|<< Isaiah 58 >>|
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
The design of this chapter is to reprove the Jews for a vain dependence on the performance of the outward forms of worship. The nation is represented as diligent in the performance of the external rites of their religion, and as expecting to avert the divine judgments by the performance of those rites. They are represented as filled with amazement, that though they were thus diligent and faithful, they had no tokens of the divine approbation, but were left as if forsaken by God. The main scope of the chapter is to state the reasons why their religious services met with no tokens of the divine acceptance, and the blessings which would follow the proper performance of their duties.
It is not certainly known to what period the prophet refers, whether to the Jews in his own time, or to the Jews regarded as in Babylon. Rosenmuller supposes the reference is wholly to the Jews suffering in their captivity, and practicing their religious rites with a view of obtaining the divine favor and a release. He argues this because there is no reference here to sacrifices, but merely to fasting, and the observance of the Sabbath; duties which they could perform even when far away from the temple, and from their own land. But it seems more probable that the reference here to fasting is designed as an instance or specimen of the character of the people, and that this is made so prominent because they abounded so much in it, and were so hypocritical in its observance. It is possible that it was composed at or near the time of some of the public fasts during the reign of Manasseh, and that the fact that the external rites of religion were observed amidst the abominations of that wicked reign roused the indignation of the prophet, and led him to pour forth this severe reproof of the manner in which they approached God.
The chapter comprises the following subjects:
I. A direction to the prophet openly and boldly to reprove the sins of the nation Isaiah 58:1.
II. The fact that the Jewish people were regular and diligent in the observance of the external duties of religion, and that they expected the divine favor on the ground of those observances Isaiah 58:2-3.
III. The prophet states the reason why their excessive and punctual religious duties had not been accepted or followed with the divine favor and blessing.
1. They still continued their heavy exactions on others, and made everything tributary to their own pleasure Isaiah 58:3.
2. They did it for strife and debate; with hoarse contentions and angry passions Isaiah 58:4.
3. It was with an affected and hypocritical seriousness and solemnity, not as a proper expression of a deep sense of sin Isaiah 58:5.
IV. The prophet states the true ways in which the favor of God might be obtained, and the happy results which would follow the proper observance of his commands, and the proper discharge of the duties of religion.
1. The proper mode of fasting, and the happy results Isaiah 58:6-9.
(1) The kind of fasting which God had chosen Isaiah 58:6-7. It was to loose the bands of wickedness, and undo the heavy burdens, and let the oppressed go free, and to aid the poor and needy.
(2) The consequence of this Isaiah 58:8-9. Their light would break forth as the morning, and the nation would prosper, and their prayers would be heard.
2. The special duty of removing the yoke of oppression, and of regarding the poor and the oppressed, and the consequences Isaiah 58:9-12.
(1) The duty. God requires the yoke of oppression to he put away, and the oppressed and the poor to be regarded by his people (Isaiah 58:9, last clause, 10).
(2) The consequences which would follow from this Isaiah 58:10-12. Their light would rise in obscurity, and their darkness would be as noonday; Yahweh would be their guide, and the waste places would be repaired, and the desolations cease.
3. The duty of keeping the Sabbath, and the consequences Isaiah 58:13-14.
(1) The duty Isaiah 58:13. They were to cease to do their own pleasure, and to call it holy, and to regard it with delight.
(2) The consequences Isaiah 58:14. They would then find delight in the service of Yahweh; and they would ride upon the high places of the earth, and be abundantly blessed and prospered.
1Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
Cry aloud - Margin, 'With the throat;' that is, says Gesenius, with open throat, with full voice coming from the throat and breast; while one who speaks low uses only the lips and tongue 1 Samuel 1:13. The Chaldee here introduces the word prophet, 'O prophet, cry aloud.' The Septuagint renders it, 'Cry with strength.' (ἐν ἰσχύΐ en ischui).
Spare not - That is, do not spare, or restrain the voice. Let it be full, loud, and strong.
