any distance the drifts of social life. Isaiah exposes as
powerfully as ever any of them did in what the peculiar fatality of
drinking lies. Wine is a mocker by nothing more than by the moral
incredulity which it produces, enabling men to hide from themselves the
spiritual and material effects of over-indulgence in it. No one who has
had to do with persons slowly falling from moderate to immoderate
drinking can mistake Isaiah's meaning when he says, _They regard not the
work of the LORD; neither have they considered the operation of His
hands_. Nothing kills the conscience like steady drinking to a little
excess; and religion, even while the conscience is alive, acts on it
only as an opiate. It is not, however, with the symptoms of drink in
individuals so much as with its aggregate effects on the nation that
Isaiah is concerned. So prevalent is excessive drinking, so entwined
with the social customs of the country and many powerful interests, that
it is extremely difficult to rouse public opinion to its effects. And
_so they go into captivity for lack of knowledge_. Temperance reformers
are often blamed for the strength of their language, but they may
shelter themselves behind Isaiah. As he pictures it, the national
destruction caused by drink is complete. It is nothing less than the
people's _captivity_, and we know what that meant to an Israelite. It
affects all classes: _Their honourable men are famished, and their
multitude parched with thirst.... The mean man is bowed down, and the
great man is humbled._ But the want and ruin of this earth are not
enough to describe it. The appetite of hell itself has to be enlarged to
suffice for the consumption of the spoils of strong drink. _Therefore
hell hath enlarged her desire and opened her mouth without measure; and
their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth
among them, descend into it._ The very appetite of hell has to be
enlarged! Does it not truly seem as if the wild and wanton waste of
drink were preventable, as if it were not, as many are ready to sneer,
the inevitable evil of men's hearts choosing this form of issue, but a
superfluous audacity of sin, which the devil himself did not desire or
tempt men to? It is this feeling of the infernal gratuitousness of most
of the drink-evil--the conviction that here hell would be quiet if only
she were not stirred up by the extraordinarily wanton provocatives that
society and the State offer to excessive drinking--which compels
temperance reformers at the present day to isolate drunkenness and make
it the object of a special crusade. Isaiah's strong figure has lost none
of its strength to-day. When our judges tell us from the bench that
nine-tenths of pauperism and crime are caused by drink, and our
physicians that if only irregular tippling were abolished half the
current sickness of the land would cease, and our statesmen that the
ravages of strong drink are equal to those of the historical scourges of
war, famine and pestilence combined, surely to swallow such a glut of
spoil _the appetite of hell must have been_ still more enlarged, _and
the mouth of hell made_ yet _wider_.

The next three Woes are upon different aggravations of that moral
perversity which the prophet has already traced to strong drink. In the
first of these it is better to read, _draw punishment near with cords of
vanity_, than _draw iniquity_. Then we have a striking antithesis--the
drunkards mocking Isaiah over their cups with the challenge, as if it
would not be taken up, _Let Jehovah make speed, and hasten His work of
judgement, that we may see it_, while all the time they themselves were
dragging that judgement near, _as with cart-ropes_, by their persistent
diligence in evil. This figure of sinners jeering at the approach of a
calamity while they actually wear the harness of its carriage is very
striking. But the Jews are not only unconscious of judgement, they are
confused as to the very principles of morality: _Who call evil good, and
good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put
bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!_

In his fifth Woe the prophet attacks a disposition to which his scorn
gives no peace throughout his ministry. If these sensualists had only
confined themselves to their sensuality they might have been left alone;
but with that intellectual bravado which is equally born with "Dutch
courage" of drink, they interfered in the conduct of the State, and
prepared arrogant policies of alliance and war that were the distress of
the sober-minded prophet all his days. _Woe unto them that are wise in
their own eyes and prudent in their own sight._

In his last Woe Isaiah returns to the drinking habits of the upper
classes, from which it would appear that among the judges even of Judah
there were "six-bottle men." They sustained their extravagance by
subsidies, which we trust were unknown to the mighty men of wine who
once filled the seats of justice in our own country. _They justify the
wicked for a bribe, and take away the righteousness of the righteous
from him._ All these sinners, dead through their rejection of the law of
Jehovah of hosts and the word of the Holy One of Israel, shall be like
to the stubble, fit only for burning, and their blossom as the dust of
the rotten tree.

III. THE ANGER OF THE LORD (v. 25; ix. 8-x. 4; v. 26-30).

This indictment of the various sins of the people occupies the whole of
the second part of the oration. But a third part is now added, in which
the prophet catalogues the judgements of the Lord upon them, each of
these closing with the weird refrain, _For all this His anger is not
turned away, but His hand is stretched out still_. The complete
catalogue is usually obtained by inserting between the 25th and 26th
verses of chapter v. the long passage from chapter ix., ver. 8, to
chapter x., ver. 4. It is quite true that as far as chapter v. itself is
concerned it does not need this insertion; but ix. 8-x. 4 is decidedly
out of place where it now lies. Its paragraphs end with the same refrain
as closes v. 25, which forms, besides, a natural introduction to them,
while v. 26-30 form as natural a conclusion. The latter verses describe
an Assyrian invasion, and it was always in an Assyrian invasion that
Isaiah foresaw the final calamity of Judah. We may, then, subject to
further light on the exceedingly obscure subject of the arrangement of
Isaiah's prophecies, follow some of the leading critics, and place ix.
8-x. 4 between verses 25-26 of chapter v.; and the more we examine them
the more we shall be satisfied with our arrangement, for strung together
in this order they form one of the most impressive series of scenes
which even an Isaiah has given us.

From these scenes Isaiah has spared nothing that is terrible in history
or nature, and it is not one of the least of the arguments for putting
them together that their intensity increases to a climax. Earthquakes,
armed raids, a great battle and the slaughter of a people; prairie and
forest fires, civil strife and the famine fever, that feeds upon itself;
another battle-field, with its cringing groups of captives and heaps of
slain; the resistless tide of a great invasion; and then, for final
prospect, a desolate land by the sound of a hungry sea, and the light is
darkened in the clouds thereof. The elements of nature and the elemental
passions of man have been let loose together; and we follow the violent
floods, remembering that it is sin which has burst the gates of the
universe, and given the tides of hell full course through it. Over the
storm and battle there comes booming like the storm-bell the awful
refrain, _For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is
stretched out still._ It is poetry of the highest order, but in him who
reads it with a conscience mere literary sensations are sobered by the
awe of some of the most profound moral phenomena of life. The
persistence of Divine wrath, the long-lingering effects of sin in a
nation's history, man's abuse of sorrow and his defiance of an angry
Providence, are the elements of this great drama. Those who are familiar
with _King Lear_, will recognize these elements, and observe how
similarly the ways of Providence and the conduct of men are represented
there and here.

What Isaiah unfolds, then, is a series of calamities that have overtaken
the people of Israel. It is impossible for us to identify every one of
them with a particular event in Israel's history otherwise known to us.
Some it is not difficult to recognize; but the prophet passes in a
perplexing way from Judah to Ephraim and Ephraim to Judah, and in one
case, where he represents Samaria as attacked by Syria and the
Philistines, he goes back to a period at some distance from his own.
There are also passages, as for instance x. 1-4, in which we are unable
to decide whether he describes a present punishment or threatens a
future one. But his moral purpose, at least, is plain. He will show how
often Jehovah has already spoken to His people by calamity, and because
they have remained hardened under these warnings, how there now remains
possible only the last, worst blow of an Assyrian invasion. Isaiah is
justifying his threat of so unprecedented and extreme a punishment for
God's people as overthrow by this Northern people, who had just appeared
upon Judah's political horizon. God, he tells Israel, has tried
everything short of this, and it has failed; now only this remains, and
this shall not fail. The prophet's purpose, therefore, being not an
accurate historical recital, but moral impressiveness, he gives us a
more or less ideal description of former calamities, mentioning only so
much as to allow us to recognize here and there that it is actual facts
which he uses for his purpose of condemning Israel to captivity, and
vindicating Israel's God in bringing that captivity near. The passage
thus forms a parallel to that in Amos, with its similar refrain: _Yet ye
have not returned unto Me, saith the Lord_ (Amos iv. 6-12), and only
goes farther than that earlier prophecy in indicating that the
instruments of the Lord's final judgement are to be the Assyrians.

Five great calamities, says Isaiah, have fallen on Israel and left them
hardened: 1st, earthquake (v. 25); 2nd, loss of territory (ix. 8-12);
3rd, war and a decisive defeat (ix. 13-17); 4th, internal anarchy (ix.
18-21); 5th, the near prospect of captivity (x. 1-4).

1. THE EARTHQUAKE (v. 25).--Amos closes his series with an earthquake;
Isaiah begins with one. It may be the same convulsion they describe, or
may not. Although the skirts of Palestine both to the east and west
frequently tremble to these disturbances, an earthquake in Palestine
itself, up on the high central ridge of the land, is very rare. Isaiah
vividly describes its awful simplicity and suddenness. _The Lord
stretched forth His hand and smote, and the hills shook, and their
carcases were like offal in the midst of the streets._ More words are
not needed, because there was nothing more to describe. The Lord lifted
His hand; the hills seemed for a moment to topple over, and when the
living recovered from the shock there lay the dead, flung like refuse
about the streets.

2. THE LOSS OF TERRITORY (ix. 8-21).--So awful a calamity, in which the
dying did not die out of sight nor fall huddled together on some far off
battle-field, but the whole land was strewn with her slain, ought to
have left indelible impression on the people. But it did not. The Lord's
own word had been in it for Jacob and Israel (ix. 8), _that the people
might know, even Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria_. But unhumbled
they turned in the stoutness of their hearts, saying, when the
earthquake had passed:[5] _The bricks are fallen, but we will build with
hewn stones;[6] the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into
cedars_. Calamity did not make this people thoughtful; they felt God
only to endeavour to forget Him. Therefore He visited them the second
time. They did not feel the Lord shaking their land, so He sent their
enemies to steal it from them: _the Syrians before and the Philistines
behind; and they devour Israel with open mouth_. What that had been for
appalling suddenness this was for lingering and harassing--guerilla
warfare, armed raids, the land eaten away bit by bit. _Yet the people do
not return unto Him that smote them, neither seek they the LORD of

  [5] Read past tenses, as in the margin of Revised Version, for all the
  future tenses, or better, the historical present, down to the end of the

  [6] It is part of the argument for connecting ix. 8 with v. 25 that this
  phrase would be very natural after the earthquake described in v. 25.

3. WAR AND DEFEAT (ix. 13-17).--The next consequent calamity passed from
the land to the people themselves. A great battle is described, in which
the nation is dismembered in one day. War and its horrors are told, and
the apparent want of Divine pity and discrimination which they imply is
explained. Israel has been led into these disasters by the folly of
their leaders, whom Isaiah therefore singles out for blame. _For they
that lead these people cause them to err, and they that are led of them
are destroyed._ But the real horror of war is that it falls not upon
its authors, that its victims are not statesmen, but the beauty of a
country's youth, the helplessness of the widow and orphan. Some question
seems to have been stirred by this in Isaiah's heart. He asks, Why does
the Lord not rejoice in the young men of His people? Why has He no pity
for widow and orphan, that He thus sacrifices them to the sin of the
rulers? It is because the whole nation shares the ruler's guilt; _every
one is an hypocrite and an evil-doer, and every mouth speaketh folly_.
As ruler so people, is a truth Isaiah frequently asserts, but never with
such grimness as here. War brings out, as nothing else does, the
solidarity of a people in guilt.

4. INTERNAL ANARCHY (ix. 18-21).--Even yet the people did not repent;
their calamities only drove them to further wickedness. The prophet's
eyes are opened to the awful fact that God's wrath is but the blast that
fans men's hot sins to flame. This is one of those two or three awful
scenes in history, in the conflagration of which we cannot tell what is
human sin and what Divine judgement. There is a panic wickedness, sin
spreading like mania, as if men were possessed by supernatural powers.
The physical metaphors of the prophet are evident: a forest or prairie
fire, and the consequent famine, whose fevered victims feed upon
themselves. And no less evident are the political facts which the
prophet employs these metaphors to describe. It is the anarchy which has
beset more than one corrupt and unfortunate people, when their
misleaders have been overthrown: the anarchy in which each faction seeks
to slaughter out the rest. Jealousy and distrust awake the lust for
blood, rage seizes the people as fire the forest, _and no man spareth
his brother_. We have had modern instances of all this; these scenes
form a true description of some days of the French Revolution, and are
even a truer description of the civil war that broke out in Paris after
her late siege.

  "If that the heavens do not their visible spirits
  Send quickly down to tame these vile offences,
  'T will come,
  Humanity must perforce prey on itself
  Like monsters of the deep."[7]

  [7] _King Lear_, act iv., sc. 2.

5. THE THREAT OF CAPTIVITY (x. 1-4).--Turning now from the past, and
from the fate of Samaria, with which it would appear he has been more
particularly engaged, the prophet addresses his own countrymen in Judah,
and paints the future for them. It is not a future in which there is any
hope. The day of their visitation also will surely come, and the prophet
sees it close in the darkest night of which a Jewish heart could
think--the night of captivity. Where, he asks his unjust
countrymen--where _will ye then flee for help? and where will you leave
your glory_? Cringing among the captives, lying dead beneath heaps of
dead--that is to be your fate, who will have turned so often and then so
finally from God. When exactly the prophet thus warned his countrymen of
captivity we do not know, but the warning, though so real, produced
neither penitence in men nor pity in God. _For all this His anger is not
turned away, but His hand is stretched out still._

6. THE ASSYRIAN INVASION (v. 26-30).--The prophet is, therefore, free to
explain that cloud which has appeared far away on the northern horizon.
God's hand of judgement is still uplifted over Judah, and it is that
hand which summons the cloud. The Assyrians are coming in answer to
God's signal, and they are coming as a flood, to leave nothing but ruin
and distress behind them. No description by Isaiah is more majestic than
this one, in which Jehovah, who has exhausted every nearer means of
converting His people, lifts His undrooping arm with a _flag to the
nations that are far off, and hisses_ or whistles _for them from the end
of the earth_. _And, behold, they come with speed, swiftly: there is no
weary one nor straggler among them; none slumbers nor sleeps; nor loosed
is the girdle of his loins, nor broken the latchet of his shoes; whose
arrows are sharpened, and all their bows bent; their horses' hoofs are
like the flint, and their wheels like the whirlwind; a roar have they
like the lion's, and they roar like young lions; yea, they growl and
grasp the prey, and carry it off, and there is none to deliver. And they
growl upon him that day like the growling of the sea; and if one looks
to the land, behold, dark and distress, and the light is darkened in the
cloudy heaven._

Thus Isaiah leaves Judah to await her doom. But the tones of his weird
refrain awaken in our hearts some thoughts which will not let his
message go from us just yet.

It will ever be a question, whether men abuse more their sorrows or
their joys; but no earnest soul can doubt, which of these abuses is the
more fatal. To sin in the one case is to yield to a temptation; to sin
in the other is to resist a Divine grace. Sorrow is God's last message
to man; it is God speaking in emphasis. He who abuses it shows that he
can shut his ears when God speaks loudest. Therefore heartlessness or
impenitence after sorrow is more dangerous than intemperance in joy; its
results are always more tragic. Now Isaiah points out that men's abuse
of sorrow is twofold. Men abuse sorrow by mistaking it, and they abuse
sorrow by defying it.

Men abuse sorrow by mistaking it, when they see in it nothing but a
penal or expiatory force. To many men sorrow is what his devotions were
to Louis XI., which having religiously performed, he felt the more brave
to sin. So with the Samaritans, who said in the stoutness of their
hearts, _The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones;
the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars._ To
speak in this way is happy, but heathenish. It is to call sorrow "bad
luck;" it is to hear no voice of God in it, saying, "Be pure; be humble;
lean upon Me." This disposition springs from a vulgar conception of God,
as of a Being of no permanence in character, easily irritated but
relieved by a burst of passion, smartly punishing His people and then
leaving them to themselves. It is a temper which says, "God is angry,
let us wait a little; God is appeased, let us go ahead again." Over
against such vulgar views of a Deity with a temper Isaiah unveils the
awful majesty of God in holy wrath: _For all this His anger is not
turned away, but His hand is stretched out still_. How grim and savage
does it appear to our eyes till we understand the thoughts of the
sinners to whom it was revealed! God cannot dispel the cowardly thought,
that He is anxious only to punish, except by letting His heavy hand
abide till it purify also. The permanence of God's wrath is thus an
ennobling, not a stupefying doctrine.

Men also abuse sorrow by defying it, but the end of this is madness. "It
forms the greater part of the tragedy of _King Lear_, that the aged
monarch, though he has given his throne away, retains his imperiousness
of heart, and continues to exhibit a senseless, if sometimes
picturesque, pride and selfishness in face of misfortune. Even when he
is overthrown he must still command; he fights against the very
elements; he is determined to be at least the master of his own
sufferings and destiny. But for this the necessary powers fail him; his
life thus disordered terminates in madness. It was only by such an
affliction that a character like his could be brought to repentance, ...
to humility, which is the parent of true love, and that love in him
could be purified. Hence the melancholy close of that tragedy."[8] As
Shakespeare has dealt with the king, so Isaiah with the people; he also
shows us sorrow when it is defied bringing forth madness. On so impious
a height man's brain grows dizzy, and he falls into that terrible abyss
which is not, as some imagine, hell, but God's last purgatory.
Shakespeare brings shattered Lear out of it, and Isaiah has a remnant of
the people to save.

  [8] Ulrici: _Shakespeare's Dramatic Art_.



ISAIAH vi. (740 B.C.; WRITTEN 735? OR 725?).

It has been already remarked that in chapter vi. we should find no other
truths than those which have been unfolded in chapters ii.-v.: the Lord
exalted in righteousness, the coming of a terrible judgement from Him
upon Judah, and the survival of a bare remnant of the people. But
chapter vi. treats the same subjects with a difference. In chapters
ii.-iv. they gradually appear and grow to clearness in connection with
the circumstances of Judah's history; in chapter v. they are formally
and rhetorically vindicated; in chapter vi. we are led back to the
secret and solemn moments of their first inspiration in the prophet's
own soul. It may be asked why chapter vi. comes last and not first in
this series, and why in an exposition, attempting to deal, as far as
possible, chronologically with Isaiah's prophecies, his call should not
form the subject of the first chapter. The answer is simple, and throws
a flood of light upon the chapter. In all probability chapter vi. was
written after its predecessors, and what Isaiah has put into it is not
only what happened in the earliest moments of his prophetic life, but
that spelt out and emphasized by his experience since. The ideal
character of the narrative, and its date some years after the events
which it relates, are now generally admitted. Of course the narrative is
all fact. No one will believe that he, whose glance penetrated with such
keenness the character of men and movements, looked with dimmer eye into
his own heart. It is the spiritual process which the prophet actually
passed through before the opening of his ministry. But it is that,
developed by subsequent experience, and presented to us in the language
of outward vision. Isaiah had been some years a prophet, long enough to
make clear that prophecy was not to be for him what it had been for his
predecessors in Israel, a series of detached inspirations and occasional
missions, with short responsibilities, but a work for life, a profession
and a career, with all that this means of postponement, failure, and
fluctuation of popular feeling. Success had not come so rapidly as the
prophet in his original enthusiasm had looked for, and his preaching had
effected little upon the people. Therefore he would go back to the
beginning, remind himself of that to which God had really called him,
and vindicate the results of his ministry, at which people scoffed and
his own heart grew sometimes sick. In chapter vi. Isaiah acts as his own
remembrancer. If we keep in mind, that this chapter, describing Isaiah's
call and consecration to the prophetic office, was written by a man who
felt that office to be the burden of a lifetime, and who had to explain
its nature and vindicate its results to his own soul--grown somewhat
uncertain, it may be, of her original inspiration--we shall find light
upon features of the chapter that are otherwise most obscure.

1. THE VISION (vv. 1-4).

Several years, then, Isaiah looks back and says, _In the year King
Uzziah died._ There is more than a date given here; there is a great
contrast suggested. Prophecy does not chronicle by time, but by
experiences, and we have here, as it seems, the cardinal experience of a
prophet's life.

All men knew of that glorious reign with the ghastly end--fifty years of
royalty, and then a lazar-house. There had been no king like this one
since Solomon; never, since the son of David brought the Queen of Sheba
to his feet, had the national pride stood so high or the nation's dream
of sovereignty touched such remote borders. The people's admiration
invested Uzziah with all the graces of the ideal monarch. The chronicler
of Judah tells us _that God helped him and made him to prosper, and his
name spread far abroad, and he was marvellously helped till he was
strong_; he with the double name--Azariah, Jehovah-his-Helper; Uzziah,
Jehovah-his-Strength. How this glory fell upon the fancy of the future
prophet, and dyed it deep, we may imagine from those marvellous colours,
with which in later years he painted the king in his beauty. Think of
the boy, the boy that was to be an Isaiah, the boy with the germs of
this great prophecy in his heart--think of him and such a hero as this
to shine upon him, and we may conceive how his whole nature opened out
beneath that sun of royalty and absorbed its light.

Suddenly the glory was eclipsed, and Jerusalem learned that she had seen
her king for the last time: _The Lord smote the king so that he was a
leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house, and he
was cut off from the house of the Lord._ Uzziah had gone into the
temple, and attempted with his own hands to burn incense. Under a later
dispensation of liberty he would have been applauded as a brave
Protestant, vindicating the right of every worshipper of God to approach
Him without the intervention of a special priesthood. Under the earlier
dispensation of law his act could be regarded only as one of
presumption, the expression of a worldly and irreverent temper, which
ignored the infinite distance between God and man. It was followed, as
sins of wilfulness in religion were always followed under the old
covenant, by swift disaster. Uzziah suffered as Saul, Uzzah, Nadab and
Abihu did. The wrath, with which he burst out on the opposing priests,
brought on, or made evident as it is believed to have done in other
cases, an attack of leprosy. The white spot stood out unmistakeably from
the flushed forehead, and he was thrust from the temple--_yea, himself
also hasted to go out_.

We can imagine how such a judgement, the moral of which must have been
plain to all, affected the most sensitive heart in Jerusalem. Isaiah's
imagination was darkened, but he tells us that the crisis was the
enfranchisement of his faith. _In the year King Uzziah died_--it is as
if a veil had dropped, and the prophet saw beyond what it had hidden,
_the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up_. That it is no mere
date Isaiah means, but a spiritual contrast which he is anxious to
impress upon us, is made clear by his emphasis of the rank and not the
name of God. It is _the Lord sitting upon a throne--the Lord_
absolutely, set over against the human prince. The simple antithesis
seems to speak of the passing away of the young man's hero-worship and
the dawn of his faith; and so interpreted, this first verse of chapter
vi. is only a concise summary of that development of religious
experience which we have traced through chapters ii.-iv. Had Isaiah ever
been subject to the religious temper of his time, the careless optimism
of a prosperous and proud people, who entered upon their religious
services without awe, _trampling the courts of the Lord_, and used them
like Uzziah, for their _own honour_, who felt religion to be an easy
thing, and dismissed from it all thoughts of judgement and feelings of
penitence--if ever Isaiah had been subject to that temper, then once for
all he was redeemed by this stroke upon Uzziah. And, as we have seen,
there is every reason to believe that Isaiah did at first share the too
easy public religion of his youth. That early vision of his (ii. 2-5),
the establishment of Israel at the head of the nations, to be
immediately attained at his own word (v. 5) and without preliminary
purification, was it not simply a less gross form of the king's own
religious presumption? Uzziah's fatal act was the expression of the
besetting sin of his people, and in that sin Isaiah himself had been a
partaker. _I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a
people of unclean lips._ In the person of their monarch the temper of
the whole Jewish nation had come to judgement. Seeking the ends of
religion by his own way, and ignoring the way God had appointed, Uzziah
at the very moment of his insistence was hurled back and stamped
unclean. The prophet's eyes were opened. The king sank into a leper's
grave, but before Isaiah's vision the Divine majesty arose in all its
loftiness. _I saw the Lord high and lifted up._ We already know what
Isaiah means by these terms. He has used them of God's supremacy in
righteousness above the low moral standards of men, of God's occupation
of a far higher throne than that of the national deity of Judah, of
God's infinite superiority to Israel's vulgar identification of His
purposes with her material prosperity or His honour with the
compromises of her politics, and especially of God's seat as their
Judge over a people, who sought in their religion only satisfaction for
their pride and love of ease.

From this contrast the whole vision expands as follows.

Under the mistaken idea that what Isaiah describes is the temple in
Jerusalem, it has been remarked, that the place of his vision is
wonderful in the case of one who set so little store by ceremonial
worship. This, however, to which our prophet looks is no house built
with hands, but Jehovah's own heavenly _palace_ (ver. 1--not _temple_);
only Isaiah describes it in terms of the Jerusalem temple which was its
symbol. It was natural that the temple should furnish Isaiah not only
with the framework of his vision, but also with the platform from which
he saw it. For it was in the temple that Uzziah's sin was sinned and
God's holiness vindicated upon him. It was in the temple that, when
Isaiah beheld the scrupulous religiousness of the people, the contrast
of that with their evil lives struck him, and he summed it up in the
epigram _wickedness and worship_ (i. 13). It was in the temple, in
short, that the prophet's conscience had been most roused, and just
where the conscience is most roused there is the vision of God to be
expected. Very probably it was while brooding over Uzziah's judgement on
the scene of its occurrence that Isaiah beheld his vision. Yet for all
the vision contained the temple itself was too narrow. The truth which
was to be revealed to Isaiah, the holiness of God, demanded a wider
stage and the breaking down of those partitions, which, while they had
been designed to impress God's presence on the worshipper, had only
succeeded in veiling Him. So while the seer keeps his station on the
threshold of the earthly building, soon to feel it rock beneath his
feet, as heaven's praise bursts like thunder on the earth, and while his
immediate neighbourhood remains the same familiar _house_, all beyond is
glorified. The veil of the temple falls away, and everything behind it.
No ark nor mercy-seat is visible, but a throne and a court--the palace
of God in heaven, as we have it also pictured in the eleventh and
twenty-ninth Psalms. The Royal Presence is everywhere. Isaiah describes
no face, only a Presence and a Session: _the Lord sitting on a throne,
and His skirts filled the palace_.

  "No face; only the sight
  Of a sweepy garment vast and white
  With a hem that I could recognize."[9]

  [9] Browning's "Christmas Eve."

_Around_ (not _above_, as in the English version) were ranged the
hovering courtiers, of what shape and appearance we know not, except
that they veiled their faces and their feet before the awful
Holiness,--all wings and voice, perfect readinesses of praise and
service. The prophet heard them chant in antiphon, like the temple
choirs of priests. And the one choir cried out, _Holy, holy, holy is
Jehovah of hosts_; and the other responded, _The whole earth is full of
His glory_.

It is by the familiar name Jehovah of hosts--the proper name of Israel's
national God--that the prophet hears the choirs of heaven address the
Divine Presence. But what they ascribe to the Deity is exactly what
Israel will not ascribe, and the revelation they make of His nature is
the contradiction of Israel's thoughts concerning Him.

What, in the first place, is HOLINESS? We attach this term to a definite
standard of morality or an unusually impressive fulness of character.
To our minds it is associated with very positive forces, as of comfort
and conviction--perhaps because we take our ideas of it from the active
operations of the Holy Ghost. The original force of the term _holiness_,
however, was not positive but negative, and throughout the Old
Testament, whatever modifications its meaning undergoes, it retains a
negative flavour. The Hebrew word for holiness springs from a root which
means _to set apart, make distinct, put at a distance from_. When God is
described as the Holy One in the Old Testament it is generally with the
purpose of withdrawing Him from some presumption of men upon His majesty
or of negativing their unworthy thoughts of Him. The Holy One is the
Incomparable: _To whom, then, will ye liken Me, that I should be equal
to him? saith the Holy One_ (xl. 25). He is the Unapproachable: _Who is
able to stand before Jehovah, this holy God?_ (1 Sam. vi. 20). He is the
Utter Contrast of man: _I am God, and not man, the Holy One in the midst
of thee_ (Hosea xi. 9). He is the Exalted and Sublime: _Thus saith the
high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell
in the high and holy place_ (lvii. 15). Generally speaking, then,
holiness is equivalent to separateness, sublimity--in fact, just to that
loftiness or exaltation which Isaiah has already so often reiterated as
the principal attribute of God. In their thrice-repeated _Holy_ the
seraphs are only telling more emphatically to the prophet's ears what
his eyes have already seen, _the Lord high and lifted up_. Better
expression could not be found for the full idea of Godhead. This little
word _Holy_ radiates heaven's own breadth of meaning. Within its
fundamental idea--distance or difference from man--what spaces are
there not for every attribute of Godhead to flash? If the Holy One be
originally He who is distinct from man and man's thoughts, and who
impresses man from the beginning with the awful sublimity of the
contrast in which He stands to him, how naturally may holiness come to
cover not only that moral purity and intolerance of sin to which we now
more strictly apply the term, but those metaphysical conceptions as
well, which we gather up under the name "supernatural," and so finally,
by lifting the Divine nature away from the change and vanity of this
world, and emphasizing God's independence of all beside Himself, become
the fittest expression we have for Him as the Infinite and
Self-existent. Thus the word _holy_ appeals in turn to each of the three
great faculties of man's nature, by which he can be religiously
exercised--his conscience, his affections, his reason; it covers the
impressions which God makes on man as a sinner, on man as a worshipper,
on man as a thinker. The Holy One is not only the Sinless and
Sin-abhorring, but the Sublime and the Absolute too.

But while we recognize the exhaustiveness of the series of ideas about
the Divine Nature, which develop from the root meaning of holiness, and
to express which the word _holy_ is variously used throughout the
Scriptures, we must not, if we are to appreciate the use of the word on
this occasion, miss the motive of recoil which starts them all. If we
would hear what Isaiah heard in the seraphs' song, we must distinguish
in the three-fold ascription of holiness the intensity of recoil from
the confused religious views and low moral temper of the prophet's
generation. It is no scholastic definition of Deity which the seraphim
are giving. Not for a moment is it to be supposed that to that age,
whose representative is listening to them, they are attempting to convey
an idea of the Trinity. Their thrice-uttered _Holy_ is not theological
accuracy, but religious emphasis. This angelic revelation of the
holiness of God was intended for a generation, some of whom were
idol-worshippers, confounding the Godhead with the work of their own
hands or with natural objects, and none of whom were free from a
confusion in principle of the Divine with the human and worldly, for
which now sheer mental slovenliness, now a dull moral sense, and now
positive pride was to blame. To worshippers who _trampled_ the courts of
the Lord with the careless feet, and looked up the temple with the
unabashed faces, of routine, the cry of the seraphs, as they veiled
their faces and their feet, travailed to restore that shuddering sense
of the sublimity of the Divine Presence, which in the impressible youth
of the race first impelled man, bowing low beneath the awful heavens, to
name God by the name of the Holy. To men, again, careful of the legal
forms of worship, but lawless and careless in their lives, the song of
the seraphs revealed not the hard truth, against which they had already
rubbed conscience trite, that God's law was inexorable, but the fiery
fact that His whole nature burned with wrath towards sin. To men, once
more, proud of their prestige and material prosperity, and presuming in
their pride to take their own way with God, and to employ like Uzziah
the exercises of religion for their own honour, this vision presented
the real sovereignty of God: the Lord Himself seated on a throne
_there_--just where they felt only a theatre for the display of their
pride, or machinery for the attainment of their private ends. Thus did
the three-fold cry of the angels meet the three-fold sinfulness of that
generation of men.

But the first line of the seraph's song serves more than a temporary
end. The Trisagion rings, and has need to ring, for ever down the
Church. Everywhere and at all times these are the three besetting sins
of religious people--callousness in worship, carelessness in life, and
the temper which employs the forms of religion simply for
self-indulgence or self-aggrandisement. These sins are induced by the
same habit of contentment with mere form; they can be corrected only by
the vision of the Personal Presence who is behind all form. Our
organization, ritual, law and sacrament--we must be able to see them
fall away, as Isaiah saw the sanctuary itself disappear, before God
Himself, if we are to remain heartily moral and fervently religious. The
Church of God has to learn that no mere multiplication of forms, nor a
more æsthetic arrangement of them, will redeem her worshippers from
callousness. Callousness is but the shell which the feelings develop in
self-defence when left by the sluggish and impenetrative soul to beat
upon the hard outsides of form. And nothing will fuse this shell of
callousness but that ardent flame, which is kindled at the touching of
the Divine and human spirits, when forms have fallen away and the soul
beholds with open face the Eternal Himself. As with worship, so with
morality. Holiness is secured not by ceremonial, but by a reverence for
a holy Being. We shall rub our consciences trite against moral maxims or
religious rites. It is the effluence of a Presence, which alone can
create in us, and keep in us, a clean heart. And if any object that we
thus make light of ritual and religious law, of Church and sacrament,
the reply is obvious. Ritual and sacrament are to the living God but as
the wick of a candle to the light thereof. They are given to reveal Him,
and the process is not perfect unless they themselves perish from the
thoughts to which they convey Him. If God is not felt to be present, as
Isaiah felt Him to be, to the exclusion of all forms, then these will be
certain to be employed, as Uzziah employed them, for the sake of the
only other spiritual being of whom the worshipper is conscious--himself.
Unless we are able to forget our ritual in spiritual communion with the
very God, and to become unconscious of our organization in devout
consciousness of our personal relation to Him, then ritual will be only
a means of sensuous indulgence, organization only a machinery for
selfish or sectarian ends. The vision of God--this is the one thing
needful for worship and for conduct.

But while the one verse of the antiphon reiterates what Jehovah of hosts
is in Himself, the other describes what He is in revelation. _The whole
earth is full of His glory._ Glory is the correlative of holiness. Glory
is that in which holiness comes to expression. Glory is the expression
of holiness, as beauty is the expression of health. If holiness be as
deep as we have seen, so varied then will glory be. There is nothing in
the earth but it is the glory of God. _The fulness of the whole earth is
His glory_, is the proper grammatical rendering of the song. For Jehovah
of hosts is not the God only of Israel, but the Maker of heaven and
earth, and not the victory of Israel alone, but the wealth and the
beauty of all the world is His glory. So universal an ascription of
glory is the proper parallel to that of absolute Godhead, which is
implied in holiness.

II. THE CALL (vv. 4-8).

Thus, then, Isaiah, standing on earth, on the place of a great sin, with
the conscience of his people's evil in his heart, and himself not
without the feeling of guilt, looked into heaven, and beholding the
glory of God, heard also with what pure praise and readiness of service
the heavenly hosts surround His throne. No wonder the prophet felt the
polluted threshold rock beneath him, or that as where fire and water
mingle there should be the rising of a great smoke. For the smoke
described is not, as some have imagined, that of acceptable incense,
thick billows swelling through the temple to express the completion and
satisfaction of the seraphs' worship; but it is the mist which ever
arises where holiness and sin touch each other. It has been described
both as the obscurity that envelops a weak mind in presence of a truth
too great for it, and the darkness that falls upon a diseased eye when
exposed to the mid-day sun. These are only analogies, and may mislead
us. What Isaiah actually felt was the dim-eyed shame, the distraction,
the embarrassment, the blinding shock of a personal encounter with One
whom he was utterly unfit to meet. For this was a personal encounter. We
have spelt out the revelation sentence by sentence in gradual argument;
but Isaiah did not reach it through argument or brooding. It was not to
the prophet what it is to his expositors, a pregnant thought, that his
intellect might gradually unfold, but a Personal Presence, which
apprehended and overwhelmed him. God and he were there face to face.
_Then said I, Woe is me, for I am undone, because a man unclean of lips
am I, and in the midst of a people unclean of lips do I dwell; for the
King, Jehovah of hosts, mine eyes have beheld._

The form of the prophet's confession, _uncleanness of lips_, will not
surprise us as far as he makes it for himself. As with the disease of
the body, so with the sin of the soul; each often gathers to one point
of pain. Every man, though wholly sinful by nature, has his own
particular consciousness of guilt. Isaiah being a prophet felt his
mortal weakness most upon his lips. The inclusion of the people,
however, along with himself under this form of guilt, suggests a wider
interpretation of it. The lips are, as it were, the blossom of a man.
_Grace is poured upon thy lips, therefore God hath blessed thee for
ever. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to
bridle the whole body also._ It is in the blossom of a plant that the
plant's defects become conspicuous; it is when all a man's faculties
combine for the complex and delicate office of expression that any fault
which is in him will come to the surface. Isaiah had been listening to
the perfect praise of sinless beings, and it brought into startling
relief the defects of his own people's worship. Unclean of lips these
were indeed when brought against that heavenly choir. Their social and
political sin--sin of heart and home and market--came to a head in their
worship, and what should have been the blossom of their life fell to the
ground like a rotten leaf beneath the stainless beauty of the seraphs'

While the prophet thus passionately gathered his guilt upon his lips, a
sacrament was preparing on which God concentrated His mercy to meet it.
Sacrament and lips, applied mercy and presented sin, now come together.
_Then flew unto me one of the seraphim, and in his hand a glowing
stone--with tongs had he taken it off the altar--and he touched my mouth
and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and so thy iniquity passeth
away and thy sin is atoned for._

The idea of this function is very evident, and a scholar who has said
that it "would perhaps be quite intelligible to the contemporaries of
the prophet, but is undoubtedly obscure to us," appears to have said
just the reverse of what is right; for so simple a process of atonement
leaves out the most characteristic details of the Jewish ritual of
sacrifice, while it anticipates in an unmistakeable manner the essence
of the Christian sacrament. In a scene of expiation laid under the old
covenant, we are struck by the absence of oblation or sacrificial act on
the part of the sinner himself. There is here no victim slain, no blood
sprinkled; an altar is only parenthetically suggested, and even then in
its simplest form, of a hearth on which the Divine fire is continually
burning. The _glowing stone_, not _live coal_ as in the English version,
was no part of the temple furniture, but the ordinary means of conveying
heat or applying fire in the various purposes of household life. There
was, it is true, a carrying of fire in some of the temple services, as,
for example, on the great Day of Atonement, but then it was effected by
a small grate filled with living embers. In the household, on the other
hand, when cakes had to be baked, or milk boiled, or water warmed, or in
fifty similar applications of fire, a glowing stone taken from off the
hearth was the invariable instrument. It is this swift and simple
domestic process which Isaiah now sees substituted for the slow and
intricate ceremonial of the temple--a seraph with a glowing stone in his
hand, _with tongs had he taken it off the altar_. And yet the prophet
feels this only as a more direct expression of the very same idea, with
which the elaborate ritual was inspired--for which the victim was
slain, and the flesh consumed in fire, and the blood sprinkled. Isaiah
desires nothing else, and receives no more, than the ceremonial law was
intended to assure to the sinner--pardon of his sin and reconciliation
to God. But our prophet will have conviction of these immediately, and
with a force which the ordinary ritual is incapable of expressing. The
feelings of this Jew are too intense and spiritual to be satisfied with
the slow pageant of the earthly temple, whose performances to a man in
his horror could only have appeared so indifferent and far away from
himself as not to be really his own nor to effect what he passionately
desired. Instead therefore of laying his guilt in the shape of some
victim on the altar, Isaiah, with a keener sense of its inseparableness
from himself, presents it to God upon his own lips. Instead of being
satisfied with beholding the fire of God consume it on another body than
his own, at a distance from himself, he feels that fire visit the very
threshold of his nature, where he has gathered the guilt, and consume it
there. The whole secret of this startling nonconformity to the law, on
the very floor of the temple, is that for a man who has penetrated to
the presence of God the legal forms are left far behind, and he stands
face to face with the truth by which they are inspired. In that Divine
Presence Isaiah is his own altar; he acts his guilt in his own person,
and so he feels the expiatory fire come to his very self directly from
the heavenly hearth. It is a replica of the fifty-first Psalm: _For Thou
delightest not in sacrifice, else would I give it; Thou hast no pleasure
in burnt offering._ The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. This is
my sacrifice, my sense of guilt gathered here upon my lips: my _broken
and contrite heart_, who feel myself undone before Thee, _Lord, Thou
wilt not despise_.

It has always been remarked as one of the most powerful proofs of the
originality and Divine force of Christianity, that from man's worship of
God, and especially from those parts in which the forgiveness of sin is
sought and assured, it did away with the necessity of a physical rite of
sacrifice; that it broke the universal and immemorial habit by which man
presented to God a material offering for the guilt of his soul. By
remembering this fact we may measure the religious significance of the
scene we now contemplate. Nearly eight centuries before there was
accomplished upon Calvary that Divine Sacrifice for sin, which abrogated
a rite of expiation, hitherto universally adopted by the conscience of
humanity, we find a Jew, in the dispensation where such a rite was most
religiously enforced, trembling under the conviction of sin, and upon a
floor crowded with suggestions of physical sacrifice; yet the only
sacrifice he offers is the purely spiritual one of confession. It is
most notable. Look at it from a human point of view, and we can estimate
Isaiah's immense spiritual originality; look at it from a Divine, and we
cannot help perceiving a distinct foreshadow of what was to take place
by the blood of Jesus under the new covenant. To this man, as to some
others of his dispensation, whose experience our Christian sympathy
recognizes so readily in the Psalms, there was granted aforetime
boldness to enter into the holiest. For this is the explanation of
Isaiah's marvellous disregard of the temple ritual. It is all behind
him. This man has passed within the veil. Forms are all behind him, and
he is face to face with God. But between two beings in that position,
intercourse by the far off and uncertain signals of sacrifice is
inconceivable. It can only take place by the simple unfolding of the
heart. It must be rational, intelligent and by speech. When man is at
such close quarters with God what sacrifice is possible but the
sacrifice of the lips? Form for the Divine reply there must be some, for
even Christianity has its sacraments, but like them this sacrament is of
the very simplest form, and like them it is accompanied by the
explanatory word. As Christ under the new covenant took bread and wine,
and made the homely action of feeding upon them the sign and seal to His
disciples of the forgiveness of their sins, so His angel under the old
and sterner covenant took the more severe, but as simple and domestic
form of fire to express the same to His prophet. And we do well to
emphasize that the experimental value of this sacrament of fire is
bestowed by the word attached to it. It is not a dumb sacrament, with a
magical efficacy. But the prophet's mind is persuaded and his conscience
set at peace by the intelligible words of the minister of the sacrament.

Isaiah's sin being taken away, he is able to discern the voice of God
Himself. It is in the most beautiful accordance with what has already
happened that he hears this not as command, but request, and answers not
of compulsion, but of freedom. _And I heard the voice of the Lord
saying, Whom shall I send? and who will go for us? And I said, Here am
I; send me._ What spiritual understanding alike of the will of God and
the responsibility of man, what evangelic liberty and boldness, are
here! Here we touch the spring of that high flight Isaiah takes both in
prophecy and in active service for the State. Here we have the secret of
the filial freedom, the life-long sense of responsibility, the regal
power of initiative, the sustained and unfaltering career, which
distinguish Isaiah among the ministers of the old covenant, and stamp
him prophet by the heart and for the life, as many of them are only by
the office and for the occasion. Other prophets are the servants of the
God of heaven; Isaiah stands next the Son Himself. On others the hand of
the Lord is laid in irresistible compulsion; the greatest of them are
often ignorant, by turns headstrong and craven, deserving correction,
and generally in need of supplementary calls and inspirations. But of
such scourges and such doles Isaiah's royal career is absolutely without
a trace. His course, begun in freedom, is pursued without hesitation or
anxiety; begun in utter self-sacrifice, it knows henceforth no moment of
grudging or disobedience. _Esaias is very bold_, because he is so free
and so fully devoted. In the presence of mind with which he meets each
sudden change of politics during that bewildering half-century of
Judah's history, we seem to hear his calm voice repeating its first,
_Here am I_. Presence of mind he always had. The kaleidoscope shifts: it
is now Egyptian intrigue, now Assyrian force; now a false king requiring
threat of displacement by God's own hero, now a true king, but helpless
and in need of consolation; now a rebellious people to be condemned, and
now an oppressed and penitent one to be encouraged:--different dangers,
with different sorts of salvation possible, obliging the prophet to
promise different futures, and to say things inconsistent with what he
had already said. Yet Isaiah never hesitates; he can always say, _Here
am I_. We hear that voice again in the spontaneousness and versatility
of his style. Isaiah is one of the great kings of literature, with every
variety of style under his sway, passing with perfect readiness, as
subject or occasion calls, from one to another of the tones of a
superbly endowed nature. Everywhere this man impresses us with his
personality, with the wealth of his nature and the perfection of his
control of it. But the personality is consecrated. The _Here am I_ is
followed by the _send me_. And its health, harmony and boldness, are
derived, Isaiah being his own witness, from this early sense of pardon
and purification at the Divine hands. Isaiah is indeed a king and a
priest unto God--a king with all his powers at his own command, a priest
with them all consecrated to the service of Heaven.

One cannot pass away from these verses without observing the plain
answer which they give to the question, What is a call to the ministry
of God? In these days of dust and distraction, full of party cries, with
so many side issues of doctrine and duty presenting themselves, and the
solid attractions of so many other services insensibly leading men to
look for the same sort of attractiveness in the ministry, it may prove a
relief to some to ponder the simple elements of Isaiah's call to be a
professional and life-long prophet. Isaiah got no "call" in our
conventional sense of the word, no compulsion that he must go, no
articulate voice describing him as the sort of man needed for the work,
nor any of those similar "calls" which sluggish and craven spirits so
often desire to relieve them of the responsibility or the strenuous
effort needed in deciding for a profession which their conscience will
not permit them to refuse. Isaiah got no such call. After passing
through the fundamental religious experiences of forgiveness and
cleansing, which are in every case the indispensable premises of life
with God, Isaiah was left to himself. No direct summons was addressed
to him, no compulsion was laid on him; but he heard the voice of God
asking generally for messengers, and he on his own responsibility
answered it for himself in particular. He heard from the Divine lips of
the Divine need for messengers, and he was immediately full of the mind
that he was the man for the mission, and of the heart to give himself to
it. So great an example cannot be too closely studied by candidates for
the ministry in our own day. Sacrifice is not the half-sleepy,
half-reluctant submission to the force of circumstance or opinion, in
which shape it is so often travestied among us, but the resolute
self-surrender and willing resignation of a free and reasonable soul.
There are many in our day who look for an irresistible compulsion into
the ministry of the Church; sensitive as they are to the material bias
by which men roll off into other professions, they pray for something of
a similar kind to prevail with them in this direction also. There are
men who pass into the ministry by social pressure or the opinion of the
circles they belong to, and there are men who adopt the profession
simply because it is on the line of least resistance. From which false
beginnings rise the spent force, the premature stoppages, the stagnancy,
the aimlessness and heartlessness, which are the scandals of the
professional ministry and the weakness of the Christian Church in our
day. Men who drift into the ministry, as it is certain so many do,
become mere ecclesiastical flotsam and jetsam, incapable of giving
carriage to any soul across the waters of this life, uncertain of their
own arrival anywhere, and of all the waste of their generation, the most
patent and disgraceful. God will have no drift-wood for His sacrifices,
no drift-men for His ministers. Self-consecration is the beginning of
His service, and a sense of our own freedom and our own responsibility
is an indispensable element in the act of self-consecration. _We_--not
God--have to make the decision. We are not to be dead, but living,
sacrifices, and everything which renders us less than fully alive both
mars at the time the sincerity of our surrender and reacts for evil upon
the whole of our subsequent ministry.


A heart so resolutely devoted as we have seen Isaiah's to be was surely
prepared against any degree of discouragement, but probably never did
man receive so awful a commission as he describes himself to have done.
Not that we are to suppose that this fell upon Isaiah all at once, in
the suddenness and distinctness with which he here records it. Our sense
of its awfulness will only be increased when we realize that Isaiah
became aware of it, not in the shock of a single discovery, sufficiently
great to have carried its own anæsthetic along with it, but through a
prolonged process of disillusion, and at the pain of those repeated
disappointments, which are all the more painful that none singly is
great enough to stupefy. It is just at this point of our chapter, that
we feel most the need of supposing it to have been written some years
after the consecration of Isaiah, when his experience had grown long
enough to articulate the dim forebodings of that solemn moment. _Go and
say to this people, Hearing, hear ye, but understand not; seeing, see
ye, but know not. Make fat the heart of this people, and its ears make
heavy, and its eyes smear, lest it see with its eyes, and hear with its
ears, and its heart understand, and it turn again and be healed._ No
prophet, we may be sure, would be asked by God to go and tell his
audiences that in so many words, at the beginning of his career. It is
only by experience that a man understands that kind of a commission,[10]
and for the required experience Isaiah had not long to wait after
entering on his ministry. Ahaz himself, in whose death-year it is
supposed by many that Isaiah wrote this account of his consecration--the
conduct of Ahaz himself was sufficient to have brought out the
convictions of the prophet's heart in this startling form, in which he
has stated his commission. By the word of the Lord and an offer of a
sign from Him, Isaiah did make fat that monarch's heart and smear his
eyes. And perverse as the rulers of Judah were in the examples and
policies they set, the people were as blindly bent on following them to
destruction. _Every one_, said Isaiah, when he must have been for some
time a prophet--_every one is a hypocrite and an evildoer, and every
mouth speaketh folly_.

  [10] Even Calvin, though in order to prove that Isaiah had been
  prophesying for some time before his inaugural vision, says that his
  commission implies some years' actual experience of the obstinacy of the

But if that clear, bitter way of putting the matter can have come to
Isaiah only with the experience of some years, why does he place it upon
the lips of God, as they give him his commission? Because Isaiah is
stating not merely his own singular experience, but a truth always true
of the preaching of the word of God, and of which no prophet at the time
of his consecration to that ministry can be without at least a
foreboding. We have not exhausted the meaning of this awful commission
when we say that it is only a forcible anticipation of the prophet's
actual experience. There is more here than one man's experience. Over
and over again are these words quoted in the New Testament, till we
learn to find them true always and everywhere that the Word of God is
preached to men,--the description of what would seem to be its necessary
effect upon many souls. Both Jesus and Paul use Isaiah's commission of
themselves. They do so like Isaiah at an advanced stage in their
ministry, when the shock of misunderstanding and rejection has been
repeatedly felt, but then not solely as an apt description of their own
experience. They quote God's words to Isaiah as a prophecy fulfilled in
their own case--that is to say, as the statement of a great principle or
truth of which their own ministry is only another instance. Their own
disappointments have roused them to the fact, that this is always an
effect of the word of God upon numbers of men--to deaden their spiritual
faculties. While Matthew and the book of Acts adopt the milder Greek
version of Isaiah's commission, John gives a rendering that is even
stronger than the original. _He hath blinded_, he says of God Himself,
_their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their
eyes and perceive with their hearts_. In Mark's narrative Christ says
that He speaks to them that are outside in parables, _for the purpose
that seeing they may see, and not perceive, and hearing they may hear,
and not understand, lest haply they should turn again and it should be
forgiven them_. We may suspect, in an utterance so strange to the lips
of the Lord of salvation, merely the irony of His baffled love. But it
is rather the statement of what He believed to be the necessary effect
of a ministry like His own. It marks the direction, not of His desire,
but of natural sequence.

With these instances we can go back to Isaiah and understand why he
should have described the bitter fruits of experience as an imperative
laid upon him by God. _Make fat the heart of this people, and its ears
make heavy, and its eyes do thou smear._ It is the fashion of the
prophet's grammar, when it would state a principle or necessary effect,
to put it in the form of a command. What God expresses to Isaiah so
imperatively as almost to take our breath away; what Christ uttered with
such abruptness that we ask, Does He speak in irony? what Paul laid down
as the conviction of a long and patient ministry, is the great truth
that the Word of God has not only a saving power, but that even in its
gentlest pleadings and its purest Gospel, even by the mouth of Him who
came, not to condemn, but to save the world, it has a power that is
judicial and condemnatory.

It is frequently remarked by us as perhaps the most deplorable fact of
our experience, that there exists in human nature an accursed facility
for turning God's gifts to precisely the opposite ends from those for
which He gave them. So common is man's misunderstanding of the plainest
signs, and so frequent his abuse of the most evident favours of Heaven,
that a spectator of the drama of human history might imagine its Author
to have been a Cynic or Comedian, portraying for His own amusement the
loss of the erring at the very moment of what might have been their
recovery, the frustration of love at the point of its greatest warmth
and expectancy. Let him look closer, however, and he will perceive, not
a comedy, but a tragedy, for neither chance nor cruel sport is here at
work, but free will and the laws of habit, with retribution and penalty.
These actors are not puppets in the hand of a Power that moves them at
will; each of them plays his own part, and the abuse and contradiction,
of which he is guilty, are but the prerogative of his freedom. They are
free beings who thus reject the gift of Divine assistance, and so
piteously misunderstand Divine truth. Look closer still, and you will
see that the way they talk, the impression they accept of God's
goodness, the effect of His judgements upon them, is determined not at
the moment of their choice, and not by a single act of their will, but
by the whole tenor of their previous life. In the sudden flash of some
gift or opportunity, men reveal the stuff of which they are made, the
disposition they have bred in themselves. Opportunity in human life is
as often judgement as it is salvation. When we perceive these things, we
understand that life is not a comedy, where chance governs or
incongruous situations are invented by an Almighty Satirist for his own
sport, but a tragedy, with all tragedy's pathetic elements of royal
wills contending in freedom with each other, of men's wills clashing
with God's: men the makers of their own destinies, and Nemesis not
directing, but following their actions. We go back to the very
fundamentals of our nature on this dread question. To understand what
has been called "a great law in human degeneracy," that "the evil heart
can assimilate good to itself and convert it to its nature," we must
understand what free will means, and take into account the terrible
influence of habit.

Now there is no more conspicuous instance of this law, than that which
is afforded by the preaching of the Gospel of God. God's Word, as Christ
reminds us, does not fall on virgin soil; it falls on soil already
holding other seed. When a preacher stands up with the Word of God in a
great congregation, vast as Scripture warrants us for believing his
power to be, his is not the only power that is operative. Each man
present has a life behind that hour and place, lying away in the
darkness, silent and dead as far as the congregation are concerned, but
in his own heart as vivid and loud as the voice of the preacher, though
he be preaching never so forcibly. The prophet is not the only power in
the delivery of God's Word, nor is the Holy Spirit the only power. That
would make all preaching of the Word a mere display. But the Bible
represents it as a strife. And now it is said of men themselves that
they harden their hearts against the Word, and now--because such
hardening is the result of previous sinning, and has therefore a
judicial character--that God hardens their hearts. _Simon, Simon_, said
Christ to a face that spread out to His own all the ardour of worship,
_Satan is desiring to have you, but I have prayed that your faith fail
not_. God sends His Word into our hearts; the Mediator stands by, and
prays that it make us His own. But there are other factors in the
operation, and the result depends on our own will; it depends on our own
will, and it is dreadfully determined by our habits.

Now this is one of the first facts to which a young reformer or prophet
awakes. Such an awakening is a necessary element in his education and
apprenticeship. He has seen the Lord high and lifted up. His lips have
been touched by the coal from off the altar. His first feeling is that
nothing can withstand that power, nothing gainsay this inspiration. Is
he a Nehemiah, and the hand of the Lord has been mighty upon him? Then
he feels that he has but to tell his fellows of it to make them as
enthusiastic in the Lord's work as himself. Is he a Mazzini, aflame from
his boyhood with aspirations for his country, consecrated from his birth
to the cause of duty? Then he leaps with joy upon his mission; he has
but to show himself, to speak, to lead the way, and his country is free.
Is he--to descend to a lower degree of prophecy--a Fourier, sensitive
more than most to how anarchic society is, and righteously eager to
settle it upon stable foundations? Then he draws his plans for
reconstruction, he projects his phalanges and phalansteres, and believes
that he has solved the social problem. Is he--to come back to the
heights--an Isaiah, with the Word of God in him like fire? Then he sees
his vision of the perfect state; he thinks to lift his people to it by a
word. _O house of Jacob_, he says, _come ye, and let us walk in the
light of the Lord_!

For all of whom the next necessary stage of experience is one of
disappointment, with the hard commission, _Make the heart of this people
fat_. They must learn that, if God has caught themselves young, and when
it was possible to make them entirely His own, the human race to whom He
sends them is old, too old for them to effect much upon the mass of it
beyond the hardening and perpetuation of evil. Fourier finds that to
produce his perfect State he would need to re-create mankind, to cut
down the tree to the very roots, and begin again. After the first rush
of patriotic fervour, which carried so many of his countrymen with him,
Mazzini discovers himself in "a moral desert," confesses that the
struggle to liberate his fatherland, which has only quickened him to
further devotion in so great a cause, has been productive of scepticism
in his followers, and has left them withered and hardened of heart,
whom it had found so capable of heroic impulses. He tells us how they
upbraided and scorned him, left him in exile, and returned to their
homes, from which they had set out with vows to die for their country,
doubting now whether there was anything at all worth living or dying for
outside themselves. Mazzini's description of the first passage of his
career is invaluable for the light which it throws upon this commission
of Isaiah. History does not contain a more dramatic representation of
the entirely opposite effects of the same Divine movement upon different
natures. While the first efforts for the liberty of Italy materialized
the greater number of his countrymen, whom Mazzini had persuaded to
embark upon it, the failure and their consequent defection only served
to strip this heroic soul of the last rags of selfishness, and
consecrate it more utterly to the will of God and the duty that lay
before it.

A few sentences from the confessions of the Italian patriot may be
quoted, with benefit to our appreciation of what the Hebrew prophet must
have passed through.

     "It was the tempest of doubt, which I believe all who devote their
     lives to a great enterprise, yet have not dried and withered up
     their soul--like Robespierre--beneath some barren intellectual
     formula, but have retained a loving heart, are doomed, once at
     least, to battle through. My heart was overflowing with and greedy
     of affection, as fresh and eager to unfold to joy as in the days
     when sustained by my mother's smile, as full of fervid hope for
     others, at least, if not for myself. But during these fatal months
     there darkened round me such a hurricane of sorrow, disillusion and
     deception as to bring before my eyes, in all its ghastly nakedness,
     a foreshadowing of the old age of my soul, solitary in a desert
     world, wherein no comfort in the struggle was vouchsafed to me. It
     was not only the overthrow for an indefinite period of every
     Italian hope, ... it was the falling to pieces of that moral
     edifice of faith and love from which alone I had derived strength
     for the combat; the scepticism I saw arising round me on every
     side; the failure of faith in those who had solemnly bound
     themselves to pursue unshaken the path we had known at the outset
     to be choked with sorrows; the distrust I detected in those most
     dear to me, as to the motives and intentions which sustained and
     urged me onward in the evidently unequal struggle.... When I felt
     that I was indeed alone in the world, I drew back in terror at the
     void before me. There, in that moral desert, doubt came upon me.
     Perhaps I was wrong, and the world right? Perhaps my idea was
     indeed a dream?... One morning I awoke to find my mind tranquil and
     my spirit calmed, as one who has passed through a great danger. The
     first thought that passed across my spirit was, _Your sufferings
     are the temptations of egotism, and arise from a misconception of
     life_.... I perceived that although every instinct of my heart
     rebelled against that fatal and ignoble definition of life which
     makes it to be a _search after happiness_, yet I had not completely
     freed myself from the dominating influence exercised by it upon the
     age.... I had been unable to realize the true ideal of love--love
     without earthly hope.... Life is a mission, duty therefore its
     highest law. From the idea of God I descended to faith in a mission
     and its logical consequence--duty the supreme rule of life; and
     having reached that faith, I swore to myself that nothing in this
     world should again make me doubt or forsake it. It was, as Dante
     says, passing through martyrdom to peace--'a forced and desperate
     peace.' I do not deny, for I fraternized with sorrow, and wrapped
     myself in it as in a mantle; but yet it was peace, for I learned to
     suffer without rebellion, and to live calmly and in harmony with my
     own spirit. I reverently bless God the Father for what consolations
     of affection--I can conceive of no other--He has vouchsafed to me
     in my later years; and in them I gather strength to struggle with
     the occasional return of weariness of existence. But even were
     these consolations denied me, I believe I should still be what I
     am. Whether the sun shine with the serene splendour of an Italian
     noon, or the leaden, corpse-like hue of the northern mist be above
     us, I cannot see that it changes our duty. God dwells above the
     earthly heaven, and the holy stars of faith and the future still
     shine within our souls, even though their light consume itself
     unreflected as the sepulchral lamp."

Such sentences are the best commentary we can offer on our text. The
cases of the Hebrew and Italian prophets are wonderfully alike. We who
have read Isaiah's fifth chapter know how his heart also was
"overflowing with and greedy of affection," and in the second and third
chapters we have seen "the hurricane of sorrow, disillusion and
deception darken round him." "The falling to pieces of the moral edifice
of faith and love," "scepticism rising on every side," "failure of faith
in those who had solemnly bound themselves," "distrust detected in those
most dear to me"--and all felt by the prophet as the effect of the
sacred movement God had inspired him to begin:--how exact a counterpart
it is to the cumulative process of brutalizing which Isaiah heard God
lay upon him, with the imperative _Make the heart of this people fat!_
In such a morally blind, deaf and dead-hearted world Isaiah's faith was
indeed "to consume itself unreflected like the sepulchral lamp." The
glimpse into his heart given us by Mazzini enables us to realize with
what terror Isaiah faced such a void. _O Lord, how long?_ This, too,
breathes the air of "a forced and desperate peace," the spirit of one
who, having realized life as a mission, has made the much more rare
recognition that the logical consequence is neither the promise of
success nor the assurance of sympathy, but simply the acceptance of
duty, with whatever results and under whatever skies it pleases God to
bring over him.

  _Until cities fall into ruin without an inhabitant,
  And houses without a man,
  And the land be left desolately waste,
  And Jehovah have removed man far away,
  And great be the desert in the midst of the land;
  And still if there be a tenth in it,
  Even it shall be again for consuming.
  Like the terebinth, and like the oak,
  Whose stock when they are felled remaineth in them,
  The holy seed shall be its stock._

The meaning of these words is too plain to require exposition, but we
can hardly over-emphasize them. This is to be Isaiah's one text
throughout his career. "Judgement shall pass through; a remnant shall
remain." All the politics of his day, the movement of the world's
forces, the devastation of the holy land, the first captivities of the
holy people, the reiterated defeats and disappointments of the next
fifty years--all shall be clear and tolerable to Isaiah as the
fulfilling of the sentence to which he listened in such "forced and
desperate peace" on the day of his consecration. He has had the worst
branded into him; henceforth no man nor thing may trouble him. He has
seen the worst, and knows there is a beginning beyond. So when the
wickedness of Judah and the violence of Assyria alike seem most
unrestrained--Assyria most bent on destroying Judah, and Judah least
worthy to live--Isaiah will yet cling to this, that a remnant must
remain. All his prophecies will be variations of this text; it is the
key to his apparent paradoxes. He will proclaim the Assyrians to be
God's instrument, yet devote them to destruction. He will hail their
advance on Judah, and yet as exultingly mark its limit, because of the
determination in which he asked the question, _O Lord, how long?_ and
the clearness with which he understood the _until_, that came in answer
to it. Every prediction he makes, every turn he seeks to give to the
practical politics of Judah, are simply due to his grasp of these two
facts--a withering and repeated devastation, in the end a bare survival.
He has, indeed, prophecies which travel farther; occasionally he is
permitted to indulge in visions of a new dispensation. Like Moses, he
climbs his Pisgah, but he is like Moses also in this, that his lifetime
is exhausted with the attainment of the margin of a long period of
judgement and struggle, and then he passes from our sight, and no man
knoweth his sepulchre unto this day. As abruptly as this vision closes
with the announcement of _the remnant_, so abruptly does Isaiah
disappear on the fulfilment of the announcement--some forty years
subsequent to this vision--in the sudden rescue of the holy seed from
the grasp of Sennacherib.

       *       *       *       *       *

We have now finished the first period of Isaiah's career. Let us
catalogue what are his leading doctrines up to this point. High above a
very sinful people, and beyond all their conceptions of Him, Jehovah,
the national God, rises holy, exalted in righteousness. From such a God
to such a people it can only be judgement and affliction that pass; and
these shall not be averted by the fact that He is the national God, and
they His worshippers. Of this affliction the Assyrians gathering far off
upon the horizon are evidently to be the instruments. The affliction
shall be very sweeping; again and again shall it come; but the Lord will
finally save a remnant of His people. Three elements compose this
preaching--a very keen and practical conscience of sin; an overpowering
vision of God, in whose immediate intimacy the prophet believes himself
to be; and a very sharp perception of the politics of the day.

One question rises. In this part of Isaiah's ministry there is no trace
of that Figure whom we chiefly identify with his preaching, the Messiah.
Let us have patience; it is not time for him; but the following is his
connection with the prophet's present doctrines.

Isaiah's great result at present is the certainty of a remnant. That
remnant will require two things--they will require a rallying-point,
and they will require a leader. Henceforth Isaiah's prophesying will be
bent to one or other of these. The two grand purposes of his word and
work will be, for the sake of the remnant, the inviolateness of Zion,
and the coming of the Messiah. The former he has, indeed, already
intimated (chap. iv.); the latter is now to share with it his hope and

[Illustration: (Map) Isaiah's World]



735-730 B.C.

Up to this point we have been acquainted with Isaiah as a prophet of
general principles, preaching to his countrymen the elements of
righteousness and judgement, and tracing the main lines of fate along
which their evil conduct was rapidly forcing them. We are now to observe
him applying these principles to the executive politics of the time, and
following Judah's conduct to the issues he had predicted for it in the
world outside herself. Hitherto he has been concerned with the inner
morals of Jewish society; he is now to engage himself with the effect of
these on the fortunes of the Jewish State. In his seventh chapter Isaiah
begins that career of practical statesmanship, which not only made him
"the greatest political power in Israel since David," but placed him,
far above his importance to his own people, upon a position of influence
over all ages. To this eminence Isaiah was raised, as we shall see, by
two things. First, there was the occasion of his times, for he lived at
a juncture at which the vision of the _World_, as distinguished from the
_Nation_, opened to his people's eyes. Second, he had the faith which
enabled him to realize the government of the World by the One God, whom
he has already beheld exalted and sovereign within the Nation. In the
Nation we have seen Isaiah led to emphasize very absolutely the
righteousness of God; applying this to the whole World, he is now to
speak as the prophet of what we call Providence. He has seen Jehovah
ruling in righteousness in Judah; he is now to take possession of the
nations of the World in Jehovah's name. But we mistake Isaiah if we
think it is any abstract doctrine of providence which he is about to
inculcate. For him God's providence has in the meantime but one end: the
preservation of a remnant of the holy people. Afterwards we shall find
him expecting besides, the conversion of the whole World to faith in
Israel's God.

The World in Isaiah's day was practically Western Asia. History had not
long dawned upon Europe; over Western Asia it was still noon. Draw a
line from the Caspian to the mouth of the Persian Gulf; between that
line and another crossing the Levant to the west of Cyprus, and
continuing along the Libyan border of Egypt, lay the highest forms of
religion and civilisation which our race had by that period achieved.
This was the World on which Isaiah looked out from Jerusalem, the
furthest borders of which he has described in his prophecies, and in the
political history of which he illustrated his great principles. How was
it composed?

There were, first of all, at either end of it, north-east and
south-west, the two great empires of ASSYRIA and EGYPT, in many respects
wonderful counterparts of each other. No one will understand the history
of Palestine, who has not grasped its geographical position relative to
these similar empires. Syria, shut up between the Mediterranean sea and
the Arabian desert, has its outlets north and south into two great
river-plains, each of them ending in a delta. Territories of that kind
exert a double force on the world with which they are connected, now
drawing across their boundaries the hungry races of neighbouring
highlands and deserts, and again sending them forth, compact and
resistless armies. This double action summarises the histories of both
Egypt and Assyria from the earliest times to the period which we are now
treating, and was the cause of the constant circulation, by which, as
the Bible bears witness, the life of Syria was stirred from the Tower of
Babel downwards. Mesopotamia and the Nile valley drew races as beggars
to their rich pasture grounds, only to send them forth in subsequent
centuries as conquerors. The century of Isaiah fell in a period of
forward movement. Assyria and Egypt were afraid to leave each other in
peace; and the wealth of Phœnicia, grown large enough to excite their
cupidity, lay between them. In each of these empires, however, there was
something to hamper this aggressive impulse. Neither Assyria nor Egypt
was a homogeneous State. The valleys of the Euphrates and the Nile were,
each of them the home of two nations. Beside Assyria lay Babylonia, once
Assyria's mistress, and now of all the Assyrian provinces by far the
hardest to hold in subjection, although it lay the nearest to home. In
Isaiah's time, when an Assyrian monarch is unable to come into
Palestine, Babylon is generally the reason; and it is by intriguing with
Babylon that a king of Judah attempts to keep Assyria away from his own
neighbourhood. But Babylon only delayed the Assyrian conquest. In Egypt,
on the other hand, power was more equally balanced between the hardier
people up the Nile and the wealthier people down the Nile--between the
Ethiopians and the Egyptians proper. It was the repeated and undecisive
contests between these two during the whole of Isaiah's day, which kept
Egypt from being an effective force in the politics of Western Asia. In
Isaiah's day no Egyptian army advanced more than a few leagues beyond
its own frontier.

