THE BURDEN OF BABYLON. The series of prophecies which commences with this chapter and continues to the close of Isaiah 23:1-18; is connected together by the word massa, burden. It has been argued that the term "burden" is an incorrect translation of massa, as used by Isaiah and later prophets (Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1; Malachi 1:1); and that "utterance," or "prophecy," would be more suitable (comp. Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1, where massa is thus rendered in the Authorized Version). But the facts remain that massa means a "burden" in the ordinary sense, and that the prophecies to which it is prefixed are generally (in Isaiah always) of a denunciatory character. The translation may therefore be allowed to stand—at any rate in the present chapter.
It is remarkable that Babylon heads the list of the Church's enemies in the present catalogue. Dr. Kay supposes the term "Babel" to be equivalent to "Asshur-Babel," and to designate "the Assyro-Babylonian Empire." He thinks that "Babel" heads the list on account of Assyria's position, under Tiglath-Pileser and Shalmaneser, in the van of Israel's adversaries. But neither Isaiah nor any other sacred writer knows of an Assyro-Babylonian kingdom or empire. Assyria and Babylonia are distinct kingdoms in Genesis (Genesis 10:8-12), in 2 Kings (18-20.), in 2 Chronicles (2 Chronicles 20:12.), in Isaiah (36-39.) and in Ezekiel (23; 30; 31.). They had been at war almost continuously for above seven centuries before the time of Isaiah. Assyria had, on the whole, proved the stronger of the two, and had from time to time for a longer or a shorter period held Babylonia in subjection. But the two countries were never more one than Russia and Poland, and, until Tiglath-Pileser assumed the crown of Babylon in 729 B.C they bad always been under separate monarchs. Individually, I can only account for the high position here given to Babylon by the prophet, on the supposition that it was thus early revealed to him that Babylonia was the great enemy to be feared—the ultimate destroyer of Judah and Jerusalem, the power that would carry the Jewish people into captivity.
Which Isaiah … did see (comp. Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1, etc.). Isaiah always "sees" his prophecies, whether they are of the nature of visions (as Isaiah 6:1-13.) or the contrary. The word is probably used to express the strong conviction that he has of their absolute certainty.
Lift ye up a banner; rather, a standard—"an ensign," as in Isaiah 5:26 : Isaiah 11:12. "Ensigns" were used both by the Assyrians and the Egyptians. "Banners," or flags, do not seem to have been employed in the ancient world. Upon the high mountain; rather, upon a bare mountain—one that was clear of trees, so that the signal might be the better seen from it. God's army having to be summoned against Babylon, the summons is made in three ways:
The whole description is, of course, pure metaphor. That they may go into the gates of the nobles. Either that they may enter into the palaces of the grandees in Babylon, or that they may take the towns of the tributary princes.
I have commanded my sanctified ones. The pronoun "I" is emphatic—"I myself." Not only will an external summons go forth, but God will lay his own orders on them whom he chooses for his instruments, and bid them come to the muster. All who carry out his purposes are, in a certain sense, "sanctified ones" (comp. Jeremiah 22:7; Jeremiah 51:27; Zephaniah 1:7, etc.). Here the Modes and Persians are specially in. tended (see Isaiah 13:17). For mine anger; i.e. "for the purpose of executing my anger." Even them that rejoice in my highness; rather, my proudly exultant ones (Cheyne, Rosenmüller, Gesenius). AEschylus calls the Persians ὑπερκόμπους; Herodotus, ὑβριστάς (1. 41). The high spirits, however, natural to gallant soldiers on going out to war, rather than any special haughtiness or arrogancy, are intended.
The noise of a multitude in the mountains. I do not know why Isaiah should not have been "thinking of his geography" (Cheyne). As soon as the Greeks knew anything of the Persians, they knew of them as a mountain people, and attributed their valor and their handy habits to the physical character of their country (Herod; 9. ad fin.). Jeremiah connects the invading army which destroyed Babylon with mountains, when he derives it from. Ararat (comp. Genesis 8:4), Minni (Armenia), and Ashchenaz (Jeremiah 51:27). At any rate, the mention of "mountains" here is very appropriate, both Media and Persia being, in the main, mountainous countries. A great people; or, much people—not necessarily of one nation only. The host of the battle; rather, a host of war; i.e. a multitude of men, armed and prepared for war.
