The following Critical Remarks are extracted from notes of Lectures and Sermons by Mr. Craik, taken down in shorthand by Mr. W. Parsons. They were preached during the period from 1846 to 1849.
On The Names Of The Twelve Patriarchs.
The names here given of the twelve Patriarchs set forth great truths connected with the character, condition, and privileges of God’s people—the true Israel. The notion common to our natural hearts is that God may have to do with great things. He may have to do with the revolution of nations, and the disposal of kings; but that such a minute circumstance as the giving of a name, for instance, is altogether beneath His notice. But we know that such a notion runs counter to the whole of Scripture. “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered,” it is said. We shall find, therefore, much instruction in the consideration of these names. It is worthy of note that the names of the children of the lawful wives come first; those of the handmaids of the two wives come last—Joseph being omitted, as he was in Egypt already. (See Gen. 35:22—26.)
Reuben—that is, “Behold a Son!” As it were the key-note to the whole, we have regeneration brought before us. “Except a man be born of God, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The condition, then, of believers, as born of God, is brought before us by the name “Reuben.”
Simeon—that is, “Hearing.” One of the first results of regeneration is to lead to prayer; as we find it recorded of Saul of Tarsus, “Behold he prayeth! “And all who ask in the name of Jesus are heard of God. This is a truth not belonging to any particular stage in the progress of the believer, but is always applicable.
Levi—that is, “union,” “association.” An allusion to this is made in Num. 18:2— “And thy brethren also of the tribe of Levi, &c, that they may be joined unto thee.” The word rendered joined, is precisely the same as Levi; and if the English would bear it, it might be said, “that they may be Levi-ed to thee.” This name brings before us association in Christ Jesus. Believers are associates with Christ. “Therefore God even thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows,” or associates. This is a higher point in Christian knowledge—a further step in Christian apprehension, learning that truth, “heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ.”
Judah—that is, “praise.” This joint heirship with Christ is the special character of those who are to praise God. The tribes of Simeon and Judah were closely connected together, as may be seen from Joshua 19:9; so there is a special connection between prayer and praise. Judah was a more important tribe than Simeon; so praise has a higher character than prayer. For the time is coming when prayer will no longer characterize the believer, since it will be swallowed up in praise.
Issachar—that is, “there is a reward.” The reward is a reality—“That I may cause those that love Me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures” (Pro 5:8:21). The reward of the saints is two-fold—present and future. “In the keeping of Thy commandments there is great reward.” “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” There is also the ultimate reward, even that which was said to Abraham (Gen. 15:1) “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward,” the same word that forms part of the word Issachar. Thus every time we think of Issachar we are reminded that God’s people are entitled, by His grace, to a present reward, and the enjoyment of Himself to all eternity.
Zebulun—that is, “a dwelling.” This term is always applied to a place having a consecrated use, and not to ordinary dwellings. It is applied to God as in His temple, or as dwelling with His people, reminding us of the words of Jesus, “Abide in Me, and I in you.” Zebulun thus brings before us the indwelling of Jesus in His people, and His people in Jesus. The reward is connected with abiding in Christ—“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye wilL and it shall be done unto you.”
Joseph would come in due order here before Benjamin. His nature means he shall add, and brings before us that cheering truth, “Unto him that hath shall be given.” We may mourn over the weakness of our faith, but more faith shall be given; and so of our love, and hope, and every grace; but Joseph’s name, God shall add, is to be our comfort and watchword as we go on in our conflict. How little did Eachel know what would be the fulfilment of her own words “the Lord shall add to me another son” (Gen. 30:24). As little did Balaam enter into the fulfilment of his words concerning Israel; or as little did Caiaphas know of his own prophecy, “that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:51, 52). God did add according to the impatient utterance of Rachel, “Give me children else I die; “but in the answer to her request she found her death!
Benjamin denotes “Son of the right hand.” There is a peculiarity about this instance. We learn that as the soul of Rachel was departing she named her child Benoui, i.e., the son of my sorrow, but that his father called him Benjamin, the son of the right hand. These two names naturally remind us of a twofold aspect of believers. On the one hand they are the fruit of the Redeemer’s travail. Every believer is the fruit of what the Surety endured in His unutterable anguish. Just as Rachel died in giving birth to her son, so, by the death of Jesus, believers had their life, according to that ascription of praise (Rev. 5:9), “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood;” and when this earth shall be the scene of the glory—when He shall take to Himself His great power and reign, other places may be blotted out, but the hill of Calvary, and the Garden of Gethsemane shall never be blotted out; but for the deepening of the joy of the redeemed there shall ever be the remembrance of the pangs of Him who shall then be seeing the travail of His soul and be satisfied. Thus believers are the sons of sorrow, but they are also the sons of the Father’s right hand, i.e., they are exalted to sit with Him who is seated at the Father’s right hand, henceforth expecting till all His enemies be made His footstool.
Dan, that is, “judging,” reminding us of Paul’s words, “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” (1 Cor.6:3) i.e., we shall have association in judgment or rule with Jesus in His kingdom, “sitting on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Napthali, that is “wrestling,” teaching us that though all these features of privileges belong to us, yet we are to have conflicts; “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers,” &c. So long as we continue in this world, we shall never get into such a condition as that the name Napthali, wrestling, is not applicable to us. If the name be applied to wrestling in prayer, there we are to connect it with the blessing of Napthali in Deut. 33:23, “O Napthali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord;” for these are the results of believing prayer. If there be much prayer to our Father who seeth in secret, He will reward us openly. If any believer be much in prayer, such an one shall prove the blessing of this verse (Deut. 33:23).
Gad, that is, “a troop “(not “good fortune,” as stated in a certain version), according to the blessing of Jacob (Gen. 49:19). As Rachel regarded Joseph to be the pledge of more children, and named him adding, so Leah looked upon Gad and said, “a troop cometh.” According to Gen. 49:19, Gad shall be assaulted. Gad occupied that part of Canaan outside of Jordan, and therefore was more exposed to the incursions of the enemies of Israel. It is well that everyone should know the geographical position of the tribes: it is frequently helpful in understanding what is said of them. “But he shall overcome at the last,” i.e., God shall come off victorious, just expressing the position of believers. We have to fight some battles over and over again; but the promise is, we shall overcome at the last—we shall be more than conquerors!
Asher, that is, “happy,” is well fitted to close the catalogue of the believer’s privileges. Asher’s blessing in Deut. 33:25, is a promise applicable to God’s people. Asher is expressive of everlasting happiness; it is the word which begins Psalm 1.—32, &c.—“Blessed.” Almost always in the Psalms where you find the words descriptive of happiness, you have this word Asher— blessed, happy.
Thus these twelve names together are descriptive of the believer’s character, privilege, and everlasting happiness; and somewhat, too, in order.