Next in this world of Western Asia come the PHŒNICIANS. We may say
that they connected Egypt and Assyria, for although Phœnicia proper
meant only the hundred and fifty miles of coast between Carmel and the
bay of Antioch, the Phœnicians had large colonies on the delta of the
Nile and trading posts upon the Euphrates. They were gathered into
independent but more or less confederate cities, the chief of them Tyre
and Sidon; which, while they attempted the offensive only in trade, were
by their wealth and maritime advantages capable of offering at once a
stronger attraction and a more stubborn resistance to the Assyrian arms,
than any other power of the time. Between Phœnicia proper and the
mouths of the Nile, the coast was held by groups of PHILISTINE cities,
whose nearness to Egypt rather than their own strength was the source of
a frequent audacity against Assyria, and the reason why they appear in
the history of this period oftener than any other State as the object of
Assyrian campaigns.

Behind Phœnicia and the Philistines lay a number of inland
territories: the sister-States of Judah and Northern Israel, with their
cousins Edom, Moab, and Aram or Syria. Of which JUDAH and ISRAEL were
together about the size of Wales; EDOM a mountain range the size and
shape of Cornwall; MOAB, on its north, a broken tableland, about a
Devonshire; and ARAM, or SYRIA, a territory round Damascus, of uncertain
size, but considerable enough to have resisted Assyria for a hundred and
twenty years. Beyond Aram, again, to the north, lay the smaller State of
HAMATH, in the mouth of the pass between the Lebanons, with nothing
from it to the Euphrates. And then, hovering upon the east of these
settled States, were a variety of more or less NOMADIC TRIBES, whose
refuges were the vast deserts of which so large a part of Western Asia

Here was a world, with some of its constituents wedged pretty firmly by
mutual pressure, but in the main broken and restless--a political
surface that was always changing. The whole was subject to the movements
of the two empires at its extremes. One of them could not move without
sending a thrill through to the borders of the other. The approximate
distances were these:--from Egypt's border to Jerusalem, about one
hundred miles; from Jerusalem to Samaria, forty-five; from Samaria to
Damascus, one hundred and fifteen; from Damascus to Hamath, one hundred
and thirty; and from Hamath to the Euphrates, one hundred; in all from
the border of Egypt to the border of Assyria four hundred and ninety
English statute miles. The main line of war and traffic, coming up from
Egypt, kept the coast to the plain of Esdraelon, which it crossed
towards Damascus, travelling by the north of the sea of Galilee, _the
way of the sea_. Northern Israel was bound to fall an early prey to
armies, whose easiest path thus traversed her richest provinces. Judah,
on the other hand, occupied a position so elevated and apart, that it
was likely to be the last that either Assyria or Egypt would achieve in
their subjugation of the States between them.

Thus, then, Western Asia spread itself out in Isaiah's day. Let us take
one more rapid glance across it. Assyria to the north, powerful and on
the offensive, but hampered by Babylon; Egypt on the south, weakened and
in reserve; all the cities and States between turning their faces
desperately northwards, but each with an ear bent back for the promises
of the laggard southern power, and occasionally supported by its
subsidies; Hamath, their advanced guard at the mouth of the pass between
the Lebanons, looking out towards the Euphrates; Tyre and Sidon
attractive to the Assyrian king, whose policy is ultimately commercial,
by their wealth, both they and the Philistine cities obstructing his
path by the coast to his great rival of Egypt; Israel bulwarked against
Assyria by Hamath and Damascus, but in danger, as soon as they fall, of
seeing her richest provinces overrun; Judah unlikely in the general
restlessness to retain her hold upon Edom, but within her own borders
tolerably secure, neither lying in the Assyrian's path to Egypt, nor
wealthy enough to attract him out of it; safe, therefore, in the
neutrality which Isaiah ceaselessly urges her to preserve, and in danger
of suction into the whirlpool of the approach of the two empires only
through the foolish desire of her rulers to secure an utterly
unnecessary alliance with the one or the other of them.

For a hundred and twenty years before the advent of Isaiah, the annals
of the Assyrian kings record periodical campaigns against the cities of
"the land of the west," but these isolated incursions were followed by
no permanent results. In 745, however, five years before King Uzziah
died, a soldier ascended the throne of Assyria, under the title of
Tiglath-pileser II.,[11] who was determined to achieve the conquest of
the whole world and its organization as his empire. Where his armies
came, it was not simply to chastise or demand tribute, but to annex
countries, carry away their populations and exploit their resources. It
was no longer kings who were threatened; peoples found themselves in
danger of extinction. This terrible purpose of the Assyrian was pursued
with vast means and the utmost ferocity. He has been called the Roman of
the East, and up to a certain degree we may imagine his policy by
remembering all that is familiar to us of its execution by Rome: its
relentlessness, impetus and mysterious action from one centre; the
discipline, the speed, the strange appearance, of his armies. But there
was an Oriental savagery about Assyria, from which Rome was free. The
Assyrian kings moved in the power of their brutish and stormy gods--gods
that were in the shape of bulls and had the wings as of the tempest. The
annals of these kings, in which they describe their campaigns, are full
of talk about trampling down their enemies; about showering tempests of
clubs upon them, and raining a deluge of arrows; about overwhelming
them, and sweeping them off the face of the land, and strewing them like
chaff on the sea; about chariots with scythes, and wheels clogged with
blood; about great baskets stuffed with the salted heads of their foes.
It is a mixture of the Roman and Red Indian.

  [11] The Pul of 2 Kings xv. 19 and the Tiglath-pileser of 2 Kings xvi.
  are the same.

Picture the effect of the onward movement of such a force upon the
imaginations and policies of those little States that clustered round
Judah and Israel. Settling their own immemorial feuds, they sought
alliance with one another against this common foe. Tribes, that for
centuries had stained their borders with one another's blood, came
together in unions, the only reason for which was that their common fear
had grown stronger than their mutual hate. Now and then a king would be
found unwilling to enter such an alliance or eager to withdraw from it,
in the hope of securing by his exceptional conduct the favour of the
Assyrian, whom he sought further to ingratiate by voluntary tribute. The
shifting attitudes of the petty kings towards Assyria bewilder the
reader of the Assyrian annals. The foes of one year are the tributaries
of the next; the State, that has called for help this campaign, appears
as the rebel of that. In 742, Uzziah of Judah is cursed by
Tiglath-pileser as an arch-enemy; Samaria and Damascus are recorded as
faithful tributaries. Seven years later Ahaz of Judah offers tribute to
the Assyrian king, and Damascus and Samaria are invaded by the Assyrian
armies. What a world it was, and what politics! A world of petty clans,
with no idea of a common humanity, and with no motive for union except
fear; politics without a noble thought or long purpose in them, the
politics of peoples at bay--the last flicker of dying nationalities,--
_stumps of smoking firebrands_, as Isaiah described two of them.

When we turn to the little we know of the religions of these tribes, we
find nothing to arrest their restlessness or broaden their thoughts.
These nations had their religions, and called on their gods, but their
gods were made in their own image, their religion was the reflex of
their life. Each of them employed, rather than worshipped, its deity. No
nation believed in its god except as one among many, with his
sovereignty limited to its own territory, and his ability to help it
conditioned by the power of the other gods, against whose peoples he was
fighting. There was no belief in "Providence," no idea of unity or of
progress in history, no place in these religions for the great
world-force that was advancing upon their peoples.

From this condemnation we cannot except the people of Jehovah. It is
undeniable that the mass of them occupied at this time pretty much the
same low religious level as their neighbours. We have already seen
(chap. i.) their mean estimate of what God required from themselves;
with that corresponded their view of His position towards the world. To
the majority of the Israelites their God was but one out of many, with
His own battles to fight and have fought for Him, a Patron sometimes to
be ashamed of, and by no means a Saviour in whom to place an absolute
trust. When Ahaz is beaten by Syria, he says: _Because the gods of the
kings of Syria helped them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that
they may help me_ (2 Chron. xxviii. 23). Religion to Ahaz was only
another kind of diplomacy. He was not a fanatic, but a diplomat, who
made his son to pass through the fire to Moloch, and burnt incense in
the high places and on the hills, and under every green tree. He was
more a political than a religious eclectic, who brought back the pattern
of the Damascus altar to Jerusalem. The Temple, in which Isaiah saw the
Lord high and lifted up, became under Ahaz, and by the help of the
priesthood, the shelter of various idols; in every corner of Jerusalem
altars were erected to other gods. This religious hospitality was the
outcome neither of imagination nor of liberal thought; it was prompted
only by political fear. Ahaz has been mistaken in the same way as
Charles I. was--for a bigot, and one who subjected the welfare of his
kingdom to a superstitious regard for religion. But beneath the cloak of
religious scrupulousness and false reverence,[12] there was in Ahaz the
same selfish fear for the safety of his crown and his dynasty, as those
who best knew the English monarch tell us, was the real cause of his
ceaseless intrigue and stupid obstinacy.

  [12] Isa. vii. 12.

Now that we have surveyed this world, its politics and its religion, we
can estimate the strength and originality of the Hebrew prophets. Where
others saw the conflicts of nations, aided by deities as doubtfully
matched as themselves, they perceived all things working together by the
will of one supreme God and serving His ends of righteousness. It would
be wrong to say, that before the eighth century the Hebrew conception of
God had been simply that of a national deity, for this would be to
ignore the remarkable emphasis placed by the Hebrews from very early
times upon Jehovah's righteousness. But till the eighth century the
horizon of the Hebrew mind had been the border of their territory; the
historical theatre on which it saw God working was the national life.
Now, however, the Hebrews were drawn into the world; they felt movements
of which their own history was but an eddy; they saw the advance of
forces against which their own armies, though inspired by Jehovah, had
no chance of material success. The perspective was entirely changed;
their native land took to most of them the aspect of a petty and
worthless province, their God the rank of a mere provincial deity; they
refused the waters of Shiloah, that go softly, and rejoiced in the glory
of the king of Assyria, the king of the great River and the hosts that
moved with the strength of its floods. It was at this moment that the
prophets of Israel performed their supreme religious service. While Ahaz
and the mass of the people illustrated the impotence of the popular
religion, by admitting to an equal place in the national temple the gods
of their victorious foes, the prophets boldly took possession of the
whole world in the name of Jehovah of hosts, and exalted Him to the
throne of the supreme Providence. Now they could do this only by
emphasizing and developing the element of righteousness in the old
conception of Him. This attribute of Jehovah took absolute possession of
the prophets; and in the strength of its inspiration they were enabled,
at a time when it would have been the sheerest folly to promise Israel
victory against a foe like Assyria, to asseverate that even that supreme
world-power was in the hand of Jehovah, and that He must be trusted to
lead up all the movements of which the Assyrians were the main force to
the ends He had so plainly revealed to His chosen Israel. Even before
Isaiah's time such principles had been proclaimed by Amos and Hosea, but
it was Isaiah, who both gave to them their loftiest expression, and
applied them with the utmost detail and persistence to the practical
politics of Judah. We have seen him, in the preliminary stages of his
ministry under Uzziah and Jotham, reaching most exalted convictions of
the righteousness of Jehovah, as contrasted with the people's view of
their God's "nationalism." But we are now to follow him boldly applying
this faith--won within the life of Judah, won, as he tells us, by the
personal inspiration of Judah's God--to the problems and movements of
the whole world as they bear upon Israel's fate. The God, who is supreme
in Judah through righteousness, cannot but be supreme everywhere else,
for there is nothing in the world higher than righteousness. Isaiah's
faith in a Divine Providence is a close corollary to his faith in
Jehovah's righteousness; and of one part of that Providence he had
already received conviction--_A remnant shall remain_. Ahaz may crowd
Jerusalem with foreign altars and idols, so as to be able to say: "We
have with us, on our side, Moloch and Chemosh and Rimmon and the gods of
Damascus and Assyria." Isaiah, in the face of this folly, lifts up his
simple gospel: "Immanu-El. We have with us, in our own Jehovah of hosts,
El, the one supreme God, Ruler of heaven and earth."



ISAIAH vii., viii., ix. 1-8.

735-732 B.C.

This section of the book of Isaiah (vii.-ix. 7) consists of a number of
separate prophecies uttered during a period of at least three years:
735-732 B.C. By 735 Ahaz had ascended the throne; Tiglath-pileser had
been occupied in the far east for two years. Taking advantage of the
weakness of the former and the distance of the latter, Rezin, king of
Damascus, and Pekah, king of Samaria, planned an invasion of Judah. It
was a venture they would not have dared had Uzziah been alive. While
Rezin marched down the east of the Jordan and overturned the Jewish
supremacy in Edom, Pekah threw himself into Judah, defeated the armies
of Ahaz in one great battle, and besieged Jerusalem, with the object of
deposing Ahaz and setting a Syrian, Ben-Tabeel, in his stead.
Simultaneously the Philistines attacked Judah from the south-west. The
motive of the confederates was in all probability anger with Ahaz for
refusing to enter with them into a Pan-Syrian alliance against Assyria.
In his distress Ahaz appealed to Tiglath-pileser, and the Assyrian
swiftly responded. In 734--it must have been less than a year since Ahaz
was attacked--the hosts of the north had overrun Samaria and swept as
far south as the cities of the Philistines. Then, withdrawing his troops
again, Tiglath-pileser left Hoshea as his vassal on Pekah's throne, and
sending the population of Israel east of the Jordan into distant
captivity, completed a two years' siege of Damascus (734-732) by its
capture. At Damascus Ahaz met the conqueror, and having paid him
tribute, took out a further policy of insurance in the altar-pattern,
which he brought back with him to Jerusalem. Such were the three years,
whose rapid changes unfolded themselves in parallel with these
prophecies of Isaiah. The details are not given by the prophet, but we
must keep in touch with them while we listen to him. Especially must we
remember their central point, _the decision of Ahaz to call in the help
of Assyria_, a decision which affected the whole course of politics for
the next thirty years. Some of the oracles of this section were plainly
delivered by Isaiah before that event, and simply seek to inspire Ahaz
with a courage which should feel Assyrian help to be needless; others,
again, imply that Ahaz has already called in the Assyrian: they taunt
him with hankering after foreign strength, and depict the woes which the
Assyrian will bring upon the land; while others (for example, the
passage ix. 1-7) mean that the Assyrian has already come, and that the
Galilean provinces of Israel have been depopulated, and promise a
Deliverer. If we do not keep in mind the decision of Ahaz, we shall not
understand these seemingly contradictory utterances, which it thoroughly
explains. Let us now begin at the beginning of chapter vii. It opens
with a bare statement, by way of title, of the invasion of Judah and the
futile result; and then proceeds to tell us how Isaiah acted from the
first rumour of the confederacy onward.

I. THE KING (chap. vii.).

_And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of
Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the son
of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to war against it, but
could not prevail against it._ This is a summary of the whole adventure
and issue of the war, given by way of introduction. The narrative proper
begins in verse 2, with the effect of the first news of the league upon
Ahaz and his people. Their hearts were moved, like the trees of the
forest before the wind. The league was aimed so evidently against the
two things most essential to the national existence and the honour of
Jehovah; the dynasty of David, namely, and the inviolability of
Jerusalem. Judah had frequently before suffered the loss of her
territory; never till now were the throne and city of David in actual
peril. But that, which bent both king and people by its novel terror,
was the test Isaiah expected for the prophecies he had already uttered.
Taking with him, as a summary of them, his boy with the name
Shear-Jashub--_A-remnant-shall-return_--Isaiah faced Ahaz and his court
in the midst of their preparation for the siege. They were
examining--but more in panic than in prudence--the water supply of the
city, when Isaiah delivered to them a message from the Lord, which may
be paraphrased as follows: _Take heed and be quiet_, keep your eyes open
and your heart still; _fear not, neither be faint-hearted, for the
fierce anger of Rezin and Remaliah's son_. They have no power to set you
on fire. They are _but stumps of expiring firebrands_, almost burnt out.
While you wisely look after your water supply, do so in hope. This
purpose of deposing you is vain. _Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: It shall
not stand, neither shall it come to pass._ Of whom are you afraid? Look
those foes of yours in the face. _The head of Syria is Damascus, and
Damascus' head is Rezin_: is he worth fearing? _The head of Ephraim is
Samaria, and Samaria's head is Remaliah's son_: is he worth fearing?
Within a few years they will certainly be destroyed. But whatever
estimate you make of your foes, whatever their future may be, for
yourself have faith in God; for you that is the essential thing. _If ye
will not believe, surely ye shall not be established._[13]

  [13] There is a play upon words here, which may be reproduced in English
  by the help of a North-England term: If ye have not _faith_, ye cannot
  have _staith_.

This paraphrase seeks to bring out the meaning of a passage confessedly
obscure. It seems as if we had only bits of Isaiah's speech to Ahaz and
must supply the gaps. No one need hesitate, however, to recognize the
conspicuous personal qualities--the combination of political sagacity
with religious fear, of common-sense and courage rooted in faith. In a
word, this is what Isaiah will say to the king, clever in his alliances,
religious and secular, and busy about his material defences: "Take unto
you the shield of faith. You have lost your head among all these things.
Hold it up like a man behind that shield; take a rational view of
affairs. Rate your enemies at their proper value. But for this you must
believe in God. Faith in Him is the essential condition of a calm mind
and a rational appreciation of affairs."

It is, no doubt, difficult for us to realize that the truth which Isaiah
thus enforced on King Ahaz--the government of the world and human
history by one supreme God--was ever a truth of which the race stood in
ignorance. A generation like ours cannot be expected to put its mind in
the attitude of those of Isaiah's contemporaries who believed in the
real existence of many gods with limited sovereignties. To us, who are
full of the instincts of Divine Providence and of the presence in
history of law and progress, it is extremely hard even to admit the
fact--far less fully to realize what it means--that our race had ever to
receive these truths as fresh additions to their stock of intellectual
ideas. Yet, without prejudice to the claims of earlier prophets, this
may be confidently affirmed: that Isaiah where we now meet him stood on
one side believing in one supreme God, Lord of heaven and earth, and his
generation stood on the other side, believing that there were many gods.
Isaiah, however, does not pose as the discoverer of the truth he
preaches; he does not present it as a new revelation, nor put it in a
formula. He takes it for granted, and proceeds to bring its moral
influence to bear. He will infect men with his own utter conviction of
it, in order that he may strengthen their character and guide them by
paths of safety. His speech to Ahaz is an exhibition of the moral and
rational effects of believing in Providence. Ahaz is a sample of the
_character_ polytheism produced; the state of mind and heart to which
Isaiah exhorts him is that induced by belief in one righteous and
almighty God. We can make the contrast clear to ourselves by a very
definite figure.

The difference, which is made to the character and habits of men if the
country they live in has a powerful government or not, is well known. If
there be no such central authority, it is a case of every man's hand
against his neighbour. Men walk armed to the teeth. A constant attitude
of fear and suspicion warps the whole nature. The passions are excited
and magnified; the intelligence and judgement are dwarfed. Just the
same after its kind is life to the man or tribe, who believe, that the
world in which they dwell and the life they share with others have no
central authority. They walk armed with prejudices, superstitions and
selfishnesses. They create, like Ahaz, their own providences, and still,
like him, feel insecure. Everything is exaggerated by them; in each evil
there lurks to their imagination unlimited hostility. They are without
breadth of view or length of patience. But let men believe that life has
a central authority, that God is supreme, and they will fling their
prejudices and superstitions to the winds, now no more needed than the
antiquated fortresses and weapons by which our forefathers, in days when
the government was weak, were forced to defend their private interests.
When we know that God reigns, how quiet and free it makes us! When
things and men are part of His scheme and working out His ends, when we
understand that they are not monsters but ministers, how reasonably we
can look at them! Were we afraid of Syria and Ephraim? Why, the head of
Syria is this fellow Rezin, the head of Ephraim this son of Remaliah!
They cannot last long; God's engine stands behind to smite them. By the
reasonable government of God, let us be reasonable! Let us take heed and
be quiet. Have faith in God, and to faith will come her proper
consequent of commonsense.

For the higher a man looks, the farther he sees: to us that is the
practical lesson of these first nine verses of the seventh chapter. The
very gesture of faith bestows upon the mind a breadth of view. The man,
who lifts his face to God in heaven, is he whose eyes sweep
simultaneously the farthest prospect of earth, and bring to him a sense
of the proportion of things. Ahaz, facing his nearest enemies, does not
see over their heads, and in his consternation at their appearance
prepares to embark upon any policy that suggests itself, even though it
be so rash as the summoning of the Assyrian. Isaiah, on the other hand,
with his vision fixed on God as the Governor of the world, is enabled to
overlook the dust that darkens Judah's frontier, to see behind it the
inevitable advance of the Assyrians, and to be assured that, whether
Ahaz calls them to his quarrel or no, they will very soon of their own
motion overwhelm both of his enemies. From these _two smoking
firebrands_ there is then no real danger. But from the Assyrian, if once
Judah entangle herself in his toils, there is the most extreme danger.
Isaiah's advice is therefore not mere religious quietism; it is prudent
policy. It is the best political advice that could have been offered at
that crisis, as we have already been able to gather from a survey of the
geographical and political dispositions of Western Asia,[14] apart
altogether from religious considerations. But to Isaiah the calmness
requisite for this sagacity sprang from his faith. Mr. Bagehot might
have appealed to Isaiah's whole policy in illustration of what he has so
well described as the military and political benefits of religion.
Monotheism is of advantage to men not only by reason of "the high
concentration of steady feeling" which it produces, but also for the
mental calmness and sagacity, which surely spring from a pure and vivid
conviction that the Lord reigneth.[15]

  [14] Page 96.

  [15] _Physics and Politics_ (International Scientific Series), pp. 75
  ff. One of the finest modern illustrations of the connection between
  faith and common-sense is found in the _Letters of General Gordon to His
  Sister_. Gordon's coolness in face of the slave trade, the just survey
  he makes of it, and the sensible advice which he gives about meeting it
  stand well in contrast to the haste and rash proposals of
  philanthropists at home, and are evidently due to his conviction that
  the slave trade, like everything else in the world, is in the hands of
  God, and so may be calmly studied and wisely checkmated. Gordon's
  letters make very clear how much of his shrewdness in dealing with men
  was due to the same source. It is instructive to observe throughout, how
  his complete resignation to the will of God and his perfect obedience
  delivered him from prejudices and partialities, from distractions and
  desires, that make sober judgement impossible in other men.

One other thing it is well we should emphasize, before we pass from
Isaiah's speech to Ahaz. Nothing can be plainer than that Isaiah, though
advocating so absolutely a quiescent belief in God, _is no fatalist_.
Now other prophets there have been, insisting just as absolutely as
Isaiah upon resignation to God the supreme, and the evident practical
effect of their doctrine of the Divine sovereignty has been to make
their followers, not shrewd political observers, but blind and apathetic
fatalists. The difference between them and Isaiah has lain in the kind
of character, which they and he have respectively attributed to the
Deity, before exalting Him to the throne of absolute power and resigning
themselves to His will. Isaiah, though as disciplined a believer in
God's sovereignty and man's duty of obedience as any prophet that ever
preached these doctrines, was preserved from the fatalism to which they
so often lead by the conviction he had previously received of God's
righteousness. Fatalism means resignation to fate, and fate means an
omnipotence either without character, or (which is the same thing) of
whose character we are ignorant. Fate is God _minus_ character, and
fatalism is the characterless condition to which belief in such a God
reduces man. History presents it to our view amid the most diverse
surroundings. The Greek mind, so free and sunny, was bewildered and
benumbed by belief in an inscrutable Nemesis. In the East how frequently
is a temper of apathy or despair bred in men, to whom God is nothing but
a despot! Even within Christianity we have had fanatics, so inordinately
possessed with belief in God's sovereignty of election, to the exclusion
of all other Divine truths, as to profess themselves, with impious
audacity, willing to be damned for His glory. Such instances are enough
to prove to us the extreme danger of making the sovereignty of God the
_first_ article of our creed. It is not safe for men to exalt a deity to
the throne of the supreme providence, till they are certified of his
character. The vision of mere power intoxicates and brutalizes, no less
when it is hallowed by the name of religion, than when, as in modern
materialism, it is blindly interpreted as physical force. Only the
people who have first learned to know their Deity intimately in the
private matters of life, where heart touches heart, and the delicate
arguments of conscience are not overborne by the presence of vast
natural forces or the intricate movements of the world's history, can be
trusted afterwards to enter these larger theatres of religion, without
risk of losing their faith, their sensibility or their conscience.

The whole course of revelation has been bent upon this: to render men
familiarly and experimentally acquainted with the character of God,
before laying upon them the duty of homage to His creative power or
submission to His will. In the Old Testament God is the Friend, the
Guide, the Redeemer of men, or ever He is their Monarch and Lawgiver.
The Divine name which the Hebrew sees _excellent through all the earth_
is the name that he has learned to know at home as _Jehovah, our Lord_
(Ps. viii.). Jehovah trains His people to trust His personal troth and
lovingkindness within their own courts, before He tests their allegiance
and discipline upon the high places of the world. And when, amid the
strange terrors of these and the novel magnitudes with which Israel,
facing the world, had to reckon, the people lost their presence of mind,
His elegy over them was, _My people are destroyed for lack of
knowledge._ Even when their temple is full and their sacrifices of
homage to His power most frequent, it is still their want of moral
acquaintance with Himself of which He complains: _Israel doth not know;
My people doth not consider._ What else was the tragedy in which Jewish
history closed, than just the failure to perceive this lesson: that to
have and to communicate the knowledge of the Almighty's character is of
infinitely more value than the attempt to vindicate in any outward
fashion Jehovah's supremacy over the world? This latter, this forlorn,
hope was what Israel exhausted the evening of their day in attempting.
The former--to communicate to the lives and philosophies of mankind a
knowledge of the Divine heart and will, gained throughout a history of
unique grace and miracle--was the destiny which they resigned to the
followers of the crucified Messiah.

For under the New Testament this also is the method of revelation. What
our King desires before He ascends the throne of the world is that the
world should know Him; and so He comes down among us, to be heard, and
seen, and handled of us, that our hearts may learn His heart and know
His love, unbewildered by His majesty. And for our part, when we
ascribe to our King the glory and the dominion, it is as unto Him that
loved us and washed us from our sins in His blood. For the chief thing
for individuals, as for nations, is not to believe that God reigneth so
much as to know what kind of God He is who reigneth.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Ahaz would not be persuaded. He had a policy of his own, and was
determined to pursue it. He insisted on appealing to Assyria. Before he
did so, Isaiah made one more attempt on his obduracy. With a vehemence,
which reveals how critical he felt the king's decision to be, the
prophet returned as if this time the very voice of Jehovah. _And Jehovah
spake to Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of Jehovah thy God; ask it either
in Sheol below or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask,
neither will I tempt the Lord._

Isaiah's offer of a sign was one which the prophets of Israel used to
make when some crisis demanded the immediate acceptance of their word by
men, and men were more than usually hard to convince--a miracle such as
the thunder that Samuel called out of a clear sky to impress Israel with
God's opinion of their folly in asking for a king;[16] or as the rending
of the altar which the man of God brought to pass to convict the sullen
Jeroboam;[17] or as the regress of the shadow on the sun-dial, which
Isaiah himself gave in assurance of recovery to the sick Hezekiah.[18]
Such signs are offered only to weak or prejudiced persons. The most
real faith, as Isaiah himself tells us, is unforced, the purest natures
those which need no signs and wonders. But there are certain crises at
which faith must be immediately forced, and Ahaz stood now at such a
crisis; and there are certain characters who, unable to read a writ from
the court of conscience and reason, must be served with one from a
court--even though it be inferior--whose language they understand; and
Ahaz was such a character. Isaiah knew his man, and prepared a pretty
dilemma for him. By offering him whatever sign he chose to ask, Isaiah
knew that the king would be committed before his own honour and the
public conscience to refrain from calling in the Assyrians, and so Judah
would be saved; or if the king refused the sign, the refusal would
unmask him. Ahaz refused, and at once Isaiah denounced him and all his
house. They were mere shufflers, playing fast and loose with God as well
as men. _Hear ye now, O house of David. Is it a small thing for you to
weary men, that ye must weary my God also?_ You have evaded God;
therefore God Himself will take you in hand: _the Lord Himself shall
give you a sign_.

  [16] 1 Sam. xii. 17.

  [17] 1 Kings xiii. 3.

  [18] Chap. xxxviii.

In order to follow intelligently the rest of Isaiah's address, we must
clearly understand how the sign which he now promises differs in nature
from the sign he had implored Ahaz to select, of whatever sort he may
have expected that selection to be. The king's determination to call in
Assyria has come between. Therefore, while the sign Isaiah first offered
upon the spot was intended for an immediate pledge that God would
establish Ahaz, if only he did not appeal to the foreigner, the sign
Isaiah now offers shall come as a future proof of how criminal and
disastrous the appeal to the foreigner has been. The first sign would
have been an earnest of salvation; the second is to be an exposure of
the fatal evil of Ahaz's choice. The first would have given some
assurance of the swift overthrow of Ephraim and Syria; the second shall
be some painful illustration of the fact that not only Syria and
Ephraim, but Judah herself, shall be overwhelmed by the advance of the
northern power. This second sign is one, therefore, which only time can
bring round. Isaiah identifies it with a life not yet born.

A Child, he says, shall shortly be born to whom his mother shall give
the name Immanu-El--_God-with-us_. By the time this Child comes to years
of discretion, _he shall eat butter and honey_. Isaiah then explains the
riddle. He does not, however, explain who the mother is, having
described her vaguely as _a_ or _the young woman of marriageable age_;
for that is not necessary to the sign, which is to consist in the
Child's own experience. To this latter he limits his explanation. Butter
and honey are the food of privation, the food of a people, whose land,
depopulated by the enemy, has been turned into pasture. Before this
Child shall arrive at years of discretion not only shall Syria and
Ephraim be laid waste, but the Lord Himself will have laid waste Judah.
_Jehovah shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people and upon thy
father's house days, that have not come, from the day that Ephraim
departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria._ Nothing more is said of
Immanuel, but the rest of the chapter is taken up with the details of
Judah's devastation.

Now this sign and its explanation would have presented little difficulty
but for the name of the Child--Immanuel. Erase that, and the passage
reads forcibly enough. Before a certain Child, whose birth is vaguely
but solemnly intimated in the near future, shall have come to years of
discretion, the results of the choice of Ahaz shall be manifest. Judah
shall be devastated, and her people have sunk to the most rudimentary
means of living. All this is plain. It is a form which Isaiah used more
than once to measure the near future. And in other literatures, too, we
have felt the pathos of realizing the future results of crime and the
length to which disaster lingers, by their effect upon the lives of
another generation:--

  "The child that is unborn shall rue
      The hunting of that day!"

But why call the Child Immanuel? The name is evidently part of the sign,
and has to be explained in connection with it. Why call a Child
_God-with-us_ who is not going to act greatly or to be highly honoured,
who is only going to suffer, for whom to come to years of intelligence
shall only be to come to a sense of his country's disaster and his
people's poverty? This Child who is used so pathetically to measure the
flow of time and the return of its revenges, about whom we are told
neither how he shall behave himself in the period of privation, nor
whether he shall survive it--why is he called Immanuel? or why, being
called Immanuel, has he so sordid a fate to contrast with so splendid a

It seems to the present expositor quite impossible to dissociate so
solemn an announcement by Jehovah to the house of David of the birth of
a Child, so highly named, from that expectation of the coming of a
glorious Prince which was current in this royal family since the days of
its founder. Mysterious and abrupt as the intimation of Immanuel's birth
may seem to us at this juncture, we cannot forget that it fell from
Isaiah's lips on hearts which cherished as their dearest hope the
appearance of a glorious descendant of David, and were just now the more
sensitive to this hope that both David's city and David's dynasty were
in peril. Could Ahaz possibly understand by Immanuel any other child
than that Prince whose coming was the inalienable hope of his house? But
if we are right in supposing that Ahaz made this identification, or had
even the dimmest presage of it, then we understand the full force of the
sign. Ahaz by his unbelief had not only disestablished himself (ver. 9):
he had mortgaged the hope of Israel. In the flood of disaster, which his
fatal resolution would bring upon the land, it mattered little what was
to happen to himself. Isaiah does not trouble now to mention any penalty
for Ahaz. But his resolve's exceeding pregnancy of peril is borne home
to the king by the assurance that it will devastate all the golden
future, and must disinherit the promised King. The Child, who is
Israel's hope, is born; he receives the Divine name, and that is all of
salvation or glory suggested. He grows up not to a throne or the majesty
which the seventy-second Psalm pictures--the offerings of Sheba's and
Seba's kings, the corn of his land shaking like the fruit of Lebanon,
while they of the city flourish like the grass of the earth--but to the
food of privation, to the sight of his country razed by his enemies into
one vast common fit only for pasture, to loneliness and suffering. Amid
the general desolation his figure vanishes from our sight, and only his
name remains to haunt, with its infinite melancholy of what might have
been, the thorn-choked vineyards and grass-grown courts of Judah.

But even if it were to prove too fine a point, to identify Immanuel with
the promised Messiah of David's house, and we had to fall back on some
vaguer theory of him, finding him to be a personification,--either a
representative of the coming generation of God's people, or a type of
the promised to-morrow,--the moral effect of the sign would remain the
same; and it is with this alone that we have here to do. Be this an
individual, or a generation, or an age,--by the Name bestowed upon it,
it was to have been a glorious, God-inhabited age, generation, or
individual, and Ahaz has prematurely spoiled everything about it but the
Name. The future shall be like a boy cursed by his fathers, brought into
the world with glorious rights that are stamped in his title, but only
to find his kingdom and estates no longer in existence, and all the
circumstances dissipated, in which he might have realized the glorious
meaning of his name. Type of innocent suffering, he is born to an empty
title, his name the vestige of a great opportunity, the ironical
monument of an irreparable crime.

If Ahaz had any conscience left, we can imagine the effect of this upon
him. To be punished for sin in one's own body and fortune, this is sore
enough; but to see heaven itself blackened and all the gracious future
frustrate, this is unspeakably terrible.

Ahaz is thus the Judas of the Old Testament, if that conception of
Judas' character be the right one which makes his wilful desire to bring
about the kingdom of God in his own violent fashion the motive of his
betrayal of Jesus. Of his own obduracy Ahaz has betrayed the Messiah and
Deliverer of his people. The assurance of this betrayal is the sign of
his obduracy, a signal and terrible proof of his irretrievable sin in
calling upon the Assyrians. The king has been found wanting.

II. THE PEOPLE (chap. viii.).

The king has been found wanting; but Isaiah will appeal to the people.
Chap. viii. is a collection of addresses to them, as chap. vii. was an
expostulation with their sovereign. The two chapters are contemporary.
In chap. viii. ver. 1, the narrative goes back upon itself, and returns
to the situation as it was before Ahaz made his final resolution of
reliance on Assyria. Vv. 1-4 of chap. viii. imply that the Assyrian has
not yet been summoned by Ahaz to his assistance, and therefore run
parallel to chap. vii. vv. 3-9; but chap. viii. ver. 5 and following
verses sketch the evils that are to come upon Judah and Israel,
consequent upon the arrival of the Assyrians in Palestine, in answer to
the appeal of Ahaz. These evils for land and nation are threatened as
absolutely to the people, as they had been to the king. And then the
people are thrown over (viii. 14), as the king had been; and Isaiah
limits himself to his disciples (ver. 16)--the _remnant_ that was
foretold in chap. vi.

This appeal from monarch to people is one of the most characteristic
features of Isaiah's ministry. Whatever be the matter committed to him,
Isaiah is not allowed to rest till he has brought it home to the popular
conscience; and however much he may be able to charge national disaster
upon the folly of politicians or the obduracy of a king, it is the
people whom he holds ultimately responsible. The statesman, according to
Isaiah, cannot rise far above the level of his generation; the people
set the fashion to their most autocratic rulers. This instinct for the
popular conscience, this belief in the moral solidarity of a nation and
their governors, was the motive of the most picturesque passages in
Isaiah's career, and inspired some of the keenest epigrams in which he
conveyed the Divine truth. We have here a case in illustration. Isaiah
had met Ahaz and his court _at the conduit of the upper pool, in the
highway of the fuller's field_, preparing for the expected siege of the
city, and had delivered to them the Lord's message not to fear, for that
Syria-Ephraim would certainly be destroyed. But that was not enough. It
was now laid upon the prophet to make public and popular advertisement
of the same truth.

Isaiah was told to take a large, smooth board, and write thereon in the
character used by the common people--_with the pen of a man_--as if it
were the title to a prophecy, the compound word "Maher-shalal-hash-baz."
This was not only an intelligibly written, but a significantly sonorous,
word--one of those popular cries in which the liveliest sensations are
struck forth by the crowded, clashing letters, full to the dullest ears
of rumours of war: _speed-spoil-hurry-prey_. The interpretation of it
was postponed, the prophet meantime taking two faithful witnesses to its
publication. In a little a son was born to Isaiah, and to this child he
transferred the noisy name. Then its explanation was given. The double
word was the alarm of a couple of invasions. _Before the boy shall have
knowledge to cry, My father, my mother, the riches of Damascus and the
spoil of Samaria shall be carried away before the king of Assyria._ So
far nothing was told the people that had not been told their king; only
the time of the overthrow of their two enemies was fixed with greater
precision. At the most in a year, Damascus and Samaria would have
fallen. The ground was already vibrating to the footfall of the northern

The rapid political changes, which ensued in Palestine, are reflected on
the broken surface of this eighth chapter. We shall not understand
these abrupt and dislocated oracles, uttered at short intervals during
the two years of the Assyrian campaign, unless we realize that northern
shadow passing and repassing over Judah and Israel, and the quick
alternations of pride and penitence in the peoples beneath it. We need
not try to thread the verses on any line of thought. Logical connection
among them there is none. Let us at once get down into the currents of
popular feeling, in which Isaiah, having left Ahaz, is now labouring,
and casting forth these cries.

It is a period of powerful currents, a people wholly in drift, and the
strongest man of them arrested only by a firm pressure of the Lord's
hand. _For Jehovah spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed
me, that I should not walk in the way of this people._ The character of
the popular movement, _the way of this people_, which nearly lifted
Isaiah off his feet, is evident. It is that into which every nation
drifts, who have just been loosened from a primitive faith in God, and
by fear or ambition have been brought under the fascination of the great
world. On the one hand, such a generation is apt to seek the security of
its outward life in things materially large and splendid, to despise as
paltry its old religious forms, national aspirations and achievements,
and be very desirous to follow foreign fashion and rival foreign wealth.
On the other hand, the religious spirit of such an age, withdrawn from
its legitimate objects, seeks satisfaction in petty and puerile
practices, demeaning itself spiritually, in a way that absurdly
contrasts with the grandeur of its material ambitions. Such a stage in
the life of a people has its analogy in the growth of the individual,
when the boy, new to the world, by affecting the grandest companions
and models, assumes an ambitious manner, with contempt for his former
circumstances, yet inwardly remains credulous, timid and liable to
panic. Isaiah reveals that it was such a stage, which both the kingdoms
of Israel had now reached. _This people hath refused the waters of
Shiloah, that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son._

It was natural, that when the people of Judah contrasted their own
estate with that of Assyria, or even of Damascus, they should despise
themselves. For what was Judah? A petty principality, no larger than
three of our own counties. And what was Jerusalem? A mere mountain
village, some sixty or seventy acres of barren rock, cut into tongues by
three insignificant valleys, down which there sometimes struggled tiny
threads of water, though the beds were oftener dry, giving the town a
withered and squalid look--no great river to nourish, ennoble or
protect. What were such a country and capital to compare with the empire
of Assyria?--the empire of the two rivers, whose powerful streams washed
the ramparts, wharves, and palace stairs of mighty cities! What was
Jerusalem even to the capital of Rezin? Were not Abana and Pharpar,
rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel, let alone
these waterless wâdys, whose bleached beds made the Jewish capital so
squalid? It was the Assyrian's vast water system--canals, embankments,
sluices, and the wealth of water moving through them--that most
impressed the poor Jew, whose streams failed him in summer, and who had
to treasure up his scanty stores of rainwater in the cisterns, with
which the rocky surface of his territory is still so thickly indented.
There had, indeed, been at Jerusalem some attempt to conduct water. It
was called _The Shiloah_--_conduit_ or _aqueduct_, literally _emissary_
in the old sense of the word--a rough, narrow tunnel of some thousand
feet in length, hewn through the living rock from the only considerable
spring on the east side of Jerusalem, to a reservoir within the walls.
To this day _The Shiloah_ presents itself as not by any means a
first-class piece of engineering. Ahaz had either just made the tunnel
or repaired it; but if the water went no faster than it travels now, the
results were indeed ridiculous. Well might _this people despise the
waters of the Shiloah, that go trickling_, when they thought upon the
rivers of Damascus or the broad streams of Mesopotamia. Certainly it was
enough to dry up the patriotism of the Judean, if he was capable of
appreciating only material value, to look upon this bare, riverless
capital, with its bungled aqueduct and trickling water supply. On merely
material grounds, Judah was about the last country at that time, in
which her inhabitants might be expected to show pride or confidence.

But woe to the people, whose attachment to their land is based upon its
material advantages, who have lost their sense for those spiritual
presences, from an appreciation of which springs all true love of
country, with warrior's courage in her defence and statesman's faith in
her destiny! The greatest calamity, which can befall any people, is to
forfeit their enthusiasm for the soil, on which their history has been
achieved and their hearths and altars lie, by suffering their faith in
the presence of God, of which these are but the tokens, to pass away.
With this loss Isaiah now reproaches Judah. The people are utterly
materialized; their delights have been in gold and silver, chariots and
horses, fenced cities and broad streams, and their faith has now
followed their delights. But these things to which they flee will only
prove their destruction. The great foreign river, whose waters they
covet, will overflow them: _even the king of Assyria and all his glory,
and he shall come up over all his channels and go over all his banks;
and he shall sweep onward into Judah; he shall overflow and pass
through; he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his
wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel_, thou who art
_God-with-us_. At the sound of the Name, which floats in upon the floods
of invasion like the Ark on the waters of old, Isaiah pulls together his
distraught faith in his country, and forgetting her faults, flings
defiance at her foes. _Associate yourselves, ye peoples, and ye shall be
broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far-off countries, gird
yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and
it shall be brought to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand:
for Immanu-El_--"With us is God." The challenge was made good. The
prophet's faith prevailed over the people's materialism, and Jerusalem
remained inviolable till Isaiah's death.

Meantime the Assyrian came on. But the infatuated people of Judah
continued to tremble rather before the doomed conspirators, Rezin and
Pekah. It must have been a time of huge excitement. The prophet tells us
how he was steadied by the pressure of the Lord's hand, and how, being
steadied, the meaning of the word "Immanuel" was opened out to him.
_God-with-us_ is the one great fact of life. Amid all the possible
alliances and all the possible fears of a complex political situation,
He remains the one certain alliance, the one real fear. _Say ye not, A
conspiracy, concerning all whereof this people say, A conspiracy;
neither fear ye their fear, nor be in dread thereof. Jehovah of hosts,
Him shall ye sanctify; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your
dread._ God is the one great fact of life, but what a double-edged
fact--_a sanctuary to all who put their trust in Him, but a rock of
offence to both houses of Israel!_ The figure is very picturesque. An
altar, a common stone on steps, one of those which covered the land in
large numbers--it is easy to see what a double purpose that might serve.
What a joy the sight would be to the weary wanderer or refugee who
sought it, what a comfort as he leant his weariness upon it, and knew he
was safe! But those who were flying over the land, not seeking Jehovah,
not knowing indeed what they sought, blind and panic-stricken--for them
what could that altar do but trip them up like any other common rock in
their way? "In fact, Divine justice is something which is either
observed, desired, or attained, and is then man's weal, or, on the other
hand, is overlooked, rejected, or sought after in a wild, unintelligent
spirit, and only in the hour of need, and is then their lasting

  [19] Ewald.

The Assyrian came on, and the temper of the Jews grew worse. Samaria was
indeed doomed from the first, but for some time Isaiah had been
excepting Judah from a judgement for which the guilt of Northern Israel
was certainly riper. He foresaw, of course, that the impetus of invasion
might sweep the Assyrians into Judah, but he had triumphed in this: that
Judah was Immanuel's land, and that all who arrayed themselves against
her must certainly come to nought. But now his ideas have changed, as
Judah has persisted in evil. He knows now that God is for a
stumbling-block to _both_ houses of Israel; nay, that upon Jerusalem
herself He will fall as a gin and a snare. Only for a little group of
individuals, separate from both States, and gathered round the prophet
and the word of God given to him, is salvation certain. People, as well
as king, have been found wanting. There remains only this _remnant_.

Isaiah then at last sees his _remnant_. But the point we have reached is
significant for more than the fulfilment of his expectations. This is
the first appearance in history of a religious community, apart from the
forms of domestic or national life. "Till then no one had dreamed of a
fellowship of faith dissociated from all national forms, bound together
by faith in the Divine word alone. It was the birth of a new era in
religion, for it was the birth of the conception of the Church, the
first step in the emancipation of spiritual religion from the forms of
political life."[20]

  [20] Robertson Smith, _Prophets of Israel_, p. 275.

The plan of the seventh and eighth chapters is now fully disclosed. As
the king for his unworthiness has to give place to the Messiah, so the
nation for theirs have to give place to the Church. In the seventh
chapter the king was found wanting, and the Messiah promised. In the
eighth chapter the people are found wanting; and the prophet, turning
from them, proceeds to form the Church among those who accept the Word,
which king and people have refused. _Bind thou up the testimony, and
seal the teaching[21] among my disciples. And I will wait on Jehovah,
who hideth His face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him.
Behold, I and the children Jehovah hath given me are for signs and
wonders in Israel from Jehovah of hosts, Him that dwelleth in Mount

  [21] English Version, "law," but not the law of Moses. Isaiah refers to
  the word that has come by himself.

This, then, is the situation: revelation concluded, the Church formed
upon it, and the nation abandoned. But is that situation final? The
words just quoted betray the prophet's hope that it is not. He says: _I
will wait._ He says again: The LORD is only _hiding His face from the
house of Jacob_. I will expect again the shining of His countenance. I
will hope for Divine grace and the nation being once more conterminous.
The rest of the section (to ix. 7) is the development of this hope,
which stirs in the prophet's heart after he has closed the record of

The darkness deepened across Israel. The Assyrian had come. The northern
floods kept surging among the little States of Palestine, and none knew
what might be left standing. We can well understand Isaiah pausing, as
he did, in face of such rapid and incontrollable movements. When
Tiglath-pileser swept over the plain of Esdraelon, casting down the king
of Samaria and the Philistine cities, and then swept back again,
carrying off upon his ebb the populations east of the Jordan, it looked
very like as if both the houses of Israel should fall. In their panic,
the people betook themselves to morbid forms of religion; and at first
Isaiah was obliged to quench the hope and pity he had betrayed for them
in indignation at the utter contrariety of their religious practices to
the word of God. There can be no Divine grace for the people as long as
they _seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto the wizards
that chirp and that mutter_. For such a disposition the prophet has
nothing but scorn, _Should not a people seek unto their God? On behalf
of the living should they seek unto the dead?_ They must come back to
the prophet's own word before hope may dawn. _To the revelation and the
testimony! If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no
morning for them._

The night, however, grew too awful for scorn. There had been no part of
the land so given to the idolatrous practices, which the prophet
scathed, as _the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, by the sea
beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles_. But all the horrors of
captivity had now fallen upon it, and it had received at the Lord's hand
double for all its sins. The night had been torn enough by lightning;
was there no dawn? The darkness of these provinces fills the prophet's
silenced thoughts. He sees a people _hardly bestead and hungry, fretting
themselves, cursing their king_, who had betrayed them, _and their God_,
who had abandoned them, _turning their faces upwards_ to heaven and
_downwards_ to the sacred soil from which they were being dragged, _but,
behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and into thick
darkness they are driven away_. It is a murky picture, yet through the
smoke of it we are able to discern a weird procession of Israelites
departing into captivity. We date it, therefore, about 732 B.C., the
night of Israel's first great captivity. The shock and the pity of this
rouse the prophet's great heart. He cannot continue to say that there is
no morning for those benighted provinces. He will venture a great hope
for their people.

Over how many months the crowded verses, viii. 21-ix. 7, must be spread,
it is useless now to inquire--whether the revulsion they mark arose all
at once in the prophet's mind, or hope grew gradually brighter as the
smoke of war died away on Israel's northern frontier during 731 B.C. It
is enough that we can mark the change. The prophet's tones pass from
sarcasm to pity (viii. 20, 21); from pity to hope (viii. 22-ix. 1); from
hope to triumph in the vision of salvation actually achieved (ix. 2).
_The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that
dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, on them hath the light
shined._ For a mutilated, we see a multiplied, nation; for the fret of
hunger and the curses of defeat, we hear the joy of harvest and of spoil
after victory. _For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his
shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, Thou hast broken as in the day of
Midian._ War has rolled away for ever over that northern horizon, and
all the relics of war in the land are swept together into the fire. _For
all the armour of the armed man in the tumult, and the garments rolled
in blood, shall even be for burning, and for fuel of fire._ In the
midday splendour of this peace, which, after the fashion of Hebrew
prophecy, is described as already realized, Isaiah hails the Author of
it all in that gracious and marvellous Child whose birth he had already
intimated, Heir to the throne of David, but entitled by a fourfold name,
too generous, perhaps, for a mere mortal, _Wonderful-Counsellor_,
_Hero-God_, _Father-Everlasting_, _Prince-of-peace_, who shall redeem
the realms of his great forerunner and maintain _Israel with justice and
righteousness from henceforth, even for ever_.

When, finally, the prophet inquires what has led his thoughts through
this rapid change from satisfaction (chap. viii. 16) with the salvation
of a small _remnant_ of believers in the word of God--a little kernel of
patience in the midst of a godless and abandoned people--to the daring
vision of a whole nation redeemed and established in peace under a
Godlike King, he says: _The zeal of the Lord of hosts hath performed

_The zeal_, translates our English version, but no one English word will
give it. It is that mixture of hot honour and affection to which
"jealousy" in its good sense comes near. It is that overflow of the love
that cannot keep still, which, when men think God has surely done all He
will or can do for an ungrateful race, visits them in their distress,
and carries them forward into unconceived dispensations of grace and
glory. It is the Spirit of God, which yearns after the lost, speaks to
the self-despairing of hope, and surprises rebel and prophet alike with
new revelations of love. We have our systems representing God's work up
to the limits of our experience, and we settle upon them; but the
Almighty is ever greater than His promise or than His revelation of



We have now reached that point of Isaiah's prophesying at which the
Messiah becomes the most conspicuous figure on his horizon. Let us take
advantage of it, to gather into one statement all that the prophet told
his generation concerning that exalted and mysterious Person.[22]

  [22] The Messiah, or _Anointed_, is used in the Old Testament of many
  agents of God: high-priest (Lev. iv. 3); ministers of the Word (Ps. cv.
  15); Cyrus (Isa. xlv. 1); but mostly of God's king, actual (1 Sam. xxiv.
  7), or expected (Dan. ix. 25). So it became in Jewish theology the
  technical term for the coming King and the Captain of salvation.

When Isaiah began to prophesy, there was current among the people of
Judah the expectation of a glorious King. How far the expectation was
defined it is impossible to ascertain; but this at least is historically
certain. A promise had been made to David (2 Sam. vii. 4-17) by which
the permanence of his dynasty was assured. His offspring, it was said,
should succeed him, yet eternity was promised not to any individual
descendant, but to the dynasty. Prophets earlier than Isaiah emphasized
this establishment of the house of David, even in the days of Israel's
greatest distress; but they said nothing of a single monarch with whom
the fortunes of the house were to be identified. It is clear, however,
even without the evidence of the Messianic Psalms, that the hope of such
a hero was quick in Israel. Besides the documentary proof of David's own
last words (2 Sam. xxiii.), there is the manifest impossibility of
dreaming of an ideal kingdom apart from the ideal king. Orientals, and
especially Orientals of that period, were incapable of realizing the
triumph of an idea or an institution without connecting it with a
personality. So that we may be perfectly sure, that when Isaiah began to
prophesy the people not only counted upon the continuance of David's
dynasty, as they counted upon the presence of Jehovah Himself, but were
familiar with the ideal of a monarch, and lived in hope of its

In the first stage of his prophecy, it is remarkable, Isaiah makes no
use of this tradition, although he gives more than one representation of
Israel's future in which it might naturally have appeared. No word is
spoken of a Messiah even in the awful conversation, in which Isaiah
received from the Eternal the fundamentals of his teaching. The only
hope there permitted to him is the survival of a bare, leaderless few of
the people, or, to use his own word, _a stump_, with no sign of a
prominent sprout upon it. In connection, however, with the survival of a
remnant, as we have said on chap. vi. (p. 89), it is plain that there
were two indispensable conditions, which the prophet could not help
having to state sooner or later. Indeed, one of them he had mentioned
already. It was indispensable that the people should have a leader, and
that they should have a rallying-point. They must have their King, and
they must have their City. Every reader of Isaiah knows that it is on
these two themes the prophet rises to the height of his
eloquence--Jerusalem shall remain inviolable; a glorious King shall be
given unto her. But it has not been so generally remarked, that Isaiah
is far more concerned and consistent about the secure city than about
the ideal monarch. From first to last the establishment and peace of
Jerusalem are never out of his thoughts, but he speaks only now and then
of the King to come. Through long periods of his ministry, though
frequently describing the blessed future, he is silent about the
Messiah, and even sometimes so groups the inhabitants of that future, as
to leave no room for Him among them. Indeed, the silences of Isaiah upon
this Person are as remarkable as the brilliant passages, in which he
paints His endowments and His work.

If we consider the moment, chosen by Isaiah for announcing the Messiah
and adding his seal to the national belief in the advent of a glorious
Son of David, we find some significance in the fact that it was a
moment, when the throne of David was unworthily filled and David's
dynasty was for the first time seriously threatened. It is impossible to
dissociate the birth of a boy called _Immanuel_, and afterwards so
closely identified with the fortunes of the whole land (vii. 8), from
the public expectation of a King of glory; and critics are almost
unanimous in recognizing Immanuel again in the Prince-of-the-Four-Names
in chap. ix. Immanuel, therefore, is the Messiah, the promised King of
Israel. But Isaiah makes his own first intimation of Him, not when the
throne was worthily filled by an Uzziah or a Jotham, but when a fool and
traitor to God abused its power, and the foreign conspiracy to set up a
Syrian prince in Jerusalem imperilled the whole dynasty. Perhaps we
ought not to overlook the fact, that Isaiah does not here designate
Immanuel as a descendant of David. The vagueness with which the mother
is described has given rise to a vast amount of speculation as to what
particular person the prophet meant by her. But may not Isaiah's
vagueness be the only intention he had in mentioning a mother at all?
The whole house of David shared at that moment the sin of the king (vii.
13); and it is not presuming too much upon the freedom of our prophet to
suppose, that he shook himself loose from the tradition, which entailed
the Messiah upon the royal family of Judah, and at least left it an open
question, whether Immanuel might not, in consequence of their sin,
spring from some other stock.

It is, however, far less with the origin, than with the experience, of
Immanuel that Isaiah is concerned; and those who embark upon curious
inquiries, as to who exactly the mother might be, are busying themselves
with what the prophet had no interest in, while neglecting that in which
really lay the significance of the sign that he offered.

Ahaz by his wilfulness has made a Substitute necessary. But Isaiah is
far more taken up with this: that he has actually mortgaged the
prospects of that Substitute. The Messiah comes, but the wilfulness of
Ahaz has rendered His reign impossible. He, whose advent has hitherto
not been foretold except as the beginning of an era of prosperity, and
whose person has not been painted but with honour and power, is
represented as a helpless and innocent Sufferer--His prospects
dissipated by the sins of others, and Himself born only to share His
people's indigence (p. 115). Such a representation of the Hero's fate is
of the very highest interest. We are accustomed to associate the
conception of a suffering Messiah only with a much later development of
prophecy, when Israel went into exile; but the conception meets us
already here. It is another proof that _Esaias is very bold_. He calls
his Messiah Immanuel, and yet dares to present Him as nothing but a
Sufferer--a Sufferer for the sins of others. Born only to suffer with
His people, who should have inherited their throne--that is Isaiah's
first doctrine of the Messiah.

Through the rest of the prophecies published during the Syro-Ephraitic
troubles the Sufferer is slowly transformed into a Deliverer. The stages
of this transformation are obscure. In chap. viii. Immanuel is no more
defined than in chap. vii. He is still only a Name of hope upon an
unbroken prospect of devastation. _The stretching out of his
wings_--_i.e._, the floods of the Assyrian--_shall fill the breadth of
Thy land, O Immanuel_. But this time that the prophet utters the Name,
he feels inspired by new courage. He grasps at Immanuel as the pledge of
ultimate salvation. Let the enemies of Judah work their worst; it shall
be in vain, _for Immanuel, God is with us_. And then, to our
astonishment, while Isaiah is telling us how he arrived at the
convictions embodied in this Name, the personality of Immanuel fades
away altogether, and Jehovah of hosts Himself is set forth as the sole
sanctuary of those who fear Him. There is indeed a double displacement
here. Immanuel dissolves in two directions. As a Refuge, He is displaced
by Jehovah; as a Sufferer and a Symbol of the sufferings of the land, by
a little community of disciples, the first embodiment of the Church, who
now, with Isaiah, can do nothing except wait for the Lord (pp. 124-126).

Then, when the prophet's yearning thoughts, that will not rest upon so
dark a closure, struggle once more, and struggling pass from despair to
pity, and from pity to hope, and from hope to triumph in a salvation
actually achieved, they hail all at once as the Hero of it the Son whose
birth was promised. With an emphasis, which vividly reveals the sense of
exhaustion in the living generation and the conviction that only
something fresh, and sent straight from God Himself, can now avail
Israel, the prophet cries: _Unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is
given_. The Messiah appears in a glory that floods His origin out of
sight. We cannot see whether He springs from the house of David; but
_the government is to be upon His shoulder_, and He shall reign _on
David's throne with righteousness for ever_. His title shall be
fourfold: _Wonderful-Counsellor_, _God-Hero_, _Father-Everlasting_,

These Four Names do certainly not invite us to grudge them meaning, and
they have been claimed as incontrovertible proofs, that the prophet had
an absolutely Divine Person in view. Some distinguished scholars insist
that the promised Deliverer is nothing less than a God in the
metaphysical sense of the word.[23] There are serious reasons, however,
which make us doubt this conclusion, and, though we firmly hold that
Jesus Christ was God, prevent us from recognizing these names as
prophecies of His Divinity. Two of the names are capable of being used
of an earthly monarch: _Wonderful-Counsellor_ and _Prince-of-Peace_,
which are, within the range of human virtue, in evident contrast to
Ahaz, at once foolish in the conception of his policy and warlike in its
results. It will be more difficult to get Western minds to see how
_Father-Everlasting_ may be applied to a mere man, but the ascription of
eternity is not unusual in Oriental titles, and in the Old Testament is
sometimes rendered to things that perish. When Hebrews speak of any one
as everlasting, that does not necessarily imply Divinity. The second
name, which we render _God-Hero_, is, it is true, used of Jehovah
Himself in the very next chapter to this, but in the plural it is also
used of men by Ezekiel (xxxii. 21). The part of it translated _God_ is a
frequent name of the Divine Being in the Old Testament, but literally
means only _mighty_, and is by Ezekiel (xxxi. 11) applied to
Nebuchadnezzar. We should hesitate, therefore, to understand by these
names "a God in the metaphysical sense of the word."

  [23] I regret very much that in previous editions I should have
  erroneously imputed this opinion to Dr. Hermann Schultz--through a
  mistranslation of his words on pp. 726, 727 of his _A. T. Theologie_.

We fall back with greater confidence on other arguments of a more
general kind, which apply to all Isaiah's prophecies of the Messiah. If
Isaiah had one revelation rather than another to make, it was the
revelation of the unity of God. Against king and people, who crowded
their temple with the shrines of many deities, Isaiah presented Jehovah
as the one only God. It would simply have nullified the force of his
message, and confused the generation to which he brought it, if either
he or they had conceived of the Messiah, with the conceiving of
Christian theology, as a separate Divine personality.

Again, as Mr. Robertson Smith has very clearly explained,[24] the
functions assigned by Isaiah to the King of the future are simply the
ordinary duties of the monarchy, for which He is equipped by the
indwelling of that Spirit of God, that makes all wise men wise and
valorous men valorous. "We believe in a Divine and eternal Saviour,
because the work of salvation as we understand it in the light of the
New Testament is essentially different from the work of the wisest and
best earthly king." But such an earthly king's work is all Isaiah looks
for. So that, so far from its being derogatory to Christ to grudge the
sense of Divinity to these names, it is a fact that the more spiritual
our notions are of the saving work of Jesus, the less inclined shall we
be to claim the prophecies of Isaiah in proof of His Deity.

  [24] _Prophets of Israel_, p. 306.

There is a third argument in the same direction, the force of which we
appreciate only when we come to discover how very little from this point
onwards Isaiah had to say about the promised king. In chaps. i.-xxxix.
only three other passages are interpreted as describing the Messiah. The
first of these, xi. 1-5, dating perhaps from about 720, when Hezekiah
was king, tells us, for the first and only time by Isaiah's lips, that
the Messiah is to be a scion of David's house, and confirms what we have
said: that His duties, however perfectly they were to be discharged,
were the usual duties of Judah's monarchy.[25] The second passage,
xxxii. 1 ff., which dates probably from after 705, when Hezekiah was
still king, is, if indeed it refers at all to the Messiah, a still
fainter, though sweeter, echo of previous descriptions. While the third
passage, xxxiii. 17: _Thou shalt see thy king in his beauty_, does not
refer to the Messiah at all, but to Hezekiah, then prostrate and in
sackcloth, with Assyria thundering at the gate of Jerusalem (701). The
mass of Isaiah's predictions of the Messiah thus fall within the reign
of Ahaz, and just at the point at which Ahaz proved an unworthy
representative of Jehovah, and Judah and Israel were threatened with
complete devastation. There is a repetition when Hezekiah has come to
the throne. But in the remaining seventeen years, except perhaps for one
allusion, Isaiah is silent on the ideal king, although he continued
throughout that time to unfold pictures of the blessed future which
contained every other Messianic feature, and the realization of which he
placed where he had placed his Prince-of-the-Four-Names--in connection,
that is, with the approaching defeat of the Assyrians. Ignoring the
Messiah, during these years Isaiah lays all the stress of his prophecy
on the inviolability of Jerusalem; and while he promises the recovery of
the actually reigning monarch from the distress of the Assyrian
invasion,--as if that were what the people chiefly desired to see, and
not a brighter, stronger substitute,--he hails Jehovah Himself, in
solitary and undeputed sovereignty, as Judge, Lawgiver, Monarch and
Saviour (xxxiii. 22). Between Hezekiah, thus restored to his beauty, and
Jehovah's own presence, there is surely no room left for another royal
personage. But these very facts--that Isaiah felt most compelled to
predict an ideal king when the actual king was unworthy, and that, on
the contrary, when the reigning king proved worthy, approximating to the
ideal, Isaiah felt no need for another, and indeed in his prophecies
left no room for another--form surely a powerful proof that the king he
expected was not a supernatural being, but a human personality,
extraordinarily endowed by God, one of the descendants of David by
ordinary succession, but fulfilling the ideal which his forerunners had
missed. Even if we allow that the four names contain among them the
predicate of Divinity, we must not overlook the fact that the Prince is
only called by them. It is not that _He is_, but that He shall be
called, _Wonderful-Counsellor_, _God-Hero_, _Father-Everlasting_,
_Prince-of-Peace_. Nowhere is there a dogmatic statement that He is
Divine. Besides, it is inconceivable that if Isaiah, the prophet of the
unity of God, had at any time a second Divine Person in his hope, he
should have afterwards remained so silent about Him. To interpret the
ascription of the Four Names as a conscious definition of Divinity, at
all like the Christian conception of Jesus Christ, is to render the
silence of Isaiah's later life and the silence of subsequent prophets
utterly inexplicable.

  [25] See further on this passage pp. 180-183. As is there pointed out,
  while these passages on the Messiah are indeed infrequent and
  unconnected, there is a very evident progress through them of Isaiah's
  conception of his Hero's character.

On these grounds, then, we decline to believe that Isaiah saw in the
king of the future "a God in the metaphysical sense of the word." Just
because we know the proofs of the Divinity of Jesus to be so spiritual,
do we feel the uselessness of looking for them to prophecies, that
manifestly describe purely earthly and civil functions.

But such a conclusion by no means shuts us out from tracing a relation
between these prophecies and the appearance of Jesus. The fact, that
Isaiah allowed them to go down to posterity, proves that he himself did
not count them to have been exhausted in Hezekiah. And this fact of
their preservation is ever so much the more significant, that their
literal truth was discredited by events. Isaiah had evidently foretold
the birth and bitter youth of Immanuel for the _near_ future. Immanuel's
childhood was to begin with the devastation of Ephraim and Syria, and to
be passed in circumstances consequent on the devastation of Judah, which
was to follow close upon that of her two enemies. But although Ephraim
and Syria were immediately spoiled, as Isaiah foresaw, Judah lay in
peace all the reign of Ahaz and many years after his death. So that had
Immanuel been born in the next twenty-five years after the announcement
of His birth, He would not have found in His own land the circumstances
which Isaiah foretold as the discipline of His boyhood. Isaiah's
forecast of Judah's fate was, therefore, falsified by events. That the
prophet or his disciples should have allowed it to remain, is proof that
they believed it to have contents, which the history they had lived
through neither exhausted nor discredited. In the prophecies of the
Messiah there was something ideal, which was as permanent and valid for
the future as the prophecy of the Remnant or that of the visible majesty
of Jehovah. If the attachment, at which the prophet aimed when he
launched these prophecies on the stream of time, was denied them by
their own age, that did not mean their submersion, but only their
freedom to float further down the future and seek attachment there.

This boldness, to entrust to future ages a prophecy discredited by
contemporary history, argues a profound belief in its moral meaning and
eternal significance; and it is this boldness, in face of disappointment
continued from generation to generation in Israel, that constitutes the
uniqueness of the Messianic hope among that people. To sublimate this
permanent meaning of the prophecies from the contemporary material, with
which it is mixed, is not difficult. Isaiah foretells his Prince on the
supposition that certain things are fulfilled. When the people are
reduced to the last extreme, when there is no more a king to rally or to
rule them, when the land is in captivity, when revelation is closed,
when, in despair of the darkness of the Lord's face, men have taken to
them that have familiar spirits and wizards that peep and mutter, then,
in that last sinful, hopeless estate of man, a Deliverer shall appear.
_The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it._ This is the first
article of Isaiah's Messianic creed, and stands back behind the Messiah
and all Messianic blessings, their exhaustless origin. Whatsoever man's
sin and darkness be, the Almighty lives, and His zeal is infinite.
Therefore it is a fact eternally true, that whatsoever Deliverer His
people need and can receive shall be sent to them, and shall be styled
by whatsoever names their hearts can best appreciate. Titles shall be
given Him to attract their hope and their homage, and not a definition
of His nature, of which their theological vocabulary would be incapable.
This is the vital kernel of Messianic prophecy in Isaiah. The _zeal of
the Lord_, kindling the dark thoughts of the prophet as he broods over
his people's need of salvation, suddenly makes a Saviour
visible--visible just as He is needed there and then. Isaiah hears Him
hailed by titles that satisfy the particular wants of the age, and
express men's thoughts as far up the idea of salvation and majesty as
they of that age can rise. But the prophet has also perceived that sin
and disaster will so accumulate before the Messiah comes, that, though
innocent, He shall have to bear tribulation and pass to His prime
through suffering. No one with open mind can deny, that in this moderate
estimate of the prophet's meaning there is a very great deal of the
essence of the Gospel as it has been fulfilled in the personal
consciousness and saving work of Jesus Christ,--as much of that essence,
indeed, as it was possible to communicate to so early a generation, and
one whose religious needs were so largely what we call temporal. But if
we grant this, and if at the same time we appreciate the uniqueness of
such a hope as this of Israel, then surely it must be allowed to have
the appearance of a special preparation for Christ's life and work; and
so, to use very moderate words which have been applied to Messianic
prophecy in general, it may be taken "as a proof of its true connection
with the Gospel dispensation as part of one grand scheme in the counsels
of Providence."[26]

  [26] Stanton: _The Jewish and Christian Messiah_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Men do not ask when they drink of a streamlet high up on the hills, "Is
this going to be a great river?" They are satisfied if it is water
enough to quench their thirst. And so it was enough for Old Testament
believers if they found in Isaiah's prophecy of a Deliverer--as they did
find--what satisfied their own religious needs, without convincing them
to what volumes it should swell. But this does not mean that in using
these Old Testament prophecies we Christians should limit our enjoyment
of them to the measure of the generation to whom they were addressed. To
have known Christ must make the predictions of the Messiah different to
a man. You cannot bring so infinite an ocean of blessing into historic
connection with these generous, expansive intimations of the Old
Testament without its passing into them. If we may use a rough figure,
the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament are tidal rivers. They not
only run, as we have seen, to their sea, which is Christ; they feel His
reflex influence. It is not enough for a Christian to have followed the
historical direction of the prophecies, or to have proved their
connection with the New Testament as parts of one Divine harmony. Forced
back by the fulness of meaning to which he has found their courses
open, he returns to find the savour of the New Testament upon them, and
that where he descended shallow and tortuous channels, with all the
difficulties of historical exploration, he is borne back on full tides
of worship. To use the appropriate words of Isaiah, _the Lord is with
him there, a place of broad rivers and streams_.