Lift up thy voice like a trumpet - Speak loud and distinct, so that the language of reproof may be heard. The sense is, the people are insensible and stupid. They need something to rouse them to a sense of their guilt. Go and proclaim it so that all may hear. Speak not in whispers; speak not to a part, but speak so earnestly that their attention will be arrested, and so that all shall hear (compare the notes at Isaiah 40:9). "And show my people." This either refers to the Jewish people in the time of the prophet; or to the same people in their exile in Babylon; or to the people of God after the coming of the Messiah. Vitringa supposes that it refers to the nominally Christian Church when it should have sunk into the sins and formalities of the papacy, and that the direction here is to the true ministers of God to proclaim the sins of a corrupt and degenerate church. The main reason assigned by him for this is, that there is no reference here to the temple, to the sacrifices, or to the idolatry which was the prevailing sin in the time of Manasseh. Rosenmuller, for a similar reason, supposes that it refers to the Jews in Babylon. But it has already been remarked (see the analysis to the chapter), that this reason does not appear to be satisfactory.
It is true that there is no reference here to the temple or to sacrifices, and it may be true that the main sin of the nation in the time of Manasseh was idolatry; but it is also true that formality and hypocrisy were prominent sins, and that these deserved reproof. It is true that while they adhered to the public forms of religion, the heart was not in them; and that while they relied on those forms, and were surprised that the divine favor was not manifested to them on account of their observance, there was a good reason why that favor was withheld, and it was important that that reason should be stated clearly and fully. It is probable, therefore, that the reference here is to the times of the prophet himself, and that the subject of rebuke is the formality, hypocrisy, and prevalent sins of the reign of Manasseh.
2Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
Yet they seek me daily - The whole description here is appropriate to the character of formalists and hypocrites; and the idea is, that public worship by sacrifice was celebrated daily in the temple, and was not intermitted. It is not improbable also that they kept up the regular daily service in their dwellings.
And delight to know my ways - Probably this means, they profess to delight to know the ways of God; that is, his commands, truths, and requirements. A hypocrite has no real delight in the service of God, or in his truth, but it is true at the same time that there may be a great deal of professed interest in religion. There may be a great deal of busy and bustling solicitude about the order of religious services; the external organization of the church; the ranks of the clergy; and the claims of a liturgy. There may be much pleasure in theological discussion; in the metaphysics of theology; in the defense of what is deemed orthodoxy. There may be much pleasure in the mere music of devotion. There may be pleasure in the voice of a preacher, and in the power of his arguments. And there may be much pleasure in the advancement of the denomination to which we are attached; the conversion of people not from sin, but from a side opposite to us; and not to holiness and to God, but to our party and denomination. True delight in religion is in religion itself; in the service of God as such, and because it is holy. It is not mere pleasure in creeds, and liturgies, and theological discussions, and in the triumph of our cause, nor even in the triumph of Christianity as a mere party measure; but it is delight in God as he is, in his holy service, and in his truth.
As a nation that did righteousness - As a people would do who really loved the ways of righteousness.
They ask of me the ordinances of justice - Their priests and prophets consult about the laws and institutions of religion, as if they were really afraid of violating the divine commands. At the same time that they are full of oppression, strife, and wickedness, they are scrupulously careful about violating any of the commands pertaining to the rites of religion. The same people were subsequently so conscientious that they did not dare to enter the judgment-hall of Pilate lest they should disqualify themselves from partaking of the Passover, at the same time that they were meditating the death of their own Messiah, and were actually engaged in a plot to secure his crucifixion! John 19:28. It is often the case that hypocrites are most scrupulous and conscientious about forms just as they are meditating some plan of enormous guilt, and accomplishing some scheme of deep depravity.
They take delight in approaching to God - There is a pleasure which even a hypocrite has in the services of religion, and we should not conclude that because we find pleasure in prayer and praise, that therefore we are truly pious. Our pleasure may arise from a great many other sources than any just views of God or of his truth, or an evidence that we have that we are his friends.
3Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
Wherefore have we fasted - They had fasted much, evidently with the expectation of delivering themselves from impending calamities, and securing the divine favor. They are here introduced as saying that they had been disappointed. God had not interposed as they had expected. Chagrined and mortified, they now complain that he had not noticed their very conscientious and faithful regard for the duties of religion.
And thou seest not? - All had been in vain. Calamities still impended; judgments threatened; and there were no tokens of the divine approbation. Hypocrites depend on their fastings and prayers as laying God under obligation to save them. If he does not interpose, they complain and murmur. When fasting is the result of a humble and broken heart, it is acceptable; when it is instituted as a means of purchasing the divine favor, and as laying God under obligation, it can be followed by no happy result to the soul.
