Robert Roberts & C.C. Walker - page 2


                                                      CHAPTER IV-PAGES 67-71 

This continues the theme of chapters ii. and iii. And in that day (that is, the day of Jerusalem's downfall), seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach "—a graphic method of intimating that war would make such havoc, that men would be scarce, and women glad to get husbands on any terms.


This completes the description of the desolation that should overwhelm the house of Jacob as the result of God's forsaking them — a description which occurs as a long parenthesis in the delineation of the glory appointed for " Judah and Jerusalem " in " the last days ".


Isaiah, son of Amoz, "saw" this "word" concerning them—that salvation and power and honour and glory await them in the finish of things, but that for a long time, God would forsake them, for a "therefore" introduced and explained in chapter ii. 6.—And now (chapter iv. 2) there is a turning back upon the original picture of the last days, as shown at the commencement of the prophecy ; and a supplying of details in pleasing contrast to the tints of darkness characterising the desolation : " In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious." The meaning of this is made certain by the description of restored Israel as, " the branch of my planting, the work of my hands that I may be glorified " (lx. 21). It means that the nation of Israel restored will be " beautiful and glorious." No nation is such just now. Britain may be thought so, and seems so at a distance, but go close, and see the squalid multitudes, and the broken hearts, and the debased men and women, and the pinched respectabilities, and the barren lives everywhere, and the reigning vanity and vexation of spirit.


Fat and fattening writers, writing in their upholstered seclusions in town or country, or, when they go out, driving in their shining broughams, or travelling in first-class railway carriages, waited on by obsequious porters, may see British civilisation in a roseate hue ; but as a whole, it is an ornamented charnel house—not " beautiful and glorious;" but Israel will be " beautiful and glorious" when the "word " is fulfilled that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, "saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem." "And the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel"—fruit, in the largest sense, otherwise described as " the riches of the Gentiles, and their glory," in which, saith the Spirit of God, " ye shall boast yourselves" (Is. lxi. 6). The " abundance of the sea shall be converted (or turned) unto thee, and the forces (or wealth) of the Gentiles shall come, unto thee" (lv. 5)—" as a flowing stream" (lxvi. 12). This includes literal fruit of all kinds—everything splendid, everything plentiful, everything at its best " for them that are escaped of Israel " (going back to our verse 2).


" Them that are escaped "—a remnant—natural and spiritual. First the natural: " I will gather her that is driven out and her that I have afflicted, and I will make her that halted, A REMNANT, and her that was cast far off A STRONG NATION." There have been multitudes of natural Israel (disobedient) who have perished as the leaves of autumn—the whole generation that came out of Egypt and millions since. Multitudes also perish again in the wilderness in the process of restoration (Ezek. xx. 35-38), but a circumcised surviving remnant enter the land, and Zion personified greets them, with surprise: " The children which thou shalt have after thou hast lost the other will say again in thine ears, the place is too strait for me, give place to me that I may dwell. Then shalt thou say in thine heart: Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children and am desolate, a captive removing to and fro?" (xlix. 20). Then the spiritual, who will be the rulers—the immortal rulers with Christ their king. Jesus addresses them as the escaped : " that ye may be counted worthy to escape all these things and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke xxi. 36). Many will not be among the escaped, but will be engulfed in "the judgment and fiery indignation that devour the "adversaries" (Heb. x.27).


For " them that are escaped of Israel," everything will be good beyond the possibility of exaggeration: and the glory will not be shadowed by the absence of the rejected. Their absence will be part of the glory of the remnant, and it will mean no evil to the absent such as comes with the idea of a hell of torture for the wicked. " They shall not be" (Psa. xxxvii. 10). Where are the 600,000 faithless adults that crossed the Red Sea? They have no existence. They are gone as entirely as if they had never existed. In the language applied in another connection, they are " as though they had not been " (Job x. 19). So it will be with all not included in the remnant escaped of Israel. The dream of them will not disturb the summer morning of Israel's glory.—Resuming—


" And it shall come to pass that he that is left in Zion and he that remaineth in Jerusalem shall be called holy—even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem." What time this relates to, and how brought about, is stated in the next verse : " When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning." ZECHARIAH adds, " Yea every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord " (xiv. 21). This will be a great and notable change, both for the Jews and the world. How blessed for Israel when the words spoken by Moses will come to pass : " The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Deut. xxx. 6), and again by Ezekiel, " A new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Ezek. xxxvi. 26).