With all this, however, we must not forget that, beside these prophecies
of a great earthly ruler, there runs another stream of desire and
promise, in which we see a much stronger premonition of the fact that a
Divine Being shall some day dwell among men. We mean the Scriptures in
which it is foretold that Jehovah Himself shall visibly visit Jerusalem.
This line of prophecy, taken along with the powerful anthropomorphic
representations of God,--astonishing in a people like the Jews, who so
abhorred the making of an image of the Deity upon the likeness of
anything in heaven and earth,--we hold to be the proper Old Testament
instinct that the Divine should take human form and tabernacle amongst
men. But this side of our subject--the relation of the anthropomorphism
of the Old Testament to the Incarnation--we postpone till we come to the
second part of the book of Isaiah, in which the anthropomorphic figures
are more frequent and daring than they are here.


727-705_ B.C.


  xxviii. 725 B.C.

  x. 5-34. 721 B.C.

  xi., xii. About 720 B.C.?

  xx. 711 B.C.

  xxi. 1-10. 710 B.C.

  xxxviii., xxxix. Between 712 and 705 B.C.


The prophecies with which we have been engaged (chaps. ii.-x. 4) fall
either before or during the great Assyrian invasion of Syria, undertaken
in 734-732 by Tiglath-pileser II., at the invitation of King Ahaz.
Nobody has any doubt about that. But when we ask what prophecies of
Isaiah come next in chronological order, we raise a storm of answers. We
are no longer on the sure ground we have been enjoying.

Under the canonical arrangement the next prophecy is "The Woe upon the
Assyrian" (x. 5-34). In the course of this the Assyrian is made to boast
of having overthrown Samaria (vv. 9-11): _Is not Samaria as Damascus?...
Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to
Jerusalem and her idols?_ If _Samaria_ mean the capital city of Northern
Israel--and the name is never used in these parts of Scripture for
anything else--and if the prophet be quoting a boast which the Assyrian
was actually in a position to make, and not merely imagining a boast,
which he would be likely to make some years afterwards (an entirely
improbable view, though held by one great scholar[27]), then an event is
here described as past and over which did not happen during
Tiglath-pileser's campaign, nor indeed till twelve years after it.
Tiglath-pileser did not require to besiege Samaria in the campaign of
734-732. The king, Pekah, was slain by a conspiracy of his own subjects;
and Hoshea, the ringleader, who succeeded, willingly purchased the
stability of a usurped throne by homage and tribute to the king of
kings. So Tiglath-pileser went home again, satisfied to have punished
Israel by carrying away with him the population of Galilee. During his
reign there was no further appearance of the Assyrians in Palestine, but
at his death in 727 Hoshea, after the fashion of Assyrian vassals when
the throne at Nineveh changed occupants, attempted to throw off the yoke
of the new king, Salmanassar IV. Along with the Phœnician and
Philistine cities, Hoshea negotiated an alliance with So, or Seve, the
Ethiopian, a usurper who had just succeeded in establishing his
supremacy over the land of the Pharaohs. In a year Salmanassar marched
south upon the rebels. He took Hoshea prisoner on the borders of his
territory (725), but, not content, as his predecessor had been, with the
submission of the king, _he came up throughout all the land, and went up
to Samaria, and besieged it three years_.[28] He did not live to see the
end of the siege, and Samaria was taken in 722 by Sargon, his successor.
Sargon overthrew the kingdom and uprooted the people. The northern
tribes were carried away into a captivity, from which as tribes they
never returned.

  [27] Delitzsch, who fancies that the fall of Samaria is a completed
  affair only in the vision of the prophet, not in reality.

  [28] 2 Kings xvii. 5.

It was evidently this complete overthrow of Samaria by Sargon in
722-721, which Isaiah had behind him when he wrote x. 9-11. We must,
therefore, date the prophecy after 721, when nothing was left as a
bulwark between Judah and the Assyrian. We do so with reluctance. There
is much in x. 5-34 which suits the circumstances of Tiglath-pileser's
invasion. There are phrases and catch-words coinciding with those in
vii.-ix. 7; and the whole oration is simply a more elaborate expression
of that defiance of Assyria, which inspires such of the previous
prophecies as viii. 9, 10. Besides, with the exception of Samaria, all
the names in the Assyrian's boastful catalogue--Carchemish, Calno,
Arpad, Hamath and Damascus--might as justly have been vaunted by the
lips of Tiglath-pileser as by those of Sargon. But in spite of these
things, which seem to vindicate the close relation of x. 5-34 to the
prophecies which precede it in the canon, the mention of Samaria as
being already destroyed justifies us in divorcing it from them. While
they remain dated from before 732, we place it subsequent to 722.

Was Isaiah, then, silent these ten years? Is there no prophecy lying
farther on in his book that treats of Samaria as still standing? Besides
an address to the fallen Damascus in xvii. 1-11, which we shall take
later with the rest of Isaiah's oracles on foreign states, there is one
large prophecy, chap. xxviii., which opens with a description of the
magnates of Samaria lolling in drunken security on their vine-crowned
hill, but God's storms are ready to break. Samaria has not yet fallen,
but is threatened and shall fall soon. The first part of chap. xxviii.
can only refer to the year, in which Salmanassar advanced upon
Samaria--726 or 725. There is nothing in the rest of it to corroborate
this date; but the fact, that there are several turns of thought and
speech very similar to turns of thought and speech in x. 5-34, makes us
the bolder to take away xxviii. from its present connection with
xxix.-xxxii., and place it just before x. 5-34.

Here then is our next group of prophecies, all dating from the first
seven years of the reign of Hezekiah: xxviii., a warning addressed to
the politicians of Jerusalem from the impending fate of those of Samaria
(date 725); x. 5-34, a woe upon the Assyrian (date about 720),
describing his boasts and his progress in conquest till his sudden crash
by the walls of Jerusalem; xi., of date uncertain, for it reflects no
historical circumstance, but standing in such artistic contrast to x.
that the two must be treated together; and xii., a hymn of salvation,
which forms a fitting conclusion to xi. With these we shall take the few
fragments of the book of Isaiah which belong to the fifteen years
720-705, and are as straws to show how Judah all that time was drifting
down to alliance with Egypt--xx., xxi. 1-10, and xxxviii.-xxxix. This
will bring us to 705, and the beginning of a new series of prophecies,
the richest of Isaiah's life, and the subject of our third book.



ISAIAH xxviii. (ABOUT 725 B.C.)

The twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Isaiah is one of the greatest
of his prophecies. It is distinguished by that regal versatility of
style, which places its author at the head of Hebrew writers. Keen
analyses of character, realistic contrasts between sin and judgement,
clever retorts and epigrams, rapids of scorn, and "a spate" of
judgement, but for final issue a placid stream of argument banked by
sweet parable--such are the literary charms of the chapter, which
derives its moral grandeur from the force with which its currents set
towards faith and reason, as together the salvation of states,
politicians and private men. The style mirrors life about ourselves, and
still tastes fresh to thirsty men. The truths are relevant to every day
in which luxury and intemperance abound, in which there are eyes too
fevered by sin to see beauty in simple purity, and minds so surfeited
with knowledge or intoxicated with their own cleverness, that they call
the maxims of moral reason commonplace and scorn religious instruction
as food for babes.

Some time when the big, black cloud was gathering again on the north,
Isaiah raised his voice to the magnates of Jerusalem: "Lift your heads
from your wine-bowls; look north. The sunshine is still on Samaria, and
your fellow-drinkers there are revelling in security. But the storm
creeps up behind. They shall certainty perish soon; even you cannot help
seeing that. Let it scare you, for their sin is yours, and that storm
will not exhaust itself on Samaria. Do not think that your clever
policies, alliance with Egypt or the treaty with Assyria herself, shall
save you. Men are never saved from death and hell by making covenants
with them. Scorners of religion and righteousness, except ye cease being
sceptical and drunken, and come back from your diplomacy to faith and
reason, ye shall not be saved! This destruction that looms is going to
cover the whole earth. So stop your running to and fro across it in
search of alliances. _He that believeth shall not make haste._ Stay at
home and trust in the God of Zion, for Zion is the one thing that shall
survive." In the parable, which closes the prophecy, Isaiah offers some
relief to this dark prospect: "Do not think of God as a mere
disaster-monger, maker of terrors for men. He has a plan, even in
catastrophe, and this deluge, which looks like destruction for all of
us, has its method, term and fruits, just as much as the husbandman's
harrowing of the earth or threshing of the corn."

The chapter with this argument falls into four divisions.


They had always been hard drinkers in North Israel. Fifty years before,
Amos flashed judgement on those who trusted in the mount of Samaria,
_lolling upon their couches and gulping their wine out of basons_, women
as well as men. Upon these same drunkards of Ephraim, now soaked and
_stunned with wine_, Isaiah fastens his Woe. Sunny the sky and balmy the
air in which they lie, stretched upon flowers by the heads of their fat
valleys--a land that tempts its inhabitants with the security of
perpetual summer. But God's swift storm drives up the valley--hail, rain
and violent streams from every gorge. Flowers, wreaths and pampered
bodies are trampled in the mire. The glory of sunny Ephraim is as the
first ripe fig a man findeth, and _while it is yet in his hand, he
eateth it up_. But while drunken magnates and the flowers of a rich land
are swept away, there is a residue who can and do abide even that storm,
to whom the Lord Himself shall be for a crown, _a spirit of justice to
him that sitteth for justice, and for strength to them that turn back
the battle at the gate_.

Isaiah's intention is manifest, and his effort a great one. It is to rob
passion of its magic and change men's temptations to their disgusts, by
exhibiting how squalid passion shows beneath disaster, and how
gloriously purity shines surviving it. It is to strip luxury and
indulgence of their attractiveness by drenching them with the storm of
judgement, and then not to leave them stunned, but to rouse in them a
moral admiration and envy by the presentation of certain grand survivals
of the storm--unstained justice and victorious valour. Isaiah first
sweeps the atmosphere, hot from infective passion, with the cold tempest
from the north. Then in the clear shining after rain he points to two
figures, which have preserved through temptation and disaster, and now
lift against a smiling sky, the ideal that those corrupt judges and
drunken warriors have dragged into the mire--_him that sitteth for
justice and him that turneth back the battle at the gate_. The escape
from sensuality, this passage suggests, is two-fold. There is the
exposure to nature where God's judgements sweep their irresistible way;
and then from the despair, which the unrelieved spectacle of judgement
produces, there is the recovery to moral effort through the admiration
of those purities and heroisms, that by God's Spirit have survived.

When God has put a conscience into the art or literature of any
generation, they have followed this method of Isaiah, but not always to
the healthy end which he reaches. To show the slaves of Circe the
physical disaster impending--which you must begin by doing if you are to
impress their brutalized minds--is not enough. The lesson of Tennyson's
"Vision of Sin" and of Arnold's "New Sirens," that night and frost,
decay and death, come down at last on pampered sense, is necessary, but
not enough. Who stops there remains a defective and morbid moralist.
When you have made the sensual shiver before the disease that inevitably
awaits them, you must go on to show that there are men who have the
secret of surviving the most terrible judgements of God, and lift their
figures calm and victorious against the storm-washed sky. Preach the
depravity of men, but never apart from the possibilities that remain in
them. It is Isaiah's health as a moralist that he combines the two. No
prophet ever threatened judgement more inexorable and complete than he.
Yet he never failed to tell the sinner, how possible it was for him to
be different. If it were necessary to crush men in the mud, Isaiah would
not leave them there with the hearts of swine. But he put conscience in
them, and the envy of what was pure, and the admiration of what was
victorious. Even as they wallowed, he pointed them to the figures of
men like themselves, who had survived and overcome by the Spirit of
God. Here we perceive the ethical possibilities, that lay in his
fundamental doctrine of a remnant. Isaiah never crushed men beneath the
fear of judgement, without revealing to them the possibility and beauty
of victorious virtue. Had we lived in those great days, what a help he
had been to us--what a help he may be still!--not only firm to declare
that the wages of sin is death, but careful to effect that our
humiliation shall not be despair, and that even when we feel our shame
and irretrievableness the most, we shall have the opportunity to behold
our humanity crowned and seated on the throne from which we had fallen,
our humanity driving back the battle from the gate against which we had
been hopelessly driven! That seventh verse sounds like a trumpet in the
ears of enervated and despairing men.


But Isaiah has cast his pearls before swine. The men of Jerusalem, whom
he addresses, are too deep in sensuality to be roused by his noble
words. _Even priest and prophet stagger through strong drink_; and the
class that should have been the conscience of the city, responding
immediately to the word of God, _reel in vision and stumble in
judgement_. They turn upon Isaiah's earnest message with tipsy men's
insolence. Verses 9 and 10 should be within inverted commas, for they
are the mocking reply of drunkards over their cups. _Whom is he going to
teach knowledge, and upon whom is he trying to force "the Message,"_ as
he calls it? _Them that are weaned from the milk and drawn from the
breasts?_ Are we school-children, that he treats us with his endless
platitudes and repetitions--_precept upon precept and precept upon
precept, line upon line and line upon line, here a little and there a
little?_ So did these bibulous prophets, priests and politicians mock
Isaiah's messages of judgement, wagging their heads in mimicry of his
simple, earnest tones. "We must conceive the abrupt, intentionally
short, reiterated and almost childish words of verse 10 as spoken in
mimicry, with a mocking motion of the head, and in a childish,
stammering, taunting tone."[29]

  [29] Ewald. The original runs thus: "Ki tsav la-tsav, tsav la-tsav qav
  la-qav, qav la-qav; z'eir sham z'eir sham."

But Isaiah turns upon them with their own words: "You call me,
Stammerer! I tell you that God, Who speaks through me, and Whom in me
you mock, will one day speak again to you in a tongue that shall indeed
sound stammering to you. When those far-off barbarians have reached your
walls, and over them taunt you in uncouth tones, then shall you hear how
God can stammer. For these shall be the very voice of Him, and as He
threatens you with captivity it shall be your bitterness to remember how
by me He once offered you _a rest and refreshing_, which you refused. I
tell you more. God will not only speak in words, but in deeds, and then
truly your nickname for His message shall be fulfilled to you. Then
shall the word of the Lord be unto you _precept upon precept, precept
upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little and there a
little_. For God shall speak with the terrible simplicity and slowness
of deeds, with the gradual growth of fate, with the monotonous stages of
decay, till step by step you _go, and stumble backward, and be broken,
and snared, and taken_. You have scorned my instruction as monosyllables
fit for children! By irritating monosyllables of gradual penalty shall
God instruct you the second time."

This is not only a very clever and cynical retort, but the statement of
a moral principle. We gather from Isaiah that God speaks twice to men,
first in words and then by deeds, but both times very simply and
plainly. And if men deride and abuse the simplicity of the former, if
they ignore moral and religious truths because they are elementary, and
rebel against the quiet reiteration of simple voices, with which God
sees it most healthy to conduct their education, then they shall be
stunned by the commonplace pertinacity, with which the effects of their
insolence work themselves out in life. God's ways with men are mostly
commonplace; that is the hardest lesson we have to learn. The tongue of
conscience speaks like the tongue of time, prevailingly by ticks and
moments; not in undue excitement of soul and body, not in the stirring
up of our passions nor by enlisting our ambitions, not in thunder nor in
startling visions, but by everyday precepts of faithfulness, honour and
purity, to which conscience has to rise unwinged by fancy or ambition,
and dreadfully weighted with the dreariness of life. If we, carried away
upon the rushing interests of the world, and with our appetite spoiled
by the wealth and piquancy of intellectual knowledge, despise the simple
monitions of conscience and Scripture, as uninteresting and childish,
this is the risk we run,--that God will speak to us in another, and this
time unshirkable, kind of commonplace. What that is we shall understand,
when a career of dissipation or unscrupulous ambition has bereft life of
all interest and joy, when one enthusiasm after another grows dull, and
one pleasure after another tasteless, when all the little things of life
preach to us of judgement, and _the grasshopper becometh a burden_, and
we, slowly descending through the drab and monotony of decay, suffer the
last great commonplace, death. There can be no greater irony than for
the soul, which has sinned by too greedily seeking for sensation, to
find sensation absent even from the judgements she has brought upon
herself. Poor Heine's _Confessions_ acknowledge, at once with the
appreciation of an artist and the pain of a victim, the satire, with
which the Almighty inflicts, in the way that Isaiah describes, His
penalties upon sins of sense.


To Isaiah's threats of destruction, the politicians of Jerusalem
replied, We have bought destruction off! They meant some treaty with a
foreign power. Diplomacy is always obscure, and at that distance its
details are buried for us in impenetrable darkness. But we may safely
conclude that it was either the treaty of Ahaz with Assyria, or some
counter-treaty executed with Egypt since this power began again to rise
into pretentiousness, or more probably still it was a secret agreement
with the southern power, while the open treaty with the northern was yet
in force. Isaiah, from the way in which he speaks, seems to have been in
ignorance of all, except that the politician's boast was an unhallowed,
underhand intrigue, accomplished by much swindling and false conceit of
cleverness. This wretched subterfuge Isaiah exposes in some of the most
powerful sentences he ever uttered. A faithless diplomacy was never more
thoroughly laid bare, in its miserable mixture of political pedantry and

_Therefore hear the word of Jehovah, ye men of scorn, rulers of this
people, which is in Jerusalem!_

_Because ye have said, We have entered into a covenant with Death, and
with Hell have we made a bargain; the "Overflowing Scourge,"_ a current
phrase of Isaiah's which they fling back in his teeth, _when it passeth
along, shall not come unto us, for we have set lies as our refuge, and
in falsehood have we hidden ourselves_ [the prophet's penetrating scorn
drags up into their boast the secret conscience of their hearts, that
after all lies did form the basis of this political arrangement],
_therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I lay in Zion for
foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone of sure
foundation; he that believeth shall not make haste._ No need of swift
couriers to Egypt, and fret and fever of poor political brains in
Jerusalem! The word _make haste_ is onomatopoetic, like our _fuss_, and,
if fuss may be applied to the conduct of high affairs of state, its
exact equivalent in meaning.

_And I will set justice for a line, and righteousness for a plummet, and
hail shall sweep away the subterfuge of lies, and the secrecy shall
waters overflow. And cancelled shall be your covenant with Death, and
your bargain with Hell shall not stand._

"_The Overflowing Scourge_," indeed! _When it passeth over, then ye
shall be unto it for trampling. As often as it passeth over, it shall
take you away, for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by
night. Then shall it be sheer terror to realize "the Message"!_ Too late
then for anything else. Had you realized "the Message" now, what rest
and refreshing! But then only terror.

_For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself upon it, and
the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it._ This proverb
seems to be struck out of the prophet by the belief of the politicians,
that they are creating a stable and restful policy for Judah. It
flashes an aspect of hopeless uneasiness over the whole political
situation. However they make their bed, with Egypt's or Assyria's help,
they shall not find it comfortable. No cleverness of theirs can create a
satisfactory condition of affairs, no political arrangement, nothing
short of faith, of absolute reliance on that bare foundation-stone laid
in Zion,--God's assurance that Jerusalem is inviolable.

_For Jehovah shall arise as on Mount Peratsim; He shall be stirred as in
the valley of Gibeon, to do His deed--strange is this deed of His, and
to bring to pass His act--strange is His act._

_Now, therefore, play no more the scorner, lest your bands be made
tight, for a consumption, and that determined, have I heard from the
Lord, Jehovah of hosts, upon the whole earth._ This finishes the matter.
Possibility of alliance there is for sane men nowhere in this world of
Western Asia, so evidently near convulsion. Only the foundation-stone in
Zion shall be left. Cling to that!

When the pedantic members of the General Assembly of the Kirk of
Scotland, in the year 1650, were clinging with all the grip of their
hard logic, but with very little heart, to the "Divine right of kings,"
and attempting an impossible state, whose statute-book was to be the
Westminster Confession, and its chief executive officer King Charles
II., Cromwell, then encamped at Musselburgh, sent them that letter in
which the famous sentence occurs: "I beseech you in the bowels of
Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken. Precept may be upon
precept, line may be upon line," he goes on to say, "and yet the Word of
the Lord may be to some a word of Judgement; that they may fall
backward, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken! There may be a
spiritual fulness, which the world may call drunkenness; as in the
second Chapter of the _Acts_. There may be, as well, a carnal confidence
upon misunderstood and misapplied precepts, which may be called
spiritual drunkenness. There may be a _Covenant_ made with Death and
Hell! I will not say yours was so. But judge if such things have a
politic aim: To avoid the overflowing scourge; or, To accomplish worldly
interests? And if therein you have confederated with wicked and carnal
men, and have respect for them, or otherwise have drawn them in to
associate with us, Whether this be a covenant of God and spiritual?
Bethink yourselves; we hope we do.

"I pray you read the Twenty-eighth of Isaiah, from the fifth to the
fifteenth verse. And do not scorn to know that it is the Spirit that
quickens and giveth life."[30]

  [30] _Cromwell's Letters and Speeches_, Letter cxxxvi.

Cromwell, as we have said, is the best commentator Isaiah has ever had,
and that by an instinct born, not only of the same faith, but of
experience in tackling similar sorts of character. In this letter he is
dealing, like Isaiah, with stubborn pedants, who are endeavouring to
fasten the national fortunes upon a Procrustean policy. The diplomacy of
Jerusalem was very clever; the Covenanting ecclesiasticism of Edinburgh
was logical and consistent. But a Jewish alliance with Assyria and the
attempt of Scotsmen to force their covenant upon the whole United
Kingdom were equally sheer impossibilities. In either case _the bed was
shorter than that a man could stretch himself on it, and the covering
narrower than that he could wrap himself in it_. Both, too, were
covenants with Death and Hell; for if the attempt of the Scots to secure
Charles II. by the Covenant was free from the falsehood of Jewish
diplomacy, it was fatally certain if successful to have led to the
subversion of their highest religious interests; and history has proved
that Cromwell was no more than just in applying to it the strong
expressions, which Isaiah uses of Judah's ominous treaties with the
unscrupulous heathen. Over against so pedantic an idea, as that of
forcing the life of the three nations into the mould of the one
Covenant, and so fatal a folly as the attempt to commit the interests of
religion to the keeping of the dissolute and perjured king, Cromwell
stands in his great toleration of everything but unrighteousness and his
strong conviction of three truths:--that the religious life of Great
Britain and Ireland was too rich and varied for the Covenant: that
national and religious interests so complicated and precious could be
decided only upon the plainest principles of faith and justice: and
that, tested by these principles, Charles II. and his crew were as
utterly without worth to the nation and as pregnant with destruction, as
Isaiah felt Assyria and Egypt to be to Judah. The battle-cries of the
two parties at Dunbar are significant of the spiritual difference
between them. That of the Scots was "The Covenant!" Cromwell's was
Isaiah's own, "The Lord of hosts!" However logical, religious and
sincere theirs might be, it was at the best a scheme of men too narrow
for events, and fatally compromised by its association with Charles II.
But Cromwell's battle-cry required only a moderately sincere faith from
those who adopted it, to ensure their victory. For to them it meant just
what it had meant to Isaiah, loyalty to a Divine providence, supreme in
righteousness, the willingness to be guided by events, interpreting them
by no tradition or scheme, but only by conscience. He who understands
this will be able to see which side was right in that strange civil war,
where both so sincerely claimed to be Scriptural.

It may be wondered why we spend so much argument on comparing the
attempt to force Charles II. into the Solemn League and Covenant with
the impious treaty of Judah with the heathen. But the argument has not
been wasted, if it have shown how even sincere and religious men may
make covenants with death, and even Church creeds and constitutions
become beds too short that a man may lie upon them, coverings narrower
than that he can wrap himself in them. Not once or twice has it happened
that an old and hallowed constitution has become, in the providence of
God, unfit for the larger life of a people or of a Church, and yet is
clung to by parties in that Church or people from motives of theological
pedantry or ecclesiastical cowardice. Sooner or later a crisis is sure
to arrive, in which the defective creed has to match itself against some
interest of justice; and then endless compromises have to be
entertained, that discover themselves perilously like _bargains with
hell_. If we of this generation have to make a public application of the
twenty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, it lies in this direction. There are
few things, to which his famous proverb of the short bed can be applied
more aptly, than to the attempt to fasten down the religious life and
thought of the present age too rigorously upon a creed of the fashion of
two or three hundred years ago.

But Isaiah's words have wider application. Short of faith as he
exemplified it, there is no possibility for the spirit of man to be free
from uneasiness. It is so all along the scale of human endeavour. No
power of patience or of hope is his, who cannot imagine possibilities
of truth outside his own opinions, nor trust a justice larger than his
private rights. It is here very often that the real test of our faith
meets us. If we seek to fit life solely to the conception of our
privileges, if in the preaching of our opinions no mystery of higher
truth awe us at least into reverence and caution; then, whatever
religious creeds we profess, we are not men of faith, but shall surely
inherit the bitterness and turmoil that are the portion of unbelievers.
If we make it the chief aim of our politics to drive cheap bargains for
our trade or to be consistent to party or class interests; if we trim
our conscience to popular opinion; if we sell our honesty in business or
our love in marriage, that we may be comfortable in the world; then,
however firmly we be established in reputation or in welfare, we have
given our spiritual nature a support utterly inadequate to its needs,
and we shall never find rest. Sooner or later, a man must feel the pinch
of having cut his life short of the demands of conscience. Only a
generous loyalty to her decrees will leave him freedom of heart and room
for his arm to swing. Nor will any philosophy, however comprehensive,
nor poetic fancy, however elastic, be able without the complement of
faith to arrange, to account for, or to console us for, the actual facts
of experience. It is only belief in the God of Isaiah, a true and loving
God, omnipotent Ruler of our life, that can bring us peace. There was
never a sorrow, that did not find explanation in that, never a tired
thought, that would not cling to it. There are no interests so scattered
nor energies so far-reaching that there is not return and rest for them
under the shadow of His wings. _He that believeth shall not make haste._
_Be still_, says a psalm of the same date as Isaiah--_Be still, and know
that I am God_.


The patience of faith, which Isaiah has so nobly preached, he now
proceeds to vindicate by reason. But the vindication implies that his
audience are already in another mood. From confidence in their clever
diplomacy, heedless of the fact that God has His own purposes concerning
them, they have swung round to despair before His judgements. Their
despair, however, is due to the same fault as their careless
confidence--the forgetfulness that God works by counsel and method. Even
a calamity, so universal and extreme as that, of whose certainty the
prophet has now convinced them, has its measure and its term. To
persuade the crushed and superstitious Jews of this, Isaiah employs a
parable. "You know," he says, "the husbandman. Have you ever seen him
keep on _harrowing and breaking the clods of his land_ for mere sport,
and without farther intention? Does not the harrowing time lead to the
sowing time? Or again, when he threshes his crops, does he thresh for
ever? Is threshing the end he has in view? Look, how he varies the
rigour of his instrument by the kind of plant he threshes. For delicate
plants, like fitches and cummin, he does not use the _threshing sledge_
with the sharp teeth, or the lumbering _roller, but the fitches are
beaten out with a staff and the cummin with a rod_. And in the case of
_bread corn_, which needs _his roller and horses_, he does not use these
upon it till it is all _crushed to dust_." The application of this
parable is very evident. If the husbandman be so methodical and careful,
shall the God who taught him not also be so? If the violent treatment of
land and fruits be so measured and adapted for their greater
fruitfulness and purity, ought we not to trust God to have the same
intentions in His violent treatment of His people? Isaiah here returns
to his fundamental gospel: that the Almighty is the All-methodical, too.
Men forget this. In their times of activity they think God indifferent;
they are too occupied with their own schemes for shaping life, to
imagine that He has any. In days of suffering, again, when disaster
bursts, they conceive of God only as force and vengeance. Yet, says
Isaiah, _Jehovah of hosts is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in that
sort of wisdom which causes things to succeed_. This last word of the
chapter is very expressive. It literally means _furtherance, help,
salvation_, and then _the true wisdom or insight which ensures these:
the wisdom which carries things through_. It splendidly sums up Isaiah's
gospel to the Jews, cowering like dogs before the coming calamity: God
is not mere force or vengeance. His judgements are not chaos. But _He is
wonderful in counsel_, and all His ways have _furtherance_ or
_salvation_ for their end.

We have said this is one of the finest prophecies of Isaiah. His
political foresight was admirable, when he alone of his countrymen
predicted the visitation of Assyria upon Judah. But now, when all are
convinced of it, how still more wonderful does he seem facing that novel
disaster, with the whole world's force behind it, and declaring its
limit. He has not the temptation, so strong in prophets of judgement, to
be a mere disaster-monger, and leave judgement on the horizon
unrelieved. Nor is he afraid, as other predicters of evil have been, of
the monster he has summoned to the land. The secret of this is that from
the first he predicted the Assyrian invasion, not out of any private
malice nor merely by superior political foresight, but because he
knew--and knew, as he tells us, by the inspiration of God's own
Spirit--that God required such an instrument to punish the
unrighteousness of Judah. If the enemy was summoned by God at the first,
surely till the last the enemy shall be in God's hand.

To this enemy we are now to see Isaiah turn with the same message he has
delivered to the men of Jerusalem.



ISAIAH x. 5-34 (ABOUT 721 B.C.).

In chap. xxviii. Isaiah, speaking in the year 725 when Salmanassar IV.
was marching on Samaria, had explained to the politicians of Jerusalem
how entirely the Assyrian host was in the hand of Jehovah for the
punishment of Samaria and the punishment and purification of Judah. The
invasion which in that year loomed so awful was not unbridled force of
destruction, implying the utter annihilation of God's people, as
Damascus, Arpad and Hamath had been annihilated. It was Jehovah's
instrument for purifying His people, with its appointed term and its
glorious intentions of fruitfulness and peace.

In the tenth chapter Isaiah turns with this truth to defy the Assyrian
himself. It is four years later. Samaria has fallen. The judgement,
which the prophet spoke upon the luxurious capital, has been fulfilled.
All Ephraim is an Assyrian province. Judah stands for the first time
face to face with Assyria. From Samaria to the borders of Judah is not
quite two days' march, to the walls of Jerusalem a little over two. Now
shall the Jews be able to put to the test their prophet's promise! What
can possibly prevent Sargon from making Zion as Samaria, and carrying
her people away in the track of the northern tribes to captivity?

There was a very fallacious human reason, and there was a very sound
Divine one.

The fallacious human reason was the alliance which Ahaz had made with
Assyria. In what state that alliance now was, does not clearly appear,
but the most optimist of the Assyrian party at Jerusalem could not,
after all that had happened, be feeling quite comfortable about it. The
Assyrian was as unscrupulous as themselves. There was too much impetus
in the rush of his northern floods to respect a tiny province like
Judah, treaty or no treaty. Besides, Sargon had as good reason to
suspect Jerusalem of intriguing with Egypt, as he had against Samaria or
the Philistine cities; and the Assyrian kings had already shown their
meaning of the covenant with Ahaz by stripping Judah of enormous

So Isaiah discounts in this prophecy Judah's treaty with Assyria. He
speaks as if nothing was likely to prevent the Assyrian's immediate
march upon Jerusalem. He puts into Sargon's mouth the intention of this,
and makes him boast of the ease with which it can be accomplished (vv.
7-11). In the end of the prophecy he even describes the probable
itinerary of the invader from the borders of Judah to his arrival on the
heights, over against the Holy City (vv. 27 last clause to 32).[31]

  [31] It will be noticed that in the above version a different reading is
  adopted from the meaningless clause at the end of verse 27 in the
  English version, out of which a proper heading for the subsequent
  itinerary has been obtained by Robertson Smith (_Journal of Philology_,
  1884, p. 62).

_Cometh up from the North the Destroyer._

_He is come upon Ai; marcheth through Migron; at Michmash musters his

_They have passed through the Pass; "Let Geba be our bivouac."_

_Terror-struck is Ramah; Gibeah of Saul hath fled._

_Make shrill thy voice, O daughter of Gallim! Listen, Laishah! Answer
her, Anathoth!_

_In mad flight is Madmenah; the dwellers in Gebim gather their stuff to

_This very day he halteth at Nob; he waveth his hand at the Mount of the
Daughter of Zion, the Hill of Jerusalem._

This is not actual fact; but it is vision of what may take place to-day
or to-morrow. For there is nothing--not even that miserable treaty--to
prevent such a violation of Jewish territory, within which, it ought to
be kept in mind, lie all the places named by the prophet.

But the invasion of Judah and the arrival of the Assyrian on the heights
over against Jerusalem does not mean that the Holy City and the shrine
of Jehovah of hosts are to be destroyed; does not mean that all the
prophecies of Isaiah about the security of this rallying-place for the
remnant of God's people are to be annulled, and Israel annihilated. For
just at the moment of the Assyrian's triumph, when he brandishes his
hand over Jerusalem, as if he would harry it like a bird's nest, Isaiah
beholds him struck down, and crash like the fall of a whole Lebanon of
cedars (vv. 33, 34).

_Behold the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, lopping the topmost boughs with a
sudden crash,_

_And the high ones of stature hewn down, and the lofty are brought low!_

_Yea, He moweth down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon
by a Mighty One falleth._

All this is poetry. We are not to suppose that the prophet actually
expected the Assyrian to take the route, which he has laid down for him
with so much detail. As a matter of fact, Sargon did not advance across
the Jewish frontier, but turned away by the coast-land of Philistia to
meet his enemy of Egypt, whom he defeated at Rafia, and then went home
to Nineveh, leaving Judah alone. And, although some twenty years later
the Assyrian did appear before Jerusalem, as threatening as Isaiah
describes, and was cut down in as sudden and miraculous a manner, yet it
was not by the itinerary Isaiah here marked for him that he came, but in
quite another direction: from the south-west. What Isaiah merely insists
upon is that there is nothing in that wretched treaty of Ahaz--that
fallacious _human_ reason--to keep Sargon from overrunning Judah to the
very walls of Jerusalem, but that, even though he does so, there is a
most sure _Divine_ reason for the Holy City remaining inviolate.

The Assyrian expected to take Jerusalem. But he is not his own master.
Though he knows it not, and his only instinct is that of destruction
(ver. 7), he is the rod in God's hand. And when God shall have used him
for the needed punishment of Judah, then will God visit upon him his
arrogance and brutality. This man, who says he will exploit the whole
earth as he harries a bird's nest (ver. 14), who believes in nothing but
himself, saying, _By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my
wisdom, for I am prudent_, is but the instrument of God, and all his
boasting is that of _the axe against him that heweth therewith and of
the saw against him that wieldeth it_. _As if_, says the prophet, with a
scorn still fresh for those who make material force the ultimate power
in the universe--_As if a rod should shake them that lift it up, or as
if a staff should lift up him that is not wood_. By the way, Isaiah has
a word for his countrymen. What folly is theirs, who now put all their
trust in this world-force, and at another time cower in abject fear
before it! Must he again bid them look higher, and see that Assyria is
only the agent in God's work of first punishing the whole land, but
afterwards redeeming His people! In the midst of denunciation the
prophet's stern voice breaks into the promise of this later hope (vv.
24-27_a_); and at last the crash of the fallen Assyrian is scarcely
still, before Isaiah has begun to declare a most glorious future of
grace for Israel. But this carries us over into the eleventh chapter,
and we had better first of all gather up the lessons of the tenth.

This prophecy of Isaiah contains a great Gospel and two great Protests,
which the prophet was enabled to make in the strength of it: one against
the Atheism of Force, and one against the Atheism of Fear.

The Gospel of the chapter is just that which we have already emphasized
as the gospel _par excellence_ of Isaiah: the Lord exalted in
righteousness, God supreme over the supremest men and forces of the
world. But we now see it carried to a height of daring not reached
before. This was the first time that any man faced the sovereign force
of the world in the full sweep of victory, and told himself and his
fellow-men: "This is not travelling in the greatness of its own
strength, but is simply a dead, unconscious instrument in the hand of
God." Let us, at the cost of a little repetition, get at the heart of
this. We shall find it wonderfully modern.

Belief in God had hitherto been local and circumscribed. Each nation, as
Isaiah tells us, had walked in the name of its god, and limited his
power and prevision to its own life and territory. We do not blame the
peoples for this. Their conception of God was narrow, because their life
was narrow, and they confined the power of their deity to their own
borders because, in fact, their thoughts seldom strayed beyond. But now
the barriers, that had so long enclosed mankind in narrow circles, were
being broken down. Men's thoughts travelled through the breaches, and
learned that outside their fatherland there lay the world. Their lives
thereupon widened immensely, but their theologies stood still. They felt
the great forces which shook the world, but their gods remained the same
petty, provincial deities. Then came this great Assyrian power, hurtling
through the nations, laughing at their gods as idols, boasting that it
was by his own strength he overcame them, and to simple eyes making good
his boast as he harried the whole earth like a bird's nest. No wonder
that men's hearts were drawn from the unseen spiritualities to this very
visible brutality! No wonder all real faith in the gods seemed to be
dying out, and that men made it the business of their lives to seek
peace with this world-force, that was carrying everything, including the
gods themselves, before it! Mankind was in danger of practical atheism:
of placing, as Isaiah tells us, the ultimate faith which belongs to a
righteous God in this brute force: of substituting embassies for
prayers, tribute for sacrifice, and the tricks and compromises of
diplomacy for the endeavour to live a holy and righteous life. Behold,
what questions were at issue: questions that have come up again and
again in the history of human thought, and that are tugging at us to-day
harder than ever!--whether the visible, sensible forces of the
universe, that break so rudely in upon our primitive theologies, are
what we men have to make our peace with, or whether there is behind them
a Being, who wields them for purposes, far transcending them, of justice
and of love; whether, in short, we are to be materialists or believers
in God. It is the same old, ever-new debate. The factors of it have only
changed a little as we have become more learned. Where Isaiah felt the
Assyrians, we are confronted by the evolution of nature and history, and
the material forces into which it sometimes looks ominously like as if
these could be analysed. Everything that has come forcibly and
gloriously to the front of things, every drift that appears to dominate
history, all that asserts its claim on our wonder, and offers its own
simple and strong solution of our life--is our Assyria. It is precisely
now, as then, a rush of new powers across the horizon of our knowledge,
which makes the God, who was sufficient for the narrower knowledge of
yesterday, seem petty and old-fashioned to-day. This problem no
generation can escape, whose vision of the world has become wider than
that of its predecessors. But Isaiah's greatness lay in this: that it
was given to him to attack the problem the first time it presented
itself to humanity with any serious force, and that he applied to it the
only sure solution--a more lofty and spiritual view of God than the one
which it had found wanting. We may thus paraphrase his argument: "Give
me a God who is more than a national patron, give me a God who cares
only for righteousness, and I say that every material force the world
exhibits is nothing but subordinate to Him. Brute force cannot be
anything but an instrument, _an axe_, _a saw_, something essentially
mechanical and in need of an arm to lift it. Postulate a supreme and
righteous Ruler of the world, and you not only have all its movements
explained, but may rest assured, that it shall only be permitted to
execute justice and purify men. The world cannot prevent their
salvation, if God have willed this."

Isaiah's problem was thus the fundamental one between faith and atheism;
but we must notice that it did not arise theoretically, nor did he meet
it by an abstract proposition. This fundamental religious
question--whether men are to trust in the visible forces of the world or
in the invisible God--came up as a bit of practical politics. It was not
to Isaiah a philosophical or theological question. It was an affair in
the foreign policy of Judah.

Except to a few thinkers, the question between materialism and faith
never does present itself as one of abstract argument. To the mass of
men it is always a question of practical life. Statesmen meet it in
their policies, private persons in the conduct of their fortunes. Few of
us trouble our heads about an intellectual atheism, but the temptations
to practical atheism abound unto us all day by day. Materialism never
presents itself as a mere _ism_; it always takes some concrete form. Our
Assyria may be the world in Christ's sense, that flood of successful,
heartless, unscrupulous, scornful forces which burst on our innocence,
with their challenge to make terms and pay tribute, or go down
straightway in the struggle for existence. Beside their frank and
forceful demands, how commonplace and irrelevant do the simple precepts
of religion often seem; and how the great brazen laugh of the world
seems to bleach the beauty out of purity and honour! According to our
temper, we either cower before its insolence, whining that character and
energy of struggle and religious peace are impossible against it; and
that is the Atheism of Fear, with which Isaiah charged the men of
Jerusalem, when they were paralysed before Assyria. Or we seek to ensure
ourselves against disaster by alliance with the world. We make ourselves
one with it, its subjects and imitators. We absorb the world's temper,
get to believe in nothing but success, regard men only as they can be
useful to us, and think so exclusively of ourselves as to lose the
faculty of imagining about us any other right or need or pity. And all
that is the Atheism of Force, with which Isaiah charged the Assyrian. It
is useless to think, that we common men cannot possibly sin after the
grand manner of this imperial monster. In our measure we fatally can. In
this commercial age private persons very easily rise to a position of
influence, which gives almost as vast a stage for egotism to display
itself as the Assyrian boasted. But after all the human Ego needs very
little room to develop the possibilities of atheism that are in it. An
idol is an idol, whether you put it on a small or a large pedestal. A
little man with a little work may as easily stand between himself and
God, as an emperor with the world at his feet. Forgetfulness that he is
a servant, a trader on graciously entrusted capital--and then at the
best an unprofitable one--is not less sinful in a small egoist than in a
great one; it is only very much more ridiculous, than Isaiah, with his
scorn, has made it to appear in the Assyrian.

Or our Assyria may be the forces of nature, which have swept upon the
knowledge of this generation with the novelty and impetus, with which
the northern hosts burst across the horizon of Israel. Men to-day, in
the course of their education, become acquainted with laws and forces,
which dwarf the simpler theologies of their boyhood, pretty much as the
primitive beliefs of Israel dwindled before the arrogant face of
Assyria. The alternative confronts them either to retain, with a
narrowed and fearful heart, their old conceptions of God, or to find
their enthusiasm in studying, and their duty in relating themselves to,
the forces of nature alone. If this be the only alternative, there can
be no doubt but that most men will take the latter course. We ought as
little to wonder at men of to-day abandoning certain theologies and
forms of religion for a downright naturalism--for the study of powers
that appeal so much to the curiosity and reverence of man--as we wonder
at the poor Jews of the eighth century before Christ forsaking their
provincial conceptions of God as a tribal Deity for homage to this great
Assyrian, who handled the nations and their gods as his playthings. But
is such the only alternative? Is there no higher and sovereign
conception of God, in which even these natural forces may find their
explanation and term? Isaiah found such a conception for his problem,
and his problem was very similar to ours. Beneath his idea of God,
exalted and spiritual, even the imperial Assyrian, in all his arrogance,
fell subordinate and serviceable. The prophet's faith never wavered, and
in the end was vindicated by history. Shall we not at least attempt his
method of solution? We could not do better than by taking his factors.
Isaiah got a God more powerful than Assyria, by simply _exalting_ the
old God of his nation _in righteousness_. This Hebrew was saved from the
terrible conclusion, that the selfish, cruel force which in his day
carried all before it was the highest power in life, simply by believing
righteousness to be more exalted still. But have twenty-five centuries
made any change upon this power, by which Isaiah interpreted history
and overcame the world? Is righteousness less sovereign now than then,
or was conscience more imperative when it spoke in Hebrew than when it
speaks in English? Among the decrees of nature, at last interpreted for
us in all their scope and reiterated upon our imaginations by the ablest
men of the age, truth, purity and civic justice as confidently assert
their ultimate victory, as when they were threatened merely by the
arrogance of a human despot. The discipline of science and the glories
of the worship of nature are indeed justly vaunted over the childish and
narrow-minded ideas of God, that prevail in much of our average
Christianity. But more glorious than anything in earth or heaven is
character, and the adoration of a holy and loving will makes more for
"victory and law" than the discipline or the enthusiasm of science.
Therefore, if our conceptions of God are overwhelmed by what we know of
nature, let us seek to enlarge and spiritualize them. Let us insist, as
Isaiah did, upon His righteousness, until our God once more appear
indubitably supreme.

Otherwise we are left with the intolerable paradox, that truth and
honesty, patience and the love of man to man, are after all but the
playthings and victims of force; that, to adapt the words of Isaiah, the
rod really shakes him who lifts it up, and the staff is wielding that
which is not wood.



ISAIAH xi., xii. (ABOUT 720 B.C.?)

Beneath the crash of the Assyrian with which the tenth chapter closes,
we pass out into the eleventh upon a glorious prospect of Israel's
future. The Assyrian when he falls shall fall for ever like the cedars
of Lebanon, that send no fresh sprout forth from their broken stumps.
But out of the trunk of the Judæan oak, also brought down by these
terrible storms, Isaiah sees springing a fair and powerful Branch.
Assyria, he would tell us, has no future. Judah has a future, and at
first the prophet sees it in a scion of her royal house. The nation
shall be almost exterminated, the dynasty of David hewn to a stump; _yet
there shall spring a shoot from the stock of Jesse, and a branch from
his roots shall bear fruit_.

The picture of this future, which fills the eleventh chapter, is one of
the most extensive that Isaiah has drawn. Three great prospects are
unfolded in it: a prospect of mind, a prospect of nature and a prospect
of history. To begin with, there is (vv. 2-5) the geography of a royal
mind in its stretches of character, knowledge and achievement. We have
next (vv. 5-9) a vision of the restitution of nature, Paradise regained.
And, thirdly (vv. 9-16), there is the geography of Israel's redemption,
the coasts and highways along which the hosts of the dispersion sweep up
from captivity to a station of supremacy over the world. To this third
prospect chapter xii. forms a fitting conclusion, a hymn of praise in
the mouth of returning exiles.[32] The human mind, nature and history
are the three dimensions of life, and across them all the prophet tells
us that the Spirit of the Lord will fill the future with His marvels of
righteousness, wisdom and peace. He presents to us three great ideals:
the perfect indwelling of our humanity by the Spirit of God; the peace
and communion of all nature, covered with the knowledge of God; the
traversing of all history by the Divine purposes of redemption.

  [32] The authenticity of this hymn has been called in question.


The first form, in which Isaiah sees Israel's longed-for future
realised, is that which he so often exalts and makes glistering upon the
threshold of the future--the form of a king. It is a peculiarity, which
we cannot fail to remark about Isaiah's scattered representations of
this brilliant figure, that they have no connecting link. They do not
allude to one another, nor employ a common terminology, even the word
_king_ dropping out of some of them. The earliest of the series bestows
a name on the Messiah, which none of the others repeat, nor does Isaiah
say in any of them, This is He of whom I have spoken before. Perhaps the
disconnectedness of these oracles is as strong a proof as is necessary
of the view we have formed that throughout his ministry our prophet had
before him no distinct, identical individual, but rather an ideal of
virtue and kinghood, whose features varied according to the conditions
of the time. In this chapter Isaiah recalls nothing of Immanuel, or of
the Prince-of-the-Four-Names. Nevertheless (besides for the first time
deriving the Messiah from the house of David), he carries his
description forward to a stage which lies beyond and to some extent
implies his two previous portraits. Immanuel was only a Sufferer with
His people in the day of their oppression. The Prince-of-the-Four-Names
was the Redeemer of his people from their captivity, and stepped to his
throne not only after victory, but with the promise of a long and just
government shining from the titles by which He was proclaimed. But now
Isaiah not only speaks at length of this peaceful reign--a chronological
advance--but describes his hero so inwardly that we also feel a certain
spiritual advance. The Messiah is no more a mere experience, as Immanuel
was, nor only outward deed and promise, like the Prince-of-the-Four-Names,
but at last, and very strongly, _a character_. The second verse is the
definition of this character; the third describes the atmosphere in
which it lives. _And there shall rest upon him the Spirit of Jehovah,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of Jehovah; and he shall draw breath
in the fear of Jehovah_--in other words, ripeness but also sharpness of
mind; moral decision and heroic energy; piety in its two forms of
knowing the will of God and feeling the constraint to perform it. We
could not have a more concise summary of the strong elements of a ruling
mind. But it is only as Judge and Ruler that Isaiah cares here to think
of his hero. Nothing is said of the tender virtues, and we feel that the
prophet still stands in the days of the need of inflexible government
and purgation in Judah.

Dean Plumptre has plausibly suggested, that these verses may represent
the programme which Isaiah set before his pupil Hezekiah on his
accession to the charge of a nation, whom his weak predecessor had
suffered to lapse into such abuse of justice and laxity of morals.[33]
The acts of government described are all of a punitive and repressive
character. The hero speaks only to make the land tremble: _And He shall
smite the land[34] with the rod of His mouth_ [what need, after the
whispering, indecisive Ahaz!], _and with the breath of His lips shall He
slay the wicked_.

  [33] Dean Plumptre notes the identity of the ethical terminology of this
  passage with that of the book of Proverbs, and conjectures that the
  additions to the original nucleus, chaps. x.-xxiv., and therefore the
  whole form, of the book of Proverbs, may be due to the editorship of
  Isaiah, and perhaps was the manual of ethics, on which he sought to
  mould the character of Hezekiah (_Expositor_, series ii., v., p. 213).

  [34] Perhaps for _land--'arets_--we ought, with Lagarde, to read

This, though a fuller and more ethical picture of the Messiah than even
the ninth chapter, is evidently wanting in many of the traits of a
perfect man. Isaiah has to grow in his conception of his Hero, and will
grow as the years go on, in tenderness. His thirty-second chapter is a
much richer, a more gracious and humane picture of the Messiah. There
the Victor of the ninth and righteous Judge of the eleventh chapters is
represented as _a Man_, who shall not only punish but protect, and not
only reign but inspire, who shall be life as well as victory and justice
to His people--_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_.

A conception so limited to the qualifications of an earthly monarch, as
this of chap. xi., gives us no ground for departing from our previous
conclusion, that Isaiah had not a "supernatural" personality in his
view. The Christian Church, however, has not confined the application of
the passage to earthly kings and magistrates, but has seen its perfect
fulfilment in the indwelling of Christ's human nature by the Holy Ghost.
But it is remarkable, that for this exegesis she has not made use of the
most "supernatural" of the details of character here portrayed. If the
Old Testament has a phrase for sinlessness, that phrase occurs here, in
the beginning of the third verse. In the authorized English version it
is translated, _and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of
the Lord_, and in the Revised Version, _His delight shall be in the fear
of the Lord_, and on the margin the literal meaning of _delight_ is
given as _scent_. But the phrase may as well mean, _He shall draw his
breath in the fear of the Lord_; and it is a great pity, that our
revisers have not even on the margin given to English readers any
suggestion of so picturesque, and probably so correct, a rendering. It
is a most expressive definition of sinlessness--sinlessness which was
the attribute of Christ alone. We, however purely intentioned we be, are
compassed about by an atmosphere of sin. We cannot help breathing what
now inflames our passions, now chills our warmest feelings, and makes
our throats incapable of honest testimony or glorious praise. As oxygen
to a dying fire, so the worldliness we breathe is to the sin within us.
We cannot help it; it is the atmosphere into which we are born. But from
this Christ alone of men was free. He was His own atmosphere, _drawing
breath in the fear of the Lord_. Of Him alone is it recorded, that,
though living in the world, He was never infected with the world's sin.
The blast of no man's cruelty ever kindled unholy wrath within His
breast; nor did men's unbelief carry to His soul its deadly chill. Not
even when He was led of the devil into the atmosphere of temptation, did
His heart throb with one rebellious ambition. Christ _drew breath in the
fear of the Lord_.

But draughts of this atmosphere are possible to us also, to whom the
Holy Spirit is granted. We too, who sicken with the tainted breath of
society, and see the characters of children about us fall away and the
hidden evil within leap to swift flame before the blasts of the
world--we too may, by Christ's grace, _draw breath_, like Him, _in the
fear of the Lord_. Recall some day when, leaving your close room and the
smoky city, you breasted the hills of God, and into opened lungs drew
deep draughts of the fresh air of heaven. What strength it gave your
body, and with what a glow of happiness your mind was filled! What that
is physically, Christ has made possible for us men morally. He has
revealed stretches and eminences of life, where, following in His
footsteps, we also shall draw for our breath the fear of God. This air
is inspired up every steep hill of effort, and upon all summits of
worship. In the most passion-haunted air, prayer will immediately bring
this atmosphere about a man, and on the wings of praise the poorest soul
may rise from the miasma of temptation, and sing forth her song into the
azure with as clear a throat as the lark's.

And what else is heaven to be, if not this? God, we are told, shall be
its Sun; but its atmosphere shall be His fear, _which is clean and
endureth for ever_. Heaven seems most real as a moral open-air, where
every breath is an inspiration, and every pulse a healthy joy, where no
thoughts from within us find breath but those of obedience and praise,
and all our passions and aspirations are of the will of God. He that
lives near to Christ, and by Christ often seeks God in prayer, may
create for himself even on earth such a heaven, _perfecting holiness in
the fear of God_.


This passage, which suggests so much of Christ, is also for Christian
Theology and Art a classical passage on the Third Person of the Trinity.
If the texts in the book of Revelation (chaps. i. 4; iii. 1; iv. 5; v.
6) upon the Seven Spirits of God were not themselves founded on this
text of Isaiah, it is certain that the Church immediately began to
interpret them by its details. While there are only six spirits of God
named here--three pairs--yet, in order to complete the perfect number,
the exegesis of early Christianity sometimes added _the Spirit of the
Lord_ at the beginning of verse 2 as the central branch of a
seven-branched candlestick; or sometimes _the quick understanding in the
fear of the Lord_ in the beginning of verse 3 was attached as the
seventh branch. (Compare Zech. iv. 6.)

It is remarkable that there is almost no single text of Scripture, which
has more impressed itself upon Christian doctrine and symbol than this
second verse of the eleventh chapter, interpreted as a definition of the
Seven Spirits of God. In the theology, art and worship of the Middle
Ages it dominated the expression of the work of the Holy Ghost. First,
and most native to its origin, arose the employment of this text at the
coronation of kings and the fencing of tribunals of justice. What Isaiah
wrote for Hezekiah of Judah became the official prayer, song or ensample
of the earliest Christian kings in Europe. It is evidently the model of
that royal hymn--not by Charlemagne, as usually supposed, but by his
grandson Charles the Bald--the _Veni Creator Spiritus_. In a Greek
miniature of the tenth century, the Holy Spirit, as a dove, is seen
hovering over King David, who displays the prayer: _Give the king Thy
judgements, O God, and Thy righteousness to the king's son_, while there
stand on either side of him the figures of Wisdom and Prophecy.[35]
Henry III.'s order of knighthood, "Du Saint Esprit," was restricted to
political men, and particularly to magistrates. But perhaps the most
interesting identification of the Holy Spirit with the rigorous virtues
of our passage occurs in a story of St. Dunstan, who, just before mass
on the day of Pentecost, discovered that three coiners, who had been
sentenced to death, were being respited till the Festival of the Holy
Ghost should be over. "It shall not be thus," cried the indignant saint,
and gave orders for their immediate execution. There was remonstrance,
but he, no doubt with the eleventh of Isaiah in mind, insisted, and was
obeyed. "I now hope," he said, resuming the mass, "that God will be
pleased to accept the sacrifice I am about to offer." "Whereupon," says
the veracious _Acts of the Saints_, "a snow-white dove did, in the
vision of many, descend from heaven, and until the sacrifice was
completed remain above his head in silence, with wings extended and
motionless." Which may be as much legend as we have the heart to make
it, but nevertheless remains a sure proof of the association, by
discerning mediævals who could read their Scriptures, of the Holy Spirit
with the decisiveness and rigorous justice of Isaiah's "mirror for

  [35] Didron, _Christian Iconography_, Engl. trans., i., 432.

  [36] Didron, _Christian Iconography_, Engl. trans., i., 426.

But the influence of our passage may be followed to that wider
definition of the Spirit's work, which made Him the Fountain of all
intelligence. The Spirits of the Lord mentioned by Isaiah are
prevailingly intellectual; and the mediæval Church, using the details of
this passage to interpret Christ's own intimation of the Paraclete as
the Spirit of truth,--remembering also the story of Pentecost, when the
Spirit bestowed the gifts of tongues, and the case of Stephen, who, in
the triumph of his eloquence and learning, was said to be full of the
Holy Ghost,--did regard, as Gregory of Tours expressly declared, the
Holy Spirit as the "God of the intellect more than of the heart." All
Councils were opened by a mass to the Holy Ghost, and few, who have
examined with care the windows of mediæval churches, will have failed to
be struck with the frequency with which the Dove is seen descending upon
the heads of miraculously learned persons, or presiding at discussions,
or hovering over groups of figures representing the sciences.[37] To the
mediæval Church, then, the Holy Spirit was the Author of the intellect,
more especially of the governing and political intellect; and there can
be little doubt, after a study of the variations of this doctrine, that
the first five verses of the eleventh of Isaiah formed upon it the
classical text of appeal. To Christians, who have been accustomed by the
use of the word _Comforter_ to associate the Spirit only with the
gentle and consoling influences of heaven, it may seem strange to find
His energy identified with the stern rigour of the magistrate. But in
its practical, intelligent and reasonable uses the mediæval doctrine is
greatly to be preferred, on grounds both of Scripture and common-sense,
to those two comparatively modern corruptions of it, one of which
emphasizes the Spirit's influence in the exclusive operation of the
grace of orders, and the other, driving to an opposite extreme,
dissipates it into the vaguest religiosity. It is one of the curiosities
of Christian theology, that a Divine influence, asserted by Scripture
and believed by the early Church to manifest itself in the successful
conduct of civil offices and the fulness of intellectual learning,
should in these latter days be so often set up in a sort of
"supernatural" opposition to practical wisdom and the results of
science. But we may go back to Isaiah for the same kind of correction on
this doctrine, as he has given us on the doctrine of faith; and while we
do not forget the richer meaning the New Testament bestows on the
operation of the Divine Spirit, we may learn from the Hebrew prophet to
seek the inspiration of the Holy Ghost in all the endeavours of science,
and not to forget that it is His guidance alone which enables us to
succeed in the conduct of our offices and fortunes.

  [37] See Didron for numerous interesting instances of this.


But Isaiah will not be satisfied with the establishment of a strong
government in the land and the redemption of human society from chaos.
He prophesies the redemption of all nature as well. It is one of those
errors, which distort both the poetry and truth of the Bible, to suppose
that by the bears, lions and reptiles which the prophet now sees tamed
in the time of the regeneration, he intends the violent human characters
which he so often attacks. When Isaiah here talks of the beasts, he
means the beasts. The passage is not allegorical, but direct, and forms
a parallel to the well-known passage in the eighth of Romans. Isaiah and
Paul, chief apostles of the two covenants, both interrupt their
magnificent odes upon the outpouring of the Spirit, to remind us that
the benefits of this will be shared by the brute and unintelligent
creation. And, perhaps, there is no finer contrast in the Scriptures
than here, where beside so majestic a description of the intellectual
faculties of humanity Isaiah places so charming a picture of the
docility and sportfulness of wild animals,--_And a little child shall
lead them_.

We, who live in countries, from which wild beasts have been
exterminated, cannot understand the insecurity and terror, that they
cause in regions where they abound. A modern seer of the times of
regeneration would leave the wild animals out of his vision. They do not
impress any more the human conscience or imagination. But they once did
so most terribly. The hostility between man and the beasts not only
formed once upon a time the chief material obstacle in the progress of
the race, but remains still to the religious thinker the most pathetic
portion of that groaning and travailing of all creation, which is so
heavy a burden on his heart. Isaiah, from his ancient point of view, is
in thorough accord with the order of civilisation, when he represents
the subjugation of wild animals as the first problem of man, after he
has established a strong government in the land. So far from rhetorizing
or allegorizing--above which literary forms it would appear to be
impossible for the appreciation of some of his commentators to follow
him--Isaiah is earnestly celebrating a very real moment in the laborious
progress of mankind. Isaiah stands where Hercules stood, and Theseus,
and Arthur when

    "There grew great tracts of wilderness,
  Wherein the beast was ever more and more,
  But man was less and less till Arthur came.
                                And he drave
  The heathen, and he slew the beast, and felled
  The forest, and let in the sun, and made
  Broad pathways for the hunter and the knight,
  And so returned."

But Isaiah would solve the grim problem of the warfare between man and
his lower fellow-creatures in a very different way from that, of which
these heroes have set the example to humanity. Isaiah would not have the
wild beasts exterminated, but tamed. There our Western and modern
imagination may fail to follow him, especially when he includes reptiles
in the regeneration, and prophesies of adders and lizards as the
playthings of children. But surely there is no genial man, who has
watched the varied forms of life that sport in the Southern sunshine,
who will not sympathize with the prophet in his joyous vision. Upon a
warm spring day in Palestine, to sit upon the grass, beside some old
dyke or ruin with its face to the south, is indeed to obtain a rapturous
view of the wealth of life, with which the bountiful God has blessed and
made merry man's dwelling-place. How the lizards come and go among the
grey stones, and flash like jewels in the dust! And the timid snake
rippling quickly past through the grass, and the leisurely tortoise,
with his shiny back, and the chameleon, shivering into new colour as he
passes from twig to stone and stone to straw,--all the air the while
alive with the music of the cricket and the bee! You feel that the ideal
is not to destroy these pretty things as vermin. What a loss of colour
the lizards alone would imply! But, as Isaiah declares,--whom we may
imagine walking with his children up the steep vineyard paths, to watch
the creatures come and go upon the dry dykes on either hand,--the ideal
is to bring them into sympathy with ourselves, make pets of them and
playthings for children, who indeed stretch out their hands in joy to
the pretty toys. Why should we need to fight with, or destroy, any of
the happy life the Lord has created? Why have we this loathing to it,
and need to defend ourselves from it, when there is so much suffering we
could cure, and so much childlikeness we could amuse and be amused by,
and yet it will not let us near? To these questions there is not another
answer but the answer of the Bible: that this curse of conflict and
distrust between man and his fellow-creatures is due to man's sin, and
shall only be done away by man's redemption.

Nor is this Bible answer,--of which the book of Genesis gives us the one
end, and this text of Isaiah the other,--a mere pious opinion, which the
true history of man's dealing with wild beasts by extermination proves
to be impracticable. We may take on scientific authority a few facts as
hints from nature, that after all man is to blame for the wildness of
the beasts, and that through his sanctification they may be restored to
sympathy with himself. Charles Darwin says: "It deserves notice, that at
an extremely ancient period, when man first entered any country the
animals living there would have felt no instinctive or inherited fear of
him, and would consequently have been tamed far more easily than at
present." And he gives some very instructive facts in proof of this with
regard to dogs, antelopes, manatees and hawks. "Quadrupeds and birds
which have seldom been disturbed by man dread him no more than do our
English birds the cows or horses grazing in the fields."[38] Darwin's
details are peculiarly pathetic in their revelation of the brutes' utter
trustfulness in man, before they get to know him. Persons, who have had
to do with individual animals of a species that has never been
thoroughly tamed, are aware that the difficulty of training them lies in
convincing them of our sincerity and good-heartedness, and that when
this is got over they will learn almost any trick or habit. The
well-known lines of Burns to the field-mouse gather up the cause of all
this in a fashion very similar to the Bible's.

  [38] Darwin, _Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication_, pp.
  20, 21.

  "I'm truly sorry man's dominion
  Has broken nature's social union,
  And justifies that ill opinion,
      Which makes thee startle
  At me, thy poor earth-born companion
      And fellow-mortal."

How much the appeal of suffering animals to man--the look of a wounded
horse or dog with a meaning which speech would only spoil, the tales of
beasts of prey that in pain have turned to man as their physician, the
approach of the wildest birds in winter to our feet as their
Providence--how much all these prove Paul's saying that the _earnest
expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of
God_. And we have other signals, than those afforded by the pain and
pressure of the beasts themselves, of the time when they and man shall
sympathize. The natural history of many of our breeds of domesticated
animals teaches us the lesson that their growth in skill and
character--no one who has enjoyed the friendship of several dogs will
dispute the possibility of character in the lower animals--has been
proportionate to man's own. Though savages are fond of keeping and
taming animals, they fail to advance them to the stages of cunning and
discipline, which animals reach under the influence of civilised
man.[39] "No instance is on record," says Darwin, "of such dogs as
bloodhounds, spaniels or true greyhounds having been kept by savages;
they are the products of long-continued civilisation."

  [39] Galton, quoted by Darwin.

These facts, if few, certainly bear in the direction of Isaiah's
prophecy, that not by extermination of the beasts, but by the influence
upon them of man's greater force of character, may that warfare be
brought to an end, of which man's sin, according to the Bible, is the
original cause.

The practical "uses" of such a passage of Scripture as this are plain.
Some of them are the awful responsibility of man's position as the
keystone of creation, the material effects of sin, and especially the
religiousness of our relation to the lower animals. More than once do
the Hebrew prophets liken the Almighty's dealings with man to merciful
man's dealings with his beasts.[40] Both Isaiah and Paul virtually
declare that man discharges to the lower creatures a mediatorial office.
To say so will of course seem an exaggeration to some people, but not to
those who, besides being grateful to remember what help in labour and
cheer in dreariness we owe our humble fellow-creatures, have been
fortunate enough to enjoy the affection and trust of a dumb friend. Men
who abuse the lower animals sin very grievously against God; men who
neglect them lose some of the religious possibilities of life. If it is
our business in life to have the charge of animals, we should magnify
our calling. Every coachman and carter ought to feel something of the
priest about him; he should think no amount of skill and patience too
heavy if it enables him to gain insight into the nature of creatures of
God, all of whose hope, by Scripture and his own experience, is towards

  [40] Isa. lxiii. 13, 14; Hos. xi. 4.

Our relation to the lower animals is one of the three great relations of
our nature. For God our worship; for man our service; for the beasts our
providence, and according both to Isaiah and Paul, the mediation of our


In passing from the second to the third part of this prophecy, we cannot
but feel that we descend to a lower point of view and a less pure
atmosphere of spiritual ambition. Isaiah, who has just declared peace
between man and beast, finds that Judah must clear off certain scores
against her neighbours before there can be peace between man and man. It
is an interesting psychological study. The prophet, who has been able to
shake off man's primeval distrust and loathing of wild animals, cannot
divest himself of the political tempers of his age. He admits, indeed,
the reconciliation of Ephraim and Judah; but the first act of the
reconciled brethren, he prophesies with exultation, will be to _swoop
down upon_ their cousins Edom, Moab and Ammon, and their neighbours the
Philistines. We need not longer dwell on this remarkable limitation of
the prophet's spirit, except to point out that while Isaiah clearly saw
that Israel's own purity would not be perfected except by her political
debasement, he could not as yet perceive any way for the conversion of
the rest of the world except through Israel's political supremacy.

The prophet, however, is more occupied with an event preliminary to
Israel's sovereignty, namely the return from exile. His large and
emphatic assertions remind the not yet captive Judah through how much
captivity she has to pass before she can see the margin of the blessed
future which he has been describing to her. Isaiah's words imply a much
more general captivity than had taken place by the time he spoke them,
and we see that he is still keeping steadily in view that thorough
reduction of his people, to the prospect of which he was forced in his
inaugural vision. Judah has to be dispersed, even as Ephraim has been,
before the glories of this chapter shall be realized.

We postpone further treatment of this prophecy, along with the hymn
(chap. xii.), which is attached to it, to a separate chapter, dealing
with all the representations, which the first half of the book of Isaiah
contains, of the return from exile.



ISAIAH xx.; xxi. 1-10; xxxviii.; xxxix.

(720-705 B.C.).

From 720, when chap. xi. may have been published, to 705--or, by rough
reckoning, from the fortieth to the fifty-fifth year of Isaiah's
life--we cannot be sure that we have more than one prophecy from him;
but two narratives have found a place in his book which relate events
that must have taken place between 712 and 705. These narratives are
chap. xx.: How Isaiah Walked Stripped and Barefoot for a Sign against
Egypt, and chaps. xxxviii. and xxxix.: The Sickness of Hezekiah, with
the Hymn he wrote, and his Behaviour before the Envoys from Babylon. The
single prophecy belonging to this period is chap. xxi. 1-10, _Oracle of
the Wilderness of the Sea_, which announces the fall of Babylon. There
has been considerable debate about the authorship of this oracle, but
Cheyne, mainly following Dr. Kleinert, gives substantial reasons for
leaving it with Isaiah. We postpone the full exposition of chaps.
xxxviii., xxxix., to a later stage, as here it would only interrupt the
history. But we will make use of chaps. xx. and xxi. 1-10 in the course
of the following historical sketch, which is intended to connect the
first great period of Isaiah's prophesying, 740-720, with the second,

All these fifteen years, 720-705, Jerusalem was drifting to the refuge
into which she plunged at the end of them--drifting to Egypt. Ahaz had
firmly bound his people to Assyria, and in his reign there was no talk
of an Egyptian alliance. But in 725, when the _overflowing scourge_ of
Assyrian invasion threatened to sweep into Judah as well as Samaria,
Isaiah's words give us some hint of a recoil in the politics of
Jerusalem towards the southern power. The _covenants with death and
hell_, which the men of scorn flaunted in his face as he harped on the
danger from Assyria, may only have been the old treaties with Assyria
herself, but the _falsehood and lies_ that went with them were most
probably intrigues with Egypt. Any Egyptian policy, however, that may
have formed in Jerusalem before 719, was entirely discredited by the
crushing defeat, which in that year Sargon inflicted upon the empire of
the Nile, almost on her own borders, at Rafia.

Years of quietness for Palestine followed this decisive battle. Sargon,
whose annals engraved on the great halls of Khorsabad enable us to read
the history of the period year by year, tells us that his next campaigns
were to the north of his empire, and till 711 he alludes to Palestine
only to say that tribute was coming in regularly, or to mention the
deportation to Hamath or Samaria of some tribe he had conquered far
away. Egypt, however, was everywhere busy among his feudatories.
Intrigue was Egypt's _forte_. She is always represented in Isaiah's
pages as the talkative power of many promises. Her fair speech was very
sweet to men groaning beneath the military pressure of Assyria. Her
splendid past, in conjunction with the largeness of her promise,
excited the popular imagination. Centres of her influence gathered in
every state. An Egyptian party formed in Jerusalem. Their intrigue
pushed mines in all directions, and before the century was out the
Assyrian peace in Western Asia was broken by two great Explosions. The
first of these, in 711, was local and abortive; the second, in 705, was
universal, and for a time entirely destroyed the Assyrian supremacy.

