THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL, AND HER SONG OF TRIUMPH OVER BABYLON. The destruction of Babylon is to be followed by the restoration of Israel, with the good will of the nations, and by their exercising rule over their late oppressors (Isaiah 14:1, Isaiah 14:2). In this time of rest and refreshment they will sing a song of triumph over Babylon. The song extends from Isaiah 14:4 to Isaiah 14:23. It consists of five stanzas, or strophes, each comprising seven long lines, after which there is a brief epode, or epilogue, of a different character. This epode is comprised in Isaiah 14:22 and Isaiah 14:23.
For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob. God's purpose of mercy upon Israel requires, as its preliminary, the destruction of Babylon, and may be considered as the final cause of that destruction. His desire to have mercy on Israel soon is the reason why the days of Babylon are not prolonged (see Isaiah 13:22). Will yet choose Israel. The Captivity was a rejection of Israel from their position as a favored race—God's peculiar people; their restoration was a fresh "choice" of them out of all the nations of the world, a free act of grace on his part; to which they had no claim or right whatsoever. And set them in their own land; or, on their own ground. The land that once was theirs, but which they had forfeited by their disobedience, could only become "their own" again by a fresh gift from God. The strangers shall be joined with them; rather, the stranger shall join himself to them. On the return from the Captivity, there would be an influx of proselytes from the nations, who would voluntarily join themselves to those whom they saw favored both by God and man (comp. Esther 8:17). Though the Jews did not commonly seek proselytes, they readily received such as offered themselves. A further fulfillment of the prophecy took place when the Gentiles flocked into the Church of God after the coming of Christ.
And the people shall take them; rather, peoples shall take them. The heathen nations among whom they have dwelt shall rejoice at the restoration of Israel to their own land, and even escort them in a friendly spirit to their borders (comp. Ezra 1:4, Ezra 1:6; Nehemiah 2:7-9). Some shall go so far as voluntarily to become their bondservants in Palestine. They shall take them captive, whose captives they were. This can scarcely have been intended literally. The Jews were at no time a conquering people, nor one that set itself to "take captives." The true meaning is that Jewish ideas shall penetrate and subdue the nations generally, and among them those with whom Israel had dwelt as captives. The Jews did become very powerful and numerous both in Assyria and Babylonia about the first century after Christ, and Christian Churches were early formed in Mesopotamia, Adiabene, and even Babylon.
The hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve (comp. Isaiah 47:6). We have no detailed account of the Babylonian, as we have of the Egyptian, servitude; but it was probably well-nigh as grievous. A few, of royal descent, might be eunuchs in the palace of the great king (2 Kings 20:18; Daniel 1:3), and hold offices of trust; but with the bulk of the nation it was otherwise. Psalms 137:1-9, has the plaintive ring which marks it as the utterance of a sorely oppressed people. And there are passages of Ezekiel which point in the same direction (see especially Ezekiel 34:27-29).
Thou shalt take up this proverb; rather, this parable, as the word is translated in Numbers 23:1-30, and Numbers 24:1-25.; in Job 26:1; Job 29:1; Psalms 49:4; Psalms 78:2; Ezekiel 17:2; Ezekiel 20:49; Ezekiel 21:5; Ezekiel 24:3; Micah 2:4; Habakkuk 2:6; or "this taunting speech," as our translators render in the margin (see Cheyne, ad loc.; and comp. Hebrews 2:6). The golden city. There are two readings here—madhebah and marhebah. The latter reading was preferred anciently, and is followed by the LXX; the Syriac and Chaldee Versions, the Targums, Ewald, Gesenius, and Mr. Cheyne. It would give the meaning of" the raging one." Madhebah, however, is preferred by Rosenmüller, Vitringa, and Dr. Kay. It is supposed to mean "golden," from d'hab, the Chaldee form of the Hebrew zahob, gold. But the question is pertinent—Why should a Chaldee form have been used by a Hebrew writer ignorant of Chaldee and Chaldea?
The staff … the scepter. Symbols of Babylonian power (scrap. Isaiah 10:5).
He who smote the people; rather, which smote the peoples. The participle translated "he who smote" refers to "staff" or "scepter." With a continual stroke; i.e. incessantly, one war following another without pause or stop. He that ruled, etc.; rather, which ruled the nations in anger with a persecution that held not back.