We have this Psalm twice quoted in the Acts—first in Peter’s discourse on the day of Pentecost (2:25, &c), where he expressly says that the Psalm refers not to David, but to Christ: again it is quoted in ch. 13:34, &c, by the Apostle Paul, who refers it to the Messiah as contrasted with David. Having thus cleared our way to a safe application of this Psalm to the Lord Jesus Christ, I would briefly advert to the foregoing verses. It is all important thus to have the authority of the New Testament, because otherwise we might make a mistake; for we have no authority to say that every Psalm applies to Christ: if we did so, we might apply to Christ that which does not belong to Him. In connection with this it is well that we should not allow ourselves to be carried away with any particular theory. It is very helpful to us to be able safely to apply a certain Psalm to Christ, and thereby to know what was His experience; and the practical use of such Psalms is to bring us acquainted with the mind of Christ; for in this connection He is not to be looked upon as distinct from His members. He is not only an atonement for sin, but an example to His people. There can be no true following of Christ without a knowledge of His mind, His thoughts, His feelings. We may read such Psalms as the diary of a dear departed friend (to compare them to natural things) where finding the disclosures of how He was enabled to walk with God, we should be greatly instructed thereby. In verse 1, we have the prayer of Christ for preservation, care; and here at once a difficulty may present itself. If we think of Jesus as the Creator and Preserver of all things, there seems a difficulty; but the answer to this is, that in many Scriptures we have references to His divine nature; others refer to His human nature; others, again, refer to Him as God in our flesh, as Head of the church, both divine and human. If they speak of Him before His incarnation, it refers to His divine nature; but if they speak of Him as growing in stature and in wisdom, they refer to His human nature; and if we do not make this distinction, it would be contrary to Holy Scripture. His human nature was limited and finite, but not so His divine. We cannot understand how infinite could dwell with finite, but we must not on this account deny the fact. Many seem to think that because Jesus was divine, He was not exposed to a sense of dependence and weakness; but if we once admit this, we destroy the plain meaning of Scripture—we entirely destroy any force in His example to us. We have to think of Him as the needy One, for “though He was. rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be made rich;” and thus we have this expression as the utterance of the soul of Christ as conscious of weakness and dependence—“Preserve me, O God,” founding it upon this condition, “for in Thee do I put my trust.”
Verse 2 contains the consecration of Himself to Jehovah. In this He is the example to His people; for as He made Jehovah His portion, and found His delight in those who did the will of God (verse 3), so the leading of the Spirit of God in His people is ever to the same thing.
Verse 4: “Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.” —Those who are idolaters in their hearts have this set before them as their lot, “their sorrows shall be multiplied;” but, says Jesus, verse 5, “the Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup; “and then contemplating with delight this His portion, He adds, verse 6, “the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places,” &c.
Verse 7: “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.” —One result of Jesus’ thus having Jehovah as His portion, was to get instruction from Him. As the man of large possessions likes to think of his property, so the soul of the Man Christ Jesus was delighted in thinking of the portion He possessed in the Lord. He made use of His possession; and when we speak of God as our portion, it is not a matter of theory, but we are to make use of Him. Here we see that Christ made use of Him as the source of wisdom—“I will bless the Lord who hath given Me counsel.” But here there may come in the same difficulty which presented itself in the first verse. Did Christ need counsel? We may illustrate this by a reference to Luke 6:12, where it is recorded that the Blessed One spent the whole night in prayer to God. Now surely we may fairly infer that the whole night spent in prayer, and the choice of the apostles which took place “when it was day,” are connected. While He humbled Himself on the one hand to get instruction, yet, on the other, whatever was necessary to His work was known to Him, for He could look forward to the hour of His sufferings. He might have looked at the consequences that would follow the choice of these apostles, the preaching of the gospel in the Roman empire—its extending to our own land—our own knowledge and reception of the gospel. We may look upon these things as the result of Christ’s prayer; we may pass over 1800 years, and connect our present condition with that memorable night of prayer. To this also we may refer the latter clause of this verse—“My secret thoughts also instruct me in the night seasons.” Christ blesses the Father for counsel, which implies prayer; and with this is coupled meditation, two means of growing in divine knowledge. How near does this bring Christ and His members together! We have ever to remember, at the same time, that there is a vast disparity between them. In Christ there was no taint. He was really human, but He had nothing to do with man’s fallen condition, except it were to bear our sins. He took our nature, but it was in spotless purity. He maintained His whole course in purity. The holiest of men has to confess sin; but if Christ confesses sins, it is the sins of His people; and thus we are ever to remember the vast disparity that exists between the holiest of the members and the Blessed Head Himself. But when we are well grounded in this, we may draw near to view how near He came to us—to see that He had every feeling of our nature which a sinless Being could have. This seventh verse is the language of the Head; and is not this, brethren, often the language of the members? We have sought direction how to walk; and when we have heard a voice behind us saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, we have sympathy with the mind of Christ, and say, “I will bless the Lord who hath given me counsel.” We have to bring nothing to the Word, but to bring everything from the Word. We are to expect no new revelation from God, but only discoveries of what in the Word has not been known before. We seek of God to teach us what is already in the Word; and in reference to such increased knowledge of the example and experience of Christ, we may say “my secret thoughts also instruct me in the night seasons.”
Verse 8: “I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”— We have had first, the Lord as the portion of the Man Christ Jesus, as used by Him for preservation, then, as used by Him for counsel, direction, instruction; and here the Blessed One gives out to us the secret of holy walking. He so walked as having Jehovah always before Him and near Him: before Him in order to please Him; and near Him for His defence. This tells us not only what was the walk of Christ, but what should be the frame of our minds in our walking. How often have we failed, because of not setting the Lord always before us. Because we get out of His presence we fail and slip aside. What a verse is this to begin the day with, to go through the day with, whether we be alone, or in our business, in our families, or in social intercourse! “I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.” This is not a thing of set times and seasons—this is man’s religion. How natural to man is it to be religious after sorrow; but the Spirit of God does not teach us to be religious merely at certain times.
The two first chapters of this book of Holy Scripture, record the history of Job’s unparalleled trials, and the spirit in which he was enabled to bear them; and when we consider the depth of them, we must all acknowledge that the grace he manifested, was far beyond that which is ordinarily manifested by God’s saints; therefore the Holy Spirit takes notice of it especially by the Apostle James. But, while these chapters show Job’s patience, this third chapter presents him in a very different aspect. The two first chapters present him as an object of imitation, but this third as a warning. The first and second chapters furnish matters for admiration, the third contains unjustifiable language, showing us that none are perfect; but that the only one perfect as man was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. From the third chapter to nearly the close of the book we have the discussion between Job and his three friends.
As Job said many things that were wrong, as did also his friends, the question naturally occurs, how are we to know that which is according to the mind of God, and that which is not? We cannot read this book, it may be said, as we do the writings of the prophets, because there are many: things contrary to the mind of God. Three answers may be given to this question. The first is a general answer—that believers having the light of the prophets and of the New Testament without them, and the teaching of the Spirit within them, may judge all things; and, therefore, if we find any thing uttered by Job or his friends contrary to the prophets and the New Testament, then we are warranted in affirming that they were mistaken; but, if on the other hand we find the same thing spoken by Job, as that which is spoken by those who spoke without any mixture of error, then we have the truth independently of the discussion. For instance, we know that to be true which we find in chapter 4:8, of this book— “Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, shall reap the same.” Because we find the same truth in Gal.6:7 —“Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” And thus it is we must discover what is according to God’s mind.