The centre of the Explosion of 711 was Ashdod, a city of the
Philistines. The king had suddenly refused to continue the Assyrian
tribute, and Sargon had put another king in his place. But the
people--in Ashdod, as everywhere else, it was the people who were
fascinated by Egypt--pulled down the Assyrian puppet and elevated Iaman,
a friend to Pharaoh. The other cities of the Philistines, with Moab,
Edom and Judah, were prepared by Egyptian promise to throw in their lot
with the rebels. Sargon gave them no time. "In the wrath of my heart, I
did not divide my army, and I did not diminish the ranks, but I marched
against Asdod with my warriors, who did not separate themselves from the
traces of my sandals. I besieged, I took, Asdod and Gunt-Asdodim.... I
then made again these towns. I placed the people whom my arm had
conquered. I put over them my lieutenant as governor. I considered them
like Assyrians, and they practised obedience."[41] It is upon this
campaign of Sargon that Mr. Cheyne argues for the invasion of Judah, to
which he assigns so many of Isaiah's prophecies, as, _e.g._, chaps. i.
and x. 5-34. Some day Assyriology may give us proof of this supposition.
We are without it just now. Sargon speaks no word of invading Judah,
and the only part of the book of Isaiah that unmistakably refers to this
time is the picturesque narrative of chap. xx.

  [41] _Records of the Past_, vii., 40.

In this we are told that _in the year_ the _Tartan_, the Assyrian
commander-in-chief, _came to Ashdod when Sargon king of Assyria sent
him_ [that is to be supposed the year of the first revolt in Ashdod, to
which Sargon himself did not come], _and he fought against Ashdod and
took it:--in that time Jehovah had spoken by the hand of Isaiah the son
of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth_, the prophet's robe, _from
off thy loins, and thy sandal strip from off thy foot; and he did so,
walking naked_, that is unfrocked, _and barefoot_. For Egyptian intrigue
was already busy; the temporary success of the Tartan at Ashdod did not
discourage it, and it needed a protest. _And Jehovah said, As My servant
Isaiah hath walked unfrocked and barefoot three years for a sign and a
portent against Egypt and against Ethiopia_ [note the double name, for
the country was now divided between two rulers, the secret of her
impotence to interfere forcibly in Palestine] _so shall the king of
Assyria lead away the captives of Egypt and exiles of Ethiopia, young
and old, stripped and barefoot, and with buttocks uncovered, to the
shame of Egypt. And they shall be dismayed and ashamed, because of
Ethiopia their expectation and because of Egypt their boast. And the
inhabitant of this coastland_ [that is, all Palestine, and a name for it
remarkably similar to the phrase used by Sargon, "the people of
Philistia, Judah, Edom and Moab, dwelling by the sea"[42]] _shall say in
that day, Behold, such is our expectation, whither we had fled for help
to deliver ourselves from the king of Assyria, and how shall we

  [42] Cheyne.

This parade of Isaiah for three years, unfrocked and barefoot, is
another instance of that habit on which we remarked in connection with
chap. viii. 1: the habit of finally carrying everything committed to him
before the bar of the whole nation. It was to the mass of the people God
said, _Come and let us reason together._ Let us not despise Isaiah in
his shirt any more than we do Diogenes in his tub, or with a lantern in
his hand, seeking for a man by its rays at noonday. He was bent on
startling the popular conscience, because he held it true that a
people's own morals have greater influence on their destinies than the
policies of their statesmen. But especially anxious was Isaiah, as we
shall again see from chap. xxxi., to bring this Egyptian policy home to
the popular conscience. Egypt was a big-mouthed, blustering power,
believed in by the mob: to expose her required public, picturesque and
persistent advertisement. So Isaiah continued his walk for three years.
The fall of Ashdod, left by Egypt to itself, did not disillusion the
Jews, and the rapid disappearance of Sargon to another part of his
empire where there was trouble, gave the Egyptians audacity to continue
their intrigues against him.[43]

  [43] W. R. Smith, _Prophets of Israel_, p. 282.

Sargon's new trouble had broken out in Babylon, and was much more
serious than any revolt in Syria. Merodach Baladan, king of Chaldea, was
no ordinary vassal, but as dangerous a rival as Egypt. When he rose, it
meant a contest between Babylon and Nineveh for the sovereignty of the
world. He had long been preparing for war. He had an alliance with Elam,
and the tribes of Mesopotamia were prepared for his signal of revolt.
Among the charges brought against him by Sargon is that, "against the
will of the gods of Babylon, he had sent during twelve years
ambassadors." One of these embassies may have been that which came to
Hezekiah after his great sickness (chap. xxxix.). _And Hezekiah was glad
of them, and showed them the house of his spicery, the silver, and the
gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and all the house of his
armour and all that was found in his treasures; there was nothing in his
house nor in all his dominion that Hezekiah showed them not._ Isaiah was
indignant. He had hitherto kept the king from formally closing with
Egypt; now he found him eager for an alliance with another of the powers
of man. But instead of predicting the captivity of Babylon, as he
predicted the captivity of Egypt, by the hand of Assyria, Isaiah
declared, according to chap. xxxix., that Babylon would some day take
Israel captive; and Hezekiah had to content himself with the prospect
that this calamity was not to happen in his time.

Isaiah's prediction of the exile of Israel to Babylon is a matter of
difficulty. The difficulty, however, is not that of conceiving how he
could have foreseen an event which took place more than a century later.
Even in 711 Babylon was not an unlikely competitor for the supremacy of
the nations. Sargon himself felt that it was a crisis to meet her. Very
little might have transferred the seat of power from the Tigris to the
Euphrates. What, therefore, more probable than that when Hezekiah
disclosed to these envoys the whole state of his resources, and excused
himself by saying _that they were come from a far country, even
Babylon_, Isaiah, seized by a strong sense of how near Babylon stood to
the throne of the nations, should laugh to scorn the excuse of
distance, and tell the king that his anxiety to secure an alliance had
only led him to place the temptation to rob him in the face of a power
that was certainly on the way to be able to do it? No, the difficulty is
not that the prophet foretold a captivity of the Jews in Babylon, but
that we cannot reconcile what he says of that captivity with his
intimation of the immediate destruction of Babylon, which has come down
to us in chap. xxi. 1-10.

In this prophecy Isaiah regards Babylon as he has been regarding
Egypt--certain to go down before Assyria, and therefore wholly
unprofitable to Judah. If the Jews still thought of returning to Egypt
when Sargon hurried back from completing her discomfiture in order to
beset Babylon, Isaiah would tell them it was no use. Assyria has brought
her full power to bear on the Babylonians; Elam and Media are with her.
He travails with pain for the result. Babylon is not expecting a siege;
but _preparing the table, eating and drinking_, when suddenly the cry
rings through her, "_Arise, ye princes; anoint the shield._ The enemy is
upon us." So terrible and so sudden a warrior is this Sargon! At his
words nations move; when he saith, _Go up, O Elam! Besiege, O Media!_ it
is done. And he falls upon his foes before their weapons are ready. Then
the prophet shrinks back from the result of his imagination of how it
happened--for that is too painful--upon the simple certainty, which God
revealed to him, that it must happen. As surely as Sargon's columns went
against Babylon, so surely must the message return that Babylon has
fallen. Isaiah puts it this way. The Lord bade him get on his
watchtower--that is his phrase for observing the signs of the times--and
speak whatever he saw. And he saw a military column on the march: _a
troop of horsemen by pairs, a troop of asses, a troop of camels_. It
passed him out of sight, _and he hearkened very diligently_ for news.
But none came. It was a long campaign. _And he cried like a lion_ for
impatience, _O my Lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower by day,
and am set in my ward every night_. Till at last, _behold, there came a
troop of men, horsemen in pairs, and_ now _one answered and said,
Fallen, fallen is Babylon, and all the images of her gods he hath broken
to the ground_. The meaning of this very elliptical passage is just
this: as surely as the prophet saw Sargon's columns go out against
Babylon, so sure was he of her fall. Turning to his Jerusalem, he says,
_My own threshed one, son of my floor, that which I have heard from
Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you_. How
gladly would I have told you otherwise! But this is His message and His
will. Everything must go down before this Assyrian.

Sargon entered Babylon before the year was out, and with her conquest
established his fear once more down to the borders of Egypt. In his
lifetime neither Judah nor her neighbours attempted again to revolt. But
Egypt's intrigue did not cease. Her mines were once more laid, and the
feudatories of Assyria only waited for their favourite opportunity, a
change of tyrants on the throne at Nineveh. This came very soon. In the
fifteenth year of his reign, having finally established his empire,
Sargon inscribed on the palace at Khorsabad the following prayer to
Assur: "May it be that I, Sargon, who inhabit this palace, may be
preserved by destiny during long years for a long life, for the
happiness of my body, for the satisfaction of my heart, and may I arrive
to my end! May I accumulate in this palace immense treasures, the
booties of all countries, the products of mountains and valleys!" The
god did not hear. A few months later, in 705, Sargon was murdered; and
before Sennacherib, his successor, sat down on the throne, the whole of
Assyrian supremacy in the south-west of Asia went up in the air. It was
the second of the great Explosions we spoke of, and the rest of Isaiah's
prophecies are concerned with its results.


705-702 B.C.


  xxix. About 703.

  xxx. A little later.

  xxxi.    "     "

  xxxii. 1-8.    "

  xxxii. 9-20. Date uncertain.


  xiv. 28-xxi. 736-702.

  xxiii. About 703.


We now enter the prophecies of Isaiah's old age, those which he
published after 705, when his ministry had lasted for at least
thirty-five years. They cover the years between 705, the date of
Sennacherib's accession to the Assyrian throne, and 701, when his army
suddenly disappeared from before Jerusalem.

They fall into three groups:--

1. Chaps. xxix.-xxxii., dealing with Jewish politics while Sennacherib
is still far from Palestine, 704-702, and having Egypt for their chief
interest, Assyria lowering in the background.

2. Chaps. xiv. 28-xxi. and xxiii., a group of oracles on foreign
nations, threatened, like Judah, by Assyria.

3. Chaps. i., xxii., and xxxiii., and the historical narrative in
xxxvi., and xxxvii., dealing with Sennacherib's invasion of Judah and
siege of Jerusalem in 701; Egypt and every foreign nation now fallen out
of sight, and the storm about the Holy City too thick for the prophet to
see beyond his immediate neighbourhood.

The _first and second_ of these groups--orations on the intrigues with
Egypt and oracles on the foreign nations--delivered while Sennacherib
was still far from Syria, form the subject of this Third Book of our

The prophecies on the siege of Jerusalem are sufficiently numerous and
distinctive to be put by themselves, along with their appendix
(xxxviii., xxxix.), in our Fourth Book.



ISAIAH xxix. (about 703 B.C.).

In 705 Sargon, King of Assyria, was murdered, and Sennacherib, his
second son, succeeded him. Before the new ruler mounted the throne, the
vast empire, which his father had consolidated, broke into rebellion,
and down to the borders of Egypt cities and tribes declared themselves
again independent. Sennacherib attacked his problem with Assyrian
promptitude. There were two forces, to subdue which at the beginning
made the reduction of the rest certain: Assyria's vassal kingdom and
future rival for the supremacy of the world, Babylon; and her present
rival, Egypt. Sennacherib marched on Babylon first.

While he did so the smaller States prepared to resist him. Too small to
rely on their own resources, they looked to Egypt, and among others who
sought help in that quarter was Judah. There had always been, as we have
seen, an Egyptian party among the politicians of Jerusalem; and
Assyria's difficulties now naturally increased its influence. Most of
the prophecies in chaps. xxix.-xxxii. are forward to condemn the
alliance with Egypt and the irreligious politics of which it was the

At the beginning, however, other facts claim Isaiah's attention. After
the first excitement, consequent on the threats of Sennacherib, the
politicians do not seem to have been specially active. Sennacherib found
the reduction of Babylon a harder task than he expected, and in the end
it turned out to be three years before he was free to march upon Syria.
As one winter after another left the work of the Assyrian army in
Mesopotamia still unfinished, the political tension in Judah must have
relaxed. The Government--for King Hezekiah seems at last to have been
brought round to believe in Egypt--pursued their negotiations no longer
with that decision and real patriotism, which the sense of near danger
rouses in even the most selfish and mistaken of politicians, but rather
with the heedlessness of principle, the desire to show their own
cleverness and the passion for intrigue which run riot among statesmen,
when danger is near enough to give an excuse for doing something, but
too far away to oblige anything to be done in earnest. Into this false
ease, and the meaningless, faithless politics, which swarmed in it,
Isaiah hurled his strong prophecy of chap. xxix. Before he exposes in
chaps. xxx., xxxi., the folly of trusting to Egypt in the hour of
danger, he has here the prior task of proving that hour to be near and
very terrible. It is but one instance of the ignorance and fickleness of
the people, that their prophet has first to rouse them to a sense of
their peril, and then to restrain their excitement under it from rushing
headlong for help to Egypt.

Chap. xxix. is an obscure oracle, but its obscurity is designed. Isaiah
was dealing with a people, in whom political security and religious
formalism had stifled both reason and conscience. He sought to rouse
them by a startling message in a mysterious form. He addressed the city
by an enigma:--

_Ho! Ari-El, Ari-El! City David beleaguered! Add a year to a year, let
the feasts run their round, then will I bring straitness upon Ari-El,
and there shall be moaning and bemoaning,[44] and yet she shall be unto
Me as an Ari-El._

  [44] Cheyne.

The general bearing of this enigma became plain enough after the sore
siege and sudden deliverance of Jerusalem in 701. But we are unable to
make out one or two of its points. _Ari-El_ may mean either _The Lion of
God_ (2 Sam. xxiii. 20), or _The Hearth of God_ (Ezek. xliii. 15, 16).
If the same sense is to be given to the four utterances of the name,
then _God's-Lion_ suits better the description of ver. 4; but
_God's-Hearth_ seems suggested by the feminine pronoun in ver. 1, and is
a conception to which Isaiah returns in this same group of prophecies
(xxxi. 9). It is possible that this ambiguity was part of the prophet's
design; but if he uses the name in both senses, some of the force of his
enigma is lost to us. In any case, however, we get a picturesque form
for a plain meaning. In a year after the present year is out, says
Isaiah, God Himself will straiten the city, whose inhabitants are now so
careless, and she shall be full of mourning and lamentation.
Nevertheless in the end she shall be a true Ari-El: be it a true
_God's-Lion_, victor and hero; or a true _God's-Hearth_, His own
inviolate shrine and sanctuary.

The next few verses (3-8) expand this warning. In plain words, Jerusalem
is to undergo a siege. God Himself shall _encamp against thee--round
about_ reads our English version, but more probably, as with the change
of a letter, the Septuagint reads it--_like David_. If we take this
second reading, the reference to David in the enigma itself (ver. 1)
becomes clear. The prophet has a very startling message to deliver: that
God will besiege His own city, the city of David! Before God can make
her in truth His own, make her verify her name, He will have to
beleaguer and reduce her. For so novel and startling an intimation the
prophet pleads a precedent: "_City which David_ himself _beleaguered_!
Once before in thy history, ere the first time thou wast made God's own
hearth, thou hadst to be besieged. As then, so now. Before thou canst
again be a true Ari-El I must _beleaguer thee like David_." This reading
and interpretation gives to the enigma a reason and a force which it
does not otherwise possess.

Jerusalem, then, shall be reduced to the very dust, and whine and
whimper in it (like a sick _lion_, if this be the figure the prophet is
pursuing), when suddenly it is _the surge of_ her foes--literally _thy
strangers_--whom the prophet sees as _small dust, and as passing chaff
shall the surge of tyrants be; yea, it shall be in the twinkling of an
eye, suddenly_. _From Jehovah of hosts shall she be visited with thunder
and with earthquake and a great noise,--storm-wind, and tempest and the
flame of fire devouring. And it shall be as a dream, a vision of the
night, the surge of all the nations that war against Ariel, yea all that
war against her and her stronghold, and they that press in upon her. And
it shall be as if the hungry had been dreaming, and lo! he was eating;
but he hath awaked, and his soul is empty: and as if the thirsty had
been dreaming, and lo! he was drinking; but he hath awaked, and lo! he
is faint, and his soul is ravenous: thus shall be the surge of all the
nations that war against Mount Zion._ Now that is a very definite
prediction, and in its essentials was fulfilled. In the end Jerusalem
was invested by Sennacherib, and reduced to sore straits, when very
suddenly--it would appear from other records, in a single night--the
beleaguering force disappeared. This actually happened; and although the
main business of a prophet, as we now clearly understand, was not to
predict definite events, yet, since the result here predicted was one on
which Isaiah staked his prophetic reputation and pledged the honour of
Jehovah and the continuance of the true religion among men, it will be
profitable for us to look at it for a little.

Isaiah foretells a great event and some details. The event is a double
one: the reduction of Jerusalem to the direst straits by siege and her
deliverance by the sudden disappearance of the besieging army. The
details are that the siege will take place after a year (though the
prophet's statement of time is perhaps too vague to be treated as a
prediction), and that the deliverance will come as a great natural
convulsion--thunder, earthquake and fire--which it certainly did not do.
The double event, however, stripped of these details, did essentially

Now it is plain that any one with a considerable knowledge of the world
at that day must easily have been able to assert the probability of a
siege of Jerusalem by the mixed nations who composed Sennacherib's
armies. Isaiah's orations are full of proofs of his close acquaintance
with the peoples of the world, and Assyria, who was above them.
Moreover, his political advice, given at certain crises of Judah's
history, was conspicuous not only for its religiousness, but for what we
should call its "worldly-wisdom:" it was vindicated by events. Isaiah,
however, would not have understood the distinction we have just made.
To him political prudence was part of religion. _The LORD of hosts is
for a spirit of judgement to him that sitteth in judgement, and for
strength to them that turn back the battle to the gate._ Knowledge of
men, experience of nations, the mental strength which never forgets
history, and is quick to mark new movements as they rise, Isaiah would
have called the direct inspiration of God. And it was certainly these
qualities in this Hebrew, which provided him with the materials for his
prediction of the siege of Jerusalem.

But it has not been found that such talents by themselves enable
statesmen calmly to face the future, or clearly to predict it. Such
knowledge of the past, such vigilance for the present, by themselves
only embarrass, and often deceive. They are the materials for
prediction, but a ruling principle is required to arrange them. A
general may have a strong and well-drilled force under him, and a
miserably weak foe in front; but if the sun is not going to rise
to-morrow, if the laws of nature are not going to hold, his familiarity
with his soldiers and expertness in handling them will not give him
confidence to offer battle. He takes certain principles for granted, and
on these his soldiers become of use to him, and he makes his venture.
Even so Isaiah handled his mass of information by the grasp which he had
of certain principles, and his facts fell clear into order before his
confident eyes. He believed in the real government of God. _I also saw
the Lord sitting, high and lifted up._ He felt that God had even this
Assyria in His hands. He knew that all God's ends were righteousness,
and he was still of the conviction that Judah for her wickedness
required punishment at the Lord's hands. Grant these convictions to him
in the superhuman strength in which he tells us he was conscious of
receiving them from God, and it is easy to see how Isaiah could not help
predicting a speedy siege of Jerusalem, how he already beheld the
valleys around her bristling with barbarian spears.

The prediction of the sudden raising of this siege was the equally
natural corollary to another religious conviction, which held the
prophet with as much intensity, as that which possessed him with the
need of Judah's punishment. Isaiah never slacked his hold on the truth
that in the end God would save Zion, and keep her for Himself. Through
whatever destruction, a root and remnant of the Jewish people must
survive. Zion is impregnable because God is in her, and because her
inviolateness is necessary for the continuance of true religion in the
world. Therefore as confident as his prediction of the siege of
Jerusalem is Isaiah's prediction of her delivery. And while the prophet
wraps the fact in vague circumstance, while he masks, as it were, his
ignorance of how in detail it will actually take place by calling up a
great natural convulsion, yet he makes it abundantly clear--as, with his
religious convictions and his knowledge of the Assyrian power, he cannot
help doing--that the deliverance will be unexpected and unexplainable by
the natural circumstances of the Jews themselves, that it will be
evident as the immediate deed of God.

It is well for us to understand this. We shall get rid of the mechanical
idea of prophecy, according to which prophets made exact predictions of
fact by some particular and purely official endowment. We shall feel
that prediction of this kind was due to the most unmistakeable
inspiration, the influence upon the prophet's knowledge of affairs of
two powerful religious convictions, for which he himself was strongly
sure that he had the warrant of the Spirit of God.

Into the easy, selfish politics of Jerusalem, then, Isaiah sent this
thunderbolt, this definite prediction: that in a year or more Jerusalem
would be besieged and reduced to the direst straits. He tells us that it
simply dazed the people. They were like men suddenly startled from
sleep, who are too stupid to read a message pushed into their hands (vv.

Then Isaiah gives God's own explanation of this stupidity. The cause of
it is simply religious formalism. _This people draw nigh unto Me with
their mouth, and with their lips do they honour Me, but their heart is
far from Me, and their fear of Me is a mere commandment of men, a thing
learned by rote._ This was what Israel called religion--bare ritual and
doctrine, a round of sacrifices and prayers in adherence to the
tradition of the fathers. But in life they never thought of God. It did
not occur to these citizens of Jerusalem that He cared about their
politics, their conduct of justice, or their discussions and bargains
with one another. Of these they said, taking their own way, _Who seeth
us, and who knoweth us?_ Only in the Temple did they feel God's fear,
and there merely in imitation of one another. None had an original
vision of God in real life; they learned other men's thoughts about Him,
and took other men's words upon their lips, while their heart was far
away. In fact, speaking words and listening to words had wearied the
spirit and stifled the conscience of them.

For such a disposition Isaiah says there is only one cure. It is a new
edition of his old gospel, that God speaks to us in facts, not forms.
Worship and a lifeless doctrine have demoralized this people. God shall
make Himself so felt in real life that even their dull senses shall not
be able to mistake Him. _Therefore, behold, I am proceeding to work
marvellously upon this people, a marvellous work and a wonder! and the
wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the cleverness of their
clever ones shall be obscured._ This is not the promise of what we call
a miracle. It is a historical event on the same theatre as the
politicians are showing their cleverness, but it shall put them all to
shame, and by its force make the dullest feel that God's own hand is in
it. What the people had ceased to attribute to Jehovah was ordinary
intelligence; they had virtually said, _He hath no understanding_. The
_marvellous work_, therefore, which He threatens shall be a work of
wisdom, not some convulsion of nature to cow their spirits, but a
wonderful political result, that shall shame their conceit of
cleverness, and teach them reverence for the will and skill of God. Are
the politicians trying to change the surface of the world, thinking that
they _are turning things upside down_, and supposing that they can keep
God out of account: _Who seeth us, and who knoweth us?_ God Himself is
the real Arranger and Politician. He will turn things upside down!
Compared with their attempt, how vast His results shall be! As if the
whole surface of the earth were altered, _Lebanon changed into
garden-land, and garden-land counted as forest_! But this, of course, is
metaphor. The intent of the miracle is to show that God hath
understanding; therefore it must be a work, the prudence and
intellectual force of which politicians can appreciate, and it shall
take place in their politics. But not for mere astonishment's sake is
_the wonder_ to be done. For blessing and morality shall it be: to cure
the deaf and blind; to give to the meek and the poor a new joy; to
confound the tyrant and the scorner; to make Israel worthy of God and
her own great fathers. _Therefore thus saith Jehovah to the house of
Jacob, He that redeemed Abraham: Not now ashamed shall Jacob be, and not
now shall his countenance blanch._ So unworthy hitherto have this stupid
people been of so great ancestors! _But now when his_ (Jacob's)
_children behold the work of My hand in the midst of him, they shall
hallow My name, yea, they shall hallow the Holy One of Jacob, and the
God of Israel shall they make their fear. They also that err in spirit
shall know understanding, and they that are unsettled shall learn to
accept doctrine_.

Such is the meaning of this strong chapter. It is instructive in two

_First_, it very clearly declares Isaiah's view of the method of God's
revelation. Isaiah says nothing of the Temple, the Shechinah, the Altar,
or the Scripture; but he points out how much the exclusive confinement
of religion to forms and texts has deadened the hearts of his countrymen
towards God. In your real life, he says to them, you are to seek, and
you shall find, Him. There He is evident in miracles,--not physical
interruptions and convulsions, but social mercies and moral providences.
The quickening of conscience, the dispersion of ignorance, poor men
awakening to the fact that God is with them, the overthrow of the social
tyrant, history's plain refutation of the atheist, the growth of civic
justice and charity--In these, said the Hebrew prophet to the Old
Testament believer, Behold your God!

Wherefore, _secondly_, we also are to look for God in events and deeds.
We are to know that nothing can compensate us for the loss of the open
vision of God's working in history and in life about us,--not ecstasy
of worship nor orthodoxy of doctrine. To confine our religion to these
latter things is to become dull towards God even in them, and to forget
Him everywhere else. And this is a fault of our day, just as it was of
Isaiah's. So much of our fear of God is conventional, orthodox and not
original, a trick caught from men's words or fashions, not a part of
ourselves, nor won, like all that is real in us, from contact with real
life. In our politics, in our conduct with men, in the struggle of our
own hearts for knowledge and for temperance, and in service--there we
are to learn to fear God. But there, and wherever else we are busy, self
comes too much in the way; we are fascinated with our own cleverness; we
ignore God, saying, _Who seeth us? who knoweth us?_ We get to expect Him
only in the Temple and on the Sabbath, and then only to influence our
emotions. But it is in deeds, and where we feel life most real, that we
are to look for Him. He makes Himself evident to us by wonderful works.

For these He has given us three theatres--the Bible, our country's
history, and for each man his own life.

We have to take the Bible, and especially the life of Christ, and to
tell ourselves that these wonderful events did really take place. In
Christ God did dwell; by Christ He spoke to man; man was converted,
redeemed, sanctified, beyond all doubt. These were real events. To be
convinced of their reality were worth a hundred prayers.

Then let us follow the example of the Hebrew prophets, and search the
history of our own people for the realities of God. Carlyle says in a
note to Cromwell's fourth speech to Parliament, that "the Bible of every
nation is its own history." This note is drawn from Carlyle by
Cromwell's frequent insistence, that we must ever be turning from forms
and rituals to study God's will and ways in history. And that speech of
Cromwell is perhaps the best sermon ever delivered on the subject of
this chapter. For he said: "What are all our histories but God
manifesting Himself, that He hath shaken, and tumbled down and trampled
upon everything that He hath not planted!" And again, speaking of our
own history, he said to the House of Commons: "We are a people with the
stamp of God upon us, ... whose appearances and providences among us
were not to be outmatched by any story." Truly this is national
religion:--the reverential acknowledgment of God's hand in history; the
admiration and effort of moral progress; the stirring of conscience when
we see wrong; the expectation, when evil abounds, that God will bring
justice and purity to us if we labour with Him for them.

But for each man there is the final duty of turning to himself.

                    "My soul repairs its fault
  When, sharpening sense's hebetude,
  She turns on my own life! So viewed,
  No mere mote's breadth but teems immense
  With witnessings of providence:
  And woe to me if when I look
  Upon that record, the sole book
  Unsealed to me, I take no heed
  Of any warning that I read!"[45]

  [45] Browning's _Christmas Eve_.



ISAIAH xxx. (ABOUT 702 B.C.).

This prophecy of Isaiah rises out of circumstances a little more
developed than those in which chap. xxix. was composed. Sennacherib is
still engaged with Babylon, and it seems that it will yet be long before
he marches his armies upon Syria. But Isaiah's warning has at last
roused the politicians of Judah from their carelessness. We need not
suppose that they believed all that Isaiah predicted about the dire
siege which Jerusalem should shortly undergo and her sudden deliverance
at the hand of the Lord. Without the two strong religious convictions,
in the strength of which, as we have seen, he made the prediction, it
was impossible to believe that this siege and deliverance must certainly
happen. But the politicians were at least startled into doing something.
They did not betake themselves to God, to whom it had been the purpose
of Isaiah's last oration to shut them up. They only flung themselves
with more haste into their intrigues with Egypt. But in truth haste and
business were all that was in their politics: these were devoid both of
intelligence and faith. Where the sole motive of conduct is fear,
whether uneasiness or panic, force may be displayed, but neither
sagacity nor any moral quality. This was the case with Judah's Egyptian
policy, and Isaiah now spends two chapters in denouncing it. His
condemnation is twofold. The negotiations with Egypt, he says, are bad
politics and bad religion; but the bad religion is the root and source
of the other. Yet while he vents all his scorn on the politics, he uses
pity and sweet persuasiveness when he comes to speak of the eternal
significance of the religion. The two chapters are also instructive,
beyond most others of the Old Testament, in the light they cast on
revelation--its scope and methods.

Isaiah begins with the bad politics. In order to understand how bad they
were, we must turn for a little to this Egypt, with whom Judah was now
seeking an alliance.

In our late campaign on the Upper Nile we heard a great deal of the
Mudir of Dongola. His province covers part of the ancient kingdom of
Ethiopia; and in Meirawi, the village whose name appeared in so many
telegrams, we can still discover Meroe, the capital of Ethiopia. Now in
Isaiah's day the king of Ethiopia was, what the Mudir of Dongola was at
the time of our war, an ambitious person of no small energy; and the
ruler of Egypt proper was, what the Khedive was, a person of little
influence or resource. Consequently there happened what might have
happened a few years ago but for the presence of the British army in
Egypt. The Ethiopian came down the Nile, defeated Pharaoh and burned him
alive. But he died, and his son died after him; and before their
successor could also come down the Nile, the legitimate heir to Pharaoh
had regained part of his power. Some years ensued of uncertainty as to
who was the real ruler of Egypt.

It was in this time of unsettlement that Judah sought Egypt's help. The
ignorance of the policy was manifest to all who were not blinded by fear
of Assyria or party feeling. To Isaiah the Egyptian alliance is a folly
and fatality that deserve all his scorn (vv. 1-8).

_Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, executing a policy, but
it is not from Me; and weaving a web, but not of My spirit, that they
may heap sin upon sin; who set themselves on the way to go down to
Egypt, and at My mouth they have not inquired, to flee to the refuge of
Pharaoh, and to hide themselves in the shadow of Egypt. But the refuge
of Pharaoh shall be unto you for shame, and the hiding in the shadow of
Egypt for confusion!_ How can a broken Egypt help you? _When his princes
are at Zoan, and his ambassadors are come to Hanes, they shall all be
ashamed of a people that cannot profit them, that are not for help nor
for profit, but for shame, and also for reproach._

Then Isaiah pictures the useless caravan which Judah has sent with
tribute to Egypt, strings of asses and camels struggling through the
desert, _land of trouble and anguish_, amid lions and serpents, and all
for _a people that shall not profit them_ (ver. 6).

What tempted Judah to this profitless expenditure of time and money?
Egypt had a great reputation, and was a mighty promiser. Her brilliant
antiquity had given her a habit of generous promise, and dazzled other
nations into trusting her. Indeed, so full were Egyptian politics of
bluster and big language, that the Hebrews had a nickname for Egypt.
They called her Rahab--_Stormy-speech_, _Blusterer_, _Braggart_. It was
the term also for the crocodile, as being a _monster_, so that there was
a picturesqueness as well as moral aptness in the name. Ay, says Isaiah,
catching at the old name and putting to it another which describes
Egyptian helplessness and inactivity, I call her _Rahab Sit-still_,
_Braggart-that-sitteth-still_, _Stormy-speech Stay-at-home_. _Blustering
and inactivity, blustering and sitting still_, that is her character;
_for Egypt helpeth in vain and to no purpose_.

Knowing how sometimes the fate of a Government is affected by a happy
speech or epigram, we can understand the effect of this cry upon the
politicians of Jerusalem. But that he might impress it on the popular
imagination and memory as well, Isaiah wrote his epigram on a tablet,
and put it in a book. We must remind ourselves here of chap. xx., and
remember how it tells us that Isaiah had already some years before this
endeavoured to impress the popular imagination with the folly of an
Egyptian alliance, _walking unfrocked and barefoot three years for a
sign and a portent upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia_ (see p. 199).

So that already Isaiah had appealed from politicians to people on this
Egyptian question, just as he appealed thirty years ago from court to
market-place on the question of Ephraim and Damascus.[46] It is another
instance of that prophetic habit of his, on which we remarked in
expounding chap. viii.; and we must again emphasize the habit, for chap.
xxx. here swings round upon it. Whatever be the matter committed to him,
Isaiah is not allowed to rest till he brings it home to the popular
conscience; and however much he may be able to charge national disaster
upon the folly of politicians or the obduracy of a king, it is the
people whom he holds ultimately responsible. To Isaiah a nation's
politics are not arbitrary; they are not dependent on the will of kings
or the management of parties. They are the natural outcome of the
nation's character. What the people are, that will their politics be. If
you wish to reform the politics, you must first regenerate the people;
and it is no use to inveigh against a senseless policy, like this
Egyptian one, unless you go farther and expose the national temper which
has made it possible. A people's own morals have greater influence on
their destinies than their despots or legislators. Statesmen are what
the State makes them. No Government will attempt a policy for which the
nation behind it has not a conscience; and for the greater number of
errors committed by their rulers, the blame must be laid on the people's
own want of character or intelligence.

  [46] Chap. viii. 1 (p. 119).

This is what Isaiah now drives home (xxx. 9 ff.). He tracks the bad
politics to their source in bad religion, the Egyptian policy to its
roots in the prevailing tempers of the people. The Egyptian policy was
doubly stamped. It was disobedience to the word of God; it was
satisfaction with falsehood. The statesmen of Judah shut their ears to
God's spoken word; they allowed themselves to be duped by the Egyptian
Pretence. But these, says Isaiah, are precisely the characteristics of
the whole Jewish people. _For it is a rebellious people, lying children,
children that will not hear the revelation of the LORD_. It was these
national failings--the want of virtues which are the very substance of a
nation: truth and reverence or obedience--that had culminated in the
senseless and suicidal alliance with Egypt. Isaiah fastens on their
falsehood first: _Which say to the seers, Ye shall not see, and to the
prophets, Ye shall not prophesy unto us right things; speak to us smooth
things: prophesy deceits_. No wonder such a character had been
fascinated by "Rahab"! It was a natural Nemesis, that a people who
desired from their teachers fair speech rather than true vision should
be betrayed by the confidence their statesmen placed in the Blusterer,
_that blustered and sat still_. Truth is what this people first require,
and therefore the _revelation of the LORD_ will in the first instance be
the revealing of the truth. Men who will strip pretence off the reality
of things; men who will call things by their right names, as Isaiah had
set himself to do; honest satirists and epigrammatists--these are the
bearers of God's revelation. For it is one of the means of Divine
salvation to call things by their right names, and here in God's
revelation also epigrams have their place. So much for truth.

But reverence is truth's other self, for reverence is simply loyalty to
the supremest truth. And it is against the truth that the Jews have
chiefly sinned. They had shut their eyes to Egypt's real character, but
that was a small sin beside this: that they turned their backs on the
greatest reality of all--God Himself. _Get you out of the way_, they
said to the prophets, _turn out of the path; keep quiet in our presence
about the Holy One of Israel_. Isaiah's effort rises to its culmination
when he seeks to restore the sense of this Reality to his people. His
spirit is kindled at the words _the Holy One of Israel_, and to the end
of chap. xxxi. leaps up in a series of brilliant and sometimes scorching
descriptions of the name, the majesty and the love of God. Isaiah is not
content to have used his power of revelation to unveil the political
truth about Egypt. He will make God Himself visible to this people.
Passionately does he proceed to enforce upon the Jews what God thinks
about their own condition (vv. 12-14), then to persuade them to rely
upon Him alone, and wait for the working of His reasonable laws (vv.
15-18). Rising higher, he purges with pity their eyes to see God's very
presence, their ears to hear His voice, their wounds to feel His touch
(vv. 19-26). Then he remembers the cloud of invasion on the horizon, and
bids them spell, in its uncouth masses, the articulate name of the Lord
(vv. 27-33). And he closes with another series of figures by which God's
wisdom, and His jealousy and His tenderness are made very bright to them
(chap. xxxi.).

These brilliant prophecies may not have been given all at the same time:
each is complete in itself. They do not all mention the negotiations
with Egypt, but they are all dark with the shadow of Assyria. Chap. xxx.
vv. 19-26 almost seem to have been written in a time of actual siege;
but vv. 27-33 represent Assyria still upon the horizon. In this,
however, these passages are fitly strung together: that they equally
strain to impress a blind and hardened people with the will, the majesty
and the love of God their Saviour.

I. THE BULGING WALL (vv. 12-14).

Starting from their unwillingness to listen to the voice of the Lord in
their Egyptian policy, Isaiah tells the people that if they refused to
hear His word for guidance, they must now listen to it for judgement.
_Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel: Because ye look down on
this word, and trust in perverseness and crookedness, and lean thereon,
therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall,
bulging out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an
instant._ _This iniquity_, of course, is the embassy to Egypt. But that,
as we have seen, is only the people's own evil character coming to a
head; and by the breaking of the wall, we are therefore to suppose that
the prophet means the collapse not only of this Egyptian policy, but of
the whole estate and substance of the Jewish people. It will not be your
enemy that will cause a breach in the nation, but your teeming iniquity
shall cause the breach--to wit, this Egyptian folly. Judah will burst
her bulwarks from the inside. You may build the strongest form of
government round a people, you may buttress it with foreign alliances,
but these shall simply prove occasions for the internal wickedness to
break forth. Your supposed buttresses will prove real breaches; and of
all your social structure there will not be left as much as will make
the fragments of a single home, not _a sherd_ big enough _to carry fire
from the hearth, or to hold water from the cistern_.


At this point, either Isaiah was stung by the demands of the politicians
for an alternative to their restless Egyptian policy which he condemned,
or more likely he rose, unaided by external influence, on the prophet's
native instinct to find some purely religious ground on which to base
his political advice. The result is one of the grandest of all his
oracles. _For thus saith the Lord Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel: In
returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence
shall be your strength; and ye would not. But ye said, No, for upon
horses will we flee; wherefore ye shall flee: and upon the swift will we
ride; wherefore swift shall be they that pursue you! One thousand at the
rebuke of one--at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a
bare pole on the top of a mountain, and as a standard on an hill. And
therefore will the LORD wait that He may be gracious unto you, and
therefore will He hold aloof that He may have mercy upon you, for a God
of judgement is the LORD; blessed are all they that wait for Him._ The
words of this passage are their own interpretation and enforcement, all
but one; and as this one is obscure in its English guise, and the
passage really swings from it, we may devote a paragraph to its meaning.

_A God of judgement is the LORD_ is an unfortunately ambiguous
translation. We must not take _judgement_ here in our familiar sense of
the word. It is not a sudden deed of doom, but a long process of law. It
means _manner_, _method_, _design_, _order_, _system_, the ideas, in
short, which we sum up under the word "law." Just as we say of a man,
_He is a man of judgement_, and mean thereby not that by office he is a
doomster, but that by character he is a man of discernment and prudence,
so simply does Isaiah say here that _Jehovah is a God of judgement_, and
mean thereby not that He is One, whose habit is sudden and awful deeds
of penalty or salvation, but, on the contrary, that, having laid down
His lines according to righteousness and established His laws in wisdom,
He remains in His dealings with men consistent with these.

Now it is a great truth that the All-mighty and All-merciful is the
All-methodical too; and no religion is complete in its creed or healthy
in its influence, which does not insist equally on all these. It was
just the want of this third article of faith which perverted the souls
of the Jews in Isaiah's day, which (as we have seen under Chapter I.)
allowed them to make their worship so mechanical and material--for how
could they have been satisfied with mere forms if they had but once
conceived of God as having even ordinary intelligence?--and which
turned their political life into such a mass of intrigue, conceit and
falsehood, for how could they have dared to suppose that they would get
their own way, or have been so sure of their own cleverness, if only
they had had a glimpse of the perception, that God, the Ruler of the
world, had also His policy regarding them? They believed He was the
Mighty, they believed He was the Merciful, but because they forgot that
He was the Wise and the Worker by law, their faith in His might too
often turned into superstitious terror, their faith in His mercy
oscillated between the sleepy satisfaction that He was an indulgent God
and the fretful impatience that He was an indifferent one. Therefore
Isaiah persisted from first to last in this: that God worked by law;
that He had His plan for Judah, as well as these politicians; and, as we
shall shortly find him reminding them when intoxicated with their own
cleverness, _that He also is wise_ (xxxi. 2). Here by the same thought
he bids them be at peace, and upon the rushing tides of politics,
drawing them to that or the other mad venture, to swing by this anchor:
that God has His own law and time for everything. No man could bring the
charge of fatalism against such a policy of quietness. For it thrilled
with intelligent appreciation of the Divine method. When Isaiah said,
_In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence
shall be your strength_, he did not ask his restless countrymen to yield
sullenly to an infinite force or to bow in stupidity beneath the
inscrutable will of an arbitrary despot, but to bring their conduct into
harmony with a reasonable and gracious plan, which might be read in the
historical events of the time, and was vindicated by the loftiest
religious convictions. Isaiah preached no submission to fate, but
reverence for an all-wise Ruler, whose method was plain to every
clear-sighted observer of the fortunes of the nations of the world, and
whose purpose could only be love and peace to His own people (cf. p.


This patient purpose of God Isaiah now proceeds to describe in its
details. Every line of his description has its loveliness, and is to be
separately appreciated. There is perhaps no fairer prospect from our
prophet's many windows. It is not argument nor a programme, but a series
of rapid glimpses, struck out by language, which often wants logical
connection, but never fails to make us see.

To begin with, one thing is sure: the continuance of the national
existence. Isaiah is true to his original vision--the survival of a
remnant. _For a people in Zion--there shall be abiding in Jerusalem._ So
the brief essential is flashed forth. _Thou shalt surely weep no more;
surely He will be gracious unto thee at the voice of thy crying; with
His hearing of thee He will answer thee._ Thus much of general promise
had been already given. Now upon the vagueness of the Lord's delay
Isaiah paints realistic details, only, however, that he may make more
vivid the real presence of the Lord. The siege shall surely come, with
its sorely concrete privations, but the _Lord_ will be there, equally
distinct. _And though the Lord give you the bread of penury and the
water of tribulation_--perhaps the technical name for siege
rations--_yet shall not thy Teacher hide Himself any more, but thine
eyes shall ever be seeing thy Teacher; and thine ears shall hear a word
behind thee, saying, This is the way: walk ye in it, when ye turn to the
right hand or when ye turn to the left._ Real, concrete sorrows, these
are they that make the heavenly Teacher real! It is linguistically
possible, and more in harmony with the rest of the passage, to turn
_teachers_, as the English version has it, into the singular, and to
render it by _Revealer_. The word is an active participle, "Moreh," from
the same verb as the noun "Torah," which is constantly translated "Law"
in our version, but is, in the Prophets at least, more nearly equivalent
to "instruction," or to our modern term "revelation" (cf. ver. 9).
Looking thus to the One Revealer, and hearkening to the One Voice, _the
lying and rebellious children_ shall at last be restored to that
capacity for truth and obedience the loss of which has been their ruin.
Devoted to the Holy One of Israel, they shall scatter their idols as
loathsome (ver. 22). But thereupon a wonder is to happen. As the
besieged people, conscious of the One Great Presence in the midst of
their encompassed city, cast their idols through the gates and over the
walls, a marvellous vision of space and light and fulness of fresh food
bursts upon their starved and straitened souls (ver. 23). Promise more
sympathetic was never uttered to a besieged and famished city. Mark that
all down the passage there is no mention of the noise or instruments of
battle. The prophet has not spoken of the besiegers, who they may be,
how they may come, nor of the fashion of their war, but only of the
effects of the siege on those within: confinement, scant and bitter
rations. And now he is almost wholly silent about the breaking up of the
investing army and the trail of their slaughter. No battle breaks this
siege, but a vision of openness and plenty dawns noiselessly over its
famine and closeness. It is not vengeance or blood that an exhausted and
penitent people thirst after. But as they have been caged in a
fortress, narrow, dark and stony, so they thirst for the sight of the
sower, and the drop of the rain on the broken, brown earth, and the
juicy corn, and the meadow for their cribbed cattle, and the noise of
brooks and waterfalls, and above and about it all fulness of light. _And
He shall give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground
withal, and bread, even the increase of the ground, and it shall be
juicy and fat; thy cattle shall feed that day in a broad meadow. And the
oxen and the young asses that till the ground shall eat savoury
provender, winnowed with the shovel and with the fan. And there shall be
upon every lofty mountain and upon every lifted hill rivers, streams of
water, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. And the
light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the
sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the
LORD bindeth up the hurt of His people and healeth the stroke of their
wound._ It is one of Isaiah's fairest visions, and he is very much to be
blamed who forces its beauty of nature into an allegory of spiritual
things. Here literally God spreads His people a table in the midst of
their enemies.

IV. THE NAME OF THE LORD (vv. 27-33).

But Isaiah lays down "the oaten pipe" and lifts again a brazen trumpet
to his lips. Between him and that sunny landscape of the future, of
whose pastoral details he has so sweetly sung, roll up now the uncouth
masses of the Assyrian invasion, not yet fully gathered, far less
broken. We are back in the present again, and the whole horizon is

The passage does not look like one from which comfort or edification can
be derived, but it is of extreme interest. The first two verses, for
instance, only require a little analysis to open a most instructive
glimpse into the prophet's inner thoughts about the Assyrian progress,
and show us how they work towards the expression of its full meaning.
_Behold, the Name of Jehovah cometh from afar--burning His anger and
awful the uplifting smoke; His lips are full of wrath, and His tongue as
fire that devoureth; and His breath is as an overflowing torrent--even
unto the neck it reacheth--to shake the nations in a sieve of
destruction, and a bridle that leadeth astray on the jaws of the

_The Name of Jehovah_ is the phrase the prophets use when they wish to
tell us of the personal presence of God. When we hear a name cried out,
we understand immediately that a person is there. So when the prophet
calls, _Behold, the Name of Jehovah_, in face of the prodigious advance
of Assyria, we understand that he has caught some intuition of God's
presence in that uplifting of the nations of the north at the word of
the great King and their resistless sweep southward upon Palestine. In
that movement God is personally present. The Divine presence Isaiah then
describes in curiously mingled metaphor, which proves how gradually it
was that he struggled to a knowledge of its purpose there. First of all
he describes the advance of Assyria as a thunderstorm, heavy clouds and
darting, devouring fire. His imagination pictures a great face of wrath.
The thick curtains of cloud as they roll over one another suggest the
heavy lips, and the lightnings the fiery tongue. Then the figure passes
from heaven to earth. The thunderstorm has burst, and becomes the
_mountain torrent_, which speedily _reaches the necks_ of those who are
caught in its bed. But then the prophet's conscience suggests something
more than sudden and sheer force in this invasion, and the _tossing_ of
the torrent naturally leads him to express this new element in the
figure of _a sieve_. His thought about the Assyrian flood thus passes
from one of simple force and rush to one of judgement and being well
kept in hand. He sees its ultimate check at Jerusalem, and so his last
figure of it is the figure of _a bridle_, or _lasso_, such as is thrown
upon the jaws of a wild animal when you wish to catch and tame him.

This gradual progress from the sense of sheer wild force, through that
of personal wrath, to discipline and sparing is very interesting. Vague
and chaotic that disaster rolled up the horizon upon Judah. _It cometh
from afar._ The politicians fled from it to their refuge behind the
Egyptian Pretence. But Isaiah bids them face it. The longer they look,
the more will conscience tell them that the unavoidable wrath of God is
in it; no blustering Rahab will be able to hide them from the anger of
the Face that lowers there. But let them look longer still, and the
unrelieved features of destruction will change to a hand that sifts and
checks, the torrent will become a sieve, and the disaster show itself
well held in by the power of their own God.

So wildly and impersonally still do the storms of sorrow and disaster
roll up the horizon on men's eyes, and we fly in vague terror from them
to our Egyptian refuges. So still does conscience tell us it is futile
to flee from the anger of God, and we crouch hopeless beneath the rush
of imaginations of unchecked wrath, blackening the heavens and turning
every path of life to a tossing torrent. May it then be granted us to
have some prophet at our side to bid us face our disaster once more, and
see the discipline and judgement of the Lord, the tossing only of His
careful sieve, in the wild and cruel waves! We may not be poets like
Isaiah nor able to put the processes of our faith into such splendid
metaphors as he, but faith is given us to follow the same course as his
thoughts did, and to struggle till she arrives at the consciousness of
God in the most uncouth judgements that darken her horizon--the
consciousness of God present not only to smite, but to sift, and in the
end to spare.

Of the angel who led Israel to the land of promise, God said, _My Name
is in him_. Our faith is not perfect till we can, like Isaiah, feel the
same of the blackest angel, the heaviest disaster, God can send us, and
be able to spell it out articulately: _The LORD, the LORD, a God
merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and

For delivery, says Isaiah, shall come to the people of God in the
crisis, as sudden and as startling into song as the delivery from Egypt
was. _Ye shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept,
and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the
mountain of the LORD, to the Rock of Israel._

After this interval of solemn gladness, the storm and fire break out
afresh, and rage again through the passage. But their direction is
reversed, and whereas they had been shown rolling up the horizon as
towards Judah, they are now shown rolling down the horizon in pursuit of
the baffled Assyrian. The music of the verses is crashing. _And the LORD
shall cause the peal[47] of His voice to be heard, and the lighting down
of His arm to be seen in the fury of anger, yea flame of devouring
fire--bursting and torrent and hailstones. For from the voice of the
LORD shall the Assyrian be scattered when He shall smite with the rod.
And every passage of the rod of fate which the LORD bringeth down upon
him shall be with tabrets and harps, and in battles of waving shall he
be fought against._ The meaning is obscure, but palpable. Probably the
verse describes the ritual of the sacrifice to Moloch, to which there is
no doubt the next verse alludes. To sympathize with the prophet's
figure, we need of course an amount of information about the details of
that ritual which we are very far from possessing. But Isaiah's meaning
is evidently this. The destruction of the Assyrian host will be liker a
holocaust than a battle, like one of those fatal sacrifices to Moloch
which are directed by the solemn waving of a staff, and accompanied by
the music, not of war, but of festival. _Battles of waving_ is a very
obscure phrase, but the word translated _waving_ is the technical term
for the waving of the victim before the sacrifice to signify its
dedication to the deity; "and these _battles of waving_ may perhaps have
taken place in the fashion in which single victims were thrown from one
spear to another till death ensued."[48] At all events, it is evident
that Isaiah means to suggest that the Assyrian dispersion is a religious
act, a solemn holocaust rather than one of this earth's ordinary
battles, and directed by Jehovah Himself from heaven. This becomes clear
enough in the next verse: _For a Topheth hath been set in order
beforehand; yea, for Moloch is it arranged; He hath made it deep and
broad; the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD,
like a torrent of brimstone, shall kindle it_. So the Assyrian power was
in the end to go up in flame.

  [47] So Dr. B. Davis, quoted by Cheyne.

  [48] So Bredenkamp in his recent commentary on Isaiah.

We postpone remarks on Isaiah's sense of the fierceness of the Divine
righteousness till we reach his even finer expression of it in chap.



ISAIAH xxxi. (ABOUT 702 B.C.).

Chap. xxxi., which forms an appendage to chaps. xxix. and xxx., can
scarcely be reckoned among the more important prophecies of Isaiah. It
is a repetition of the principles which the prophet has already
proclaimed in connection with the faithless intrigues of Judah for an
alliance with Egypt, and it was published at a time when the statesmen
of Judah were further involved in these intrigues, when events were
moving faster, and the prophet had to speak with more hurried words.
Truths now familiar to us are expressed in less powerful language. But
the chapter has its own value; it is remarkable for three very unusual
descriptions of God, which govern the following exposition of it. They
rise in climax, enforcing three truths:--that in the government of life
we must take into account God's wisdom; we must be prepared to find many
of His providences grim and savage-looking; but we must also believe
that He is most tender and jealous for His people.

I. YET HE ALSO IS WISE (vv. 1-3).

We must suppose the negotiations with Egypt to have taken for the moment
a favourable turn, and the statesmen who advocated them to be
congratulating themselves upon some consequent addition to the fighting
strength of Judah. They could point to many chariots and a strong body
of cavalry in proof of their own wisdom and refutation of the prophet's
maxim, _In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength; in
returning and rest shall ye be saved_.

Isaiah simply answers their self-congratulation with the utterance of a
new Woe, and it is in this that the first of the three extraordinary
descriptions of God is placed. _Woe unto them that go down to Egypt for
help; upon horses do they stay, 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, and Jehovah they do not seek. Yet He also
is wise._ You have been clever and successful, but have you forgotten
that _God also is wise_, that He too has His policy, and acts reasonably
and consistently? You think you have been making history; but God also
works in history, and surely, to put it on the lowest ground, with as
much cleverness and persistence as you do. _Yet He also is wise, and
will bring evil, and will not call back His words, but will arise
against the house of the evil-doers, and against the help of them that
work iniquity._

This satire was the shaft best fitted to pierce the folly of the rulers
of Judah. Wisdom, a reasonable plan for their aims and prudence in
carrying it out, was the last thing they thought of associating with
God, whom they relegated to what they called their religion--their
temples, worship and poetry. When their emotions were stirred by solemn
services, or under great disaster, or in the hour of death, they
remembered God and it seemed natural to them that in these great
exceptions of life He should interfere; but in their politics and their
trade, in the common course and conduct of life, they ignored Him and
put their trust in their own wisdom. They limited God to the ceremonies
and exceptional occasions of life, when they looked for His glory or
miraculous assistance, but they never thought that in their ordinary
ways He had any interest or design.

The forgetfulness, against which Isaiah directs this shaft of satire, is
the besetting sin of very religious people, of very successful people,
and of very clever people.

It is the temptation of an ordinary Christian, church-going people, like
ourselves, with a religion so full of marvellous mercies, and so blessed
with regular opportunities of worship, to think of God only in
connection with these, and practically to ignore that along the far
greater stretches of life He has any interest or purpose regarding us.
Formally-religious people treat God as if He were simply a
constitutional sovereign, to step in at emergencies, and for the rest to
play a nominal and ceremonial part in the conduct of their lives.
Ignoring the Divine wisdom and ceaseless providence of God, and couching
their hearts upon easy views of His benevolence, they have no other
thought of Him, than as a philanthropic magician, whose power is
reserved to extricate men when they have got past helping themselves.
From the earliest times that way of regarding God has been prevalent,
and religious teachers have never failed to stigmatize it with the
hardest name for folly. _Fools_, says the Psalmist, _are afflicted when
they draw near unto the gates of death; then_, only then, _do they cry
unto the Lord in their trouble_. _Thou fool!_ says Christ of the man
who kept God out of the account of his life. God is not mocked, although
we ignore half His being and confine our religion to such facile views
of His nature. With this sarcasm, Isaiah reminds us that it is not a
Fool who is on the throne of the universe; yet is the Being whom the
imaginations of some men place there any better? O wise men, _God also
is wise_. Not by fits and starts of a benevolence similar to that of our
own foolish and inconsistent hearts does He work. Consistency, reason
and law are the methods of His action; and they apply closely,
irretrievably, to all of our life. Hath He promised evil? Then evil will
proceed. Let us believe that God keeps His word; that He is thoroughly
attentive to all we do; that His will concerns the whole of our life.

But the temptation to refuse to God even ordinary wisdom is also the
temptation of very successful and very clever people, such as these
Jewish politicians fancied themselves to be, or such as the Rich Fool in
the parable. They have overcome all they have matched themselves
against, and feel as if they were to be masters of their own future. Now
the Bible and the testimony of men invariably declare that God has one
way of meeting such fools--the way Isaiah suggests here. God meets them
with their own weapons; He outmatches them in their own fashion. In the
eighteenth Psalm it is written, _With the pure Thou wilt show Thyself
pure, and with the perverse Thou wilt show Thyself froward_. The Rich
Fool congratulates himself that his soul is his own; says God, _This
night thy soul shall be required of thee_. The Jewish politicians pride
themselves on their wisdom; _Yet God also is wise_, says Isaiah
significantly. After Moscow Napoleon is reported to have exclaimed,
"The Almighty is too strong for me." But perhaps the most striking
analogy to this satire of Isaiah is to be found in the "Confessions" of
that Jew, from whose living sepulchre we are so often startled with
weird echoes of the laughter of the ancient prophets of his race. When
Heine, Germany's greatest satirist, lay upon a bed to which his evil
living had brought him before his time, and the pride of art, which had
been, as he says, his god, was at last crushed, he tells us what it was
that crushed him. They were singing his songs in every street of his
native land, and his fame had gone out through the world, while he lay
an exile and paralysed upon his "mattress-grave." "Alas!" he cries, "the
irony of Heaven weighs heavily upon me. The great Author of the
universe, the celestial Aristophanes, wished to show me, the petty,
earthly, German Aristophanes, how my most trenchant satires are only
clumsy patchwork compared with His, and how immeasurably He excels me in
humour and colossal wit." That is just a soul writing in its own heart's
blood this terrible warning of Isaiah: _Yet God also is wise_.

_Yea, the Egyptians are men, and not God, and their horses flesh, and
not spirit; and when Jehovah shall stretch out His hand, both he that
helpeth shall stumble, and he that is holpen shall fall, and they all
shall perish together._


But notwithstanding what he has said about God destroying men who trust
in their own cleverness, Isaiah goes on to assert that God is always
ready to save what is worth saving. The people, the city, His own
city--God will save that. To express God's persistent grace towards
Jerusalem, Isaiah uses two figures borrowed from the beasts. Both of
them are truly Homeric, and fire the imagination at once; but the first
is not one we should have expected to find as a figure of the saving
grace of God. Yet Isaiah knows it is not enough for men to remember how
wise God always is. They need also to be reminded how grim and cruel He
must sometimes appear, even in His saving providences. _For thus saith
Jehovah unto me: Like as when the lion growleth, and the young lion over
his prey, if a mob of shepherds be called forth against him, from their
voice he will not shrink in dismay, nor for their noise abase himself;
so shall Jehovah of hosts come down to fight for Mount Zion and the hill
thereof._ A lion with a lamb in his claws, growling over it, while a
crowd of shepherds come up against him; afraid to go near enough to kill
him, they try to frighten him away by shouting at him. But he holds his
prey unshrinking.

It is a figure that startles at first. To liken God with a saving hold
upon His own to a wild lion with his claws in the prey! But horror plays
the part of a good emphasis; while if we look into the figure, we shall
feel our horror change to appreciation. There is something majestic in
that picture of the lion with the shouting shepherds, too afraid to
strike him. _He will not be dismayed at their voice, nor abase himself
for the noise of them._ Is it, after all, an unworthy figure of the
Divine Claimant for this city, who kept unceasing hold upon her after
His own manner, mysterious and lionlike to men, undisturbed by the
screams, formulas, and prayers of her mob of politicians and
treaty-mongers? For these are the _shepherds_ Isaiah means--sham
shepherds, the shrieking crew of politicians, with their treaties and
military display. God will save and carry Jerusalem His own way, paying
no heed to such. _He will not be dismayed at their voice, nor abase
Himself for the noise of them._

There is more than the unyielding persistency of Divine grace taught
here. There is that to begin with. God will never let go what He has
made His own: the souls He has redeemed from sin, the societies He has
redeemed from barbarism, the characters He has hold of, the lives He has
laid His hand upon. Persistency of saving grace--let us learn that
confidently in the parable. But that is only half of what it is meant to
teach. Look at the shepherds: shepherds shouting round a lion; why does
Isaiah put it that way, and not as David did--lions growling round a
brave shepherd, with the lamb in his arms? Because it so appeared then
in the life Isaiah was picturing, because it often looks the same in
real life still. These politicians--they seemed, they played the part
of, shepherds; and Jehovah, who persistently frustrated their plans for
the salvation of the State--He looked the lion, delivering Jerusalem to
destruction. And very often to men does this arrangement of the parts
repeat itself; and while human friends are anxious and energetic about
them, God Himself appears in providences more lionlike than shepherdly.
He grasps with the savage paw of death some one as dear to us as that
city was to Isaiah. He rends our body or soul or estate. And friends and
our own thoughts gather round the cruel bereavement or disaster with
remonstrance and complaint. Our hearts cry out, doing, like shepherds,
their best to scare by prayer and cries the foe they are too weak to
kill. We all know the scene, and how shabby and mean that mob of human
remonstrances looks in face of the great Foe, majestic though
inarticulate, that with sullen persistence carries off its prey. All we
can say in such times is that if it is God who is the lion, then it is
for the best. For _though He slay me, yet will I trust Him_; and, after
all, it is safer to rely on the mercies of God, lionlike though they be,
than on the weak benevolences and officious pities of the best of human
advisers. "Thy will be done"--let perfect reverence teach us to feel
that, even when providence seems as savage as men that day thought God's
will towards Jerusalem.

In addition then to remembering, when men seem by their cleverness and
success to rule life, that God is wiser and His plans more powerful than
theirs, we are not to forget, when men seem more anxious and merciful
than His dark providence, that for all their argument and action His
will shall not alter. But now we are to hear that this will, so hard and
mysterious, is as merciful and tender as a mother's.


_As birds hovering, so will Jehovah of hosts cover Jerusalem, He will
cover and deliver it: He will pass over and preserve it._ At last we are
through dark providence, to the very heart of the Almighty. The meaning
is familiar from its natural simplicity and frequent use in Scripture.
Two features of it our version has not reproduced. The word _birds_
means the smaller kind of feathered creatures, and the word _hovering_
is feminine in the original: _As little mother-birds hovering, so will
Jehovah of hosts protect Jerusalem_. We have been watching in spring the
hedge where we know is a nest. Suddenly the mother-bird, who has been
sitting on a branch close by, flutters off her perch, passes backwards
and forwards, with flapping wings that droop nervously towards the nest
over her young. A hawk is in the sky, and till he disappears she will
hover--the incarnation of motherly anxiety. This is Isaiah's figure. His
native city, on which he poured so much of his heart in lyrics and
parables, was again in danger. Sennacherib was descending upon her; and
the pity of Isaiah's own heart for her, evil though she was, suggested
to him a motherhood of pity in the breast of God. The suggestion God
Himself approved. Centuries after, when He assumed our flesh and spoke
our language, when He put His love into parables lowly and familiar to
our affections, there were none of them more beautiful than that which
He uttered of this same city, weeping as He spake: _O Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a
hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not!_

With such fountains in Scripture, we need not, as some have done, exalt
the Virgin, or virtually make a fourth person in the Godhead, and that a
woman, in order to satisfy those natural longings of the heart which the
widespread worship of the mother of Jesus tells us are so peremptory.
For all fulness dwelleth in God Himself. Not only may we rejoice in that
pity and wise provision for our wants, in that pardon and generosity,
which we associate with the name of father, but also in the wakefulness,
the patience, the love, lovelier with fear, which make a mother's heart
so dear and indispensable. We cannot tell along what wakened nerve the
grace of God may reach our hearts; but Scripture has a medicine for
every pain. And if any feel their weakness as little children feel it,
let them know that the Spirit of God broods over them, as a mother over
her babe; and if any are in pain or anxiety, and there is no human
heart to suffer with them, let them know that as closely as a mother may
come to suffer with her child, and as sensitive as she is to its danger,
so sensitive is God Almighty to theirs, and that He gives them proof of
their preciousness to Him by suffering with them.

       *       *       *       *       *

How these three descriptions meet the three failings of our faith! We
forget that God is ceaselessly at work in wisdom in our lives. We forget
that God must sometimes, even when He is saving us, seem lionlike and
cruel. We forget that "the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully

Having thus made vivid the presence of their Lord to the purged eyes of
His people, patient, powerful in order, wise in counsel, persistent in
grace, and, last of all, very tender, Isaiah concludes with a cry to the
people to turn to this Lord, from whom they have so deeply revolted. Let
them cast away their idols, and there shall be no fear of the result of
the Assyrian invasion. The Assyrian shall fall, not by the sword of man,
but the immediate stroke of God. _And his rock shall pass away by reason
of terror, and his princes shall be dismayed at the ensign, saith the
Lord, whose fire is in Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem._ And so
Isaiah closes this series of prophecies on the keynote with which it
opened in the first verse of chap. xxix.: that Jerusalem is Ariel--_the
hearth and altar, the dwelling-place and sanctuary, of God_.



ISAIAH xxxii. 1-8 (ABOUT 702 B.C.?).

The Assyrians being thus disposed of, Isaiah turns to a prospect, on
which we have scarcely heard him speak these twenty years, since Assyria
appeared on the frontier of Judah--the religious future and social
progress of his own people. This he paints in a small prophecy of eight
verses, the first eight of chap. xxxii.--verses 9-20 of that chapter
apparently springing from somewhat different conditions.

The first eight verses of chap. xxxii. belong to a class of prophecies
which we may call Isaiah's "escapes." Like St. Paul, Isaiah, when he has
finished some exposition of God's dealings with His people or argument
with the sinners among them, bursts upon an unencumbered vision of the
future, and with roused conscience, and voice resonant from long debate,
takes his loftiest flights of eloquence. In Isaiah's book we have
several of these visions, and each bears a character of its own
according to the sort of sinners from whom the prophet shook himself
loose to describe it and the kind of indignation that filled his heart
at the time. We have already seen, how in some of Isaiah's visions the
Messiah has the chief place, while from others He is altogether absent.
But here we come upon another inconsistency. Sometimes, as in chap. xi.,
Isaiah is content with nothing but a new dispensation--the entire
transformation of nature, when there shall be no more desert or storm,
but to the wild animals docility shall come, and among men an end to
sorrow, fraud and war. But again he limits his prophetic soul and
promises less. As if, overcome by the spectacle of the more clamant
needs and horrible vices of society, he had said, we must first get rid
of these, we must supply those, before we can begin to dream of heaven.
Such is Isaiah's feeling here. This prophecy is not a vision of society
glorified, but of society established and reformed, with its foundation
firmly settled (ver. 1), with its fountain forces in full operation
(ver. 2), and with an absolute check laid upon its worst habits, as, for
instance, the moral grossness, lying and pretence which the prophet has
been denouncing for several chapters (vv. 3-8). This moderation of the
prophecy brings it within the range of practical morals; while the
humanity of it, its freedom from Jewish or Oriental peculiarities,
renders it thoroughly modern. If every unfulfilled prophecy ought to be
an accusing conscience in the breast of the Christian Church, there will
be none more clamant and practical than this one. Its demands are
essential to the social interests of to-day.

In ver. 1 we have the presupposition of the whole prophecy: _Behold, in
righteousness shall a king reign, and princes--according to justice
shall they rule_. A just government is always the basis of Isaiah's
vision of the future. Here he defines it with greater abstractness than
he has been wont to do. It is remarkable, that a writer, whose pen has
already described the figure of the coming King so concretely and with
so much detail, should here content himself with a general promise of a
righteous government, regarding, as he seems to do, rather the office of
kinghood, than any single eminent occupier of it. That the prophet of
Immanuel, and still more the prophet of the Prince-of-the-Four-Names
(chap. ix. 7), and of the Son of Jesse (chap. xi. 1), should be able to
paint the ideal future, and speak of the just government that was to
prevail in it, without at the same time referring to his previous very
explicit promises of a royal Individual, is a fact which we cannot
overlook in support of the opinion we have expressed on pp. 180 and 181
concerning the object of Isaiah's Messianic hopes.

Nor is the vagueness of the first verse corrected by the terms of the
second: _And a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind_, etc. We
have already spoken of this verse as an ethical advance upon Isaiah's
previous picture of the Messiah (see p. 182). But while, of course, the
Messiah was to Isaiah the ideal of human character, and therefore shared
whatsoever features he might foresee in its perfect development, it is
evident that in this verse Isaiah is not thinking of the Messiah alone
or particularly. When he says with such simplicity _a_ man, he means any
man, he means the ideal for every man. Having in ver. 1 laid down the
foundation for social life, he tells us in ver. 2 what the shelter and
fountain force of society are to be: not science nor material wealth,
but personal influence, the strength and freshness of the human
personality. _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._ After just government (ver. 1)
great characters are the prophet's first demand (ver. 2), and then (vv.
3-8) he will ask for the capacity to discriminate character. "Character
and the capacity to discriminate character" indeed summarizes this

I. A MAN (ver. 2).

Isaiah has described personal influence on so grand a scale that it is
not surprising that the Church has leapt to his words as a direct
prophecy of Jesus Christ. They are indeed a description of Him, out of
whose shadow advancing time has not been able to carry the children of
men, who has been the shelter and fertility of every generation since He
was lifted up, and to whom the affections of individual hearts never
rise higher than when they sing--

  "Rock of ages, cleft for me,
  Let me hide myself in Thee."

Such a rock was Christ indeed; but, in accordance with what we have said
above, the prophet here has no individual specially in his view, but is
rather laying down a general description of the influence of individual
character, of which Christ Jesus was the highest instance. Taken in this
sense, his famous words present us, _first_, with a philosophy of
history, at the heart of which there is, _secondly_, a great gospel, and
in the application of which there is, _thirdly_, a great ideal and duty
for ourselves.

1. Isaiah gives us in this verse a PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY. Great men are
not the whole of life, but they are the condition of all the rest; if it
were not for the big men, the little ones could scarcely live. The first
requisites of religion and civilisation are outstanding characters.

