Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
THE GREAT INVITATION. Isaiah 1:1-20
Israel had fallen into degenerate times: and just as "Moses was born" in the time of national darkness and despair (Acts 7:19, 20), so did the "Vision" come to Isaiah, the Son of Amos (v. 1). God has His own time and way of unveiling human guilt, and Divine mercy. These two pictures are exhibited before us here in this chapter.
I. Their Guilty Condition. They are charged with rebellion. "I have nourished and brought up sons and they have rebelled against Me. " He nourished them and brought them up out of Egypt, and through the wilderness, into a land of privilege and plenty. Yet they rebelled against Him. Have we not also, as a people, been nourished and brought up in a land of Gospel light and privilege? Are we still rebelling against Him? This wretched condition was the result of a certain moral process. There was—
1. INCONSIDERATENESS. "My people does not consider. " They became more thoughtless and thankless toward their Owner and Provider than the ox, or the donkey. When we cease to regard the work of the Lord, and to consider the operations of His hands in our behalf, we have already entered the path of the backslider.
2. PRESUMPTION. "They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel" (v. 4). Their thoughtlessness has resulted in a willful and deliberate departure from the Living God. When the backslider has determined to have his own will and way there will be a breaking of the Lord's bands, and a casting away of His cords (Psalm 2:3).
3. PERVERSITY. "Why should you be stricken?... you will revolt more and more" (v. 5). God could not deal with them as sons in chastisement. So far gone were they that they would not "endure" it, but only harden their neck in more bitter revolt (Hebrews 12:5-8). It is pitiful in the extreme when God has to say, "In vain have I smitten your children: they receive no correction" (Jeremiah 2:30).
4. CORRUPTION. "Whole head sick... whole heart faint... no soundness... putrefying sores," etc. (vv. 5, 6). This sickness, and faintness, these wounds, and sores, can never be healed, bound up, and mollified, apart from Him whom they have despised and rejected. Corruption is the result of being separated from the Source of Life— the Living One. To forsake the Lord is to prefer corruption and death to health and life (Matthew 5:13).
II. His Merciful Offer. "Come now let us reason together, says the Lord," etc. (vv. 18-20). These words contain—
1. A REVELATION. They reveal the infinite mercifulness of the God whom they had rejected and offended. Why should He make the first offer to His rebel creatures? "Oh, 'twas love, wondrous love." While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
2. AN INVITATION. "Come now, let us reason together." God recognizes and declares man's kinship with Himself. "Come, let us reason," He does not "reason" with the brute creation. How gracious this invitation is. God might have driven out the whole nation from His presence as He drove out the man from the garden. "Come now," for where sin did abound grace has much more abounded (Romans 5:20). "Come now," and let us reason together, for sin has been atoned at Calvary's Cross.
3. A PROMISE. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." It has been said that "any man can dye his soul with sin, but only God can bleach it." God's power is in and behind His promise to turn the scarlet-dyed clothes of a harlot-soul into the white robes of a blood-washed saint. "Come now," for neither the number nor the depths of your sins need be any hindrance, salvation is of the Lord. "The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
4. A WARNING. "But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword" (v. 20). This is the Divine ultimatum. If men refuse, and rebel against His free offer of mercy and forgiveness, if they will not yield to the Divine reasonableness, then their end is destruction. God is merciful, but God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). If His promises are despised, His judgments will not slumber. Come now, for behold now is the day of salvation.
FAILURE IN THE MIDST OF PRIVILEGE. Isaiah 5:1-7
This song of the prophet is a parable in honor of Jehovah, recalling His marvelous goodness to His people, and their failure and ingratitude to Him.
I. The Work Done. (vv. 1, 2). These two verses contain a brief, but perfect outline of Israel's history.
The "fruitful hill"—Canaan. "Fenced" with promises.
"Planted with the choicest vine"—His chosen people.
"Gathered out of the stones"—idols, etc. "Built a tower"—Temple. "Made a winepress"—Altar of Sacrifice. "He looked for grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes." Utter failure. All this is typical of what God in mercy has done for us individually, and as a nation. We also have been brought out of the bondage of paganism and spiritual darkness, and planted beside the "fruitful hill" called Calvary.
II. The Result Shown. "He looked for grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes." There was the semblance of the fruit desired, but they were wild, utterly inconsistent with their profession, and entirely unfit for His use. There was nothing to satisfy the soul of the great Planter and Protector. Fleshly works by professing Christians are but wild grapes. They that are in the flesh cannot please God. Our God is quick to discern the real character of the fruit of His planting. The wild grape is the outcome of the old, wild, carnal nature that has not yet been completely subdued by the new life. Be not deceived, God is not mocked.
III. The Challenge Made. "And now..judge, I pray you, between Me and My vineyard, what could have been done more to My vineyard that I have not done in it" (vv. 3, 4). He had poured out His favors on His vineyard, but they had stained it with the blood of His Son. Could He have shown more love, more considerateness, more longsuffering mercy for His people than He did? Think of His dealings with them from Egypt to Canaan. Think also of His dealings with us, in the gift and sufferings of His Son, and in His merciful providence, that He might have us a people for the honor of His Name. Now, judge. What could He do more? (Matthew 23:37).
IV. The Doom Incurred. "And now...I will tell you what I will do..I will take away the hedge..and break down the wall..I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it" (vv. 5, 6). Desolation comes upon them because His protection is removed, and His gifts withheld. The darkness of doom is the absence of the light of Grace. When Christ was compelled to turn His back on the temple, He had to say, "Behold your house is left unto you desolate." To be left to ourselves is to be desolate. My Spirit will not always strive with man. Repent. Return. Believe. Submit.
FITNESS FOR SERVICE. Isaiah 6:1-8
"In the year that King Uzziah died I saw." Uzziah had reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. During all that time "he was marvelously helped until he was strong." But when he became strong, in his own eyes, his heart was lifted up to his destruction. He died a leper, for the Lord had smitten him (2 Chronicles 26). At such a mournful time, and in such distressing circumstances, the Vision of the thrice Holy One came to Isaiah. What a change from the vision of a defeated, leprous king to that of the exalted Throne of the Eternal One. Our day of shame and sorrow may be the day of a new revelation of hope.
I. A Glorious Vision. "I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up," etc. He had seen the downfall of Uzziah, but he saw also the glory of the unfailing God. This vision is the reality of that which was seen by the high priest in type, when he passed through the Veil into the "Holiest of All." The Lord enthroned, and His glory filling the house. The landscape was there all the time, with its riches and beauty, although we did not see it until the Veil of mist was rolled away. The pure in heart see God. We, like the prophet, must have this vision if we would become meet for the service of God. We must needs see Jesus, our Lord, who humbled Himself to the death for us. "High and lifted up," exalted and enthroned, and the glory of His person and work filling the temple. Satisfying to the full every heavenly and Divine requirement (Hebrews 2:9).
II. A Humbling Confession. "Then said I, woe is me! for I am undone (cut off)...I am a man of unclean lips," etc. A vision of the highness and holiness of God is a self-humbling sight. "Unclean lips" are but the weapons of an unclean heart. It was when Job saw the Lord that he abhorred himself (Job 42:5, 6). It is in His light that we see light clearly. This is God's method. First, revelation, then self-discovery, self-abhorrence, and self-abandonment. The vision of Bethlehem, Calvary and Olivet, first smites with conviction then inspires with hope. Having "seen the King, the Lord of Hosts," he has seen his own need, and the need of the people, for they also have "unclean lips" (v. 5). There will be hope for the people when the servants of God have had a clear vision of God, and of their own condition and need.
III. A Great Salvation. "Then flew one of the Seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand" (v. 6). The vision, the confession, "then" the live coal. The Seraphim fitly represents the personal work of the Holy Spirit in taking the things of the "Altar" (the substitutionary work of Christ), and applying them to the troubled and unclean soul. The lips were touched with fire because the sin was purged, and the iniquity taken away. This salvation is threefold—
1. PARDON. "Your sin is covered" (margin). Covered by the atoning blood of God's Lamb. Such a covering as only God can cast over the guilt and heinousness of sin (Hebrews 1:3).
2. PURITY. "Your iniquity is taken away." Not only is sin covered, but the cause of sinning is dealt with. The iniquity, or lack of equity in the nature, toward God and man is taken away. Renewed in your mind, morally straightened.