The second answer is that we have here most important truth misapplied; e.g. the truth contained in the verse I have already quoted is most important truth, but it was truth misapplied in this case, because it made out that Job’s trouble was the consequence of bad conduct on his part. The saying of Eliphaz here was true in itself, but it was not true in its application to the case of Job.
A third answer is that though there may be certain assertions in this book that may appear to have been untrue as respects any past age of the world, yet they may have their accomplishment in the future age. For instance, chapter 5:25, 26—“Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great, and thine offspring as the grass. Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his season.” Now if a believer were to read these verses as applicable to every saint, he would be stumbled by what he sees around him; for surely it is not because a man walks with God, that his seed shall be great, and his offspring as the grass of the earth; or that he comes to his grave in “a full age, like shock of corn cometh in his season.” It might therefore be said, if this is contrary to all present experience, what comfort does it contain to a believer? The general principle is true, that true prosperity is the result of godliness; but I apprehend that the fulfilment of these verses will be in the times of restitution, of which the prophets have so blessedly spoken, when Satan shall be bound; it shall be true then, as Eliphaz speaks in these verses 25, 26. According to Isaiah 65—“As the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands” (see verses 19-25). Having thus thrown out some general principles for our guidance in understanding this book, I would remark that while as a whole it is a part of inspiration, yet that certain parts of it cannot be so; e.g. the rash saying of Job’s wife, which he rebukes, surely cannot be according to the mind of Christ. Nevertheless, all these utterances are recorded according to the mind of God; but it does not at all follow that the utterances themselves are so.
The structure of this chapter 3:is as follows:—to verse 9 we have the imprecations of Job on his birthday; 10th, the reason why he did so; 12, 13, regret that he did not die as soon as he breathed; 14-19, a touching description of that state of being in which he would have been, had he died immediately; in the remainder of the chapter he laments for what was his past and also his present experience.
In verse 3 we have Job’s imprecation upon the day and night of twenty-four hours which formed the day of his birth; verses 4, 5, contain six imprecations on the day, and verses 6—9 give nine imprecations on the night. Each of these express the anguish of Job’s spirit; and 0, when we read the utterances of this holy man of God, and when we contrast our condition with his, even the most tried one amongst us will be persuaded that he has abundant reason to be thankful that he is not crushed beneath a similar load of accumulated trials.
Verse 3: “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.”—Job does not refer to the inroads of the robbing hordes of the Sabeans, nor that he had been stripped of his children by a sudden tempest; but he passes by all these, and begins at the beginning, and looks upon himself as born to it all, and therefore says, “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.” There is a particular stress put upon the words, “man child,” because in the east it was considered a much greater blessing to have a male child than a female. As if he had said, O how foolish were my parents to rejoice over this that “a man child was conceived.” He then takes up the day in six different imprecations, and the night also into nine.
Verse 4: “Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it.”—“Let that day be darkness”—when it comes round let not the sun shine. “Let not God regard it”— let not God search after it to bring it out. “Neither let the light shine upon it”—let not the sunbeams burst upon it, let not one ray of light enlighten its gloom.
Verse 5: “Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it;” or, as it is in the marginal reading, challenge it. The word is the same used in many places for redeem (e.g. Ruth 3:9, Lev. 27:13); that is, claim a thing as having a right to it. And so here, “let darkness and the shadow of death “claim it for their own, because of their relationship to it. “Let a cloud dwell upon it;” or, let clouds piled upon clouds pavilion over it. “Let the blackness of the day terrify it”—let the obscurations of the day, let sudden tempest, eclipses, terrify it; in the same way as if the sun were suddenly eclipsed at noon, it would produce a terrifying effect.
Verse 6: “As for that night, let darkness seize upon it.”—The word used for “darkness” here is not the same as in verse 4. When it is day then “darkness” might be sufficient, but as night is generally dark, something more is needed. Let gloomy darkness, not ordinary darkness, such darkness as was over Egypt, which could he felt. “Let it not be joined unto the days of the year”—let it not be reckoned among the nights of the year.
Verse 8: “Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning.”—Doubtless any who have thoughtfully read this verse have found a difficulty in understanding it. “Their mourning” is rendered in the marginal reading, “a leviathan,” and without the least question this is the proper rendering, for it is precisely the same word as is found in the following passages:—Job 4:1, Isa, 27:1, Ps. 74:14, 104:26; and the meaning of the verse is more correctly, “Let them curse it that curse the day, who are skilled in rousing leviathan,”—a term evidently used to signify the fiercest monster in God’s creation. This sentence has reference to those who professed to be able, by their incantations, to call forth the energies of animals. It is not necessary that they actually possessed the power, but if some professed to have it, it would give the explanation of this language.
Verse 9: “Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but have none; neither let it see the dawning of the day.”—Observe the beautiful gradation here: 1st, the twilight—” Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark;” 2nd, midnight—“Let it look for night, but have none,” let there be no streak of earliest dawn; 3rd, the morning—“Let it not see the dawning of the day,” or the eyelids of the morning (as margin). At twilight the stars begin to sparkle, but when that night comes round, let no stars adorn the firmament, let it have no streaks of morning dawn, and let there be no morning’s beams. Thus we have the imprecatory language of Job respecting his birthday; language altogether unjustifiable, but recorded to show how much he suffered. In chapters 1 and 2 we have the circumstances of Job, but not how he felt under them; but here we have his experience; and O, as we meditate upon it, we learn something of the exceeding bitterness of his sufferings.
Verse 10 states the reason for this language: “Because it shut not up the doors of my mother’s womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.”
Verses 11, 12: “Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck?”—O, how can we now tell why it was not! It was in order that he might be a monument of God’s wonderful dealings, and that his history might be a comfort to thousands. That there might be handed down to believers such lessons about God as could not be learnt in any other way. How often has it comforted those who have been ready to despair. The remembrance of it has lighted again the almost extinguished ray of hope.
One word in conclusion respecting verse 12 which has been the sweetest to my own mind in the whole chapter: “Why did the knees prevent me?”—The word “prevent” means in Scripture, not what it does now in common speech, but to be beforehand, to get the start of, as, e.g., it is used in 1 Thess. 4:15, i.e. we shall not get the start of those that are asleep; again in Ps. 119, 147, 8: “I prevented the dawning,” &c. I was beforehand, I got the start of it. Why then did the knees prevent me—why were these kind intentions prepared for me. This verse brings before us the especial graciousness of the Lord in creation, in the wonderful adaptation of the child before it is born for the state of being in which it is about to be introduced. There is the mother’s affection prepared for it.
