A RENEWAL OF THREATENING . The denunciation of the Egyptian alliance had been made viva voce , in the courts of the temple or in some other place of public resort. As he ended, Isaiah received a Divine intimation that the prophecy was to be put on record, doubly, upon a tablet and in a book. At the same time, the " rebelliousness " of the people was further pointed out, and fresh threats (verses 13, 14, and 17) were uttered against them.
Ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses ; rather, we will fly upon horses . The nobles had perhaps a manly eagerness to mount the Egyptian war-horses, and rush upon the enemy at full speed, in the hope of discomfiting them. Isaiah warns them that they will not really fig on the enemy, but flee before him. We will ride upon the swift . "The swift" (kal) seems to be a mere variant for "horse," the parallelism being, as so frequently, "synonymous." Therefore shall they that pursue you be swift. However swift the horses of the Judaeans, their enemies would be as well mounted and would pursue and overtake them.
A testimony forever.
The prophet pauses. Perhaps he hears an inner voice bidding him to write down a few words, such as the last significant Rahab . As in Isaiah 8:1 , the inscription is to be on a large tablet, set up in a conspicuous place, so that he who runs may read. Then he is to inscribe the prophecy more fully on a scroll. Litera scripta manet . The oracle, the oral utterance, transferred to parchment, becomes a κτῆμα εἰς ἀεί , a "possession forever." The perpetuity of his protest and warning must be secured. The word rendered" inscribe" is more literally rendered " carve ." Every earnest man has surely something worth thus carving, inscribing, engraving, somewhere, on some material—tablet, book, or "fleshy table of the heart;" the condensation of a life-experience, the sum of life-truths, the whole self-revelation, which is at the same time God's revelation to his soul of what is substantial and eternal.
I. THE NEED FOR SUCH INSCRIPTION . The people refuse to listen to any but flattering prophecies. They are disobedient and untruthful at heart. They refuse to listen to the prophet's message; then they must be made to look upon it in a permanent form. None are so blind as those who will not see, unless it be those who will not let others see. Light, more light, is our constant need: what shall be said of those who would stay the hand that is drawing up the blinds from the windows of the soul? What more precious than insight? H ow should we cherish the man who sees deeper into the heart of things, or gathers up the scattered fragments of truth into one inspiring unity of representation; the mind gifted with the power to shed luminous effects upon what were otherwise gloomy in life's outlook! How all-precious is that purer eloquence, not of ephemeral and party passion, but of the truth which is of no party nor time! How shall these elements of indispensable worth be preserved? Can we trust them to the popular memory and heart? Alas! no, or not entirely. In the hour of excitement and passion all will be forgotten. "You shall not prophesy unto us right things," has been, in effect, the cry of the multitude again and again at such hours. The Jewish prophets themselves felt these things keenly. "Don't preach!" is, in effect, the cry by which they are met. Or, "Preach to us of wine and strong drink"—any doctrine of indulgence, is the demand ( Micah 2:6 , Micah 2:11 ; of. Amos 2:12 ). If the prophet sternly resisted this temper of the people, and told the homely truth that God had forsaken them because they had forsaken him, a shower of stones was likely to be the dreadful answer, as in the case of the martyr Zechariah ( 2 Chronicles 24:20 , 2 Chronicles 24:21 ). Greedy is the appetite for "smooth things" and "illusions," and never wanting a supply of such flattering prophets who will run, though Jehovah has not sent them, and utter what he has not said ( Jeremiah 23:21 ). There is a demand for those who will make flexible what he has made inflexible, mark out a deviating path from that which he has traced straight and plain. Nay, some would be glad to efface the thought of God from their minds, because thus they would efface the sense of responsibility, "Abolish out of our sight the Holy One of Israel." For then there will be free course for all license. From all this we see the need of religious literature. Libraries may be burned; a few manuscripts worth more to mankind than gold and silver will be preserved. The truth in Isaiah has been preserved for us by the art of writing, has come down to us in the form of Scripture. Let us thank God for art as the handmaid of religion. At every epoch in the history of the world, religions life is threatened with decay or degeneration; but it will renew itself from the sacred "records of the past."