3. POWER. "Lo, this has touched your lips." The touch of the living coal was as the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). It was power from on high putting his lips into touch and perfect accord with the holy Altar. Only the fire-touched lips can speak out the real significance of the Cross of Christ. Pentecost was needed to emphasize Calvary.
IV. A Definite Commission. The call of God was distinctly heard. "I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, whom shall I send" (v. 8). It was not a voice commanding him to go, but a voice revealing to him, in a new fashion, God's longing desire to declare His mind and will to the people through His willing servants. Who will go for us? The man with the fire-touched lips is now ready to say, "Here am I, send me." He who has been cleansed, and claimed by the Altar fire, yields himself at once unto God as an instrument of righteousness. Now that his impurity and unwillingness have been taken away, the Lord says, "Go" (v. 9).
THE ALMIGHTY SANCTUARY. Isaiah 8:11-14.
This message from the Lord to the prophet in times of distress and perplexity, contains a message of guidance and comfort to all who are in similar circumstances.
I. The Danger. Judah was in distress, because Syria and Israel had formed a confederacy against them. Many also in Judah were disaffected to the house of David, and in secret sympathy with the enemies of their country. They were "refusing the waters of Shiloh, which go softly" and rejoicing in the glory of a heathen king (v. 6). To which party should the prophet, the man of God, ally himself? This problem is with the Church today. There is a confederacy against it; organized parties of practical atheists. Within the Church herself there are also those who are "refusing the waters of Shiloh (Gospel), which go softly." Too softly for those who are the secret enemies to the Kingdom of God, and of His Christ, and who prefer the broad, turbulent waters of worldly pleasures and politics.
II. The Remedy. It consisted of—
1. A REVELATION. "The Lord spoke to me...and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people" (v. 11). Judah had lost sight of God, and of their relationship to Him, and, as a result, were seeking to "associate themselves" with a prosperous, heathen kingdom. But God's Word to the prophet was, "you shall not walk in the way of this people." The Church must choose whether she will separate herself unto God, or form a league with the aggressive forces of infidelity.
2. A REBUKE. "Say you not, a confederacy...neither fear you their fear, nor be afraid" (v. 12). God's Word warns us against glibly using the language of the ungodly. "Say you not." Don't you fall into their snare, or into their manner or spirit of working. Don't you be terrified at their numbers and organization. Neither be afraid of their proposals, or propaganda. They shall be "broken in pieces...their counsel shall come to naught" (vv. 9, 10). Those of Judah who were crying out for a confederacy with Assyria as a protection against the combined forces of Syria and Ephraim, were but showing their fatal weakness, as those who dwelt in the land of "Immanuel" (v. 8). Such compromising on the part of God's people needs to be sternly rebuked. Whatever tends to lessen faith in God is dishonoring to Him.
3. A COUNSEL. "Sanctify the Lord of Hosts Himself, and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread" (v. 13). To "Sanctify the Lord of Hosts" is to set Him apart from all else as the sole object of our confidence. When our Lord said, "For their sakes I sanctify Myself" (John 17:19), He shows the position He Himself has chosen for His people's good. The dangers may seem great, the united forces in opposition to us may be formidable and fearful, but as the greater always overshadows the less, so, when the Lord of Hosts is sanctified by us and becomes our "fear and dread," we will not fear what man can do unto us. Fear Him. The dreaded mystery of holiness and power is with Him.
4. AN ASSURANCE. "And He shall be for a sanctuary," etc. (v. 14). He shall become a holy place of refuge and of rest for your soul. Hide yourself in God, and all the confederacies of men shall never prevail against you. "God is our refuge and strength...therefore will not we fear." This hiding place is indeed a "dreadful place." But the more dreadful the place is the more secure are they who hide in it. He will become "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence" to those who are opposed to His work and will. "They shall stumble and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and taken" that take counsel together against the Lord and His anointed ones. "Say you not a confederacy," but say, God is my Sanctuary.
THE GREAT FEAST. Isaiah 25:6-9
This is another vision given to the prophet. He sees Mount Zion as a table spread with rich and abundant provisions for "All people." It is the Millennial time of fullness and victory for His ancient people, when Jerusalem shall become a "praise in the earth," and when all nations shall "Call Him Blessed," who is their God and King. While the dispensational aspect must not be overlooked, we should like to read these verses, for our personal profit, more in the light of the Gospel of the Grace of God.
I. The Place. "In this mountain." God not only appoints the event, but also the place where it shall be accomplished. He has appointed Zion as the place of His revealed glory. He also appointed "the place called Calvary" for the revelation of His grace. Here the Lord of Hosts has made a feast for all people.
II. The Provision. It implies ample sufficiency for the whole need of man. There is—
1. PERFECT SATISFACTION. "Fat things full of marrow...wines on the lees well refined." Blessings that strengthen, and that cheer and inspire. There is no leanness of soul, for those who feed in the work and fullness of Jesus Christ. Every promise of His is full of marrow and fatness. The wine of His Word is always on the lees of eternal verities. It is old and good. "Wherefore spend money for that which...satisfies not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness" (Isaiah 55:1, 2).
2. FULL SALVATION. (1) The "Covering" of Darkness has been destroyed. "He will destroy the face of the covering cast over the people" (v. 7). The darkened understanding has been enlightened (Ephesians 4:18). The true light now shines. (2) The "Veil" of unbelief has been taken away. This veil that is "Spread over the nations" is taken away by turning to the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:15-18).
3. THE POWER OF DEATH has been destroyed. "He will swallow up death in victory" (v. 8). Christ, in dying, has destroyed death, and him that has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). The power of death, in itself, is a tremendous power, it is truly the "terrors of death."
4. THE ASSURANCE OF COMFORT has been given. "The Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces." The proofs of sorrow and suffering are visible in many faces. The day of His salvation is the day of peace and rest for the soul. A French writer has asked, "Where are now the calm, peaceful faces that were seen long ago?" Christ is our peace, "My peace I give unto you."
5. THE "REBUKE" OF FAILURE is taken away (v. 8). The Salvation of God includes deliverance from a life of stumbling and failure. Oh, what reproach lies upon the servants of God today, because this full Salvation is not realized. God means all this for His people. "For the Lord has spoken it."
III. The Testimony. "It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God" (v. 9). When God's Salvation is experienced there is no doubt at all as to its God-likeness. This is the expression of a saved and satisfied soul. The word God is in the plural here, and has reference to the Trinity. To know Him, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent by the Holy Spirit, is Eternal Life. Those who can say "This is our God," can confidently add, "And He will save us," for, "We have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His Salvation" (v. 9). We speak that we do know. In a fuller sense, this will be the testimony of God's people, when the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout" (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). Meanwhile His Salvation is offered unto "All people" (Luke 2:10). "Look unto Me, and be you saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God" (Isaiah 45:22).
REBELLIOUS CHILDREN. Isaiah 30:1-3
Oh, how sad it is when the "woe" of the rebellious has to be pronounced by the Lord on His own children.
I. The Nature of It. It is seen in their counselors. "They take counsel, but not of Me." Worldly wisdom is preferred to heavenly. It is seen in their covering. "They cover with a covering, but not of My Spirit." They clothe themselves with pride, and fleshly energy, instead of the power of the Holy Spirit. It is seen in their walk. "That walk to go down into Egypt." Their faces are toward the world, and their desire is to get into its ways. It is seen in their Motives. "To strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt." They seek worldly strength, and worldly protection, to advance their cause. The heart that is in rebellion against God, and His Christ, is certain to seek the help of the ungodly.
II. The Result of It. The result is "Shame." "Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame." The strength of Pharaoh may do for a Pharaoh, but it will be your shame as a professed child of God. The strength of Pharaoh lay in the arm of flesh, and there is a curse upon the man "that makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from the Lord" (Jeremiah 17:5). Trust in the shadow of Egypt will be your confession (v. 3). Nothing but shame and confusion will come upon the Church of God, if, for the sake of popularity and prestige, she allies with the godless forces of today.
OUR REFUGE AND OUR REMEDY. Isaiah 32:1-5.
