Lessons of the past.
This passage has been somewhat misused. The appeal is not made to the miserableness of our spiritual condition before receiving the Divine redemption. It is simply a recalling of the early history of the race, and an appeal that the goodness, care, and mercy of God to the first progenitors of the race should be recognized. The wonder involved in the origin of Israel may be treated as a ground of faith in its restoration and perpetuity. Cheyne gives the meaning thus: "Unlikely as the fulfilment of such exceeding great and precious promises may seem, it is not more unlikely than the original wonder of a great nation being descended from one man, and him as good as dead." Abraham may be understood by the "rock," and Sarah by the "pit." Look unto Abraham, and see what he got by trusting in the promise of God, and take example by him to follow God with an implicit faith. The metaphors are taken from the quarry, and express the general idea of extraction or descent. Retrospection is an important, though difficult and dangerous, Christian duty. It ought to
But it may, and often does, nourish that subtle form of spiritual pride which poisons the soul, and which is peculiarly difficult to cure. We only recall the past healthily when it is our set purpose to find the traces of God's gracious working in it all. Studied aright—
I. THE PAST TELLS OF OUR INSIGNIFICANCE . Compare the wonder over the insignificance of Israel in its beginnings. So of the Christian Church. It began with the one or two who responded to the call of Christ. Some of us began our Christian lives in childhood, some in ignorance, and some when self-indulgence had marred the powers we possessed. All of us can say, "Chosen not for good in me."
II. THE PAST TELLS OF GOD 'S CARE AND MERCY . We have been led, guided, provided for, chastised, and taught, even as Israel was. God's first dealings seem to us a key to all his dealings.
III. THE PAST TELLS OF OUR WILFULNESSES . Israel could never look back without remembering his "way in the wilderness." Their past was full of murmurings and rebellions.
IV. THE PAST TELLS OF GOD 'S REDEMPTIONS . Exactly the name for God is our Redeemer. And the long and varied past assures us that he will ever be to us, in all times of need, what he always has been.—R.T.
AN ADDRESS TO FAITHFUL ISRAEL , SUGGESTING TOPICS OF COMFORT .
The address consists of three nearly equal strophes or stanzas, each commencing with a call, Shim'u elai , "Hearken unto me," or Haqshibu elai , "Attend to me." The prophet appears to be the speaker, and to address himself to the more faithful portion of the people.
Ye that follow after righteousness ; i.e. "ye that endeavour to lead righteous lives" (comp. Isaiah 51:7 ). Ye that seek the Lord. And do not "seek after idols," as too many of the exiles did ( Isaiah 40:19 ; Isaiah 41:7 ; Isaiah 44:9-20 ; Isaiah 46:5-8 , etc.). Look unto the rock … the hole; i.e. look back at your past history, especially at the early beginnings of it. Consider from what a slight and poor commencement—an aged man and a barren woman ( Isaiah 51:2 )—ye were raised up to be God's people, a numerous nation, a multitude like the sand of the sea. How came this result about? Was it not simply by the blessing of God?
Instructions to the spiritual Israel.
The people are described as "possessing righteousness," i.e. following a way of life in accordance with the Divine commands; and "seeking Jehovah," i.e. attending to all that his mind approves and his will commands.
I. THE LESSON OF THEIR ORIGIN . They had been, as it were, hewn from a rock and dug out of a pit. The allusion is to Abraham. They had sprung from one, and him as good as dead ( Hebrews 11:12 ). They had been as rough as unhewn materials fresh from the quarry when Jehovah took them in band for his moulding. He had formed the nation out of its primary materials—had taken Abraham and Sarah from a distant land, and formed them into a nation for his own purpose. And then the argument is that he who had done this in the past was able to do as great things in the future—to restore the people from captivity to their own land. The words may be applied more generally (cf. Matthew 3:9 , "God is able to raise up of these stones children unto Abraham"). From the rudest material God can fashion masterpieces of grace. The greatest sinner may furnish the elements of character for the greatest saint. In any true and humble view of his condition the Christian will feel that the language is apposite to himself. "He was found in his natural state as a block of marble; he was moulded and formed by the agency of the Holy Spirit; he was fitted into the spiritual temple. Christians owe all the beauty and grace of their Christian deportment to him. This is an argument to prove that they are dependent on him for all that they have, and that he will keep them and accomplish all his purposes by them. He who has transformed them from rough and unsightly blocks to polished stones fitted for his spiritual temple on earth, is able to keep them still, and to fit them wholly for his temple above."