“The proverbs of Solomon.” — The word rendered “proverbs” here is one derived from another, signifying “to rule;” so that we are to regard the verses that compose this book as authoritative, weighty sayings. They are designed to make impression; and their brevity and force are well calculated to effect this design. “The proverbs of Solomon.”—Solomon is to be looked at here merely as the instrument through whom these authoritative sayings are recorded for us. Solomon whose very name is “Prince of peace,” was, we well know, an eminent type of the Lord Jesus Christ; and every sentence tells -us that a greater than Solomon is here. Therefore the remembrance of the evil into which he fell in his latter days, leaves unaffected the weighty character of these sayings, seeing he was only used instrumentally to convey to us the words of heavenly wisdom.
Verse 2: “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding.” — At first sight it would seem as though the terms wisdom, instruction, understanding, &c, were only varied expressions for the same thing; but a closer examination will show us that this is not the case, but that each term has a distinct and important significance. “Wisdom” is a generic term, the others are specific terms: wisdom is that which distinguishes God’s people from the ungodly, who are spoken of as foolish. Here, then, we are told that one design of this book is to give the knowledge of what wisdom is. For instance, it informs us, as in the commencement, in verse 7, that wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Again, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (chap. 9:10). Having told us what heavenly wisdom is, it tells us the source of it (chap. 2:6): “for the Lord giveth wisdom; out of His mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.” In the third chapter we learn its preciousness, “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom,” &c. What encouragement have we to seek this heavenly treasure! The Lord giveth it; and in itself it is so valuable. Let us ask ourselves, do we keep up the estimation of the surpassing value of heavenly wisdom, the fear of the Lord? It is declared to be above the price of gold, or silver, or rubies, yea, it says, “all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her;” i.e., everything that man naturally delights in.
The other terms used are special; comprehending some particular feature. Thus this word “instruction” includes the ideas of chastening, discipline, correction, education. Restraint is the main idea. All these things imply the existence of something evil; and the result of God’s discipline is to deliver us from evil. The first moment anyone is a child of God, he has this heavenly wisdom, but he cannot be educated. And the measure of this instruction, education, will vary; there will be all variety in this, but wisdom is one thing common to all. Every child of God is wise as distinguished from the foolish, the ungodly, but every child is not instructed. Well, then, another value of this book consists in its fitness to instruct in everything. It is to help us in profiting by all God’s dealings with us. Every believer must, more or less, endure chastening, according to Heb. 12:5, &c, if there is no chastisement there is no sonship. No believer ever so walked as that he needed not correction; there was only One Son who needed not chastisement. The moment one is introduced into the family of God he needs instruction; and all the varied circumstances we meet with are to contribute to instruction. How precious, then, is this book! It is needed throughout our whole lives; no saint ever finishes his education till he reaches the time when that word shall be accomplished, “I shall be satisfied when I awake up in Thy likeness.”
“To perceive the words of understanding.”—The force of the term is to see through and through. How much is this perception needed, and yet how few believers are possessed of it! Another object of this book is to sharpen our spiritual wit; to give us quick perception as to what is according to the mind of God.
Verse 3: “To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity”—To receive as the ground receives seeds; for the very purpose of fruitfulness: this is the idea embraced by the word receive. “Wisdom “here is a different word altogether from that in the previous verse: it means knowledge to maturity. And then the three following terms have their distinctive differences. Justice, perfectly straight; judgment, perfectly level; equity, perfectly smooth. The figure of a road may illustrate the three meanings: a straight one in opposition to a winding one; level in opposition to hilly; smooth, not stony, uneven. Ps. 45:7, well illustrates the word judgment here: “But God is the Judge,” that is, God is the Leveller; so it continues, “He putteth down one, and setteth up another.”
Verse 4: “To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.”—“Subtilty,” that is, practical skill: skill in the use of God’s Word; in fighting against spiritual enemies; and making use of providences. “The simple,” the inexperienced. “The young man,” from a word meaning unsteady. “Discretion,” thoughtfulness, the opposite to remissness, carelessness.
Verse 5: “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels”—“A wise man will hear;” not as is expected in the world; such a one would be only a teacher; the place of wisdom is to be a disciple, since there is no limit to progress in divine knowledge. The other part of the verse contains a promise—the whole is parenthetical.
Verse 6: “To understand a proverb, and the interpretation, the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.”— The terms here used intimate to us that the meaning lies not on the surface; hence the admonition, “If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (chap. 2:4, 5). The way of salvation in the gospel is made most plain, so that none may misunderstand: true, the natural man discerneth not the simplest of God’s truth, but this arises not from the obscurity of the truth. But there are other things in Scripture which are dark sayings; so that we are encouraged to seek after truth, for “all Scripture is profitable.”
Verse 1: “Every wise woman buildeth her house: hut the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.”—Understanding this verse literally, it sets before us the importance of the female character. Upon the mother of a family, for instance, depends the welfare of the whole household. Every wise woman acteth so as to promote the welfare of the whole family. All in the house depends upon the character of the wife, the mother, the mistress. “But the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” By fools, or foolish, in this book, are meant those who are without the fear of God; and such an one “plucketh it down with her hands.” The whole verse shows the importance of the influence of women in society; and it becomes every godly woman to ask, “How may I act so as to promote the welfare of the household, my husband, and my children, or my servants? I may not occupy at all a prominent, place, but, according to God’s Word, I occupy a place that may be productive of much good or evil.” But while this application of the verse at once presents itself, we may refer it to that which the term “woman” often denotes in Scripture, namely, to bodies or societies of individuals. Every body or church of believers who are walking together in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, are not dependent upon external circumstances for their prosperity. As a united body we may minister to one another “as good stewards of the grace of God;” we may so walk together as to help each other, and show forth the praise of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. Therefore as any godly association of individuals may profit themselves, so there may be the “foolish “in this aspect—an association not walking so as to edify one another; and this should be our steadfast object to “follow after the things which make for peace and things wherewith one may edify another.” If we are doing this we shall illustrate this saying, “every wise woman buildeth her home;” but if we are not seeking to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, without any external hindrance whatever, there is a tendency to confusion, illustrating the truth that “the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” Here, then, we have a general principle; in the verses that follow we get illustrations of it. Thus, in verse 2 we have a text by which the fear of the Lord may be known—“He that walkeih in uprightness feareth the Lord.” It is not known by profession, or by the maintenance of any certain doctrine, but by “walking in uprightness.” “He that doeth righteousness is righteous.” But if there be no fear of God, a man is sure to walk perversely. If one be watching against sin, maintaining an upright walk, he fears the Lord; but if another is walking perversely, he despises the Lord. Eat we have here, further, the result of godliness upon any of the sons of men. The more closely we walk with God, the more we shall find that His character agrees with the representation given of Him in His word; but the more one walks in his own ways, the more confirmed he gets in despising the Lord. The more we learn of the character of God, the more we shall see the desperate evil of sin; but we have the contrast of this in Israel, in Isaiah 1:4. They first forsake the Lord; then they provoke or disdain the Holy One of Israel; and this leads to the climax of the evil, they are gone back into apostacy.