Man's character needs a "double cure." A place of refuge from danger, and a remedy from the disease of sin. When "A King shall reign in righteousness" within, then the princes of that Kingdom "Shall rule in justice" (v. 1). Note the—
I. Need Suggested. We are exposed to the "wind" and the "tempest." These are the ordinary, and extraordinary trials and dangers that all have to face. The "wind," the common current of popular error: the "tempest," the crushing influence of temptation and lust. Then there is the "dry place." The experience of disappointment and helplessness, finding the world's cisterns empty in the time of deepest need. Then comes the "weary land" experience. A fainting of the heart at the discovery that the world provides no resting place for the weary feet of an anxious pilgrim.
II. Refuge Appointed. "A Man shall be an hiding place." Who is this Man? Jehovah says, this is "The Man that is My Fellow" (Zechariah 13:7). The One Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). He is—
1. A HIDING PLACE. That is the feature of His character as Redeemer and Lord. The wind that drives away the chaff cannot" move those who hide in Him. "I flee to You to hide me."
2. A COVERT FROM THE TEMPEST. A place of secrecy where the most powerful forces outside cannot find the hidden one.
3. THE SHADOW OF A GREAT ROCK. The strength of this protection is here indicated, and especially the blessed fact that this shadow can be enjoyed by those who are presently in "a weary land." "Behold the Man."
III. Blessings Enjoyed. All who sit under His shadow have great delight. Here are several things which characterize those saved by the Lord, and who are abiding under the court of His wings enjoying His fellowship.
1. Their EYES are clear. "The eyes of them that see shall not be dim" (v. 3). They have seen their need, they have seen their opportunity, now they see God.
2. Their EARS are opened. "The ears of them that hear shall hearken." They have heard His invitation, they have obeyed His call, now they eagerly listen to His Word.
3. Their HEART is taught. "The heart also of the hasty shall understand knowledge" (v. 4). Yes, those who rest in Him as their "hiding place" shall be taught of the Lord (Isaiah 54:13). The hasty heart shall be righted there.
4. Their TONGUE is loosed. "The tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly." There is nothing like the power of the truth of the Gospel for taking the stammer out of a man's tongue, and making him "ready to speak plainly." Plain speaking, on the part of the saved ones, is expected by the Savior.
5. Their LIFE is purified. "The vile person shall no more be called liberal, nor the crafty said to be bountiful" (v. 5, R.V, margin). A purified life means purified morals. Righteousness with God means practical righteousness with our fellow men. The man whose eyes are opened, and whose tongue has been loosed to "speak plainly," will not laud the immoral and the crafty because of their big subscriptions, or high social position. He is no respecter of persons, and must call things by their right names.
THE EXCELLENCY OF OUR GOD. Isaiah 35:1-6
In the light of New Testament teaching, this portion is most inspiring. There is a—
I. Vision of Hope. "They shall see the glory of the Lord, the excellency of our God." How is this glory, or excellency, to be seen? Here, as in the Gospels, it is seen in the transforming power of His grace. The "wilderness," the "solitary place," and the "desert," are made glad and beautiful because of it. The excellency of our God is seen in imparting to the barren waste the majesty of Lebanon, the beauty of Carmel, and the fruitfulness of Sharon (v. 2). Israel, as a nation, is that "wilderness, and solitary place," which shall yet "be glad..and blossom abundantly" at the revelation of the Lord: but now we may see the excellency of our God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). What transformations He has wrought in the "wilderness and solitary places" of the souls .of men, and of social life!
II. Condition of Need. The people of God axe here reminded of three sources of weakness that are hindering their life and work. They have "weak hands." Hands that hang down (Hebrews 12:12). The hands represent the instruments of work. What could even Hercules do with a hammer of soap? How can a servant work, or a soldier fight, with weak hands? They are powerless for service. Then there is the "feeble knees." They cannot walk straight and steady. They are easily upset. A little opposition, or the wind of some new doctrine, is enough to impede their progress, or turn them aside. Their knees are feeble, through the lack of the practice of prayer. Another weakness is seen in the "fearful heart." This is the worst of all, and the cause of all. When the heart is pure and strong, the hands and the knees will soon be strong and steady. Fearfulness is the result of the lack of faith.
III. Message of Cheer. The servant of God is commissioned to strengthen the weak hands, to confirm the feeble knees, and encourage the fearful in heart (v. 4). But how is this to be done? Never were many of God's people so much in need of this, as now. With the work, comes the message of power, "Behold your God will come." The excellency of your God consists in this, that He delights to make the desert blossom as the rose, and to make the weak, the feeble, and the fearful, to triumph in His strength. Your God who will come with vengeance on your enemies, and a recompense to His own, He will save you. Let not your heart be troubled because of the signs of the times. You believe in God. Behold, He comes with clouds (Titus 2:13; Rev. 1:7). Say to them that are feeble and fearful, Be strong; Behold your God.
IV. Work of Grace. The excellency of our God is seen in making—
1. The EYES of the blind to see (v. 5). The eyes are the windows of the soul. In spiritual blindness, it is the spirit that is blind; to such, sight is a new faculty (Acts 26:18; Ephesians 1:18).
2. The EARS of the deaf to hear. As with sight, so with hearing; the ear is but the instrument, it is the spirit within that is made to hear Him.
3. The FEET of the lame to leap (v. 6). The morally helpless, and crippled, by sin and iniquity, are made to leap like an deer. Salvation means renewal (Acts 3:2-10).
4. The TONGUE of the dumb to sing. Tongues that were silent for God, will, at His touch, break forth into praise (Psalm 51:15). For in the wilderness of the unrenewed and wasted life, the waters of grace shall break out as streams in the desert. You shall see the glory, and the excellency of our God.
THE POWER OF PRAYER. Isaiah 37:14-20
The historical setting should be closely studied. A great trouble had come to Hezekiah, the king, because of the Assyrian invasion, and the imperious attitude of Rabshakeh the captain. "Trouble" has been said to be "A Divine diet for the new man." It is often more profitable than it is palatable.
I. The Cause of His Trouble. It was A letter." Only a letter, but a veritable "Messenger of Satan" to buffet him. For some the postman's bag may contain moral and social torpedoes. Who knows what the next post may bring? This was an attempt to destroy his faith in God (v. 10), to dispossess him of his inheritance, and to bring him into bondage. The enemies of our souls are always active toward the same end. Their letters may be beautifully written, but they are terribly bitter.
II. What He Did With It. "He spread it before the Lord" (v. 14). This solemn act revealed his faith in God. He did not spread it before the "face of Heaven," but before the face of an Almighty Personality. "He who comes to God must believe that He is" (Hebrews 11:6). This also shows his thoroughness. He spread it. He laid the whole matter, from beginning to end, right before Him. Be definite in your dealings with God. Be as honest and confidential as He wishes you to be. Keep back nothing. Whatever is a trouble to you is interesting to your God and Father.
III. How He Succeeded. "The angel of the Lord" became his defense (v. 36). His argument was simple, but irresistible. "Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord" (v. 20). "When the angel of death spreads his wings in the blast," woe be to those who fight against the Kingdom of God. By the blast of God they perish (Job. 4:9). Is there any sorrow too great, or circumstance too perplexing, that the prayer of faith cannot bring comfort and deliverance? "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed...nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Matthew 17:20).
POWER FOR THE FAINT. Isaiah 40:28-31
"Have you not known?" There is, oh! so much of the goodness of God revealed to us in His Word that we have, as yet, failed to understand or to profit by, that we greatly need a question like this to arrest afresh our attention to our real need, and His Almighty fullness. We are reminded here of the—-
I. Need of Power. "He gives power to the faint." He speaks of power because he knows we need it. It is for lack of power that we "faint," and have "no might," and are "weary," and the "young men utterly fall" (v. 30). There is today much fainting and weariness because of a conscious inability to overcome the power of current evils. An unhealthy moral atmosphere makes it difficult for a spiritual man to breathe. Even "young men" destitute of this power are an utter failure.
II. Source of Power. "Have you not heard that the Everlasting God.. .faints not, neither is weary?" (v. 28). "Have you not known Me?" (John 14:9). All power is given unto Him. All creative and sustaining power is His. All fullness dwells in Him. If we are workers together with Him who faints not, why should we faint? Why this weariness in us if He who never is weary is working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure?