In the East the following phenomenon is often observed. Where the desert
touches a river-valley or oasis, the sand is in a continual state of
drift from the wind, and it is this drift which is the real cause of the
barrenness of such portions of the desert at least as abut upon the
fertile land. For under the rain, or by infiltration of the river,
plants often spring up through the sand, and there is sometimes promise
of considerable fertility. It never lasts. Down comes the periodic
drift, and life is stunted or choked out. But set down a rock on the
sand, and see the difference its presence makes. After a few showers, to
the leeward side of this some blades will spring up; if you have
patience, you will see in time a garden. How has the boulder produced
this? Simply by arresting the drift.

Now that is exactly how great men benefit human life. A great man serves
his generation, serves the whole race, by arresting the drift. Deadly
forces, blind and fatal as the desert wind, sweep down human history. In
the beginning it was the dread of Nature, the cold blast which blows
from every quarter on the barbarian, and might have stunted men to
animals. But into some soul God breathed a great breath of freedom, and
the man defied Nature. Nature has had her revenge by burying the rebel
in oblivion. On the distant horizon of history we can see, merely in
some old legend, the evidence of his audacity. But the drift was
arrested; behind the event men took shelter, in the shelter grew free,
and learned to think out what the first great resister felt.

When history had left this rock behind, and the drift had again space to
grow, the same thing happened; and the hero this time was Abraham. He
laid his back to the practice of his forefathers, and lifting his brow
to heaven, was the first to worship the One Unseen God. Abraham
believed; and in the shadow of his faith, and sheltered by his example,
his descendants learned to believe too. To-day from within the three
great spiritual religions men look back to him as the father of the

When Isaiah, while all his countrymen were rushing down the mad, steep
ways of politics, carried off by the only powers that were as yet known
in these ways, fear of death and greed to be on the side of the
strongest--when Isaiah stood still amid that panic rush, and uttered the
memorable words, _In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength;
in returning and rest shall ye be saved_, he stopped one of the most
dangerous drifts in history, and created in its despite a shelter for
those spiritual graces, which have always been the beauty of the State,
and are now coming to be recognized as its strength.

When, in the early critical days of the Church, that dark drift of
Jewish custom, which had overflown the barriers set to the old
dispensation, threatened to spread its barrenness upon the fields of the
Gentile world, already white to the harvest of Christ, and Peter and
Barnabas and all the Apostles were carried away by it, what was it that
saved Christianity? Under God, it was this: that Paul got up and, as he
tells us, withstood Peter to the face.

And, again, when the powers of the Roman Church and the Roman Empire,
checked for a little by the efforts which began the Reformation,
gathered themselves together and rose in one awful front of emperor,
cardinals, and princes at the Diet of Worms, what was it that stood fast
against that drift of centuries, and proved the rock, under whose
shelter men dared to read God's pure word again, and preach His Gospel?
It was the word of a lonely monk: "Here stand I. I cannot otherwise. So
help me, God."

So that Isaiah is right. A single man has been as _an hiding-place from
the wind and a covert from the tempest_. History is swept by drifts:
superstition, error, poisonous custom, dust-laden controversy. What has
saved humanity has been the upraising of some great man to resist those
drifts, to set his will, strong through faith, against the prevailing
tendency, and be the shelter of the weaker, but not less desirous, souls
of his brethren. "The history of what man has accomplished in the world
is at bottom the history of the great men who have worked there." Under
God, personal human power is the highest force, and God has ever used it
as His chief instrument.

2. But in this philosophy of history there is a GOSPEL. Isaiah's words
are not only man's ideal; they are God's promise, and that promise has
been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the most conspicuous
example--none others are near Him--of this personal influence in which
Isaiah places all the shelter and revival of society. God has set His
seal to the truth, that the greatest power in shaping human destiny is
man himself, by becoming one with man, by using a human soul to be the
Saviour of the race. _A man_, says Isaiah, _shall be as an hiding-place
from the wind, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land_; and the
Rock of ages was a Man. The world indeed knew that personal character
could go higher than all else in the world, but they never knew how high
till they saw Jesus Christ, or how often till they numbered His

This figure of a rock, a rock resisting drift, gives us some idea, not
only of the commanding influence of Christ's person, but of that special
office from which all the glory of His person and of His name arises:
that _He saves His people from their sins_.

For what is sin? Sin is simply the longest, heaviest drift in human
history. It arose in the beginning, and has carried everything before it
since. "The oldest custom of the race," it is the most powerful habit of
the individual. Men have reared against it government, education,
philosophy, system after system of religion. But sin overwhelmed them

Only Christ resisted, and His resistance saves the world. Alone among
human lives presented to our view, that of Christ is sinless. What is so
prevalent in human nature that we cannot think of a human individual
without it never stained Christ's life. Sin was about Him; it was not
that He belonged to another sphere of things which lay above it. Sin was
about Him. He rose from its midst with the same frailty as other men,
encompassed by the same temptations; but where they rose to fall, He
rose to stand, and standing, became the world's Saviour. The great
tradition was broken; the drift was arrested. Sin never could be the
same again after the sinless manhood of Christ. The old world's sins and
cruel customs were shut out from the world that came after. Some of them
ceased so absolutely as scarcely to be afterwards named; and the rest
were so curbed that no civilised society suffered them to pass from its
constraint, and no public conscience tolerated them as natural or
necessary evils.

What the surface of the world's life bears so deeply, that does every
individual, who puts his trust in Jesus, feel to the core. Of Jesus the
believer can truly say that life on _this_ side of Him is very different
from life on _that_. Temptations keep far away from the heart that keeps
near to Christ. Under the shadow of our Rock, for us the evil of the
present loses all its suggestiveness, the evil of the past its awful
surge of habit and guilty fear.

3. But there is not only a philosophy of history and a gospel in this
promise of _a man_. There is a great DUTY and IDEAL for every one. If
this prophecy distinctly reaches forward to Jesus Christ as its only
perfect fulfilment, the vagueness of its expression permits of its
application to all, and through Him its fulfilment by all becomes a
possibility. Now each of us may be a rock, a shelter and a source of
fertility to the life around him in three modes of constant influence.
We can be like Christ, the Rock, in shutting out from our neighbours the
knowledge and infection of sin, in keeping our conversation so
unsuggestive and unprovocative of evil, that, though sin drift upon us,
it shall never drift through us. And we may be like Christ, the Rock, in
shutting out blame from other men; in sheltering them from the east wind
of pitiless prejudice, quarrel or controversy; in stopping the unclean
and bitter drifts of scandal and gossip. How many lives have lost their
fertility for the want of a little silence and a little shadow! Some
righteous people have a terribly north-eastern exposure; children do not
play about their doors, nor the prodigal stop there. And again, as there
are a number of men and women who fall in struggling for virtue simply
because they never see it successful in others, and the spectacle of one
pure, heroic character would be their salvation, here is another way in
which each servant of God may be a rock. Of the late Clerk Maxwell it
was said, "He made faith in goodness easy to other men." _A man shall be
as streams of water in a desert place._


But after the coming of this ideal, it is not paradise that is regained.
Paradise is farther off. We must have truth to begin with: truth and the
capacity to discriminate character. The sternness with which Isaiah thus
postpones his earlier vision shows us how sore his heart was about the
_lying_ temper of his people. We have heard him deploring the
fascination of their false minds by the Egyptian Pretence. Their
falseness, however, had not only shown itself in their foreign politics,
but in their treatment of one another, in their social fashions,
judgements and worships. In society there prevailed a want of moral
insight and of moral courage. At home also the Jews had failed to call
things by their right names (cf. p. 226). Therefore next in their future
Isaiah desires the cure of moral blindness, haste and cowardice (vv. 3,
4), with the explosion of all social lies (ver. 5). Men shall stand out
for what they are, whether they be bad--for the bad shall not be wanting
(vv. 6, 7)--or good (ver. 8). On righteous government (ver. 1) and
influence of strong men (ver. 2) must follow social truthfulness (vv.
3-8). Such is the line of the prophet's demands. The details of vv. 3-8
are exceedingly interesting.

_And not closed shall be the eyes of them that see, and the ears of them
that hear shall be pricked up._ The context makes it clear that this is
spoken, not of intellectual, but of moral, insight and alertness. _And
the heart of the hasty shall learn how to know, and the tongue of the
stammerer be quick_ (the verb is the same as the _hasty_ of the
previous clause) _to speak plain things_. _Startlingly plain
things_--for the word literally means _blinding-white_, and is so used
of the sun--_startlingly plain_, like that scorching epigram upon Egypt.
The morally rash and the morally timid are equal fathers of lies.

In illustration Isaiah takes the conventional abuse of certain moral
terms, exposes it and declares it shall cease: _The vile person shall no
more be called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful_. _Liberal_
and _bountiful_ were conventional names. The Hebrew word for _liberal_
originally meant exactly that--_open-hearted_, _generous_,
_magnanimous_. In the East it is the character which above all they call
princely. So like our words "noble" and "nobility," it became a term of
rank, _lord_ or _prince_, and was often applied to men who were not at
all great-hearted, but the very opposite--even to the _vile person_.
_Vile person_ is literally the _faded_ or the _exhausted_, whether
mentally or morally--the last kind of character that could be princely.
The other conventional term used by Isaiah refers to wealth rather than
rank. The Hebrew for _bountiful_ literally means _abundant_, a man
blessed with plenty, and is used in the Old Testament both for the rich
and the fortunate. Its nearest English equivalent is perhaps _the
successful man_. To this Isaiah fitly opposes a name, wrongly rendered
in our version _churl_, but corrected in the margin to _crafty_--_the
fraudulent_, _the knave_. When moral discrimination comes, says Isaiah,
men will not apply the term _princely_ to _worn-out_ characters, nor
grant them the social respect implied by the term. They will not call
the _fraudulent_ the _fortunate_, nor canonise him as successful, who
has gotten his wealth by underhand means. _The worthless character shall
no more be called princely, nor the knave hailed as the successful._ But
men's characters shall stand out true in their actions, and by their
fruits ye shall know them. In those magic days the heart shall come to
the lips, and its effects be unmistakeable. _For the worthless person,
worthlessness shall he speak_--what else can he?--_and his heart shall
do iniquity, to practise profaneness and to utter against the LORD rank
error, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink
of the thirsty to fail_. _The tools, too, of the knave_ (a play upon
words here--"Keli Kelav," _the knave his knives_) _are evil; he! low
tricks he deviseth to destroy the poor with words of falsehood, even
when the poor speaks justice_ (that is, has justice as well as poverty
to plead for him). _But the princely things deviseth, and he upon
princely things shall stand_--not upon conventional titles or rank, or
the respect of insincere hearts, but upon actual deeds of generosity and

After great characters, then, what society needs is capacity to discern
character, and the chief obstacle in the way of this discernment is the
substitution of a conventional morality for a true morality, and of some
distinctions of man's making for the eternal difference which God has
set between right and wrong.

Human progress consists, according to Isaiah, of getting rid of these
conventions; and in this history bears him out. The abolition of
slavery, the recognition of the essential nobility of labour, the
abolition of infanticide, the emancipation of woman--all these are due
to the release of men's minds from purely conventional notions, and the
courageous application in their place of the fundamental laws of
righteousness and love. If progress is still to continue, it must be by
the same method. In many directions it is still a false
conventionalism,--sometimes the relic of barbarism, sometimes the fruit
of civilisation,--that blocks the way. The savage notions which
obstruct the enforcement of masculine purity have to be exposed. Nor
shall we ever get true commercial prosperity, or the sense of security
which is indispensable to that, till men begin to cease calling
transactions all right merely because they are the custom of the trade
and the means to which its members look for profits.

But, above all, as Isaiah tells us, we need to look to our use of
language. It is one of the standing necessities of pure science to
revise the terminology, to reserve for each object a special name, and
see that all men understand the same object by the same name. Otherwise
confusion comes in, and science is impossible. The necessity, though not
so faithfully recognized, is as imperative in morals. If we consider the
disgraceful mistakes in popular morals which have been produced by the
transference and degradation of names, we shall feel it to be a
religious duty to preserve for these their proper meaning. In the
interests of morality, we must not be careless in our use of moral
terms. As Socrates says in the _Phædo_: "To use words wrongly and
indefinitely is not merely an error in itself; it also creates evil in
the soul."[49] What noxious misconceptions, what mistaken ideals of
life, are due to the abuse of these four words alone: "noble,"
"gentleman," "honour" and "Christian"! By applying these, in flattery or
deceit, to persons unworthy of them, men have not only deprived them of
the virtue which originally the mere utterance of them was enough to
instil into the heart, but have sent forth to the world under their
attractiveness second-rate types of character and ideals. The word
"gentleman"! How the heart sickens as it thinks what a number of people
have been satisfied to aim at a shoddy and superficial life because it
was labelled with this gracious name. Conventionalism has deprived the
English language of some of its most powerful sermons by devoting terms
of singular moral expressiveness to do duty as mere labels upon
characters that are dead, or on ranks and offices, for the designation
of which mere cyphers might have sufficed.

  [49] Cf. further with this passage F. J. Church, _Trial and Death of
  Socrates_, Introd. xli. ff.

We must not forget, however, Isaiah's chief means for the abolition of
this conventionalism and the substitution of a true moral vision and
terminology. These results are to follow from the presence of the great
character, _A Man_, whom he has already lifted up. Conventionalism is
another of the drifts which that _Rock_ has to arrest. Setting ourselves
to revise our dictionaries or to restore to our words their original
meanings out of our memories is never enough. The rising of a
conspicuous character alone can dissipate the moral haze; the sense of
his influence will alone fill emptied forms with meaning. So Christ
Jesus judged and judges the world by His simple presence; men fall to
His right hand and to His left. He calls things by their right names,
and restores to each term of religion and morals its original ideal,
which the vulgar use of the world had worn away.[50]

  [50] Cf. with the fifth and sixth verses of chap. xxxii. the forcible
  passage in the introduction to Carlyle's _Cromwell's Letters_,
  beginning, "Sure enough, in the Heroic Century, as in the Unheroic,
  knaves and cowards ... were not wanting. But the question always
  remains, Did they lie chained?" etc.




The date of this prophecy, which has been appended to those spoken by
Isaiah during the Egyptian intrigues (704-702), is not certain. It is
addressed to women, and there is no reason why the prophet, when he was
upbraiding the men of Judah for their false optimism, should not also
have sought to awaken the conscience of their wives and daughters on
what is the besetting sin rather of women than of men. The chief
evidence for dissociating the prophecy from its immediate predecessors
is that it predicts, or apparently predicts (vv. 13-14), the ruin of
Jerusalem, whereas in these years Isaiah was careful to exempt the Holy
City from the fate which he saw falling on the rest of the land. But
otherwise the argument of the prophecy is almost exactly that of chaps.
xxix.-xxx. By using the same words when he blames the women for _ease_
and _carelessness_ in vv. 9-11, as he does when he promises _confidence_
and _quiet resting-places_ in vv. 17, 18, Isaiah makes clear that his
purpose is to contrast the false optimism of society during the
postponement of the Assyrian invasion with that confidence and stability
upon righteousness which the Spirit of God can alone create. The
prophecy, too, has the usual three stages: sin in the present,
judgement in the immediate future, and a state of blessedness in the
latter days. The near date at which judgement is threatened--_days
beyond a year_--ought to be compared with chap. xxix. 1: _Add ye a year
to a year; let the feasts come round_.

The new points are--that it is the women who are threatened, that
Jerusalem itself is pictured in ruin, and that the pouring out of the
Spirit is promised as the cause of the blessed future.


is especially interesting, not merely for its own terms, but because it
is only part of a treatment of women which runs through the whole of

Isaiah had already delivered against the women of Jerusalem a severe
diatribe (chap. iii.), the burden of which was their vanity and
haughtiness. With the satiric temper, which distinguishes his earlier
prophecies, he had mimicked their ogling and mincing gait, and described
pin by pin their fashions and ornaments, promising them instead of these
things _rottenness_ and _baldness_, and _a girdle of sackcloth and
branding for beauty_. But he has grown older, and penetrating below
their outward fashion and gait, he charges them with thoughtlessness as
the besetting sin of their sex. _Ye women that are at ease, rise up, and
hear my voice; ye careless daughters, give ear to my speech. For days
beyond a year shall ye be troubled, O careless women, for the vintage
shall fail; the ingathering shall not come. Tremble, ye women that are
at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones._ By a pair of epithets he
describes their fault; and almost thrice does he repeat the pair, as if
he would emphasize it past all doubt. The besetting sin of women, as he
dins into them, is ease; an ignorant and unthinking contentment with
things as they are; thoughtlessness with regard to the deeper mysteries
of life; disbelief in the possibility of change.

But Isaiah more than hints that these besetting sins of women are but
the defects of their virtues. The literal meaning of the two adjectives
he uses, _at ease_ and _careless_, is _restful_ and _trustful_.
Scripture throughout employs these words both in a good and a bad sense.
Isaiah does so himself in this very chapter (compare these verses with
vv. 17, 18). In the next chapter he describes the state of Jerusalem
after redemption as a state of _ease_ or _restfulness_, and we know that
he never ceased urging the people to _trustfulness_. For such truly
religious conditions he uses exactly the same names as for the shallow
optimism with which he now charges his countrywomen. And so doing, he
reminds us of an important law of character. The besetting sins of
either sex are its virtues prostituted. A man's greatest temptations
proceed from his strength; but the glory of the feminine nature is
repose, and trust is the strength of the feminine character, in which
very things, however, lies all the possibility of woman's degradation.
Woman's faith amounts at times to real intuition; but what risks are
attached to this prophetic power--of impatience, of contentment with the
first glance at things, "the inclination," as a great moralist has put
it, "to take too easily the knowledge of the problems of life, and to
rest content with what lies nearest her, instead of penetrating to a
deeper foundation." Women are full of indulgence and hope; but what
possibilities lie there of deception, false optimism, and want of that
anxiety which alone makes progress possible. Women are more inclined
than men to believe all things; but how certain is such a temper to
sacrifice the claims of truth and honour. Women are full of tact, the
just favourites of success, with infinite power to plead and please; but
if they are aware of this, how certain is such a self-consciousness to
produce negligence and the fatal sleep of the foolish virgins.

Scripture insists repeatedly on this truth of Isaiah's about the
besetting sin of women. The prophet Amos has engraved it in one of his
sharpest epigrams, declaring that thoughtlessness is capable of turning
women into very brutes, and their homes into desolate ruins: _Hear this
word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which
oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say unto their lords,
Bring and let us drink. The Lord Jehovah hath sworn by His holiness
that, lo, the days shall come upon you that they shall take you away
with hooks, and your residue with fish-hooks, and ye shall go out at the
breaches, every one straight before her, and ye shall cast yourselves
into Harmon, saith Jehovah._ It is a cowherd's picture of women: a troop
of cows, heavy, heedless animals, trampling in their anxiety for food
upon every frail and lowly object in the way. There is a cowherd's
coarseness in it, but a prophet's insight into character. Not of
Jezebels, or Messalinas, or Lady-Macbeths is it spoken, but of the
ordinary matrons of Samaria. Thoughtlessness is able to make brutes out
of women of gentle nurture, with homes and a religion. For
thoughtlessness when joined to luxury or beauty plays with cruel
weapons. It means greed, arrogance, indifference to suffering,
wantonness, pride of conquest, dissimulation in love, and revenge for
little slights; and there is no waste, unkind sport, insolence,
brutality, or hysterical violence to which it will not lead. Such women
are known, as Amos pictured them, through many degrees of this
thoughtlessness: interrupters of conversation, an offence to the wise;
devourers of many of the little ones of God's creation for the sake of
their own ornament; tormentors of servants and subordinates for the sake
of their own ease; out of the enjoyment of power or for admiration's
sake breakers of hearts. And are not all such victims of thoughtlessness
best compared, with Amos, to a cow--an animal that rushes at its grass
careless of the many daisies and ferns it tramples, that will destroy
the beauty of a whole country lane for a few mouthfuls of herbage?
Thoughtlessness, says Amos--_and the Lord GOD hath sworn it by His
holiness_--is the very negation of womanhood, the ruin of homes.

But when we turn from the degradation of woman as thus exposed by the
prophets to her glory as lifted up in the New Testament, we find that
the same note is struck. Woman in the New Testament is gracious
according as she is thoughtful; she offends even when otherwise
beautiful by her feeling overpowering her thought. Martha spoils a most
estimable character by one moment of unthinking passion, in which she
accuses the Master of carelessness. Mary chooses the better part in
close attention to her Master's words. The Ten Virgins are divided into
five wise and five foolish. Paul seems to have been struck, as Isaiah
was, with the natural tendency of the female character, for the first
duty he lays upon the old women is to _teach the young women to think
discreetly_, and he repeats the injunction, putting it before chastity
and industry--_Teach them_, he says, _teach them discretion_ (Titus ii.
4, 5). In Mary herself, the mother of our Lord, we see two graces of
character, to the honour of which Scripture gives equal place--faith and
thoughtfulness. The few sentences, which are all that he devotes to
Mary's character, the Evangelist divides equally between these two. She
was called _blessed_ because she believed the word of the Lord. But
trustfulness did not mean in her, as in other women, neglect to think.
Twice, at an interval of twelve years, we are shown thoughtfulness and
carefulness of memory as the habitual grace of this first among women.
_Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. His mother
kept all these sayings in her heart._[51] What was Mary's glory was
other women's salvation. By her own logic the sufferer of Capernaum,
whom many physicians failed to benefit, found her cure; by her
persistent argument the Syrophenician woman received her daughter to
health again. And when our Lord met that flippant descendant of the
_kine of Bashan, that are in the mount of Samaria_, how did He treat her
that He might save her but by giving her matter to think about, by
speaking to her in riddles, by exploding her superficial knowledge, and
scattering her easy optimism?

  [51] Cf. Newman, _Oxford University Sermons_, xv.

So does all Scripture declare, in harmony with the oracle of Isaiah,
that thoughtlessness and easy contentment with things as they be, are
the besetting sins of woman. But her glory is discretion.

II. The next new point in this prophecy is the


_Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers; yea, upon
all the houses of joy in the joyous city: for the palace shall be
forsaken; the populous city shall be deserted; Ophel and the Watch-tower
shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks._
The attempt has been made to confine this reference to the outskirts of
the sacred city, but it is hardly a just one. The prophet, though he
does not name the city, evidently means Jerusalem, and means the whole
of it. Some therefore deny the authenticity of the prophecy. Certainly
it is almost impossible to suppose, that so definite a sentence of ruin
can have been published at the same time as the assurances of
Jerusalem's inviolability in the preceding orations. But that does not
prevent the hypothesis that it was uttered by Isaiah at an earlier
period, when, as in chaps. ii. and iii., he did say extreme things about
the destruction of his city. It must be noticed, however, that Isaiah
speaks with some vagueness; that at the present moment he is not
concerned with any religious truth or will of the Almighty, but simply
desires to contrast the careless gaiety of the women of Jerusalem with
the fate hanging over them. How could he do this more forcibly than by
turning the streets and gardens of their delights into ruins and the
haunts of the wild ass, even though it should seem inconsistent with his
declaration that Zion was inviolable? Licence for a certain amount of
inconsistency is absolutely necessary in the case of a prophet who had
so many divers truths to utter to so many opposite interests and
tempers. Besides, at this time he had already reduced Jerusalem very low
(xxix. 4).


The rest of the prophecy is luminous rather than lucid, full of suffused
rather than distinct meanings. The date of the future regeneration is
indefinite--another feature more in harmony with Isaiah's earlier
prophecies than his later. The cause of the blessing is the outpouring
of the Spirit of God (ver. 15). Righteousness and peace are to come to
earth by a distinct creative act of God. Isaiah adds his voice to the
invariable testimony of prophets and apostles, who, whether they speak
of society or the heart of individual man, place their hope in new life
from above by the Spirit of the living God. Victor Hugo says, "There are
no weeds in society, only bad cultivators;" and places all hope of
progress towards perfection in proper methods of social culture. These
are needed, as much as the corn, which will not spring from the sunshine
alone, requires the hand of the sower, and the harrow. And Isaiah, too,
speaks here of human conduct and effort as required to fill up the
blessedness of the future: righteousness and labour. But first, and
indispensably, he, with all the prophets, places the Spirit of God.

It appears that Isaiah looked for the fruits of the Spirit both as
material and moral. He bases the quiet resting-places and regular
labours of the future not on righteousness only, but on fertility and
righteousness. _The wilderness shall become a fruitful field_, and _what
is_ to-day _a fruitful field shall be counted as a forest_. That this
proverb, used by Isaiah more than once, is not merely a metaphor for the
moral revolution he describes in the next verse, is proved by his having
already declared the unfruitfulness of their soil as part of his
people's punishment. Fertility is promised for itself, and as the
accompaniment of moral bountifulness. _And there shall dwell in the
wilderness justice, and righteousness shall abide in the fruitful field.
And the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect, or
service, of righteousness, quietness and confidence for ever. And my
people shall abide in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and
in quiet resting-places.... Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters,
that send forth the feet of the ox and the ass!_

There is not a prophecy more characteristic of Isaiah. It unfolds what
for him were the two essential and equal contents of the will of God: a
secure land and a righteous people, the fertility of nature and the
purity of society. But in those years (705-702) he did not forget that
something must come between him and that paradise. Across the very
middle of his vision of felicity there dashes a cruel storm. In the gap
indicated above Isaiah wrote, _But it shall hail in the downfall of the
forest, and the city shall be utterly laid low._ A hailstorm between the
promise and fulfilment of summer! Isaiah could only mean the Assyrian
invasion, which was now lowering so dark. Before it bursts we must
follow him to the survey which he made, during these years before the
siege of Jerusalem, of the foreign nations on whom, equally with
Jerusalem, that storm was to sweep.



ISAIAH xiv. 24-32, xv.-xxi., and xxiii. (736-702 B.C.).

The centre of the Book of Isaiah (chaps. xiii. to xxiii.) is occupied by
a number of long and short prophecies which are a fertile source of
perplexity to the conscientious reader of the Bible. With the
exhilaration of one who traverses plain roads and beholds vast
prospects, he has passed through the opening chapters of the book as far
as the end of the twelfth; and he may look forward to enjoying a similar
experience when he reaches those other clear stretches of vision from
the twenty-fourth to the twenty-seventh and from the thirtieth to the
thirty-second. But here he loses himself among a series of prophecies
obscure in themselves and without obvious relation to one another. The
subjects of them are the nations, tribes and cities with which in
Isaiah's day, by war or treaty or common fear in face of the Assyrian
conquest, Judah was being brought into contact. There are none of the
familiar names of the land and tribes of Israel which meet the reader in
other obscure prophecies and lighten their darkness with the face of a
friend. The names and allusions are foreign, some of them the names of
tribes long since extinct, and of places which it is no more possible to
identify. It is a very jungle of prophecy, in which, without much
Gospel or geographical light, we have to grope our way, thankful for an
occasional gleam of the picturesque--a sandstorm in the desert, the
forsaken ruins of Babylon haunted by wild beasts, a view of Egypt's
canals or Phœnicia's harbours, a glimpse of an Arab raid or of a
grave Ethiopian embassy.

But in order to understand the Book of Isaiah, in order to understand
Isaiah himself in some of the largest of his activities and hopes, we
must traverse this thicket. It would be tedious and unprofitable to
search every corner of it. We propose, therefore, to give a list of the
various oracles, with their dates and titles, for the guidance of
Bible-readers, then to take three representative texts and gather the
meaning of all the oracles round them.

First, however, two of the prophecies must be put aside. The
twenty-second chapter does not refer to a foreign State, but to
Jerusalem itself; and the large prophecy which opens the series (chaps.
xiii.-xiv. 23) deals with the overthrow of Babylon in circumstances that
did not arise till long after Isaiah's time, and so falls to be
considered by us along with similar prophecies at the close of this
volume. (See Book V.)

All the rest of these chapters--xiv.-xxi. and xxiii.--refer to Isaiah's
own day. They were delivered by the prophet at various times throughout
his career; but the most of them evidently date from immediately after
the year 705, when, on the death of Sargon, there was a general
rebellion of the Assyrian vassals.

1. xiv. 24-27. OATH OF JEHOVAH that the Assyrian shall be broken.
Probable date, towards 701.

2. xiv. 28-32. ORACLE FOR PHILISTIA. Warning to Philistia not to rejoice
because one Assyrian king is dead, for a worse one shall arise: _Out of
the serpent's root shall come forth a basilisk_. Philistia shall be
melted away, but Zion shall stand. The inscription to this oracle (ver.
28) is not genuine. The oracle plainly speaks of the death and accession
of Assyrian, not Judæan, kings. It may be ascribed to 705, the date of
the death of Sargon and accession of Sennacherib. But some hold that it
refers to the previous change on the Assyrian throne--the death of
Salmanassar and the accession of Sargon.

3. xv.-xvi. 12. ORACLE FOR MOAB. A long prophecy against Moab. This
oracle, whether originally by himself at an earlier period of his life,
or more probably by an older prophet, Isaiah adopts and ratifies, and
intimates its immediate fulfilment, in xvi. 13, 14. _This is the word
which Jehovah spake concerning Moab long ago. But now Jehovah hath
spoken, saying, Within three years, as the years of an hireling, and the
glory of Moab shall be brought into contempt with all the great
multitude, and the remnant shall be very small and of no account._ The
dates both of the original publication of this prophecy and of its
reissue with the appendix are quite uncertain. The latter may fall about
711, when Moab was threatened by Sargon for complicity in the Ashdod
conspiracy (p. 198), or in 704, when, with other States, Moab came under
the cloud of Sennacherib's invasion. The main prophecy is remarkable for
its vivid picture of the disaster that has overtaken Moab and for the
sympathy with her which the Jewish prophet expresses; for the mention of
a _remnant_ of Moab; for the exhortation to her to send tribute in her
adversity _to the mount of the daughter of Zion_ (xvi. 1); for an appeal
to Zion to shelter the outcasts of Moab and to take up her cause: _Bring
counsel, make a decision, make thy shadow as the night in the midst of
the noonday; hide the outcasts, bewray not the wanderer_; for a
statement of the Messiah similar to those in chaps. ix. and xi.; and for
the offer to the oppressed Moabites of the security of Judah in
Messianic times (vv. 4, 5). But there is one great obstacle to this
prospect of Moab lying down in the shadow of Judah--Moab's arrogance.
_We have heard of the pride of Moab, that he is very proud_ (ver. 6, cf.
Jer. xlviii. 29, 42; Zeph. ii. 10), which pride shall not only keep this
country in ruin, but prevent the Moabites prevailing in prayer at their
own sanctuary (ver. 12)--a very remarkable admission about the worship
of another god than Jehovah.

4. xvii. 1-11. ORACLE FOR DAMASCUS. One of the earliest and most crisp
of Isaiah's prophecies. Of the time of Syria's and Ephraim's league
against Judah, somewhere between 736 and 732.

5. xvii. 12-14. UNTITLED. The crash of the peoples upon Jerusalem and
their dispersion. This magnificent piece of sound, which we analyse
below, is usually understood of Sennacherib's rush upon Jerusalem. Verse
14 is an accurate summary of the sudden break-up and "retreat from
Moscow" of his army. The Assyrian hosts are described as _nations_, as
they are elsewhere more than once by Isaiah (xxii. 6, xxix. 7). But in
all this there is no final reason for referring the oracle to
Sennacherib's invasion, and it may just as well be interpreted of
Isaiah's confidence of the defeat of Syria and Ephraim (734-723). Its
proximity to the oracle against Damascus would then be very natural, and
it would stand as a parallel prophecy to viii. 9: _Make an uproar, O ye
peoples, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of the
distances of the earth: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in
pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces_--a prophecy
which we know belongs to the period of the Syro-Ephraimitic league.

6. xviii. _Untitled._ An address to Ethiopia, _land of a rustling of
wings, land of many sails, whose messengers dart to and fro upon the
rivers in their skiffs of reed_. The prophet tells Ethiopia, cast into
excitement by the news of the Assyrian advance, how Jehovah is resting
quietly till the Assyrian be ripe for destruction. When the Ethiopians
shall see His sudden miracle, they shall send their tribute to Jehovah,
_to the place of the name of Jehovah of hosts, Mount Zion_. It is
difficult to know to which southward march of Assyria to ascribe this
prophecy--Sargon's or Sennacherib's? For at the time of both of these an
Ethiopian ruled Egypt.

7. xix. _Oracle for Egypt._ The first fifteen verses describe judgement
as ready to fall on the land of the Pharaohs. The last ten speak of the
religious results to Egypt of that judgement, and they form the most
universal and "missionary" of all Isaiah's prophecies. Although doubts
have been expressed of the Isaian authorship of the second half of this
chapter on the score of its universalism, as well as of its literary
style, which is judged to be "a pale reflection" of Isaiah's own, there
is no final reason for declining the credit of it to Isaiah, while there
are insuperable difficulties against relegating it to the late date
which is sometimes demanded for it. On the date and authenticity of this
prophecy, which are of great importance for the question of Isaiah's
"missionary" opinions, see Cheyne's introduction to the chapter and
Robertson Smith's notes in _The Prophets of Israel_ (p. 433). The latter
puts it in 703, during Sennacherib's advance upon the south. The former
suggests that the second half may have been written by the prophet much
later than the first, and justly says, "We can hardly imagine a more
'swan-like end' for the dying prophet."

8. xx. UNTITLED. Also upon Egypt, but in narrative and of an earlier
date than at least the latter half of xix. Tells how Isaiah walked naked
and barefoot in the streets of Jerusalem for a sign against Egypt and
against the help Judah hoped to get from her in the years 711-709, when
the Tartan, or Assyrian commander-in-chief, came south to subdue Ashdod.
See pp. 198-200.

9. xxi. 1-10. ORACLE FOR THE WILDERNESS OF THE SEA, announcing but
lamenting the fall of Babylon. Probably 709. See pp. 202, 203.

10. xxi. 11, 12. ORACLE FOR DUMAH. Dumah, or _Silence_--in Ps. xciv. 17,
cxv. 17, _the land of the silence of death_, the grave--is probably used
as an anagram for Edom and an enigmatic sign to the wise Edomites, in
their own fashion, of the kind of silence their land is lying under--the
silence of rapid decay. The prophet hears this silence at last broken by
a cry. Edom cannot bear the darkness any more. _Unto me one is calling
from Seir, Watchman, how much off the night? how much off the night?[52]
Said the watchman, Cometh the morning, and also the night: if ye will
inquire, inquire, come back again._ What other answer is possible for a
land on which the silence of decay seems to have settled down? He may,
however, give them an answer later on, if they will come back. Date
uncertain, perhaps between 704 and 701.

  [52] Our translation, though picturesque, is misleading. The voice does
  not inquire, "What of the night?" _i.e._, whether it be fair or foul
  weather, but "How much of the night is passed?" literally "What from off
  the night?" This brings out a pathos that our English version has
  disguised. Edom feels that her night is lasting terribly long.

11. xxi. 13-17. ORACLE FOR ARABIA. From Edom the prophet passes to their
neighbours the Dedanites, travelling merchants. And as he saw night upon
Edom, so, by a play upon words, he speaks of evening upon Arabia: _in
the forest, in Arabia_, or with the same consonants, _in the evening_.
In the time of the insecurity of the Assyrian invasion the travelling
merchants have to go aside from their great trading roads _in the
evening to lodge in the thickets_. There they entertain fugitives, or
(for the sense is not quite clear) are themselves as fugitives
entertained. It is a picture of the _grievousness of war_, which was now
upon the world, flowing down even those distant, desert roads. But
things have not yet reached the worst. The fugitives are but the heralds
of armies, that _within a year_ shall waste the _children of Kedar_, for
Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath spoken it. So did the prophet of little
Jerusalem take possession of even the far deserts in the name of his
nation's God.

12. xxiii. ORACLE FOR TYRE. Elegy over its fall, probably as Sennacherib
came south upon it in 703 or 702. To be further considered by us (pp.
288 ff.).

       *       *       *       *       *

These then are Isaiah's oracles for the Nations, who tremble, intrigue
and go down before the might of Assyria.

We have promised to gather the circumstances and meaning of these
prophecies round three representative texts. These are--

1. _Ah! the booming of the peoples, the multitudes, like the booming of
the seas they boom; and the rushing of the nations, like the rushing of
mighty waters they rush; nations, like the rushing of many waters they
rush. But He rebuketh it, and it fleeth afar off, and is chased like the
chaff on the mountains before the wind and like whirling dust before the
whirlwind_ (xvii. 12, 13).

2. _What then shall one answer the messengers of a nation? That Jehovah
hath founded Zion, and in her shall find refuge the afflicted of His
people_ (xiv. 32).

3. _In that day shall Israel be a third to Egypt and to Assyria, a
blessing in the midst of the earth, for that Jehovah of hosts hath
blessed them, saying, Blessed be My people Egypt, and the work of My
hands Assyria, and Mine inheritance Israel_ (xix. 24, 25).

1. The first of these texts shows all the prophet's prospect filled with
storm, the second of them the solitary rock and lighthouse in the midst
of the storm: Zion, his own watchtower and his people's refuge; while
the third of them, looking far into the future, tells us, as it were, of
the firm continent which shall rise out of the waters--Israel no longer
a solitary lighthouse, _but in that day shall Israel be a third to Egypt
and to Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth_. These three texts
give us a summary of the meaning of all Isaiah's obscure prophecies to
the foreign nations--a stormy ocean, a solitary rock in the midst of it,
and the new continent that shall rise out of the waters about the rock.

The restlessness of Western Asia beneath the Assyrian rule (from 719,
when Sargon's victory at Rafia extended that rule to the borders of
Egypt) found vent, as we saw (p. 198), in two great Explosions, for both
of which the mine was laid by Egyptian intrigue. The first Explosion
happened in 711, and was confined to Ashdod. The second took place on
Sargon's death in 705, and was universal. Till Sennacherib marched
south on Palestine in 701, there were all over Western Asia hurryings to
and fro, consultations and intrigues, embassies and engineerings from
Babylon to Meroe in far Ethiopia, and from the tents of Kedar to the
cities of the Philistines. For these Jerusalem the one inviolate capital
from the Euphrates to the river of Egypt, was the natural centre. And
the one far-seeing, steady-hearted man in Jerusalem was Isaiah. We have
already seen that there was enough within the city to occupy Isaiah's
attention, especially from 705 onward; but for Isaiah the walls of
Jerusalem, dear as they were and thronged with duty, neither limited his
sympathies nor marked the scope of the gospel he had to preach.
Jerusalem is simply his watchtower. His field--and this is the peculiar
glory of the prophet's later life--his field is the world.

How well fitted Jerusalem then was to be the world's watchtower, the
traveller may see to this day. The city lies upon the great central
ridge of Palestine, at an elevation of two thousand five hundred feet
above the level of the sea. If you ascend the hill behind the city, you
stand upon one of the great view-points of the earth. It is a forepost
of Asia. To the east rise the red hills of Moab and the uplands of
Gilead and Bashan, on to which wandering tribes of the Arabian deserts
beyond still push their foremost camps. Just beyond the horizon lie the
immemorial paths from Northern Syria into Arabia. Within a few hours'
walk along the same central ridge, and still within the territory of
Judah, you may see to the north, over a wilderness of blue hills,
Hermon's snowy crest; you know that Damascus is lying just beyond, and
that through it and round the base of Hermon swings one of the longest
of the old world's highways--the main caravan road from the Euphrates
to the Nile. Stand at gaze for a little, while down that road there
sweep into your mind thoughts of the great empire, whose troops and
commerce it used to carry. Then, bearing these thoughts with you, follow
the line of the road across the hills to the western coastland, and so
out upon the great Egyptian desert, where you may wait till it has
brought you imagination of the southern empire to which it travels.
Then, lifting your eyes a little further, let them sweep back again from
south to north, and you have the whole of the west, the new world, open
to you, across the fringe of yellow haze that marks the sands of the
Mediterranean. It is even now one of the most comprehensive prospects in
the world. But in Isaiah's day, when the world was smaller, the high
places of Judah either revealed or suggested the whole of it.

But Isaiah was more than a spectator of this vast theatre. He was an
actor upon it. The court of Judah, of which during Hezekiah's reign he
was the most prominent member, stood in more or less close connection
with the courts of all the kingdoms of Western Asia; and in those days
when the nations were busy with intrigue against their common enemy this
little highland town and fortress became a gathering place of peoples.
From Babylon, from far-off Ethiopia, from Edom, from Philistia, and no
doubt from many other places also, embassies came to King Hezekiah, or
to inquire of his prophet. The appearance of some of them lives for us
still in Isaiah's descriptions: _tall and shiny_ figures of Ethiopians
(xviii. 2), with whom we are able to identify the lithe, silky-skinned,
shining-black bodies of the present tribes of the Upper Nile. Now the
prophet must have talked much with these strangers, for he displays a
knowledge of their several countries and ways of life that is full and
accurate. The agricultural conditions of Egypt; her social ranks and her
industries (xix.); the harbours and markets of Tyre (xxiii.); the
caravans of the Arab nomads as in times of war they shun the open desert
and seek the thickets (xxi. 14)--Isaiah paints these for us with a vivid
realism. We see how this statesman of the least of States, this prophet
of a religion which was confessed over only a few square miles, was
aware of the wide world, and how he loved the life that filled it. They
are no mere geographical terms with which Isaiah thickly studs these
prophecies. He looks out upon, and paints for us, lands and cities
surging with men--their trades, their castes, their religions, their
besetting tempers and sins, their social structures and national
policies, all quick and bending to the breeze and the shadow of the
coming storm from the north.

We have said that in nothing is the regal power of our prophet's style
so manifest as in the vast horizons, which, by the use of a few words,
he calls up before us. Some of the finest of these revelations are made
in this part of his book, so obscure and unknown to most. Who can ever
forget those descriptions of Ethiopia in the eighteenth chapter?--"_Ah!
the land of the rustling of wings, which borders on the rivers of Cush,
which sendeth heralds on the sea, and in vessels of reed on the face of
the waters! Travel, fleet messengers, to a people lithe and shining, to
a nation feared from ever it began to be, a people strong, strong and
trampling, whose land the rivers divide_; or of Tyre in chapter
xxiii.?--"_And on great waters the seed of Shihor, the harvest of the
Nile, was her revenue; and she was the mart of nations._ What expanses
of sea! what fleets of ships! what floating loads of grain! what
concourse of merchants moving on stately wharves beneath high

Yet these are only segments of horizons, and perhaps the prophet reaches
the height of his power of expression in the first of the three texts,
which we have given as representative of his prophecies on foreign
nations (p. 278). Here three or four lines of marvellous sound repeat
the effect of the rage of the restless world as it rises, storms and
breaks upon the steadfast will of God. The phonetics of the passage are
wonderful. The general impression is that of a stormy ocean booming in
to the shore and then crashing itself out into one long hiss of spray
and foam upon its barriers. The details are noteworthy. In ver. 12 we
have thirteen heavy M-sounds, besides two heavy B's, to five N's, five
H's, and four sibilants. But in ver. 13 the sibilants predominate; and
before the sharp rebuke of the Lord the great, booming sound of ver. 12
scatters out into a long _yish-sh[=a] 'oon_. The occasional use of a
prolonged vowel amid so many hurrying consonants produces exactly the
effect now of the lift of a storm swell out at sea and now of the pause
of a great wave before it crashes on the shore. "_Ah, the booming of the
peoples, the multitudes, like the booming of the seas they boom; and the
rushing of the nations, like the rushing of the mighty waters they rush:
nations, like the rushing of many waters they rush. But He checketh
it_--a short, sharp word with a choke and a snort in it--_and it fleeth
far away, and is chased like chaff on mountains before wind, and like
swirling dust before a whirlwind_."

So did the rage of the world sound to Isaiah as it crashed into pieces
upon the steadfast providence of God. To those who can feel the force of
such language nothing need be added upon the prophet's view of the
politics of the outside world these twenty years, whether portions of it
threatened Judah in their own strength, or the whole power of storm that
was in it rose with the Assyrian, as in all his flood he rushed upon
Zion in the year 701.

2. But amid this storm Zion stands immovable. It is upon Zion that the
storm crashes itself into impotence. This becomes explicit in the second
of our representative texts: _What then shall one answer the messengers
of a nation? That Jehovah hath founded Zion, and in her shall find a
refuge the afflicted of His people_ (xiv. 32). This oracle was drawn
from Isaiah by an embassy of the Philistines. Stricken with panic at the
Assyrian advance, they had sent messengers to Jerusalem, as other tribes
did, with questions and proposals of defences, escapes and alliances.
They got their answer. Alliances are useless. Everything human is going
down. Here, here alone, is safety, because the LORD hath decreed it.

With what light and peace do Isaiah's words break out across that
unquiet, hungry sea! How they tell the world for the first time, and
have been telling it ever since, that, apart from all the struggle and
strife of history, there is a refuge and security of men, which God
Himself has assured. The troubled surface of life, nations heaving
uneasily, kings of Assyria and their armies carrying the world before
them--these are not all. The world and her powers are not all. Religion,
in the very teeth of life, builds her refuge for the afflicted.

The world seems wholly divided between force and fear. Isaiah says, It
is not true. Faith has her abiding citadel in the midst, a house of God,
which neither force can harm nor fear enter.

This then was Isaiah's Interim-Answer to the Nations--Zion at least is
secure for the people of Jehovah.

3. Isaiah could not remain content, however, with so narrow an
interim-answer: Zion at least is secure, whatever happens to the rest of
you. The world was there, and had to be dealt with and accounted
for--had even to be saved. As we have already seen, this was the problem
of Isaiah's generation; and to have shirked it would have meant the
failure of his faith to rank as universal.

Isaiah did not shirk it. He said boldly to his people, and to the
nations: "The faith we have covers this vaster life. Jehovah is not only
God of Israel. He rules the world." These prophecies to the foreign
nations are full of revelations of the sovereignty and providence of
God. The Assyrian may seem to be growing in glory; but Jehovah is
watching from the heavens, till he be ripe for cutting down (xviii. 4).
Egypt's statesmen may be perverse and wilful; but Jehovah of hosts
swingeth His hand against the land: _they shall tremble and shudder_
(xix. 16). Egypt shall obey His purposes (17). Confusion may reign for a
time, but a signal and a centre shall be lifted up, and the world gather
itself in order round the revealed will of God. The audacity of such a
claim for his God becomes more striking when we remember that Isaiah's
faith was not the faith of a majestic or a conquering people. When he
made his claim, Judah was still tributary to Assyria, a petty highland
principality, that could not hope to stand by material means against the
forces which had thrown down her more powerful neighbours. It was no
experience of success, no mere instinct of being on the side of fate,
which led Isaiah so resolutely to pronounce that not only should his
people be secure, but that his God would vindicate His purposes upon
empires like Egypt and Assyria. It was simply his sense that Jehovah was
exalted in righteousness. Therefore, while inside Judah only the remnant
that took the side of righteousness would be saved, outside Judah
wherever there was unrighteousness, it would be rebuked, and wherever
righteousness, it would be vindicated. This is the supremacy which
Isaiah proclaimed for Jehovah over the whole world.

How spiritual this faith of Isaiah was, is seen from the next step the
prophet took. Looking out on the troubled world, he did not merely
assert that his God ruled it, but he emphatically said, what was a far
more difficult thing to say, that it would all be consciously and
willingly God's. God rules this, not to restrain it only, but to make it
His own. The knowledge of Him, which is to-day our privilege, shall be
to-morrow the blessing of the whole world.

When we point to the Jewish desire, so often expressed in the Old
Testament, of making the whole world subject to Jehovah, we are told
that it is simply a proof of religious ambition and jealousy. We are
told that this wish to convert the world no more stamps the Jewish
religion as being a universal, and therefore presumably a Divine,
religion than the Mohammedans' zeal to force their tenets on men at the
point of the sword is a proof of the truth of Islam.

Now we need not be concerned to defend the Jewish religion in its every
particular, even as propounded by an Isaiah. It is an article of the
Christian creed that Judaism was a minor and imperfect dispensation,
where truth was only half revealed and virtue half developed. But at
least let us do the Jewish religion justice; and we shall never do it
justice till we pay attention to what its greatest prophets thought of
the outside world, how they sympathized with this, and _in what way_
they proposed to make it subject to their own faith.

_Firstly_ then, there is something in the very manner of Isaiah's
treatment of foreign nations, which causes the old charges of religious
exclusiveness to sink in our throats. Isaiah treats these foreigners at
least as men. Take his prophecies on Egypt or on Tyre or on
Babylon--nations which were the hereditary enemies of his nation--and
you find him speaking of their natural misfortunes, their social decays,
their national follies and disasters, with the same pity and with the
same purely moral considerations, with which he has treated his own
land. When news of those far-away sorrows comes to Jerusalem, it moves
this large-hearted prophet to mourning and tears. He breathes out to
distant lands elegies as beautiful as he has poured upon Jerusalem. He
shows as intelligent an interest in their social evolutions as he does
in those of the Jewish State. He gives a picture of the industry and
politics of Egypt as careful as his pictures of the fashions and
statecraft of Judah. In short, as you read his prophecies upon foreign
nations, you perceive that before the eyes of this man humanity, broken
and scattered in his days as it was, rose up one great whole, every part
of which was subject to the same laws of righteousness, and deserved
from the prophet of God the same love and pity. To some few tribes he
says decisively that they shall certainly be wiped out, but even them he
does not address in contempt or in hatred. The large empire of Egypt,
the great commercial power of Tyre, he speaks of in language of respect
and admiration; but that does not prevent him from putting the plain
issue to them which he put to his own countrymen: If you are
unrighteous, intemperate, impure--lying diplomats and dishonest rulers,
you shall certainly perish before Assyria. If you are righteous,
temperate, pure, if you do trust in truth and God, nothing can move you.

But, _secondly_, he, who thus treated all nations with the same strict
measures of justice and the same fulness of pity with which he treated
his own, was surely not far from extending to the world the religious
privileges, which he has so frequently identified with Jerusalem. In his
old age, at least Isaiah looked forward to the time when the particular
religious opportunities of the Jew should be the inheritance of
humanity. For their old oppressor Egypt, for their new enemy Assyria, he
anticipates the same experience and education, which has made Israel the
firstborn of God. Speaking to Egypt, Isaiah concludes a missionary
sermon, fit to take its place beside that which Paul uttered on the
Areopagus to the younger Greek civilisation, with the words, _In that
day shall Israel be a third to Egypt and to Assyria, a blessing in the
midst of the earth, for that Jehovah of hosts hath blessed them, saying,
Blessed be Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands and Israel
Mine inheritance_.



ISAIAH xxiii. (702 B.C.).

The task, which was laid upon the religion of Israel while Isaiah was
its prophet, was the task, as we have often told ourselves, of facing
the world's forces, and of explaining how they were to be led captive
and contributory to the religion of the true God. And we have already
seen Isaiah accounting for the largest of these forces: the Assyrian.
But besides Assyria, that military empire, there was another power in
the world, also novel to Israel's experience and also in Isaiah's day
grown large enough to demand from Israel's faith explanation and
criticism. This was Commerce, represented by the Phœnicians, with
their chief seats at Tyre and Sidon, and their colonies across the seas.
Not even Egypt exercised such influence on Isaiah's generation as
Phœnicia did; and Phœnician influence, though less visible and
painful than Assyrian, was just as much more subtle and penetrating as
in these respects the influence of trade exceeds that of war. Assyria
herself was fascinated by the glories of Phœnician commerce. The
ambition of her kings, who had in that century pushed south to the
Mediterranean, was to found a commercial empire. The mercenary spirit,
as we learn from prophets earlier than Isaiah, had begun also to leaven
the life of the agricultural and shepherd tribes of Western Asia. For
good or for evil commerce had established itself as a moral force in the
world. Isaiah's chapter on Tyre is, therefore, of the greatest interest.
It contains the prophet's vision of commerce the first time commerce had
grown vast enough to impress his people's imagination, as well as a
criticism of the temper of commerce from the standpoint of the religion
of the God of righteousness. Whether as a historical study or a message
addressed to the mercantile tempers of our own day, the chapter is
worthy of close attention.

But we must first impress ourselves with the utter contrast between
Phœnicia and Judah in the matter of commercial experience, or we
shall not feel the full force of this excursion which the prophet of a
high, inland tribe of shepherds makes among the wharves and warehouses
of the great merchant city on the sea.

The Phœnician empire, it has often been remarked, presents a very
close analogy to that of Great Britain; but even more entirely than in
the case of Great Britain the glory of that empire was the wealth of its
trade, and the character of the people was the result of their
mercantile habits. A little strip of land, one hundred and forty miles
long, and never more than fifteen broad, with the sea upon one side and
the mountains upon the other, compelled its inhabitants to become miners
and seamen. The hills shut off the narrow coast from the continent to
which it belongs, and drove the increasing populations to seek their
destiny by way of the sea. These took to it kindly, for they had the
Semite's born instinct for trading. Planting their colonies all round
the Mediterranean, exploiting every mine within reach of the coastland,
establishing great trading depôts both on the Nile and the Euphrates,
with fleets that passed the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic and
the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb into the Indian Ocean, the Phœnicians
constructed a system of trade, which was not exceeded in range or
influence till, more than two thousand years later, Portugal made the
discovery of America and accomplished the passage of the Cape of Good
Hope. From the coasts of Britain to those of Northwest India, and
probably to Madagascar, was the extent of Phœnician credit and
currency. Their trade tapped river basins so far apart as those of the
Indus, the Euphrates, probably the Zambesi, the Nile, the Rhone, the
Guadalquivir. They built ships and harbours for the Pharaohs and for
Solomon. They carried Egyptian art and Babylonian knowledge to the
Grecian archipelago, and brought back the metals of Spain and Britain.
No wonder the prophet breaks into enthusiasm as he surveys Phœnician
enterprise! _And on great waters the seed of Shihor, the harvest of the
Nile, was her revenue; and she was the mart of nations._

But upon trade the Phœnicians had built an empire. At home their
political life enjoyed the freedom, energy and resources which are
supplied by long habits of an extended commerce with other peoples. The
constitution of the different Phœnician cities was not, as is
sometimes supposed, republican, but monarchical; and the land belonged
to the king. Yet the large number of wealthy families at once limited
the power of the throne, and saved the commonwealth from being dependent
upon the fortunes of a single dynasty. The colonies in close relation
with the mother country assured an empire with its life in better
circulation and with more reserve of power than either Egypt or
Assyria. Tyre and Sidon were frequently overthrown, but they rose again
oftener than the other great cities of antiquity, and were still places
of importance when Babylon and Nineveh lay in irreparable ruin. Besides
their native families of royal wealth and influence and their
flourishing colonies, each with its prince, these commercial States kept
foreign monarchs in their pay, and sometimes determined the fate of a
dynasty. Isaiah entitles Tyre _the giver of crowns, the maker of kings,
whose merchants are princes, and her traffickers are the honourable of
the earth_.

But trade with political results so splendid had an evil effect upon the
character and spiritual temper of the people. By the indiscriminating
ancients the Phœnicians were praised as inventors; the rudiments of
most of the arts and sciences, of the alphabet and of money have been
ascribed to them. But modern research has proved that of none of the
many elements of civilisation which they introduced to the West were
they the actual authors. The Phœnicians were simply carriers and
middlemen. In all time there is no instance of a nation so wholly given
over to buying and selling, who frequented even the battlefields of the
world that they might strip the dead and purchase the captive.
Phœnician history--though we must always do the people the justice to
remember that we have their history only in fragments--affords few signs
of the consciousness that there are things which a nation may strive
after for their own sake, and not for the money they bring in. The
world, which other peoples, still in the reverence of the religious
youth of the race, regarded as a house of prayer, the Phœnicians had
already turned into a den of thieves. They trafficked even with the
mysteries and intelligences; and their own religion is largely a
mixture of the religions of the other peoples, with whom they came into
contact. The national spirit was venal and mercenary--the heart of an
hireling, or, as Isaiah by a baser name describes it, the heart of _an
harlot_. There is not throughout history a more perfect incarnation of
the mercenary spirit than the Phœnician nation.

Now let us turn to the experience of the Jews, whose faith had to face
and account for this world-force.

The history of the Jews in Europe has so identified them with trade that
it is difficult for us to imagine a Jew free from its spirit or ignorant
of its methods. But the fact is that in the time of Isaiah Israel was as
little acquainted with commerce as it is possible for a civilised nation
to be. Israel's was an inland territory. Till Solomon's reign the people
had neither navy nor harbour. Their land was not abundant in materials
for trade--it contained almost no minerals, and did not produce a
greater supply of food than was necessary for the consumption of its
inhabitants. It is true that the ambition of Solomon had brought the
people within the temptations of commerce. He established trading
cities, annexed harbours and hired a navy. But even then, and again in
the reign of Uzziah, which reflects much of Solomon's commercial glory,
Israel traded by deputies, and the mass of the people remained innocent
of mercantile habits. Perhaps to moderns the most impressive proof of
how little Israel had to do with trade is to be found in their laws of
money-lending and of interest. The absolute prohibition which Moses
placed upon the charging of interest could only have been possible among
a people with the most insignificant commerce. To Isaiah himself
commerce must have appeared alien. Human life, as he pictures it, is
composed of war, politics and agriculture; his ideals for society are
those of the shepherd and the farmer. We moderns cannot dissociate the
future welfare of humanity from the triumphs of trade.

  "For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
  Saw the vision of the world and all the wonder that would be;
  Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
  Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales."

But all Isaiah's future is full of gardens and busy fields, of
irrigating rivers and canals:--

_Until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness
become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a
forest.... Blessed are ye, that sow beside all waters, that send forth
the feet of the ox and the ass._

_And He shall give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground
withal, and bread-corn, the increase of the ground; and it shall be
juicy and fat: in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures._

Conceive how trade looked to eyes which dwelt with enthusiasm upon
scenes like these! It must have seemed to blast the future, to disturb
the regularity of life with such violence as to shake religion herself!
With all our convictions of the benefits of trade, even we feel no
greater regret or alarm than when we observe the invasion by the rude
forces of trade of some scene of rural felicity: blackening of sky and
earth and stream; increasing complexity and entanglement of life;
enormous growth of new problems and temptations; strange knowledge,
ambitions and passions, that throb through life and strain the tissue of
its simple constitution, like novel engines, which shake the ground and
the strong walls, accustomed once to re-echo only the simple music of
the mill-wheel and the weaver's shuttle. Isaiah did not fear an invasion
of Judah by the habits and the machines of trade. There is no
foreboding in this chapter of the day when his own people were to take
the place of the Phœnicians as the commercial _harlots_ of the world,
and a Jew was to be synonymous with usurer and _publican_. Yet we may
employ our feelings to imagine his, and understand what this
prophet--seated in the sanctuary of a pastoral and agricultural tribe,
with its simple offerings of doves, and lambs and sheaves of corn,
telling how their homes, and fields and whole rustic manner of life were
subject to God--thought, and feared, and hoped of the vast commerce of
Phœnicia, wondering how it also should be sanctified to Jehovah.

First of all, Isaiah, as we might have expected from his large faith and
broad sympathies, accepts and acknowledges this great world-force. His
noble spirit shows neither timidity nor jealousy before it. Before his
view what an unblemished prospect of it spreads! His descriptions tell
more of his appreciation than long laudations would have done. He grows
enthusiastic upon the grandeur of Tyre; and even when he prophesies that
Assyria shall destroy it, it is with the feeling that such a destruction
is really a desecration, and as if there lived essential glory in great
commercial enterprise. Certainly from such a spirit we have much to
learn. How often has religion, when brought face to face with the new
forces of a generation--commerce, democracy or science--shown either a
base timidity or baser jealousy, and met the innovations with cries of
detraction or despair! Isaiah reads a lesson to the modern Church in the
preliminary spirit with which she should meet the novel experiences of
Providence. Whatever judgement may afterwards have to be passed, there
is the immediate duty of frankly recognising greatness wherever it may
occur. This is an essential principle, from the forgetfulness of which
modern religion has suffered much. Nothing is gained by attempting to
minimise new departures in the world's history; but everything is lost
if we sit down in fear of them. It is a duty we owe to ourselves, and a
worship which Providence demands from us, that we ungrudgingly
appreciate every magnitude of which history brings us the knowledge.

It is almost an unnecessary task to apply Isaiah's meaning to the
commerce of our own day. But let us not miss his example in this: that
the right to criticise the habits of trade and the ability to criticise
them healthily are alone won by a just appreciation of trade's
world-wide glory and serviceableness. There is no use preaching against
the venal spirit and manifold temptations and degradations of trade,
until we have realised the indispensableness of trade and its capacity
for disciplining and exalting its ministers. The only way to correct the
abuses of "the commercial spirit," against which many in our day are
loud with indiscriminate rebuke, is to impress its victims, having first
impressed yourself, with the opportunities and the ideals of commerce. A
thing is great partly by its traditions and partly by its
opportunities--partly by what it has accomplished and partly by the
doors of serviceableness of which it holds the key. By either of these
standards the magnitude of commerce is simply overwhelming. Having
discovered the world-forces, commerce has built thereon the most
powerful of our modern empires. Its exigencies compel peace; its
resources are the sinews of war. If it has not always preceded religion
and science in the conquest of the globe, it has shared with them their
triumphs. Commerce has recast the modern world, so that we hardly think
of the old national divisions in the greater social classes which have
been its direct creation. Commerce determines national policies; its
markets are among the schools of statesmen; its merchants _are_ still
_princes, and its traffickers the honourable of the earth_.

Therefore let all merchants and their apprentices believe, "Here is
something worth putting our manhood into, worth living for, not with our
brains only or our appetites, but with our conscience, with our
imagination, with every curiosity and sympathy of our nature. Here is a
calling with a healthy discipline, with a free spirit, with unrivalled
opportunities of service, with an ancient and essential dignity." The
reproach which is so largely imagined upon trade is the relic of a
barbarous age. Do not tolerate it, for under its shadow, as under other
artificial and unhealthy contempts of society, there are apt to grow up
those sordid and slavish tempers, which soon make men deserve the
reproach that was at first unjustly cast upon them. Dissipate the base
influence of this reproach by lifting the imagination upon the antiquity
and world-wide opportunities of trade--trade, _whose origin_, as Isaiah
so finely puts it, _is of ancient days; and her feet carry her afar off
to sojourn_.

So generous an appreciation of the grandeur of commerce does not prevent
Isaiah from exposing its besetting sin and degradation.

The vocation of a merchant differs from others in this, that there is no
inherent nor instinctive obligation in it to ends higher than those of
financial profit--emphasized in our days into the more dangerous
constraint of _immediate_ financial profit. No profession is of course
absolutely free from the risk of this servitude; but other professions
offer escapes, or at least mitigations, which are not possible to
nearly the same extent in trade. Artist, artisan, preacher and statesman
have ideals which generally act contrary to the compulsion of profit and
tend to create a nobility of mind strong enough to defy it. They have
given, so to speak, hostages to heaven--ideals of beauty, of accurate
scholarship or of moral influence, which they dare not risk by
abandoning themselves to the hunt for gain. But the calling of a
merchant is not thus safeguarded. It does not afford those visions,
those occasions of being caught away to the heavens, which are the
inherent glories of other lives. The habits of trade make this the first
thought--not what things of beauty are in themselves, not what men are
as brothers, not what life is as God's discipline, but what things of
beauty, and men and opportunities are worth to us--and in these times
what they are _immediately_ worth--as measured by money. In such an
absorption art, humanity, morals and religion become matters of growing

To this spirit, which treats all things and men, high or low, as matters
simply of profit, Isaiah gives a very ugly name. We call it the
mercenary or venal spirit. Isaiah says it is the spirit of _the harlot_.

The history of Phœnicia justified his words. To-day we remember her
by nothing that is great, by nothing that is original. She left no art
nor literature, and her once brave and skilful populations degenerated
till we know them only as the slave-dealers, panders and prostitutes of
the Roman empire. If we desire to find Phœnicia's influence on the
religion of the world, we have to seek for it among the most sensual of
Greek myths and the abominable practices of Corinthian worship. With
such terrible literalness was Isaiah's harlot-curse fulfilled.

What is true of Phœnicia may become true of Britain, and what has
been seen on the large scale of a nation is exemplified every day in
individual lives. The man who is entirely eaten up with the zeal of gain
is no better than what Isaiah called Tyre. He has prostituted himself to
covetousness. If day and night our thoughts are of profit, and the
habit, so easily engendered in these times, of asking only, "What can I
make of this?" is allowed to grow upon us, it shall surely come to pass
that we are found sacrificing, like the poor unfortunate, the most
sacred of our endowments and affections for gain, demeaning our natures
at the feet of the world for the sake of the world's gold. A woman
sacrifices her purity for coin, and the world casts her out. But some
who would not touch her have sacrificed honour and love and pity for the
same base wage, and in God's sight are no better than she. Ah, how much
need is there for these bold, brutal standards of the Hebrew prophet to
correct our own social misappreciations!

Now for a very vain delusion upon this subject! It is often imagined in
our day that if a man seek atonement for the venal spirit through the
study of art, through the practice of philanthropy or through the
cultivation of religion, he shall surely find it. This is
false--plausible and often practised but utterly false. Unless a man see
and reverence beauty in the very workshop and office of his business,
unless he feel those whom he meets there, his employés and customers, as
his brethren, unless he keep his business methods free from fraud, and
honestly recognise his gains as a trust from the Lord, then no amount of
devotion elsewhere to the fine arts, nor perseverance in philanthropy,
nor fondness for the Church evinced by ever so large subscriptions, will
deliver him from the devil of mercenariness. That is a plea of _alibi_
that shall not prevail on the judgement day. He is only living a double
life, whereof his art, philanthropy or religion is the occasional and
dilettante portion, with not nearly so much influence on his character
as the other, his calling and business, in which he still sacrifices
love to gain. His real world--the world in which God set him, to buy and
sell indeed, but also to serve and glorify his God--he is treating only
as a big warehouse and exchange. And so much is this the case at the
present day, in spite of all the worship of art and religion which is
fashionable in mercantile circles, that we do not go too far when we say
that if Jesus were now to visit our large markets and manufactories, in
which the close intercourse of numbers of human persons renders the
opportunities of service and testimony to God so frequent, He would
scourge men from them, as He scourged the traffickers of the Temple, for
that they had forgotten that _here_ was their Father's house, where
their brethren had to be owned and helped, and their Father's glory
revealed to the world.

A nation with such a spirit was of course foredoomed to destruction.
Isaiah predicts the absolute disappearance of Tyre from the attention of
the world. _Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years._ _Then_, like some
poor unfortunate whose day of beauty is past, she shall in vain practise
her old advertisements on men. _After the end of seventy years it shall
be unto Tyre as in the song of the harlot: Take an harp, go about the
city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many
songs, that thou mayest be remembered._

But Commerce is essential to the world. Tyre must revive; and the
prophet sees her revive as the minister of Religion, the purveyor of the
food of the servants of the Lord, and of the accessories of their
worship. It must be confessed, that we are not a little shocked when we
find Isaiah continuing to apply to Commerce his metaphor of a harlot,
even after Commerce has entered the service of the true religion. He
speaks of her wages being devoted to Jehovah, just in the same manner as
those of certain notorious women of heathen temples were devoted to the
idol of the temple. This is even against the directions of the Mosaic
law. Isaiah, however, was a poet; and in his flights we must not expect
him to carry the whole Law on his back. He was a poet, and probably no
analogy would have more vividly appealed to his Oriental audience. It
will be foolish to allow our natural prejudice against what we may feel
to be the unhealthiness of the metaphor to blind us to the magnificence
of the thought which he clothes in it.

All this is another proof of the sanity and far sight of our prophet.
Again we find that his conviction that judgement is coming does not
render his spirit morbid, nor disturb his eye for things of beauty and
profit in the world. Commerce, with all her faults, is essential, and
must endure, nay shall prove in the days to come Religion's most
profitable minister. The generosity and wisdom of this passage are the
more striking when we remember the extremity of unrelieved denunciation
to which other great teachers of religion have allowed themselves to be
hurled by their rage against the sins of trade. But Isaiah, in the
largest sense of the expression, is a man of the world--a man of the
world because God made the world and rules it. Yet even from his far
sight was hidden the length to which in the last days Commerce would
carry her services to man and God, proving as she has done, under the
flag of another Phœnicia, to all the extent of Isaiah's longing, one
of Religion's most sincere and profitable handmaids.




  xxxvi. 1.     Early in 701.

  i.               "       "

  xxii.            "       "

  xxxiii.        A little later.

  xxxvi. 2-xxxvii. "       "


  xxxviii.-xxxix. Date uncertain.


Into this fourth book we put all the rest of the prophecies of the Book
of Isaiah, that have to do with the prophet's own time: chaps. i., xxii.
and xxxiii., with the narrative in xxxvi., xxxvii. All these refer to
the only Assyrian invasion of Judah and siege of Jerusalem: that
undertaken by Sennacherib in 701.

It is, however, right to remember once more, that many authorities
maintain that there were two Assyrian invasions of Judah--one by Sargon
in 711, the other by Sennacherib in 701--and that chaps. i. and xxii.
(as well as x. 5-34) belong to the former of these. The theory is
ingenious and tempting; but, in the silence of the Assyrian annals about
any invasion of Judah by Sargon, it is impossible to adopt it. And
although chaps. i. and xxii. differ very greatly in tone from chap.
xxxiii., yet to account for the difference it is not necessary to
suppose two different invasions, with a considerable period between
them. Virtually, as will appear in the course of our exposition,
Sennacherib's invasion of Judah was a double one.