Verse 3: “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride; but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.”—”In the mouth of the foolish,” those destitute of the knowledge of the Lord, “is a rod of pride;” that is, they use harsh, rash expressions that hurt those against whom they speak, and these rash expressions come back in righteous retribution upon their own heads; as in the case of Goliath, who said to David, “Come to me and I will give thy flesh to the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field;” and the result was that he endured the very thing that he had rashly threatened David with. This teaches us to set a watch at the door of our lips, remembering that if we return unkindness by harsh, unkind expressions, we shall assuredly suffer ourselves. When we retire to think over what we have said we shall be sorry. “But the lips of the wise shall preserve them.” We have need to know when to speak, and when to be silent. As another of these proverbs says, “Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer” (24:26), or, more correctly, “He is armed at the lips that giveth a right answer.” How have most of us to regret that so frequently we have given a wrong answer. Thus we have in these verses two ways in which a church may be built up; but this is to be done not merely by negative means.
Verse 4: “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean; but much increase is by the strength of the ox.”—Oxen in the Old and New Testaments are typical of those who minister the word of God, e.g., 1 Cor. 9:9, &c. As if the Apostle had said, “Is this command to be restricted to oxen; certainly not;” and from this word to Israel about literal oxen Paul derives instruction respecting those who minister the word of God. “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean,” or the barn, the threshing floor is empty. In other words, where there are none whom God has set over the household of faith to minister to the edification of the saints, or to preach the gospel of His grace to those without, there is little progress in the growth of believers, and less in the conversion of sinners. And this truth was in the mind of Jesus when He said, “The harvest truly is plentious, but the labourers are few.” What then, be contented about it? not so, “pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest.” This is a connection of Divine appointment, not of necessity. God might convert sinners by angels, or without any instrumentality; but we have not to speculate upon what God might do, but to remember that He has appointed human instrumentality to be used in blessing those already called by His grace, and in gathering in those who are without, according to Rom. 10:14, 15. And in the Revelation, the Lord appears as one who holds the seven stars in His right hand, in the character of the One who has the residue of the Spirit, who desires the edification and purification of the churches. In doing this He uses human instrumentality, according to 1 Peter 4:10, 11, and Eph. 4. I do not mean to assert that God has appointed a certain order of men for this work, but that it is the work of all believers to whom God has given the ability, to edify the body; by such instrumentality the body is to grow up into Christ the Head in all things. If a dozen or twenty believers meet together and are satisfied to be without any gift among themselves for their own edification, or for preaching the gospel around them, I should say such a body must be marvellously different in spirit from that scripture, “follow after things wherewith one may edify another;” and would soon be an example of this verse, “where no oxen are, the crib is clean.” Where there has been no ploughing, there can be no reaping, and the floor is clean.
It is said in Ecclesiastes that the Preacher sought out acceptable words. He wrote these proverbs, and we have an instance of a suitable word in this first verse: “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.” The word rendered “better,” here, is one denoting richness, sumptuousness. It is used in connection with the anointing oil in Psalm 133; and the term “quietness” means tranquillity, prosperity, freedom from disturbance; alluding, as it does, to oil clarified from all dregs. It means that tranquillity spoken of in John 14, “Let not your peace be troubled;” or that peace mentioned in Phil, 4, “The peace of God that passeth all understanding.” It tells us that happiness must come from within.
Many of the sayings of this book would have an external application to the common affairs of life. It would be universally admitted, for instance, that better is little in peace than riches and honour with strife, disturbance; yet the world does not act upon it. The perception of what is good, and acting according to it, are two different things. The world goes on more than ever it did in seeking riches, and honour, and abundance; however fully it has been proved that it is connected with strife, and disturbance, and anxiety. A thousand years’ experience fails to profit the world, so lost and ruined is our fallen nature. The writer of this verse had proved, more than any man that ever lived, what wisdom, riches, honour, and power, could do; but, being taught of God, he says, they are vanity and vexation of spirit.
Well, then, we may read this verse as God’s decision as to what is best for man; it is serenity of mind. Mark this decision, ye who are young. You naturally shrink from obscurity, meanness, poverty, and say, you must get on in the world; but, remember God’s decision, that happiness does not consist in the opposite of all you shrink from. The history of individuals, of families, of nations, abundantly testify to the truth of this, that there is no happiness apart from God; and it is well for us that there is not. For believers there are provided both peace of conscience and peace of mind; for there is a difference between these two, there may be peace of conscience where there is not peace of mind. For peace of conscience there is provided the blood of Jesus; and for peace of mind the promises of God. All trouble of mind should be met by that word, “Be careful for nothing;” but we must remember the directions added, the peace of God comes not apart from requests being made known unto Him in faith. All anxiety is about one of these three things; either that some good will be denied, or that something evil is coming upon us, or that some good will be taken away. All these anxieties are to be met by faith, apprehending God’s revealed character, as set forth in that verse, “The Lord will give grace and glory; and no good thing will He withhold from them who walk uprightly.”
This quietness would include tranquillity arising from union with others, whether as a family or a body of believers; and to attain to which we should follow after “things that make for peace, and the things whereby we may edify one another.” How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.
Verse 2: “A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren.”—Applying this verse externally it would teach us not to make too much of outward advantages, but to seek to fill up the place assigned us. A wise servant is far better off than a squandering son. “We may apply it, too, in another way, and remark that abundant spiritual privileges will avail nothing if not turned to good account. Let it be an encouragement to those amongst us who are much occupied in their worldly calling, who lament how scanty are the opportunities they have of meeting with the saints for prayer and instruction. Remember how the half hour, or less, may be improved, that is within reach for prayer and meditation, provided always you can abide in your calling with God. Otherwise you have to leave your position at once, without parley, without seeing another before you. You are children of Abraham by faith, and like him you have to go out not knowing whither you go.
Verse 3: “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts.”—Gold and silver being precious, they have to be tried, tested. The fining pot for silver, but the furnace for gold; the severer test for gold. The more precious, the more it must be tried. For lead, or tin, or iron, it is not important if there be alloy; but it cannot be allowed in silver or gold. So the Lord trieth the righteous. The wicked man may be allowed to go on in prosperity and ease; not so the righteous. There is a progress in the severity of trial, so that increasingly there may be shown to us the alloy, the evil that exists in our hearts. God does not, at first, show the new convert all the evil that is in him; but increasingly, as he is able to bear it. Look at the evil that was in Jonah, a prophet of the Lord; he cares more for an inanimate gourd than he does for the thousands of inhabitants of Nineveh, yet we have no reason to say his heart was worse than are other believers’. And whilst we are in these bodies of sin and death, we shall never get beyond the fining pot and the furnace, nor to the depth of our evil hearts. But, nevertheless, we are predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son; and therefore the time is coming when both the fining pot and the furnace shall be laid aside, there will be no further use for them.