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE TESTIMONY .
1. Simple faith in the Eternal opposed to worldly policy . We must, in order to apprehend the nature of the "testimony forever," strip away the temporary references, and regard Rahab and Israel as types of permanent phases of character (Cheyne). What does "Rahab" stand for? "Perverseness and crookedness" (or oppression). Crookedness and frowardness mean what we mean by "unprincipled conduct" (comp. Proverbs 2:15 ; Proverbs 4:24 ). To trust in shrewdness and policy—this is worldliness . It is one of the many ways in which man's wit would contend with eternal wisdom. And punishment must surely attend upon this sin, according to the laws of the Divine kingdom. Various is the imagery under which Scripture represents the connection between evil in the mind and the result—first in sin, then in destruction. The strong will be as tow, and burn unquenchably; the foolish will conceive chaff, and bring forth stubble, or will be burned as thorns ( Isaiah 1:31 ; Isaiah 33:11 , Isaiah 33:12 ). Here guilt is compared in its result to the cracking or bulging of a wall, which suddenly crashes down in ruin; to a pitcher dashed violently to the ground, and broken into a multitude of fragments, so that it can never be of the slightest use again. But the vessels of God's fashioning shall endure. Let us be content to be what God would make of us; self-devices that would contravene his purpose will be "ground to powder."
2. The condition of deliverance , returning . From what? Is it the general sense of conversion— the absolute turning once for all, in choice and conduct, from moral evil? Or is it rather, more specifically, the relinquishment of the search for worldly aids? " Self-chosen ways," "self-confident works," seem certainly to be meant. Would they but lay aside this restless eagerness and over-anxious care for safety, and simply fall upon the Almighty arms! Such lessons can never be obsolete. Trust in God does not imply supineness, but it should still excessive and feverish fears. Behind all our plans and proposals, he is thinking and acting; if they are unsound, they must come to naught; if sound, they will be furthered. "Take heed and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted." The worldly mind will lean on worldly support—swift horses of Egypt or the like, only to find themselves outmatched upon their own chosen ground. " One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one." Mere numbers give no strength. Strength is in being able to stand alone, if need be. To find one's self suddenly deserted, " as a mast on the top of a mountain, a signal on a hill," is often the fate of those whose only policy is to side with numbers and with power.
3. The compassion of Jehovah . Human needs call forth Divine deeds. We are to think of God as One who longs to manifest and exert himself for the good of his creatures; as One who is hindered by human pride, impatience, petulance; as One who therefore waits for his opportunity and fit season to be gracious; as One who is ever true to himself, constant to his covenant, keeping favor for his people and wrath for his foes. How happy, then, those who in turn "long for Jehovah!"—whose eyes are directed to the " hills whence cometh help!" who watch his pleasure as the servant that of his master, the handmaiden that of her mistress! " To possess God there must be that in us which God can possess. Still to aspire after the Highest is our wisdom; to cease from aspiration is to fall into weakness."—J.
Aspects of sin.
This severe denunciation by the prophet of the sins of the Jews may remind us of some of the darker and sadder aspects of sin itself.
I. THE PERMANENCY OF ITS RECORD . Isaiah was to record the guilt of "the rebellious children" in a book, that it might be there inscribed " for the time to come forever and ever." And in the sacred volume there stand written, to be read for all time, the accusations which the Lord brought against Israel; the record of their national perversity remains after all these centuries have passed, and will remain for centuries to come. Apart from such instrumentality as was here employed, the sins we commit find a lasting record. They are printed in the faces and the forms of men, they are legible in their lives, they are apparent in their characters, they survive in their reputation, they live on forever m the ineffaceable influences which are left behind them and which are transmitted from age to age. The sins of the fathers may be read in the lowered and injured lives of the children unto the third and the fourth generation. We little think how and where and when our guilt is being recorded in one or other of the many books of God.