They come from a far country (comp. Isaiah 46:11). Both Media and Persia were "far countries" to the Hebrews, Persia especially. There is no indication that they knew of any countries more remote towards the East. Hence the expression which follows, "from the end of heaven"—the heaven being supposed to end where the earth ended. Isaiah, like the other sacred writers, conforms his language on cosmical subjects to the opinions of his day. Even the Lord. With a most effective anthropomorphism, Jehovah is made to march with the army that he has mustered (verse 4) against the land that has provoked his wrath—i.e. Babylonia. The weapons (comp. Isaiah 10:15; Jeremiah 1:1-19 :25; Jeremiah 51:20). To destroy the whole land. Many critics would render ha-arets by "the earth" here. It may be granted that the language of the prophecy goes beyond the occasion in places, and passes from Babylon to that wicked world of which Babylon is a type; but, where the context permits, it seems better to restrict than to expand the meaning of the words employed.
Howl ye; for the day of the Lord is at hand (comp. Joel 1:15); literally, the expression used in both passages is a day of Jehovah. The idiom would not, however, allow the use of the article, so that the phrase is ambiguous. "The day of Jehovah" is properly "that crisis in the history of the world when Jehovah will interpose to rectify the evils of the present, bringing joy and glory to the humble believer, and misery and shame to the proud and disobedient" (Cheyne). But any great occasion when God passes judgment on a nation is called in Scripture "a day of the Lord." "a coming of Christ." And so here the day of the judgment upon Babylon seems to be intended. It shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. Isaiah is thought to quote from Joel (Joel 1:15) here; but perhaps both prophets quoted from an earlier author. Shaddai (equivalent to "Almighty') is an ancient name of God, most rarely used by the prophetical writers (only here, and in Ezekiel 1:24; Ezekiel 10:5; Joel 1:15), and never elsewhere by either Isaiah or Joel. It has generally been said to mean "the Strong One;" but recently the theory has found favor that it meant originally "the Sender of storms," from the Arabic sh'da—jecit, effudit. However this may be, the word is certainly used in the later times mainly to express God's power to visit and punish, and the present passage might perhaps be best translated, "It shall come as a destruction from the Destroyer (k'shod mish-Shaddai yabo')."
Therefore shall all hands be faint (comp. Jeremiah 1:1-19 :43; Ezekiel 7:17; Zephaniah 3:16). There shall be a general inaction and apathy. Recently discovered accounts of the capture of Babylon by Cyrus show a great want of activity and vigor on the part of the defenders. Every man's heart shall melt (comp. Deuteronomy 20:8; Joshua 2:11; Joshua 5:1, etc.). The general inaction will spring from a general despondency. This statement agrees much better with the recently discovered documents than does the statement of Herodotus, that, safe within their walls, the Babylonians despised their assailants, and regarded themselves as perfectly secure.
They shall be afraid; rather, dismayed. Pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; literally, they shall take hold of pangs and sorrows. They shall be amazed; rather, look aghast. Their faces shall be as flames. I know no better explanation than that of Dr. Kay, that a sudden transition is intended flora despondency to extreme excitement.
The day of the Lord (see the comment on Isaiah 13:6). Cruel; i.e. severe and painful, not really "cruel." To lay the land desolate. As in Isaiah 13:5, so here, many would translate ha-arets by "the earth," and understand a desolation extending far beyond Babylonia. But this is not necessary.
The stars of heaven … shall not give their light. Nature sympathizes with her Lord. When he is angry, the light of the heavens grows dark. So it was at the crucifixion of Christ (Matthew 27:45); so it will be at the end of the world (Matthew 24:29). So it is often, if not always, at the time of great judgments. The constellations; literally, the Orions. Kesil, the Fool, was the Hebrew name of the constellation of Orion, who was identified with Nimrod, the type of that impious folly which contends against God. From its application to this particular group of stars (Job 9:9; Job 38:31; Amos 5:8), the word came to be applied to constellations in general. The Baby-Ionians very early marked out the sky into constellations.
I will punish the world for their evil. Here the prophecy certainly goes beyond the destruction of Babylon, and becomes a general warning to the wicked of all court-tries. Each country is to feel that its turn will come. Punishment will fall especially on the unjust, the proud, and the haughty (comp. Isaiah 1:28; Isaiah 2:11-17, etc.).
I will make a man more precious than fine gold (comp. Isaiah 4:1). Population shall he so diminished that man shall be the most highly esteemed of commodities. The more scanty the supply of a thing, the greater its value. The golden wedge of Ophir; rather, pure gold of Ophir. Ophir is mentioned as a gold-region in 1 Kings 9:28; 1 Kings 10:11; 1 Kings 22:48; 1 Chronicles 29:4; 2 Chronicles 8:18; 2 Chronicles 9:10; Job 22:24; Job 28:16; Psalms 45:9. Its locality is uncertain. Gold of Ophir appears to have been considered especially pure.