III. Nature of Power. Power is not something we put on, it is something that puts on us. Something that enters into our being, bringing increased capacity and responsibility. Power, like love, dwells in the life of God. To have more of His life means more of His power. The spirit of life is the spirit of power (Acts 1:8). This power is not that of a new resolve, or of youthful vigor, or natural enthusiasm, it is the "power of God," because God has come in mightier measure into the life. Abundance of life means abundance of power.
IV. Condition of Power. "They that wait upon the Lord" (v. 31). This waiting upon the Lord must be interpreted as an honest confession, that there has been fainting and failure in the past. Because the promise is to the "faint, and to them that have no might" (v. 29). His strength can only be made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9; Hebrews 11:34). Wait on the Lord, and change your weakness into His strength (v. 31, margin).
V. Evidence of Power. "They shall mount up...run, and not be weary.. .walk, and not faint." They mount up, like eagles, into a higher and purer atmosphere of life where they can run, and not be weary, walk and not faint. The enduement of power implies an ascension of the life into a higher and more mysterious plane of living, far above all the principalities and powers of earth and Hell that would discourage and destroy. He gives power to the faint.
FEAR NOT. Isaiah 41:9-16.
What is here said of Israel? The seed of Abraham is also true of those who are His spiritual seed, the children of God by faith. These promises are made to "My servant whom I have chosen" (vv. 8, 9). If you are a servant chosen of God, then these promises are virtually for you. Each promise is a reason why you should "Fear not." He says, "Fear you not, for—
I. I am with you. "With you as your shield and great reward" (Genesis 15:1).
II. I am your God. Your God is good, and your God is almighty.
III. I will strengthen you. If He is the strength of your life of whom should you be afraid? (Psalm 27:1),
IV. I will help you (v. 10). This implies cooperation. There is no help like His.
V. I will uphold you. The right hand of His righteousness will stay you up.
VI. I will defend you. "They that war against you shall be as nothing, and as a thing of naught" (v. 12).
VII. I will use you. "I will make you a new, sharp, thrashing instrument" (v. 15). Every redeemed and consecrated soul will be a new instrument in His hand.
VIII. I will be glorified in you. "You shall rejoice in the Lord, and shall glory in the Holy One of Israel" (v. 16; see Jeremiah 9:24).
HOPE FOR THE NEEDY. Isaiah 41:17-20
The "needy," who are they? In every city and country their name is legion. But the "needy" here are the most hopeless of all mortals. Look at this picture of—
I. Lamentable Failure. "The poor and needy seek water, and there is none. They are keenly conscious of their need, they are "poor," they seek a common mercy— "water"—they seek it where it cannot be found—"there is none." And they have been seeking until "their tongue fails for thirst." What a picture of disappointment and desolation. While "the common salvation" is as plentiful and as cheap as water, yet, how many poor and needy souls are seeking it where "there is none," in their own hearts, prayers, and works.
II. Inspiring Promises. Israel was not asked to dig wells in the wilderness, they were to drink from the smitten rock. Salvation is of the Lord. To the "poor and needy" three precious promises are given.
1. I will ANSWER them (R.V.). There is no answer to this thirst anywhere else but in God Himself. God is the only answer to the cry of humanity. He so loved the world that He gave His Son. Look unto Me, and be you saved. God's answer is near when our absolute failure is recognized and confessed.
2. "I will OPEN RIVERS in the bare heights" (v. 18, R.V.) God's fullness of blessing often comes from unexpected sources, "bare heights." "My ways are not your ways says the Lord." A tongue failing for thirst is "a bare height out of which He is able to bring rivers of water" (John 7:37-39).
3. "I will PLANT in the wilderness the cedar...in the desert the fir tree and the pine" (v. 19). This is part of God's answer to the poor and needy wilderness of man's soul. It needs not only the cleansing and refreshing rivers, but the imparting of new principles for the beautifying of the life-like trees in the desert.
III. God-honoring Results. "That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together that the hand of the Lord has done this" (v. 20). All His works praise Him. Our transfigured lives are a testimony to others of the good hand of our God upon us. When, instead of the thorn and the brier, there comes up the fir, and the myrtle, it shall be to the Lord for a name, and an everlasting sign (Isaiah 55:13). It is a poor testimony for God when the tongue fails for thirst. But He delights to answer our need, even for His Own Name's sake. It is when the new song is put into our mouth that, "Many shall see and fear, and shall trust in the Lord" (Psalm 40:3).
SPIRITUAL ISRAEL. Isaiah 43:1-10.
It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs; neither is it meet to take the Jewish bread, and give it all to the Gentiles. The great and precious promises made in the chapter are for Israel, and much important truth is lost by applying them only to the Church. Israel, like the Church of God, has a glorious and triumphant future before it. Still, all that is here said of the Jew is perfectly true of the Church, and may be forcibly applied to all Christians who are the spiritual seed of Abraham.
I. They are Purchased. "Fear not, I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name, you are Mine." As Israel was redeemed out of Egyptian bondage and darkness, called into a separate life, and claimed by God as His own, so have we been redeemed from the bondage of sin and Satan, separated from the world, and claimed by our Redeemer as His own purchased possession. You are not your own, for you are bought with a price, redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.
II. They are Preserved. "When you pass through the waters I will be with you.. .When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned" (v. 2). No nation has ever passed through such deep and troublous waters as the Jewish. No other people have had to walk through such fire of suffering and persecution as they. Yet Jacob has not been overthrown, nor has the flame destroyed him. The reason is, "I am with you." As it is with Israel, so is it with the Church. Only, the sufferings of Israel have been for her own sins, while the sufferings of the Church have been for Christ's sake. Through the fire and the waters of testing and trial must every redeemed one pass. But "Fear not" is the Savior's word of cheer, for, "I will be with you" (Psalm 66:12; see Psalm 23:4).
III. They are Precious. "You were precious in My sight...and I have loved you" (v. 4). How a wayward, backsliding people can become precious to God is one of the mysteries of His grace. This fact is a proof that whom God loves He loves intensely (Daniel 7:6). God can do nothing superficially. If He saves, He saves to the uttermost. When He gives life, it is life in abundance. Their preciousness to God is a guarantee of their protection and security. We are precious in His sight, not only because of what He has given for us, but because of what we are now, as members of the body of Christ, His Son.
IV. They are Privileged. "I have created Him for My glory" (v. 7). The creation of Israel as a nation is for the glory of God, and He shall yet be glorified in His people in this present world (Hosea 1:10). We, like them, are His workmanship, created unto good works, which God has before ordained, that we should walk in them. It is to the praise of the glory of His grace that He has made us accepted in the beloved (Ephesians 1:5, 6). The Church of God is a new creation in Christ Jesus for His own glory, and this glory will yet be manifested in the ages to come (Ephesians 2:7).
V. They are Powerful. "You are My witnesses, says the Lord" (v. 10). A witness is one who has sufficient knowledge to constitute a proof. Knowledge, like steam, is a power that cannot be ignored. The Jew is a witness to Christ crucified, the Christian is a witness to Christ risen. Judah and the Church are both witnesses for God. The Jews had committed to them the oracles of God (Romans 3:1, 2), which gave them power for God. The Church has committed unto it the Holy Spirit of God that it might have witnessing power for God (Acts 1:8). Every Jew is a witness, so is every member of the body of Christ. Our witness-bearing depends on what we are, not what we say. If we are monuments of His grace we shall be witnesses for Him. What was said of Christ is true also of every man in Him, "Behold I have given him for a witness to the people."
GOD'S APPEAL TO THE BACKSLIDING. Isaiah 44:21, 22
The goodness and longsuffering mercy of our God nowhere shines out more impressively than in His pitiful appeal to His backsliding people. "O Jacob," may remind them of their past pride and failure. "O Israel," of what His transforming grace had made them. Jacob, the wrestler, was turned into Israel the prince.
I. An Urgent Call. "O Jacob..O Israel...return unto Me." This clearly implies that they had turned away from Him, and that, for His own, and their own sakes, He longed for their return. All backsliding is a turning away of the affections from God to some other person or thing.
II. A Powerful Argument. He gives ample reasons why they should return.
1. I have FORMED you. Israel, as a nation, would have had no existence but for the electing grace of God. They were chosen, not because they were better than others, but because it pleased Him to call them. Backsliders, think of that! God requires that which is past.
2. I have FORGIVEN you. "I have blotted out as a thick cloud...your sins." Have you forgotten the time when He caused the sweet sense of His forgiving love to float into your soul? (Psalm 32:1, 2).