1. The first time Sennacherib's army invaded Judah they took all the
fenced cities, and probably invested Jerusalem, but withdrew on payment
of tribute and the surrender of the _casus belli_, the Assyrian vassal
Padi, whom the Ekronites had deposed and given over to the keeping of
Hezekiah. To this invasion refer Isa. i., xxii. and the first verse of
xxxvi.: _Now it came to pass in the fourteenth[53] year of King Hezekiah
that Sennacherib, King of Assyria, came up against all the fenced cities
of Judah and took them._ This verse is the same as 2 Kings xviii. 13, to
which, however, there is added in vv. 14-16 an account of the tribute
sent by Hezekiah to Sennacherib at Lachish, that is not included in the
narrative in Isaiah. Compare 2 Chron. xxxii. 1.

  [53] It is confusing to find this date attached to Sennacherib's
  invasion of 701, unless, with one or two critics, we place Hezekiah's
  accession in 715. But Hezekiah acceded in 728 or 727, and 701 would
  therefore be his twenty-sixth or twenty-seventh year. Mr. Cheyne, who
  takes 727 as the year of Hezekiah's accession, gets out of the
  difficulty by reading "Sargon" for "Sennacherib" in this verse and in 2
  Kings xiii., and thus secures another reference to that invasion of
  Judah, which he supposes to have taken place under Sargon between 712
  and 710. By the change of a letter some would read _twenty-fourth_ for
  _fourteenth_. But in any case this date is confusing.

2. But scarcely had the tribute been paid when Sennacherib, himself
advancing to meet Egypt, sent back upon Jerusalem a second army of
investment, with which was the Rabshakeh; and this was the army that so
mysteriously disappeared from the eyes of the besieged. To the
treacherous return of the Assyrians and the sudden deliverance of
Jerusalem from their grasp refer Isa. xxxiii., xxxvi. 2-xxxvii., with
the fuller and evidently original narrative in 2 Kings xviii. 17-xix.
Compare 2 Chron. xxxii. 9-23.

To the history of this double attempt upon Jerusalem in 701--xxxvi. and
xxxvii.--there has been appended in xxxviii. and xxxix. an account of
Hezekiah's illness and of an embassy to him from Babylon. These events
probably happened some years before Sennacherib's invasion. But it will
be most convenient for us to take them in the order in which they stand
in the canon. They will naturally lead us up to a question that it is
necessary we should discuss before taking leave of Isaiah--whether this
great prophet of the endurance of the kingdom of God upon earth had any
gospel for the individual who dropped away from it into death.



ISAIAH i. and xxii. (701 B.C.).

In the drama of Isaiah's life we have now arrived at the final act--a
short and sharp one of a few months. The time is 701 B.C., the fortieth
year of Isaiah's ministry, and about the twenty-sixth of Hezekiah's
reign. The background is the invasion of Palestine by Sennacherib. The
stage itself is the city of Jerusalem. In the clear atmosphere before
the bursting of the storm Isaiah has looked round the whole world--his
world--uttering oracles on the nations from Tyre to Egypt and from
Ethiopia to Babylon. But now the Assyrian storm has burst, and all
except the immediate neighbourhood of the prophet is obscured. From
Jerusalem Isaiah will not again lift his eyes.

The stage is thus narrow and the time short, but the action one of the
most critical in the history of Israel, taking rank with the Exodus from
Egypt and the Return from Babylon. To Isaiah himself it marks the summit
of his career. For half a century Zion has been preparing for,
forgetting and again preparing for, her first and final struggle with
the Assyrian. Now she is to meet her foe, face to face across her own
walls. For forty years Isaiah has predicted for the Assyrian an
uninterrupted path of conquest to the very gates of Jerusalem, but
certain check and confusion there. Sennacherib has overrun the world,
and leaps upon Zion. The Jewish nation await their fate, Isaiah his
vindication, and the credit of Israel's religion, one of the most
extraordinary tests to which a spiritual faith was ever subjected.

In the end, by the mysterious disappearance of the Assyrian, Jerusalem
was saved, the prophet was left with his remnant and the future still
open for Israel. But at the beginning of the end such an issue was by no
means probable. Jewish panic and profligacy almost prevented the Divine
purpose, and Isaiah went near to breaking his heart over the city, for
whose redemption he had travailed for a lifetime. He was as sure as ever
that this redemption must come, but a collapse of the people's faith and
patriotism at the eleventh hour made its coming seem worthless.
Jerusalem appeared bent on forestalling her deliverance by moral
suicide. Despair, not of God but of the city, settled on Isaiah's heart;
and in such a mood he wrote chap. xxii. We may entitle it therefore,
though written at a time when the tide should have been running to the
full, "At the Lowest Ebb."

We have thus stated at the outset the motive of this chapter, because it
is one of the most unexpected and startling of all Isaiah's prophecies.
In it "we can discern precipices." Beneath our eyes, long lifted by the
prophet to behold a future _stretching very far forth_, this chapter
suddenly yawns, a pit of blackness. For utterness of despair and the
absolute sentence which it passes on the citizens of Zion we have had
nothing like it from Isaiah since the evil days of Ahaz. The historical
portions of the Bible which cover this period are not cleft by such a
crevasse, and of course the official Assyrian annals, full as they are
of the details of Sennacherib's campaign in Palestine, know nothing of
the moral condition of Jerusalem.[54] Yet if we put the Hebrew and
Assyrian narratives together, and compare them with chaps. i. and xxii.
of Isaiah, we may be sure that the following was something like the
course of events which led down to this woeful depth in Judah's

  [54] _Records of the Past_, i. 33 ff. vii.; Schrader's _Cuneiform
  Inscriptions and the Old Testament_ (Whitehouse's translation).

In a Syrian campaign Sennacherib's path was plain--to begin with the
Phœnician cities, march quickly south by the level coastland,
subduing the petty chieftains upon it, meet Egypt at its southern end,
and then, when he had rid himself of his only formidable foe, turn to
the more delicate task of warfare among the hills of Judah--a campaign
which he could scarcely undertake with a hostile force like Egypt on his
flank. This course, he tells us, he followed. "In my third campaign, to
the land of Syria I went. Luliah (Elulæus), King of Sidon--for the
fearful splendour of my majesty overwhelmed him--fled to a distant spot
in the midst of the sea. His land I entered." City after city fell to
the invader. The princes of Aradus, Byblus and Ashdod, by the coast, and
even Moab and Edom, far inland, sent him their submission. He attacked
Ascalon, and captured its king. He went on, and took the Philistine
cities of Beth-dagon, Joppa, Barka and Azor, all of them within forty
miles of Jerusalem, and some even visible from her neighbourhood. South
of this group, and a little over twenty-five miles from Jerusalem, lay
Ekron; and here Sennacherib had so good a reason for anger, that the
inhabitants, expecting no mercy at his hands, prepared a stubborn

Ten years before this Sargon had set Padi, a vassal of his own, as king
over Ekron; but the Ekronites had risen against Padi, put him in chains,
and sent him to their ally Hezekiah, who now held him in Jerusalem.
"These men," says Sennacherib, "were now terrified in their hearts; the
shadows of death overwhelmed them."[55] Before Ekron was reduced,
however, the Egyptian army arrived in Philistia, and Sennacherib had to
abandon the siege for these arch-enemies. He defeated them in the
neighbourhood, at Eltekeh, returned to Ekron, and completed its siege.
Then, while he himself advanced southwards in pursuit of the Egyptians,
he detached a corps, which, marching eastwards through the mountain
passes, overran all Judah and threatened Jerusalem. "And Hezekiah, King
of Judah, who had not bowed down at my feet, forty-six of his strong
cities, his castles and the smaller towns in their neighbourhood beyond
number, by casting down ramparts and by open attack, by battle--_zuk_,
of the feet; _nisi_, hewing to pieces and casting down (?)--I besieged,
I captured.... He himself, like a bird in a cage, inside Jerusalem, his
royal city, I shut him up; siege-towers against him I constructed, for
he had given command to renew the bulwarks of the great gate of his
city."[56] But Sennacherib does not say that he took Jerusalem, and
simply closes the narrative of his campaign with the account of large
tribute which Hezekiah sent after him to Nineveh.

  [55] _Records of the Past_, i. 38; vii. 62.

  [56] _Ibid._, i., 40; Schrader, i., 286.

Here, then, we have material for a graphic picture of Jerusalem and her
populace, when chaps. i. and xxii. were uttered by Isaiah.

At Jerusalem we are within a day's journey of any part of the territory
of Judah. We feel the kingdom throb to its centre at Assyria's first
footfall on the border. The nation's life is shuddering in upon its
capital, couriers dashing up with the first news; fugitives hard upon
them; palace, arsenal, market and temple thrown into commotion; the
politicians busy; the engineers hard at work completing the
fortifications, leading the suburban wells to a reservoir within the
walls, levelling every house and tree outside which could give shelter
to the besiegers, and heaping up the material on the ramparts, till
there lies nothing but a great, bare, waterless circle round a
high-banked fortress. Across this bareness the lines of fugitives
streaming to the gates; provincial officials and their retinues;
soldiers whom Hezekiah had sent out to meet the foe, returning without
even the dignity of defeat upon them; husbandmen, with cattle and
remnants of grain in disorder; women and children; the knaves, cowards
and helpless of the whole kingdom pouring their fear, dissoluteness and
disease into the already-unsettled populace of Jerusalem. Inside the
walls opposing political factions and a weak king; idle crowds, swaying
to every rumour and intrigue; the ordinary restraints and regularities
of life suspended, even patriotism gone with counsel and courage, but in
their place fear and shame and greed of life. Such was the state in
which Jerusalem faced the hour of her visitation.

Gradually the Visitant came near over the thirty miles which lay between
the capital and the border. Signs of the Assyrian advance were given in
the sky, and night after night the watchers on Mount Zion, seeing the
glare in the west, must have speculated which of the cities of Judah was
being burned. Clouds of smoke across the heavens from prairie and forest
fires told how war, even if it passed, would leave a trail of famine;
and men thought with breaking hearts of the villages and fields,
heritage of the tribes of old, that were now bare to the foot and the
fire of the foreigner. _Your country is desolate; your cities are burned
with fire; your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is
desolate as the overthrow of strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left
as a booth in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers. Except
Jehovah of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have
been as Sodom, we should have been like unto Gomorrah._[57] Then came
touch of the enemy, the appearance of armed bands, vistas down
Jerusalem's favourite valleys of chariots, squadrons of horsemen
emerging upon the plateaus to north and west of the city, heavy
siege-towers and swarms of men innumerable. _And Elam bare the quiver,
with troops of men and horsemen; and Kir uncovered the shield._ At last
they saw their fears of fifty years face to face! Far-away names were
standing by their gates, actual bowmen and flashing shields! As
Jerusalem gazed upon the terrible Assyrian armaments, how many of her
inhabitants remembered Isaiah's words delivered a generation
before!--_Behold, they shall come with speed swiftly; none shall be
weary or stumble among them; neither shall the string of their loins be
lax nor the latchet of their shoes be broken; whose arrows are sharp,
and all their bows bent; their horses' hoofs shall be counted like
flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind; their roaring shall be like a
lion: they shall roar like young lions. For all this His anger is not
turned away, but His hand is stretched out still._

  [57] Chap. i. 7-9.

There were, however, two supports, on which that distracted populace
within the walls still steadied themselves. The one was the
Temple-worship, the other the Egyptian alliance.

History has many remarkable instances of peoples betaking themselves in
the hour of calamity to the energetic discharge of the public rites of
religion. But such a resort is seldom, if ever, a real moral conversion.
It is merely physical nervousness, apprehension for life, clutching at
the one thing within reach that feels solid, which it abandons as soon
as panic has passed. When the crowds in Jerusalem betook themselves to
the Temple, with unwonted wealth of sacrifice, Isaiah denounced this as
hypocrisy and futility. _To what purpose is the multitude of your
sacrifices unto Me? saith Jehovah.... I am weary to bear them. And when
ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yea, when ye
make many prayers, I will not hear_ (i. 11-15).

Isaiah might have spared his scornful orders to the people to desist
from worship. Soon afterwards they abandoned it of their own will, but
from motives very different from those urged by him. The second support
to which Jerusalem clung was the Egyptian alliance--the pet project of
the party then in power. They had carried it to a successful issue,
taunting Isaiah with their success.[58] He had continued to denounce
it, and now the hour was approaching when their cleverness and
confidence were to be put to the test. It was known in Jerusalem that an
Egyptian army was advancing to Sennacherib, and politicians and people
awaited the encounter with anxiety.

  [58] See p. 238.

We are aware what happened. Egypt was beaten at Eltekeh; the alliance
was stamped a failure; Jerusalem's last worldly hope was taken from her.
When the news reached the city, something took place, of which our moral
judgement tells us more than any actual record of facts. The Government
of Hezekiah gave way; the rulers, whose courage and patriotism had been
identified with the Egyptian alliance, lost all hope for their country,
and fled, as Isaiah puts it, _en masse_ (xxii. 3). There was no battle,
no defeat at arms (_id._ 2, 3); but the Jewish State collapsed.

Then, when the last material hope of Judah fell, fell her religion too.
The Egyptian disappointment, while it drove the rulers out of their
false policies, drove the people out of their unreal worship. What had
been a city of devotees became in a moment a city of revellers. Formerly
all had been sacrifices and worship, but now feasting and blasphemy.
_Behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh
and drinking wine: Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die_ (_id._
13. The reference of ver. 12 is probably to chap. i.).

Now all Isaiah's ministry had been directed just against these two
things: the Egyptian alliance and the purely formal observance of
religion--trust in the world and trust in religiousness. And together
both of these had given way, and the Assyrian was at the gates. Truly it
was the hour of Isaiah's vindication. Yet--and this is the tragedy--it
had come too late. The prophet could not use it. The two things he said
would collapse had collapsed, but for the people there seemed now no
help to be justified from the thing which he said would remain. What was
the use of the city's deliverance, when the people themselves had
failed! The feelings of triumph, which the prophet might have expressed,
were swallowed up in unselfish grief over the fate of his wayward and
abandoned Jerusalem.

_What aileth thee now_--and in these words we can hear the old man
addressing his fickle child, whose changefulness by this time he knew so
well--_what aileth thee now that thou art wholly gone up to the
housetops_--we see him standing at his door watching this ghastly
holiday--_O thou that art full of shoutings, a tumultuous city, a joyous
town?_ What are you rejoicing at in such an hour as this, when you have
not even the bravery of your soldiers to celebrate, when you are without
that pride which has brought songs from the lips of a defeated people as
they learned that their sons had fallen with their faces to the foe, and
has made even the wounds of the dead borne through the gate lips of
triumph, calling to festival! _For thy slain are not slain with the
sword, neither are they dead in battle._

  _All thy chiefs fled in heaps;
    Without bow they were taken:
  All thine that were found were taken in heaps;
    From far had they run.
  Wherefore I say, Look away from me;
    Let me make bitterness bitterer by weeping.
  Press not to comfort me
    For the ruin of the daughter of my people._

Urge not your mad holiday upon me! _For a day of discomfiture and of
breaking and of perplexity hath the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, in the
valley of vision, a breaking down of the wall and a crying to the
mountain._ These few words of prose, which follow the pathetic elegy,
have a finer pathos still. The cumulative force of the successive
clauses is very impressive: _disappointment_ at the eleventh hour; the
sense of a being _trampled_ and overborne by sheer brute force; the
counsels, courage, hope and faith of fifty years crushed to blank
_perplexity_, and all this from Himself--_the Lord, Jehovah of
hosts_--in the very _valley of vision_, the home of prophecy; as if He
had meant of purpose to destroy these long confidences of the past on
the floor where they had been wrestled for and asserted, and not by the
force of the foe, but by the folly of His own people, to make them
ashamed. The last clause crashes out the effect of it all; every
spiritual rampart and refuge torn down, there is nothing left but an
appeal to the hills to fall and cover us--_a breaking down of the wall
and a crying to the mountain_.

On the brink of the precipice, Isaiah draws back for a moment, to
describe with some of his old fire the appearance of the besiegers (vv.
6-8_a_). And this suggests what kind of preparation Jerusalem had made
for her foe--every kind, says Isaiah, but the supreme one. The arsenal,
Solomon's _forest-house_, with its cedar pillars, had been looked to
(ver. 8), the fortifications inspected and increased, and the suburban
waters brought within them (vv. 9-11_a_). _But ye looked not unto Him
that had done this_, who had brought this providence upon you; _neither
had ye respect unto Him that fashioned it long ago_, whose own plan it
had been. To your alliances and fortifications you fled in the hour of
calamity, but not to Him in whose guidance the course of calamity lay.
And therefore, when your engineering and diplomacy failed you, your
religion vanished with them. _In that day did the Lord, Jehovah of
hosts, call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding
with sackcloth; but, behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing
sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine: Let us eat and drink, for
to-morrow we shall die._ It was the dropping of the mask. For half a
century this people had worshipped God, but they had never trusted Him
beyond the limits of their treaties and their bulwarks. And so when
their allies were defeated, and their walls began to tremble, their
religion, bound up with these things, collapsed also; they ceased even
to be men, crying like beasts, _Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we
die_. For such a state of mind Isaiah will hold out no promise; it is
the sin against the Holy Ghost, and for it there is no forgiveness. _And
Jehovah of hosts revealed Himself in mine ears. Surely this iniquity
shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord, Jehovah of

Back forty years the word had been, _Go and tell this people, Hear ye
indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make
the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their
eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and
understand with their heart, and turn again and be healed._ What
happened now was only what was foretold then: _And if there be yet a
tenth in it, it shall again be for consumption._ That radical revision
of judgement was now being literally fulfilled, when Isaiah, sure at
last of his remnant within the walls of Jerusalem, was forced for their
sin to condemn even them to death.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nevertheless, Isaiah had still respect to the ultimate survival of a
remnant. How firmly he believed in it could not be more clearly
illustrated than by the fact that when he had so absolutely devoted his
fellow-citizens to destruction he also took the most practical means for
securing a better political future. If there is any reason, it can only
be this, for putting the second section of chap. xxii., which advocates
a change of ministry in the city (vv. 15-22), so close to the first,
which sees ahead nothing but destruction for the State (vv. 1-14).

The _mayor of the palace_ at this time was one Shebna, also called
_minister_ or _deputy_ (lit. _friend_ of the king). That his father is
not named implies perhaps that Shebna was a foreigner; his own name
betrays a Syrian origin; and he has been justly supposed to be the
leader of the party then in power, whose policy was the Egyptian
alliance, and whom in these latter years Isaiah had so frequently
denounced as the root of Judah's bitterness. To this unfamilied
intruder, who had sought to establish himself in Jerusalem, after the
manner of those days, by hewing himself a great sepulchre, Isaiah
brought sentence of violent banishment: _Behold, Jehovah will be
hurling, hurling thee away, thou big man, and crumpling, crumpling thee
together. He will roll, roll thee on, thou rolling-stone, like a ball_
thrown out _on broad level ground; there shall thou die, and there shall
be the chariots of thy glory, thou shame of the house of thy lord. And I
thrust thee from thy post, and from thy station do they pull thee down_.
This vagabond was not to die in his bed, nor to be gathered in his big
tomb to the people on whom he had foisted himself. He should continue a
_rolling-stone_. For him, like Cain, there was a land of Nod; and upon
it he was to find a vagabond's death.

To fill this upstart's place, Isaiah solemnly designated a man with a
father: Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah. The formulas he uses are perhaps
the official ones customary upon induction to an office. But it may be
also, that Isaiah has woven into these some expressions of even greater
promise than usual. For this change of office-bearers was critical, and
the overthrow of the "party of action" meant to Isaiah the beginning of
the blessed future. _And it shall come to pass that in that day I will
call My servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah; and I will clothe him with
thy robe, and with thy girdle will I strengthen him, and thine
administration will I give into his hand, and he shall be for a father
to the inhabitant of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will set
the key of the house of David upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and
none shut: and he shall shut, and none open. And I will hammer him in, a
nail in a firm place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to his
father's house._ Thus to the last Isaiah will not allow Shebna to forget
that he is without root among the people of God, that he has neither
father nor family.

But a family is a temptation, and the weight of it may drag even the man
of the Lord's own hammering out of his place. This very year we find
Eliakim in Shebna's post,[59] and Shebna reduced to be secretary; but
Eliakim's family seem to have taken advantage of their relative's
position, and either at the time he was designated, or more probably
later, Isaiah wrote two sentences of warning upon the dangers of
nepotism. Catching at the figure, with which his designation of Eliakim
closed, that Eliakim would be a peg in a solid wall, a throne on which
the glory of his father's house might settle, Isaiah reminds the
much-encumbered statesman that the firmest peg will give way if you hang
too much on it, the strongest man be pulled down by his dependent and
indolent family. _They shall hang upon him all the weight of his
father's house, the scions and the offspring_ (terms contrasted as
degrees of worth), _all the little vessels, from the vessels of cups to
all the vessels of flagons_. _In that day, saith Jehovah of hosts, shall
the peg that was knocked into a firm place give way, and it shall be
knocked out and fall, and down shall be cut the burden that was upon it,
for Jehovah hath spoken._

  [59] Isa. xxxvi. 3.

So we have not one, but a couple of tragedies. Eliakim, the son of
Hilkiah, follows Shebna, the son of Nobody. The fate of the overburdened
nail is as grievous as that of the rolling stone. It is easy to pass
this prophecy over as a trivial incident; but when we have carefully
analysed each verse, restored to the words their exact shade of
signification, and set them in their proper contrasts, we perceive the
outlines of two social dramas, which it requires very little imagination
to invest with engrossing moral interest.



ISAIAH xxii., contrasted with xxxiii. (701 B.C.).

The collapse of Jewish faith and patriotism in the face of the enemy was
complete. Final and absolute did Isaiah's sentence ring out: _Surely
this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith Jehovah of
hosts._ So we learn from chap. xxii., written, as we conceive, in 701,
when the Assyrian armies had at last invested Jerusalem. But in chap.
xxxiii., which critics unite in placing a few months later in the same
year, Isaiah's tone is entirely changed. He hurls the woe of the Lord
upon the Assyrians; confidently announces their immediate destruction;
turns, while the whole city's faith hangs upon him, in supplication to
the Lord; and announces the stability of Jerusalem, her peace, her glory
and the forgiveness of all her sins. It is this great moral difference
between chaps. xxii. and xxxiii.--prophecies that must have been
delivered within a few months of each other--which this chapter seeks to

In spite of her collapse, as pictured in chap. xxii., Jerusalem was not
taken. Her rulers fled; her people, as if death were certain, betook
themselves to dissipation; and yet the city did not fall into the hands
of the Assyrian. Sennacherib himself does not pretend to have taken
Jerusalem. He tells us how closely he invested Jerusalem, but he does
not add that he took it, a silence which is the more significant that he
records the capture of every other town which his armies attempted. He
says that Hezekiah offered him tribute, and details the amount he
received. He adds that the tribute was not paid at Jerusalem (as it
would have been had Jerusalem been conquered), but that for "the payment
of the tribute and the performance of homage" Hezekiah "despatched his
envoy"[60] to him when he was at some distance from Jerusalem. All this
agrees with the Bible narrative. In the book of Kings we are told how
Hezekiah sent to the King of Assyria at Lachish, saying, _I have
offended; return from me; that which thou puttest upon me I will bear_.
_And the King of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah, King of Judah, three
hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. And Hezekiah gave
him all the silver that was found in the house of Jehovah and in the
treasures of the king's house. At the same time did Hezekiah cut off the
gold from the doors of the temple of Jehovah, and from the pillars which
Hezekiah, King of Judah, had overlaid, and gave it to the King of
Assyria._[61] It was indeed a sore submission, when even the Temple of
the Lord had to be stripped of its gold. But it purchased the relief of
the city; and no price was too high to pay for that at such a moment as
the present, when the populace was demoralised. We may even see
Isaiah's hand in the submission. The integrity of Jerusalem was the one
fact on which the word of the Lord had been pledged, on which the
promised remnant could be rallied. The Assyrian must not be able to say
that he has made Zion's God like the gods of the heathen, and her people
must see that even when they have given her up Jehovah can hold her for
Himself, though in holding He tear and wound (xxxi. 4). The Temple is
greater than the gold of the Temple; let even the latter be stripped off
and sold to the heathen if it can purchase the integrity of the former.
So Jerusalem remained inviolate; she was still _the virgin, the daughter
of Zion_.

  [60] Schrader, _Cuneiform Inscriptions_, _O.T._, i., p. 286.

  [61] 2 Kings xviii. 13-16. Here closes a paragraph. Ver. 17 begins to
  describe what Sennacherib did, in spite of Hezekiah's submission. He had
  withdrawn the army that had invested Jerusalem, for Hezekiah purchased
  its withdrawal by the tribute he sent. But Sennacherib, in spite of
  this, sent another corps of war against Jerusalem, which second attack
  is described in ver. 17 and onwards.

And now upon the redeemed city Isaiah could proceed to rebuild the
shattered faith and morals of her people. He could say to them,
"Everything has turned out as, by the word of the Lord, I said it
should. The Assyrian has come down; Egypt has failed you. Your
politicians, with their scorn of religion and their confidence in their
cleverness, have deserted you. I told you that your numberless
sacrifices and pomp of unreal religion would avail you nothing in your
day of disaster, and lo! when this came, your religion collapsed. Your
abounding wickedness, I said, could only close in your ruin and
desertion by God. But one promise I kept steadfast: that Jerusalem would
not fall; and to your penitence, whenever it should be real, I assured
forgiveness. Jerusalem stands to-day, according to my word; and I repeat
my gospel. History has vindicated my word, but _Come now, let us bring
our reasoning to a close, saith the Lord; though your sins be as
scarlet, they shall be white as snow: though they be red like crimson,
they shall be as wool_. I call upon you to build again on your redeemed
city, and by the grace of this pardon, the fallen ruins of your life."

Some such sermon--if indeed not actually part of chap. i.--we must
conceive Isaiah to have delivered to the people when Hezekiah had bought
off Sennacherib, for we find the state of Jerusalem suddenly altered.
Instead of the panic, which imagined the daily capture of the city, and
rushed in hectic holiday to the housetops, crying, _Let us eat and
drink, for to-morrow we die_, we see the citizens back upon the walls,
trembling yet trusting. Instead of sweeping past Isaiah in their revelry
and leaving him to feel that after forty years of travail he had lost
all his influence with them, we see them gathering round about him as
their single hope and confidence (xxxvii.). King and people look to
Isaiah as their counsellor, and cannot answer the enemy without
consulting him. What a change from the days of the Egyptian alliance,
embassies sent off against his remonstrance, and intrigues developed
without his knowledge; when Ahaz insulted him, and the drunken magnates
mimicked him, and, in order to rouse an indolent people, he had to walk
about the streets of Jerusalem for three years, stripped like a captive!
Truly this was the day of Isaiah's triumph, when God by events
vindicated his prophecy, and all the people acknowledged his leadership.

It was the hour of the prophet's triumph, but the nation had as yet only
trials before it. God has not done with nations or men when He has
forgiven them. This people, whom of His grace, and in spite of
themselves, God had saved from destruction, stood on the brink of
another trial. God had given them a new lease of life, but it was
immediately to pass through the furnace. They had bought off
Sennacherib, but Sennacherib came back.

When Sennacherib got the tribute, he repented of the treaty he had made
with Hezekiah. He may have felt that it was a mistake to leave in his
rear so powerful a fortress, while he had still to complete the
overthrow of the Egyptians. So, in spite of the tribute, he sent a force
back to Jerusalem to demand her surrender. We can imagine the moral
effect upon King Hezekiah and his people. It was enough to sting the
most demoralised into courage. Sennacherib had doubtless expected so
pliant a king and so crushed a people to yield at once. But we may
confidently picture the joy of Isaiah, as he felt the return of the
Assyrians to be the very thing required to restore spirit to his
demoralised countrymen. Here was a foe, whom they could face with a
sense of justice, and not, as they had met him before, in carnal
confidence and the pride of their own cleverness. Now was to be a war
not, like former wars, undertaken merely for party glory, but with the
purest feelings of patriotism and the firmest sanctions of religion, a
campaign to be entered upon, not with Pharaoh's support and the strength
of Egyptian chariots, but with God Himself as an ally--of which it could
be said to Judah, _Thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory
of the Lord shall be thy rereward_.

On what free, exultant wings the spirit of Isaiah must have risen to the
sublime occasion! We know him as by nature an ardent patriot and
passionate lover of his city, but through circumstance her pitiless
critic and unsparing judge. In all the literature of patriotism there
are no finer odes and orations than those which it owes to him; from no
lips came stronger songs of war, and no heart rejoiced more in the
valour that turns the battle from the gate. But till now Isaiah's
patriotism had been chiefly a conscience of his country's sins, his
passionate love for Jerusalem repressed by as stern a loyalty to
righteousness, and all his eloquence and courage spent in holding his
people from war and persuading them _to returning and rest_. At last
this conflict is at an end. The stubbornness of Judah, which has divided
like some rock the current of her prophet's energies, and forced it back
writhing and eddying upon itself, is removed. Isaiah's faith and his
patriotism run free with the force of twin-tides in one channel, and we
hear the fulness of their roar as they leap together upon the enemies of
God and the fatherland. _Woe to thee, thou spoiler, and thou wast not
spoiled, thou treacherous dealer, and they did not deal treacherously
with thee! Whenever thou ceasest to spoil, thou shall be spoiled; and
whenever thou hast made an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal
treacherously with thee. O Jehovah, be gracious unto us; for Thee have
we waited: be Thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the
time of trouble. From the noise of a surging the peoples have fled; from
the lifting up of Thyself the nations are scattered. And gathered is
your spoil, the gathering of the caterpillar; like the leaping of
locusts, they are leaping upon it. Exalted is Jehovah; yea, He dwelleth
on high: He hath filled Zion with justice and righteousness. And there
shall be stability of thy times, wealth of salvation, wisdom and
knowledge; the fear of Jehovah, it shall be his treasure_ (xxxiii. 1-6).

Thus, then, do we propose to bridge the gulf which lies between chaps.
i. and xxii. on the one hand and chap. xxxiii. on the other. If they are
all to be dated from the year 701, some such bridge is necessary. And
the one we have traced is both morally sufficient and in harmony with
what we know to have been the course of events.

What do we learn from it all? We learn a great deal upon that truth
which chap. xxxiii. closes by announcing--the truth of Divine

The forgiveness of God is the foundation of every bridge from a hopeless
past to a courageous present. That God can make the past be for guilt as
though it had not been is always to Isaiah the assurance of the future.
An old Greek miniature[62] represents him with Night behind him, veiled
and sullen and holding a reversed torch. But before him stands Dawn and
Innocence, a little child, with bright face and forward step and torch
erect and burning. From above a hand pours light upon the face of the
prophet, turned upwards. It is the message of a Divine pardon. Never did
prophet more wearily feel the moral continuity of the generations, the
lingering and ineradicable effects of crime. Only faith in a pardoning
God could have enabled him, with such conviction of the inseparableness
of yesterday and to-morrow, to make divorce between them, and turning
his back on the past, as this miniature represents, hail the future as
Immanuel, a child of infinite promise. From exposing and scourging the
past, from proving it corrupt and pregnant with poison for all the
future, Isaiah will turn on a single verse, and give us a future without
war, sorrow or fraud. His pivot is ever the pardon of God. But nowhere
is his faith in this so powerful, his turning upon it so swift, as at
this period of Jerusalem's collapse, when, having sentenced the people
to death for their iniquity--_It was revealed in mine ears by Jehovah of
hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die,
saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts_ (xxii. 14)--he swings round on his
promise of a little before--_Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall
be white as snow_--and to the people's penitence pronounces in the last
verse of chap. xxxiii. a final absolution: _The inhabitant shall not
say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein are forgiven their
iniquity_. If chap. xxxiii. be, as many think, Isaiah's latest oracle,
then we have the literal crown of all his prophesying in these two
words: _forgiven iniquity_. It is as he put it early that same year:
_Come now and let us bring our reasoning to a close; though your sins be
as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like
crimson, they shall be as wool_. If man is to have a future, this must
be the conclusion of all his past.

  [62] Didron _Christian Iconography_, fig. 52.

But the absoluteness of God's pardon, making the past as though it had
not been, is not the only lesson which the spiritual experience of
Jerusalem in that awful year of 701 has for us. Isaiah's gospel of
forgiveness is nothing less than this: that when God gives pardon He
gives Himself. The name of the blessed future, which is entered through
pardon--as in that miniature, a child--is Immanuel: _God-with-us_. And
if it be correct that we owe the forty-sixth Psalm to these months when
the Assyrian came back upon Jerusalem, then we see how the city, that
had abandoned God, is yet able to sing when she is pardoned, _God is our
refuge and our strength, a very present help in the midst of troubles_.
And this gospel of forgiveness is not only Isaiah's. According to the
whole Bible, there is but one thing which separates man from God--that
is sin, and when sin is done away with, God cannot be kept from man. In
giving pardon to man, God gives back to man Himself. How gloriously
evident this truth becomes in the New Testament! Christ, who is set
before us as the Lamb of God, who beareth the sins of the world, is also
Immanuel--God-with-us. The Sacrament, which most plainly seals to the
believer the value of the One Sacrifice for sin, is the Sacrament in
which the believer feeds upon Christ and appropriates Him. The sinner,
who comes to Christ, not only receives pardon for Christ's sake, but
receives Christ. Forgiveness means nothing less than this: that in
giving pardon God gives Himself.

But if forgiveness mean all this, then the objections frequently brought
against a conveyance of it so unconditioned as that of Isaiah fall to
the ground. Forgiveness of such a kind cannot be either unjust or
demoralising. On the contrary, we see Jerusalem permoralised by it. At
first, it is true, the sense of weakness and fear abounds, as we learn
from the narrative in chaps. xxxvi. and xxxvii. But where there was
vanity, recklessness and despair, giving way to dissipation, there is
now humility, discipline and a leaning upon God, that are led up to
confidence and exultation. Jerusalem's experience is just another proof
that any moral results are possible to so great a process as the return
of God to the soul. Awful is the responsibility of them who receive such
a Gift and such a Guest; but the sense of that awfulness is the
atmosphere, in which obedience and holiness and the courage that is born
of both love best to grow. One can understand men scoffing at messages
of pardon so unconditioned as Isaiah's, who think they "mean no more
than a clean slate." Taken in this sense, the gospel of forgiveness must
prove a savour of death unto death. But just as Jerusalem interpreted
the message of her pardon to mean that _God is in the midst of her; she
shall not be moved_, and straightway obedience was in all her hearts,
and courage upon all her walls, so neither to us can be futile the New
Testament form of the same gospel, which makes our pardoned soul the
friend of God, accepted in the Beloved, and our body His holy temple.

Upon one other point connected with the forgiveness of sins we get
instruction from the experience of Jerusalem. A man has difficulty in
squaring his sense of forgiveness with the return on the back of it of
his old temptations and trials, with the hostility of fortune and with
the inexorableness of nature. Grace has spoken to his heart, but
Providence bears more hard upon him than ever. Pardon does not change
the outside of life; it does not immediately modify the movements of
history, or suspend the laws of nature. Although God has forgiven
Jerusalem, Assyria comes back to besiege her. Although the penitent be
truly reconciled to God, the constitutional results of his fall remain:
the frequency of temptation, the power of habit, the bias and facility
downwards, the physical and social consequences. Pardon changes none of
these things. It does not keep off the Assyrians.

But if pardon means the return of God to the soul, then in this we have
the secret of the return of the foe. Men could not try nor develop a
sense of the former except by their experience of the latter. We have
seen why Isaiah must have welcomed the perfidious reappearance of the
Assyrians after he had helped to buy them off. Nothing could better test
the sincerity of Jerusalem's repentance, or rally her dissipated forces.
Had the Assyrians not returned, the Jews would have had no experimental
proof of God's restored presence, and the great miracle would never
have happened that rang through human history for evermore--a
trumpet-call to faith in the God of Israel. And so still _the Lord
scourgeth every son whom He receiveth_, because He would put our
penitence to the test; because He would discipline our disorganised
affections, and give conscience and will a chance of wiping out defeat
by victory; because He would baptize us with the most powerful baptism
possible--the sense of being trusted once more to face the enemy upon
the fields of our disgrace.

That is why the Assyrians came back to Jerusalem, and that is why
temptations and penalties still pursue the penitent and forgiven.



ISAIAH xxxiii. (701 B.C.).

We have seen how the sense of forgiveness and the exultant confidence,
which fill chap. xxxiii., were brought about within a few months after
the sentence of death, that cast so deep a gloom on chap. xxii. We have
expounded some of the contents of chap. xxxiii., but have not exhausted
the chapter; and in particular we have not touched one of Isaiah's
principles, which there finds perhaps its finest expression: the
consuming righteousness of God.

There is no doubt that chap. xxxiii. refers to the sudden disappearance
of the Assyrian from the walls of Jerusalem. It was written, part
perhaps on the eve of that deliverance, part immediately after morning
broke upon the vanished host. Before those verses which picture the
disappearance of the investing army, we ought in strict chronological
order to take the narrative in chaps. xxxvi. and xxxvii.--the return of
the besiegers, the insolence of the Rabshakeh, the prostration of
Hezekiah, Isaiah's solitary faith, and the sudden disappearance of the
Assyrian. It will be more convenient, however, since we have already
entered chap. xxxiii., to finish it, and then to take the narrative of
the events which led up to it.

The opening verses of chap. xxxiii. fit the very moment of the crisis,
as if Isaiah had flung them across the walls in the teeth of the
Rabshakeh and the second embassy from Sennacherib, who had returned to
demand the surrender of the city in spite of Hezekiah's tribute for her
integrity: _Woe to thee, thou spoiler, and thou wast not spoiled, thou
treacherous dealer, and they did not deal treacherously with thee_!
_When thou ceasest to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled; and when thou makest
an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee._
Then follows the prayer, as already quoted, and the confidence in the
security of Jerusalem (ver. 2). A new paragraph (vv. 7-12) describes
Rabshakeh and his company demanding the surrender of the city; the
disappointment of the ambassadors who had been sent to treat with
Sennacherib (ver. 7); the perfidy of the great king, who had broken the
covenant they had made with him and swept his armies back upon Judah
(ver. 8); the disheartening of the land under this new shock (ver. 9);
and the resolution of the Lord now to rise and scatter the invaders:
_Now will I arise, saith Jehovah; now will I lift up Myself; now will I
be exalted_. _Ye shall conceive chaff; ye shall bring forth stubble;
your breath is a fire, that shall devour you. And the peoples shall be
as the burnings of lime, as thorns cut down that are burned in the fire_
(vv. 10-12).

After an application of this same fire of God's righteousness to the
sinners _within_ Jerusalem, to which we shall presently return, the rest
of the chapter pictures the stunned populace awaking to the fact that
they are free. Is the Assyrian really gone, or do the Jews dream as they
crowd the walls, and see no trace of him? Have they all vanished--the
Rabshakeh, _by the conduit of the upper pool, with his loud voice_ and
insults; the scribes to whom they handed the tribute, and who prolonged
the agony by counting it under their eyes; the scouts and engineers
insolently walking about Zion and mapping out her walls for the assault;
the close investment of barbarian hordes, with their awesome speech and
uncouth looks! _Where is he that counted? where is he that weighed the
tribute? where is he that counted the towers? Thou shall not see the
fierce people, a people of a deep speech that thou canst not perceive,
of a strange tongue that thou canst not understand._ They have vanished.
Hezekiah may lift his head again. O people--sore at heart to see thy
king in sackcloth and ashes[63] as the enemy devoured province after
province of thy land and cooped thee up within the narrow walls, thou
scarcely didst dare to peep across--take courage, the terror is gone! _A
king in his beauty thine eyes shall see; they shall behold the land
spreading very far forth_ (ver. 17). We had thought to die in the
restlessness and horror of war, never again to know what stable life and
regular worship were, our Temple services interrupted, our home a
battlefield. But _look upon Zion_; behold again _she is the city of our
solemn diets; thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tent
that shall not be removed, the stakes whereof shall never be plucked up,
neither shall the cords thereof be broken. But there Jehovah_, whom we
have known only for affliction, _shall be in majesty for us_. Other
peoples have their natural defences, Assyria and Egypt their Euphrates
and Nile; but God Himself shall be for us _a place of rivers, streams,
broad on both hands, on which never a galley shall go, nor gallant ship
shall pass upon it_. Without sign of battle, God shall be our refuge and
our strength. It was that marvellous deliverance of Jerusalem by the
hand of God, with no effort of human war, which caused Isaiah to invest
with such majesty the meagre rock, its squalid surroundings and paltry
defences. The insignificant and waterless city was glorious to the
prophet because God was in her. One of the richest imaginations which
patriot ever poured upon his fatherland was inspired by the simplest
faith saint ever breathed. Isaiah strikes again the old keynote (chap.
viii.) about the waterlessness of Jerusalem. We have to keep in mind the
Jews' complaints of this, in order to understand what the forty-sixth
Psalm means when it says, _There is a river the streams whereof make
glad the city of our God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most
High_--or what Isaiah means when he says, _Glorious shall Jehovah be
unto us, a place of broad rivers and streams_. Yea, he adds, Jehovah is
everything to us: Jehovah is our Judge; Jehovah is our Lawgiver; Jehovah
is our King: He will save us.

  [63] Chap. xxxvii.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such were the feelings aroused in Jerusalem by the sudden relief of the
city. Some of the verses, which we have scarcely touched, we will now
consider more fully as the expression of a doctrine which runs
throughout Isaiah, and indeed is one of his two or three fundamental
truths--that the righteousness of God is an all-pervading atmosphere, an
atmosphere that wears and burns.

For forty years the prophet had been preaching to the Jews his gospel,
_God-with-us_; but they never awakened to the reality of the Divine
presence till they saw it in the dispersion of the Assyrian army. Then
God became real to them (ver. 14). The justice of God, preached so long
by Isaiah, had always seemed something abstract. Now they saw how
concrete it was. It was not only a doctrine: it was a fact. It was a
fact that was a fire. Isaiah had often called it a fire; they thought
this was rhetoric. But now they saw the actual burning--_the peoples as
the burning of lime, as thorns cut down that are burned in the fire_.
And when they felt the fire so near, each sinner of them awoke to the
fact that he had something burnable in himself, something which could as
little stand the fire as the Assyrians could. There was no difference in
this fire outside and inside the walls. What it burned there it would
burn here. Nay, was not Jerusalem the dwelling-place of God, and Ariel
the very hearth and furnace of the fire which they saw consume the
Assyrians? _Who_, they cried in their terror--_Who among us shall dwell
with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting

We are familiar with Isaiah's fundamental God-with-us, and how it was
spoken not for mercy only, but for judgement (chap. viii.). If
_God-with-us_ meant love with us, salvation with us, it meant also
holiness with us, judgement with us, the jealousy of God breathing upon
what is impure, false and proud. Isaiah felt this so hotly, that his
sense of it has broken out into some of the fieriest words in all
prophecy. In his younger days he told the citizens not _to provoke the
eyes of God's glory_, as if Heaven had fastened on their life two
gleaming orbs, not only to pierce them with its vision, but to consume
them with its wrath. Again, in the lowering cloud of calamity he had
seen _lips of indignation, a tongue as a devouring fire_, and in the
overflowing stream which finally issued from it the hot _breath of the
Almighty_. These are unforgettable descriptions of the ceaseless
activity of Divine righteousness in the life of man. They set our
imaginations on fire with the prophet's burning belief in this. But they
are excelled by another, more frequently used by Isaiah, wherein he
likens the holiness of God to an universal and constant fire. To Isaiah
life was so penetrated by the active justice of God, that he described
it as bathed in fire, as blown through with fire. Righteousness was no
mere doctrine to this prophet: it was the most real thing in history; it
was the presence which pervaded and explained all phenomena. We shall
understand the difference between Isaiah and his people if we have ever
for our eyes' sake looked at a great conflagration through a coloured
glass which allowed us to see the solid materials--stone, wood and
iron--but prevented us from perceiving the flames and shimmering heat.
To look thus is to see pillars, lintels and cross-beams twist and fall,
crumble and fade; but how inexplicable the process seems! Take away the
glass, and everything is clear. The fiery element is filling all the
interstices, that were blank to us before, and beating upon the solid
material. The heat becomes visible, shimmering even where there is no
flame. Just so had it been with the sinners in Judah these forty years.
Their society and politics, individual fortunes and careers, personal
and national habits--the home, the Church, the State--common outlines
and shapes of life--were patent to every eye, but no man could explain
the constant decay and diminution, because all were looking at life
through a glass darkly. Isaiah alone faced life with open vision, which
filled up for him the interstices of experience and gave terrible
explanation to fate. It was a vision that nearly scorched the eyes out
of him. Life as he saw it was steeped in flame--the glowing
righteousness of God. Jerusalem was full _of the spirit of justice, the
spirit of burning. The light of Israel is for a fire, and his Holy One
for a flame._ The Assyrian empire, that vast erection which the strong
hands of kings had reared, was simply their pyre, made ready for the
burning. _For a Topheth is prepared of old; yea, for the king it is made
ready; He hath made it deep and large; the pile thereof is fire and much
wood; the breath of Jehovah, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle
it._[64] So Isaiah saw life, and flashed it on his countrymen. At last
the glass fell from their eyes also, and they cried aloud, _Who among us
shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with
everlasting burnings?_ Isaiah replied that there is one thing which can
survive the universal flame, and that is character: _He that walketh
righteously and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of fraud,
that shaketh his hands from the holding of bribes, that stoppeth his
ears from the hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from looking on
evil, he shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the
munitions of rocks: his bread shall be given him: his water shall be

  [64] Chaps. iv. 4; xxx. 33.

       *       *       *       *       *

Isaiah's Vision of Fire suggests two thoughts to us.

1. Have we done well to confine our horror of the consuming fires of
righteousness to the next life? If we would but use the eyes which
Scripture lends us, the rifts of prophetic vision and awakened
conscience by which the fogs of this world and of our own hearts are
rent, we should see fires as fierce, a consumption as pitiless, about us
here as ever the conscience of a startled sinner fearfully looked for
across the grave. Nay, have not the fires, with which the darkness of
eternity has been made lurid, themselves been kindled at the burnings of
this life? Is it not because men have felt how hot this world was being
made for sin that they have had a _certain fearful expectation of
judgement and the fierceness of fire_? We shudder at the horrible
pictures of hell which some older theologians and poets have painted for
us; but it was not morbid fancy, nor the barbarism of their age nor
their own heart's cruelty that inspired these men. It was their hot
honour for the Divine holiness; it was their experience of how pitiless
to sin Providence is already in this life; it was their own scorched
senses and affections--brands, as many honest men among them felt
themselves, plucked from the burning. Our God _is_ a consuming
fire--here as well as yonder. Hell has borrowed her glare from the
imagination of men aflame with the real fieriness of life, and may
be--more truly than of old--pictured as the dead and hollow cinder left
by those fires, of which, as every true man's conscience is aware, this
life is full. It was not hell that created conscience; it was conscience
that created hell, and conscience was fired by the vision which fired
Isaiah--of all life aglow with the righteousness of God--_God with us_,
as He was with Jerusalem, _a spirit of burning and a spirit of justice_.
This is the pantheism of conscience, and it stands to reason. God is the
one power of life. What can exist beside Him except what is like Him?
Nothing--sooner or later nothing but what is like Him. The will that is
as His will, the heart that is pure, the character that is
transparent--only these dwell with the everlasting fire, and burning
with God, as the bush which Moses saw, are nevertheless not consumed.
Let us lay it to heart--Isaiah has nothing to tell us about hell-fire,
but a great deal about the pitiless justice of God in this life.

2. The second thought suggested by Isaiah's Vision of Life is a
comparison of it with the theory of life which is fashionable to-day.
Isaiah's figure for life was a burning. Ours is a battle, and at first
sight ours looks the truer. Seen through a formula which has become
everywhere fashionable, life is a fierce and fascinating warfare.
Civilised thought, when asked to describe any form of life or to account
for a death or survival, most monotonously replies, "The struggle for
existence." The sociologist has borrowed the phrase from the biologist,
and it is on everybody's lips to describe their idea of human life. It
is uttered by the historian when he would explain the disappearance of
this national type, the prevalence of that one. The economist traces
depression and failures, the fatal fevers of speculation, the cruelties
and bad humours of commercial life, to the same source. A merchant with
profits lessening and failure before him relieves his despair and
apologizes to his pride with the words, "It is all due to competition."
Even character and the spiritual graces are sometimes set down as
results of the same material process. Some have sought to deduce from it
all intelligence, others more audaciously all ethics; and it is certain
that in the silence of men's hearts after a moral defeat there is no
excuse more frequently offered to conscience by will than that the
battle was too hot.

But fascinating as life is when seen through this formula, does not the
formula act on our vision precisely as the glass we supposed, which when
we look through it on a conflagration shows us the solid matter and the
changes through which this passes, but hides from us the real agent? One
need not deny the reality of the struggle for existence, or that its
results are enormous. We struggle with each other, and affect each other
for good and for evil, sometimes past all calculation. But we do not
fight in a vacuum. Let Isaiah's vision be the complement of our own
feeling. We fight in an atmosphere that affects every one of us far more
powerfully than the opposing wits or wills of our fellow-men. Around us
and through us, within and without as we fight, is the all-pervading
righteousness of God; and it is far oftener the effects of this which we
see in the falls and the changes of life than the effects of our
struggle with each other, enormous though these may be. On this point
there is an exact parallel between our days and the days of Isaiah. Then
the politicians of Judah, looking through their darkened glass at life,
said, Life is simply a war in which the strongest prevail, a game which
the most cunning win. So they made fast their alliances, and were ready
to meet the Assyrian, or they fled in panic before him, according as
Egypt or he seemed the stronger. Isaiah saw that with Assyrian and Jew
another Power was present--the real reason of every change in politics,
collapse or crash in either of the empires--the active righteousness of
God. Assyrian and Jew had not only to contend with each other. They were
at strife with Him. We now see plainly that Isaiah was right. Far more
operative than the intrigues of politicians or the pride of Assyria,
because it used these simply as its mines and its fuel, was the law of
righteousness, the spiritual force which is as impalpable as the
atmosphere, yet strong to burn and try as a furnace seven times heated.
And Isaiah is equally right for to-day. As we look at life through our
fashionable formula it does seem a mass of struggle, in which we catch
only now and then a glimpse of the decisions of righteousness, but the
prevailing lawlessness of which we do not hesitate to make the reason of
all that happens, and in particular the excuse of our own defeats. We
are wrong. Righteousness is not an occasional spark; righteousness is
the atmosphere. Though our dull eyes see it only now and then strike
into flame in the battle of life, and take for granted that it is but
the flash of meeting wits or of steel on steel, God's justice is
everywhere, pervasive and pitiless, affecting the combatants far more
than they have power to affect one another.

We shall best learn the truth of this in the way the sinners in
Jerusalem learned it--each man first looking into himself. _Who among us
shall dwell with the everlasting burnings?_ Can we attribute all our
defeats to the opposition that was upon us at the moment they occurred?
When our temper failed, when our charity relaxed, when our resoluteness
gave way, was it the hotness of debate, was it the pressure of the
crowd, was it the sneer of the scorner, that was to blame? We all know
that these were only the occasions of our defeats. Conscience tells us
that the cause lay in a slothful or self-indulgent heart, which the
corrosive atmosphere of Divine righteousness had been consuming, and
which, sapped and hollow by its effect, gave way at every material

With the knowledge that conscience gives us, let us now look at a kind
of figure which must be within the horizon of all of us. Once it was the
most commanding stature among its fellows, the straight back and broad
brow of a king of men. But now what is the last sight of him that will
remain with us, flung out there against the evening skies of his life? A
bent back (we speak of character), a stooping face, the shrinking
outlines of a man ready to collapse. It was not the struggle for
existence that killed him, for he was born to prevail in it. It was the
atmosphere that told on him. He carried in him that on which the
atmosphere could not but tell. A low selfishness or passion inhabited
him, and became the predominant part of him, so that his outward life
was only its shell; and when the fire of God at last pierced this, he
was as thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire.

We can explain much with the outward eye, but the most of the
explanation lies beyond. Where our knowledge of a man's life ends, the
great meaning of it often only begins. All the vacancy beyond the
outline we see is full of that meaning. God is there, and _God is a
consuming fire_. Let us not seek to explain lives only by what we see of
them, the visible strife of man with man and nature. It is the invisible
that contains the secret of what is seen. We see the shoulders stoop,
but not the burden upon them; the face darken, but look in vain for what
casts the shadow; the light sparkle in the eye, but cannot tell what
star of hope its glance has caught. And even so when we behold fortune
and character go down in the warfare of this world, we ought to remember
that it is not always the things we see that are to blame for the fall,
but that awful flame which, unseen by common man, has been revealed to
the prophets of God.

Righteousness and retribution, then, are an atmosphere--not lines or
laws that we may happen to stumble upon, not explosives, that, being
touched, burst out on us, but the atmosphere--always about us and always
at work, invisible and yet more mighty than aught we see. _God, in whom
we live and move and have our being, is a consuming fire._



ISAIAH xxxvi. (701 B.C.).

It remains for us now to follow in chaps. xxxvi., xxxvii., the
historical narrative of the events, the moral results of which we have
seen so vivid in chap. xxxiii.--the perfidious return of the Assyrians
to Jerusalem after Hezekiah had bought them off and their final
disappearance from the Holy Land.

This historical narrative has also its moral. It is not annals, but
drama. The whole moral of Isaiah's prophesying is here flung into a duel
between champions of the two tempers, which we have seen in perpetual
conflict throughout his book. The two tempers are--on Isaiah's side an
absolute and unselfish faith in God, Sovereign of the world and Saviour
of His people; on the side of the Assyrians a bare, brutal confidence in
themselves, in human cleverness and success, a vaunting contempt of
righteousness and of pity. The main interest of Isaiah's book has
consisted in the way these tempers oppose each other, and alternately
influence the feeling of the Jewish community. That interest is now to
culminate in the scene which brings near such thorough representatives
of the two tempers as Isaiah and the Rabshakeh, with the crowd of
wavering Jews between. Most strikingly, Assyria's last assault is not of
force, but of speech, delivering upon faith the subtle arguments of the
worldly temper; and as strikingly, while all official religion and
power of State stand helpless against them, these arguments are met by
the bare word of God. In this mere statement of the situation, however,
we perceive that much more than the quarrel of a single generation is
being decided. This scene is a parable of the everlasting struggle
between faith and force, with doubt and despair between them. In the
clever, self-confident, persuasive personage with two languages on his
tongue and an army at his back; in the fluttered representatives of
official religion who meet him and are afraid of the effect of his
speech on the common people; in the ranks of dispirited men who hear the
dialogue from the wall; in the sensitive king so aware of faith, and yet
so helpless to bring faith forth to peace and triumph; and, in the
background of the whole situation, the serene prophet of God, grasping
only God's word, and by his own steadfastness carrying the city over the
crisis and proving that faith indeed can be _the substance of things
hoped for_--we have a phase of the struggle ordained unto every
generation of men, and which is as fresh to-day as when Rabshakeh played
the cynic and the scribes and elders filled the part of nervous
defenders of the faith, under the walls of faith's fortress, two
thousand five hundred years ago.


This word is a Hebrew transliteration of the Assyrian Rab-sak, _chief of
the officers_. Though there is some doubt on the point, we may naturally
presume from the duties he here discharges that the Rabshakeh was a
civilian--probably the civil commissioner or political officer attached
to the Assyrian army, which was commanded, according to 2 Kings xviii.
16, by the Tartan or commander-in-chief himself.

In all the Bible there is not a personage more clever than this
Rabshakeh, nor more typical. He was an able deputy of the king who sent
him, but he represented still more thoroughly the temper of the
civilisation to which he belonged. There is no word of this man which is
not characteristic. A clever, fluent diplomatist, with the traveller's
knowledge of men and the conqueror's contempt for them, the Rabshakeh is
the product of a victorious empire like the Assyrian, or, say, like the
British. Our services sometimes turn out the like of him--a creature
able to speak to natives in their own language, full and ready of
information, mastering the surface of affairs at a glance, but always
baffled by the deeper tides which sway nations; a deft player upon party
interests and the superficial human passions, but unfit to touch the
deep springs of men's religion and patriotism. Let us speak, however,
with respect of the Rabshakeh. From his rank (Sayce calls him the
Vizier), as well as from the cleverness with which he explains what we
know to have been the policy of Sennacherib towards the populations of
Syria, he may well have been the inspiring mind at this time of the
great Assyrian empire--Sennacherib's Bismarck.

The Rabshakeh had strutted down from the great centre of civilisation,
with its temper upon him, and all its great resources at his back,
confident to twist these poor provincial tribes round his little finger.
How petty he conceived them we infer from his never styling Hezekiah
_the king_. This was to be an occasion for the Rabshakeh's own
glorification. Jerusalem was to fall to his clever speeches. He had
indeed the army behind him, but the work to be done was not the rough
work of soldiers. All was to be managed by him, the civilian and orator.
This fellow, with his two languages and clever address, was to step out
in front of the army and finish the whole business.

The Rabshakeh spoke extremely well. With his first words he touched the
sore point of Judah's policy: her trust in Egypt. On this he spoke like
a very Isaiah. But he showed a deeper knowledge of Judah's internal
affairs, and a subtler deftness in using it, when he referred to the
matter of the altars. Hezekiah had abolished the high places in all
parts of the land, and gathered the people to the central sanctuary in
Jerusalem. The Assyrian knew that a number of Jews must look upon this
disestablishment of religion in the provinces as likely to incur
Jehovah's displeasure and turn Him against them. Therefore he said, _But
if thou say unto me, We trust in Jehovah our God, is not that He whose
high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to
Judah and to Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar?_ And then,
having shaken their religious confidence, he made sport of their
military strength. And finally he boldly asserted, _Jehovah said unto
me, Go up against this land and destroy it_. All this shows a master in
diplomacy, a most clever demagogue. The scribes and elders felt the
edge, and begged him to sheathe it in a language unknown to the common
people. But he, conscious of his power, spoke the more boldly,
addressing himself directly to the poorer sort of the garrison, on whom
the siege would press most heavily. His second speech to them is a good
illustration of the policy pursued by Assyria at this time towards the
cities of Palestine. We know from the annals of Sennacherib that his
customary policy, to seduce the populations of a hostile State from
allegiance to their rulers, had succeeded in other cases; and it was so
plausibly uttered in this case, that it seemed likely to succeed again.
To the common soldiers on the walls, with the prospect of being reduced
to the foul rations of a prolonged siege (ver. 12), Sennacherib's
ambassador offers rich and equal property and enjoyment. _Make a treaty
with me, and come out to me, and eat every one of his vine and every one
of his fig tree, and drink ye every one of the water of his cistern,
until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of
corn and grapes, a land of bread-corn and orchards. Every one_!--it is a
most subtle assault upon the discipline, comradeship and patriotism of
the common soldiers by the promises of a selfish, sensuous equality and
individualism. But then the speaker's native cynicism gets the better of
him--it is not possible for an Assyrian long to play the part of
clemency--and, with a flash of scorn, he asks the sad men upon the walls
whether they really believe that Jehovah can save them: _Hath any of the
gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the King of
Assyria, ... that Jehovah should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?_ All
the range of their feelings does he thus run through, seeking with sharp
words to snap each cord of faith in God, of honour to the king and love
of country. Had the Jews heart to answer him, they might point out the
inconsistency between his claim to have been sent by Jehovah and the
contempt he now pours upon their God. But the inconsistency is
characteristic. The Assyrian has some acquaintance with the Jewish
faith; he makes use of its articles when they serve his purpose, but his
ultimatum is to tear them to shreds in their believers' faces. He treats
the Jews as men of culture still sometimes treat barbarians, first
scornfully humouring their faith and then savagely trampling it under

So clever were the speeches of the Rabshakeh. We see why he was
appointed to this mission. He was an expert both in the language and
religion of this tribe, perched on its rock in the remote Judæan
highlands. For a foreigner he showed marvellous familiarity with the
temper and internal jealousies of the Jewish religion. He turned these
on each other almost as adroitly as Paul himself did in the disputes
between Sadducees and Pharisees. How the fellow knew his cleverness,
strutting there betwixt army and town! He would show his soldier friends
the proper way of dealing with stubborn barbarians. He would astonish
those faith-proud highlanders by exhibiting how much he was aware of the
life behind their thick walls and silent faces, _for the king's
commandment was, Answer him not_.

And yet did the Rabshakeh, with all his raking, know the heart of Judah?
No, truly. The whole interest of this man is the incongruity of the
expertness and surface-knowledge, which he spattered on Jerusalem's
walls, with the deep secret of God, that, as some inexhaustible well,
the fortress of the faith carried within her. Ah, Assyrian, there is
more in starved Jerusalem than thou canst put in thy speeches! Suppose
Heaven were to give those sharp eyes of thine power to look through the
next thousand years, and see this race and this religion thou puffest
at, the highest-honoured, hottest-hated of the world, centre of
mankind's regard and debate, but thou, and thy king and all the glory of
your empire wrapped deep in oblivion. To this little fortress of
highland men shall the heart of great peoples turn: kings for its
nursing-fathers and queens for its nursing-mothers, the forces of the
Gentiles shall come to it, and from it new civilisations take their
laws; while thou and all thy paraphernalia disappear into blackness,
haunted only by the antiquary, the world taking an interest in thee just
in so far as thou didst once hopelessly attempt to understand Jerusalem
and capture her faith by thine own interpretation of it. Curious pigmy,
very grand thou thinkest thyself, and surely with some right as delegate
of the king of kings, parading thy cleverness and thy bribes before
these poor barbarians; but the world, called to look upon you both from
this eminence of history, grants thee to be a very good head of an
intelligence department, with a couple of languages on thy glib tongue's
end, but adjudges that with the starved and speechless men before thee
lies the secret of all that is worth living and dying for in this world.

The Rabshakeh's plausible futility and Jerusalem's faith, greatly
distressed before him, are typical. Still as men hang moodily over the
bulwarks of Zion, doubtful whether life is worth living within the
narrow limits which religion prescribes, or righteousness worth fighting
for with such privations and hope deferred, comes upon them some elegant
and plausible temptation, loudly calling to give the whole thing up.
Disregarding the official arguments and evidences that push forward to
parley, it speaks home in practical tones to men's real selves--their
appetites and selfishnesses. "You are foolish fellows," it says, "to
confine yourselves to such narrowness of life and self-denial! The fall
of your faith is only a matter of time: other creeds have gone; yours
must follow. And why fight the world for the sake of an idea, or from
the habits of a discipline? Such things only starve the human spirit;
and the world is so generous, so free to every one, so tolerant of each
enjoying his own, unhampered by authority or religion."

In our day what has the greatest effect on the faith of many men is just
this mixture, that pervades the Rabshakeh's address,--of a superior
culture pretending to expose religion, with the easy generosity, which
offers to the individual a selfish life, unchecked by any discipline or
religious fear. That modern Rabshakeh, Ernest Rénan, with the forces of
historical criticism at his back, but confident rather in his own skill
of address, speaking to us believers as poor picturesque provincials,
patronising our Deity, and telling us that he knows His intentions
better than we do ourselves, is a very good representative of the
enemies of the Faith, who owe their impressiveness upon common men to
the familiarity they display with the contents of the Faith, and the
independent, easy life they offer to the man who throws his strict faith
off. Superior knowledge, with the offer on its lips of a life on good
terms with the rich and tolerant world--pretence of science promising
selfishness--that is to-day, as then under the walls of Jerusalem, the
typical enemy of the Faith. But if faith be held simply as the silent
garrison of Jerusalem held it, faith in a Lord God of righteousness, who
has given us a conscience to serve Him, and has spoken to us in plain
explanation of this by those whom we can see, understand and trust--not
only by an Isaiah, but by a Jesus--then neither mere cleverness nor the
ability to promise comfort can avail against our faith. A simple
conscience of God and of duty may not be able to answer subtle arguments
word for word, but she can feel the incongruity of their cleverness with
her own precious secret; she can at least expose the fallacy of their
sensuous promises of an untroubled life. No man, who tempts us from a
good conscience with God in the discipline of our religion and the
comradeship of His people, can ensure that there will be no starvation
in the pride of life, no captivity in the easy tolerance of the world.
To the heart of man there will always be captivity in selfishness; there
will always be exile in unbelief. Even where the romance and sentiment
of faith are retained, after the manner of Rénan, it is only to mock us
with mirage. _As in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is, our heart
and flesh shall cry out for the living God, as we have aforetime seen
Him in the sanctuary._ The land, in which the tempter promises a life
undisturbed by religious restraints, is not our home, neither is it
freedom. By the conscience that is in us, God has set us on the walls of
faith, with His law to observe, with His people to stand by; and against
us are the world and its tempters, with all their wiles to be defied. If
we go down from the charge and shelter of so simple a religion, then,
whatever enjoyment we have, we shall enjoy it only with the fears of the
deserter and the greed of the slave.

In spite of scorn and sensuous promise from Rabshakeh to Rénan, let us
lift the hymn which these silent Jews at last lifted from the walls of
their delivered city: _Walk about Zion and go round about her; tell ye
the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, and consider her palaces,
that ye may tell it to the generation to come. For this God is our God
for ever and ever. He will be our Guide even unto death._



ISAIAH xxxvii. (701 B.C.).

Within the fortress of the faith there is only silence and
embarrassment. We pass from the Rabshakeh, posing outside the walls of
Zion, to Hezekiah, prostrate within them. We pass with the distracted
councillors, by the walls crowded with moody and silent soldiers, many
of them--if this be the meaning of the king's command that they should
not parley--only too ready to yield to the plausible infidel. We are
astonished. Has faith nothing to say for herself? Have this people of so
long Divine inspiration no habit of self-possession, no argument in
answer to the irrelevant attacks of their enemy? Where are the
traditions of Moses and Joshua, the songs of Deborah and David? Can men
walk about Zion, and their very footsteps on her walls ring out no

Hezekiah's complaint reminds us that in this silence and distress we
have no occasional perplexity of faith, but her perpetual burden. Faith
is inarticulate because of her greatness. Faith is courageous and
imaginative; but can she convert her confidence and visions into fact?
Said Hezekiah, _This is a day of trouble, and rebuke and contumely, for
the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring
them forth_. These words are not a mere metaphor for anguish. They are
the definition of a real miscarriage. In Isaiah's contemporaries faith
has at last engendered courage, zeal for God's house and strong
assurance of victory; but she, that has proved fertile to conceive and
carry these confidences, is powerless to bring them forth into real
life, to transform them to actual fact. Faith, complains Hezekiah, is
not the substance of things hoped for. At the moment when her subjective
assurances ought to be realized as facts, she is powerless to bring them
to the birth.

It is a miscarriage we are always deploring. Wordsworth has said,
"Through love, through hope, through faith's transcendent dower, we feel
that we are greater than we know." Yes, greater than we can articulate,
greater than we can tell to men like the Rabshakeh, even though he talk
the language of the Jews; and therefore, on the whole, it is best to be
silent in face of his argument. But greater also, we sometimes fear,
than we can realise to ourselves in actual character and victory. All
life thrills with the pangs of inability to bring the children of faith
to the birth of experience. The man, who has lost his faith or who takes
his faith easily, never knows, of course, this anguish of Hezekiah. But
the more we have fed on the promises of the Bible, the more that the
Spirit of God has engendered in our pure hearts assurances of justice
and of peace, the more we shall sometimes tremble with the fear that in
outward fact there is no life for these beautiful conceptions of the
soul. Do we really believe in the Fatherhood of God--believe in it till
it has changed us inwardly, and we carry a new sense of destiny, a new
conscience of justice, a new disgust of sin, a new pity for pain? Then
how full of the anguish of impotence must our souls feel when they
consciously survey one day of common life about us, or when we honestly
look back on a year of our own conduct! Does it not seem as if upon one
or two hideous streets in some centre of our civilisation all
Christianity, with its eighteen hundred years of promise and impetus,
had gone to wreck? Is God only for the imagination of man? Is there no
God outwardly to control and grant victory? Is He only a Voice, and not
the Creator? Is Christ only a Prophet, and not the King?

And then over these disappointments there faces us all the great
miscarriage itself--black, inevitable death. Hezekiah cried from despair
that the Divine assurance of the permanence of God's people in the world
was about to be wrecked on fact. But often by a deathbed we utter the
same lament about the individual's immortality. There is everything to
prove a future life except the fact of it within human experience. This
life is big with hopes, instincts, convictions of immortality; and yet
where within our sight have these ever passed to the birth of fact?[65]
Death is a great miscarriage. _The children have come to the birth, and
there is not strength to bring them forth._

  [65] Cf. Browning's _La Saisiaz_.