I will shake the heavens (comp. Joel 3:16; Haggai 2:7; Matthew 24:29). In general, this sign is mentioned in connection with the end of the world, when a "new heaven and a new earth" are to supersede the old (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; Revelation 21:1). Isaiah may, perhaps, pass here from signs connected with the fall of Babylon to those which will announce the last day—each "day of the Lord" being, as already observed, a type of the final and great day (see the comment on verse 6). Or, possibly, the allusion may be to some "shaking" by God of a supra-mundane kingdom as preliminary to his passing judgment on Babylon (so Dr. Kay; comp. Isaiah 24:21).
It shall be as the chased roe. When the visitation comes on Babylon, there shall be a loosening of all ties between her and the subject nations. Her armies shall disband themselves, the pressed soldiers from foreign countries deserting, and hastening with all speed to their several homes. A flight of the foreign traders and visitors may also be glanced at. As a sheep that no man taketh up; rather, as sheep with none to gather them.
Every one that is found … every one that is joined unto them; i.e. all the population, both native and foreign.
Their children also shall be dashed to pieces. In the barbarous warfare of the time, even children were not spared (see Psalms 137:9; Nahum 3:10; Hosea 13:16). When a town was taken by assault, they were ruthlessly slaughtered. When spared, it was only to be dragged off as captives, and to become the slaves of their captors in a foreign land. Assyrian sculptures often illustrate this latter practice. Their wives ravished (comp. Lamentations 5:11; Zechariah 14:2).
Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them. Isaiah's knowledge that the Medes should take a leading part in the destruction of Babylon is, no doubt, as surprising a fact as almost any other in the entire range of prophetic foresight, or insight, as set before us in Scripture. The Medes were known to Moses as an ancient nation of some importance (Genesis 10:2); but since his time had been unmentioned by any sacred writer; and, as a living nation, had only just come within the range of Israelite vision, by the fact that, when Sargon deported the Samaritans from Samaria, he placed some of them "in the cities of the Medes" (2 Kings 17:6). The Assyrians had become acquainted with them somewhat more than a century earlier, and had made frequent incursions into their country, finding them a weak and divided people, under the government of a large number of petty chiefs. Sargon had conquered a portion of the tribes, and placed prefects in the cities; at the same time planting colonists in them from other parts of the empire. That, when the weakness of Media was being thus made apparent, Isaiah should have foreseen its coming greatness can only be accounted for by his having received a Divine communication on the subject. Subsequently, he had a still more exact and complete communication (Isaiah 21:2). Which shall not regard silver. The Medes were not a particularly disinterested people; but in the attack on Babylon, made by Cyrus, the object was not plunder, but conquest and the extension of dominion. The main treasures of Babylon—those in the great temple of Bolus—were not carried off by Cyrus, as appears both from his own inscriptions, and from Herodotus.
Their bows (comp. Jeremiah 1:9, Jeremiah 1:14). Both the Medes and the Persians were skilled archers. Herodotus tells us that every Persian youth was taught three things—"to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth". At Persepolis, Modes and Persians are alike represented as carrying bows and quivers. AEschyius regards the contest between the Persians and the Greeks as one between the arrow and the spear.
Babylon, the glory of kingdoms. The "glory" of Babylon consisted:
1. In her antiquity. She had been the head of a great empire long before Assyria rose to power.
2. In her origination of literature, architecture, and the other arts, which all passed from her to Assyria, and thence to the other nations of Asia.
3. In her magnificence and the magnificence of her kings, which provoked the admiration of the Assyrians themselves. As time went on, she grew in wealth and splendor. Perhaps it was granted to Isaiah to see her in ecstatic vision, not merely such as she was in the time of Sargon under Merodach-Baladan, but such as she became under Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest of her kings, who raised her to the highest pitch or glory and eminence. The beauty of the Chaldees' excellency. The Kaldi appear to have been originally one of the many tribes by which Babylonia was peopled at an early date, From the expression, "Ur of the Chaldees," which occurs more than once in Genesis (Genesis 11:28, Genesis 11:31), we may gather that they were inhabitants of the more southern part of the country, near the coast. The same conclusion may be drawn from the Assyrian inscriptions, especially those of Shalmaneser II.—the Black Obelisk king. The term never became a general name for the Babylonian people among themselves or among the Assyrians; but, somehow or other, it was accepted in that sense by the Jews, and is so used, not only by Isaiah, but also by the writers of Kings and Chronicles, by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Habakkuk. As when God overthrew Sodom. Equally sudden and complete as that destruction.
