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EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE


ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.

ISAIAH AND JEREMIAH




EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.

ISAIAH

_Chaps. I to XLVIII_




CONTENTS

THE GREAT SUIT: JEHOVAH _versus_ JUDAH (Isaiah i. 1-9; 16-20)

THE STUPIDITY OF GODLESSNESS (Isaiah i. 3)

WHAT SIN DOES TO MEN (Isaiah i. 30-31)

THE PERPETUAL PILLAR OF CLOUD AND FIRE (Isaiah iv. 5)

A PROPHET'S WOES (Isaiah v. 8-30)

VISION AND SERVICE (Isaiah vi. 1-13)

THE EMPTY THRONE FILLED (Isaiah vi. 1)

A SERAPH'S WINGS (Isaiah vi. 2)

THE MAKING OF A PROPHET (Isaiah vi. 5)

SHILOAH AND EUPHRATES (Isaiah viii. 6, 7)

THE KINGDOM AND THE KING (Isaiah ix. 2-7)

LIGHT OR FIRE? (Isaiah x. 17)

THE SUCKER FROM THE FELLED OAK (Isaiah xi. 1-10)

THE WELL-SPRING OF SALVATION (Isaiah xii. 3)

THE HARVEST OF A GODLESS LIFE (Isaiah xvii. 10, 11)

'IN THIS MOUNTAIN' (Isaiah xxv. 6-8)

THE FEAST ON THE SACRIFICE (Isaiah xxv. 6)

THE VEIL OVER ALL NATIONS (Isaiah xxv. 7)

THE SONG OF TWO CITIES (Isaiah xxvi. 1-10)

OUR STRONG CITY (Isaiah xxvi. 1-2)

THE INHABITANT OF THE ROCK (Isaiah xxvi. 3-4)

THE GRASP THAT BRINGS PEACE (Isaiah xxvii. 5)

THE JUDGMENT OF DRUNKARDS AND MOCKERS (Isaiah xxviii. 1-13)

A CROWN OF PRIDE OR A CROWN OF GLORY (Isaiah xxviii 3-5)

MAN'S CROWN AND GOD'S (Isaiah lxii 3)

THE FOUNDATION OF GOD (Isaiah xxviii. 16)

GOD'S STRANGE WORK (Isaiah xxviii. 21)

THE HUSBANDMAN AND HIS OPERATIONS (Isaiah xxviii. 23-29)

'QUIETNESS AND CONFIDENCE' (Isaiah xxx. 15)

GOD'S WAITING AND MAN'S (Isaiah xxx. 18)

THREE PICTURES OF ONE REALITY (Isaiah xxxi. 5)

THE LORD'S FURNACE (Isaiah xxxi. 9)

THE HIDING-PLACE (Isaiah xxxii. 2)

HOW TO DWELL IN THE FIRE OF GOD (Isaiah xxxiii. 14, 15; I John iv. 16)

THE FORTRESS OF THE FAITHFUL (Isaiah xxxiii. 16)

THE RIVERS OF GOD (Isaiah xxxiii. 21)

JUDGE, LAWGIVER, KING (Isaiah xxxiii. 22)

MIRACLES OF HEALING (Isaiah xxxv. 5-6)

MIRAGE OR LAKE (Isaiah xxxv. 6-7)

THE KING'S HIGHWAY (Isaiah xxxv. 8-9)

WHAT LIFE'S JOURNEY MAY BE (Isaiah xxxv. 9-10)

THE TRIUMPH OF FAITH (Isaiah xxxvii 14-21; 33-38)

WHERE TO CARRY TROUBLES (Isaiah xxxvii. 14)

GREAT VOICES FROM HEAVEN (Isaiah xl. 1-10)

O THOU THAT BRINGEST GOOD TIDINGS (Isaiah xl. 9)

'HAVE YE NOT? HAST THOU NOT' (Isaiah xl. 2; 28)

UNFAILING STARS AND FAINTING MEN (Isaiah xl. 26; 29)

THE SECRET OF IMMORTAL YOUTH (Isaiah xl. 30, 31)

CHRIST THE ARRESTER OF INCIPIENT EVIL AND THE NOURISHER OF INCIPIENT
GOOD (Isaiah xlii. 3, 4)

THE BLIND MAN'S GUIDE (Isaiah xlii. 16)

THY NAME: MY NAME (Isaiah xliii, 1; 7)