And how blessed for the world when the centre of the authority that rules them with iron hand in all the earth will be a centre of righteousness and holiness : so that a man coming from another land to worship, will not only experience the advantage of change and enjoy the pleasure of beholding a beautiful and well-ordered country, but taste the inexpressible luxury of seeing holiness and purity and kindness in all who stand related to the seat of government. How different from the venal servants and cold officials and corrupt placeholders that one sees at the capitals of European life at the present day. " Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty. . . . Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem (the city of our solemnities) a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down : not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed. But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams, wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. . . .

And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity" (Isa. xxxiii. 17, 20).


"And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion and upon her assemblies a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory shall be a defence. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime for the heat, and for a place of refuge and a covert from storm and from rain."


Many are the beautiful thoughts suggested by this description. It is manifestly a description of literal things from the mention of " dwelling places," and " assemblies," and " Mount Zion," and from its analogy to what occurred in connection with the first divine encampment under Moses. When Israel journeyed in the wilderness, "The cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day and fire was on it by night in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys " (Ex. xl. 38). This appears to be an indication of the physical accessories of the holy city. By day, it will be under the protection of a visible atmospheric canopy which will temper the heat of the sun, and at night this canopy will turn to a fiery radiance, giving light where otherwise darkness would settle on the scene. It will also act as a protection from all elemental disturbances—" a covert from storm and from rain."


This is a glance at weather in the kingdom. It will not be a perpetual calm, but will be subject in measure to the irregularities of present experience—though not to the same extremes, as shown by the difference between the blessings and the curses of Deut. xxviii. 8, 12, as compared with 23, 24, 38, and 40 ; and Lev. xxvi. 4-6, compared with 19-20. But even the healthful changes of the weather will not be felt in " the camp of the saints, the beloved city." No heavy rain showers will ever make things wet and uncomfortable; no storms will whirl dust into corners or shake the palaces with windy gusts. No glaring light will weary the eye by day, but the brilliant radiance of softened sunshine will soothe and charm the senses all day long. At night, there will be no inconvenient darkness, nor the blinding glitter of electric lights, but the soft brightness of diffused flame-light. By day and by night, and at all seasons, the physical conditions of life will be perfect.  "Upon all the glory shall be a defence."


Visitors from the ends of the earth will discover a delightsomeness in the city that is the throne of the Lord that has never been found in the most splendid capitals of the age of sin. It is meet that it should be so. If " glorious things are spoken of thee," of the city of God, what else could we expect when God's averted face smiles upon His people in the bestowal of every good thing which the heart can conceive. " Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God hath prepared for them that love him," but God hath revealed it unto us by His Spirit—" at sundry times and in divers manners," and certainly nowhere more luminously than in this book of the prophet Isaiah.


                                                      CHAPTER V-PAGES 72-83

                                               "THE SONG OF THE VINEYARD"

THE purport of this fifth chapter may be taken as summed up in the opening sentence of verse 25 :  "Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people." The chapter sets forth the grounds on which God should act the part of an enemy to Israel. But the form in which this is done is peculiar, and the lessons conveyed are deeply instructive. The form is one of those " divers manners" spoken of by Paul in Heb. i. 1, and referred to by God Himself when He speaks of having " used similitudes" by the ministry of the prophets (Hos. vi. 5 : xii. 9,10). 