At rest … singing. The first result of the fall of Babylon is general peace, rest, and quiet; then the nations, recognizing the blessedness of the change, burst out into a song of rejoicing. The peace did not really continue very long; for Persia took up the role of conqueror which Babylon had been forced to drop, and, under Cambyses and Darius Hystaspis, produced as much stir and disturbance as had been caused by Babylon; Still, there was an interval of about eleven years between the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus, and the expedition by Cambyses against Egypt.
Fir trees …cedars. We may detect a double meaning here—one literal, the other metaphorical. Literally, the trees of Lebanon and the other mountain ranges would be spared, since, while both the Assyrian and Babylonian kings cut timber in the Syrian forests for building purposes, the Persians had no such practice; metaphorically, the firs and cedars are the kings and nobles of the countries (comp. Ezekiel 31:16), who likewise had a respite. Since thou art laid down; rather, since thou liest low. The first stanza here ends, and the second begins with the next verse.
Hell from beneath. The Hebrew Sheol corresponded nearly to the Greek Hades, and the Latin Inferi. It was a dismal region in the center of the earth, whither departed souls descended, and where they remained thenceforth. There were various depths in it, each apparently more dismal than the preceding; but there is no evidence that it was considered to contain any place of happiness, until after the return from the Captivity. The prophet here represents Sheol as disturbed by the advent of the Babylonian monarch, and as rousing itself to receive him. The great ones of the earth, and the kings, who are kings even in Hades, and sit upon thrones, are especially moved by the occasion, and prepare to meet and greet their brother. Personal identity and continued consciousness of it after death are assumed; and the former earthly rank of the inmates seems to be recognized and maintained. It stirreth up the dead. Hell in the aggregate—the place personified—proceeds to arouse the individual inmates, who are called rephaim—the word commonly translated "giants" (Deuteronomy 2:11, Deuteronomy 2:20; Deuteronomy 13:12; Joshua 12:4; Joshua 13:12, etc.), but meaning properly "feeble ones." The shades or ghosts of the departed were regarded as weak and nerveless, in comparison with living men (compare the Homeric εἴδωλα καμόντων). All the chief ones; literally, the he-goats (comp. Jeremiah 1:8; Jeremiah 51:40; Zechariah 10:3). Raised up from their thrones; i.e. "caused to rise up from their thrones," and stand in eager expectation of what was about to happen.
Art thou also become weak as we? rather, So thou also art made weak as we! (On the supposed weakness of the dead, see the comment on Isaiah 14:9.)
The noise of thy viols. (On the fondness of the Babylonians for music, and the number and variety of their musical instruments, see Daniel 3:7, Daniel 3:10, etc.) The word here translated "viol" is more commonly rendered "psaltery." (On the probable character of the instrument intended, see note on Isaiah 5:12.) The worm is spread under thee, etc.; rather, beneath thee is spread the maggot, and the worm covereth thee. The thought of the grave brings the thought of corruption with it. For cushion and for coverlet the royal corpse has only the loathsome creatures which come with putrescence. At this point the second stanza terminates.
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer! Babylon's sudden fall is compared, with great force and beauty, to the (seeming) fall of a star from heaven. The word translated "Lucifer" means properly "shining one," and no doubt here designates a star; but whether any particular star or no is uncertain. The LXX. translated by ἑωσφόρος, whence our "Lucifer." The subjoined epithet, "son of the morning" or "of the dawn," accords well with this rendering. How art thou cut down to the ground! One of Isaiah's favorite changes of metaphor. It is a favorite metaphor also to which he reverts—that of representing the destruction of a nation by the felling of a tree or of a forest (comp. Isaiah 2:12, Isaiah 2:13; Isaiah 10:33, Isaiah 10:34, etc.). Which didst weaken the nations; rather, which didst prostrate the nations. The word used is one of great force (comp. Exodus 17:13; Job 14:10).