3. I have NOT FORGOTTEN you. "You shall not be forgotten of Me." In your willful wandering you have, like the prodigal, forgotten Him, but He has not forgotten you. "Return."
4. I have REDEEMED you. The fact that He has purchased you with His own blood that you might be His own peculiar treasure, is another strong reason why you should return unto Him (1 Corinthians 6:20).
5. I have CLAIMED you. Return, for, "You are My servant." He has not only a claim upon your person, but also upon your service. Think of His infinite goodness in still acknowledging you—even in your present, sinful, and profitless condition—as His servant. "I will arise and go to my father."
GOD'S RELATIONSHIP TO HIS PEOPLE. Isaiah 48:16-18
"Come you near unto Me, hear you this." Here is something God is specially desirous that we should give heed to. Let us draw near unto Him, and hear it as fresh from His own lips. "Oh, hear it again." That Christ is the eternal Son of God who was with Him "from the beginning" and who was sent by "the Lord God, and His Spirit," and who has declared Him who is—
I. Your Redeemer. "Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." Who gave Himself for our sins that He might redeem us from all iniquity. Jehovah is our Redeemer in the person of His Son.
II. Your Teacher. "I am the Lord your God which teaches you to profit." His teaching is not only instruction for the mind, but the impartation of life and light, of ability to receive and to act. He works in us both to will and to do (Psalm 25:8-10).
III. Your Leader. "I am the Lord your God...which leads you by the way that you should go." As He led Israel about and instructed him (Deuteronomy 32), so, by His Spirit, does He still lead His redeemed people. The Church never was in greater need of being "Led by the Lord" than now.
IV. Your Keeper. "O that you had hearkened... then had your peace been as a river." They are kept in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him. Great peace have they which love Your law (Psalm 119:165). Hearken to the voice of Him whose blood preaches peace, and whose life is the pledge that your peace may be as full and constant as "a river."
DIVINE QUESTIONS FOR THE BACKSLIDING. Isaiah 50:1-3
The Jews were captives in Babylon. The sin of idolatry which, in God's sight, was the sin of spiritual adultery, had broken their marriage covenant with the Lord, and separated them from Him. It would seem that while they were in Babylon they murmured and complained against God, and the severity of their condition. Backsliders are slow to blame themselves for their present bondage and misery. But the Lord demands that they face the cause of their separation from Him by asking them five pointed questions, which appeal to any backslider.
I. "Where is the Bill of Your Mother's Divorcement?" Under the law, and because of the hardness of their hearts (Matthew 19:8), Moses allowed a man to divorce—cut off—his wife if found unfaithful, by giving her a "bill of divorcement." This bill was the evidence that she had been put away by her husband (Deuteronomy 24:1). The Lord demands of those grumbling sons, born in Babylon of backsliding parents, to produce the bill of their divorcement on the evidence that He had cut them off. Where is the proof that God is to blame for the backslider's failure and misery? Your iniquities have separated between you and your God (Isaiah 59:2).
II. "To Which of My Creditors Have I Sold You?" Another permission allowable under the law was, that a father had a right, if oppressed with debt, to sell his children (Exod. 21:7: Nehemiah 5:5). The Divine argument is, did I sell you because of My poverty? Have I had to part with you because I was not rich enough to keep you? If I have sold you, then, name the creditor to whom I have sold you. Backslider, what have you to say to this? Have you separated yourself from God because He had not enough to supply all your need? The truth must be out, and here it is, "Behold, for your iniquities have you sold yourselves" (v. 1.)
III. "Wherefore...When I called was there None to Answer?" Another charge brought against them was that they had refused to respond to the call of His servants, the prophets. They gave Him no answer, but remained deaf to His entreaties. How is it that while you are so dissatisfied with your position and condition, you still refuse to obey His call to repentance as the way out of bondage into liberty and restoration? He is still calling through His Son, and by His Spirit, to the self-oppressed backsliders. How is it that so few answer Him?
IV. "Is My Hand Shortened at All that it Cannot Redeem?" You may have gone far away, but have you gone beyond His redemption point? Have you gone beyond the length of His arm to reach you? Backsliders, answer this question. Is His hand too short for your rescue? Is His blood too weak for your redemption? You think of your distance from God, will you also think of the length of His arm of mercy? He is able to save to the uttermost. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us.
V. "Have I no Power to Deliver?" Your miserable, Babylonian bondage seems to indicate that your God has no power to deliver you. As long as you remain in your backsliding state you are dragging the Name and Character of God into public dishonor (chapter 52:5). As a proof of His saving power He reminds them of what He had done. At His rebuke the Red Sea was made dry, and the river of Jordan made as a wilderness for them. He had power also to "Clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering" (v. 3). This He did when He delivered them out of Egypt (Exod. 10:21). This He did when He gave His Son to die for us on the Cross (Luke 23:44). Has He no power to save you? Then why are you not saved?
LET US STAND TOGETHER—SUBSTITUTION. Isaiah 50:4-9
These words are mighty with solemn significance, coming as they do—prophetically—from the lips of the suffering Son of God. Although spoken 700 years before the birth of Christ they are becoming, only, on His lips.
I. His Wisdom. "The Lord God has given me the tongue of them that are taught that I should know how to sustain with words him that is weary" (v. 4, R.V.). He had the tongue of the taught even when twelve years of age (Luke 2:46, 47). Never man spoke like this Man. He was taught of God (John 8:28:38). He is the "Wisdom of God." His words has sustained the weary in all generations. Let them dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16).
II. His Obedience. "The Lord God has opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious" (v. 5). Having heard the Word of God, and learned all that it meant for Him, He turned not back, but said, "Lo, I come...I delight to do Your will O My God, yes Your law is within My heart" (Psalm 40:6-8). How often, on our part, has the open ear been followed with a rebellious will! We see, but do not delightfully obey the vision in a wholehearted consecration, but often "turn away backward."
III. His Sufferings. "I gave my back to the smiters...I hid not My face from shame and spitting" (v. 6). He "gave," and He "hid not." Assuring us that His sufferings were purely voluntary. They would be of no value otherwise. The smiting and the spitting suggest the twofold character of our Lord's humiliation and agony. The physical and the moral suffering and derision. The scattering of the flock of Israel over the face of the earth is an evidence that the Shepherd has been smitten (Matthew 26:31).
IV. His Confidence. "The Lord God will help Me, therefore shall I not be confounded... I know that I shall not be ashamed" (v. 7). He was helped, and not confounded, in the hour of His extreme sorrow, for an angel from Heaven strengthened Him (Luke 22:43). No one ever needed help more than He did, and no one was ever so confident of getting it. He knew that He was doing the will of the Lord God, and so doubted not. His face was set "like a flint," because there was no wavering in his heart.
V. His Testimony. "He is near that justifies Me" (v. 8). God was near to Him, and He knew that God was justifying Him in all that He said and suffered. Justified in the Spirit He could truly say, "I am not alone." The sufferings of Christ were also the sufferings of the Father. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.
VI. His Invitation. "Let us stand together." Might we not take this as our Lord's appeal to His own. He has identified Himself with us, now we are invited to identify ourselves with Him. It is absolutely true that with Christ we fall or stand together. Hear Him say, "Let us stand together"—
1. In the PLACE OF CONDEMNATION. He bore our sins in His own body. He suffered for us the Just for the unjust. Let us stand with Him at that Cross bearing together the terrible shame of it. We are condemned already. Let us acknowledge it.
2. In the LIBERTY OF JUSTIFICATION. If we were judged in Christ we shall also be justified in Him (v. 8, f.c.) He was justified in that He was raised again from the dead; herein is our justification (Romans 4:25). Let us stand together on resurrection ground (2 Corinthians 5:12, R.V.).
3. In the LIFE OF CONSECRATION. We are workers together with Him. The life of service is a life of holy fellowship and activity in the Lord. Your enemy is mighty, and your strength is but weakness, therefore, says He, "Let us stand together." In standing together with Him we shall also be found standing together with one another. Then, finally, we shall "stand together" in the presence of His glory, being "glorified together."