JACOB - ISRAEL - JESHURUN (Isaiah xliv. 1, 2)

FEEDING ON ASHES (Isaiah xliv. 20)

WRITING BLOTTED OUT AND MIST MELTED (Isaiah xliv. 22)

HIDDEN AND REVEALED (Isaiah xlv. 15, 19)

A RIGHTEOUSNESS NEAR AND A SWIFT SALVATION (Isaiah xlv. 12, 13)

A RIVER OF PEACE AND WAVES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (Isaiah xlviii. 18)




THE GREAT SUIT: JEHOVAH _VERSUS_ JUDAH

'The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah
and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings
of Judah. I Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath
spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have
rebelled against Me. 3. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his
master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
4. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers,
children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have
provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away
backward. 5. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more
and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6. From
the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it;
but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been
closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. 7. Your
country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land,
strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown
by strangers. 8. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a
vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. 9.
Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we
should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto
Gomorrah.... 16. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your
doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; 17. Learn to do well;
seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for
the widow. 18. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord:
though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though
they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19. If ye be willing
and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land. 20. But if ye refuse
and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the
Lord hath spoken it.' - ISAIAH 1,1-9; 16-20.


The first bars of the great overture to Isaiah's great oratorio are
here sounded. These first chapters give out the themes which run
through all the rest of his prophecies. Like most introductions, they
were probably written last, when the prophet collected and arranged his
life's labours. The text deals with the three great thoughts, the
_leit-motifs_ that are sounded over and over again in the prophet's
message.

First comes the great indictment (vs. 2-4). A true prophet's words are
of universal application, even when they are most specially addressed
to a particular audience. Just because this indictment was so true of
Judah, is it true of all men, for it is not concerned with details
peculiar to a long-past period and state of society, but with the broad
generalities common to us all. As another great teacher in Old
Testament times said, 'I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or
thy burnt-offerings, to have been continually before me.' Isaiah has
nothing to say about ritual or ceremonial omissions, which to him were
but surface matters after all, but he sets in blazing light the
foundation facts of Judah's (and every man's) distorted relation to
God. And how lovingly, as well as sternly, God speaks through him! That
divine lament which heralds the searching indictment is not unworthy to
be the very words of the Almighty Lover of all men, sorrowing over His
prodigal and fugitive sons. Nor is its deep truth less than its
tenderness. For is not man's sin blackest when seen against the bright
background of God's fatherly love? True, the fatherhood that Isaiah
knew referred to God's relation to the nation rather than to the
individual, but the great truth which is perfectly revealed by the
Perfect Son was in part shown to the prophet. The east was bright with
the unrisen sun, and the tinted clouds that hovered above the place of
its rising seemed as if yearning to open and let him through. Man's
neglect of God's benefits puts him below the animals that 'know' the
hand that feeds and governs them. Some men think it a token of superior
'culture' and advanced views to throw off allegiance to God. It is a
token that they have less intelligence than their dog.

There is something very beautiful and pathetic in the fact that Judah
is not directly addressed, but that verses 2-4 are a divine soliloquy.
They might rather be called a father's lament than an indictment. The
forsaken father is, as it were, sadly brooding over his erring child's
sins, which are his father's sorrows and his own miseries. In verse 4
the black catalogue of the prodigal's doings begins on the surface with
what we call 'moral' delinquencies, and then digs deeper to disclose
the root of these in what we call 'religious' relations perverted. The
two are inseparably united, for no man who is wrong with God can be
right with duty or with men. Notice, too, how one word flashes into
clearness the sad truth of universal experience - that 'iniquity,'
however it may delude us into fancying that by it we throw off the
burden of conscience and duty, piles heavier weights on our backs. The
doer of iniquity is 'laden with iniquity.' Notice, too, how the awful
entail of evil from parents to children is adduced - shall we say as
aggravating, or as lessening, the guilt of each generation? Isaiah's
contemporaries are 'a seed of evil-doers,' spring from such, and in
their turn are 'children that are corrupters.' The fatal bias becomes
stronger as it passes down. Heredity is a fact, whether you call it
original sin or not.