For thou hast said; rather, and thou—thou saidst; i.e. weak as thou art now shown to have been, it was thou that didst dare to say. I will ascend into heaven, etc. (comp. Isaiah 10:13, Isaiah 10:14; Isaiah 37:24, Isaiah 37:25). Isaiah represents rather the thoughts of the Babylonian monarch than his actual words. The Babylonian inscriptions are full of boasting egotism; but they do not contain anything approaching to impiety. The king may regard himself as, in a certain sense, Divine; but still he entertains a deep respect and reverence for those gods whom he regards as the most exalted, as Merodach, Bel, Nebo, Sin, Shamas. He is their worshipper, their devotee, their suppliant. The Babylonian monarchs may have believed that after death they would mount up to heaven and join the "assembly of the great gods"; but we scarcely know enough as yet of the religions opinions of the Babylonians to state positively what their belief was on the subject of a future life. I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation. The early commentators explained this of Mount Zion, especially on account of the phrase, "in the sides of the north," which is used of the temple-bill in Psalms 48:2. But it is well objected that Mount Zion was a place of no grandeur or dignity or holiness to the Babylonians, who had made it a desolation; and that no Babylonian monarch would have desired to "sit" there. Moreover, the "mountain" of this passage must be one which is "above the heights of the clouds" and "above the stars of God," which the most imaginative poet could not have said of Mount Zion. A mythic mountain, belonging to the Babylonian theosophy, was therefore seen to be intended, even before the times of cuneiform decipherment (Rosenmüller, Michaelis, Knobel). Now that the Babylonian inscriptions can be read, it is found that there was such a mountain, called "Im-Kharsak," or "Kharsak-Kurra," which is described as "the mighty mountain of Bel, whose head rivals heaven, whose root is the holy deep," and which "was regarded as the spot where the ark had rested, and where the gods had their seat". In Babylonian geography this mountain was identified, either with the peak of Rowandiz, or with Mount Elwend, near Ecbatana. In the sides of the north. Both Elwend and Rowandiz are situated to the northeast of Babylou—a position which, according to ancient ideas, might be described indifferently as "north" or "east."
I will be like the Most High (comp. Isaiah 47:8). It is a mistake to say that "the Assyrians gave the name of God to their monarchs" (Kay), or, at any rate, there is no evidence that they did. Nor does any king, either Assyrian or Babylonian, ever assume a Divine title. There is a marked difference in this respect between the Egyptian and the Assyro-Babylonian religions. Probably Isaiah only means that Babylonian monarchs thought of themselves as gods, worked their own wills, were wrapped up in themselves, did not in heart bow down to a higher Power.
Thou shalt be brought down; rather, thou art brought down (comp. Isaiah 14:9-11). The sides of the pit; or, the recesses—the "lowest parts" of the pit. With those words the third stanza terminates.
They that see thee. Dr. Kay well observes that "here the scene of the parable is changed back to earth. The corpse of the mighty conqueror is lying unburied." Shall narrowly look upon thee. Like the inhabitants of hell (Isaiah 14:10), those of earth also shall scarcely believe their eyes. They shall look close to see if it is indeed the great king that is slain.
That opened not the house of his prisoners; literally, that loosed not his prisoners homewards. The long imprisonment of Jehoiachin by Nebuchadnezzar (thirty-six years, 2 Kings 25:27) is an illustration; but perhaps it is rather the retention in captivity of the entire Jewish people that is brought to the prophet's cognizance.
All the kings of the nations, etc.; i.e. the other kings, speaking generally, died in peace, and had an honorable burial, each one in the sepulcher that he had prepared for himself as his final abode or "house" (comp. Isaiah 22:16). The care taken to prepare tombs was not confined to Egypt, though there obtaining its greatest development. Among others, the Persian kings certainly prepared their own sepulchers; and probably the practice was general.
But thou art cast out (see Isaiah 14:13). Again "thou" is emphatic. Translate, But thou—thou art cast out. The Babylonian monarch did not rest in the tomb which he had prepared for himself. His body was "cast out"—left, apparently, where it fell in battle. If there is allusion to any individual, it is probably to Belshazzar (Daniel 5:30). Like an abominable branch. As a shoot from a tree, which is disapproved, and so condemned and cut away. As the raiment of those that are slam. The garments of the slain, soaked in blood (Isaiah 9:5), were useless, and were consequently flung away or left to rot uncured for. So was it with the corpse of the great king. That go down to the stones of the pit. This clause is thought to be misplaced. It deranges the meter and damages the sense. Corpses were not interred on fields of battle in the East (Herod; 3.26). They were left to be "trodden underfoot." It is best, with Ewald and Mr. Cheyne, to transfer the clause to the commencement of the next verse. Thus the fourth stanza is relieved, and the fifth properly filled out.