This chapter forms a part of a great whole, a portion of that great burden of prophecy, which Peter says is “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” Comparing it with other Scriptures, it will be seen to have special reference to Israel, who were the depositories of God’s law, and the manifestors of His grace; but here, and in other parts, are certain great truths and principles, not to be limited to one set of circumstances, or to one period of time. This is fully borne out by the testimony of the New Testament. This chapter, we shall find, contains truths for the sustainment and consolation of Israel while captive in Babylon; they are intended to comfort their hearts in the captivity, and to assure them of its end (1, 2). In the third and fourth verses of this chapter reference is made to another great deliverance, the sending of the Messiah. This is confirmed by the way in which the Evangelist Matthew speaks of John the Baptist, as the forerunner of Christ at His first coming. Again, verse 10 compared with Rev. 22:12, shows there is reference to the second coming of Christ, and not to His coming in the flesh; it looks beyond this to His second coming in glory, suddenly passing from one to the other, as we frequently find is done in prophecy; a linking the two together, and not preserving the distinctiveness found in the New Testament. This chapter, then, is applicable to the condition of the Jews in Babylon, to the coming of Christ in the flesh; and applicable also to the full deliverance of God’s people, when He shall come again in glory; and applicable likewise to us. If we read this prophecy as only for the Jews, we do not get the blessing out of it intended for us; since from Eph. 1:3, we know that we have been “blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ;” and it is our warrant to take every promise and apply it for our own comfort; since such promises are not only applicable to the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, but those who are his seed according to faith. Paul takes special care, in his Epistle to the Galatians, to show that by faith we, too, are the seed of Abraham, and heirs of the promises. How applicable to the saints is that passage in the next chapter (41:8-10): “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”—“Jacob whom I have chosen,” whom I have grasped, have apprehended, never to be rejected. In verse 9 there is no reason for the words “chief men,” it should have been rendered “extremities.” “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: he not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, 1 will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (v. 10). Surely this word has comforted thousands of God’s people according to the flesh; and we, too, may get comfort from it. For instance, if we are called to God’s service, or to trial, or to pass through the dark valley of the shadow of death, we may surely take it to ourselves. “Be not dismayed,” do not look round, as one distracted, for help from one side and another; but “fear thou not, I will strengthen thee;” that is comforting; “I will help thee;” that is something more, for one to come and help me is more than being my self strengthened; and further than this, “I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” How greatly is our comfort increased if we see there is a warrant to appropriate these promises to ourselves. On the one side, there is a danger of taking away these promises from those to whom they belong; but on the other hand, we may hinder our own comfort by rejecting them as not belonging to us. Reverting then, to chap 40:1: “Comfort ye my people, saith your God; “whether we take this as applying to Israel, or to God’s believing people now, it puts before us God’s caring for sinners. This is the only solid ground of “comfort.” No comfort is solid but that which comes from God. How comforting is it that in spite of all their worthlessness, God should desire that poor sinners should be comforted. The natural tendency of the heart is to look upon God as one who gives, on the ground of being entreated, to give. The universal notion, naturally, is that of drawing blessing from Him through the earnestness of our entreaty. But, in the Gospel, God is represented as full of blessing, and ready to pour it out on poor and needy sinners. True it is, that word to Israel is applicable under the Gospel, “I will be inquired of by the house of Israel to do these things for them;” still we have not to go to God as one inclined to punish, but who will not if we beg Him not to do so. On the contrary, His language is, “Comfort ye my people.”
Verse 2: “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”—“Speak ye comfortably,” or, as the margin has it, “to the heart;” not merely to the mind, or the ear, but to the heart. What were God’s ministers to cry to Jerusalem under the Babylonish yoke? “Her warfare is accomplished,” or rather, her affliction long continued, her period of hard bondage now is ended. “For she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins;” not that she had received doubly the real desert of her sins, but that she had received ample, sufficient punishment for them. So far as her national sins were concerned, Jehovah was satisfied, according to His gracious estimate of them; and He could now receive her back to outward communion. So, according to what Rom. 2 states, Jerusalem’s present outward hard bondage shall come to an end; He alone can judge how long she shall be trodden down, but when He thinks long enough, she will be restored. Then passing over the long interval, as is the way of Isaiah, he comes to John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah (vv. 3-5). These words have an application to the first coming of Christ, but still such terms are used, which in the full extent must point the heart onward to something further, to the time when every hindrance shall be taken away, in order that this Mighty Conqueror may go on. “The glory of the Lord shall he revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” This was not fulfilled at His first coming. There was a fulfilment then in such that of Simeon, and others; but the terms “all flesh shall see it together,” would lead us on to the full manifestation of His glory in the millennial blessedness. Solomon had the fullest experience of what earthly glory was, and he says it is vanity; “that which is crooked cannot be made straight.” This is the character of the present earth ever since the fall; but the period is coming when “the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” What is the security for it? is it from anything that we see? O no! but because “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” It is in vain to look for such blessing on the ground of probabilities, or of likelihood; our only ground for its fulfilment and that of all the glowing scenes of prophecy is this, “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Verses 6-8: “The voice said, Cry. And he said, “What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”—“The voice said, Cry,” or, proclaim, preach. The truth of these verses is not only something referring to the Gospel dispensation, but especially belongs to it, namely, that “all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field;” for Israel’s privileges were connected with fleshly distinction, and therefore flesh was of some consequence; it was more than grass; but the especial character of the Gospel dispensation is, that distinction in the flesh is nothing; as it says, (John 1:11, &c.) the privilege of sonship to God was given to those who believe, who were born not of blood, &c, but of God. And this is what John the Baptist says (Matt. 3:9), “Think not to say…we have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” Under the law the succession to the priesthood depended on the flesh, on being of the seed of Aaron; but the Gospel preaches the abrogation of all fleshly distinctions; belonging to Abraham is of no value now, it is no more than mere grass. It brings in that which was to be of an enduring character. The Gospel connects everything with eternity, according to that expression in the Revelations, “the everlasting Gospel;” it is an everlasting thing, resting on the word of God which abides for ever (vv. 9-11). The reading in the margin is the correct one, the good tidings were told to Zion and Jerusalem. Referring this to the first preachers of the Gospel, who were to begin at Jerusalem, it would be full of comfort. All the civil and ecclesiastical power was against them when they preached Jesus of Nazareth as the One who was God over all, and the One who fulfilled that prophecy, “Unto us a child is born. Who shall be called the Mighty God,” &c. “Behold your God.” Then again, compare this tenth verse with Acts 3:19-21. Here are the two things that they preached, that Jesus had come, and that He was about to come again with strong hand against the strong ones (see margin).