It shall never be inhabited. This part of the prophecy did not receive its fulfillment till many centuries had gone by. From the time of Cyrus to that of Alexander the Great, Babylon was one of the chief cities of the Persian empire. Alexander was so struck with it, and with the excellence of its situation, that he designed to make it his capital. It first began seriously to decline under the Seleucidae, who built Seleucia on the Tigris as a rival to it, and still further injured it by fixing the seat of government at Antioch. But it had still a large population in the first century after our era (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 18.9, § 8); and is mentioned as a place of some consequence in the time of Trajan (Die Cass; 68.27), and even in that of Severue (Die Cass; 75.9). But after this it went rapidly to decay. Under the Sassuntans it disappears from sight; and when Benjamin of Tudela, in the twelfth century, visited the spot, there was nothing to be seen of the mighty city but those ruins of the Kasr, or palace, which still arrest the traveler's attention. The site had become, and has ever since remained, "without inhabitant." Neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there. A superstitious feeling prevents the Arabs from encamping on the mounds of Babylon, which are believed to be the haunts of evil spirits. Neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. The nitrous soil of the Babylonian mounds allows them to produce nothing but the coarsest and most unpalatable vegetation. The shepherds consequently do not feed their flocks on them.
Wild beasts of the desert shall lie there. It is not quite clear what particular wild beasts are intended. Those actually noted on the site of Babylon are lions, jackals, and porcupines. These sometimes make their lairs in the ruins. Doleful creatures; in the original, okhim. What animal is meant we cannot say, as the word occurs only in this passage. Mr. Cheyne translates it by "hyenas." Owls shall dwell there; literally, daughters of the owl (as in Le Isaiah 11:16; Deuteronomy 14:15; Job 30:29; Jeremiah 1:1-19 :39; Micah 1:8; and infra, Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 43:20). Mr. Rich says, "In most of the cavities of the Babil Mound there are numbers of owls and bats." Sir A. Layard," A large grey owl is found in great numbers, frequently in flocks of nearly a hundred, in the low shrubs among the ruins of Babylon". Satyrs shall dance there. The word translated "satyr" is, etymologically, "hairy one," and ordinarily means "a goat." Some have supposed "wild goats" to be here intended, but they are not found in Babylonia. The translation "satyr" is defended by many, who think Isaiah might draw upon current beliefs for some features of his description. Dr. Kay gives "baboons," since the Moko—a kind of baboon—is known in Babylonia.
Wild beasts of the islands. In the Hebrew, iyyim, which means "wailers" or "howlers," probably "jackals." The Revised Version gives "wolves." In their desolate houses; or, in their castles (Cheyne). And dragons; i.e. "serpents." These have not been observed recently; but one of our old travelers notes that "the lande of Baby-lone," in his day, "was fulle of dragons and grote serpentes, and dyverse other veney-mouse ecstes alle abouten". Near to come. About one hundred and eighty years elapsed between the utterance of this prophecy and the fall of Babylon—a short period in the lifetime of a nation.
The fall of Babylon a type of the general punishment of the wicked.
Scripture deals with history altogether in the way of example. Whether the subject be Assyria, or Syria, or Egypt, or Babylon, or even the "peculiar people of God," the object is to teach men by the facts adduced what they have to expect themselves. In Isaiah 10:1-34. Assyria, here Babylon, is held up as a warning to sinners. The absolute certainty that punishment will overtake them at God's hands is the main lesson taught; but, beyond this, something is also taught concerning the method and (so to speak) economy of the Divine punishments; as, for example, the following:—
I. THAT GOD PUNISHES BY MEANS OF INSTRUMENTS, WHICH ARE GENERALLY PERSONS. God has two sets of instruments—natural agents, such as storm, lightning, blight, pestilence, etc.; and intellectual and moral agents, or persons. It depends entirely on his own will whether he will employ agents of the one kind or of the other. In dispensing good to man he employs largely natural agents, "making his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sending rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). But in punishing men he seems to make use, to a greater extent, of persons. Now he raises up a tyrannical and oppressive king, like Rameses II. or Nebuchadnezzar, to carry out his sentence of suffering; now he allows a democratic assembly to establish a reign of terror in a sinful ]and; anon he uses the arrows of savage hordes, or the guns and bayonets of disciplined hosts, to chastise an offending people. Once only has he ever used his power to strike with sudden death on a large scale, and even there he employed a spiritual agent; it was "the angel of the Lord," who "went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and fourscore and five thousand" (2 Kings 19:35).