If we make the alteration suggested in the preceding note, this verse will begin as follows: "They that have gone down to the stoner of the pit, with these thou shalt not be joined in burial"—a repetition certainly of the first clause of Isaiah 14:19, but with amplification, and with the reason appended. Thou hast destroyed thy land; i.e. "brought ruin on it by displeasing God, and causing him to visit it with a judgment." The seed of evil-doers shall never be renowned; rather, shall not be named forever (comp. Psalms 109:13). The meaning is that they shall have no seed, or, if they have any, that it shall be early cut off, and the whole race blotted out. Pretenders rose up under Darius Hystaspis, claiming descent from Belshazzar's father, Nabenidus; but the claim is characterized as false, and a false claim would scarcely have been set up had real descendants survived.
Prepare slaughter for his children. Belshazzar had "wives and concubines" (Daniel 5:2), and therefore probably children. The magnanimity of Cyrus may have spared them; but neither Cambyses nor Darius Hystaspis had the same merciful disposition. As soon as there was seen to be danger of Babylon revolting, they would almost certainly be put to death. For the iniquity of their fathers (comp. Exodus 20:5). The destruction of their posterity was a part of the punishment of the fathers. That they do not rise; i.e. "that they do not recover themselves and become great monarchs once more, and once more build great cities, "such as those which they were famous for Babel, Erech, Accad, Calneh, Ur, Sepharvaim, Borsippa, Opts, Teredon, etc. It was as city-builders that the Babylonians were especially celebrated (Genesis 10:10; Daniel 4:30; Herod; 1:178, etc.).
Isaiah 14:22, Isaiah 14:23
These verses constitute the epode of the poem. Their main object is to make it clear that the punishment about in fall on Babylon comes from none other than Jehovah, whose Name occurs twice in Isaiah 14:22, and emphatically closes Isaiah 14:23. The lines are much more irregular than those of the strophes, or stanzas.
And cut off from Babylon the name. It is not quite clear in what sense her "name" was to be "cut off" from Babylon. One of the main masses of ruin still bears the old name almost unchanged (Babil), and can scarcely be supposed to have lost it and afterwards recovered it. Perhaps "name" here means "fame" or "celebrity" (comp. Deuteronomy 26:19; Zephaniah 3:20). Son and nephew; rather, son and grandson, or issue and descendants. The same phrase occurs in the same sense in Genesis 21:23 and Job 18:19.
A possession for the bittern. Some water-bird or other is probably intended, since the word used is joined in Isaiah 36:11 with the names of three other birds, and is also certainly a bird's name in Zephaniah 2:14; but the identification with the "bittern" is a mere guess, and rests on no authority. And pools of water. The swampy character of the country about the ruins of Babylon is generally noticed by travelers. It arises from neglect of the dams along the course of the Euphrates. Ker Porter says that "large deposits of the Euphrates water are left stagnant in the hollows between the ruins".
A FURTHER PROPHECY OF DELIVERANCE FROM ASSYRIA. From the distant prospect of an ultimate deliverance from the power of Babylon, the prophet turns his gaze to a nearer, if not a greater, deliverance. The present enemy is Assyria. It is she who has carried Samaria into captivity, and who now threatens the independence of Judah. Deliverance from her has already been promised more than once (Isaiah 10:16-19, Isaiah 10:25-27, Isaiah 10:33, Isaiah 10:34); but apparently the people are not reassured—they still dread the foe who is so near, and who seems so irresistible. God, therefore, condescends to give them a fresh prophecy, a fresh assurance, and to confirm it to them by an oath (Isaiah 14:24). The Assyrian power shall be broken—her yoke shall be cast off (Isaiah 14:25); God has declared his purpose, and nothing can hinder it (Isaiah 14:27).
Hath sworn. This is the emphatic word—the new thing in the prophecy. God but seldom declares his purposes with an oath—never but in condescension to the weakness of his creatures, who, though they misdoubt his word, can feel the immutability of an oath (Hebrews 6:17), and yield it the credence and the confidence which they refuse to a bare assertion. As I have thought … as I have purposed. A reference to the prophecies previously given in Isaiah 10:1-34. So shall it come to pass; literally, so it hath been—a striking instance of the "preterite of prophetic certainty." So shall it stand; literally, as I have purposed, that shall stand.
