GOD'S WILL CONCERNING HIM ANNOUNCED TO CYRUS. This direct address of God to a heathen king is without a parallel in Scripture. Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, Abimelech, were warned through dreams. Nebuchadnezzar was even promised Divine aid (Ezekiel 30:24, Ezekiel 30:25). But no heathen monarch had previously been personally addressed by God, much less called "his anointed," and spoken to by his name (Isaiah 45:4). Three motives are mentioned for this special favour to him:
Thus saith the Lord to his anointed. The "anointed of Jehovah" is elsewhere always either an Israelite king, or the expected Deliverer of the nation, "Messiah the Prince" (Daniel 9:25). This Deliverer, however, was to be of the line of David (Isaiah 11:1), and of the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), so that we can scarcely suppose Isaiah to have seen him in Cyrus. But he may have seen in Cyrus a type of the great Deliverer, as he saw in the release of Israel from the power of Babylon a type of their deliverance from sin. Whose right hand I have holden; rather, strengthened (comp. Ezekiel 30:24). To subdue nations before him (see above, Isaiah 41:2, and the comment ad loc.). Among the nations subdued by Cyrus may be mentioned the Medes, the Babylonians, the Lydians, the Caftans, the Caunians, the Lycians, the Bactrians, the Sacae, the Parthians, the Hyrcanians, the Chorasmians, the Sogdians, the Arians of Herat, the Zarangians, the Arachosians, the Satagydians, and the Gandarians. I will loose the loins of kings; i.e. render them weak and incapable of resistance" (comp. Daniel 5:6), net "disarm them" (Cheyne); for the chief royal weapons were the spear and the bow, neither of which was carried at the girdle. To open before him the two-leaved gates. The cities and forts repro-sented on the Assyrian monuments have invariably their gateways closed by two large gates or doors which meet in the centre of the gateway. The bronze plating found at Ballarat gave the dimensions, and showed the strength of such gates.
I will … make the crooked places straight; rather, I will make the rugged places level. No doubt intended generally, "I will smooth his way before him." The gates of brass … the bars of iron. According to Herodotus, the gates of Babylon were of solid bronze, and one hundred in number (1.179). Solid bronze gates have, however, nowhere been found, and would have been inconvenient from their enormous weight. It is probable that the "gates of brass," or "bronze," whereof we read, were always, like these found at Ballarat, of wood plated with bronze. To the eye these would be "gates of bronze." Gates of towns were, as a matter of course, secured by bars, which would commonly be made of iron, as the strongest material. Iron was well known to the Babylonians (Herod; 1:186).
I will give thee the treasures of darkness; i.e. "treasures stored in dark places"—"bidden treasures." Treasuries were built for greater security without windows. Of the treasures which fell into the hands of Cyrus, the greatest were probably those of Babylon (Herod; 1.183) and of Sardis (Xen; 'Cyrop.,' 7.2, § 11). The value of the latter has been estimated at above one hundred and twenty-six millions sterling. That thou mayest know; or, acknowledge. If these documents are accepted as genuine, or even as true in substance (Ewald), Cyrus must be considered to have identified Jehovah with his own Ormuzd, and to have viewed the Jewish and Persian religions as substantially the same. He would be under no temptation, with so weak and down-trodden a people as the Jews, to resort to politic pretences, as he might be in the case of the Babylonians (see the comment on Isaiah 41:25). Which call thee by thy name (comp. Isaiah 45:1 and Isaiah 44:28). (On the special favour implied in God's condescending to "know" or "call" a person by his name, see the 'Pulpit Commentary' on Exodus 33:12.) Am the God of Israel; rather, am the Lord … the God of Israel.
For Jacob my servant's sake. This second motive is, in a certain sense, the main one. Cyrus is raised up, especially, to perform God's pleasure with respect to Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 44:26-28). Jacob, his Church, is more important in God's eyes than any individual. No doubt his Church is maintained, in part, that it may be "a light to lighten the Gentiles;" but it is not maintained solely: or even mainly, for this end. Its welfare is an end in itself, and would be sought by God apart from any further consequence. Israel mine elect (comp. Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 44:1). I have surnamed thee; i.e. "given thee designations of honour," e.g. "my anointed" (Isaiah 45:1); "my shepherd" (Isaiah 44:28); "he who shall do all my pleasure" (Isaiah 44:28). Though thou hast not known me; rather, though thou didst not know me. Cyrus's honours, his titles, his mention by name, etc; were accumulated upon him before his birth, when he knew nothing of God, when, therefore, he had in no way merited them. Thus all was done, not for his sake, but lot the sake of Israel.