II. THAT THE INSTRUMENTS ARE FOR THE MOST PART QUITE UNCONSCIOUS THAT GOD IS USING THEM. We are told this distinctly of Assyria. "I will give him a charge … howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so" (Isaiah 10:6, Isaiah 10:7). And it was, no doubt, equally true of Babylon. The "hammer of the whole earth" (Jeremiah 1:1-19 :23) did not know that she was being used to "break in pieces the nations, and to destroy kingdoms" (Jeremiah 51:20). She too "meant not so," but was only seeking her own aggrandizement. Even the Medes and the Persians, though "called from a far country to execute God's counsel"(Isaiah 47:11), were unconscious of their call-blind instruments in the hand of Jehovah, as much as if they had been an army of locusts. But this only shows the power of God the more, who can make not only good men serve him, but had; not only angels, but devils.
III. THAT GOD'S PUNISHMENTS COME SUDDENLY AND TAKE MEN BY SURPRISE. Neither Assyria nor Babylon bad much warning of their fate. Each seemed well-nigh at the zenith of its power when the final blow came. "I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken, O Babylon," says Jehovah, "and thou wast not aware"(Jeremiah 1:1-19 :24); and again we are told, "Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed" (Jeremiah 51:8). God's punishments are apt to come, even on individuals, suddenly. When a man says to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry," then comes the sentence of God, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee" (Luke 12:19, Luke 12:20). Job's example is an extreme one (Job 1:13-19); but modified instances of men crushed by quick blows of unexpected calamity are within every one's experience. Destruction comes upon God's enemies generally "at unawares" (Psalms 35:8).
IV. THAT ON FINDING THEMSELVES THE OBJECTS OF DIVINE PUNISHMENT, MEN ARE FILLED WITH TERROR AND DESPONDENCY. The terror and despondency of the Baby-Ionians are strongly marked in the descriptions both of Isaiah and Jeremiah; e.g. "Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man's heart shall melt: and they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrow shall take bold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another" (Isaiah 13:7, Isaiah 13:8). "The land shall tremble and sorrow … The mighty men of Babylon have forborne to fight; they have remained in their holds … they became as women" (Jeremiah 51:29, Jeremiah 51:30). Some such feelings come upon all who are conscious that the hand of God is laid upon them, not for chastisement, but for punishment.
V. THAT DIVINE PUNISHMENTS SELDOM STOP AT THEIR IMMEDIATE OBJECTS, BUT PASS ON AND AFFECT OTHERS ALSO. Partly, this would seem to be inevitable from the interconnection of man with man, and of nation with nation; but partly, also, it appears to be the result of the Divine will, which is set on punishing sin, and wherever it finds sin must punish it. Let Israel have to be punished for certain sins, Judah will be found to have committed the same sins; Judah must therefore participate in the punishment. When God arises to judge one nation, he, in a certain sense, arises to judge the whole earth; there must be equity in his dealings. If he has punished Babylonia, and Egypt is as bad, he must punish Egypt; if Egypt is no worse than Ethiopia, he must punish Ethiopia. The sin of Sodom brought destruction on all the cities of the plain—that of the Canaanitish nations on them, and on many of their neighbors. A Jehoram provokes God by his idolatry, and is deservedly smitten (2 Kings 9:24). An Ahaziah, far less guilty, but still guilty, shares his fate (2 Kings 9:27). The punishment of Babylon led on to the punishment of the "world for its evil" (Isaiah 41:11), and to such a general depopulation of Western Asia as made a man more precious than the gold of Ophir (Isaiah 13:12).
VI. THAT DIVINE PUNISHMENTS ARE OFTEN COMPLETE AND FINAL. It was said of Assyria, "There is no healing of thy bruise" (Nahum 3:19). And a similar finality attaches to most judgments upon nations. Babylonia, though she made some desperate efforts to throw off the Persian yoke, never recovered herself. Egypt, a few years later, sank finally under foreign dominion. The ten tribes lost their separate existence after their captivity, and became merged in Judah. Judah's nationality was obliterated by Titus. The history of the world is a history of nations whom God has punished for their sins by final destruction. And the punishment of individuals, too, is often final. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram "went down quick into hell" (Numbers 16:30). Uzzah was smitten with sudden death for touching the ark (2 Samuel 6:7). Ananias and Sapphira tell dead for uttering lies (Acts 5:5, Acts 5:10). The question of punishments in another world is not here at issue. What the example of Babylon teaches is, that God's punishments, so far as this world is concerned, are often final.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Oracle concerning Babylon.