THE GREAT REPORT. Isaiah 53:1
The Prophet, as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, passes in vision down through 700 years into the very midst of the days of Christ's humiliation and suffering, and speaks as an eyewitness. Infidelity has no reasonable explanation of this record so absolutely true to fact. "Who has believed our report?" Notice the—
I. Nature of the Report. See chapter 52:7-15. It contains "Good tidings of Good." It was the publication of "peace" and "salvation" (v. 7). It refers to the prudence and exalted character of Christ the Servant (v. 13). It reveals the astonishing fact that His sufferings would be unique among the sons of men (v. 14). It also sounds the note of final victory (v. 15). It is a true report.
II. Character of the Publishers. "Who has believed our report." To Him gave all the prophets witness (Acts 10:43). The prophets, moved by the Holy Spirit, were God's witnesses. They were workers together with Him. The report was His through them. There is no exaggeration or false coloring about it. These reporters are in real sympathy with God and His work. So they ask Him, "Who has believed our report?" Paul beseeched men in Christ's stead (2 Corinthians 5:20).
III. Responsibility of the Hearers. "Who has believed?" The message is the most wonderful and timely that ears have ever heard. The reporters are the most trustworthy that have ever spoken. The demand is the most reasonable that was ever made—faith. Who has believed our report. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Here, then, is God's Word of grace and salvation. Where is your faith? It is not enough to believe in the Teacher like Nicodemus. We must show our faith like Rebekah who heard, believed, and followed (Genesis 24). Without faith it is impossible to please Him.
THE ARM OF THE LORD. Isaiah 53:1
The "arm" is here used as a figure of the true Christ as the Head of the Church. He is also the "Arm of the Lord." This metaphor is deeply suggestive. The—
I. Significance of It. "The arm of the Lord" (Jehovah). It is the symbol of almighty power. Christ is the power of God. This power is a living power, an arm that is vitally connected with the Personal and Eternal God. It is no dead force like hydraulic pressure, but a power that works by love. His arm is also the symbol of mercy. Though His arm be strong to smite, 'tis also strong to save. His arm has brought salvation (Isaiah 59:16).
II. Baring of It. "The Lord has made bare His holy arm" (chapter 62:10). In making bare His arm (Christ) the Lord has revealed His great power both, to smite and to save. What mighty spiritual muscle there is unveiled in the life and death of Jesus Christ. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and of every preacher of the Gospel, to make manifest the naked and almighty saving arm of God.
THE MAN OF SORROWS. Isaiah 53:3-6
The world in every age has had many a sorrowful man, but there has been only one "Man of Sorrows." The sorrows of the Son of Man were entirely unique and unparalleled. His was the sorrow of a unique—
I. Humiliation. Many a man, nurtured in the lap of opulence, has, through accident or failure, been reduced to poverty and shame, but no one ever had so much to give up as Christ had when He "emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant...becoming obedient unto death" (Philippians 2:7, 8, R.V.). He who was rich—how rich!—for our sakes became poor, and, Oh, how poor!
II. Opposition. The contradiction that He suffered at the hands of sinners against Himself was also unique. Although "A Man of Sorrows" He was despised and rejected of men. Handel was found weeping while setting these words to music. The common sympathy bestowed on ordinary, suffering mortals was denied Him. The opposition of Satan to the "Death of the Cross" was another bitter element in the sorrows of the Savior. Note the temptation in the wilderness. The rebuking of the wind; the same word used when dealing with "unclean spirits." The rebuking of Peter, and the "get you behind Me Satan," when he said "far be it from You, Lord" (referring to His suffering death). Even when He was on the Cross they cried, "Come down," and we will believe in You.
III. Anticipation. Many a time have we been constrained to say, "It is good for us that we do not know what is before us" when some sudden and dire calamity has befallen us. These things are mercifully hidden from us. But Christ foresaw all that was before Him. He came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. "I, if I be lifted up from the earth...This He said signifying what death He should die" (John 12:32, 33). His was also the sorrow of a unique—
IV. Separation. He trod the winepress alone. He was perfectly at home in Heaven, but He was awfully alone on earth. His very nature, as Holy and Divine, made Him "Separate from sinners," although, He was made in the "likeness of sinful flesh." Circumstances, disposition, and choice, often bring upon men the sorrow of a separated life. No one could feel this so intensely as the Son of Man who was also the Son of God.
V. Relationship. His was emphatically the sorrow of a unique relationship. "Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows" (v. 4). He alone could do this as a fond, devoted mother carries the griefs and sorrows of a beloved, suffering child. So intense was His love and sympathy for us as sinful men that He could not refrain from bearing our griefs and our sorrows. It was in this wholly, devoted One that Jehovah was pleased to lay "the iniquity of us all" (v. 6). It was for us that He poured out His holy, sorrowful soul unto death (v. 12). Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow. Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? (Lam. 1:12).
"FEAR NOT" or The Heritage of the Lord's Servants. Isaiah 54
"Fear Not" (v. 4). Then follows several powerful reasons why God's people should not fear. Closing with these words, "This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord" (v. 17). "Fear not,—
I. "For You Shall Not be Ashamed"(v. 4). Having believed in Him who is the chief corner-stone, elect, precious, you shall not be confounded (1 Peter 2:6).
II. "For You Shall Forget the Shame of Your Youth" (v. 4). In the forgiving love of God you shall find forgetfulness of the sins of your youthful ignorance and folly.
III. "For Your Maker is Your Husband...and Your Redeemer" (v. 5). A threefold relationship. Your by creation, Your by redemption, Your by a mutual choice—"Husband" (Ephesians 5:25).
IV. "For the Lord has Called You.. .forsaken and grieved in spirit" (v. 6). If the Lord called us when we were forsaken and grieved because of our sins and failure, how much more may we depend on Him to bless us now.
V. "For with Great Mercies will I Gather You" (v. 7). By His mercy has He saved us, and by His mercies will He, as with Israel, gather us as His jewels.
VI. "For with Everlasting Kindness will I Have Mercy on You" (vv. 8, 10). He who loved us with an "everlasting love" has obtained "eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:12).
VII. "For I have Sworn...that I would not be Wroth with You" (vv. 9, 10). The rainbow of promise is now round about the throne (Rev. 4:3; see Hebrews VIII. For "I will Lay Your Stones with Fair Colors"
(vv. 11, 12). Your character as a building shall be strong, beautiful, and precious.
IX. "For All Your Children shall be Taught of the Lord" (v. 13). The promise is unto you and to your children (Acts 2:39). Words whereby you and all your house shall be saved (Acts 11:14).
X. For "No Weapon that is Formed Against You shall Prosper" (v. 17). The gates (powers) of Hell shall not prevail against the purpose of God. See the weapons mentioned in Romans 8:35-39. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord. Fear not!
THE GOSPEL OF GOD. Isaiah 55:1-3
The great verities, and the deep mysteries that are in nature, in no wise hinder us from simply appropriating the things needful for our physical life. Why should the mysteries of the Bible hinder any one from satisfying their spiritual and eternal need? A man does not need to be a philosopher to know how to eat when he is hungry. There is infinite grace in these opening verses.
I. The Provision. "Waters,...wine, milk" (v. 1). This is, of course, figurative language, but profoundly significant as coming from the lips of the Eternal God. "Waters" suggest the abundance of the grace and mercy offered in His Word. Wine refers to their quickening and reviving influence in the soul. "Milk" indicates their strengthening and satisfying nature as a food. It is well known that milk contains all the essentials of life. These are emblems of the promises of God, without which man cannot truly live (Luke 4:4).
II. The Rebuke.
1. About FOOLISH SPENDING. "Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread." The money of time, of talent, and opportunity, that's being spent for things that do not bring bread to the real hunger of the soul. Money that might be put to a much better use. If men would only spend half as much time and thought on their souls as they do on the pleasures of the world, they would find some "bread" for their more real, yet starved, inner man. Spending money for that which does not meet the true need of the man is a poor and foolish investment.
2. FRUITLESS LABOR is rebuked. "Wherefore do ye...labor for that which satisfies not?" A poor woman at our door one day, on being asked what hopes she had for Heaven, said: "I expect to do penance." Working for salvation is labor which satisfies not. What has not satisfied you in the past will not satisfy you in the future. This "labor" may take many a different form, but there is no satisfaction in it as a purchasing price.
III. The Invitation. Three words are used to express the yielding of the will, and the appropriation of God's gifts. "Come...Buy...Eat." The urgency of this call appears in this threefold "Come." "He, every one that thirsts. Come... Come... Come."