I will break the Assyrian in my land. This is referred by some critics to the miraculous destruction of Sennacherib's army, and regarded as a proof that the scene, of that destruction was Judaea. But it is possible that a disaster to the forces of Sargon may be intended (see the comment on Isaiah 10:28-32). His yoke shall depart from off them (comp. Isaiah 10:27). The Assyrian yoke, imposed by Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 16:7-10), and (according to his own inscriptions) again by Sargon, was thrown off by Hezekiah, who "rebelled against the King of Assyria, and served him not" (2 Kings 18:7). It was this rebellion that provoked the expedition of Sennacherib, described in 2 Kings 18:13-16; and it may be this rejection of the yoke which is here prophesied.
The whole earth … all the nations. Blows struck against Assyria or Babylonia affected all the then known nations Each, in its turn, was "the hammer of the whole earth" (Jeremiah 1:1-19 :23), and a check received by either caused world-wide disturbance. No sooner did one subject nation recover her freedom, than an electric shock ran through all the rest—plots were laid, confederacies formed, revolts planned, embassies sent hither and thither. The complete destruction of Assyria involved a complete change in the relations, not only of the principal powers—Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media, Elam, but even of the minor ones—Philistia, Edom, Moab, Syria, Phoenicia, Ammon.
His hand is stretched out; literally, his is the outstretched hand, which is more emphatic.
THE BURDEN OF PHILISTIA. The Philistines had suffered grievously at the hands of Judah in the reign of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6), and had retaliated in the reign of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:18). It would seem that after this they were invaded by Tiglath-Pileser, who penetrated as far as Gaza, which lie took and made tributary, as he also did Ascalon. Tiglath-Pileser died shortly before Ahaz, and the present "burden" seems to have been uttered in connection with his death. Isaiah warns Philistia (equivalent to "Palestina") that her rejoicing is premature; Tiglath-Pileser will have successors as powerful and as cruel as himself, and these successors will carry destruction and ravage over the whole land.
In the year that King Ahaz died was this burden. These words introduce the "burden of Philistia," and shows that it is chronologically out of place, since the prophecies from Isaiah 10:1-34. to Isaiah 14:1-27 have belonged to the reign of Hezekiah. Ahaz appears to have died early in B.C. 725.
Whole Palestina. The Greeks called Philistia τὴν παλαιστίνην συρίαν, or "Syria of the Philistines," whence the Latin "Palestina" and our "Palestine." Isaiah addresses the country as "whole Palestine," because, while it was made up of a number of principalities (1 Samuel 6:18), his message concerned it in its entirety. The rod of him that smote thee is broken. This can scarcely refer to the death of Ahaz, since Ahaz did not smite the Philistines, but was smitten by them (2 Chronicles 28:18). It may, however, refer to the death of Tiglath-Pileser, which took place only a year or two previously. Out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice; i.e. a more poisonous serpent (see note on Isaiah 11:8). Shal-maneser can scarcely be meant, since he does not, appear to have attacked the Philistines. Probably Sargon is intended, who "took Ashdod" (Isaiah 20:1), made Khanun, King of Gaza, prisoner, and reduced Philtstia generally to subjection. And his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent. The fruit of the cockatrice will be even more terrible and venomous. He will resemble the "fiery flying serpent" of the wilderness (Numbers 21:6). Sennacherib is, perhaps, this "fruit." He conquered Ascalon and Ekron, and had the kings of Gaze and Ashdod among his tributaries.
The firstborn of the poor shall feed. The "firstborn of the poor" are the very poor (Jarchi, Rosenmüller). The refer-once is to the poor Israelites, who will "feed" and "lie down in safety" when Philistia is held in subjection. I will kill thy root with famine, and he shall slay thy remnant. God kills with famine, man with the sword (see 2 Samuel 24:13, 2 Samuel 24:14). When the Philistines had resisted behind their strong walls till hunger had done its work by thinning their ranks, the Assyrian conqueror would storm their strongholds and slaughter "the remnant."
Howl, O gate; cry, O city. Each city of Philistia is hidden to howl and lament. All will suffer; not one will be spared. Art dissolved; literally, art melted; i.e. "faintest through fear" (comp. Joshua 2:9; Jeremiah 49:23). There shall come from the north a smoke. The "smoke" is the Assyrian host, which ravages the country as it advances, burning towns, and villages, and peasants' cots, and watchmen's towers. It enters the country "from the north," as a matter of course, where it adjoins upon Judaea. The coast route, which led through the Plain of Sharon, was that commonly followed by Egyptian armies. None shall be alone in his appointed times; rather, there shall be no straggler at the rendezvous.