I. APPROACH OF THE WARRIORS OF JEHOVAH. On the bare mountain the banner is upraised, and with loud cry and commanding gesture of the hand a host of warriors is summoned from all sides. As in verse 26, Jehovah is viewed by the poet as a mighty Battle-Leader, Lord of hosts. His voice is heard, "I have given commission to my anointed ones, have called my heroes for my work of punishment, my proudly rejoicing ones!" And then a noise is heard in the mountains as of a great multitude, for Jehovah is mustering his forces from the remotest parts, and preparing with the weapons of his wrath to destroy the earth. A cry of terror will be heard through the land; men's hands will droop, their hearts will melt, for the day of judgment is near. Horror will be depicted on every face. The lightning, the fire that burns up the stubble (Joel 2:6), will be flashed back, as it seems, from the amazed eyes. In prophetic thought every great epoch of calamity and ruin is a judgment, a "day of Jehovah." For wrath and clemency are the two opposite sides of the unity of his being and character. No spring-time is ushered in without storms; no epoch of fruitful manhood is gained without struggles, within or without; no mischief departs from society, no false power is overthrown, without violence. Well for us if, stayed by religious faith, we can see the day of Jehovah shown amidst the darkest times, and when nations are perplexed with fear of change to be able to say, "The Lord reigneth." If he is a living God, then his will must be felt in political change. Nothing good can pass away; only falsehood must be overthrown.
II. THE DAY OF JEHOVAH. Its description is borrowed:
1. From the most fearful phenomena of nature. The stars are hidden, the sunrise is overclouded, the light of the moon is withdrawn. A universal trembling seems to fill the air, while the earth would bound from its place. So close is the sympathy of the human spirit with nature, its dark or bright aspects seem to be the aspect of the God of nature in wrath or in kindness to man.
2. From the most fearful scenes of war. In a few bold lines the picture is struck out. Fugitives are seen flying in every direction, like frightened gazelles, or like a flock of sheep without its shepherd. Those overtaken are pierced by the spear, or struck down by the sword. Children at the breast are dashed to pieces, houses plundered, women outraged. More horrible is the spectacle of a battle-field than that of Nature in her wildest uproar. It is the opening of the hell in the heart of man.
3. Its moral purpose defined. There is, then, some light to be found even here. The God of justice and holiness is "searching home for evil on the face of the earth, and for the guilt of the unrighteous."
"Ever and anon some bright white shaft
Burned thro' the pine-tree roof-here burned and there,
As if God's messenger thro' the close wood screen
Plunged and replunged his weapon at a venture,
Feeling for guilty thee and me."
The thought that God holds inquisition for evil and evil-doers is deeply stamped in Bible lore. There are heresies which he cannot and will not tolerate. They are not identical with what some call heresies. These are often departures from our fashions of life and of thought; but it is only disagreement with him and his law of inward right that is the condemnable dissent. Again, it is his object to bring down the pride and arrogance of the haughty. How deeply marked, again, is this thought of overstepping our proper limits as the essence of sin, from the Fall onwards! It is fixed in the word "transgression." The "lust to seem the thing we are not" is at the root of display, of ambition, of domineering over others. The prophets saw in the bloated dominion of great states like Egypt and Assyria the effects of these unbalanced lusts, which must sooner or later topple the tyrants into ruin. And thus the purpose of judgment resolves itself into that of sifting mankind—to make the people "rarer than fine gold, and men than Ophir's treasures." When ill weeds are cleared away, there is a chance for good plants to flourish; and when a mass of human evil has disappeared, room is made for something of another quality, to renew the tradition of the Divine in man.