Verse 11: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”—This is suitable to God’s dealings with Israel at last; but it is not to be confined to it, for Jesus speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd, and enables His people to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” &c. He not only takes them to pasture, but guards and protects them; and the whole verse gives us a view of Christ in all His tenderness. Then the following verses apply to Him in all His essential dignity as Maker of all things; but not dwelling on these, only remark how verse 26 was fitted to be a comfort to Israel, “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.” Looking at things naturally, there was no likelihood of deliverance; but to what does God send them? The unclouded brightness of an eastern sky told them of the resistless power of Jehovah. And so with us under numerous difficulties, we have no need to go far for comfort, we have only to look up. Surely there must be much lurking unbelief in our hearts, or Scripture would not present these to our view. I had never had a profitable view of the stars, till I saw them in this verse.
In this chapter we have Jehovah pleading His cause against the gods of the heathen, showing their utter inability to tell things to come (verses 22, 23). He by His prophets had foretold things to come, and rests upon it a proof of His divinity.
Verse 1: “Keep silence before me, 0 islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near, then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.”—The term “islands,” here and throughout Isaiah, is of much wider signification than we now give to it; it applies to all countries bordering on the sea, and thus the term might be rendered maritime lands. “Let them come near, then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment: “let the people who worship gods stand up for their idols and plead for them; let all idol worshippers say whatever they can in defence of the objects of their worship; let the case of idol gods be fairly tested, and see who will come off victorious in this litigation.
Verse 2: “Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? he gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow.”— Observe that the language here is in the past tense, though it was not a thing accomplished; and this we often find to be the case in prophecy, because the things thus spoken of are as good as done in the mind of God. For example, in chap. 53:4 of this book, we have it stated, “Surely, He hath borne our griefs,” &c. All, you will observe, in the past tense, because all was transacted in the purpose of God. This, then, that we have in this second verse, was something future; and the first question is, Who is this “righteous man,” or, as the margin has it, “man of righteousness?” By comparison with chap, 45:1, we find Cyrus is the individual who is to “subdue the nations before him,” &c. Some have thought that Abraham is here meant, but there seems not the slightest foundation for this opinion, since one as a mighty conqueror is here spoken of, which Abraham was not, with the exception of the circumstance recorded in Gen. 14:“Who raised up the man of righteousness?” This expression does not refer to the character of Cyrus, but is applicable to him as executing the commission which God gave him. He was God’s instrument to rescue Israel from the Babylortish captivity, and to accomplish His righteous vengeance upon Babylon.
Verses 3, 4: “He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet. Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am He.”—God claims superiority above the gods because He raised up this Cyrus to be the monarch of Persia, and gave to him his success. This is true of all conquerors. The whole history of the world, and of the Church, is full of illustrations of this. If He designs to punish Europe, He raises up a Napoleon; if in mercy to His Church, He sends deliverance from nominal Christendom, He raises up a Luther. We are to see the hand of God in these things, and to say, “Who hath wrought and done it?” &c. “I the Lord; I am He.” Verse 3 is descriptive of the rapidity of Cyrus’s conquests, “He traverseth not the way with his feet.” He seems not to touch the ground, so rapid is his progress.
Verses 5, 6: “The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came. They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.”—These verses show the result of the success of Cyrus upon those countries who expected to have his power exercised over them. These nations were idolaters, and, being alarmed, had recourse to their idols. Verse 7: In this time of alarm each, according to his place, helped on the other. This was all the poor idolators could do, even making these efforts to secure gods of wood. This was all the help idolatry could afford.
But in verse 8, &c, is a word to the people of God, the only one people of all those who were subject to Babylon, who had no reason to be alarmed because of the success of Cyrus. “But thou Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.” Mark how Jehovah delighteth in those epithets which peculiarly belong to Israel. “But thou Israel” Israel was the name proper to them as the worshippers of Jehovah. “Jacob whom I have chosen,” reminds us of that word, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” In this respect they are presented as the elect people, “The seed of Abraham.” This goes back further still: God had promised that in Abraham’s seed all nations of the earth should be blessed.
Verse 9: “Whom I have taken”—taken hold of, grasped. “From the chief men;” or rather extremities, in reference to Egypt, which was the extreme of the nations then known. u I have chosen thee,” so as never to cast thee off. “I hate putting away” (Mal. 2:16).
Verse 10. In the midst of this consternation, “Fear thou not, I am with thee.” That is the great difference between God’s people and all the people of the earth. “Be not dismayed;” do not look round, as one distracted. And while this is spoken of Israel in Babylon, yet it is not to be restricted to them. If there be any comfort in these words, they belong to the seed of Abraham according to faith. They are as a tower of strength to us while travelling on in our pilgrimage. “I am thy God.” I, the God of gods and Lord of lords, am thy God. “I will strengthen thee;” His presence is to be enjoyed in the consciousness of our own weakness. All His people feel that they need to be strengthened. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is written of them. If there are any who are unconscious of weakness, of what use are God’s promises to them?
Verses 11, 12: “Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing, and they that strive with thee shall perish. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.”—Here follows what becomes of Israel’s enemies: “they shall be as nothing;” and this is applicable to all the enemies of God’s church. A variety of expressions are used respecting these enemies: they are incensed; they contended with them; they warred against them. God’s enemies are various. But the word of threatening is alike to them all: they shall he so utterly consumed, that if they are sought for, they shall not be found. Verse 15. Mountains and hills are used as emblems of the enemies of Israel. Verses 17-20: “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah-tree, and the myrtle, and the oil-tree; I will set in the desert the fir-tree, and the pine and the box-tree together; that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.” —These verses present us with some of the most striking imagery of the whole prophetic Scripture. Observe verse 17, “when” is in italics and therefore supplied, but it had better be, read without, as it tends rather to obscurity. “The poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Jacob will not forsake them.” In this image is pictured the distress of God’s people. The persons presented are the poor and needy; the place they are in is the wilderness; what they seek is water, and their circumstances are, dying. What a condition of distress is this! Let us attempt to bring it home to ourselves. What is to be their refuge? “I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them;” and not only so, but a complete and rapid deliverance will be effected: “I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water,” &c. One moment there is nothing but a wilderness; no stream, no verdure; but we look again, and, in a moment, the scene is changed. The wilderness is a pool of water, the dry land, springs of water. And for what purpose is this? Why will the Lord do all this? “That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this; and the Holy One of Israel hath created it” (verse 20).
In order to understand to what times and circumstances the different parts of this chapter refer, we must remember the way in which the prophets often write, namely, at once alluding to some great event, and then going back to what may be introductory to it; for instance, this 10th verse—“Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof”—at once brings before us the time when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth; when the knowledge of salvation shall everywhere be known; then follows a statement of judgments which introduce this state: thus, that is last in accomplishment which is first spoken of, or which is before the mind. For example, if it be in the mind of an individual to build a house, the house is before his mind as built, complete, and suitable to live in. He does not at first think of the ground, the foundation, &c.; but then as the consequence of what is in his mind, he thinks about clearing the ground, laying the foundation, &c. So in Scripture we may often find stated first the ultimate result in the mind of God, and then the means by which this result is brought about. Thus, here in verses 10 and 11 is a call to praise the Lord from the ends of the earth; that is the thing which first presents itself to the mind. Then in connection is mentioned certain prominent parts of the earth, the sea, the inhabitants of the wilderness, rocky places, the mountains—all are exhorted to sing a new song in connection with the results of blessing arising from the second coming of the Lord. In the Old Testament we find in Psalms 96 and 98, the “new song” mentioned, and both in connection with this same great event (see the last verses of each); and in the New Testament, in Rev. 5:9, and 14:3, &c, the “new song” is also brought before us, and also in the same connection, as if purposely to celebrate something that was peculiar, something not known before, something in harmony with that new creation, in which shall be fulfilled that word “Behold I make all things new.” Now after the prophet has brought before us the ultimate results of blessing, he states that which will bring it about, 5:13-17; then verse 18 is a message to Israel, “Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see.”