It is a form that illustrates a method of inspiration unknown and unsuspected by many in our day who can only recognise inspiration where there is a specific assertion of divine authorship, as when the phrase, " Thus saith the Lord," occurs. We do not refer to the employment of parable but to the apparent human personality of the speaker. The prophet appears as the personal writer and mediator. " Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard." Is it Isaiah then to whom we listen in the song following ? Superficial critics—" higher " or otherwise—would say so, but without true reason. To Isaiah, truly, we listen, but not to Isaiah as a mere human impressionist, for that would be to listen to a man who might be unreliable in divine matters. It is to Isaiah used as an instrument of divine utterance, as the composition shows, for no sooner has Isaiah told us the subject of his song than the divine mentality glowing within his consciousness breaks through as the sun from behind a cloud, and expresses itself in the first person: " Judge I pray you between me and my vineyard . . . the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel." The personal Isaiah prologue is but the form in which the Spirit of God introduces what is about to be said.


There is a remarkable illustration of this in Jeremiah, in which the prophet is commanded to go and say something that appears as his personal utterance. " SAY THIS WORD UNTO THEM. Let mine eyes run down night and day with tears. . . . If I go forth into the field, then behold the slain with the sword, and if I enter into the city, then behold them that are sick with famine. . . . Hast thou utterly rejected Judah? Hath thy soul lothed Zion? Why hast thou smitten us and there is no healing ? " (Jer. xiv. 17-19). The fact is there is no fixed form for the expression of inspiration. As the ways of God in nature are endless in their diversity, so there is endless variation in the " divers manners " in which He " spake in time past through the prophets unto the fathers."   It is for this reason that the Bible never repeats itself. The evidence of inspiration is not to be found by the microscopical study of sentences, but in those widesweeping considerations that bear on a subject as a whole, such as the attitude of Jesus to " the scriptures," his recognition of their divine and unfailing character, and the express allegations of the apostles that they originated not in the will of man, but in the movement of the Holy Spirit, and were consequently " all given by inspiration of God."


The parable of the vineyard in Isaiah v. is not exactly the same as the parable of the vineyard employed by Christ, though the subject is the same. In the case of the latter, it was the behaviour of the keepers of the vineyard that was in question. They withheld the fruit from the owner of the vineyard : the fruit itself was assumed to be good. In the Isaiah parable, it is the fruit that is at fault:    "He looked that it should bring forth grapes and it brought forth wild grapes." The meaning is, the bad character of the people: " He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry " (verse 7). The message enters into details which show us God's estimate of human behaviour on various points : " Woe to them that join house to house and lay field to field till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth." It is no new thing to amass property and establish monopolies. God's disapprobation of such a policy may be forgotten, but it is here recorded, and may in our day be seen in the desolate state of Palestine thus foretold : " Of a truth, many houses shall be desolate, even great and fair, without the inhabitant. Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah " (verses 9-10). That is, a land that was famed for its fertility—" flowing with milk and honey," would become so sterile that it would only be cultivated at a loss.


Avarice is odious to men, but here is a higher consideration : it is offensive to God, and his " woe " is recorded. The fact has little weight with the general run of mankind. They do not see in the course of a certain limited number of years that evil comes of it, and therefore they harden themselves,  "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is set in them to do evil" (Ecc. viii. 11). But things work themselves out. " Though a sinner do evil an hundred times and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God " (Ecc. viii. 12).


It is unreasonable and bad that men should bend their strength to the piling up of gigantic wealth. Even natural thinkers see it, and have proposed a legal limit to income—but the notion is not likely to be taken up. When the Kingdom of God comes, the taking up of right notions will not depend upon the people. The right notions will be enforced by the law that goes forth from Zion.  The saints will possess the earth, but it will not be in the spirit of those who add " house to house and field to field"; it will not be for selfaggrandisement, and the extinction of others :  it will be in the spirit of men who love their neighbour as themselves, and who will use their power for the blessedness of all entrusted to their care.