III. THE FINAL DEVASTATION. (Isaiah 13:17-22.) Here is a picture of the Medes—a horde of savages, who despise civilization, and who will pour in upon Babylon, as in later days Attila came with his hosts to tread on the necks of the Romans. The dread memory of the cities of the plain can alone furnish a parallel to what will be seen on the site of Babylon. Where now the sounds of luxury and mirth are heard in proud palaces, soon not a nomad tent will be pitched, nor a shepherd's fold; but only the cries of wild creatures will be heard, and satyrs hold their obscene dances. This magnificent picture of the overthrow of human greatness and pride springs, let us observe, from conscience. And none can study such pictures or visit the ruins of ancient cities without a quickening of the pulse of conscience. Such glimpses as we can gain of ancient life in. those proud cities of the Orient bear out the views of the prophet. It was a life which overpassed life's restrictions, and which ended in death. Mournful is the inscription on Sardanapalus's tomb, "Let us eat, drink, and love; for the rest is of little worth." We may learn the lesson that, when men so speak of life, they have abused it; and while we believe that there is a sacredness in human life and in the grand products of human life, this is only so as long as they reflect the purposes of God. Out of such scenes as those the prophet depicts, a solemn voice seems to speak, declaring that human life and glory are held cheap in comparison with those profound and, from us, half-hidden, half-revealed ends towards which the whole creation moves.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
"Faint." A common experience enough this. Some people pride themselves on the speciality of their experiences, just as they consider their physical ailments to be altogether peculiar and unique. Faint! Who amongst us does not understand that? Why, we do not know. Care is like the atmosphere; its pressure is enormous, but the thing itself is invisible. "Light as air," some say; but many temperaments could say, "heavy as air," which depresses all the nerve-functions of the body. Faint! We like to know not only that it is common, but that greatly heroic spiritual natures have felt it! Read at your leisure Luther's letter where he says of the evil one, "He lies closer to me than my Catharine," and where in one part of his diary he is so desolate and disheartened that he suggests, if God wishes the Reformation to go on, he must come and take it in hand himself. Faint! If lousy men feel it, women feel it sometimes more—thinking about the children; having the worry of household management; finding it so difficult to preserve elevation of thought amid the cares of common life.
I. WE ARE FAINT IN OUR FAILURES TO REACH OUR OWN IDEAL OF THE DIVINE LIFE. Our ideals have been beautiful. They have charmed our meditation, inspired our purposes, I am not speaking of spiritual excitements or emotions, No, my friend! Rather quiet and meditative hours. When we verily and indeed feel that piety is more than safety, when we feel that we would not do without religion if we could, we are fulfilling all the noblest aspirations within us. And these have been noble. In gazing on the image of Christ we have desire to be conformed to that image. But our condition here, you say, is one in which we have to do with such mean things—it is such a battle to live at all! Mean things? No, my friend. Nothing is mean that Christ can shine through. We can dignify common life, or God would not have given us common life to dignify. Christian life is beautiful, but it is difficult. It is detail that casts down men and women too. When we read Stanley's last journey through the dark continent, we find a week's desolation is crowded into ten lines of print; but it must have been very wearisome sometimes, and now and then all seemed nearly over. Yet the motto was "Onward!" You may have an idea or two—but try and write a book. It is completeness that tries. You may have looked at the Christian life with aesthetic admiration. But now you are in it. God help you, as he will. Be diligent. Gird up the loins of your mind. Be sober. Hope to the end. The ideal shall be realized some day. Not destroyed. You will be without fault before the throne.
II. WE ARE FAINT IN RELATION TO THE MORAL STATE OF THE WORLD. Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he gazed on the city that was doomed, for its own denial and rejection of himself. We are not one whit nearer solving the mystery of moral evil. No one can give us the why of sin. Some of the Germans have tried hard at a philosophy of that, but have failed. It cannot be educational only, or we should never have the sense of guilt. But here it is, and we have it in ourselves. Even now sin exists, if it does not reign. And here it is around us everywhere. We have a mighty Savior, and we want men to love him, to trust him. But they are often so besotted, so blinded, so hardened, that they prefer their slavery. What wonder we are faint-hearted! You tell us that Christ is the same in heaven that he was on earth—the same in all sensitive care and love and desire. Yes. And I believe that the world's sin grieves him still—pains him always. "Ye crucify the Son of God afresh" is not to be frittered away as a mere metaphor! What did Christ say after his ascension to the persecuting Saul? "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Not "My Church" merely. The Head felt with the members. Fainti spoke of great men just now. Did not Moses shatter the tables of the Law in sad and bitter disappointment? Did not Paul find fickleness in his converts? Did not the Judaizers hamper his work? Did not some of his companions desert him? Was not sin still mighty within him, as well as around him? But Christ, the Conqueror of sin and death, was his Lord. The Holy Ghost gave him inner might.