And yet within the horizon of this life at least--the latter part of the
difficulty we postpone to another chapter--_faith is the substance of
things hoped for_, as Isaiah did now most brilliantly prove. For the
miracle of Jerusalem's deliverance, to which the narrative proceeds, was
not that by faith the prophet foretold it, but that by faith he did
actually himself succeed in bringing it to pass. The miracle, we say,
was not that Isaiah made accurate prediction of the city's speedy
relief from the Assyrian, but far more that upon his solitary
steadfastness, without aid of battle, he did carry her disheartened
citizens through this crisis of temptation, and kept them, though
silent, to their walls till the futile Assyrian drifted away. The
prediction, indeed, was not, although its terms appear exact, so very
marvellous for a prophet to make, who had Isaiah's religious conviction
that Jerusalem must survive and Isaiah's practical acquaintance with the
politics of the day. _Behold, I am setting in him a spirit; and he shall
hear a rumour, and shall return into his own land._ We may recall the
parallel case of Charlemagne in his campaign against the Moors in Spain,
from which he was suddenly and unseasonably hastened north on a
disastrous retreat by news of the revolt of the Saxons.[66] In the vast
Assyrian territories rebellions were constantly occurring, that demanded
the swift appearance of the king himself; and God's Spirit, to whose
inspiration Isaiah traced all political perception, suggested to him the
possibility of one of these. In the end, the Bible story implies that it
was not a rumour from some far-away quarter so much as a disaster here
in Syria, which compelled Sennacherib's "retreat from Moscow." But it
is possible that both causes were at work, and that as Napoleon offered
the receipt of news from Paris as his reason for hurriedly abandoning
the unfortunate Spanish campaign of 1808, so Sennacherib made the rumour
of some news from his capital or the north the occasion for turning his
troops from a theatre of war, where they had not met with unequivocal
success, and had at last been half destroyed by the plague. Isaiah's
further prediction of Sennacherib's death must also be taken in a
general sense, for it was not till twenty years later that the Assyrian
tyrant met this violent end: _I will cause him to fall by the sword in
his own land_. But do not let us waste our attention on the altogether
minor point of the prediction of Jerusalem's deliverance, when the great
wonder, of which the prediction is but an episode, lies lengthened and
manifest before us--that Isaiah, when all the defenders of Jerusalem
were distracted and her king prostrate, did by the single steadfastness
of his spirit sustain her inviolate, and procure for her people a safe
and glorious future.

  [66] A still more striking analogy may be found in the case of Napoleon
  I. when in the East in 1799. He had just achieved a small victory which
  partly masked the previous failure of his campaign, when "Sir Sydney
  Smith now contrived that he should receive a packet of journals, by
  which he was informed of all that had passed recently in Europe and the
  disasters that France had suffered. His resolution was immediately
  taken. On August 22nd he wrote to Kleber announcing that he transferred
  to him the command of the expedition, and that he himself would return
  to Europe.... After carefully spreading false accounts of his
  intentions, he set sail on the night of the same day" (Professor Seeley,
  article "Napoleon" in the _Ency. Brit._).

The baffled Rabshakeh returned to his master, whom he found at Libnah,
_for he had heard that he had broken up from Lachish_. Sennacherib, the
narrative would seem to imply, did not trouble himself further about
Jerusalem till he learned that Tirhakah, the Ethiopian ruler of Egypt,
was marching to meet him with probably a stronger force than that which
Sennacherib had defeated at Eltekeh. Then, feeling the danger of leaving
so strong a fortress as Jerusalem in his rear, Sennacherib sent to
Hezekiah one more demand for surrender. Hezekiah spread his enemy's
letter before the Lord. His prayer that follows is remarkable for two
features, which enable us to see how pure and elevated a monotheism
God's Spirit had at last developed from the national faith of Israel.
The Being whom the king now seeks he addresses by the familiar name
_Jehovah of hosts, God of Israel_, and describes by the physical
figure--_who art enthroned upon the cherubim_. But he conceives of this
God with the utmost loftiness and purity, ascribing to Him not only
sovereignty and creatorship, but absolute singularity of Godhead. We
have but to compare Hezekiah's prayer with the utterances of his
predecessor Ahaz, to whom many gods were real, and none absolutely
sovereign, or with the utterances of Israelites far purer than Ahaz, to
whom the gods of the nations, though inferior to Jehovah, were yet real
existences, in order to mark the spiritual advance made by Israel under
Isaiah. It is a tribute to the prophet's force, which speaks volumes,
when the deputation from Hezekiah talk to him of _thy God_ (ver. 4). For
Isaiah by his ministry had made Israel's God to be new in Israel's eyes.

Hezekiah's lofty prayer drew forth through the prophet an answer from
Jehovah (vv. 21-32). This is one of the most brilliant of Isaiah's
oracles. It is full of much, with which we are now familiar: the triumph
of the inviolable fortress, _the virgin daughter of Zion_, and her scorn
of the arrogant foe; the prophet's appreciation of Asshur's power and
impetus, which only heightens his conviction that Asshur is but an
instrument in the hand of God; the old figure of the enemy's sudden
check as of a wild animal by hook and bridle; his inevitable retreat to
the north. But these familiar ideas are flung off with a terseness and
vivacity, which bear out the opinion that here we have a prophecy of
Isaiah, not revised and elaborated for subsequent publication, like the
rest of his book, but in its original form, struck quickly forth to meet
the city's sudden and urgent prayer.

The new feature of this prophecy is the sign added to it (ver. 30). This
sign reminds us of that which in opposite terms described to Ahaz the
devastation of Judah by the approaching Assyrians (chap. vii.). The wave
of Assyrian war is about to roll away again, and Judah to resume her
neglected agriculture, but not quite immediately. During this year of
701 it has been impossible, with the Assyrians in the land, to sow the
seed, and the Jews have been dependent on the precarious crop of what
had fallen from the harvest of the previous year and sown
itself--_saphîah_, or _aftergrowth_. Next year, it being now too late to
sow for next year's harvest, they must be content with the _shahîs--wild
corn, that which springs of itself. But the third year sow ye, and reap,
and plant vineyards and eat the fruit thereof._ Perhaps we ought not to
interpret these numbers literally. The use of three gives the statement
a formal and general aspect, as if the prophet only meant, It may be not
quite at once that we get rid of the Assyrians; but when they do go,
then they go for good, and you may till your land again without fear of
their return. Then rings out the old promise, so soon now to be
accomplished, about _the escaped_ and _the remnant_; and the great
pledge of the promise is once more repeated: _The zeal of Jehovah of
hosts will perform this_. With this exclamation, as in ix. 7, the
prophecy reaches a natural conclusion; and vv. 33-35 may have been
uttered by Isaiah a little later, when he was quite sure that the
Assyrian would not even attempt to repeat his abandoned blockade of

       *       *       *       *       *

At last in a single night the deliverance miraculously came. It is
implied by the scattered accounts of those days of salvation, that an
Assyrian corps continued to sit before Jerusalem even after the
Rabshakeh had returned to the headquarters of Sennacherib. The
thirty-third of Isaiah, as well as those Psalms which celebrate the
Assyrian's disappearance from Judah, describe it as having taken place
from under the walls of Jerusalem and the astonished eyes of her
guardians. It was not, however, upon this force--perhaps little more
than a brigade of observation (xxxiii. 18)--that the calamity fell which
drove Sennacherib so suddenly from Syria. _And there went forth_ (_that
night_, adds the book of Kings) _the angel of Jehovah; and he smote in
the camp of Assyria one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when the
camp arose in the morning, behold all of them were corpses, dead men.
And Sennacherib, King of Assyria, broke up, and returned and dwelt in
Nineveh._ Had this pestilence dispersed the camp that lay before
Jerusalem, and left beneath the walls so considerable a number of
corpses, the exclamations of surprise at the sudden disappearance of
Assyria, which occur in Isa. xxxiii. and in Psalms xlviii. and lxxvi.,
could hardly have failed to betray the fact. But these simply speak of
vague _trouble_ coming _upon them that were assembled about Zion_, and
of their swift decampment. The trouble was the news of the calamity,
whose victims were the main body of the Assyrian army, who had been
making for the borders of Egypt, but were now scattered northwards like

For details of this disaster we look in vain, of course, to the Assyrian
annals, which only record Sennacherib's abrupt return to Nineveh. But it
is remarkable that the histories of both of his chief rivals in this
campaign, Judah and Egypt, should contain independent reminiscences of
so sudden and miraculous a disaster to his host. From Egyptian sources
there has come down through Herodotus (ii. 14), a story that a king of
Egypt, being deserted by the military caste, when "Sennacherib King of
the Arabs and Assyrians" invaded his country, entered his sanctuary and
appealed with weeping to his god; that the god appeared and cheered him,
that he raised an army of artisans and marched to meet Sennacherib in
Pelusium; that by night a multitude of field-mice ate up the quivers,
bow-strings and shield-straps of the Assyrians; and that, as these fled
on the morrow, very many of them fell. A stone statue of the king, adds
Herodotus, stood in the temple of Hephæstus, having a mouse in the hand.
Now, since the mouse was a symbol of sudden destruction, and even of the
plague, this story of Herodotus seems to be merely a picturesque form of
a tradition that pestilence broke out in the Assyrian camp. The parallel
with the Bible narrative is close. In both accounts it is a prayer of
the king that prevails. In both the Deity sends His agent--in the
grotesque Egyptian an army of mice, in the sublime Jewish His angel. In
both the effects are sudden, happening in a single night. From the
Assyrian side we have this corroboration: that Sennacherib did abruptly
return to Nineveh without taking Jerusalem or meeting with Tirhakah, and
that, though he reigned for twenty years more, he never again made a
Syrian campaign. Sennacherib's convenient story of his return may be
compared to the ambiguous account which Cæsar gives of his first
withdrawal from Britain, laying emphasis on the submission of the tribes
as his reason for a swift return to France--a return which was rather
due to the destruction of his fleet by storm and the consequent
uneasiness of his army. Or, as we have already said, Sennacherib's
account may be compared to Napoleon's professed reason for his sudden
abandonment of his Spanish campaign and his quick return to Paris in

The neighbourhood in which the Assyrian army suffered this great
disaster[67] was notorious in antiquity for its power of pestilence.
Making every allowance for the untutored imagination of the ancients, we
must admit the Serbonian bog, between Syria and Egypt, to have been a
place terrible for filth and miasma. The noxious vapours travelled far;
but the plagues, with which this swamp several times desolated the
world, were first engendered among the diseased and demoralised
populations, whose villages festered upon its margin. A Persian army was
decimated here in the middle of the fourth century before Christ. "The
fatal disease which depopulated the earth in the time of Justinian and
his successors first appeared in the neighbourhood of Pelusium, between
the Serbonian bog and the eastern channel of the Nile."[68] To the north
of the bog the Crusaders also suffered from the infection. It is,
therefore, very probable that the moral terror of this notorious
neighbourhood, as well as its malaria, acting upon an exhausted and
disappointed army in a devastated land, was the secondary cause in the
great disaster, by which the Almighty humbled the arrogance of Asshur.
The swiftness, with which Sennacherib's retreat is said to have begun,
has been equalled by the turning-points of other historical campaigns.
Alexander the Great's decision to withdraw from India was, after
victories as many as Sennacherib's, made in three days. Attila vanished
out of Italy as suddenly as Sennacherib, and from a motive less evident.
In the famous War of the Fosse the Meccan army broke off from their
siege of Mohammed in a single stormy night. Napoleon's career went back
upon itself with just as sharp a bend no less than thrice--in 1799, on
Sennacherib's own ground in Syria; in 1808, in Spain; and in 1812, when
he turned from Moscow upon "one memorable night of frost, in which
twenty thousand horses perished, and the strength of the French army was
utterly broken."[69]

  [67] The statement of the Egyptian legend, that it was from a point in
  the neighbourhood of Pelusium that Sennacherib's army commenced its
  retreat, is not contradicted by anything in the Jewish records, which
  leave the locality of the disaster very vague, but, on the contrary,
  receives some support from what Isaiah expresses as at least the
  intention of Sennacherib (chap. xxxvii. 25).

  [68] Gibbon, _Decline and Fall_, xliii.

  [69] Arnold, _Lectures on Modern History_, 177, quoted by Stanley.

The amount of the Assyrian loss is enormous, and implies of course a
much higher figure for the army which was vast enough to suffer it; but
here are some instances for comparison. In the early German invasions of
Italy whole armies and camps were swept away by the pestilential
climate. The losses of the First Crusade were over three hundred
thousand. The soldiers of the Third Crusade, upon the scene of
Sennacherib's war, were reckoned at more than half a million, and their
losses by disease alone at over one hundred thousand.[70] The Grand Army
of Napoleon entered Russia two hundred and fifty thousand, but came out,
having suffered no decisive defeat, only twelve thousand; on the retreat
from Moscow alone ninety thousand perished.

  [70] Gibbon, xlii.; lix.

What we are concerned with, however, is neither the immediate occasion
nor the exact amount of Sennacherib's loss, but the bare fact, so
certainly established, that, having devastated Judah to the very walls
of Jerusalem, the Assyrian was compelled by some calamity apart from
human war to withdraw before the sacred city itself was taken. For this
was the essential part of Isaiah's prediction; upon this he had staked
the credit of the pure monotheism, whose prophet he was to the world. If
we keep before us these two simple certainties about the great
Deliverance: _first_, that it had been foretold by Jehovah's word, and
_second_, that it had been now achieved, despite all human probability,
by Jehovah's own arm, we shall understand the enormous spiritual
impression which it left upon Israel. The religion of the one supreme
God, supreme in might because supreme in righteousness, received a most
emphatic historical vindication, a signal and glorious triumph. Well
might Isaiah exclaim, on the morning of the night during which that
Assyrian host had drifted away from Jerusalem, _Jehovah is our Judge_;
_Jehovah is our Lawgiver_; _Jehovah is our King_: _He saveth us_. No
other god for the present had any chance in Judah. Idolatry was
discredited, not by the political victory of a puritan faction, not even
by the distinctive genius or valour of a nation, but by an evident act
of Providence, to which no human aid had been contributory. It was
nothing less than the baptism of Israel in spiritual religion, the grace
of which was never wholly undone.

Nevertheless, the story of Jehovah's triumph cannot be justly recounted
without including the reaction which followed upon it within the same
generation. Before twenty years had passed from the day, on which
Jerusalem, with the forty-sixth Psalm on her lips, sought with all her
heart the God of Isaiah, she relapsed into an idolatry, that wore only
this sign of the uncompromising puritanism it had displaced: that it
was gloomy, and filled with a sense of sin unknown to Israel's
idolatries previous to the age of Isaiah. The change would be almost
incomprehensible to us, who have realized the spiritual effects of
Sennacherib's disappearance, if we had not within our own history a
somewhat analogous experience. Puritanism was as gloriously accredited
by event and seemed to be as generally accepted by England under
Cromwell as faith in the spiritual religion of Isaiah was vindicated by
the deliverance of Jerusalem and the peace of Judah under Hezekiah. But
swiftly as the ruling temper in England changed after Cromwell's death,
and Puritanism was laid under the ban, and persecution and
licentiousness broke out, so quickly when Hezekiah died did Manasseh his
son--no change of dynasty here--_do evil in the sight of Jehovah, and
make Judah to sin, building again the high places and rearing up altars
for Baal and altars in the house of Jehovah, whereof Jehovah had said,
In Jerusalem will I put My name_. Idolatry was never so rampant in
Judah. _Moreover, Manasseh shed innocent blood till he filled Jerusalem
from one end to another._ It is in this carnage that tradition has
placed the death of Isaiah. He, who had been Judah's best counsellor
through five reigns, on whom the whole nation had gathered in the day of
her distress, and by whose faith her long-hoped-for salvation had at
last become substantive, was violently put to death by the son of
Hezekiah. It is said that he was _sawn asunder_.[71]

  [71] Heb. xi.

The parallel, which we are pursuing, does not, however, close here. "As
soon," says an English historian, "as the wild orgy of the Restoration
was over, men began to see that nothing that was really worthy in the
work of Puritanism had been undone. The whole history of English
progress since the Restoration, on its moral and spiritual sides, has
been the history of Puritanism."

For the principles of Isaiah and their victory we may make a claim as
much larger than this claim, as Israel's influence on the world has been
greater than England's. Israel never wholly lost the grace of the
baptism wherewith she was baptized in 701. Even in her history there was
no event in which the unaided interposition of God was more conspicuous.
It is from an appreciation of the meaning of such a Providence that
Israel derives her character--that character which marks her off so
distinctively from her great rival in the education of the human race,
and endows her ministry with its peculiar value to the world. If we are
asked for the characteristics of the Hellenic genius, we point to the
august temples and images of beauty in which the wealth and art of man
have evolved in human features most glorious suggestions of divinity, or
we point to Thermopylæ, where human valour and devotion seem grander
even in unavailing sacrifice than the almighty Fate, that renders them
the prey of the barbarian. In Greece the human is greater than the
divine. But if we are asked to define the spirit of Israel, we remember
the worship which Isaiah has enjoined in his opening chapter, a worship
that dispenses even with temple and with sacrifice, but, from the first
strivings of conscience to the most certain enjoyment of peace, ascribes
all man's experience to the word of God. In contrast with Thermopylæ, we
recall Jerusalem's Deliverance, effected apart from human war by the
direct stroke of Heaven. In Judah man is great simply as he rests on
God. The rocks of Thermopylæ, how imperishably beautiful do they shine
to latest ages with the comradeship, the valour, the sacrificial blood
of human heroes! It is another beauty which Isaiah saw upon the bare,
dry rocks of Zion, and which has drawn to them the admiration of the
world. _There_, he said, _Jehovah is glory for us, a place of broad
rivers and streams_.

       *       *       *       *       *

_In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence
is your strength._ How divine Isaiah's message is, may be proved by the
length of time mankind is taking to learn it. The remarkable thing is,
that he staked so lofty a principle, and the pure religion of which it
was the temper, upon a political result, that he staked them upon, and
vindicated them by, a purely local and material success--the relief of
Jerusalem from the infidel. Centuries passed, and Christ came. He did
not--for even He could not--preach a more spiritual religion than that
which He had committed to His greatest forerunner, but He released this
religion, and the temper of faith which Isaiah had so divinely
expressed, from the local associations and merely national victories,
with which even Isaiah had been forced to identify them. The destruction
of Jerusalem by the heathen formed a large part of Christ's prediction
of the immediate future; and He comforted the remnant of faith with
these words, to some of which Isaiah's lips had first given their
meaning: _Ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet in Jerusalem worship
the Father. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him
in spirit and in truth._

Again centuries passed--no less than eighteen from Isaiah--and we find
Christendom, though Christ had come between, returning to Isaiah's
superseded problem, and, while reviving its material conditions, unable
to apply to them the prophet's spiritual temper. The Christianity of
the Crusades fell back upon Isaiah's position without his spirit. Like
him, it staked the credit of religion upon the relief of the holy city
from the grasp of the infidel; but, in ghastly contrast to that pure
faith and serene confidence with which a single Jew maintained the
inviolateness of Mount Zion in the face of Assyria, with what pride and
fraud, with what blood and cruelty, with what impious invention of
miracle and parody of Divine testimony, did countless armies of
Christendom, excited by their most fervent prophets and blessed by their
high-priest, attempt in vain the recovery of Jerusalem from the Saracen!
The Crusades are a gigantic proof of how easy it is to adopt the
external forms of heroic ages, how difficult to repeat their inward
temper. We could not have more impressive witness borne to the fact that
humanity--though obedient to the orthodox Church, though led by the
strongest spirits of the age, though hallowed by the presence of its
greatest saints, though enduring all trials, though exhibiting an
unrivalled power of self-sacrifice and enthusiasm, though beautified by
courtesy and chivalry, and though doing and suffering all for Christ's
sake--may yet fail to understand the old precept that _in returning and
rest men are saved, in quietness and in confidence is their strength_.
Nothing could more emphatically prove the loftiness of Isaiah's teaching
than this failure of Christendom even to come within sight of it.

Have we learned this lesson yet? O God of Israel, God of Isaiah, in
returning to whom and resting upon whom alone we are saved, purge us of
self and of the pride of life, of the fever and the falsehood they
breed. Teach us that in quietness and in confidence is our strength.
Help us to be still and know that Thou art God.



As we have gathered together all that Isaiah prophesied concerning the
Messiah, so it may be useful for closer students of his book if we now
summarise (even at the risk of a little repetition) the facts of his
marvellous prediction of the siege and delivery of Jerusalem. Such a
review, besides being historically interesting, ought to prove of
edification in so far as it instructs us in the kind of faith by which
the Holy Ghost inspired a prophet to foretell the future.

1. The primary conviction with which Isaiah felt himself inspired by the
Spirit of Jehovah was a purely moral one--that a devastation of Judah
was necessary for her people's sin, to which he shortly added a
religious one: that a remnant would be saved. He had this double
conviction as early as 740 B.C. (vi. 11-13).

2. Looking round the horizon for some phenomenon with which to identify
this promised judgement, Isaiah described the latter at first without
naming any single people as the invaders of Judah (v. 26 ff.). It may
have been that for a moment he hesitated between Assyria and Egypt. Once
he named them together as equally the Lord's instruments upon Judah
(vii. 18), but only once. When Ahaz resolved to call Assyria into the
Syrian quarrels, Isaiah exclusively designated the northern power as the
scourge he had predicted; and when in 732 the Assyrian armies had
overrun Samaria, he graphically described their necessary overflow into
Judah also (viii.). This invasion did not spread to Judah, but Isaiah's
combined moral and political conviction, for both elements of which he
claimed the inspiration of God's Spirit, seized him with renewed
strength in 725, when Salmanassar marched south upon Israel (xxviii.);
and in 721, when Sargon captured Samaria, Isaiah uttered a vivid
description of his speedy arrival before Jerusalem (x. 28 ff.). This
prediction was again disappointed. But Sargon's departure without
invading Judah, and her second escape from him on his return to Syria in
711, did not in the least induce Isaiah to relax either of his two
convictions. Judah he proclaimed to be as much in need of punishment as
ever (xxix.-xxxii.); and, though on Sargon's death all Palestine
revolted from Assyria to Egypt, he persisted that this would not save
her from Sennacherib (xiv. 29 ff.; xxix.-xxx.). The "dourness" with
which his countrymen believed in Egypt naturally caused the prophet to
fill his orations at this time with the _political_ side of his
conviction that Assyria was stronger than Egypt; but because Jerusalem's
Egyptian policy springs from a deceitful temper (xxx. 1, 9, 10) he is as
earnest as ever with his _moral_ conviction that judgement is coming.
After 705 his pictures of a siege of Jerusalem grow more definite
(xxix.; xxx.). He seems scorched by the nearness of the Assyrian
conflagration (xxx. 27 ff.). At last in 701, when Sennacherib comes to
Palestine, the siege is pictured as immediate--chaps. i. and xx., which
also show at its height the prophet's moral conviction of the necessity
of the siege for punishing his people.

3. But over against this _moral_ conviction, that Judah must be
devastated for her sin, and this _political_, that Assyria is to be the
instrument, even to the extreme of a siege of Jerusalem, the prophet
still holds strongly to the _religious_ assurance that God cannot allow
His shrine to be violated or His people to be exterminated. At first it
is only of the people that Isaiah speaks--_the remnant_ (vi.; viii. 18).
Jerusalem is not mentioned in the verses that describe the overflowing
of all Judah by Assyria (viii. 7). It is only when at last, in 721, the
prophet realizes how near a siege of Jerusalem may be (x. 11, 28-32),
that he also pictures the sudden destruction of the Assyrian on his
arrival within sight of her walls (x. 33). In 705, when the siege of the
sacred city once more becomes imminent, the prophet again reiterates to
the heathen that Zion alone shall stand among the cities of Syria (xiv.
32). To herself he says that, though she shall be besieged and brought
very low, she shall finally be delivered (xxix. 1-8; xxx. 19-26; xxxi.
1, 4, 5). It is true, this conviction seems to be broken--once by a
prophecy of uncertain date (xxxii. 14), which indicates a desolation of
the buildings of Jerusalem, and once by the prophet's sentence of death
upon the inhabitants in the hour of their profligacy (xxii.)--but when
the city has repented, and the enemy have perfidiously come back to
demand her surrender, Isaiah again asseverates, though all are hopeless,
that she shall not fall (xxxvii.).

4. Now, with regard to the method of Jerusalem's deliverance, Isaiah has
uniformly described this as happening not by human battle. From the
beginning he said that Israel should be delivered in the last extremity
of their weakness (vi. 13). On the Assyrian's arrival over against the
city, Jehovah is to lop him off (x. 33). When her enemies have invested
Jerusalem, Jehovah is to come down in thunder and a hurricane and sweep
them away (after 705, xxix. 5-8). They are to be suddenly disappointed,
like a hungry man waking from a dream of food. A beautiful promise is
given of the raising of the siege without mention of struggle or any
weapon (xxx. 20-26). The Assyrian is to be checked as a wild bull is
checked _with a lasso_, is to be slain _by the lighting down of the
Lord's arm, by the voice of the Lord_, through a judgement that shall be
like a solemn holocaust to God than a human battle (xxx. 30-33). When
the Assyrian comes back, and Hezekiah is crushed by the new demand for
surrender, Isaiah says that, by a Divinely inspired impulse,
Sennacherib, hearing bad news, shall suddenly return to his own land
(xxxviii. 7).

It is only in very little details that these predictions differ. The
thunderstorm and torrents of fire are, of course, but poetic variations.
In 721, however, the prophet hardly anticipates the very close siege,
which he pictures after 705; and while from 705 to 702 he identifies the
relief of Jerusalem with a great calamity to the Assyrian army about to
invade Judah, yet in 701, when the Assyrians are actually on the spot,
he suggests that nothing but a rumour shall cause their retreat and so
leave Jerusalem free of them.

5. In all this we see a certain FIXITY and a certain FREEDOM. The
freedom, the changes and inconsistencies in the prediction, are entirely
limited to those of Isaiah's convictions which we have called political,
and which the prophet evidently gathered from his observation of
political circumstances as these developed before his eyes from year to
year. But what was fixed and unalterable to Isaiah, he drew from the
moral and religious convictions to which his political observation was
subservient; viz., Judah's very sore punishment for sin, the survival of
a people of God in the world, and their deliverance by His own act.

6. This "Bible-reading" in Isaiah's predictive prophecies reveals very
clearly the nature of inspiration under the old covenant. To Isaiah
inspiration was nothing more nor less than the possession of certain
strong moral and religious convictions, which he felt he owed to the
communication of the Spirit of God, and according to which he
interpreted, and even dared to foretell, the history of his people and
the world. Our study completely dispels, on the evidence of the Bible
itself, that view of inspiration and prediction, so long held in the
Church, which it is difficult to define, but which means something like
this: that the prophet beheld a vision of the future in its actual
detail and read this off as a man may read the history of the past out
of a book or a clear memory. This is a very simple view, but too simple
either to meet the facts of the Bible, or to afford to men any of that
intellectual and spiritual satisfaction which the discovery of the
Divine methods is sure to afford. The literal view of inspiration is too
simple to be true, and too simple to be edifying. On the other hand, how
profitable, how edifying, is the Bible's own account of its inspiration!
To know that men interpreted, predicted and controlled history in the
power of the purest moral and religious convictions--in the knowledge
of, and the loyalty to, certain fundamental laws of God--is to receive
an account of inspiration, which is not only as satisfying to the reason
as it is true to the facts of the Bible, but is spiritually very
helpful by the lofty example and reward it sets before our own faith. By
faith differing in degree, but not in kind, from ours, _faith which is
the substance of things hoped for_, these men became prophets of God,
and received the testimony of history that they spoke from Him. Isaiah
prophesied and predicted all he did from loyalty to two simple truths,
which he tells us he received from God Himself: that sin must be
punished, and that the people of God must be saved. This simple faith,
acting along with a wonderful knowledge of human nature and ceaseless
vigilance of affairs, constituted inspiration for Isaiah.

There is thus, with great modifications, an analogy between the prophet
and the scientific observer of the present day. Men of science are able
to affirm the certainty of natural phenomena by their knowledge of the
laws and principles of nature. Certain forces being present, certain
results must come to pass. The Old Testament prophets, working in
history, a sphere where the problems were infinitely more complicated by
the presence and powerful operation of man's free-will, seized hold of
principles as conspicuous and certain to them as the laws of nature are
to the scientist; and out of their conviction of these they proclaimed
the necessity of certain events. God is inflexibly righteous, He cannot
utterly destroy His people or the witness of Himself among men: these
were the laws. Judah shall be punished, Israel shall continue to exist:
these were the certainties deduced from the laws. But for the exact
conditions and forms both of the punishment and its relief the prophets
depended upon their knowledge of the world, of which, as these pages
testify, they were the keenest and largest-hearted observers that ever

This account of prophecy may be offered with advantage to those who are
prejudiced against prophecy as full of materials, which are inexplicable
to minds accustomed to find a law and reason for everything. Grant the
truths of the spiritual doctrines, which the prophets made their
premises, and you must admit that their predictions are neither
arbitrary nor bewildering. Or begin at the other end: verify that these
facts took place, and that the prophets actually predicted them; and if
you are true to your own scientific methods, you will not be able to
resist the conclusion that the spiritual laws and principles, by which
the predictions were made, are as real as those by which in the realm of
nature you proclaim the necessity of certain physical phenomena--and all
this in spite of there being at work in the prophets' sphere a force,
the free-will of man, which cannot interfere with the laws you work by,
as it can with those on which they depend.

But, to turn from the apologetic value of this account of prophecy to
the experimental, we maintain that it brings out a new sacredness upon
common life. If it be true that Isaiah had no magical means for
foretelling the future, but simply his own spiritual convictions and his
observation of history, that may, of course, deprive some eyes of a
light which they fancied they saw bursting from heaven. But, on the
other hand, does it not cast a greater glory upon daily life and
history, to have seen in Isaiah this close connection between spiritual
conviction and political event? Does it not teach us that life is
governed by faith; that the truths we profess are the things that make
history; that we carry the future in our hearts; that not an event
happens but is to be used by us as meaning the effect of some law of
God, and not a fact appears but is the symbol and sacrament of His



ISAIAH xxxviii.; xxxix. (DATE UNCERTAIN).

To the great national drama of Jerusalem's deliverance, there have been
added two scenes of a personal kind, relating to her king. Chaps.
xxxviii. and xxxix. are the narrative of the sore sickness and recovery
of King Hezekiah, and of the embassy which Merodach-baladan sent him,
and how he received the embassy. The date of these events is difficult
to determine. If, with Canon Cheyne, we believe in an invasion of Judah
by Sargon in 711, we shall be tempted to refer them, as he does, to that
date--the more so that the promise of fifteen additional years made to
Hezekiah in 711, the fifteenth year of his reign, would bring it up to
the twenty-nine, at which it is set in 2 Kings xviii. 2. That, however,
would flatly contradict the statement both of Isaiah xxxviii. 1 and 2
Kings xx. 1 that Hezekiah's sickness fell in the days of the invasion of
Judah by Sennacherib; that is, after 705. But to place the promise of
fifteen additional years to Hezekiah after 705, when we know he had been
reigning for at least twenty years, would be to contradict the verse,
just cited, which sums up the years of his reign as twenty-nine. This
is, in fact, one of the instances, in which we must admit our present
inability to elucidate the chronology of this portion of the book of
Isaiah. Mr. Cheyne thinks the editor mistook the siege by Sennacherib
for the siege by Sargon. But as the fact of a siege by Sargon has never
been satisfactorily established, it seems safer to trust the statement
that Hezekiah's sickness occurred in the reign of Sennacherib, and to
allow that there has been an error somewhere in the numbering of the
years. It is remarkable that the name of Merodach-baladan does not help
us to decide between the two dates. There was a Merodach-baladan in
rebellion against Sargon in 710, and there was one in rebellion against
Sennacherib in 705. It has not yet been put past doubt as to whether
these two are the same. The essential is that there was a
Merodach-baladan alive, real or only claimant king of Babylon, about
705, and that he was likely at that date to treat with Hezekiah, being
himself in revolt against Assyria. Unable to come to any decision about
the conflicting numbers, we leave uncertain the date of the events
recounted in chaps. xxxviii., xxxix. The original form of the narrative,
but wanting Hezekiah's hymn, is given in 2 Kings xx.[72]

  [72] Isa. xxxviii., xxxix., has evidently been abridged from 2 Kings xx.
  and in some points has to be corrected by the latter. Chap. xxxviii. 21,
  22, of course, must be brought forward before ver. 7.

       *       *       *       *       *

We have given to this chapter the title "An Old Testament Believer's
Deathbed; or, The Difference Christ has made," not because this is the
only spiritual suggestion of the story, but because it seems to the
present expositor as if this were the predominant feeling left in
Christian minds after reading for us the story. In Hezekiah's conduct
there is much of courage for us to admire, as there are other elements
to warn us; but when we have read the whole story, we find ourselves
saying, What a difference Christ has made to me! Take Hezekiah from two
points of view, and then let the narrative itself bring out this

Here is a man, who, although he lived more than twenty-five centuries
ago is brought quite close to our side. Death, who herds all men into
his narrow fold, has crushed this Hebrew king so close to us that we can
feel his very heart beat. Hezekiah's hymn gives us entrance into the
fellowship of his sufferings. By the figures he so skilfully uses he
makes us feel that pain, the shortness of life, the suddenness of death
and the utter blackness beyond were to him just what they are to us. And
yet this kinship in pain, and fear and ignorance only makes us the more
aware of something else which we have and he has not.

Again, here is a man to whom religion gave all it could give without the
help of Christ; a believer in the religion out of which Christianity
sprang, perhaps the most representative Old Testament believer we could
find, for Hezekiah was at once the collector of what was best in its
literature and the reformer of what was worst in its worship; a man
permeated by the past piety of his Church, and enjoying as his guide and
philosopher the boldest prophet who ever preached the future
developments of its spirit. Yet when we put Hezekiah and all that Isaiah
can give him on one side, we shall again feel for ourselves on the other
what a difference Christ has made.

This difference a simple study of the narrative will make clear.


_In those days Hezekiah became sick unto death._ They were critical days
for Judah--no son born to the king (2 Kings xxi. 1), the work of
reformation in Judah not yet consolidated, the big world tossing in
revolution all around. Under God, everything depended on an experienced
ruler; and this one, without a son to succeed him, was drawing near to
death. We will therefore judge Hezekiah's strong passion for life to
have been patriotic as well as selfish. He stood in the midtime of his
days, with a faithfully executed work behind him and so good an example
of kinghood that for years Isaiah had not expressed his old longing for
the Messiah. The Lord had counted Hezekiah righteous; that twin-sign had
been given him which more than any other assured an Israelite of
Jehovah's favour--a good conscience and success in his work. Well,
therefore, might he cry when Isaiah brought him the sentence of death,
_Ah, now, Jehovah, remember, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before
Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good
in Thine eyes. And Hezekiah wept with a great weeping._

There is difficulty in the strange story which follows. The dial was
probably a pyramid of steps on the top of which stood a short pillar or
obelisk. When the sun rose in the morning, the shadow cast by the pillar
would fall right down the western side of the pyramid to the bottom of
the lowest step. As the sun ascended the shadow would shorten, and creep
up inch by inch to the foot of the pillar. After noon, as the sun began
to descend to the west, the shadow would creep down the eastern steps;
and the steps were so measured that each one marked a certain degree of
time. It was probably afternoon when Isaiah visited the king. The shadow
was _going down_ according to the regular law; the sign consisted in
causing the shadow to shrink up the steps again. Such a reversal of the
ordinary progress of the shadow may have been caused in either of two
ways: by the whole earth being thrown back on its axis, which we may
dismiss as impossible, or by the occurrence of the phenomenon known as
refraction. Refraction is a disturbance in the atmosphere by which the
rays of the sun are bent or deflected from their natural course into an
angular one. In this case, instead of shooting straight over the top of
the obelisk, the rays of the sun had been bent down and inward, so that
the shadow fled up to the foot of the obelisk. There are many things in
the air which might cause this; it is a phenomenon often observed; and
the Scriptural narratives imply that on this occasion it was purely
local (2 Chron. xxxii. 31). Had we only the narrative in the book of
Isaiah, the explanation would have been easy. Isaiah, having given the
sentence of death, passed the dial in the palace courtyard, and saw the
shadow lying ten degrees farther up than it should have done, the sight
of which coincided with the inspiration that the king would not die; and
Isaiah went back to announce to Hezekiah his reprieve, and naturally
call his attention to this as a sign, to which a weak and desponding man
would be glad to cling. But the original narrative in the book of Kings
tells us that Isaiah offered Hezekiah a choice of signs: that the shadow
should either advance or retreat, and that the king chose the latter.
The sign came in answer to Isaiah's prayer, and is narrated to us as a
special Divine interposition. But a medicine accompanied it, and
Hezekiah recovered through a poultice of figs laid on the boil from
which he suffered.

While recognising for our own faith the uselessness of a discussion on
this sign offered to a sick man, let us not miss the moral lessons of so
touching a narrative, nor the sympathy with the sick king which it is
fitted to produce, and which is our best introduction to the study of
his hymn.

Isaiah had performed that most awful duty of doctor or minister the
telling of a friend that he must die. Few men have not in their personal
experience a key to the prophet's feelings on this occasion. The leaving
of a dear friend for the last time; the coming out into the sunlight
which he will nevermore share with us; the passing by the dial; the
observation of the creeping shadow; the feeling that it is only a
question of time, the passion of prayer into which that feeling throws
us that God may be pleased to put off the hour and spare our friend; the
invention, that is born, like prayer, of necessity: a cure we suddenly
remember; the confidence which prayer and invention bring between them;
the return with the joyful news; the giving of the order about the
remedy--cannot many in their degree rejoice with Isaiah in such an
experience? But he has, too, a conscience of God and God's work to which
none of us may pretend: he knows how indispensable to that work his
royal pupil is, and out of this inspiration he prophesies the will of
the Lord that Hezekiah shall recover.

Then the king, with a sick man's sacramental longing, asks a sign. Out
through the window the courtyard is visible; there stands the same
step-dial of Ahaz, the long pillar on the top of the steps, the shadow
creeping down them through the warm afternoon sunshine. To the sick man
it must have been like the finger of death coming nearer. _Shall the
shadow_, asks the prophet, _go forward ten steps or go back ten steps?
It is easy_, says the king, alarmed, _for the shadow to go down ten
steps_. Easy for it to go down! Has he not been feeling that all the
afternoon? "Do not," we can fancy him saying, with the gasp of a man who
has been watching its irresistible descent--"do not let that black thing
come farther; but _let the shadow go backward ten steps_."

The shadow returned, and Hezekiah got his sign. But when he was well, he
used it for more than a sign. He read a great spiritual lesson in it.
The time, which upon the dial had been apparently thrown back, had in
his life been really thrown back; and God had given him his years to
live over again. The past was to be as if it had never been, its guilt
and weakness wiped out. _Thou hast cast behind Thy back all my sins._ As
a newborn child Hezekiah felt himself uncommitted by the past, not a
sin's-doubt nor a sin's-cowardice in him, with the heart of a little
child, but yet with the strength and dignity of a grown man, for it is
the magic of tribulation to bring innocence with experience. _I shall go
softly_, or literally, _with dignity or caution, as in a procession, all
my years because of the bitterness of my soul. O Lord, upon such things
do men live; and altogether in them is the life of my spirit.... Behold,
for perfection was it bitter to me,_ so _bitter_. And through it all
there breaks a new impression of God. _What shall I say? He hath both
spoken with me, and Himself hath done it._ As if afraid to impute his
profits to the mere experience itself, _In them is the life of my
spirit_, he breaks in with _Yea, Thou hast recovered me; yea, Thou hast
made me to live_. And then, by a very pregnant construction, he adds,
_Thou hast loved my soul out of the pit of destruction; that is, of
course, loved, and by Thy love lifted_, but he uses the one word loved,
and gives it the active force of _drawing_ or _lifting_. In this lay the
head and glory of Hezekiah's experience. He was a religious man, an
enthusiast for the Temple services, and had all his days as his friend
the prophet whose heart was with the heart of God; but it was not
through any of these means God came near him, not till he lay sick and
had turned his face to the wall. Then indeed he cried, _What shall I
say? He hath both spoken with me, and Himself hath done it!_

Forgiveness, a new peace, a new dignity and a visit from the living God!
Well might Hezekiah exclaim that it was only through a near sense of
death that men rightly learned to live. _Ah, Lord, it is upon these
things that men live; and wholly therein is the life of my spirit._ It
is by these things men live, and therein I have learned for the first
time what life is!

In all this at least we cannot go beyond Hezekiah, and he stands an
example to the best Christian among us. Never did a man bring richer
harvest from the fields of death. Everything that renders life really
life--peace, dignity, a new sense of God and of His forgiveness--these
were the spoils which Hezekiah won in his struggle with the grim enemy.
He had snatched from death a new meaning for life; he had robbed death
of its awful pomp, and bestowed this on careless life. Hereafter he
should walk with the step and the mien of a conqueror--_I shall go in
solemn procession all my years because of the bitterness of my soul_--or
with the carefulness of a worshipper, who sees at the end of his course
the throne of the Most High God, and makes all his life an ascent

This is the effect which every great sorrow and struggle has upon a
noble soul. Come to the streets of the living. Who are these, whom we
can so easily distinguish from the crowd by their firmness of step and
look of peace, walking softly where some spurt and some halt, holding,
without rest or haste, the tenor of their way, as if they marched to
music heard by their ears alone? These are they which have come out of
great tribulation. They have brought back into time the sense of
eternity. They know how near the invisible worlds lie to this one, and
the sense of the vast silences stills all idle laughter in their hearts.
The life that is to other men chance or sport, strife or hurried flight,
has for them its allotted distance; is for them a measured march, a
constant worship. _For the bitterness of their soul they go in
procession all their years._ Sorrow's subjects, they are our kings;
wrestlers with death, our veterans: and to the rabble armies of society
they set the step of a nobler life.

Count especially the young man blessed, who has looked into the grave
before he has faced the great temptations of the world, and has not
entered the race of life till he has learned his stride in the race with
death. They tell us that on the outside of civilisation, where men carry
their lives in their hands, a most thorough politeness and dignity are
bred, in spite of the want of settled habits, by the sense of danger
alone; and we know how battle and a deadly climate, pestilence or the
perils of the sea have sent back to us the most careless of our youth
with a self-possession and regularity of mind, that it would have been
hopeless to expect them to develop amid the trivial trials of village

But the greatest duty of us men is not to seek nor to pray for such
combats with death. It is when God has found these for us to remain
true to our memories of them. The hardest duty of life is to remain true
to our psalms of deliverance, as it is certainly life's greatest
temptation to fall away from the sanctity of sorrow, and suffer the
stately style of one who knows how near death hovers to his line of
march to degenerate into the broken step of a wanton life. This was
Hezekiah's temptation, and this is why the story of his fall in the
thirty-ninth chapter is placed beside his vows in the thirty-eighth--to
warn us how easy it is for those who have come conquerors out of a
struggle with death to fall a prey to common life. He had said, _I will
walk softly all my years_; but how arrogantly and rashly he carried
himself when Merodach-baladan sent the embassy to congratulate him on
his recovery. It was not with the dignity of the veteran, but with a
childish love of display, perhaps also with the too restless desire to
secure an alliance, that he showed the envoys _his storehouse, the
silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and all the
house of his armour and all that was found in his treasures. There was
nothing which Hezekiah did not show them in his house nor in all his
dominion._ In this behaviour there was neither caution nor sobriety, and
we cannot doubt but that Hezekiah felt the shame of it when Isaiah
sternly rebuked him and threw upon all his house the dark shadow of

It is easier to win spoils from death than to keep them untarnished by
life. Shame burns warm in a soldier's heart when he sees the arms he
risked life to win rusting for want of a little care. Ours will not burn
less if we discover that the strength of character we brought with us
out of some great tribulation has been slowly weakened by subsequent
self-indulgence of vanity. How awful to have fought for character with
death only to squander it upon life! It is well to keep praying, "My
God, suffer me not to forget my bonds and my bitterness. In my hours of
wealth and ease, and health and peace, by the memory of Thy judgements
deliver me, good Lord."


So far then Hezekiah is an example and warning to us all. With all our
faith in Christ, none of us, in the things mentioned, may hope to excel
this Old Testament believer. But notice very particularly that
Hezekiah's faith and fortitude are profitable only for this life. It is
when we begin to think, What of the life to come? that we perceive the
infinite difference Christ has made.

We know what Hezekiah felt when his back was turned on death, and he
came up to life again. But what did he feel when he faced the other way,
and his back was to life? With his back to life and facing deathwards,
Hezekiah saw nothing, that was worth hoping for. To him to die was to
leave God behind him, to leave the face of God as surely as he was
leaving the face of man. _I said, I shall not see Jah, Jah in the land
of the living; I shall gaze upon man no more with the inhabitants of the
world._ The beyond was not to Hezekiah absolute nothingness, for he had
his conceptions, the popular conceptions of his time, of a sort of
existence that was passed by those who had been men upon earth. The
imagination of his people figured the gloomy portals of a nether
world--_Sheol_, the _Hollow_ (Dante's "hollow realm"), or perhaps the
_Craving_--into which death herds the shades of men, bloodless,
voiceless, without love or hope or aught that makes life worth living.
With such an existence beyond, to die to life here was to Hezekiah like
as when a weaver rolls up the finished web. My life may be a pattern for
others to copy, a banner for others to fight under, but for me it is
finished. Death has cut it from the loom. Or it was like going into
captivity. _Mine age is removed and is carried away from me into exile,
like a shepherd's tent_--exile which to a Jew was the extreme of
despair, implying as it did absence from God, and salvation and the
possibility of worship. _Sheol cannot praise Thee; death cannot
celebrate Thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy

Of this then at the best Hezekiah was sure: a respite of fifteen
years--nothing beyond. Then the shadow would not return upon the dial;
and as the king's eyes closed upon the dear faces of his friends, his
sense of the countenance of God would die too, and his soul slip into
the abyss, hopeless of God's faithfulness.

It is this awful anticlimax, which makes us feel the difference Christ
has made. This saint stood in almost the clearest light that revelation
cast before Jesus. He was able to perceive in suffering a meaning and
derive from it a strength not to be exceeded by any Christian. Yet his
faith is profitable for this life alone. For him character may wrestle
with death over and over again, and grow the stronger for every grapple,
but death wins the last throw.

It may be said that Hezekiah's despair of the future is simply the
morbid thoughts of a sick man or the exaggerated fancies of a poet. "We
must not," it is urged, "define a poet's language with the strictness of
a theology." True, and we must also make some allowance for a man dying
prematurely in the midst of his days. But if this hymn is only poetry,
it would have been as easy to poetise on the opposite possibilities
across the grave. So quick an imagination as Hezekiah's could not have
failed to take advantage of the slightest scintilla of glory that
pierced the cloud. It must be that his eye saw none, for all his poetry
droops the other way. We seek in heaven for praise in its fulness; there
we know God's servants shall see Him face to face. But of this Hezekiah
had not the slightest imagination; he anxiously prayed that he might
recover _to strike the stringed instruments all the days of his life in
the house of Jehovah. The living, the living, he praiseth thee, as I do
this day; the father to the children shall make known Thy truth._ But
_they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy faithfulness_.

Now compare all this with the Psalms of Christian hope; with the faith
that fills Paul; with his ardour who says, _To me to depart is far
better_; with the glory which John beholds with open face: the hosts of
the redeemed praising God and walking in the light of His face, all the
geography of that country laid down, and the plan of the new Jerusalem
declared to the very fashion of her stones; with the audacity since of
Christian art and song: the rapture of Watts' hymns and the exhilaration
of Wesley's praise as they contemplate death; and with the joyful and
exact anticipations of so many millions of common men as they turn their
faces to the wall. In all these, in even the Book of the Revelation,
there is of course a great deal of pure fancy. But imagination never
bursts in anywhither till fact has preceded. And it is just because
there is a great fact standing between us and Hezekiah that the pureness
of our faith and the richness of our imagination of immortality differ
so much from his. That fact is Jesus Christ, His resurrection and
ascension. It is He who has made all the difference and brought life and
immortality to light.

And we shall know the difference if we lose our faith in that fact. For
_except Christ be risen from the dead_ and gone before to a country
which derives all its reality and light for our imagination from that
Presence, which once walked with us in the flesh, there remains for us
only Hezekiah's courage to make the best of a short reprieve, only
Hezekiah's outlook into Hades when at last we turn our faces to the
wall. But to be stronger and purer for having met with death, as he was,
only that we must afterwards succumb, with our purity and our strength,
to death--this is surely to be, as Paul said, _of all men the most

Better far to own the power of an endless life, which Christ has sealed
to us, and translate Hezekiah's experience into the new calculus of
immortality. If to have faced death as he did was to inherit dignity and
peace and sense of power, what glory of kingship and queenship must sit
upon those faces in the other world who have been at closer quarters
still with the King of terrors, and through Christ their strength have
spoiled him of his sting and victory! To have felt the worst of death
and to have triumphed--this is the secret of the peaceful hearts,
unfaltering looks and faces of glory, _which pass in solemn procession
of worship_ through all eternity before the throne of God.

       *       *       *       *       *

We shall consider the Old Testament views of a future life and
resurrection more fully in chaps. xxvii. and xxx. of this volume.



The two narratives, in which Isaiah's career culminates--that of the
Deliverance of Jerusalem (xxxvi.; xxxvii.) and that of the Recovery of
Hezekiah (xxxviii.; xxxix.)--cannot fail, coming together as they do, to
suggest to thoughtful readers a striking contrast between Isaiah's
treatment of the community and his treatment of the individual, between
his treatment of the Church and his treatment of single members. For in
the first of these narratives we are told how an illimitable future,
elsewhere so gloriously described by the prophet, was secured for the
Church upon earth; but the whole result of the second is the gain for a
representative member of the Church of a respite of fifteen years.
Nothing, as we have seen, is promised to the dying Hezekiah of a future
life; no scintilla of the light of eternity sparkles either in Isaiah's
promise or in Hezekiah's prayer. The net result of the incident is a
reprieve of fifteen years: fifteen years of a character strengthened,
indeed, by having met with death, but, it would sadly seem, only in
order to become again the prey of the vanities of this world (chap.
xxxix.). So meagre a result for the individual stands strangely out
against the perpetual glory and peace assured to the community. And it
suggests this question: Had Isaiah any real gospel for the individual?
If so, what was it?

First of all, we must remember that God in His providence seldom gives
to one prophet or generation more than a single main problem for
solution. In Isaiah's day undoubtedly the most urgent problem--and
Divine problems are ever practical, not philosophical--was the
continuance of the Church upon earth. It had really got to be a matter
of doubt whether a body of people possessing the knowledge of the true
God, and able to transfuse and transmit it, could possibly survive among
the political convulsions of the world, and in consequence of its own
sin. Isaiah's problem was the reformation and survival of the Church. In
accordance with this, we notice how many of his terms are collective,
and how he almost never addresses the individual. It is the _people_,
upon whom he calls--_the nation, Israel, the house of Jacob My vineyard,
the men of Judah His pleasant plantation_. To these we may add the
apostrophes to the city of Jerusalem, under many personifications:
_Ariel, Ariel, inhabitress of Zion, daughter of Zion_. When Isaiah
denounces sin, the sinner is either the whole community or a class in
the community, very seldom an individual, though there are some
instances of the latter, as Ahaz and Shebna. It is _This people hath
rejected_, or _The people would not_. When Jerusalem collapsed, although
there must have been many righteous men still within her, Isaiah said,
_What aileth thee that all belonging to thee have gone up to the
housetops?_ (xxii. 1). His language is wholesale. When he is not
attacking society, he attacks classes or groups: _the rulers_, the
land-grabbers, the drunkards, _the sinners_, _the judges_, _the house of
David_, _the priests and the prophets_, _the women_. And the sins of
these he describes in their social effects, or in their results upon
the fate of the whole people; but he never, except in two cases, gives
us their individual results. He does not make evident, like Jesus or
Paul, the eternal damage a man's sin inflicts on his own soul.

Similarly when Isaiah speaks of God's grace and salvation the objects of
these are again collective--_the remnant; the escaped_ (also a
collective noun); a _holy seed_; a _stock_ or _stump_. It is a _restored
nation_ whom he sees under the Messiah, the perpetuity and glory of a
_city_ and _a State_. What we consider to be a most personal and
particularly individual matter--the forgiveness of sin--he promises,
with two exceptions, only to the community: _This people that dwelleth
therein hath its iniquity forgiven_. We can understand all this social,
collective and wholesale character of his language only if we keep in
mind his Divinely appointed work--the substance and perpetuity of a
purified and secure Church of God.

Had Isaiah then no gospel for the individual? This will indeed seem
impossible to us if we keep in view the following considerations:--

1. ISAIAH HIMSELF had passed through a powerfully individual experience.
He had not only felt the solidarity of the people's sin--_I dwell among
a people of unclean lips_--he had first felt his own particular guilt:
_I am a man of unclean lips_. One who suffered the private experiences
which are recounted in chap. vi.; whose _own eyes_ had _seen_ the _King,
Jehovah of hosts_; who had gathered on his own lips his guilt and felt
the fire come from heaven's altar by an angelic messenger specially to
purify him; who had further devoted himself to God's service with so
thrilling a sense of his own responsibility, and had so thereby felt his
solitary and individual mission--he surely was not behind the very
greatest of Christian saints in the experience of guilt, of personal
obligation to grace and of personal responsibility. Though the record of
Isaiah's ministry contains no narratives, such as fill the ministries of
Jesus and Paul, of anxious care for individuals, could he who wrote of
himself that sixth chapter have failed to deal with men as Jesus dealt
with Nicodemus, or Paul with the Philippian gaoler? It is not
picturesque fancy, nor merely a reflection of the New Testament temper,
if we realize Isaiah's intervals of relief from political labour and
religious reform occupied with an attention to individual interests,
which necessarily would not obtain the permanent record of his public
ministry. But whether this be so or not, the sixth chapter teaches that
for Isaiah all public conscience and public labour found its necessary
preparation in personal religion.

2. But, again, Isaiah had an INDIVIDUAL FOR HIS IDEAL. To him the future
was not only an established State; it was equally, it was first, a
glorious king. Isaiah was an Oriental. We moderns of the West place our
reliance upon institutions; we go forward upon ideas. In the East it is
personal influence that tells, persons who are expected, followed and
fought for. The history of the West is the history of the advance of
thought, of the rise and decay of institutions, to which the greatest
individuals are more or less subordinate. The history of the East is the
annals of personalities; justice and energy in a ruler, not political
principles, are what impress the Oriental imagination. Isaiah has
carried this Oriental hope to a distinct and lofty pitch. The Hero whom
he exalts on the margin of the future, as its Author, is not only a
person of great majesty, but a character of considerable decision. At
first only the rigorous virtues of the ruler are attributed to Him
(chap. xi. 1 ff.), but afterwards the graces and influence of a much
broader and sweeter humanity (xxxii. 2). Indeed, in this latter oracle
we saw that Isaiah spoke not so much of his great Hero, as of what any
individual might become. _A man_, he says, _shall be as an hiding-place
from the wind_. Personal influence is the spring of social progress, the
shelter and fountain force of the community. In the following verses the
effect of so pure and inspiring a presence is traced in the
discrimination of individual character--each man standing out for what
he is--which Isaiah defines as his second requisite for social progress.
In all this there is much for the individual to ponder, much to inspire
him with a sense of the value and responsibility of his own character,
and with the certainty that by himself he shall be judged and by himself
stand or fall. _The worthless person shall be no more called princely,
nor the knave said to be bountiful._

3. If any details of character are wanting in the picture of Isaiah's
Hero, they are supplied by HEZEKIAH'S SELF-ANALYSIS (chap. xxxviii.). We
need not repeat what we have said in the previous chapter of the king's
appreciation of what is the strength of a man's character, and
particularly of how character grows by grappling with death. In this
matter the most experienced of Christian saints may learn from Isaiah's

Isaiah had then, without doubt, a gospel for the individual; and to this
day the individual may plainly read it in his book, may truly, strongly,
joyfully live by it--so deeply does it begin, so much does it help to
self-knowledge and self-analysis, so lofty are the ideals and
responsibilities which it presents. But is it true that Isaiah's gospel
is for this life only?

Was Isaiah's silence on the immortality of the individual due wholly to
the cause we have suggested in the beginning of this chapter--that God
gives to each prophet his single problem, and that the problem of Isaiah
was the endurance of the Church upon earth? There is no doubt that this
is only partly the explanation.

The Hebrew belonged to a branch of humanity--the Semitic--which, as its
history proves, was unable to develop any strong imagination of, or
practical interest in, a future life apart from foreign influence or
Divine revelation. The pagan Arabs laughed at Mahommed when he preached
to them of the Resurrection; and even to-day, after twelve centuries of
Moslem influence, their descendants in the centre of Arabia, according
to the most recent authority,[73] fail to form a clear conception of, or
indeed to take almost any practical interest in, another world. The
northern branch of the race, to which the Hebrews belonged, derived from
an older civilisation a prospect of Hades, that their own fancy
developed with great elaboration. This prospect, however, which we shall
describe fully in connection with chaps. xiv. and xxvi., was one
absolutely hostile to the interests of character in this life. It
brought all men, whatever their life had been on earth, at last to a
dead level of unsubstantial and hopeless existence. Good and evil,
strong and weak, pious and infidel, alike became shades, joyless and
hopeless, without even the power to praise God. We have seen in
Hezekiah's case how such a prospect unnerved the most pious souls, and
that revelation, even though represented at his bedside by an Isaiah,
offered him no hope of an issue from it. The strength of character,
however, which Hezekiah professes to have won in grappling with death,
added to the closeness of communion with God which he enjoyed in this
life, only brings out the absurdity of such a conclusion to life as the
prospect of Sheol offered to the individual. If he was a pious man, if
he was a man who had never felt himself deserted by God in this life, he
was bound to revolt from so God-forsaken an existence after death. This
was actually the line along which the Hebrew spirit went out to victory
over those gloomy conceptions of death, that were yet unbroken by a
risen Christ. _Thou wilt not_, the saint triumphantly cried, _leave my
soul in Sheol, nor wilt Thou suffer Thine holy one to see corruption_.
It was faith in the almightiness and reasonableness of God's ways, it
was conviction of personal righteousness, it was the sense that the Lord
would not desert His own in death, which sustained the believer in face
of that awful shadow through which no light of revelation had yet

  [73] Doughty's _Arabia Deserta: Travels in Northern Arabia_, 1876-1878.

If these, then, were the wings by which a believing soul under the Old
Testament soared over the grave, Isaiah may be said to have contributed
to the hope of personal immortality just in so far as he strengthened
them. By enhancing as he did the value and beauty of individual
character, by emphasizing the indwelling of God's Spirit, he was
bringing life and immortality to light, even though he spoke no word to
the dying about the fact of a glorious life beyond the grave. By
assisting to create in the individual that character and sense of God,
which alone could assure him he would never die, but pass from the
praise of the Lord in this life to a nearer enjoyment of His presence
beyond, Isaiah was working along the only line by which the Spirit of
God seems to have assisted the Hebrew mind to an assurance of heaven.

But further in his favourite gospel of the REASONABLENESS OF GOD--that
God does not work fruitlessly, nor create and cultivate with a view to
judgement and destruction--Isaiah was furnishing an argument for
personal immortality, the force of which has not been exhausted. In a
recent work on _The Destiny of Man_[74] the philosophic author maintains
the reasonableness of the Divine methods as a ground of belief both in
the continued progress of the race upon earth and in the immortality of
the individual. "From the first dawning of life we see all things
working together towards one mighty goal--the evolution of the most
exalted and spiritual faculties which characterize humanity. Has all
this work been done for nothing? Is it all ephemeral, all a bubble that
bursts, a vision that fades? On such a view the riddle of the universe
becomes a riddle without a meaning. The more thoroughly we comprehend
the process of evolution by which things have come to be what they are,
the more we are likely to feel that to deny the everlasting persistence
of the spiritual element in man is to rob the whole process of its
meaning. It goes far towards putting us to permanent intellectual
confusion. For my own part, I believe in the immortality of the soul,
not in the sense in which I accept demonstrable truths of science, but
as a supreme act of faith in the reasonableness of God's work."

  [74] By Professor Fiske.

From the same argument Isaiah drew only the former of these two
conclusions. To him the certainty that God's people would survive the
impending deluge of Assyria's brute force was based on his faith that
the Lord is _a God of judgement_, of reasonable law and method, and
could not have created or fostered so spiritual a people only to destroy
them. The progress of religion upon earth was certain. But does not
Isaiah's method equally make for the immortality of the individual? He
did not draw this conclusion, but he laid down its premises with a
confidence and richness of illustration that have never been excelled.

We, therefore, answer the question we put at the beginning of the
chapter thus:--Isaiah had a gospel for the individual for this life, and
all the necessary premises of a gospel for the individual for the life
to come.




xiii.-xiv. 23





In the first thirty-nine chapters of the Book of Isaiah--the half which
refers to the prophet's own career and the politics contemporary with
that--we find four or five prophecies containing no reference to Isaiah
himself nor to any Jewish king under whom he laboured, and painting both
Israel and the foreign world in quite a different state from that in
which they lay during his lifetime. These prophecies are chap. xiii., an
Oracle announcing the Fall of Babylon, with its appendix, chap. xiv.
1-23, the Promise of Israel's Deliverance and an Ode upon the Fall of
the Babylonian Tyrant; chaps. xxiv.-xxvii., a series of Visions of the
breaking up of the universe, of restoration from exile, and even of
resurrection from the dead; chap. xxxiv., the Vengeance of the Lord upon
Edom; and chap. xxxv., a Song of Return from Exile.

In these prophecies Assyria is no longer the dominant world-force, nor
Jerusalem the inviolate fortress of God and His people. If Assyria or
Egypt is mentioned, it is but as one of the three classical enemies of
Israel; and Babylon is represented as the head and front of the hostile
world. The Jews are no longer in political freedom and possession of
their own land; they are either in exile or just returned from it to a
depopulated country. With these altered circumstances come another
temper and new doctrine. The horizon is different, and the hopes that
flush in dawn upon it are not quite the same as those which we have
contemplated with Isaiah in his immediate future. It is no longer the
repulse of the heathen invader; the inviolateness of the sacred city;
the recovery of the people from the shock of attack, and of the land
from the trampling of armies. But it is the people in exile, the
overthrow of the tyrant in his own home, the opening of prison doors,
the laying down of a highway through the wilderness, the triumph of
return and the resumption of worship. There is, besides, a promise of
the resurrection, which we have not found in the prophecies we have

With such differences, it is not wonderful that many have denied the
authorship of these few prophecies to Isaiah. This is a question that
can be looked at calmly. It touches no dogma of the Christian faith.
Especially it does not involve the other question, so often--and, we
venture to say, so unjustly--started on this point, Could not the Spirit
of God have inspired Isaiah to foresee all that the prophecies in
question foretell, even though he lived more than a century before the
people were in circumstances to understand them? Certainly, God is
almighty. The question is not, Could He have done this? but one somewhat
different: Did He do it? and to this an answer can be had only from the
prophecies themselves. If these mark the Babylonian hostility or
captivity as already upon Israel, this is a testimony of Scripture
itself, which we cannot overlook, and beside which even unquestionable
traces of similarity to Isaiah's style or the fact that these oracles
are bound up with Isaiah's own undoubted prophecies have little weight.
"Facts" of style will be regarded with suspicion by any one who knows
how they are employed by both sides in such a question as this; while
the certainty that the Book of Isaiah was put into its present form
subsequently to his life will permit of,--and the evident purpose of
Scripture to secure moral impressiveness rather than historical
consecutiveness will account for,--later oracles being bound up with
unquestioned utterances of Isaiah.

Only one of the prophecies in question confirms the tradition that it is
by Isaiah, viz., chap. xiii., which bears the title _Oracle of Babylon
which Isaiah, son of Amoz, did see_; but titles are themselves so much
the report of tradition, being of a later date than the rest of the
text, that it is best to argue the question apart from them.

On the other hand, Isaiah's authorship of these prophecies, or at least
the possibility of his having written them, is usually defended by
appealing to his promise of the return from exile in chap. xi. and his
threat of a Babylonish captivity in chap. xxxix. This is an argument
that has not been fairly met by those who deny the Isaianic authorship
of chaps. xiii.-xiv. 23, xxiv.-xxvii., and xxxv. It is a strong
argument, for while, as we have seen (p. 201), there are good grounds
for believing Isaiah to have been likely to make such a prediction of a
Babylonish captivity as is attributed to him in chap. xxxix. 6, almost
all the critics agree in leaving chap. xi. to him. But if chap. xi. is
Isaiah's, then he undoubtedly spoke of an exile much more extensive than
had taken place by his own day. Nevertheless, even this ability in xi.
to foretell an exile so vast does not account for passages in xiii.-xiv.
23, xxiv.-xxvii., which represent the Exile either as present or as
actually over. No one who reads these chapters without prejudice can
fail to feel the force of such passages in leading him to decide for an
exilic or post-exilic authorship (see pp. 429 ff.).

Another argument against attributing these prophecies to Isaiah is that
their visions of the last things, representing as they do a judgement on
the whole world, and even the destruction of the whole material
universe, are incompatible with Isaiah's loftiest and final hope of an
inviolate Zion at last relieved and secure, of a land freed from
invasion and wondrously fertile, with all the converted world, Assyria
and Egypt, gathered round it as a centre. This question, however, is
seriously complicated by the fact that in his youth Isaiah did
undoubtedly prophesy a shaking of the whole world and the destruction of
its inhabitants, and by the probability that his old age survived into a
period, whose abounding sin would again make natural such wholesale
predictions of judgement as we find in chap. xxiv.

Still, let the question of the eschatology be as obscure as we have
shown, there remains this clear issue. In some chapters of the Book of
Isaiah, which, from our knowledge of the circumstances of his times, we
know must have been published while he was alive, we learn that the
Jewish people has never left its land, nor lost its independence under
Jehovah's anointed, and that the inviolateness of Zion and the retreat
of the Assyrian invaders of Judah, without effecting the captivity of
the Jews, are absolutely essential to the endurance of God's kingdom on
earth. In other chapters we find that the Jews have left their land,
have been long in exile (or from other passages have just returned), and
that the religious essential is no more the independence of the Jewish
State under a theocratic king, but only the resumption of the Temple
worship. Is it possible for one man to have written both these sets of
chapters? Is it possible for one age to have produced them? That is the
whole question.



ISAIAH xiii. 2-xiv. 23 (DATE UNCERTAIN).

This double oracle is against the City (xiii. 2-xiv. 2) and the Tyrant
(xiv. 3-23) of Babylon.

I. THE WICKED CITY (xiii. 2-xiv. 23).

The first part is a series of hurried and vanishing scenes--glimpses of
ruin and deliverance caught through the smoke and turmoil of a Divine
war. The drama opens with the erection of a gathering _standard upon a
bare mountain_ (ver. 2). He who gives the order explains it (ver. 3),
but is immediately interrupted by _Hark! a tumult on the mountains, like
a great people. Hark! the surge of the kingdoms of nations gathering
together. Jehovah of hosts is mustering the host of war._ It is the _day
of Jehovah_ that is _near_, the day of His war and of His judgement upon
the world.

This Old Testament expression, _the day of the LORD_, starts so many
ideas that it is difficult to seize any one of them and say this is just
what is meant. For _day_ with a possessive pronoun suggests what has
been appointed aforehand, or what must come round in its turn; means
also opportunity and triumph, and also swift performance after long
delay. All these thoughts are excited when we couple _a day_ with any
person's name. And therefore as with every dawn some one awakes saying,
This is my day; as with every dawn comes some one's chance, some soul
gets its wish, some will shows what it can do, some passion or principle
issues into fact: so God also shall have His day, on which His justice
and power shall find their full scope and triumph. Suddenly and simply,
like any dawn that takes its turn on the round of time, the great
decision and victory of Divine justice shall at last break out of the
long delay of ages. _Howl ye, for the day of Jehovah is near; as
destruction from the Destructive does it come._ Very savage and quite
universal is its punishment. _Every human heart melteth._ Countless
faces, white with terror, light up its darkness like flames. Sinners are
_to be exterminated out of the earth; the world is to be punished for
its iniquity_. Heaven, the stars, sun and moon aid the horror and the
darkness, heaven shivering above, the earth quaking beneath; and
between, the peoples like shepherdless sheep drive to and fro through
awful carnage.

From ver. 17 the mist lifts a little. The vague turmoil clears up into a
siege of Babylon by the Medians, and then settles down into Babylon's
ruin and abandonment to wild beasts. Finally (xiv. 1) comes the
religious reason of so much convulsion: _For Jehovah will have
compassion upon Jacob, and choose again Israel, and settle them upon
their own ground; and the foreign sojourner shall join himself to them,
and they shall associate themselves to the house of Jacob_.

This prophecy evidently came to a people already in captivity--a very
different circumstance of the Church of God from that in which we have
seen her under Isaiah. But upon this new stage it is still the same old
conquest. Assyria has fallen, but Babylon has taken her place. The old
spirit of cruelty and covetousness has entered a new body; the only
change is that it has become wealth and luxury instead of brute force
and military glory. It is still selfishness and pride and atheism. At
this, our first introduction to Babylon, it might have been proper to
explain why throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation this one
city should remain in fact or symbol the enemy of God and the stronghold
of darkness. But we postpone what may be said of her singular
reputation, till we come to the second part of the Book of Isaiah where
Babylon plays a larger and more distinct role. Here her destruction is
simply the most striking episode of the Divine judgement upon the whole
earth. Babylon represents civilisation; she is the brow of the world's
pride and enmity to God. One distinctively Babylonian characteristic,
however, must not be passed over. With a ring of irony in his voice, the
prophet declares, _Behold, I stir up the Medes against thee, who regard
not silver and take no pleasure in gold_. The worst terror that can
assail us is the terror of forces, whose character we cannot fathom, who
will not stop to parley, who do not understand our language nor our
bribes. It was such a power, with which the resourceful and luxurious
Babylon was threatened. With money the Babylonians did all they wished
to do, and believed everything else to be possible. They had subsidised
kings, bought over enemies, seduced the peoples of the earth. The foe
whom God now sent them was impervious to this influence. From their pure
highlands came down upon corrupt civilisation a simple people, whose
banner was a leathern apron, whose goal was not booty nor ease but power
and mastery, who came not to rob but to displace.