Next, we have liquor and jollity condemned, along with the distaste for wisdom that usually results from such proclivities; " Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink : that continue until night until wine inflame them. And the harp and the viol and the tabret and pipe and wine are in their feasts: but they REGARD NOT the WORK of the LORD, neither consider the operation of His hands. Therefore my people are gone into captivity because they have no knowledge" (verses 11-13). These things were not written as history merely. They are on record as the everlasting expression of God's views of man's ways. There are people who see no objection in the use of strong drink and in the attendant musical convivialities. " We cannot see any harm," is the motto on their side. " Woe unto them," is the utterance on God's side. Wise men will never hesitate in the choice between such divergent issues. It is the lesson of universal experience that strong drink and indulgence in frivolous music undermine all taste for the sobrieties of wisdom. Nothing more infallibly brings men into the state described by Solomon in the Proverbs, in more places than one : " They hate knowledge : they do not choose the fear of the Lord : they will none of my counsel: they despise all my reproof." No doubt, the exercitations of folly are agreeable for the time (otherwise they would not be indulged in) : but what is the end ? Solomon well says : "The laughter of fools is as the crackling of thorns under a pot " : ashes and desolation are the outcome. Israel have experienced this in a long dispersion, which, if men had only wisdom to rightly interpret it, is a standing protest against the sensationalisms of wine, music, and the dance, as well as the condemnation of all idolatries.


"Therefore hell hath enlarged herself and opened her mouth without measure : and their glory and their multitude and their pomp shall descend into it. And the mean man shall be brought down and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled. But the Lord of Hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God who is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness " (verses 14-16). Not the popular hell, of course, but the Bible hell—sheol—the grave—invisibility—oblivion. Destruction personified, as when " Destruction and death say,     We have heard of the fame of wisdom" (Job xxviii. 22). Destruction opened a wide mouth and devoured the merry crowds to whom Isaiah was sent in expostulation : they disappeared in the profound. The visitor to Israel's desolate hills may realise to the uttermost how fully the prophet's words have come to pass. A step further forward will see the disappearance of British, French and Italian revelries as well, and the substitution of a new civilization among the populations sobered by judgment. " The Lord of hosts shall be exalted." But first must " the day of the Lord be upon every one that is proud and lofty and upon every one that is lifted up . . . and upon all the ships of Tarshish and upon all pleasant pictures  . . the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day " (Tsaiah ii. 17-21). Liquor and music anddancing will hide their heads when men " shall go into the holes of the rocks and into the caves of the earth for fear of the Lord and for the glory of his majesty when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth." Israel have had their taste of this. The turn of other nations is coming. The judgment of God is "upon the Jew first and also on the Gentile " (Rom. ii. 9-10).


"Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat" (verse 17—of chap. v.). That is, the meek of the earth will live in security and peace when the wicked are cut off: and the surplus property of the wicked wealthy will pass into the hands of others. The lambs are the meek : the fat ones are rich sinners. It is the expressive figure of a change which is put in plainer terms when it is said (chapter xxix. 19), " The meek shall increase their joy in the Lord and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel, when the terrible one is brought to nought and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity shall be cut off."


"Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope : that say, Let him make speed and hasten his work that we may see it, and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it " (verses 18-19). We have here figurative action and characteristic speech on the part of the scornful class in Israel, who were just as much in the majority as they are in Gentile lands to-day. The figure is that of men dragging a loaded conveyance by means of ropes or harness. This is not a common mode of transit in Western lands, but it is common in the East. When men thus convey loaded carts, it is on business. The load in the figure is " iniquity" and "sin." The harnessings are vanity (or vain or foolish ideas), yet put on with the strength of a cart rope. The general picture is that of men following sin as their avocation, with talent and vigour, and whose only response to the expostulations of righteousness is insulting satire. " We will believe when we see." " When the judgment comes, we may get out of the way : when the Kingdom comes, perhaps we may manage to tip the doorkeeper." There is no lack of such scoffers now. Their end will be like that of the scoffers at the siege of Jerusalem, who said to Josephus that the prophets were old women : they " miserably perished " with every attendant circumstance of suffering and shame. It is for the wise to be patient: " The needy shall not always be forgotten : the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever " (Psa. ix. 18).