What shall one then answer, etc.? What answer shall be made to the Philistine ambassadors, when they come to Jerusalem and entreat for aid? Simply this—that God has founded and will protect Zion, and that the poor and weak among God's people—whether Jews or Philistines—had better betake themselves to the shelter of the "city of the great King."
Triumph over enemies.
The "taunt-song" of Israel, as it has been called (Cheyne), like the "song of Deborah" in the Book of Judges (5.), raises the question how far triumph over a national enemy is a feeling that can be indulged with propriety. There can be no doubt that it is—
I. A NATURAL FEELING. "The song of Deborah and Barak" expresses the feelings which have usually animated the victors in national contests from the beginning of the world to the present day. The poems of Homer show us the great warriors of the heroic age giving the freest possible vent to their passions of scorn and hatred on such occasions. The heroes of Germany and Iceland indulge in the same strain. North American Indians are said to have been equally outspoken. The "natural man" would, beyond all question, on every occasion of the kind, give free and unfettered expression to his feelings of triumph and delight, nor would he see any reason for checking his feelings, or making any effort to moderate them. There is also a good side to the feeling, inasmuch as it is—
II. CONNECTED WITH THANKFULNESS TO GOD FOR DELIVERANCE. In the song of Deborah and Barak, and again in the song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-21), this is very marked. "Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel" ( 5:2, 5:3). "The Lord is my Strength and Song, and is become my Salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his Name" (Exodus 15:2, Exodus 15:3). "Sing ye to the Lord, for he bath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea" (Exodus 15:21). It is not their own valor, or strength, or prudence, and warlike skill that the Hebrew leaders vaunt in their songs of triumph, but the greatness and strength and wisdom of the God who has given to them the victory over their enemies. And so the Christian song of joy for a victory has ever been the "To Deum"—"We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord." So long as wars continue, so long as swords are not beaten' into ploughshares, or spears into pruning-hooks (Isaiah 2:4), it must be right for the combatants to look to the God of battles for aid and countenance and success; and if so, it must be right for them to return him thanks for his aid given, which can best be done by songs of praise and psalms of thanksgiving. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that the feeling of triumph is one which ought to be very carefully watched and kept under control, since it is—
III. LIABLE TO DEGENERATE INTO SELF-GLORIFICATION. When Assyria was victorious, her song of triumph was as follows: "By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man: and my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people; and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or chirped" (Isaiah 10:13, Isaiah 10:14). There is something of the same spirit in the song of Deborah and Barak: "The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel" ( 5:7). "Awake, awake, Deborah, awake, awake, utter a song; arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abiuoam" ( 5:12). Weak human nature is apt to have its head turned by success, and to attribute the result to its own prowess, instead of the mercy and goodness of God.
IV. LIABLE TO DEGENERATE INTO SCORN OF, AND INSULTATION OVER, THE ENEMY. Scorn and insult are utterly unchristian, and a Christian "song of triumph" should most carefully avoid them; but they are very dear to the "natural man," and very apt to show themselves in the outpourings of a human heart on the occasion of a triumph. The closing passage of the song of Deborah is of the nature of insult, and so is a considerable portion of Isaiah's "taunt-song." The "evangelical prophet" was not himself fully possessed of the evangelical spirit. In his time the precept had not yet gone forth, "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44), and men believed it to be natural and right to hate them (see Psalms 139:22). Insult and scorn were but indications of hate, or of hate mingled with contempt for those who had been proved weal;, and so seemed to be legitimately bestowed on beaten foes. But the Christian may hate no man, may despise no man, knowing that each human soul is in God's sight of priceless value. Consequently, although he may rejoice in victory, and even compose songs of triumph, he is bound to avoid anything like insultation over the defeated. They are his brethren, they are souls for whom Christ died; they may be among those with whom he will hold sweet converse in the world to come.
God's condescension in confirming promises by oath.