III. FAINT IN RELATION TO THE DISCIPLINE OF SORROW. We need it. But "no affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous" Faint! You may have left one at home who used to come and drink of the brook by the way at church, who is frail and ill now. You remember some who have had a dire discipline of trial through kith and kin, who have cast the crown of honor into the dust. You would not think much of them if they had not been cast down. Superficial people who say, "Make an effort!" "Cheer up!" only worry the nerves; they-do not really ease trouble, because we cannot be "merry" with a heavy heart. You must lift up with a wise hope, a real trust, a child's confidence. "Show us the Father," then we can endure; then we can "rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him." But you say, "Faintness depresses us." Mind what you say, because you reveal character. It is just like saying, "Music must always be made for me; I won't be made sad; I won't enter an atmosphere of depression." Human hearts cannot always smile. Faint people must be in a world like this, but it will be only for a season; it will lead them to him who can raise up, who will lay beneath them his own everlasting arms, who will "not destroy," Never. "Chastened, but not destroyed"—tested, but not destroyed. At such times do not rest in "moods" or feelings, but look out of yourselves to Christ,
IV. WE ARE FAINT IS RELATION TO OUR INFLUENCE OVER OTHERS. We had hoped so much to send such bright rays over the dark sea from the lighthouse of our faith; to give the emerald beauty of a new spring to so many sterile places. We have not been such guides, such comforters, as we hoped to be. And the fault has been, not in lack of doing, but in want of being. To live has not been Christ. We have not been watchful enough either, against inimical forces in our fields. The Red Indians come when we are asleep or on a journey, and stamp out our corn. We are "faint" too because arrest will so soon be laid on our powers. But is it not right to rejoice that we have been able to do some good? Certainly. We have been unprofitable servants at the best, but it would be not only unreal, but wrong, to forget what God may have accomplished through us. Paul said, "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ." We are not as the men of this world, cast down into the loss of joy and hope—and in despair. No, it is only for a season. We are Christ's. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The burden of the Lord.
"The burden of Babylon" (see Isaiah 15:1; Isaiah 17:1; Isaiah 19:1, etc.). The use of the word "burden," to signify a message and its subsequent expansion into the phrase "the burden of the Lord" (see Jeremiah 23:33), suggest to us—
I. THAT TO ALL MEN EVERYWHERE BELONGS THE SACRED DUTY OF CARRYING THE MESSAGES OF GOD. The term here used may simply signify this—the bearing of the Word of God to those for whom it was intended. This is a work which belongs to every filial son, to every faithful servant. Possessed of it ourselves, and experiencing its exceeding preciousness, we are to convey it to all who are in need of it. We can all carry to the souls of men "the will of God concerning them in Christ Jesus, "his Divine desire that they should turn from all iniquity, should believe in his Son, their Savior and Lord, and should follow him in every path of purity, integrity, love.
II. THAT ON SOME MEN THERE SOMETIMES DEVOLVES THE PAINFUL DUTY OF DELIVERING BURDENSOME MESSAGES FROM GOD. This was notably the case with the Hebrew prophets. They were frequently commissioned to convey unpleasant, unpalatable truths to men and nations, such as few cared to announce and none liked to receive; e.g. the message of Moses to Pharaoh, of Nathan to David, and of Elijah to Ahab; such, also, as these "burdens" to Babylon, Moab, Egypt. The faithful parent, teacher, minister, has often a message to make known which is a burden in this sense; it is that which is likely to weigh heavy on the heart of him that receives it; it is
III. THAT ON THOSE IN WHOM IS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST, SACRED TRUTH BESTS AS A BURDEN, from which they can only be delivered by faithful utterance. So was it with the Savior himself (Luke 12:50); and so with the prophets (Psalms 39:3; Job 32:18; Jeremiah 20:9); and so with the apostles (1 Corinthians 9:16). So should it be with us. We ought to feel burdened with a sense of the sin and sorrow of the world, together with the fact that we have in our minds the knowledge of those truths which are divinely suited to destroy that sin and to disperse that sorrow. This is "the burden of the Lord," resting on the man in whom is much of the Spirit of Christ—a burden which will only be lifted from him when he has spoken his most earnest word and done his most devoted work, to teach, to heal, to save.—C.
The kingdom of God.
These stirring, eloquent words of the prophet describing the gathering of the hosts at the summons of Jehovah speak to us of—
I. THE EXCEEDING BREADTH OF THE DIVINE CLAIM. All things, all nations, are Jehovah's; all these hosts that are to be gathered together are "my sanctified ones;" they are "my mighty ones." They did not know him, but, notwithstanding, God claims them as belonging to himself. He does claim all nations an