II. COMFORT FOR THE FUTURE .
1 . External blessings. The ruined places of Zion are to be restored, the present wilderness of Judaea to be transformed into a garden of Eden—a scene of joy, thanksgiving, and music. The idea of a terrestrial paradise enters into the lore of other nations. Arab legends tell of a garden in the East, on a mount of jacinth, inaccessible to man, of rich soil and equable temperature, well watered and abounding in trees and flowers of rare colours and fragrance. "In the background of man's visions lay a paradise of holy joy, secured from profanation and inaccessible to the guilty; full of objects fitted to delight the senses and elevate the mind; a paradise that granted to its tenant rich and rare immunities, and fed with its perennial streams, the tree of life, and immortality" (Hardwick). There is no reason why we should not think of heaven under such a figure; and every happy renewal of the soul by Divine grace may be termed a transformation of the waste and desert of the heart into the garden of God.
2 . Spiritual blessings. "Enthroned anew in Israel, Jehovah shall send forth his light and his truth among the distant nations." His righteousness is new—which means "his consistent adherence to his revealed line of action which involves deliverance to faithful or at least repentant Israel, and destruction to those who thwart his all-wise purposes." "Mine arms shall judge the peoples" includes "the darker side of Jehovah's righteousness" (Cheyne). The countries "shall wait" for Jehovah, and trust upon his "arm," i.e. his mighty help. Distant lands shall become interested in the true religion, and acknowledge and worship the true God.
3 . The eternity of God ' s salvations. The order of the world is elsewhere described in Scripture as everlasting ( Genesis 8:21 , Genesis 8:22 ; Genesis 9:9-11 ; Genesis 49:26 ; Psalms 148:6 ). The heavens and the earth appear to be firm and fixed. Yet—against all appearance and probability, against all that specious constancy—they are doomed to vanish away. The most mighty and fixed of created things must disappear; but the promise of God is unfailing, This is one of the finest passages in all poetry. The heavens are to " glide away," disappearing like wreaths of smoke in the air (cf. Isaiah 34:4 ; Hebrews 1:11 , Hebrews 1:12 ; Psalms 102:26 ; 2 Peter 3:10-12 ). The Hebrew was wont to look upon the sky as a "firmament," a solid overarching vault. Yet here it seems thin as a soap-bubble, which the breath of a child may blow into nothingness. There are times when the soul is sick (like Hamlet), and all the magnificence of the heavens seems to pall upon it—a hint that the soul feels it partakes of a life higher than that of the natural world. There are times when the soul triumphs in the transiency of the natural world, conscious that it enjoys an immortality in common with the Eternal. "The earth shall fall to pieces like a garment, and the dwellers therein shall die like gnats; but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be annulled." It is not the contempt of a self-poised soul for the material world and its dimensions and its splendours; but the joy of a trustful soul in affiance with the Saviour-God. That this world will pass away, and that God will remain, are certain. But of what comfort is this to me, unless I am united to the Eternal? He by whose will material things perish and pass away is he by whose will the soul is redeemed and saved for ever. To live in faith upon God is to live the life of intellect and the life of love , neither of which can pass away; for they belong to the eternal essences. In such assurance material things may be seen evaporating, heaven turning to smoke, earth becoming as a tattered robe, "ocean's self turning dry;" while we ourselves pass to him who has been and will be the Dwelling-place and the Saviour of all successive generations.—J.