But the bitter fountain of all evil lies in distorted relations to God.
'They have forsaken the Lord'; that is why they 'do corruptly.' They
have 'despised the Holy One of Israel'; that is why they are 'laden
with iniquity.' Alienated hearts separate from Him. To forsake Him is
to despise Him. To go from Him is to go 'away backward.' Whatever may
have been our inheritance of evil, we each go further from Him. And
this fatherly lament over Judah is indeed a wail over every child of
man. Does it not echo in the 'pearl of parables,' and may we not
suppose that it suggested that supreme revelation of man's misery and
God's love?

After the indictment comes the sentence (vs. 5-8). Perhaps 'sentence'
is not altogether accurate, for these verses do not so much decree a
future as describe a present, and the deep tone of pitying wonder
sounds through them as they tell of the bitter harvest sown by sin. The
penetrating question, 'Why will ye be still stricken, that ye revolt
more and more?' brings out the solemn truth that all which men gain by
rebellion against God is chastisement. The ox that 'kicks against the
pricks' only makes its own hocks bleed. We aim at some imagined good,
and we get - blows. No rational answer to that stern 'Why?' is possible.
Every sin is an act of unreason, essentially an absurdity. The
consequences of Judah's sin are first darkly drawn under the metaphor
of a man desperately wounded in some fight, and far away from
physicians or nurses, and then the metaphor is interpreted by the plain
facts of hostile invasion, flaming cities, devastated fields. It
destroys the coherence of the verses to take the gruesome picture of
the wounded man as a description of men's sins; it is plainly a
description of the consequences of their sins. In accordance with the
Old Testament point of view, Isaiah deals with national calamities as
the punishment of national sins. He does not touch on the far worse
results of individual sins on individual character. But while we are
not to ignore his doctrine that nations are individual entities, and
that 'righteousness exalteth a nation' in our days as well as in his,
the Christian form of his teaching is that men lay waste their own
lives and wound their own souls by every sin. The fugitive son comes
down to be a swine-herd, and cannot get enough even of the swine's food
to stay his hunger.

The note of pity sounds very clearly in the pathetic description of the
deserted 'daughter of Zion.' Jerusalem stands forlorn and defenceless,
like a frail booth in a vineyard, hastily run up with boughs, and open
to fierce sunshine or howling winds. Once 'beautiful for situation, the
joy of the whole earth,... the city of the great King' - and now!

Verse 9 breaks the solemn flow of the divine Voice, but breaks it as it
desires to be broken. For in it hearts made soft and penitent by the
Voice, breathe out lowly acknowledgment of widespread sin, and see
God's mercy in the continuance of 'a very small remnant' of still
faithful ones. There is a little island not yet submerged by the sea of
iniquity, and it is to Him, not to themselves, that the 'holy seed' owe
their being kept from following the multitude to do evil. What a
smiting comparison for the national pride that is - 'as Sodom,' 'like
unto Gomorrah'!

After the sentence comes pardon. Verses 16 and 17 properly belong to
the paragraph omitted from the text, and close the stern special word
to the 'rulers' which, in its severe tone, contrasts so strongly with
the wounded love and grieved pity of the preceding verses. Moral
amendment is demanded of these high-placed sinners and false guides. It
is John the Baptist's message in an earlier form, and it clears the way
for the evangelical message. Repentance and cleansing of life come
first.

But these stern requirements, if taken alone, kindle despair. 'Wash
you, make you clean' - easy to say, plainly necessary, and as plainly
hopelessly above my reach. If that is all that a prophet has to say to
me, he may as well say nothing. For what is the use of saying 'Arise
and walk' to the man who has been lame from his mother's womb? How can
a foul body be washed clean by filthy hands? Ancient or modern
preachers of a self-wrought-out morality exhort to impossibilities, and
unless they follow their preaching of an unattainable ideal as Isaiah
followed his, they are doomed to waste their words. He cried, 'Make you
clean,' but he immediately went on to point to One who could make
clean, could turn scarlet into snowy white, crimson into the lustrous
purity of the unstained fleeces of sheep in green pastures. The
assurance of God's forgiveness which deals with guilt, and of God's
cleansing which deals with inclination and habit, must be the
foundation of our cleansing ourselves from filthiness of flesh and
spirit. The call to repentance needs the promise of pardon and divine
help to purifying in order to become a gospel. And the call to
'repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,' is
what we all, who are 'laden with iniquity,' and have forsaken the Lord,
need, if ever we are to cease to do evil and learn to do well.