II. ITS OBDURACY . "Children that will not hear the Law of the Lord" (verse 9). Contumacy reaches its utmost length when it closes its ears against the Word of the all-wise and almighty God. It is by degrees that the heart becomes thus hardened. Diminished pleasure, inattention, avoidance, the closed ear of the soul—by such stages as these man descends to the obduracy which is here rebuked.
III. ITS POWER OF IMPOSING ON ITSELF . (Verses 10, 11.) When sin is in full possession of the soul it makes men believe that to be false which they do not wish to be true, and that true which they do not like to consider false; it prevails on them to regard the rugged things to be wrong, and the smooth things to be sound; then it leads them to find a voice for this palatable and comforting doctrine; so that they encourage those to speak who will keep silence as to all Divine but disagreeable truth, and give utterance to pleasant and profitable perversions.
IV. THE APPARENT SUDDENNESS OF ITS PENALTY . (Verse 13.) The spendthrift is getting poorer every month for many years, but bankruptcy comes on him suddenly at last. The dishonest man is getting hopelessly involved for years, but his reputation is blasted in an hour. The fascinations of the cup are long gaining ascendency, but in some evil day the victim of this baleful vice is seen staggering in the streets. Passion may have been winning the mastery from youth upwards, but at a certain point it blazes forth, and the life-blood is shed. Penalty generally comes at last with seeming suddenness, like the breaking wall that has long bent but comes down in a moment.
V. THE COMPLETENESS OF ITS PENALTY . (Verse 14.)
VI. ITS APPROPRIATENESS . (Verse 16.) The punishment of Judah's sin should have a marked correspondence with the guilt itself. This is constant. Sins of the flesh make their mark upon the body; sins of the mind leave their stain upon the spirit; folly in the home will end in domestic sorrow; he that withholds from others starves himself; he that oppresses others does violence to his own soul, etc. There will always be found a fitness in the penalty to the sin for which a man is suffering. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;" he that soweth the wind, shall reap the whirlwind ( Galatians 6:7 ; Hosea 8:7 ).—C.
The peril of the willful.
"We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift." We will— there is man's sin. That is not a fit position for dependent man ever to take. "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare." "Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain For that ye ought to say, if the Lord will , we shall live, and do this, or that." From some points of view these strong-willed men may be regarded as the noble-men of earth. They have a purpose in life, which holds in and guides, as with bit and bridle, all the forces of their being. They are the great men in our mills and warehouses; the foremost as statesmen, and in carrying out great social and national enterprises. They seem to have a power of control over all the circumstances surrounding them, and a power of recoil from the greatest disappointments and disasters. Yet this disposition lays men open to peculiar dangers. Strong will is liable to become self-will—to refuse the ordinance of God; to refuse the help of God; to refuse to wait for God. It stands up in fancied majesty and says, "I will." "Whatever God may say or do, I will. I will be rich, I will be successful, I will be great." When a man in such a spirit says, "I will," he is on the very pit-edge, and on the pit-edge blindfolded.
I. WILFULNESS IS REBELLIOUSNESS . Because man is God's servant, pledged to carry out his Master's will, and not his own will. Man is God's child, and in duty bound to fulfill his Father's commands. Disobedience is rebellion.
II. WILFULNESS IS WEAKNESS . Because man is entirely dependent on the God whose will he refuses, for the means of accomplishing what he determines to do. His willfulness is as weak as a child's who has no money, no power, but depends entirely on his parents.
III. WILFULNESS IS FOOLISHNESS . For it is a setting of ourselves against the Almighty God, as if he would allow us to shift and rearrange his plans. Man's willfulness may make a noise, and bring him into trouble; but it is only a child's attempt to hold back the flowing of the great river of God. A little time of vain trying, and then the child is swept away by the flood, which still rolls on.
IV. WILFULNESS IS PERIL . It will be a marvel, almost a miracle, if such a man do not "fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition."—R.T.