The lessons of the passage are two: that the people of God are
something distinct from civilisation, though this be universal and
absorbent as a very Babylon; and that the resources of civilisation are
not even in material strength the highest in the universe, but God has
in His armoury weapons heedless of men's cunning, and in His armies
agents impervious to men's bribes. Every civilisation needs to be told,
according to its temper, one of these two things. Is it hypocritical?
Then it needs to be told that civilisation is not one with the people of
God. Is it arrogant? Then it needs to be told that the resources of
civilisation are not the strongest forces in God's universe. Man talks
of the triumph of mind over matter, of the power of culture, of the
elasticity of civilisation; but God has natural forces, to which all
these are as the worm beneath the hoof of the horse: and if moral need
arise, He will call His brute forces into requisition. _Howl ye, for the
day of Jehovah is near; as destruction from the Destructive does it
come._ There may be periods in man's history when, in opposition to
man's unholy art and godless civilisation, God can reveal Himself only
as destruction.

II. THE TYRANT (xiv. 3-23).

To the prophecy of the overthrow of Babylon there is annexed, in order
to be sung by Israel in the hour of her deliverance, a _satiric ode_ or
_taunt-song_ (Heb. _mashal_, Eng. ver. _parable_) upon the King of
Babylon. A translation of this spirited poem in the form of its verse
(in which, it is to be regretted, it has not been rendered by the
English revisers) will be more instructive than a full commentary. But
the following remarks of introduction are necessary. The word _mashal_,
by which this ode is entitled, means comparison, _similitude_ or
_parable_, and was applicable to every sentence composed of at least two
members that compared or contrasted their subjects. As the great bulk of
Hebrew poetry is sententious, and largely depends for rhythm upon its
parallelism, _mashal_ received a general application; and while another
term--_shîr_--more properly denotes lyric poetry, _mashal_ is applied to
rhythmical passages in the Old Testament of almost all tempers: to mere
predictions, proverbs, orations, satires or taunt-songs, as here, and to
didactic pieces. The parallelism of the verses in our ode is too evident
to need an index. But the parallel verses are next grouped into
strophes. In Hebrew poetry this division is frequently effected by the
use of a refrain. In our ode there is no refrain, but the strophes are
easily distinguished by difference of subject-matter. Hebrew poetry does
not employ rhyme, but makes use of assonance, and to a much less extent
of alliteration--a form which is more frequent in Hebrew prose. In our
ode there is not much either of assonance or alliteration. But, on the
other hand, the ode has but to be read to break into a certain rough and
swinging rhythm. This is produced by long verses rising alternate with
short ones falling. Hebrew verse at no time relied for a metrical effect
upon the modern device of an equal or proportionate number of syllables.
The longer verses of this ode are sometimes too short, the shorter too
long, variations to which a rude chant could readily adapt itself. But
the alternation of long and short is sustained throughout, except for a
break at ver. 10 by the introduction of the formula _And they answered
and said_, which evidently ought to stand for a long and a short verse
if the number of double verses in the second strophe is to be the same
as it is--seven--in the first and in the third.

The scene of the poem, the Underworld and abode of the shades of the
dead, is one on which some of the most splendid imagination and music of
humanity has been expended. But we must not be disappointed if we do not
here find the rich detail and glowing fancy of Virgil's or of Dante's
vision. This simple and even rude piece of metre, liker ballad than
epic, ought to excite our wonder not so much for what it has failed to
imagine as for what, being at its disposal, it has resolutely stinted
itself in employing. For it is evident that the author of these lines
had within his reach the rich, fantastic materials of Semitic mythology,
which are familiar to us in the Babylonian remains. With an austerity,
that must strike every one who is acquainted with these, he uses only so
much of them as to enable him to render with dramatic force his simple
theme--the vanity of human arrogance.[75]

  [75] "Those principles of natural philosophy which smothered the
  religions of the East with their rank and injurious growth are almost
  entirely absent from the religion of the Hebrews. Here the motive-power
  of development is to be found in ethical ideas, which, though not indeed
  alien to the life of other nations, were not the source from which their
  religious notions were derived."--(Lotze's _Microcosmos_, Eng. Transl.,
  il., 466.)

For this purpose he employs the idea of the Underworld which was
prevalent among the northern Semitic peoples. Sheol--the _gaping_ or
_craving_ place--which we shall have occasion to describe in detail when
we come to speak of belief in the resurrection,[76] is the state after
death that craves and swallows all living. There dwell the shades of men
amid some unsubstantial reflection of their earthly state (ver. 9), and
with consciousness and passion only sufficient to greet the arrival of
the new-comer and express satiric wonder at his fall (ver. 9). With the
arrogance of the Babylonian kings, this tyrant thought to scale the
heavens to set his throne in the _mount of assembly_ of the immortals,
_to match the Most High_.[77] But his fate is the fate of all
mortals--to go down to the weakness and emptiness of Sheol. Here, let us
carefully observe, there is no trace of a judgement for reward or
punishment. The new victim of death simply passes to his place among his
equals. There was enough of contrast between the arrogance of a tyrant
claiming Divinity and his fall into the common receptacle of mortality
to point the prophet's moral without the addition of infernal torment.
Do we wish to know the actual punishment of his pride and cruelty? It is
visible above ground (strophe 4); not with his spirit, but with his
corpse; not with himself, but with his wretched family. His corpse is
unburied, his family exterminated; his name disappears from the

  [76] P. 447 ff.

  [77] It is, however, only just to add that, as Mr. Sayce has pointed out
  in the Hibbert Lectures for 1887 (p. 365), the claims of Babylonian
  kings and heroes for a seat on the mountain of the gods were not always
  mere arrogance, but the first efforts of the Babylonian mind to
  emancipate itself from the gloomy conceptions of Hades and provide a
  worthy immortality for virtue. Still most of the kings who pray for an
  entrance among the gods do so on the plea that they have been successful
  tyrants--a considerable difference from such an assurance as that of the
  sixteenth Psalm.

  [78] The popular Semitic conception of Hades contained within it neither
  grades of condition, according to the merits of men, nor any trace of an
  infernal torment in aggravation of the unsubstantial state to which all
  are equally reduced. This statement is true of the Old Testament till at
  least the Book of Daniel. Sheol is lit by no lurid fires, such as made
  the later Christian hell intolerable to the lost. That life is
  unsubstantial; that darkness and dust abound; above all, that God is not
  there, and that it is impossible to praise Him, is all the punishment
  which is given in Sheol. Extraordinary vice is punished above ground, in
  the name and family of the sinner. Sheol, with its monotony, is for
  average men; but extraordinary piety can break away from it (Ps. xvi.).

Thus, by the help of only a few fragments from the popular mythology,
the sacred satirist achieves his purpose. His severe monotheism is
remarkable in its contrast to Babylonian poems upon similar subjects. He
will know none of the gods of the underworld. In place of the great
goddess, whom a Babylonian would certainly have seen presiding, with her
minions, over the shades, he personifies--it is a frequent figure of
Hebrew poetry--the abyss itself. _Sheol shuddereth at thee._ It is the
same when he speaks (ver. 13) of the deep's great opposite, that _mount
of assembly_ of the gods, which the northern Semites believed to soar to
a silver sky _in the recesses of the north_ (ver. 14), upon the great
range which in that direction bounded the Babylonian plain. This Hebrew
knows of no gods there but One, whose are the stars, who is the Most
High. Man's arrogance and cruelty are attempts upon His majesty. He
inevitably overwhelms them. Death is their penalty: blood and squalor on
earth, the concourse of shuddering ghosts below.

  _The kings of the earth set themselves,
  And the rulers take counsel together,
  Against the Lord and against His Anointed.
  He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh;
  The Lord shall have them in derision._

He who has heard that laughter sees no comedy in aught else. This is the
one unfailing subject of Hebrew satire, and it forms the irony and the
rigour of the following ode.[79]

  [79] Readers will remember a parallel to this ode in Carlyle's famous
  chapter on Louis the Unforgotten. No modern has rivalled Carlyle in his
  inheritance of this satire, except it be he whom Carlyle called "that
  Jew blackguard Heine."

The only other remarks necessary are these. In ver. 9 the Authorized
Version has not attempted to reproduce the humour of the original
satire, which styles them that were chief men on earth _chief-goats_ of
the herd, bell-wethers. The phrase _they that go down to the stones of
the pit_ should be transferred from ver. 19 to ver. 20.

_And thou shalt lift up this proverb upon the King of Babylon, and shalt


  Ah! stilled is the tyrant,
    And stilled is the fury!
  Broke hath Jehovah the rod of the wicked,
    Sceptre of despots:
  Stroke of (the) peoples with passion,
    Stroke unremitting,
  Treading in wrath (the) nations,
    Trampling unceasing.
  Quiet, at rest, is the whole earth,
    They break into singing;
  Even the pines are jubilant for thee,
    Lebanon's cedars!
  "Since thou liest low, cometh not up
    Feller against us."


  Sheol from under shuddereth at thee
    To meet thine arrival,
  Stirring up for thee the shades,
    All great-goats of earth!
  Lifteth erect from their thrones
    All kings of peoples.

10. _All of them answer and say to thee,_--

  "Thou, too, made flaccid like us,
    To us hast been levelled!
  Hurled to Sheol is the pride of thee,
    Clang of the harps of thee;
  Under thee strewn are (the) maggots
    Thy coverlet worms."


  How art thou fallen from heaven
    Daystar, son of the dawn
  (How) art thou hewn down to earth,
    Hurtler at nations.
  And thou, thou didst say in thine heart,
    "The heavens will I scale,
  Far up to the stars of God
    Lift high my throne,
  And sit on the mount of assembly,
    Far back of the north,
  I will climb on the heights of (the) cloud,
    I will match the Most High!"
  Ah! to Sheol thou art hurled,
    Far back of the pit!


  Who see thee at thee are gazing;
    Upon thee they muse:
  Is this the man that staggered the earth,
    Shaker of kingdoms?
  Setting the world like the desert,
    Its cities he tore down;
  Its prisoners he loosed not
    (Each of them) homeward.
  All kings of peoples, yes all,
    Are lying in their state;
  But thou! thou art flung from thy grave,
    Like a stick that is loathsome.
  Beshrouded with slain, the pierced of the sword,
    Like a corpse that is trampled.
  They that go down to the stones of a crypt,
    Shalt not be with them in burial.
  For thy land thou hast ruined,
    Thy people hast slaughtered.
  Shall not be mentioned for aye
    Seed of the wicked!
  Set for his children a shambles,
    For guilt of their fathers!
  They shall not rise, nor inherit (the) earth,
    Nor fill the face of the world with cities.


  But I will arise upon them,
    Sayeth Jehovah of hosts;
  And I will cut off from Babel
    Record and remnant,
  And scion and seed,
    Saith Jehovah:
  Yea, I will make it the bittern's heritage,
    Marshes of water!
  And I will sweep it with sweeps of destruction,
    Sayeth Jehovah of hosts.




The twenty-fourth of Isaiah is one of those chapters, which almost
convince the most persevering reader of Scripture that a consecutive
reading of the Authorized Version is an impossibility. For what does he
get from it but a weary and unintelligent impression of destruction,
from which he gladly escapes to the nearest clear utterance of gospel or
judgement? Criticism affords little help. It cannot clearly identify the
chapter with any historical situation. For a moment there is a gleam of
a company standing outside the convulsion, and to the west of the
prophet, while the prophet himself suffers captivity.[80] But even this
fades before we make it out; and all the rest of the chapter has too
universal an application--the language is too imaginative, enigmatic and
even paradoxical--to be applied to an actual historical situation, or to
its development in the immediate future. This is an ideal description,
the apocalyptic vision of a last, great day of judgement upon the whole
world; and perhaps the moral truths are all the more impressive that the
reader is not distracted by temporary or local references.

  [80] vv. 14-16, which are very perplexing. In 14 a company is introduced
  to us very vaguely as _those_ or _yonder ones_, who are represented as
  seeing the bright side of the convulsion which is the subject of the
  chapter. _They cry aloud from the sea_; that is, _from the west_ of the
  prophet. He is therefore in the east, and in captivity, in the centre of
  the convulsion. The problem is to find any actual historical situation,
  in which part of Israel was in the east in captivity, and part in the
  west free and full of reasons for praising God for the calamity, out of
  which their brethren saw no escape for themselves.

With the very first verse the prophecy leaps far beyond all particular
or national conditions: _Behold, Jehovah shall be emptying the earth and
rifling it; and He shall turn it upside down and scatter its
inhabitants_. This is expressive and thorough; the words are those which
were used for cleaning a dirty dish. To the completeness of this opening
verse there is really nothing in the chapter to add. All the rest of the
verses only illustrate this upturning and scouring of the material
universe. For it is with the material universe that the chapter is
concerned. Nothing is said of the spiritual nature of man--little,
indeed, about man at all. He is simply called _the inhabitant of the
earth_, and the structure of society (ver. 2) is introduced only to make
more complete the effect of the convulsion of the earth itself. Man
cannot escape those judgements which shatter his material habitation. It
is like one of Dante's visions. _Terror, and Pit and Snare upon thee, O
inhabitant of the earth! And it shall come to pass that he who fleeth
from the noise of the Terror shall fall into the Pit, and he who cometh
up out of the midst of the Pit shall be taken in the Snare. For the
windows on high are opened, and the foundations of the earth do shake.
Broken, utterly broken, is the earth; shattered, utterly shattered, the
earth; staggering, very staggering, the earth; reeling, the earth
reeleth like a drunken man: she swingeth to and fro like a hammock._ And
so through the rest of the chapter it is the material life of man that
is cursed: _the new wine_, _the vine_, _the tabrets_, _the harp_, _the
song_, and the merriness in men's hearts which these call forth. Nor
does the chapter confine itself to the earth. The closing verses carry
the effect of judgement to the heavens and far limits of the material
universe. _The host of the high ones on high_ (ver. 21) are not
spiritual beings, the angels. They are material bodies, the stars.
_Then, too, shall the moon be confounded, and the stars ashamed_, when
the Lord's kingdom is established and His righteousness made gloriously

What awful truth is this for illustration of which we see not man, but
his habitation, the world and all its surroundings, lifted up by the
hand of the Lord, broken open, wiped out and shaken, while man himself,
as if only to heighten the effect, staggers hopelessly like some broken
insect on the quaking ruins? What judgement is this, in which not only
one city or one kingdom is concerned, as in the last prophecy of which
we treated, but the whole earth is convulsed, and moon and sun

The judgement is the visitation of man's sins on his material
surroundings--_The earth's transgression shall be heavy upon it; and it
shall rise, and not fall_. The truth on which this judgement rests is
that between man and his material circumstance--the earth he inhabits,
the seasons which bear him company through time and the stars to which
he looks high up in heaven--there is a moral sympathy. _The earth also
is profaned under the inhabitants thereof, because they have
transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting

The Bible gives no support to the theory that matter itself is evil. God
created all things; _and God saw everything that He had made; and,
behold, it was very good_. When, therefore, we read in the Bible that
the earth is cursed, we read that it is cursed for man's sake; when we
read of its desolation, it is as the effect of man's crime. The Flood,
the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt and other
great physical catastrophes happened because men were stubborn or men
were foul. We cannot help noticing, however, that matter was thus
convulsed or destroyed, not only for the purpose of punishing the moral
agent, but because of some poison which had passed from him into the
unconscious instruments, stage and circumstance of his crime. According
to the Bible, there would appear to be some mysterious sympathy between
man and Nature. Man not only governs Nature; he infects and informs her.
As the moral life of the soul expresses itself in the physical life of
the body for the latter's health or corruption, so the conduct of the
human race affects the physical life of the universe to its farthest
limits in space. When man is reconciled to God, the wilderness blossoms
like a rose; but the guilt of man sullies, infects and corrupts the
place he inhabits and the articles he employs; and their destruction
becomes necessary, not for his punishment so much as because of the
infection and pollution that is in them.

The Old Testament is not contented with a general statement of this
great principle, but pursues it to all sorts of particular and private
applications. The curses of the Lord fell, not only on the sinner, but
on his dwelling, on his property and even on the bit of ground these
occupied. This was especially the case with regard to idolatry. When
Israel put a pagan population to the sword, they were commanded to raze
the city, gather its wealth together, burn all that was burnable and put
the rest into the temple of the Lord as a thing _devoted_ or
_accursed_, which it would harm themselves to share (Deut. vii. 25, 26;
xiii. 7). The very site of Jericho was cursed, and men were forbidden to
build upon its horrid waste. The story of Achan illustrates the same

It is just this principle which chap. xxiv. extends to the whole
universe. What happened in Jericho because of its inhabitants' idolatry
is now to happen to the whole earth because of man's sin. _The earth
also is profane under her inhabitants, because they have transgressed
the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant._ In
these words the prophet takes us away back to the covenant with Noah,
which he properly emphasizes as a covenant with all mankind. With a
noble universalism, for which his race and their literature get too
little credit, this Hebrew recognises that once all mankind were holy
unto God, who had included them under His grace, that promised the
fixedness and fertility of nature. But that covenant, though of grace,
had its conditions for man. These had been broken. The race had grown
wicked, as it was before the Flood; and therefore, in terms which
vividly recall that former judgement of God--_the windows on high are
opened_--the prophet foretells a new and more awful catastrophe. One
word which he employs betrays how close he feels the moral sympathy to
be between man and his world. _The earth_, he says, _is profane_. This
is a word, whose root meaning is _that which has fallen away_ or
_separated itself_, which is _delinquent_. Sometimes, perhaps, it has a
purely moral significance, like our word "abandoned" in the common
acceptance: he who has fallen far and utterly into sin, _the reckless
sinner_. But mostly it has rather the religious meaning of one who has
fallen out of the covenant relation with God and the relevant benefits
and privileges. Into this covenant not only Israel and their land, but
humanity and the whole world, have been brought. Is man under covenant
grace? The world is also. Does man fall? So does the world, becoming
with him _profane_. The consequence of breaking the covenant oath was
expressed in Hebrew by a technical word; and it is this word which,
translated _curse_, is applied in ver. 6 to the earth.

The whole earth is to be broken up and dissolved. What then is to become
of the people of God--the indestructible remnant? Where are they to
settle? In this new deluge is there a new ark? For answer the prophet
presents us with an old paradise (ver. 23). He has wrecked the universe;
but he says now, _Jehovah of hosts shall dwell in Mount Zion and in
Jerusalem_. It would be impossible to find a better instance of the
limitations of Old Testament prophecy than this return to the old
dispensation after the old dispensation has been committed to the
flames. At such a crisis as the conflagration of the universe for the
sin of man, the hope of the New Testament looks for the creation of a
new heaven and a new earth, but there is no scintilla of such a hope in
this prediction. The imagination of the Hebrew seer is beaten back upon
the theatre his conscience has abandoned. He knows "the old is out of
date," but for him "the new is not yet born;" and, therefore, convinced
as he is that the old must pass away, he is forced to borrow from its
ruins a provisional abode for God's people, a figure for the truth which
grips him so firmly, that, in spite of the death of all the universe for
man's sin, there must be a visibleness and locality of the Divine
majesty, a place where the people of God may gather to bless His holy

In this contrast of the power of spiritual imagination possessed
respectively by the Old and New Testaments we must not, however, lose
the ethical interest which the main lesson of this chapter has for the
individual conscience. A breaking universe, the great day of judgement,
may be too large and too far off to impress our conscience. But each of
us has his own world--body, property and environment--which is as much
and as evidently affected by his own sins as our chapter represents the
universe to be by the sins of the race.

To grant that the moral and physical universes are from the same hand is
to affirm a sympathy and mutual reaction between them. This affirmation
is confirmed by experience, and this experience is of two kinds. To the
guilty man Nature seems aware, and flashes back from her larger surfaces
the magnified reflection of his own self-contempt and terror. But,
besides, men are also unable to escape attributing to the material
instruments or surroundings of their sin a certain infection, a certain
power of recommunicating to their imaginations and memories the desire
for sin, as well as of inflicting upon them the pain and penalty of the
disorder it has produced among themselves. Sin, though born, as Christ
said, in the heart, has immediately a material expression; and we may
follow this outwards through man's mind, body and estate, not only to
find it "hindering, disturbing, complicating all," but reinfecting with
the lust and odour of sin the will which gave it birth. As sin is put
forth by the will, or is cherished in the heart, so we find error cloud
the mind, impurity the imagination, misery the feelings, and pain and
weariness infect the flesh and bone. God, who modelled it, alone knows
how far man's physical form has been degraded by the sinful thoughts
and habits of which for ages it has been the tool and expression; but
even our eyes may sometimes trace the despoiler, and that not only in
the case of what are preferably named sins of the flesh, but even with
lusts that do not require for their gratification the abuse of the body.
Pride, as one might think the least fleshly of all the vices, leaves yet
in time her damning signature, and will mark the strongest faces with
the sad symptoms of that mental break-down, for which unrestrained pride
is so often to blame. If sin thus disfigures the body, we know that sin
also infects the body. The habituated flesh becomes the suggester of
crime to the will which first constrained it to sin, and now wearily,
but in vain, rebels against the habits of its instrument. But we recall
all this about the body only to say that what is true of the body is
true of the soul's greater material surroundings. With the sentence
_Thou shalt surely die_, God connects this other: _Cursed is the ground
for thy sake_.

When we pass from a man's body, the wrapping we find next nearest to his
soul is his property. It has always been an instinct of the race, that
there is nothing a man may so infect with the sin of his heart as his
handiwork and the gains of his toil. And that is a true instinct, for,
in the first place, the making of property perpetuates a man's own
habits. If he is successful in business, then every bit of wealth he
gathers is a confirmation of the motives and tempers in which he
conducted his business. A man deceives himself as to this, saying, Wait
till I have made enough; then I will put away the meanness, the
harshness and the dishonesty with which I made it. He shall not be able.
Just because he has been successful, he will continue in his habit
without thinking; just because there has been no break-down to convict
of folly and suggest penitence, so he becomes hardened. Property is a
bridge on which our passions cross from one part of our life to another.
The Germans have an ironical proverb: "The man who has stolen a hundred
thousand dollars _can afford_ to live honestly." The emphasis of the
irony falls on the words in italics: he can afford, but never does. His
property hardens his heart, and keeps him from repentance.

But the instinct of humanity has also been quick to this: that the curse
of ill-gotten wealth passes like bad blood from father to child. What is
the truth in this matter? A glance at history will tell us. The
accumulation of property is the result of certain customs, habits and
laws. In its own powerful interest property perpetuates these down the
ages, and infects the fresh air of each new generation with their
temper. How often in the history of mankind has it been property gained
under unjust laws or cruel monopolies which has prevented the abolition
of these, and carried into gentler, freer times the pride and
exclusiveness of the age, by whose rude habits it was gathered. This
moral transference, which we see on so large a scale in public history,
is repeated to some extent in every private bequest. A curse does not
necessarily follow an estate from the sinful producer of it to his heir;
but the latter is, _by the bequest itself_ generally brought into so
close a contact with his predecessor as to share his conscience and be
in sympathy with his temper. And the case is common where an heir,
though absolutely up to the date of his succession separate from him who
made and has left the property, nevertheless finds himself unable to
alter the methods, or to escape the temper, in which the property has
been managed. In nine cases out of ten property carries conscience and
transfers habit; if the guilt does not descend, the infection does.

When we pass from the effect of sin upon property to its effect upon
circumstance, we pass to what we can affirm with even greater
conscience. Man has the power of permanently soaking and staining his
surroundings with the effect of sins in themselves momentary and
transient. Sin increases terribly by the mental law of association. It
is not the gin-shop and the face of wanton beauty that alone tempt men
to sin. Far more subtle seductions are about every one of us. That we
have the power of inflicting our character upon the scenes of our
conduct is proved by some of the dreariest experiences of life. A
failure in duty renders the place of it distasteful and enervating. Are
we irritable and selfish at home? Then home is certain to be depressing,
and little helpful to our spiritual growth. Are we selfish and niggardly
in the interest we take in others? Then the congregation we go to, the
suburb we dwell in, will appear insipid and unprofitable; we shall be
past the possibility of gaining character or happiness from the ground
where God planted us and meant us to grow. Students have been idle in
their studies till every time they enter them a reflex languor comes
down like stale smoke, and the room they desecrated takes its revenge on
them. We have it in our power to make our workshops, our laboratories
and our studies places of magnificent inspiration, to enter which is to
receive a baptism of industry and hope; and we have power to make it
impossible ever to work in them again at full pitch. The pulpit, the
pew, the very communion-table, come under this law. If a minister of God
have made up his mind to say nothing from his accustomed place, which
has not cost him toil, to feel nothing but a dependence on God and a
desire for souls, then he will never set foot there but the power of the
Lord shall be upon him. But there are men who would rather set foot
anywhere than in their pulpit--men who out of it are full of fellowship,
information, and infective health, but there they are paralysed with the
curse of their idle past. How history shows us that the most sacred
shelters and institutions of man become tainted with sin, and are
destroyed in revolution or abandoned to decay by the intolerant
conscience of younger generations! How the hidden life of each man feels
his past sins possessing his home and hearth, his pew, and even his
place at the Sacrament, till it is sometimes better for his soul's
health to avoid these!

Such considerations give a great moral force to the doctrine of the Old
Testament that man's sin has rendered necessary the destruction of his
material circumstances, and that the Divine judgement includes a broken
and a rifled universe.

The New Testament has borrowed this vision from the Old, but added, as
we have seen, with greater distinctness, the hope of new heavens and a
new earth. We have not concluded the subject, however, when we have
pointed this out, for the New Testament has another gospel. The grace of
God affects even the material results of sin; the Divine pardon that
converts the sinner converts his circumstance also; Christ Jesus
sanctifies even the flesh, and is the Physician of the body as well as
the Saviour of the soul. To Him physical evil abounds only that He may
show forth His glory in curing it. _Neither did this man sin nor his
parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him._ To
Paul the _whole creation groaneth and travaileth with_ the sinner _till
now_, the hour of the sinner's redemption. The Gospel bestows an
evangelic liberty which permits the strong Christian to partake of meats
offered to idols. And, finally, _all things work together for good to
them that love God_, for although to the converted and forgiven sinner
the material pains which his sins have brought on him may continue into
his new life, they are experienced by him no more as the just penalties
of an angry God, but as the loving, sanctifying chastisements of his
Father in heaven.




We have seen that no more than the faintest gleam of historical
reflection brightens the obscurity of chap. xxiv., and that the disaster
which lowers there is upon too world-wide a scale to be forced within
the conditions of any single period in the fortunes of Israel. In chaps.
xxv.-xxvii., which may naturally be held to be a continuation of chap.
xxiv., the historical allusions are more numerous. Indeed, it might be
said they are too numerous, for they contradict one another to the
perplexity of the most acute critics. They imply historical
circumstances for the prophecy both before and after the exile. On the
one hand, the blame of idolatry in Judah (xxvii. 9), the mention of
Assyria and Egypt (xxvii. 12, 13), and the absence of the name of
Babylon are indicative of a pre-exilic date.[81] Arguments from style
are always precarious; but it is striking that some critics, who deny
that chaps. xxiv.-xxvii. can have come as a whole from Isaiah's time,
profess to see his hand in certain passages.[82] Then, secondly, through
these verses which point to a pre-exilic date there are woven, almost
inextricably, phrases of actual exile: expressions of the sense of
living on a level and in contact with the heathen (xxvi. 9, 10); a
request to God's people to withdraw from the midst of a heathen public
to the privacy of their chambers (20, 21); prayers and promises of
deliverance from the oppressor (_passim_); hopes of the establishment of
Zion, and of the repopulation of the Holy Land. And, thirdly, some
verses imply that the speaker has already returned to Zion itself: he
says more than once, _in this mountain_; there are hymns celebrating a
deliverance actually achieved, as--God _has done a marvel. For Thou hast
made a citadel into a heap, a fortified city into a ruin, a castle of
strangers to be no city, not to be built again._ Such phrases do not
read as if the prophet were creating for the lips of his people a psalm
of triumph against a far future deliverance; they have in them the ring
of what has already happened.

  [81] The mention of Moab (xxv. 10, 11) is also consistent with a
  pre-exilic date, but does not necessarily imply it.

  [82] _E.g._, xxv. 6-8, 10, 11; xxvii. 10, 11, 9, 12, 13.

This bare statement of the allusions of the prophecy will give the
ordinary reader some idea of the difficulties of Biblical criticism.
What is to be made of a prophecy uttering the catch-words and breathing
the experience of three distinct periods? One solution of the difficulty
may be that we have here the composition of a Jew already returned from
exile to a desecrated sanctuary and depopulated land, who has woven
through his original utterances of complaint and hope the experience of
earlier oppressions and deliverances, using even the names of earlier
tyrants. In his immediate past a great city that oppressed the Jews has
fallen, though, if this is Babylon, it is strange that he nowhere names
it. But his intention is rather religious than historical; he seeks to
give a general representation of the attitude of the world to the
people of God, and of the judgement which God brings on the world. This
view of the composition is supported by either of two possible
interpretations of that difficult verse xxvii. 1: _In that day Jehovah
with His sword, the hard and the great and the strong, shall perform
visitation upon Leviathan, Serpent Elusive, and upon Leviathan, Serpent
Tortuous; and He shall slay the Dragon that is in the sea._ Cheyne
treats these monsters as mythic personifications of the clouds, the
darkness and the powers of the air, so that the verse means that, just
as Jehovah is supreme in the physical world, He shall be in the moral.
But it is more probable that the two Leviathans mean Assyria and
Babylon--the _Elusive_ one, Assyria on the swift-shooting Tigris; the
_Tortuous_ one, Babylon on the winding Euphrates--while _the Dragon that
is in the sea_ or _the west_ is Egypt. But if the prophet speaks of a
victory over Israel's three great enemies all at once, that means that
he is talking universally or ideally; and this impression is further
heightened by the mythic names he gives them. Such arguments, along with
the undoubted post-exilic fragments in the prophecy, point to a late
date, so that even a very conservative critic, who is satisfied that
Isaiah is the author, admits that "the _possibility_ of exilic
authorship does not allow itself to be denied."

If this character which we attribute to the prophecy be correct--viz.,
that it is a summary or ideal account of the attitude of the alien world
to Israel, and of the judgement God has ready for the world--then,
though itself be exilic, its place in the Book of Isaiah is
intelligible. Chaps. xxiv.-xxvii. fitly crown the long list of Isaiah's
oracles upon the foreign nations; they finally formulate the purposes
of God towards the nations and towards Israel, whom the nations have
oppressed. Our opinions must not be final or dogmatic about this matter
of authorship; the obscurities are not nearly cleared up. But if it be
ultimately found certain that this prophecy, which lies in the heart of
the Book of Isaiah, is not by Isaiah himself, that need neither startle
nor unsettle us. No doctrinal question is stirred by such a discovery,
not even that of the accuracy of the Scriptures. For that a book is
entitled by Isaiah's name does not necessarily mean that it is all by
Isaiah; and we shall feel still less compelled to believe that these
chapters are his when we find other chapters called by his name while
these are not said to be by him. In truth there is a difficulty here,
only because it is supposed that a book entitled by Isaiah's name must
necessarily contain nothing but what is Isaiah's own. Tradition may have
come to say so; but the Scripture itself, bearing as it does
unmistakable marks of another age than Isaiah's, tells us that tradition
is wrong: and the testimony of Scripture is surely to be preferred,
especially when it betrays, as we have seen, sufficient reasons why a
prophecy, though not Isaiah's, was attached to his genuine and undoubted
oracles. In any case, however, as even the conservative critic whom we
have quoted admits, "for the religious value" of the prophecy "the
question" of the authorship "is thoroughly irrelevant."

We shall perceive this at once as we now turn to see what is the
religious value of our prophecy. Chaps. xxv.-xxvii. stand in the front
rank of evangelical prophecy. In their experience of religion, their
characterisations of God's people, their expressions of faith, their
missionary hopes and hopes of immortality, they are very rich and
edifying. Perhaps their most signal feature is their designation of the
people of God. In this collection of prayers and hymns the people of God
are not regarded as a political body. They are only once called the
_nation_ and spoken of in connection with a territory (xxvi. 15). Only
twice are they named with the national names of Israel and Jacob (xxvii.
6, 9, 12). We miss Isaiah's promised king, his pictures of righteous
government, his emphasis upon social justice and purity, his interest in
the foreign politics of his State, his hopes of national grandeur and
agricultural felicity. In these chapters God's people are described by
adjectives signifying spiritual qualities. Their nationality is no more
pleaded, only their suffering estate and their hunger and thirst after
God. The ideals that are presented for the future are neither political
nor social, but ecclesiastical. We saw how closely Isaiah's prophesying
was connected with the history of his time. The people of this prophecy
seem to have done with history, and to be interested only in worship.
And along with the assurance of the continued establishment of Zion as
the centre for a secure and holy people, filling a secure and fertile
land,--with which, as we have seen, the undoubted visions of Isaiah
content themselves, while silent as to the fate of the individuals who
drop from this future through death,--we have the most abrupt and
thrilling hopes expressed for the resurrection of these latter to share
in the glory of the redeemed and restored community.

Among the names applied to God's people there are three which were
destined to play an enormous part in the history of religion. In the
English version these appear as two: _poor and needy_; but in the
original they are three. In chap. xxv. 4: _Thou hast been a stronghold
to the poor and a stronghold to the needy, poor_ renders a Hebrew word,
"d[=a]l," literally _wavering_, _tottering_, _infirm_, then _slender_ or
_lean_, then _poor_ in fortune and estate; _needy_ literally renders the
Hebrew "'ebhyôn," Latin _egenus_. In chap. xxvi. 6: _the foot of the
poor and the steps of the needy, needy_ renders "d[=a]l," while _poor_
renders "'[=a]nî," a passive form--_forced_, _afflicted_, _oppressed_,
then _wretched_, whether under persecution, poverty, loneliness or
exile, and so _tamed_, _mild_, _meek_. These three words, in their root
ideas of _infirmity_, _need_ and positive _affliction_, cover among them
every aspect of physical poverty and distress. Let us see how they came
also to be the expression of the highest moral and evangelical virtues.

If there is one thing which distinguishes the people of the revelation
from other historical nations, it is the evidence afforded by their
dictionaries of the power to transmute the most afflicting experiences
of life into virtuous disposition and effectual desire for God. We see
this most clearly if we contrast the Hebrews' use of their words for
_poor_ with that of the first language which was employed to translate
these words--the Greek in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament.
In the Greek temper there was a noble pity for the unfortunate; the
earliest Greeks regarded beggars as the peculiar protegés of Heaven.
Greek philosophy developed a capacity for enriching the soul in
misfortune; Stoicism gave imperishable proof of how bravely a man could
hold poverty and pain to be things indifferent, and how much gain from
such indifference he could bring to his soul. But in the vulgar opinion
of Greece penury and sickness were always disgraceful; and Greek
dictionaries mark the degradation of terms, which at first merely noted
physical disadvantage, into epithets of contempt or hopelessness. It is
very striking that it was not till they were employed to translate the
Old Testament ideas of poverty that the Greek words for "poor" and
"lowly" came to bear an honourable significance. And in the case of the
Stoic, who endured poverty or pain with such indifference, was it not
just this indifference that prevented him from discovering in his
tribulations the rich evangelical experience which, as we shall see,
fell to the quick conscience and sensitive nerves of the Hebrew?

Let us see how this conscience was developed. In the East poverty
scarcely ever means physical disadvantage alone: in its train there
follow higher disabilities. A poor Eastern cannot be certain of fair
play in the courts of the land. He is very often a wronged man, with a
fire of righteous anger burning in his breast. Again, and more
important, misfortune is to the quick religious instinct of the Oriental
a sign of God's estrangement. With us misfortune is so often only the
cruelty, sometimes real sometimes imagined, of the rich; the unemployed
vents his wrath at the capitalist, the tramp shakes his fist after the
carriage on the highway. In the East they do not forget to curse the
rich, but they remember as well to humble themselves beneath the hand of
God. With an unfortunate Oriental the conviction is supreme, God is
angry with me; I have lost His favour. His soul eagerly longs for God.

A poor man in the East has, therefore, not only a hunger for food: he
has the hotter hunger for justice, the deeper hunger for God. Poverty in
itself, without extraneous teaching, develops nobler appetites. The
physical, becomes the moral, pauper; poor in substance, he grows poor in
spirit. It was by developing, with the aid of God's Spirit, this quick
conscience and this deep desire for God, which in the East are the very
soul of physical poverty, that the Jews advanced to that sense of
evangelical poverty of heart, blessed by Jesus in the first of His
Beatitudes as the possession of the kingdom of heaven.

Till the Exile, however, the poor were only a portion of the people. In
the Exile the whole nation became poor, and henceforth "God's poor"
might become synonymous with "God's people." This was the time when the
words received their spiritual baptism. Israel felt the physical curse
of poverty to its extreme of famine. The pains, privations and terrors,
which the glib tongues of our comfortable middle classes, as they sing
the psalms of Israel, roll off so easily for symbols of their own
spiritual experience, were felt by the captive Hebrews in all their
concrete physical effects. The noble and the saintly, the gentle and the
cultured, priest, soldier and citizen, woman, youth and child, were torn
from home and estate, were deprived of civil standing, were imprisoned,
fettered, flogged and starved to death. We learn something of what it
must have been from the words which Jeremiah addressed to Baruch, a
youth of good family and fine culture: _Seekest thou great things for
thyself? Seek them not, for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh,
saith the LORD; only thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all
places whither thou goest._ Imagine a whole nation plunged into poverty
of this degree--not born into it having known no better things, nor
stunted into it with sensibility and the power of expression sapped out
of them, but plunged into it, with the unimpaired culture, conscience
and memories of the flower of the people. When God's own hand sent
fresh from Himself a poet's soul into "the clay biggin'" of an Ayrshire
ploughman, what a revelation we received of the distress, the discipline
and the graces of poverty! But in the Jewish nation as it passed into
exile there were a score of hearts with as unimpaired an appetite for
life as Robert Burns; and, worse than he, they went to feel its pangs
away from home. Genius, conscience and pride drank to the dregs in a
foreign land the bitter cup of the poor. The Psalms and Lamentations
show us how they bore their poison. A Greek Stoic might sneer at the
complaint and sobbing, the self-abasement so strangely mixed with fierce
cries for vengeance. But the Jew had within him the conscience that will
not allow a man to be a Stoic. He never forgot that it was for his sin
he suffered, and therefore to him suffering could not be a thing
indifferent. With this, his native hunger for justice reached in
captivity a famine pitch; his sense of guilt was equalled by as sincere
an indignation at the tyrant who held him in his brutal grasp. The
feeling of estrangement from God increased to a degree that only the
exile of a Jew could excite: the longing for God's house and the worship
lawful only there; the longing for the relief which only the sacrifices
of the Temple could bestow; the longing for God's own presence and the
light of His face. _My soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth after
Thee, in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is, as I have looked
upon Thee in the sanctuary, to see Thy power and Thy glory. For Thy
lovingkindness is better than life!_

_Thy lovingkindness is better than life!_--is the secret of it all.
There is that which excites a deeper hunger in the soul than the hunger
for life, and for the food and money that give life. This spiritual
poverty is most richly bred in physical penury, it is strong enough to
displace what feeds it. The physical poverty of Israel which had
awakened these other hungers of the soul--hunger for forgiveness, hunger
for justice, hunger for God--was absorbed by them; and when Israel came
out of exile, _to be poor_ meant, not so much to be indigent in this
world's substance as to feel the need of pardon, the absence of
righteousness, the want of God.

It is at this time, as we have seen, that Isa. xxiv.-xxvii. was written;
and it is in the temper of this time that the three Hebrew words for
"poor" and "needy" are used in chaps. xxv. and xxvi. The returned exiles
were still politically dependent and abjectly poor. Their discipline
therefore continued, and did not allow them to forget their new lessons.
In fact, they developed the results of these further, till in this
prophecy we find no fewer than five different aspects of spiritual

1. We have already seen how strong the sense of sin is in chap. xxiv.
This POVERTY of PEACE is not so fully expressed in the following
chapters, and indeed seems crowded out by the sense of the _iniquity of
the inhabitants of the earth_ and the desire for their judgement (xxvi.

2. The feeling of the POVERTY of JUSTICE is very strong in this
prophecy. But it is to be satisfied; in part it has been satisfied (xxv.
1-4). _A strong city_, probably Babylon, has fallen. _Moab shall be
trodden down in his place, even as straw is trodden down in the water of
the dunghill._ The complete judgement is to come when the Lord shall
destroy the two _Leviathans_ and the great _Dragon of the west_ (xxvii.
1). It is followed by the restoration of Israel to the state in which
Isaiah (chap. v. 1) sang so sweetly of her. _A pleasant vineyard, sing
ye of her. I, Jehovah, her Keeper, moment by moment do I water her;
lest any make a raid upon her, night and day will I keep her._ The
Hebrew text then reads, _Fury is not in Me_; but probably the Septuagint
version has preserved the original meaning: _I have no walls_. If this
be correct, then Jehovah is describing the present state of Jerusalem,
the fulfilment of Isaiah's threat, chap. v. 6: _Walls I have not; let
there but be briers and thorns before me! With war will I stride against
them; I will burn them together._ But then there breaks the softer
alternative of the reconciliation of Judah's enemies: _Or else let him
seize hold of My strength; let him make peace with Me--peace let him
make with Me_. In such a peace Israel shall spread, and his fulness
become the riches of the Gentiles. _In that by-and-bye Jacob shall take
root, Israel blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with

Perhaps the wildest cries that rose from Israel's famine of justice were
those which found expression in chap. xxxiv. This chapter is so largely
a repetition of feelings we have already met with elsewhere in the Book
of Isaiah, that it is necessary now only to mention its original
features. The subject is, as in chap. xiii., the Lord's judgement upon
all the nations; and as chap. xiii. singled out Babylon for special
doom, so chap. xxxiv. singles out Edom. The reason of this distinction
will be very plain to the reader of the Old Testament. From the day the
twins struggled in their mother Rebekah's womb, Israel and Edom were
either at open war or burned towards each other with a hate, which was
the more intense for wanting opportunities of gratification. It is an
Eastern edition of the worst chapters in the history of England and
Ireland. No bloodier massacres stained Jewish hands than those which
attended their invasions of Edom, and Jewish psalms of vengeance are
never more flagrant than when they touch the name of the children of
Esau. The only gentle utterance of the Old Testament upon Israel's
hereditary foe is a comfortless enigma. Isaiah's _Oracle for Dumah_
(xxii. 11 f.), shows that even that large-hearted prophet, in face of
his people's age-long resentment at Edom's total want of appreciation of
Israel's spiritual superiority, could offer Edom, though for the moment
submissive and inquiring, nothing but a sad, ambiguous answer. Edom and
Israel, each after his fashion, exulted in the other's misfortunes:
Israel by bitter satire when Edom's impregnable mountain-range was
treacherously seized and overrun by his allies (Obadiah 4-9); Edom, with
the harassing, pillaging habits of a highland tribe, hanging on to the
skirts of Judah's great enemies, and cutting off Jewish fugitives, or
selling them into slavery, or malignantly completing the ruin of
Jerusalem's walls after her overthrow by the Chaldeans (Obadiah 10-14;
Ezek. xxxv. 10-15; Ps. cxxxi. 7). In _the quarrel of Zion_ with the
nations of the world Edom had taken the wrong side,--his profane, earthy
nature incapable of understanding his brother's spiritual claims, and
therefore envious of him, with the brutal malice of ignorance, and
spitefully glad to assist in disappointing such claims. This is what we
must remember when we read the indignant verses of chap. xxxiv. Israel,
conscious of his spiritual calling in the world, felt bitter resentment
that his own brother should be so vulgarly hostile to his attempts to
carry it out. It is not our wish to defend the temper of Israel towards
Edom. The silence of Christ before the Edomite Herod and his men of war
has taught the spiritual servants of God what is their proper attitude
towards the malignant and obscene treatment of their claims by vulgar
men. But at least let us remember that chap. xxxiv., for all its
fierceness, is inspired by Israel's conviction of a spiritual destiny
and service for God, and by the natural resentment that his own kith and
kin should be doing their best to render these futile. That a famine of
bread makes its victims delirious does not tempt us to doubt the
genuineness of their need and suffering. As little ought we to doubt or
to ignore the reality or the purity of those spiritual convictions, the
prolonged starvation of which bred in Israel such feverish hate against
his twin-brother Esau. Chap. xxxiv., with all its proud prophecy of
judgement, is, therefore, also a symptom of that aspect of Israel's
poverty of heart, which we have called a hunger for the Divine justice.

3. POVERTY OF THE EXILE. But as fair flowers bloom upon rough stalks, so
from Israel's stern challenges of justice there break sweet prayers for
home. Chap. xxxiv., the effusion of vengeance on Edom, is followed by
chap. xxxv., the going forth of hope to the return from exile and the
establishment of the ransomed of the Lord in Zion.[83] Chap. xxxv. opens
with a prospect beyond the return, but after the first two verses
addresses itself to the people still in a foreign captivity, speaking of
their salvation (vv. 3, 4), of the miracles that will take place in
themselves (vv. 5, 6) and in the desert between them and their home (vv.
6, 7), of the highway which God shall build, evident and secure (vv. 8,
9), and of the final arrival in Zion (ver. 10). In that march the usual
disappointments and illusions of desert life shall disappear. _The
mirage shall become a pool_; and the clump of vegetation which afar off
the hasty traveller hails for a sign of water, but which on his approach
he discovers to be the withered grass of a _jackal's lair_, shall indeed
be _reeds and rushes_, standing green in fresh water. Out of this
exuberant fertility there emerges in the prophet's thoughts a great
highway, on which the poetry of the chapter gathers and reaches its
climax. Have we of this nineteenth century, with our more rapid means of
passage, not forgotten the poetry of the road? Are we able to appreciate
either the intrinsic usefulness or the gracious symbolism of the king's
highway? How can we know it as the Bible-writers or our forefathers knew
it when they made the road the main line of their allegories and
parables of life? Let us listen to these verses as they strike the three
great notes in the music of the road: _And an highway shall be there,
and a way; yea, The Way of Holiness shall it be called, for the unclean
shall not pass over it_--that is what is to distinguish this road from
all other roads. But here is what it is as being a road. First, it shall
be unmistakably plain: _The wayfaring man, yea fools, shall not err
therein_. Second, it shall be perfectly secure: _No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast go up thereon; they shall not be met with
there_. Third, it shall bring to a safe arrival and ensure a complete
overtaking: _And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come with
singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they
shall overtake gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee

  [83] Even at the risk of incurring Canon Cheyne's charge of
  "ineradicable error," I feel I must keep to the older view of chap.
  xxxv. which makes it refer to the return from exile. No doubt the
  chapter covers more than the mere return, and includes "the glorious
  condition of Israel after the return;" but vv. 4 and 10 are undoubtedly
  addressed to Jews still in exile and undelivered.

4. So Israel was to come home. But to Israel home meant the Temple, and
the Temple meant God. The poverty of the Exile was, in the essence of
it, POVERTY OF GOD, POVERTY OF LOVE. The prayers which express this are
very beautiful,--that trail like wounded animals to the feet of their
master, and look up in His face with large eyes of pain. _And they shall
say in that day, Lo, this is our God: we have waited for Him, that He
should save us; this is the LORD: we have waited for Him; we will
rejoice and be glad in His salvation.... Yea, in the way of Thy
ordinances, O LORD, have we waited for Thee; to Thy name and to Thy
Memorial was the desire of our soul. With my soul have I desired Thee in
the night; yea, by my spirit within me do I seek Thee with dawn_ (chaps.
xxv. 9; xxvi. 8).

An Arctic explorer was once asked, whether during eight months of slow
starvation which he and his comrades endured they suffered much from the
pangs of hunger. No, he answered, we lost them in the sense of
abandonment, in the feeling that our countrymen had forgotten us and
were not coming to the rescue. It was not till we were rescued and
looked in human faces that we felt how hungry we were. So is it ever
with God's poor. They forget all other need, as Israel did, in their
need of God. Their outward poverty is only the weeds of their heart's
widowhood. _But Jehovah of hosts shall make to all the peoples in this
mountain a banquet of fat things, a banquet of wines on the lees, fat
things bemarrowed, wines on the lees refined._

We need only note here--for it will come up for detailed treatment in
connection with the second half of Isaiah--that the centre of Israel's
restored life is to be the Temple, not, as in Isaiah's day, the king;
that her dispersed are to gather from all parts of the world at the
sound of the Temple _trumpet_; and that her national life is to consist
in worship (cf. xxvii. 13).

       *       *       *       *       *

These then were four aspects of Israel's poverty of heart: a hunger for
pardon, a hunger for justice, a hunger for home, and a hunger for God.
For the returning Jews these wants were satisfied only to reveal a
deeper poverty still, the complaint and comfort of which we must reserve
to another chapter.



ISAIAH xxvi. 14-19; xxv. 6-9.

Granted the pardon, the justice, the Temple and the God, which the
returning exiles now enjoyed, the possession of these only makes more
painful the shortness of life itself. This life is too shallow and too
frail a vessel to hold peace and righteousness and worship and the love
of God. St. Paul has said, _If in this life only we have hope in Christ,
we are of all men most miserable_. What avails it to have been pardoned,
to have regained the Holy Land and the face of God, if the dear dead are
left behind in graves of exile, and all the living must soon pass into
that captivity,[84] from which there is no return?

  [84] Hezekiah's expression for death, xxxviii. 12.

It must have been thoughts like these, which led to the expression of
one of the most abrupt and powerful of the few hopes of the resurrection
which the Old Testament contains. This hope, which lightens chap. xxv.
7, 8, bursts through again--without logical connection with the
context--in vv. 14-19 of chap. xxvi.

The English version makes ver. 14 to continue the reference to the
lords, whom in ver. 13 Israel confesses to have served instead of
Jehovah. "They are _dead; they shall not live_: they are _deceased; they
shall not rise_." Our translators have thus intruded into their version
the verb "they are," of which the original is without a trace. In the
original, _dead_ and _deceased_ (literally _shades_) are themselves the
subject of the sentence--a new subject and without logical connection
with what has gone before. The literal translation of ver. 14 therefore
runs: _Dead men do not live; shades do not rise: wherefore Thou visitest
them and destroyest them, and perisheth all memory of them_. The prophet
states a fact, and draws an inference. The fact is, that no one has ever
returned from the dead; the inference, that it is God's own _visitation_
or _sentence_ which has gone forth upon them, and they have really
ceased to exist. But how intolerable a thought is this in presence of
the other fact that God has here on earth above gloriously enlarged and
established His people (ver. 15). _Thou hast increased the nation,
Jehovah; Thou hast increased the nation. Thou hast covered Thyself with
glory; Thou hast expanded all the boundaries of the land._ To this
follows a verse (16), the sense of which is obscure, but palpable. It
"feels" to mean that the contrast which the prophet has just painted
between the absolute perishing of the dead and the glory of the Church
above ground is the cause of great despair and groaning: _O Jehovah, in
The Trouble they supplicate Thee; they pour out incantations when Thy
discipline is upon them_.[85] In face of _The_ Trouble and _The_
Discipline _par excellence_ of God, what else can man do but betake
himself to God? God sent death; in death He is the only resource.
Israel's feelings in presence of The Trouble are now expressed in ver.
17: _Like as a woman with child that draweth near the time of her
delivery writheth and crieth out in her pangs, so have we been before
Thee, O Jehovah_. Thy Church on earth is pregnant with a life, which
death does not allow to come to the birth. _We have been with child; we
have been in the pangs, as it were; we have brought forth wind; we make
not the earth_, in spite of all we have really accomplished upon it in
our return, our restoration and our enjoyment of Thy presence--_we make
not the earth salvation, neither are the inhabitants of the world

  [85] I think this must be the meaning of ver. 16, if we are to allow
  that it has any sympathy with vv. 14 and 15. Bredenkamp suggests that
  the persons meant are themselves the dead. Jehovah has glorified the
  Church on earth; but the dead below are still in trouble, and _pour out
  prayers_ (Virgil's "preces fundunt," _Æneid_, vi., 55), beneath this
  punishment which God causes to pass on all men (ver. 14). Bredenkamp
  bases this exegesis chiefly on the word for "prayer," which means
  _chirping_ or _whispering_, a kind of voice imputed to the shades by the
  Hebrews and other ancient peoples. But while this word does originally
  mean _whispering_, it is never in Scripture applied to the dead, but, on
  the other hand, is a frequent name for _divining_ or _incantation_. I
  therefore have felt compelled to understand it as used in this passage
  of the living, whose only resource in face of death--_Goa's discipline
  par excellence_--is to pour out incantations. If it be objected that the
  prophet would scarcely parallel the ordinary incantations on behalf of
  the dead with supplications to Jehovah, the answer is that he is talking
  poetically or popularly.

  [86] English version, _fallen; i.e._, like our expression for the birth
  of animals, _dropped_.

The figures are bold. Israel achieves, through God's grace, everything
but the recovery of her dead; this, which alone is worth calling
_salvation_, remains wanting to her great record of deliverances. The
living Israel is restored, but how meagre a proportion of the people it
is! The graves of home and of exile do not give up their dead. These are
not born again to be inhabitants of the upper world.

The figures are bold, but bolder is the hope that breaks from them. Like
as when the Trumpet shall sound, ver. 19 peals forth the promise of the
resurrection--peals the promise forth, in spite of all experience,
unsupported by any argument, and upon the strength of its own inherent
music. _Thy dead shall live! my dead bodies shall arise!_ The change of
the personal pronoun is singularly dramatic. Returned Israel is the
speaker, first speaking to herself: _thy dead_, as if upon the
depopulated land, in face of all its homes in ruin, and only the
sepulchres of ages standing grim and steadfast, she addressed some
despairing double of herself; and secondly speaking _of_ herself: _my
dead bodies_, as if all the inhabitants of these tombs, though dead,
were still her own, still part of her, the living Israel, and able to
arise and bless with their numbers their bereaved mother. These she now
addresses: _Awake and sing, ye dwellers in the dust, for a dew of lights
is Thy dew, and the land bringeth forth the dead_.[87]

  [87] Technical Hebrew word for the inhabitants of the underworld--_the

If one has seen a place of graves in the East, he will appreciate the
elements of this figure, which takes _dust_ for death and _dew_ for
life. With our damp graveyards mould has become the traditional
trappings of death; but where under the hot Eastern sun things do not
rot into lower forms of life, but crumble into sapless powder, that will
not keep a worm in life, _dust_ is the natural symbol of death. When
they die, men go not to feed fat the mould, but _down into the dust_;
and there the foot of the living falls silent, and his voice is choked,
and the light is thickened and in retreat, as if it were creeping away
to die. The only creatures the visitor starts are timid, unclean bats,
that flutter and whisper about him like the ghosts of the dead. There
are no flowers in an Eastern cemetery; and the withered branches and
other ornaments are thickly powdered with the same dust that chokes, and
silences and darkens all.

Hence the Semitic conception of the underworld was dominated by dust. It
was not water nor fire nor frost nor altogether darkness, which made the
infernal prison horrible, but that upon its floor and rafters, hewn from
the roots and ribs of the primeval mountains, dust lay deep and choking.
Amid all the horrors he imagined for the dead, Dante did not include one
more awful than the horror of dust. The picture which the northern
Semites had before them when they turned their faces to the wall was of
this kind.[88]

  [88] Extracted from the Assyrian _Descent of Istar to Hades_ (Dr.
  Jeremias' German translation, p. 11, and _Records of the Past_, i.,

  The house of darkness....
  The house men enter, but cannot depart from.
  The road men go, but cannot return.
  The house from whose dwellers the light is withdrawn.
  The place where dust is their food, their nourishment clay.
  The light they behold not; in darkness they dwell.
  They are clothed like birds, all fluttering wings.
  On the door and the gateposts, the dust lieth deep.

Either, then, an Eastern sepulchre, or this its infernal double, was
gaping before the prophet's eyes. What more final and hopeless than the
dust and the dark of it?

But for dust there is dew, and even to graveyards the morning comes that
brings dew and light together. The wonder of dew is that it is given
from a clear heaven, and that it comes to sight with the dawn. If the
Oriental looks up when dew is falling, he sees nothing to thank for it
between him and the stars. If he sees dew in the morning, it is equal
liquid and lustre; it seems to distil from the beams of the sun--_the
sun, which riseth with healing under his wings_. The dew is thus doubly
"dew of light." But our prophet ascribes the dew of God, that is to
raise the dead, neither to stars nor dawn, but, because of its Divine
power, to that higher supernal glory which the Hebrews conceived to have
existed before the sun, and which they styled, as they styled their God,
by the plural of majesty: _A dew of lights is Thy dew_.[89] As, when the
dawn comes, the drooping flowers of yesterday are seen erect and
lustrous with the dew, every spike a crown of glory, so also shall be
the resurrection of the dead. There is no shadow of a reason for
limiting this promise to that to which some other passages of
resurrection in the Old Testament have to be limited: a corporate
restoration of the holy State or Church. This is the resurrection of its
individual members to a community which is already restored, the
recovery by Israel of her dead men and women from their separate graves,
each with his own freshness and beauty, in that glorious morning when
the Sun of righteousness shall arise, with healing under His wings--_Thy
dew_, O Jehovah!

  [89] Cf. James i. 17.

Attempts are so often made to trace the hopes of resurrection, which
break the prevailing silence of the Old Testament on a future life, to
foreign influences experienced in the Exile, that it is well to
emphasize the origin and occasion of the hopes that utter themselves so
abruptly in this passage. Surely nothing could be more inextricably
woven with the national fortunes of Israel, as nothing could be more
native and original to Israel's temper, than the verses just expounded.
We need not deny that their residence among a people, accustomed as the
Babylonians were to belief in the resurrection, may have thawed in the
Jews that reserve which the Old Testament clearly shows that they
exhibited towards a future life. The Babylonians themselves had received
most of their suggestions of the next world from a non-Semitic race; and
therefore it would not be to imagine anything alien to the ascertained
methods of Providence if we were to suppose that the Hebrews, who showed
what we have already called the Semitic want of interest in a future
life, were intellectually tempered by their foreign associations to a
readiness to receive any suggestions of immortality, which the Spirit of
God might offer them through their own religious experience. That it was
this last, which was the effective cause of Israel's hopes for the
resurrection of her dead, our passage puts beyond doubt. Chap. xxvi.
shows us that the occasion of these hopes was what is not often noticed:
the returned exiles' disappointment with the meagre repopulation of the
holy territory. A restoration of the State or community was not enough:
the heart of Israel wanted back in their numbers her dead sons and

If the occasion of these hopes was thus an event in Israel's own
national history, and if the impulse to them was given by so natural an
instinct of her own heart, Israel was equally indebted to herself for
the convictions that the instinct was not in vain. Nothing is more clear
in our passage than that Israel's first ground of hope in a future life
was her simple, untaught reflection upon the power of her God. Death was
_His chastening_. Death came from Him, and remained in His power. Surely
He would deliver from it. This was a very old belief in Israel. _The
Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to Sheol and bringeth
up._ Such words, of course, might be only an extreme figure for recovery
from disease, and the silence of so great a saint as Hezekiah about any
other issue into life than by convalescence from mortal sickness
staggers us into doubt whether an Israelite ever did think of a
resurrection. But still there was Jehovah's almightiness; a man could
rest his future on that, even if he had not light to think out what sort
of a future it would be. So mark in our passage, how confidence is
chiefly derived from the simple utterance of the name of Jehovah, and
how He is hailed as _our God_. It seems enough to the prophet to connect
life with Him and to say merely, _Thy dew_. As death is God's own
discipline, so life, _Thy dew_, is with Him also.

Thus in its foundation the Old Testament doctrine of the resurrection is
but the conviction of the sufficiency of God Himself, a conviction which
Christ turned upon Himself when He said, _I am the Resurrection and the
Life. Because I live, ye shall live also._

If any object that in this picture of a resurrection we have no real
persuasion of immortality, but simply the natural, though impossible,
wish of a bereaved people that their dead should to-day rise from their
graves to share to-day's return and glory--a revival as special and
extraordinary as that appearing of the dead in the streets of Jerusalem
when the Atonement was accomplished, but by no means that general
resurrection at the last day which is an article of the Christian
faith--if any one should bring this objection, then let him be referred
to the previous promise of immortality in chap. xxv. The universal and
final character of the promise made there is as evident as of that for
which Paul borrowed its terms in order to utter the absolute
consequences of the resurrection of the Son of God: _Death is swallowed
up in victory_. For the prophet, having in ver. 6 described the
restoration of the people, whom exile had starved with a famine of
ordinances, to _a feast in Zion of fat things and wines on the lees well
refined_, intimates that as certainly as exile has been abolished, with
its dearth of spiritual intercourse, so certainly shall God Himself
destroy death: _And He shall swallow up in this mountain_--perhaps it is
imagined, as the sun devours the morning mist on the hills--_the mask of
the veil, the veil that is upon all the peoples, and the film spun upon
all the nations. He hath swallowed up death for ever, and the Lord
Jehovah shall wipe away tears from off all faces, and the reproach of
His people shall He remove from off all the earth, for Jehovah hath
spoken it. And they shall say in that day, Behold, this is our God: we
have waited for Him, and He shall save us; this is Jehovah: we have
waited for Him; we will rejoice and be glad in His salvation._ Thus over
all doubts, and in spite of universal human experience, the prophet
depends for immortality on God Himself. In chap. xxvi. 3 our version
beautifully renders, _Thou wilt keep_ him _in perfect peace_ whose
_mind_ is _stayed_ on Thee, _because he trusteth in Thee_. This is a
confidence valid for the next life as well as for this. _Therefore trust
ye in the LORD_ for ever. Amen.

Almighty God, we praise Thee that, in the weakness of all our love and
the darkness of all our knowledge before death, Thou hast placed
assurance of eternal life in simple faith upon Thyself. Let this faith
be richly ours. By Thine omnipotence, by Thy righteousness, by the love
Thou hast vouchsafed, we lift ourselves and rest upon Thy word. _Because
I live, ye shall live also._ Oh keep us steadfast in union with Thyself,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


  CHAPTERS OF      DATE B.C.                CHAPTERS OF THE
    ISAIAH.                                    EXPOSITION.

  i.                701                  I., XIX., p. 311 ff.
  ii.-iv.           740-735              II.
  v.                735                  III.
  vi.               740;                 IV., XXVI., 391 f.
                    written 735 or 727
  vii.-ix. 7        734-732              VI.
  vii. 14 ff.       734                  VII. 133
  viii.             734-733              VII. 135
  ix. 1-7           732                  VII. 136
  ix. 8-x. 4        735                  III. 47 ff.
  x. 5-34           About 721            IX. 147
  xi. [xii.]        About 720?           X.
  xi. 1-6                                VII. 138
  xiii.-xiv. 23     ?                    XXVII.
  xiv. 24-27        Towards 701          XVII. 272
  xiv. 28-32        705                  XVII. 272
  xv.-xvi. 12       ?                    XVII. 273
  xvi. 13, 14       711 or 704?          XVII. 273
  xvii. 1-11        Between 736 and 732  XVII. 274
  xvii. 12-14       ?                    XVII. 274, 277, 281 f.
  xviii.            711 or towards 701?  XVII. 275
  xix.              703 or after 700?    XVII. 275, 278, 284 ff.
  xx.               711-709              XI. 198-200, XVII. 276
  xxi. 1-10         Probably 709         XI. 201, XVII. 276
  xxi. 11, 12       Between 704 and 701  XVII. 276
  xxi. 13, 17                            XVII. 277
  xxii.             701                  XIX., XX.
  xxiii.            703 or 702           XVII. 277, XVIII.
  xxiv.             ?                    XXVIII.
  xxv.-xxvii.       ?                    XXIX.-XXX.
  xxviii.           About 725            VIII. 149
  xxix.-xxxii.                           p. 207
  xxix.             About 703            XII.
  xxx.              About 702            XIII.
  xxxi.             About 702            XIV.
  xxxii. 1-8        About 702?           XV.
  xxxii. 9-20       Date uncertain       XVI.
  xxxiii.           701                  XX., XXI., 207, 304
  xxxiv.            ?                    XXIX. 438 ff.
  xxxv.             ?                    XXIX. 440 f.
  xxxvi. 1          701                  303 f.
  xxxvi. 2-xxxvii.  701                  303 f.
  xxxvi. 2-22       701                  XXII. 303 f.
  xxxvii.           701                  XXIII.
  xxxviii.-xxxix.   Date uncertain       XXV. 304
  xxxviii.                               XXVI. 393
  xxxix.                                 XI. 201


  Ahaz, 98;
    compared with Charles I., 99, 103 ff., 113;
    Judas of Old Testament, 118.

  Animals, the lower, 190 ff.;
    our mediatorship to, 193.

  Anthropomorphism, 144.

  Arabia, 277.

  Aram, 94, 103 ff.

  Ashdod, 198.

  Assyria and Assyrians, 53, 92 f., 95, 97, 103 f., 122, and _passim_.

  Atheism, two kinds of, 172 ff.

  Babylon, 93, 201, 405.

  Babylonian captivity, 201, 402.

  Bribery, 47.

  Captivity of Israel, first, 128;
    second, 148.

  Christ, 80, 142 ff., 254 ff., 328, 426.

  Church, origin of idea of, 126.

  Commerce, 296.

  Conscience, 6;
    its threefold character, 12;
    simplicity, 151.

  Cromwell, 160 ff., 220.

  Damascus, 95, 120, 122, 274.

  Drunkenness, 44 f., 152 ff.

  Earthquake, 50.

  Edom, 94, 276, 438 ff.

  Egypt, 92, 96, 197 ff., 222 ff., _passim_.

  Ekron, 308 f.

  Eliakim, 317.

  Ethiopia, 93, 222, 275.

  Faith, moral results of, 106 f., 163 f.;
    power to shape history, 109, 352 ff.

  Fatalism, 110.

  Forgiveness of sin, 13, 71 ff., 326 ff., 361, 381.

  Formalism, 216, 240.

  Free-will, 82.

  Glory, 68.

  Hamath, 94.

  Heine, 158, 242, 413.

  Hezekiah, 352, 378 ff., _passim_.

  Holiness, 63 ff.

  Holy Spirit, 185-188.

  Immanuel, 102, 115, 124 ff., 133 ff.

  Immortality, 385 ff., 394 ff., 410, 444 ff.

  Individual, the, and the community, 389 ff.

  Inspiration, 23 ff., 213, 372.

    apprenticeship, 19;
    youth, 21, 59;
    a son of Jerusalem, 22;
    threefold vision, 23-25;
    idealist, 25;
    realist, 27;
    prophet, 30;
    patriotism, a conscience of his country's sins, 30 f.;
    call and consecration, 57 ff.;
    personality, 75 f., 253;
    comp. with Mazzini, 85-87;
    with Moses, 88;
    contribution to religious development of Israel, 101, 284, 288;
    no fatalist, 110;
    habit of appealing to the people, 119;
    saved from the popular drift, 121;
    scorn, 127;
    sanity, 109, 154 f., 166, 300;
    comp. with Cromwell, 160 ff., 220;
    self-control, 166;
    regard for animals, 190;
    walks stripped for a sign, 199;
    inspiration, 213, 372;
    working of his imagination, 234;
    style, 281;
    humanity, 285, 294;
    triumph, 323 ff.;
    imagination and conscience, 335;
    lesson for all time, 366;
    contrasted with Crusaders, 367;
    personal religion, 391;
    ideal, 392;
    satire, 29, 139, 156.

  Israel, religious condition, 99;
    and Greece, 365.

  Jerusalem, 22, 25 ff., 169 f., 211 f., 231 f., 243, 267 f., 279,
      Book IV., _passim_.

  "King Lear," 49, 55.

  Land question, 41 ff.

  Language, abuse of, 260.

  Maher-shalal-hash-baz, 120.

  Mazzini, 84-86.

  Merodach-baladan, 200, 376.

  Messiah, 89, 90, 115 ff., 129, 131-144, 180 ff., 249.

  Moab, 94, 273.

  Monotheism, moral and political advantages, 108-110;
    growth in Israel, 357, 363.

  Name of the LORD, 233 ff.

  Nature, fourfold use of by the prophets, 16 f.;
    redemption of, 188;
    destruction of, 417 ff.

  Palestine, 92.

  People, the, ultimately responsible, 119, 198, 224 ff.

  Philistines, 94, 272.

  Phœnicia, 94, 96, 288 ff.

  Poetry, Hebrew, 411.

  Polytheism, 99, 107.

  Preaching the word, 82, 83.

  Prophecy, its power of vision, 23-25;
    its service to religion, 100 f.

  Providence, 98.

  Rabshakeh, the, 343 ff.

  Remnant, the, 31, 87, 101, 126, 129, and _passim_.

  Resurrection, 387, 444 ff.

  Return from exile, 195, 401 ff., 429, 440 f., 450.

  Righteousness, Isaiah's doctrine of, 334 ff.

  Sacrament, an Old Testament, 74.

  Samaria, 95, 147, 152 ff.

  Sargon, 148, 169, 198 ff.

  Scepticism, 15.

  Sennacherib, 209, 302, 308 ff., 355 ff.

  Serbonian bog, 361.

  Shebna, 317.

  Sheol, 385, 410, 447 ff.

  Shiloah, 122.

  Sin, 52, 69, _passim_;
    effect on man's material circumstance, 416.

  Sorrow, man's abuse of, 54.

  Tiglath-pileser II., 96, 103 f.

  Uzziah, 59 f., 98.

  War, 51.

  Women, Isaiah to, 262.

  Wrath of God, 47 f., 55.

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ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.