"Woe unto them that call evil, good, and good, evil: that put darkness for light and light for darkness : that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight. Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine and men of strength to mingle strong drink—which justify the wicked for reward and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him " (verses 20-23). This is the same class described in another way, or rather, another aspect of their wickedness exhibited —an aspect that makes them dangerous men as well as bad men. They do not honestly own up to being wicked. If they practise evil, it is on the plea that it is really "good." They would not be considered bad men for the world. They have a philosophy that enables them to be at peace with their own consciences at least. They flatter themselves that they are "broad" in their views: "liberal" in their principles : " enlightened " in their ideas. They are able to dismiss all scruples as to divine law : and all objections on the score of principle as " prejudice." By their sophistries, they not only deceive themselves, but lead many to destruction. They lure women to dishonour, and beguile the trustful to ruin in business matters. Nothing stands in the way of their self-interest. They will praise the vile and slander the honourable if they can make it " pay." And all their ways are smoothed over with honeyed words of deceit.


" Woe unto them " saith the terrible word of God. " As the fire devoureth the stubble and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness and their blossom shall go up as dust, because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel." There is nothing more melancholy than the end of a sinner. Who bemoans him ? Who misses him—(unless it be his companions in folly) ? Who is not relieved when the land is delivered from his presence, and his shadow no longer pollutes the sun ? If thus it is in the individual cases that illustrate the principle every other day, how must it be when " the destruction of the wicked and the transgressor shall be together and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed ? " (Is. i. 28). " The day that cometh shall burn them up that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. . . . Evil doers shall be cut off, but they that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth." It will not then seem the light thing it now is in the eyes of men to "cast away the law of the Lord and despise the word of the Holy One of Israel."


It is for the wise to know wisdom in advance, and not drift helplessly to its discovery with a foolish generation, engulfed in a common destruction. Wisdom lies in the discernment of God's views as revealed. By this standard, the common practical repudiation of the divine law is a crime. We may read the heinousness of it in the words next written (verse 25), " Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people and he hath stretched forth his hand against them and hath smitten them, and the hills did tremble and their carcases were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this, his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." The destruction of a divinely-constituted nation and its prolonged prostration to this hour is the unmistakable indication to those who can see it, of the divine estimate of the habits of thought and speech that are as much in vogue to-day as they were in the midst of Israel.


In Isaiah's day, the coming retribution was still a matter of futurity. Its advent is foreshown in many a graphic figure—none more telling than that with which this chapter concludes : " He will lift up an ensign to the nations—(that is, wave a flag to arrest their attention and summon them)—and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth, and behold they shall come with speed swiftly." The Gentile nations were to be used as weapons of destruction against Israel. We look back and see it has been done. The destruction of Israel has not been miraculous. It has been the natural result of human rapacity with an opportunity given. Yet how constantly the formula : " I have scattered them." Even in the chapter before us, it is "his anger," his " stretched-out hand " that is the ultimate cause of the calamity.


The nations, though filling their part, are only used as instruments. They are unconscious of the divine ingredient in the process. They say " Our hand is high : the Lord hath not done ail this." Whereas the truth lies in the shape they deny. If their hand is high, it is because it has been divinely permitted for a divine purpose. " Who gave Jacob for a spoil and Israel to the robbers ? Did not the Lord ?—he against whom we have sinned. Because they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient to his law. Therefore he hath poured upon them the fury of his anger and the strength of battle " (xlii. 24). The nations have been but as so many saws, axes, and hammers in a work of demolition which has been a divine work. This is the aspect of the matter laid stress on in Isaiah x. 15; and it is most important to have it continually in view, otherwise we shall err in our reading of the whole course of history. It is a combination of the human and divine that the natural man has a difficulty in receiving, and yet the discernment of which is essential to enlightened views on many matters: e.g., the death of Christ, the meaning of our own lives, etc.