As with one thunder-clap the prophecy closes, pealing forth the eternal
alternative set before every soul of man. Willing obedience to our
Father God secures all good, the full satisfaction of our else hungry
and ravenous desires. To refuse and rebel is to condemn ourselves to
destruction. And no man can avert that consequence, or break the
necessary connection between goodness and blessedness, 'for the mouth
of the Lord hath spoken it,' and what He speaks stands fast for ever
and ever.




THE STUPIDITY OF GODLESSNESS

'The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel
doth not know, My people doth not consider.' - ISAIAH i. 3.


This is primarily an indictment against Israel, but it touches us all.
'Doth not know' _i.e._ has no familiar acquaintance with; 'doth not
consider,' _i.e._ frivolously ignores, never meditates on.

I. This is a common attitude of mind towards God.

Blank indifference towards Him is far more frequent than conscious
hostility. Take a hundred men at random as they hurry through the
streets, and how many of them would have to acknowledge that no thought
of God had crossed their minds for days or months? So far as they are
concerned, either in regard to their thoughts or actions, He _is_ 'a
superfluous hypothesis.' Most men are not conscious of rebellion
against Him, and to charge them with it does not rouse conscience, but
they cannot but plead guilty to this indictment, 'God is not in all
their thoughts.'

II. This attitude is strange and unnatural.

That a man should be able to forget God, and live as if there were no
such Being, is strange. It is one instance of that awful power of
ignoring the most important subjects, of which every life affords so
many and tragic instances. It seems as if we had above us an opium sky
which rains down soporifics, go that we are fast asleep to all that it
most concerns us to wake to. But still stranger is it that, having that
power of attending or not attending to subjects, we should so commonly
exercise it on _this_ subject. For, as the ox that knows the hand that
feeds him, and the ass that makes for his 'master's crib' where he is
sure of fodder and straw, might teach us, the stupidest brute has sense
enough to recognise who is kind to him, or has authority over him, and
where he can find what he needs. The godless man descends below the
animals' level. And to ignore Him is intensely stupid. But it is worse
than foolish, for

III. This attitude is voluntary and criminal.

Though there is not conscious hostility in it, the root of it is a
sub-conscious sense of discordance with God and of antagonism between
His will and the man's When we are quite sure that we love another, and
that hearts beat in accord and wills go out towards the same things, we
do not need to make efforts to think of that other, but our minds turn
towards him or her as to a home, whenever released from the
holding-back force of necessary occupations. If we love God, and have
our will set to do His will, our thoughts will fly to Him, 'as doves to
their windows.'

It is fed by preoccupation of thought with other things. We have but a
certain limited amount of energy of thought or attention, and if we
waste it, as much as most of us do, on 'things seen and temporal,'
there is none left for the unseen realities and the God who is
'eternal, invisible.' It is often reinforced by theoretical
uncertainty, sometimes real, often largely unreal. But after all, the
true basis of it is, what Paul gives as its cause, 'they did not _like_
to retain God in their knowledge.'

The criminality of this indifference! It is heartlessly ungrateful.
Dogs lick the hand that feeds them; ox and ass in their dull way
recognise something almost like obligation arising from benefits and
care. No ingratitude is meaner and baser than that of which we are
guilty, if we do not requite Him 'in whose hands our breath is, and
whose are all our ways,' by even one thankful heart-throb or one word
shaped out of the breath that He gives.

IV. This attitude is fatal.

It separates us from God, and separation from Him is the very
definition of Death. A God of whom we never think is all the same to us
as a God who does not exist. Strike God out of a life, and you strike
the sun out of the system, and wrap all in darkness and weltering
chaos. 'This is life eternal, to know Thee'; but if 'Israel doth not
know,' Israel has slain itself.




WHAT SIN DOES TO MEN

'Ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no
water. 31. And the strong shall be as tow, and His work as a spark; and
they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.' - ISAIAH i.
30-31.


The original reference of these words is to the threatened retribution
for national idolatry, of which 'oaks' and 'gardens' were both seats.
The nation was, as it were, dried up and made inflammable; the idol was
as the 'spark' or the occasion for destruction. But a wider
application, which comes home to us all, is to the fatal results of
sin. These need to be very plainly stated, because of the deceitfulness
of sin, which goes on slaying men by thousands in silence.

'That grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace.'