It is a weakness on the part of man to need any confirmation of a promise which God makes. "God cannot lie" (Titus 2:1-15 :18); "He keepeth his promise forever" (Psalms 146:6). When he condescends to swear that his promise shall hold good, it does not really add to the certainty of the thing promised, since the certainty was absolute from the first. But man is so accustomed to misdoubt his fellows that he will even misdoubt God, as though with him were "variableness or shadow of turning." And God, knowing man's heart and compassionating his weakness, does sometimes, though but rarely, add to his promises, for man's greater contentment, the confirmation of an oath. After the Flood God covenanted with mankind that he would never again destroy the earth by water (Genesis 9:11), and confirmed the covenant by oath (Isaiah 65:9). On the call of Abraham, he swore that he would give the land of Canaan to his posterity (Genesis 24:7), and afterwards that in his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed. With David he made a covenant, and swore to it, that he would "establish his seed forever, and build up his throne to all generations" (Psalms 89:3, Psalms 89:4). To his own Son he swore, at what time we know not, "Thou art a Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalms 110:4). And here we find that he condescended to swear to Israel that the Assyrians should "be broken," and their yoke "depart off them." Wonderful condescension of him whose word is truth! Not merely not to punish those who doubt him, but to compassionate them, to make allowance for them, to yield compliance to their weakness, and give them such an assurance as compels their belief. "God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, they might have a strong consolation"—a hope on which to anchor their soul (Hebrews 6:17-19).
No sure refuge but Zion.
When danger threatens men commonly invoke human aid—"trust in Egypt, fly to Assyria"—think to be safe if some great king, or powerful statesman, or important country, will take them under protection. But every such refuge is untrustworthy. States prove themselves" braised reeds" in the time of trouble, "piercing the hand which leans on them" (2 Kings 18:21). Princes disappoint expectation, and show that "there is no help in them" (Psalms 146:3). Statesmen find it inconvenient to redeem the pledges which they have given, and turn a deaf car to the appeals for aid addressed to them. But the ear of God is always open to men's cries. They may appeal with confidence to him either in—
I. THE EARTHLY ZION, his holy mountain, the "city set upon an hill" (Matthew 5:14), in which he has promised that there shall dwell his presence forever. The Church of God, founded upon the sure rock of faith in Christ, is a refuge from the assaults of doubt and unbelief, from the wiles of Satan, from the seductions of evil men. When the great army of unbelief advances, like a smoke from the north (Isaiah 14:31), and threatens to obscure the whole world with the dark mantle of agnosticism, marshalling its hosts with military precision, so that "there is not one straggler at the rendezvous," let men remember one thing, "The Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people may trust in it" (Isaiah 14:32). The poor of his people, such as feel themselves "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17), may find in the Church of Christ—the Church with which he continues always, "even unto the end of the world"—a refuge, a defense, a rallying-point, from which they may defy the dark host of their enemies. Against the Church the gates of hell shall not prevail. Her Lord is her Defender, and will give her victory over all her foes. The Lord's people may safely trust in her. Or, if this does not suffice, if (as happens to men in some moods) every earthly stay seems vain, they may go "boldly to the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16), and address themselves directly to God in—
II. THE HEAVENLY ZION—the "heaven of heavens"—the sphere where he sits enthroned above angels and archangels, yet from which he is ever lending an attentive ear to the cry of all his creatures. The earthly Zion is but a temporary abiding-place for individuals; the heavenly Zion is alone their true home. In the heavenly Zion alone are they wholly safe—saved, garnered, gathered in, secure forever. There is the throne of God and of the Lamb (Revelation 22:1); there is "the river of the water of life, clear as crystal" (Revelation 22:1); there is the "tree of life," with its "twelve manner of fruits," and its leaves which are "for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2). The earthly Zion is but a type of the heavenly; it is on the heavenly that our thoughts should rest, our minds dwell, our spirits stay themselves (Colossians 3:1-3).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Song of redeemed Israel
I. THE OCCASION OF THE SONG. (Isaiah 14:1-3.) The immediate purpose of that awful convulsion of the nations described in the preceding chapter was judgment; but beyond this lies the purpose of mercy. The inspired song of Israel is ever of "mercy and judgment." One loving purpose works, whether through the hiding of the cloud and the storm, or in the manifest brightness of the calm summer day. Whether he makes himself known to us amidst terror and trembling, or in peace and tranquilly flowing hours, "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world." After the storm comes the still small voice, heard in the sanctuary, echoed in the heart, "Fear not; I am with thee." Jehovah will give his people rest in their land from the cruel sufferings of slavery. The heathen will look on, astonished at the deliverance of Israel, and wilt be convinced that there is a truth in the religion of Israel superior to that of their own. They will escort the people of Jehovah to the sacred place, and there become attached to their service as dependents. To the prophetic conscience it seems that this is but in accordance with the law of compensation. It seems preposterous, nothing less than an invasion of the true order of things, for a community which holds the purest principles to be enslaved to one whose power is built on falsehood. The conscience of the prophet teaches him that as God is right, so there must be a rectification of the world's wrong. The present first must become the last, and the last first, and the world must be turned upside down, that Israel may obtain and retain her destined lead among the nations. This is a leading ideal of prophecy, and we find it reappearing in the days of Christ. We may, indeed, without straining a point, say that such predictions, born of the profoundest religious convictions, have been fulfilled in the course of our religion. It will hardly be denied that the great spiritual principles summed up in the phrase, "the kingdom of God upon earth" have grown upon the world, have obtained a larger and more commanding recognition with every great change among the nations. Israel, Greece, broke up as nations only to resign their deposit of truth to a larger stewardship; and Rome's work was fulfilled when she became the vehicle of Christianity to the wide Western world. The forms of Divine fulfillment seen by the prophets in their forecast may not have been always the truest forms, limited as they were by conditions of space and time. The substance and spirit of their message was of eternal truth.