That Israel's troubles were not miraculous made it worse for Israel. To be given over to " the tender mercies of the wicked " is far worse than being subjected to direct divine chastisement. Israel would have found it a cause of pride as well as comfort if only angels had been their enemies ; to be subjected to the power of man was to be afflicted and dishonoured in its bitterest form. David, who had experience of man, knew the difference between falling into the hands of God and the hands of man, when invited to choose his own punishment at the close of his reign (2 Sam. xxiv. 13-14). It shows the fearfulness of Israel's punishment that they have been handed over to the power of Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Latins, and Russians: " 0 Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment. 0 mighty God, thou hast established them for correction " (Hab. i. 12).


At the time Isaiah prophesied, they were latent in the quiet sea of nations. The land of the heathen contained in the populations thereof the elements of trouble, but those elements had to be organised and the trouble evoked. They must have remained innocuous against Israel if God had not stirred them up and opened their way in the manner that is easy for Him. This prophecy shows us the divine operator, at work as it were: shaking a signal-flag and hissing for the nations to come, as a man hisses for a dog. By the light of history, we see them respond in successive waves of irresistible assault, as indicated in the next verse (27): " None shall be weary or stumble among them : none shall slumber nor sleep : neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken."


This is not intended to intimate that literally and individually, the soldiers of the enemy advancing to Israel's destruction would be incapable of weariness or slumber, and have no accident to their accoutrements. It is a hyperbolic declaration of the certainty of the execution of their work, akin to what Jeremiah was instructed to say concerning the Babylonish besiegers of Jerusalem: " Though ye (Israel) had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans that fight against you, and there remained but wounded men among them, yet should they rise up every man in his tent and burn this city with fire" (Jer. xxxvii. 10). In the same way are we to understand the remaining description of their prowess (Isaiah v. 28). " Whose arrows are sharp and all their bows bent : their horses' hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind. Their roaring shall be like a lion: they shall roar like young lions, and lay hold of the prey and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it. And in that day, they shall roar against them (Israel) like the roaring of the sea."


Any one reading the particulars of the Roman invasion of Palestine supplied so abundantly in the narrative of Josephus (an eye-witness) will have the illustration before his eyes of what is literally meant by these high figures of inspiration. The attendant circumstances of that invasion were of a character that could only be adequately expressed by such bold word-pictures. The same things happened in the many previous calamities of Israel's experience, but not on the same scale or with the same terrible intensity. We either lack fulness of historical information of previous cases—(such as the destruction of the land by Nebuchadnezzar), or else the events of the Roman destruction exceeded all others in their horrors—which is probable from the words of Christ (Matt. xxiv. 21-22).


The closing sentence of the chapter touches off the sequel in one vigorous stroke: "If one look into the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof." When Vespasian and Titus had done their work, a smiling land had been turned into a blackened waste, and all order and authority had been extinguished in the extermination of the bulk of the inhabitants. Had we been there to see, it would have been like looking on the site of a conflagration the morning after the fire had reduced a mass of noble buildings to ashes, only the scene would have been far more extensive and the circumstances infinitely more tragic than anything connected with the biggest fire that happens in war or peace. A whole land involved in " darkness and sorrow ; " the light of public life vanished from all high places; " the light darkened in the heavens thereof."


To speak of the high places of a community as the heavens thereof, is a common and effective figure throughout the prophetic scriptures. It is based upon the natural relation of the physical heavens as the upper or ruling sphere of the world natural. This is so natural a subject of political figure that all public writers fall into its use in the easiest manner in speaking of the relations of the ruling powers. How often do we read in press editorials of the " clouded state of the political sky" when governments quarrel; or the eclipse of some luminary when some high personage falls from state, or the rising of " a bright particular star" when some new genius makes his advent in any realm of public life. That the public habit in this respect may have its partial origin in Bible allusion is probable, but this is not sufficient to explain it. The Bible is not so influential with the world as to stamp its speech by the mere force of its usage. Natural fitness is much more powerful with men in such a matter than Bible custom.