I. Sin withers.

We see the picture of a blasted tree in the woods, while all around are
in full leaf, with tiny leaves half developed and all brown at the
edges. The prophet draws another picture, that of a garden not
irrigated, and therefore, in the burning East, given over to barrenness.

Sin makes men fruitless and withered.

It involves separation from God, the source of all fruitfulness (Ps.
i.).

Think of how many pure desires and innocent susceptibilities die out of
a sinful soul. Think of how many capacities for good disappear. Think
of how dry and seared the heart becomes. Think of how conscience is
stifled.

All sin - any sin - does this.

Not only gross, open transgressions, but any piece of godless living
will do it.

Whatever a man does against his conscience - neglect of duty, habitual
unveracity, idleness - in a word, his besetting sin withers him up.

And all the while the evil thing that is drawing his life-blood is
growing like a poisonous, blotched fungus in a wine-cask.

II. Sin makes men inflammable.

'As tow' or tinder.

A subsidiary reference may be intended to the sinful man as easily
catching fire at temptation. But the main thought is that sin makes a
man ready for destruction, 'whose end is to be burned.'

The materials for retribution are laid up in a man's nature by
wrong-doing. The conspirators store the dynamite in a dark cellar.
Conscience and memory are charged with explosives.

If tendencies, habits, and desires become tyrannous by long indulgence
and cannot be indulged, what a fierce fire would rage then!

We have only to suppose a man made to know what is the real moral
character of his actions, and to be unable to give them up, to have
hell.

All this is confirmed by occasional glimpses which men get of
themselves. Our own characters are the true Medusa-head which turns a
man into stone when he sees it.

What, then, are we really doing by our sins? Piling together fuel for
burning.

III. Sin burns up.

'Work as a spark.' The evil deeds brought into contact with the doer
work destruction. That is, if, in a future life or at any time, a man
is brought face to face with his acts, then retribution begins. We
shake off the burden of our actions by want of remembrance. But that
power of ignoring the past may be broken down at any time. Suppose it
happens that in another world it can no longer be exercised, what then?

Evil deeds are the occasion of the divine retribution. They are 'a
spark.' It is they who light the pyre, not God. The prophet here
protests in God's name against the notion that He is to be blamed for
punishing. Men are their own self-tormentors. The sinful man immolates
himself. Like Isaac, he carries the wood and lays the pile for his own
burning.

Christ severs the connection between us and our evil. He restores
beauty and freshness to the blighted tree, planting it as 'by the river
of water,' so that it 'bringeth forth its fruit in its season,' and its
'leaf also doth not wither.'




THE PERPETUAL PILLAR OF CLOUD AND FIRE

'And the Lord will create over the whole habitation of Mount Zion, and
over her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a
flaming fire by night.' - ISAIAH iv. 5.


The pillar of cloud and fire in the Exodus was one: there are to be as
many pillars as there are 'assemblies' in the new era. Is it straining
the language too much to find significance in that difference? Instead
of the formal unity of the Old Covenant, there is a variety which yet
is a more vital unity. Is there not a hint here of the same lesson that
is taught by the change of the one golden lamp-stand into the seven,
which are a better unity because Jesus Christ walks among them?

The heart of this promise, thus cast into the form of ancient
experiences, but with significant variations, is that of true communion
with God.

That communion makes those who have it glorious.

That communion supplies unfailing guidance.

A man in close fellowship with God will have wonderful flashes of
sagacity, even about small practical matters. The gleam of the pillar
will illumine conscience, and shine on many difficult, dark places. The
'simplicity' of a saintly soul will often see deeper into puzzling
contingencies than the vulpine craftiness of the 'prudent.' The darker
the night, the brighter the guidance.

That communion gives a defence.

The pillar came between Egypt and Israel, and kept the foe off the
timid crowd of slaves. Whatever forms our enemies take, fellowship with
God will invest us with a defence as protean as our perils. The same
cloud is represented in the context as being 'a pavilion for a shadow
in the heat, and for a refuge and for a covert from storm and from
rain.'




A PROPHET'S WOES

'Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till
there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the
earth! 9. In mine ears said the Lord of hosts, Of a truth many houses
shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant. 10. Yea,
ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer
shall yield an ephah. 11. Woe unto them that rise up early in the
morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night,
till wine inflame them! 12. And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and
pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of
the Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands. 13. Therefore my
people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and
their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture Isaiah and Jeremiah → online text (page 1 of 52)