Verses 19, 20: “Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I sent? who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the Lord’s servant? Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, but he heareth not.”—These two verses are illustrated by Psalm 38:12-14, which speak of the Messiah as deaf and blind; for when He was accused of many things of which He was altogether innocent, He heard it all as though He heard it not: He looked upon the things of the world around Him as though He saw them not; and when Israel is brought in again—when they come to see that Jesus is the true Messiah, then will they remember Him as the one who, in reference to the things of this world, saw not, and in reference to the many cutting things said against Him, heard not.
Verse 22 is exactly applicable to the present state of Israel, whether as regards their outward condition or their spiritual state: “But this is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison-houses: they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil, and none saith, Restore,” It is with Israel just as our Lord declared when He said that Jerusalem should be “trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled;” for shortly after that day they were spoiled and robbed; and down to the present day this verse is suited to the actual condition of Israel. If we remember how that in every country of Europe they have been spoiled, and how in other countries even to this day they suffer severely, we see a wonderful fulfilment of this verse. All other nations have passed away, and have been succeeded by others, but the Jews are still without a country; that land which flowed with milk and honey is now the very opposite. They are for a prey, and none delivereth; other nations are subject to distress, but sooner or later deliverance has come; still there is none for the Jews. No great nation like our own has come forward to protect them. Then the more you look into this verse, the more you see how exactly it is suited both to the external condition and the spiritual state of that people. “They are hid in prison-houses,” I would take as a figure to set forth their spiritual state, as we have the same figure used as in verse 7: “They are snared in holes;” this leads us to think of some hid in holes, caves, and dens, who would never be visited with the rays of the sun; and so the Sun of righteousness has arisen, but Israel has refused to be enlightened by it: those upon whom He shone have rejected Him. “They are snared in holes,” they have stumbled at that stumbling block—at certain truths concerning Christ. Then verse 23 is a question to those who have heard of the desolations of Israel: “Who among you will give ear to this? who will hearken, and hear for the time to come? “Who will listen to this as a voice of instruction? Who will compare the state of the Jews as recorded in history, and these things here prophesied of them, and will ask what lesson have we to learn from them? They remind us of God’s faithfulness, and are thus instructive to any who do not know God. Israel are the people of God, who promised Abraham that his seed should be blessed above all nations; and so no other nation has had God so near to them. “Whatever the western nations may think of the advantages they enjoy in respect of their civilization and so on, they have never been equal to the Jews in privileges. We can never look at an unconverted Jew in the same light as an unconverted Gentile, though they be equally in a hopeless state without faith in Christ, because the former is one of that family respecting which blessing is coming, beloved of God for the father’s sakes. But though beloved of God, after bearing century after century with them, He yet brings judgment upon them. While God is full of tenderness and mercy, He is revealed as the God of holiness and justice; then when we see such conformity between the state of Israel and prophecy respecting them, we should say, surely God will fulfil all His word.
Verse 24, the question is put still more closely, “Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law.” We may reply, the Romans spoilt them and sent them as wanderers from their own land. Yes, but the Romans were only God’s sword. And this constitutes the difference in reading history as a Christian or as one of the world. We shall not merely say it was a country more powerful that conquered Israel, but we shall say it was the Lord. So with ourselves, if we are suffering from the ill-conduct of our fellow-men, the tendency is to regard merely the individual so using us; but, like David said of Shimei, we should own God in it. In one sense it was not true that God had bid Shimei curse David; He could not have told him to tell lies concerning David. But many things are according to God’s secret purposes, which are contrary to God’s revealed will. Perhaps David never appeared so much like the man after God’s own heart as when he said, “Let him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him.” And it is always well with us when we are able to say, even of cruel conduct towards us, it is the Lord. When the Romans brought such trouble on Jerusalem, they were only doing God’s will; and the present ill-treatment of Jews in some parts of Europe, is according to God’s secret purpose, though not according to His revealed will. If, when we think of Jews as totally regardless of Moses’ word, we are ready to ask, “Who gave Israel to the robbers?” we are here reminded it was “the Lord against whom they have sinned,” “for they would not walk in His ways,” &c. This is applicable to any trial that comes upon us in consequence of sin, for it brings before us the blessing of obedience. We may see the blessedness of the ways of wisdom by seeing the misery of sin, and also by seeing in the word the promise made to obedience. When we read the terrible catalogue of evils brought upon Israel, we see the dreadful nature of sin. Because of their peculiar privileges was the severity of the judgments; and this is according to all God’s word, e.g., Amos 3:2, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities,” as it here immediately follows—
Verse 25: “Therefore the Lord poured upon him the fury of His anger and the strength of battle; and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart.” The more we know of the sufferings of Israel from the Romans and afterwards, the more we see the fitness of this word. But has Israel yet seen the hand that smites them? No; this is yet to come, and then shall be fulfilled Lev. 26:40, &c. God thus deals with His spiritual people; He may bring chastisement upon sin, and yet they may not know and consider that for which the Lord chastens them. We may suppose that Israel think of all manner of reasons why they are scattered, for if you ask any unconverted Jew, he never tells you the true reason—that they have slain Him who was the heir; but this is what Israel shall be brought to see. Thus far we have the condition of Israel ever since they have been given up to the Roman and other nations; then who it was that thus gave them up—the Lord.; what it is for—their sin in rejecting the true Messiah; and then chap, 43 commences with most precious promises of grace. Israel is a glass in which we see God as not suffering sin to pass unpunished: we see God here coming forward in grace in spite of their long rejection of the Messiah. In verse 22, after the blessings of their restoration are brought forward, He reminds them of their sin. God, in dealing with the sinner, will have him fully aware of his sin (verses 22-25). This is applicable to any backsliding one; but what does He add? anything that one would expect? After a true indictment without a flaw, what but the sentence is to be looked for? But no! “I, even I am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” O encouraging word to Israel—to us—to any here present who are at all awakened. It is no use to extenuate your sin; God does not, and you must not. But why should God blot out the sins of Israel, or of sinners? It is for His own sake. What a plea is this for any of us who have wandered from Him. It is for His own glory! Surely if we would understand God as holy and just, and yet full of mercy, we must enter into the history of Israel. There we see Him as faithful and righteous, and yet exuberant in the riches of His grace!