And the fitness in this case is manifest. It is a natural, a beautiful, and a scriptural style of figure that conceives of a system of things among men—whether in the smaller phase of individual and family life, or the larger phase of political systems·—as a universe of heaven and earth, with their subordinate features and phenomena of sun, moon, stars, sea, rain, sunshine, storm, calm, etc. As the one affects us literally, so the other affects us figuratively. Heavens and earth are the whole system in each case. As the heavens rule the earth literal, so the figurative heavens—(or authorities)—rule those under them, who are the earth. What the sun is in the system of nature, the fountain of prosperity and light, whatever it may be, is in the economy of human life large or small. In general, the sun is the symbol of prosperity, but may have a special application to a ruling person, as in the case of Joseph's dream of Jacob as the sun ; darkness standing for calamity and oppression, or for ignorance, as the case may be; the stars as the lesser luminaries of our life; the air for the social or political atmosphere which we breathe ; tempest for adverse circumstances causing stress ; the sea for the people or for the lower elements of our position, according as it is applied politically or to individual experience.


That these things are true in scriptural usage is shown by the following illustrations : " I make new heavens and new earth " is a form of speech employed to describe generally God's purpose to "make Jerusalem a rejoicing and her people a joy" (Isaiah Ixv. 17-18). That this means the recovery of the old Jerusalem is shown by the further statement, " The voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her nor the voice of crying" (verse 19). Peter (2 Pet. iii. 13) expounds the promise thus : "new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" showing it is a system of things with moral relations, and therefore a system composed of people, for the physical universe has no moral relations: it is equally the platform for righteousness or wickedness as the case may be.


" I will shake the heavens and the earth shall remove out of her 'place" is the figurative description of God's overthrow of Babylon by the instrumentality of the Medes and Persians (Isaiah xiii., compare verses 1, 13 and 17).


The revolution in human affairs by which human systems are overthrown and the Kingdom of God established is thus described : " I will shake the heavens and the earth, and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen " (Hag. iii. 22). The sense of the Hebrew " wav" (translated " and ") is here expletive rather than conjunctive, and has the sense of the English " even " rather than " besides." The same form of speech is employed earlier in the prophecy (ii. 6), with the addition of the words "yet once," which Paul says are to be understood as " Yet once more," and as signifying " the removal of the things shaken " (Heb. xii. 26). " Yet once it is a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come."


A more limited figure is the employment of sun, moon, and stars, day and night, in foretelling prosperity or adversity for the things and systems spoken of. The extinction of the power of Egypt is

thus described in Ezekiel xxx. 18 : " At Tehaphnehes also, the day shall be darkened when I shall break there the yokes of Egypt and the pomp of her strength shall cease in her : as for her, a cloud shall cover her, and her daughters shall go into captivity." Again, in Ezek. xxxii. 7 : " And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven and make the stars thereof dark : I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God."


Under the same figure, the extinction of prophecy is foretold : " Night shall be unto you that ye shall not have a vision : and it shall be dark unto you that ye shall not divine. And the sun shall go down over the prophets and the day shall be dark over them" (Micah iii. 6).


So Israel's everlasting and unclouded glory is foretold in these words: "Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light and

thy God thy glory " (Isaiah lx. 20).


Israel's overthrow by Babylon is thus lamented : " How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven to the earth the beauty of Israel" {Lam. ii. 1).


Jesus said of Capernaum that it was " exalted unto heaven " ; but would be " brought down to hell (Matt. xi. 23); and of the coming dethronement of the power of the enemy : " I saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven " (Luke x. 18).    


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