I girded thee. As God "loosed the loins" of Cyrus's adversaries (Isaiah 45:1), to weaken them, so he "girded" those of Cyrus, to give him strength (comp. Psalms 18:32).
That they may know from the rising of the sun. Here we have the third motive of the Divine action respecting Cyrus. The attention of all the world from the extreme east to the extreme west, would be drawn by the wonderful occurrences. Jehovah's hand in them would be perceived, and his sole Godhead would obtain acknowledgment. An impulse was doubtless given to monotheism by the victories of Cyrus and the favour which he showed the Jews; but it cannot be said to have been very marked. Idolatry and polytheism were to a certain extent discredited; but they maintained their ground nevertheless. It was not till the true "Anointed One" appeared—the antitype of whom Cyrus was the type—that the idols were "utterly abolished."
I form the light, and create darkness. It has been recently denied that there is any allusion in these words, or in those which follow, to the Zoroastrian tenets; and it has even been asserted that the religion of the early Achaemenian kings was free from the taint of dualism. But according to some authorities, "a god of lies" is mentioned in the Behistun inscription; and the evidence is exceedingly strong that dualism was an essential part of the Zoroastrian religion long before the time of Cyrus. It is quite reasonable to suppose that Isaiah would be acquainted with the belief of the Persians and Medes, who had come in contact with the Assyrians as early as b.c.. 830; and a warning against the chief error of their religion would be quite in place when he was holding up Cyrus to his countrymen as entitled to their respect and veneration. The nexus of the words, "I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness," is such as naturally to suggest an intended antagonism to the Zoroastrian system. Under that, Ormuzd created "light" and "peace," Ahriman "darkness" and "evil." The two were eternal adversaries, engaged in an inter-ruinable contest. Ormuzd, it is true, claimed the undivided allegiance of mankind, since he was their maker; bat Ahriman was a great power, terribly formidable—perhaps a god (diva)—certainly the chief of the devas. It was from Zoroastrianism that Manicheism derived its doctrine of the two principles, and to the same source may, with much probability, be traced the "devil-worshippers" of the Zagros mountain chain.
THE BLESSED RESULTS OF ISRAEL'S DELIVERANCE. The restoration of Israel to their own land will be followed by a great increase of righteousness and salvation. They will be, as it were, showered down abundantly from heaven, while at the same time they will spring in profusion from earth's bosom. Jehovah, who has caused the deliverance, will also cause these results to follow from it.
Drop down, ye heavens; literally, distil, ye heavens (camp. Deuteronomy 32:1; Job 36:28); or rain down on the thirsty earth your gracious influences. Let righteousness, or God's law of right, descend afresh from the skies as a boon to mankind—a boon for which they have been long waiting. And … let the earth open. Let earth make due response, opening her gentle besom, as she does in spring, and blossoming with human righteousness, the fruit and evidence of salvation. To the prophet's rapt gaze the excellence of the post-Captivity times, when all idolatry had been put away, seemed, in comparison with earlier ages, the reign of justice and truth upon earth. I the Lord have created it; i.e. "I, Jehovah, have wrought the change by the larger outpouring of my Spirit" (camp. Isaiah 43:3).
ISRAEL WARNED NOT TO CALL IN QUESTION GOD'S MODES OF ACTION. Apparently, Isaiah anticipates that the Israelites will be discontented and murmur at their deliverer being a heathen king, and not one of their own body. He therefore warns them against presuming to criticize the arrangements of the All-Wise, reminding them of his unapproachable greatness (verse 12), and once more assuring them that the appointment of Cyrus is from him (verse 13).
Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive, etc.; rather, woe unto him that striveth with his Maker, a potsherd among potsherds of the ground: All men are equally made of "the dust of the ground" (Genesis 2:7). Israel has no prerogative in this respect. He, too, is "a potsherd among potsherds"—day moulded by the potter; no more entitled to lift up his voice against his Maker than the vessel to rebel against the man who shapes it (comp. Isaiah 29:16; and see the comment furnished by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans 9:20-24). What would a man think if the clay that he was fashioning objected to being moulded in a particular form, or if a work that he had made exclaimed, "He is a poor bungler—he hath no hands"? Yet this is what a man does who finds fault with the arrangements of the Almighty.