II. THE CONTENTS OF THE SONG. (Isaiah 14:4-8, )
1. The picture of rest from tyranny. The Babylonian oppressor shall be quelled; his lordly pride and wrath shall cease. For the staff of authority wielded by impious hands shall be broken, the tyrant's scepter dashed from his hand. His part will be reversed; having incessantly smitten the people in his cruel rage, and trodden them beneath Ills feet in the exercise of arbitrary and unchecked power, he will himself be powerless, as all injustice must be, disjoined from physical force. See the critical notes for the discussion of the meaning of the words, and the strong images of violence, inspired by tyrannic caprice and cruelty, which they call up in the imagination. "The oppressor's scorn, the proud man's contumely," are enumerated by our great poets among those conditions which tempt men to doubt the worth of existence. Take away the freedom of religious life, the placid enjoyment of old customs of family and social life, from a people, and you extract from them the relish for life.
"'Tis liberty, fair liberty alone,
That gives the fleeting flower of life its sweetness and perfume."
There is no deeper passion, nor one more just, than the hatred of tyranny, m the human breast. If we look at the question from the point of view of the tyrant himself, his lot is odious. Xenophon represents Hiero of Syracuse lamenting to the poet Simonides his unhappiness. He must surround himself with guards whom he cannot trust. Intimate friendship, such as blesses the meanest of his subjects, must be to him denied. He cannot close the sleepless eye of suspicion. Amiable ha may be and sympathetic by nature, yet his heart may not expand in the chilling atmosphere which surrounds him. The cruel necessities of power may even render the lot of the oppressor less enviable than that of the oppressed. The heart of the people in every hind and age cries out against tyranny as an abuse of the moral order, a violence done to the nature of things. And the true prophet, ever feeling in unison with that heart, translating its dim yearnings into articulate oracles, denounces and predicts the downfall of tyranny as inevitable, if the kingdom of Jehovah on earth is a reality. "There remaineth a rest for the people of God." "The empire is peace." These words, once uttered vainly by a potentate in our time, and soon sternly refuted by the roar of artillery from around the walls of his fair city and from a score of battle-fields throughout his pleasant land, contain the policy of the kingdom of the Messiah. Selfishness, ambition, tyranny of individual wills,—these are the most constant causes of restlessness and war. When "all man's good" shall be "each man's rule," such evils will be impossible; the "unsuffering kingdom" of the Messiah will come, and the meek will inherit the earth.
2. The sympathy of nature with man. How exquisite is the poetic feeling for nature in the next verses (7, 8)! Like all the imagery of Hebrew poesy, they are full of simplicity, sublimity, pathos. "Now resteth, now is quiet all the earth; songs of jubilation break forth. The cypresses rejoice on thy account, the cedars of Lebanon. Since thou liest low (they say) none will come up to lay the axe against us." The Chaldean used the wood of these trees, of great durability, for his buildings, his besieging apparatus, his ships. A small remnant, heirs of those magnificent trees on Lebanon of the prophet's time, still stands on the spot. They seem, in their robust and beautiful forms, the very type of human life in the ideal freedom and independence of its growth. There is a strong poetic feeling for the tree in the Hebrew psalmists and prophets. The just man is like the tree planted by the flowing stream, or like the palm flourishing in the desert, the image of outward suffering