1. Come TO THE WATERS, the Scriptures of truth, pure and clear, from the throne of God.
2. Come and BUY. Buy wine and milk without money—without a price.
3. Come and TAKE His offered blessing of eternal life as freely as if you had bought it. Claim it with as much confidence as you would claim an article that you had duly paid for.
4. Come and EAT (v. 2). This blessing is not to be pocketed, but assimilated. It is not something we merely hold, but something, the influence of which, possesses and transforms us. He who eats of this bread shall live forever. "The Bread of God...gives life unto the world" (John 6:33-35, 53).
IV. The Promise. Certain results are assured by God to those who Hear, Come, Buy, and Eat.
1. There is LIFE. "Your soul shall live" (v. 3). What a life this is. A life righted with God, and for God.
2. There is DELIGHT. "Your soul shall delight itself in fatness" (fullness). This is not the delight of fancy, but of fact. There is never any famine in the Kingdom of God. All the fullness of the Godhead, in Christ, is the source of our supply.
3. There is CONTINUANCE. You ask, will it last? Hear what He says. "I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David" (v. 3). It is not to those who criticize, but to those who obey the promise is made.
V. The Appeal. "He, every one that thirsts, Come." "If any man thirst let Him come unto Me and drink" (John 7:37). He who made the eye shall He not see? He who made the ear shall He not hear? He who made the spirit of man shall He not understand the deepest needs of that Spirit? What light is to the eye, and music is to the ear, God's precious Word is to the soul. Come you to the waters.
UNFAITHFUL WATCHMEN. Isaiah 56:10-12
A WATCHMAN is one whose duty is literally to "look about" (1 Samuel 14:16). The Lord's watchmen are to look about for the aggressive movements of the enemy, and for any signs of backsliding among His people. What shall become of the people when the Lord has to charge His watchmen with—
I. Blindness? "His watchmen are blind" (v. 10). They see not the danger of the wicked, and so fail to warn him that he may "save his life," and his blood is required at the watchman's hands (Ezekiel 3:18). The old note of warning seems to have almost died out of the present day ministry.
II. Ignorance? "They are all ignorant." "Without knowledge" (R.V.). They literally "do not know" the mind of God. Modern watchmen are in danger of being so engrossed with the critical opinions of men as to get into darkness with regard to the real purpose of God in their lives. To be ignorant of God's revealed will is to be a failure (Matthew 15:14), and a stumbling block.
III. Cowardliness? "They are dumb dogs, they cannot bark." Why are they dumb? Because they mistake enemies for friends. Because of the fear of man, and their love of the world. Being blind to men's danger, and ignorant of God's will, they have no deep conviction, and so they go on sinning the sin of a guilty silence. "Beware of dogs," the dumb ones are more dangerous than the noisy ones.
IV. Laziness? "Dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber" (R.V.). "Talking in their sleep" (margin). They are too lazy to find out what the mind of the Lord is, and go on talking like men in a dream: and the worst of it is, that they love this sort of thing. They have visions, but they are not the visions of God, but those of their own, blind fancy. They have no message from God to the people, but still they go on dreaming dreams.
V. Selfishness? "Greedy dogs which can never have enough...they look to their own way" (v. 11). They seek their own good, and they go their own way. While this is a feature of unrenewed, human nature, it is to be an emphatic characteristic of the perilous times of the last days when "Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous" (2 Timothy 3:1, 2). The covetous man has no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God (Ephesians 5:5). In a self-centered life there is no testimony for God and His Gospel.
VI. Recklessness? "Come you, say they, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink, and tomorrow shall be as today, and much more abundant" (v. 12). Such traitors must have an inspiration of some sort. If they have not the Spirit of God, then they will have the spirit of the world. Being out of harmony with the revealed purposes of God, they fall in line with the baser passions and delusions of the people, saying, "to-morrow...shall be much more abundant" (2 Peter 3:3, 4). While the Holy Spirit says, "Today." All this is being enacted just now before our eyes. Lack of spirituality leads to laxity in morals. Because of the unfaithfulness of the watchmen many today are filling themselves with the "strong drink" of a delusive and destructive theology. Every Christian should be a watchman. "What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch."
PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY. Isaiah 58:1-9
The prophets were not only predictors, they were "instruments of righteousness unto God." They were not only "Seers," they were doers of the Word. God's servants must be faithful. "Cry aloud and spare not." Their attitude must be unmistakable. "Lift up your voice like a trumpet." Their message must be practical. "Show my people their transgressions" (v. 1).
I. Their Sinful Condition. They had drifted into a formal observance of religion, but at heart it was practical ungodliness. They took pleasure in knowing His ways, and forsook not His ordinances (v. 2), yet they were practicing self-deception and delusion. They seem to think that by appointing a periodical fast, and afflicting their souls, that this would atone for their gluttony and insincerity (vv. 3, 4). God is not mocked (v. 5). "Bearing the head like a bulrush, and spreading sackcloth and ashes under him," does not touch the sin of the soul. See Matthew 15:8; James 1:22.
II. The Divine Remedy. "Is not this the fast that I have chosen?" (vv. 6, 7). Here is God's interpretation of "a fast." His fasts are soul-saving facts. His remedy is exactly suited to the disease. He says the fast you need is to—
1. "LOOSE THE BONDS of wickedness" (R.V.). Wickedness, or lawlessness, is spiritual bondage. Every unrighteous thought is a fetter for the soul.
2. "UNDO THE HEAVY BURDENS." Many are carrying burdens that are too heavy for them, burdens that you could help to undo by your sympathy and cooperation. James says, "I will show you my faith by my works."
3. "BREAK EVERY YOKE." "Let the oppressed go free." The yoke of every oppressor is to be broken. Break the yoke of evil habit, fear of man, love of the world, pride of life, self-will, covetousness, etc.
4. CARE FOR THE POOR (v. 7). Give "bread to the hungry." Shelter to the outcast. Covering to the naked. The man who shuts up the affections of his compassion from the destitute cannot know the indwelling love of God (1 John 3:17).
III. The Assured Result. "Then." This word is emphasized in the Hebrew.
1. "Then shall your LIGHT break forth"(v. 8). Obedience to God's will is the clearing of the window through which the light of His favor will shine as the morning.
2. "Then shall your HEALING spring forth." Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness. This light has healing in its beams. The moral diseases within cannot stand the dawn of the light of His truth.
3. "Then your RIGHTEOUSNESS shall go before you." Your rightness with God, and with men, will go before you like the prayers of Cornelius, as a memorial before God (Acts 10:4).
4. "Then THE GLORY OF THE LORD shall be your reward." Righteousness before you, and the glory of the Lord behind you. What a testimony this is. Leaving behind the sweet savor of His presence and glory. The Shepherd's care before you, and His goodness and mercy following you all the days of your life. What a rearguard!
5. "Then shall you call, and the Lord SHALL ANSWER" (v. 9). Then shall your fellowship with Him be sweet, and your prayers answered. When iniquity is cleared out of the heart, then the way is clear for the Lord to show favor (Psalm 66:18). If we would receive of Him, "whatever we ask," it will be "because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22).
INTERCESSORS WANTED. Isaiah 59:1-16
"BEHOLD, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear" (v. 1). So He "wondered that there was no intercessor" (v. 16). The language is human, but the feeling expressed is mysteriously Divine. Talking after the manner of men, he wondered that there was no intercessor.
I. Because there was Great Need for Such. The iniquities of the people had separated them from God (v. 2). They were waiting for light, yet walking in darkness (v. 9). They groped like the blind, and stumbled at noon-day (v. 10). Their sins testified against them (v. 12), and truth had fallen in the street (v. 14). Yet no one sufficiently felt the sorrow and sin of the whole situation as to give themselves to intercessory prayer unto God. It was very different with Moses (Exod. 32:32), and with Paul (Romans 10:1). Does the present condition of Church work, and of Church life, not constitute a like demand for intercessors? May the Lord not wonder also—
II. Because of the Encouragement Given to Intercessors. "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear" (v. 1). He who has delivered us, will He not yet deliver? (2 Corinthians 1:10). Has He not set before every intercessor an "open door?" Every intercessor has the encouragement of the Son of God who "ever lives to make intercession for us" (Hebrews 7:25), and also of the Spirit of God who "likewise makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26). Now, "You that make mention of the Lord keep not silence" (Isaiah 62:6). He is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
III. Because of the Possibilities within the Reach of an Intercessor. If the Lord could then have found an intercessor, what a victory might have been His. Aaron became a passionate pleader when he ran, and "stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stayed" (Numbers 16:48). Prayer was made without ceasing for Peter, and he was delivered out of the prison (Acts 12..5). You remember how the widow got her victory over the injustice of a judge, "and shall not God avenge His own which cry day and night unto Him...I tell you that He will" (Luke 18:1-8). We who are a kingdom and priests unto God (Rev. 5:10, R.V.), let us offer this continual sacrifice unto Him, for the honor of His Name, the salvation of the sinner, and the sanctification of the saint.
THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. Isaiah 61:1-3
In these verses we have a brief outline of three dispensations. Grace, judgment, righteousness. The year of liberty, the day of vengeance, and the time of Judah's restoration. This is a great subject for a great preacher,
I. The Preacher. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach." In writing these words the prophet must have been moved by the Holy Spirit, for our Lord personally applies them to Himself in Luke 4:16. The Spirit came upon Him (Luke 3:22; Acts 10:38), as the anointing of Jehovah for the work of this ministry. How great must the work be when it took such a person, and such an enduement, to accomplish it.
II. The Message. "Good tidings unto the meek" (poor and lowly ones, R.V., margin). How could there be "Good tidings" if there had not been something wrong, or awanting, somewhere? And why should the Holy Son of God need the anointing of the Spirit, by the Father, for the declaration of such tidings? Surely the tidings must be "good" and of eternal import to all who hear them when Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are so deeply interested in their proclamation, and when the power of the Triune God is needed to give them effect. What is the news?
1. HEALING FOR THE BROKENHEARTED. "He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted." They that be whole need not a physician. How are hearts so easily broken? Why are so many disheartened? There must be many, and powerful, adverse influences at work. Yes, the world, the flesh, and the Devil. The result is defeat and failure. But He says, in Me is your help. He has sent Me. All that I am, and have, and do, is for your heart's good. His Word and His work can heal the broken in heart, and bind up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).
2. LIBERTY FOR THE CAPTIVES. "He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives." He only has the right and power to make such a proclamation. Who are the captives? Those who are enthralled by influences that delude and destroy. Souls who are fettered by sin and Satan. Christ can proclaim liberty because He has been anointed by Jehovah to burst the prison gates. By His death and resurrection He has broken every barrier down, and conquered every foe.
3. VISION FOR THE BLIND. "Opening of the eyes to them that are bound" (R.V., margin). There is not only healing and freedom offered, but also a new vision of spiritual things. Spiritual darkness is the bondage of many. Christ has been sent to give light. He is the light of life, and of the world.
4. GRACE FOR ALL. "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." The jubilee of freedom, and restoration to an afflicted world. Christ alone by the anointing of the Spirit was able to make such an announcement as this. Who else would dare to fix the time and conditions of man's acceptance with God. This is now the day of salvation by grace, the time when the Lord holds His gracious reception (2 Corinthians 6:2).
When the Anointed One read these words at Nazareth "(Luke 4:18-20), He, contrary to all custom, "closed the book" without finishing the sentence, because "the day of vengeance of our God" had not yet come: but it will certainly follow at the close of this jubilee year of grace, when the Church shall be "caught up" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
LONGING FOR GOD OR REVIVAL. Isaiah 64:1-3
The previous chapter closes with these ominous words, "We are become as they over whom You never bear rule" (R.V.). When God's people become like those over whom He has never had control, it is an awful proof of ingratitude and lawlessness, and a powerful argument for revival.
I. The Need Felt. "Oh, that You would rend the heavens, that You would come down." This is, of course, figurative language, expressive of a real spiritual experience. There is need for a "rending" of the heavens when the sin of backsliding has closed them, so that communion with God has been cut off. Even heavenly things may hide the Heavenly One. The veil of the Temple had to be rent, before liberty of access could be enjoyed. "Oh, that You would come down." The remedy for every need is in Him. A new manifestation of His power and glory would put to shame the sins of His people, and the false confidence of the ungodly. The soul's everlasting need is God, the world's dying need is God.
II. The Work to be Done. Mighty things are needing to be done. There is need for—
1. A MELTING WORK. "That the mountains may flow down at Your presence." Mountains of difficulties, created by man's sin and vain imaginations. Mountains of selfishness, that dishonor God and hinder Him from working. Mountains of indifference, that block the channel of blessing.
2. A BURNING-UP WORK. "As when fire kindles the brushwood" (R.V.). The brushwood of vain thoughts, self-confidence, and fleshly energy, needs burning up, to make room for a more healthy growth. Brushwood is a poor substitute for the golden grain. "Our God is a consuming fire."
3. A WARMING WORK. "Oh, that You would come down...as fire that causes the waters to boil." When the heart is made to boil like a pot, because of the power of His holy presence, then the affections will be hot. Lukewarmness cannot exist where this fire is. Then the prayers will be hot. Out of a burning heart will come burning desires, clothed in burning words. Then the testimony will be hot. When the heart is made to burn within us, while He talks to us, the tongue will become aflame of holy fire to speak forth the glories of His Name. "He makes His ministers a flame of fire."
III. The Result Sought. "To make Your Name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence." We may long for the manifestation of the power of God for our own personal deliverance, but the mightier argument is, "That Your Name may be known." He seeks to be sanctified in His people, that the heathen may know that He is God. His Name is His glorious character. They that know His Name will put their trust in Him. When God the Spirit comes in power, it is to glorify the Name of the Eternal Son (John 16:13, 14). Be filled with the Spirit, then for you the heavens will be opened, your mountains shall flow down, your brushwood burned up, and the waters of your affections and heart's desire made to boil. So shall His Name be known, and others made to tremble at His presence.
THE NEW CREATION. Isaiah 65:17-25
The closing chapters of this book are largely devoted to the coming glories of God's ancient people, and to the world-wide blessing that will flow out through them at the appearing of His Kingdom and glory. Note here some of the features of this new era.
I. There will be a Renewal of Natural Environments. "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth" (v. 17). The glory of this new creation will be such that "the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind." The "prince of the power of the air" will have no place in these heavens. Nor shall the fruit of the curse of sin ever appear in the new earth. Righteousness shall dwell there (2 Peter 3:13). Creation shall then cease her groaning (Romans 8:22).
II. There will be a Regenerated People. "Behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy, and I will..joy in My people, and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard" (vv. 18, 19). The people who have been a byword among the nations shall then become a joy and a praise on the earth. The well-known "weeping place" at Jerusalem will then be deserted forever. In this day shall this nation be born again into a new life of fellowship with their crucified King. Then their sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:10).
III. There will be Lengthened Lives. "There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man who has not filled his days, for a child shall die an hundred years old." With the new creation will come all the blessings of great longevity. Not only long life, but also the assurance that the days will be filled up with fruitful and joyful service. This is the gift of God to them, as eternal life is the gift of God to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. If one should die at an hundred years old, he would be reckoned as a child. The blessings of God's grace means the enlargement of all that is deepest and best in the human soul.
IV. There will be New Social Conditions. "They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them...My chosen ones shall long enjoy the work of their hands" (vv. 21, 22). They shall not build and another inhabit. They are assured of life, and of success in their labor. Bank failures, industrial strikes, and blighted crops, will be unknown and unthought of. Sickness and poverty will then have fled away, their disciplinary influences will no more be needed when the King Himself appears.
V. There will be a New Enjoyment of God. "It shall come to pass, that before they call I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear" (v. 24). What a change this will be compared with the present condition of the Jewish nation, and what a happy prospect for a desolate world. God's ear is never heavy that it cannot hear, but man's lust for self-glory hinders the operation of His grace. When God can "joy in His people" (v. 19), He will speedily answer their call.
VI. There will be an End of all Strife. "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together," etc. Then surely shall "man to man a brother be." The wolves and lambs of social and political life have been long at deadly variance, then they shall "feed together" in the bountiful mercies of their God and Savior. The serpent alone receives no advantage in the new Kingdom. "Dust shall be the serpent's meat." It will not fatten much on that fare. Then shall the angelic song be fulfilled, "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill among men." For nothing shall hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, says the Lord" (v. 25).