Woe unto him that saith unto his father, etc.! A change is made in the metaphor, the relationship of a father and his child being substituted for that of a potter and his clay. What would a man think of a child murmuring against his parent for not having made him stronger, handsomer, cleverer? Would not such a child be regarded as most unnatural, and as deserving to have woe denounced upon him?
The Holy One of Israel; i.e. he who always does right, and with whom, therefore, it is absurd to find fault. His Maker; i.e. Israel's Maker, who has, therefore, the right to do with him as he pleases. Ask me of things to come concerning my sons. This sentence is wrongly punctuated. The last three words should be attached to what follows, thus: "Ask me of things to come: concerning my sons and concerning the work of my hands command ye me;" i.e. first learn of me what in my designs is to be the course of human events, and then (if necessary) give me directions concerning my sons (Israel), who are the work of my hands; but do not presume to give me directions while you are still in utter ignorance of my designs. In any case remember who I am—the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, One accustomed to give directions to the angelic host (Isaiah 45:12).
I, even my hands; literally, I, my hands; i.e. "my hands, and my hands alone." All their host. The "host of heaven" is sometimes put for the stars, and may be so understood here; but "commands" are laid on intelligent rather than on unintelligent beings. (The object of the verb tsavah in Hebrew is almost always personal.)
I have raised him up. "Him" can only be referred to Cyrus, the one individual mentioned previously in the chapter (Isaiah 45:1-5). The expression," raised up," had been already used of him (Isaiah 41:25). In righteousness means "to carry out my righteous purposes." I will direct; rather, as in the margin, make straight. He … shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward. Captives were often "redeemed for a price" (Nehemiah 6:8). In Greece a fixed sum was established by general consent as the ransom of a captive (Aristot; 'Eth. Nic.,' Isaiah 5:6). Cyrus, however, in letting the Jews go free, would not be actuated by the paltry motive of pecuniary profit. He may, as Mr. Cheyne remarks, have been actuated in part "by a consideration of the usefulness of such a faithful advanced guard at the border of Egypt;" but mainly it is probable that "he obeyed the dictates of religious sympathy with the Jews." The recent contention, that he was not a Zoroastrian rests upon insufficient evidence, his so-called inscription being a document not put forth by himself, but by the priests of Merodach at Babylon; and the first introduction of Zoroastrian monotheism into the state religion of Persia by Darius Hystaspis being expressly disclaimed by him in the Be-histun inscription, where he declares his reformation to have consisted in the rebuilding of the temples which Gomates the Magian had destroyed, and the reinstitutier for the state of the religious chants and the worship which he had put down (col 1. par. 14).
THE CONVERSION' OF THE GENTILES A CONSEQUENCE OF THE RESTORATION AND SALVATION OF ISRAEL. "With the prospect of the release of the exiles is associated," says Delitzsch, "in the prophet's perspective, the prospect of an expansion of the restored Church, through the entrance of the fulness of the Gentiles." Egypt, Ethiopia, and Saba are especially mentioned here, as in Isaiah 43:3, as among the first to come in (Isaiah 43:14, Isaiah 43:15). Later on, a more general influx is spoken of (Isaiah 43:20); and, finally, a prospect is held out of an ultimate universal conversion (Isaiah 43:23). At the same time, judgment is denounced against the idolaters who persist in their idolatry (Isaiah 43:16, Isaiah 43:20), and they are warned that they will have no share in the coming glories of the Israel of God.
The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabaeans; i.e. "the laborious Egyptians, and the traffic-loving Ethiopians and Sabaeans." Their buildings and their husbandry alike justify what is said of the Egyptians, while the very ancient traffic between Egypt and Ethiopia is sufficient ground for the assignment of a commercial character to the Ethiopians and the Sabaeans. Men of stature. (On the tall stature of the Ethiopians, see Herod; Isaiah 3:20; and comp. Isaiah 18:2, with the comment.) Shall come over unto thee. Knobel understands that they would give their aid to the rebuilding of the temple; but this they certainly did not do, and Isaiah's words certainly do not imply it. He is again speaking of the great conversion of the nations, which he connected with the restoration of the Jews to their own land (Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 19:18-25, etc.), and which may be considered to have begun then, but only to have had its full accomplishment in the Messianic period. In chains they shall come over. Ready to serve the Church as slaves and servants—not literally wearing chains. They shall fall down unto thee, etc. The Church, as informed with the Spirit of God, shall Seem to them a holy thing, and therefore an object of worship (romp. Revelation 3:9). There is such a union between Christ and his Church, that worship, in a qualified sense, may be paid the Church without unfitness.
Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself. Some commentators regard this as an exclamation made by Isaiah himself, who marvels at the unsearchable mystery of God's ways. But others, with better reason, take it for a continuation of the speech of the converted heathen, who marvel that God has so long hid himself from them and from the world at large, not manifesting his power, as he has now done in the person of Cyrus. In this recent manifestation he has shown himself especially the God of Israel, and their Saviour.
They shall be ashamed … shall go to confusion; rather, are ashamed … are gone to confusion—the "perfect of prophetic certainty." While the heathen that join themselves to Israel partake of their glory and salvation, such as abide by their idols are covered with shame and confusion.
Israel shall be saved … with an everlasting salvation; literally, a salvation of ages; i.e. one which will continue age after age. As Mr. Cheyne remarks, for this to be so, the redemption required to be spiritual as well as temporal. Otherwise it would ere long have been forfeited.
Thus saith the Lord, etc. Translate, Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens—he is God—that formed the earth and made it; he established it; he created it not a chaos, but formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord, and there is none else. As God had not formed the earth to be a material chaos, but had introduced into it order and arrangement, so he willed his spiritual creation to be recovered out of the confusion into which it had fallen, and to be established in righteousness.
I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; literally, in a place of the land of darkness. Jehovah's oracles have not been given, like those of the necromancers, or those of the heathen gods, in dark places of the earth—caves like that of Trophonius (Pansan; 9:29, § 2), or the inmost recesses (adyta) of temples; but openly on Sinai, or by the mouth of prophets who proclaimed his words to all Israel. So our Lord says of his own teaching, "I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing" (John 18:20). Seek ye me in vain; rather, seek ye me as a chaos (comp. Jeremiah 2:31, where God says to his people, "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness?"). God has no more revealed himself to his people as chaotic, confused, disordered, than he has presented the world to them in this condition.! the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right. There is an allusion to the crooked and ambiguous utterances of the heathen oracles, which rarely gave direct answers or plainly expressed any definite meaning. God in his utterances never diverges from the straight line of righteousness and truth (comp. Proverbs 8:6).
Assemble yourselves and come … ye … escaped of the nations. The prophet reverts to the main idea of the section, which is the conversion of the Gentiles, and calls on all "the escaped of the nation"—i.e. all who have survived the judgments of the time—to "assemble and come," to consider the claims of Jehovah to be the only true God, to "look to him (Isaiah 45:22) and be saved." The great judgments through which the heathen will be brought to God have been frequently mentioned (Isaiah 24:1-23; Isaiah 26:20, Isaiah 26:21; Isaiah 27:1-7; Isaiah 30:27-33; Isaiah 34:1-10; Isaiah 40:24; Isaiah 41:11, Isaiah 41:12, Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 42:13-15, etc.). They must not be regarded as limited to the time of Cyrus, but rather as continuing into the Messianic period, and indeed nearly to its close (see especially Isaiah 34:1-17.). Each one of them constitutes a call to the nations, and is followed by a conversion to a greater or less extent. They have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image; rather, who lift up (or, carry) the wood of their graven image (comp. Isaiah 46:7, "They bear him upon the shoulder," where the same verb is used). It was a practice of the idolatrous heathen to carry the images of their gods in processions, generally exposed to view upon their shoulders, but sometimes partially concealed in shrines, or "arks". There would be still among the "escaped" some who would so act.
Tell ye, and bring them near. Dr. Kay and Mr. Cheyne understand the nations to be addressed, and told to "show" or "announce," and "bring forth" or "produce," any argument in favour of the divinity of their gods. But it is simpler and better, with our translators, to regard the address as made to the prophets of God, who are bidden to announce his message of mercy to the nations, and to bring them near to him (comp. Isaiah 40:1). Let them take counsel together; i.e. let the nations consider one with another, whether God or the idols be the fitter object of worship. Who hath declared this? "This" must refer to the conquest of Babylon and deliverance of Israel by Cyrus. None but Jehovah had ever announced this—none but he could bring it to pass. From ancient time; rather, from aforetime (Cheyne). The announcement cannot have been made very long before this prophecy was delivered. A just God and a Saviour. A God in whom "mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other" (Psalms 85:1-13 :16); who can be at once just, "acting stringently according to the demands of his holiness" (Delitzsch), and yet design and effect the salvation of sinners.
Look unto me; rather, turn unto me (as in Psalms 25:16; Psalms 69:16; Psalms 86:16); i.e; "Be converted—turn unto the Lord your God." It is implied that all can turn, if they will. And be ye saved. On conversion, salvation will follow. It will extend even to all the ends of the earth (comp. Psalms 98:3, "All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God").
I have sworn by myself (comp. Genesis 22:17; Jeremiah 22:5; Jeremiah 49:15). "God swears "by himself," because he can swear by no greater" (Hebrews 6:13). He condescends, for man's sake, to confirm in this way promises that are exceedingly precious (see the Homiletics on Isaiah 14:24). The word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness. So Dr. Kay and Mr. Cheyne (comp. Isaiah 45:19, "I the Lord speak righteousness"). And shall not return; i.e. shall not be withdrawn or retracted. God's gifts and promises are "without repentance." Every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. This universal turning to God belongs to the final Messianic kingdom, prophesied in Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 35:1-10; Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 66:18-23; and also by Daniel (Daniel 7:9-14) and St. John the Divine (Revelation 21:1-4). The entire destruction of God's enemies is to take place previously (Revelation 19:17-21).
Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness; rather, only in the Lord, shall each man say to me. is their righteousness. All shall confess that God alone is righteous, and that any goodness which they have is derived from him. The Hebrew has "righteousnesses" in the plural, to express abundance. All that are incensed; rather, all that were incensed (see Isaiah 41:11). Such persons shall repent and be ashamed.
In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified. Joined to Jehovah in mystic union (Cheyne). the whole "Israel of God" shall be justified, and glory in their condition.
In what sense God creates evil.
It was to avoid the objections which the human conscience feels against regarding God as in any sense the author of evil, that dualism was invented. The Western Aryans thought it simpler and more natural to explain the phenomena of the physical and moral universe' by a perpetual struggle of two equal, or nearly equal, powers—one a principle of pure goodness, the creator of everything that was bright, sweet, delightful, holy, pure, good; the other, his antagonist, the creator of all that was the opposite—than to postulate a single original principle, all-powerful and all-perfect, which had yet brought into being a universe in which so much of moral and physical evil obtains as experience reveals to us. And it scarcely seems surprising that unassisted human reason should so argue. There is a difficulty in understanding the coexistence of evil with the absolute government of all things by an omnipotent and absolutely good Ruler. The difficulty is greater with regard to moral than physical evil, but it is considerable even with respect to the latter.
I. PHYSICAL EVIL. "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22). The sum of animal suffering is so enormous that to dwell on it in thought would make almost any man miserable. Even the sum of human suffering is more than we can well bear to think of. Hunger, thirst, sickness, accidents, blows, wounds, sores, excessive toil, make the lives of millions a burthen to them, and cause them to welcome death. No doubt much of this physical evil is the result of moral evil; but, making any reasonable deduction on this score, we shall still find in what remains—the resultant of the physical conditions of human and animal life—a total that it is agonizing to contemplate. Yet God must, it would seem, be regarded as the direct Author of this. He has so arranged the world—that, with the first introduction into it of sentient life, pain came in. Appetites are pains; desires are pains; most of the animal functions are pains; growth is a pain; decay and decline are pains; death is mostly an intense pain. Man, as an animal, must have known pain, even had he never known sin—must, as he increased and multiplied, have found the means of subsistence grow scanty, and have had to struggle for existence. Can we at all account for this? Much of it, especially the animal suffering, must, we think, remain an inscrutable mystery until we are "within the veil." But for the physical evils to which men are liable we may see sufficient reason. Men are made "perfect through sufferings." In overcoming, or in bearing, physical pains, man finds the best training for his moral nature. He learns to be courageous by resisting fear, which is a pain; to be just by resisting covetousness, which is another pain; and so on. Great physical evils bring out the greatest moral excellences, as those developed in martyrs and confessors. Altogether, we may pretty clearly see that the moral good produced by the pain which humanity suffers may greatly outweigh the evil of the pain itself in the sight of a moral Being.
II. MORAL EVIL. Moral evil is certainly not "created" by God, in the same direct way as physical evil. He has not necessitated it by the arrangements of his universe. He has but allowed it to come into existence. And this he seems to have done in consequence of a necessity in the nature of things. Either he must have limited his creation to objects that moved mechanically and were incapable of moral action, or, by creating moral agents, have allowed the possibility of moral evil coming into being. A free agent must be free to do right or to do wrong; if he is not free to do wrong, he is really not free when he does right. And when millions of free agents were created, each with a power of doing wrong, that some of them would choose to do wrong was to be expected, and was of course foreseen by the Creator. From the fact that, though thus foreseeing the introduction of sin into his universe, God nevertheless determined to create moral beings, we may gather that it is better in God's sight, and therefore better absolutely, that the two classes of good and bad moral beings should coexist, than that there should be no moral beings at all. Further, moral evil is certainly, like physical evil, a great means of developing higher forms of moral goodness. The virtue that resists contact with vice, the influence of bad example, the seductions of those who make all possible efforts to corrupt it, is of a higher form than that untried virtue which has passed through no such ordeal. The religion that leads men to plunge, into the haunts of vice, and give themselves to the reclaiming of the lowest outcasts among the dregs of our populace, is the highest form of religion. If there were no moral evil, moral goodness would fall far short of being what it is—there would be no Howards, no Frys, no Havelocks, no Livingstones. By the moral furnace through which it passes, "the trial of men's faith, being much more precious than that of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire," is found, and will "be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7).
Murmuring against God's arrangements at once foolish and wicked
Man is very apt to consider himself wiser than God, if not altogether, at any rate in this or that particular matter. There are few who do not at times imagine that, had the arrangement of the universe been committed to them, they could have improved it in many respects. Some would have had no sin; almost all would have had no suffering. Every one would have made some change or other. Bishop Butler suggests that such speculations are not altogether innocent ('Analogy,' part 1. Isaiah 2:1-22.); but they are, perhaps, not greatly to be blamed, unless where they lead on to positive dissatisfaction, to complaints, and to murmurings.
I. MURMURING IS FOOLISH. Since:
1. It is vain, idle; it can produce no change. God will not alter his arrangements because we are dissatisfied with them. "With him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). The laws which he gives are laws "which shall not be broken" (Psalms 148:6, Prayer-book Version). "Since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Peter 3:4). If we could affect the operation of God's laws, change them, modify them, the case would be different; there would then be some result of our querulousness. But, as it is, there is no result—we effect nothing.
2. It is founded on ignorance. We know so little of God's entire scheme of things that we cannot possibly tell whether any part of the scheme to which we object may not be a necessary condition to, or inseparably bound up with, some other part or parts on which we set the highest value. That to which we object may conceivably be the very thing which, if we knew all, we should most prize.
3. It is the preference of a lesser good over a greater. Whatever we may say in moments of suffering, ennui, or dissatisfaction, we do not really believe in our inmost hearts that any portion of God's arrangement of the universe is actually wrong and could be set right by our wisdom. We know that "whatever is, is best." Were we actually empowered to make a change, we should hesitate. We should be afraid of doing harm. How foolish, then, to grumble at arrangements which we should fear to disturb!
II. MURMURING IS WICKED. Since:
1. It is a form of rebellion against God, and so of the basest ingratitude, inasmuch as God is our great Benefactor, to whom we owe everything.
2. It is always selfish. We are never tempted to murmur except when the operation of some law of God's universe interferes with our own immediate comfort, or our profit, or our imagined advantage. But in such cases we know that our disadvantage must be compensated by some overplus of advantage to others, or the law would not exist; so that our murmuring implies a desire that others should suffer instead of ourselves, which is pure selfishness.
3. It argues pride. If we had a right sense of our own demerit and ill deserving, we should accept any and every chastening at God's hands as far less than our due. We should "humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God," and take thankfully whatever suffering he sent us. It is only when we are so proud as to imagine we do not need chastening that we can murmur.
The conversion of the Gentiles gradual, but ultimately complete.
Three stages in the conversion of the Gentiles seem to be marked—one in Isaiah 45:3; another in Isaiah 45:20; a third in Isaiah 45:23.
I. THE FIRST STAGE. The nations within a certain moderate radius of Palestine are naturally the first to come in—Egypt and Ethiopia, in Africa; and by parity of reasoning, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor, in Asia; Greece, Italy, and Southern Gaul, in Europe. This was very much the range of Hebrew influence during the five centuries preceding Christianity, and of Christian influence during two centuries afterwards.
II. THE SECOND STAGE. The circle gradually widens, and a time comes when the gospel may be said, roughly, to have penetrated everywhere, and "the earth" to be "full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). Missionaries have visited the remotest ends of the earth; and the nations generally may be challenged to "assemble themselves, and come," and make their choice between true religion and their own false and absurd systems (Isaiah 45:20). But conversion has not kept pace with preaching. On many nations very little, on some no, impression has been made. Prayer is still offered widely to deities "that cannot save." This is the state of things at the present day. Scarcely a nation in the world has not heard of the salvation of God; but a large number—as much as three-fourths of the population of the globe, we are told—have not yet accepted it.
III. THE THIRD STAGE. God has "sworn by himself, the word is gone out of his mouth in righteousness, and shall not return"—that ultimately "unto him every knee shall how, and every tongue shall swear" (Isaiah 45:23). In "a new heaven and a new earth" (Isaiah 65:17) the Messiah, u the Ancient of days" (Daniel 7:6), will rule over a kingdom which will contain "all people, nations, and languages" (Daniel 7:14). How this will be brought about, what exactly will be the scene of the kingdom, what the condition of its members, is not revealed, otherwise than in mystical words, and cannot be laid down with definiteness; but in that kingdom, beyond a doubt," all people will fall down before Jehovah, all nations will do him service"—the prophecies of Isaiah will have full effect: "all flesh will worship before the Lord" (Isaiah 66:23).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Cyrus the anointed of Jehovah.
I. THE REASON OF THE DIVINE FAVOR TO CYRUS. Cyrus is the only king out of Israel who bears the title of Jehovah's anointed. He is solemnly set apart as an instrument to perform an important public service in the cause of Jehovah. It does not necessarily imply the piety of Cyrus. For the purposes of Jehovah he is upheld, "grasped by the right hand," that he may subdue nations before him—from the Euxine to Egypt, from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. The girdles of mighty kings will be unloosed before him. See this said of Belshazzar (Daniel 5:6); then were the "two-leaved gates" of Babylon left open, amidst the revelry, and the conqueror broke in unopposed (Herod; 1:191). The treasures of the city are laid open before him.
1. The object was that he might acknowledge Jehovah. "He hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth" (Ezra 1:2). "Son of Cambyses, Heaven favours you manifestly, or you could not thus have risen superior to fortune". None but the Omniscient could have known the person and the name of him who was to conquer Babylon and deliver his people
2. The next object was the deliverance of the chosen people. "The fates of the empires and kingdoms of the world are divinely disposed of with a view to the Church." But all the progress and prosperity of true religion are summed up in the knowledge of Jehovah: that he is the sole God; that he is the Creator and the providential Ruler of the world. The alternation of day and night is Jehovah's ordinance. So also is that of peace and war, success and misfortune, good and evil. This is pure monotheism, opposed alike to pantheism and to dualism. That the world may be converted to true religion is the final and all-comprehensive object.
II. SONG OF PRAISE. "The appearance of the shepherd of Jehovah, and the thought of the blessings of which he is to be the medium, inspires the prophet with a joyous strain of psalmody." The form of the expression is borrowed from the Eastern religions, the fertility of the earth being due to the impregnating influence of Heaven (Psalms 85:11; Hosea 2:21, Hosea 2:22). Righteousness, in the sense of salvation (Isaiah 51:5, Isaiah 51:6, Isaiah 51:8; Isaiah 56:1; Isaiah 59:17; Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 61:11; Isaiah 62:1), descends upon the souls of men. And they will break forth into "fruits of righteousness" to the glory of God. Prepared for repentance and the reception of the truth from the Holy Spirit, they will be, even as the earth is, made mellow and adapted for the reception of seed by rain and dew. "A Church smiles under the influence of a revival of religion, and society puts on the aspect of loveliness like the earth after abundant showers.'—J.
The sovereignty of God.
I. THE MURMURER AGAINST PROVIDENCE. He is compared to a "potsherd among potsherds on the ground." "Woe unto him who, though made of earth, and with no intrinsic authority over others of his race, presumes to find fault with the Maker!" (cf. Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-6; Jeremiah 19:1, Jeremiah 19:10,Jeremiah 19:11; Romans 9:20-24). In the account of the Creation, the Almighty is conceived as making man out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). Shall the clay, then, quarrel with the plastic hand of the Potter? How can the distance between man and God be better expressed than by the tautology, "God is God, and man is man"? or that he is Maker, man the made? "Since matters stand thus between God and us, let us consider what bands we are in, and what an irresistible grip has hold of us; and let that teach us, even for our sakes, to be quiet under it. There is, indeed, but one way of encountering an infinite power; and that is by an extraordinary (if it were possible), an infinite patience" (South). Is it natural, again, for the child to complain of its parents that it has been brought deformed or weakly into the world? Nor is it becoming of men to catechize and call to account Jehovah. "Are ye children of God? Then is it well with you; and to murmur against me is as if ye should renounce your sonship."
II. THE ABSURDITY OF MURMURING. To criticize the Creator is to assume a knowledge we have not got. We should be creators ourselves before we could say whether this or that part of the great world-work could have been otherwise executed. It is also to assume a knowledge of the clues of history, the springs of sudden events, which is not ours. And Jehovah reminds man again of his providential relation to Cyrus. His absolute unquestionable dominion and sovereignty over all things is the great argument for our submission to him. His dominion is founded on an inalienable title—Creation and Providence. It is reasonable that the first cause should be the Supreme Governor; and whatever has been made by God should also be commanded by him. He might have chosen whether he would have made the world or no; for he had no need of it to complete or add to his happiness, which was infinitely perfect within the compass of his own glorious being. Yet he was pleased, by the free motion of his will, to communicate and diffuse some little shadow of those perfections upon the creatures, and more especially upon his nearer resemblances, men and angels. A being essentially wise cannot do anything but wisely. Our ignorance of God's actions cannot make them or argue them to be unreasonable. He is more honored by our admiration than by our inquiries. Hence the necessity, the prudence, and the becomingness of submission, without murmuring to his allotments.—J.
The conversion of Egypt.
In this conversion of the nations to true religion the Divine goodness and providence will be at last recognized. They are represented as going over to Israel of their own accord, and surrendering to her their wealth. And they will be brought at last to the great confession, "Of a truth God is in thee, and there is none beside—no Godhead at all."
I. HISTORY AS THE CONCEALMENT OF GOD. So it often appears. The weak are down-trodden; the proud and tyrannical are in the ascendant. Israel in her prostrate condition and insignificance seemed to imply a God impotent to save. And so it is in the personal life and history. There are sufferings which obscure the light of faith, and seem to give the lie to the most deep-seated religious hopes. But God is where he was, though our view pierces not to him. "He's in his heaven; all's right with the world!"
II. HISTORY THE UNVEILING OF GOD. "Now we are forced to own that Israel's God is the absolutely Strong One, able and willing to deliver all who trust in him." Then in a moment they who have trusted in idols are covered with confusion, together with the artificers of them. And Israel is saved with an everlasting salvation. "Time, like a dome of many-coloured glass, stains the white radiance of eternity." What is all life and time, nature and human fashion, but a veiling of God? How can we see him except "through a glass darkly"? What is thinking but dreaming, and dreams what but pictured screens, concealing and revealing the truth? We are in bondage to sense, to belief, to fancy. But our deliverance draws near; and no confusion will await them that have believed to the end.—J.
God, Israel, and the world.
Again, with solemn iteration, Jehovah declares that he is Creator and God alone. The earth was framed and fitted to be the habitation of man, and the theatre of providential manifestations.
I. THE REALITY OF THE ETERNAL. The truth is open, and may be published to all; it is no thing of mystery, secrecy, like heathen esoteric rites or knowledge. "Jehovah's Law is not to be obtained by any occult arts from the under-world." He has not been a wilderness unto Israel or a land of darkness (Jeremiah 2:31; cf. Jeremiah 2:6). The seeking of his people after him is not to end in chaos. Here, again, may be an allusion to the dark sayings of the heathen oracles—ambiguous, oblique, or fallacious. His speech is direct, upright, and true. Let those who have escaped from the judgment upon the nations bear witness. How foolish they who carry the wooden image in processions, and pray to it (cf. Isaiah 46:1; Jeremiah 10:5; Amos 5:26)! What argument can be produced for the divinity of idols? Which of them can pretend to the prophetic and predictive power of Jehovah? God is the only Reality, the only Truth, the only faithful Principle in a world of idolatrous unrealities, pretences, and shams.
II. CALL TO SALVATION. In him who is real and true, alone can men find deliverance from temporal and spiritual ills. Not Israel alone, but mankind, is destined to look to him as the Universal Saviour. Jehovah swears by himself—the strongest form of assurance—"when the accompanying revelation is specially grand, or specially hard to believe." "The abolition of the last vestige of nationalism in the true religion is announced." The word is gone forth, and shall not miss its aim; the truth has sped like an arrow to the mark. Every knee shall bow in homage, every tongue shall swear allegiance. Submission shall be without reserve and absolute. "Only in Jehovah are righteousness and strength." While confusion shall be the portion of his enemies, his servants sh