Have we afflicted our soul - By fasting. Twenty-one manuscripts (six ancient), says Lowth, have this in the plural number - 'our souls' and so the Septuagint, Chaldee, and the Vulgate. The sense is not materially affected, however. It is evident here that they regarded their numerous fastings as laying the foundation of a claim on the favor of God, and that they were disposed to complain when that claim was not acknowledged. Fasting, like other religious duties, is proper; but in that, as in all other services of religion, there is danger of supposing that we bring God under obligations, and that we are laying the foundation of a claim to his favor.
Thou takest no knowledge - Thou dost not regard our numerous acts of self-denial.
Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure - The prophet here proceeds to state the reasons why their fastings were not succeeded as they supposed they would be, by the divine favor. The first reason which he states is, that even when they were fasting, they were giving full indulgence to their depraved appetites and lusts. The Syriac has well rendered this, 'In the day of your fasting you indulge your lusts, and draw near to all your idols.' This also was evidently the case with the Jews in the time of the Saviour. They were Characterized repeatedly by him as 'an evil and adulterous generation,' and yet no generation perhaps was ever more punctual and strict in the external duties of fasting and other religious ceremonies.
And exact all your labors - This is the second reason why their fasting was attended with no more happy results. The margin renders this 'griefs,' or things wherewith ye grieve others.' Lowth renders it, 'All your demands of labor ye rigorously exact.' Castellio renders it, 'And all things which are due to you, you exact.' The word rendered here 'labors' denotes usually hard and painful labor; toil, travail, etc. The Septuagint renders it here, 'And goad (ὑπονύσσετε huponussete) all those who are under your control' (τοὺς ὑποχειρίους ὑμῶν tous hupocheirious humōn). The idea seems to be that they were at that time oppressive in exacting all that was due to them; they remitted nothing, they forgave nothing. Alas, how often is this still true! People may be most diligent in the external duties of religion; most abundant in fasting and in prayer, and at the same time most unyielding in demanding all that is due to them. Like Shylock - another Jew like those in the time of Isaiah - they may demand 'the pound of flesh,' at the same time that they may be most formal, punctual, precise, and bigoted in the performance of the external duties of religion. The sentiment taught here is, that if we desire to keep a fast that shall be acceptable to God, it must be such as shall cause us to unbind heavy burdens from the poor, and to lead us to relax the rigor of the claims which would be oppressive on those who are subject to us (see Isaiah 58:6).
4Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate - This is a third characteristic of their manner of fasting, and a third reason why God did not regard and accept it. They were divided into parties and factions, and probably made their fastings an occasion of augmented contention and strife. How often has this been seen! Contending denominations of Christians fast, not laying aside their strifes; contending factions in the church fast in order to strengthen their party with the solemn sanctions of religion. One of the most certain ways for bigots to excite persecution against those who are opposed to them is to 'proclaim a fast;' and when together, their passions are easily inflamed, their flagging zeal excited by inflammatory harangues, and their purpose formed to regard and treat their dissentient brethren as incorrigible heretics and irreconcilable foes. It may be added, also, that it is possible thus to prostitute all the sacred institutions of religion for party and inflammatory purposes. Even the ordinance of the Lord's Supper may be thus abused, and violent partisans may come around the sacred memorials of a Saviour's body and blood, to bind themselves more closely together in some deed of persecution or violence, and to animate their drooping courage with the belief that what has been in fact commenced with a view to power, is carried on from a regard to the honor of God.
And to smite with the fist of wickedness - Lowth renders this, in accordance with the Septuagint. 'To smite with the fist the poor;' but this translation can be obtained only by a most violent and wholly unauthorized change in the Hebrew text. The idea is plain, that 'even when fasting' they were guilty of strife and personal combats. Their passions were unsubdued, and they gave vent to them in disgraceful personal encounters. This manifests a most extraordinary state of society, and is a most melancholy instance to show how much people may keep up the forms of religion, and even be punctual and exact in them, when the most violent and ungovernable passions are raging in their bosoms, and when they seem to be unconscious of any discrepancy between the religious service and the unsubdued passions of the soul.
Ye shall not fast ... - It is not acceptable to God. It must be offensive in his sight.
To make your voice to be heard on high - That is, in strife and contention. So to contend and strive, says Grotius, that your voice can be heard on the mountain top. Rosenmuller, however, supposes that it means, that their fast was so conducted that they could not expect that their prayers would ascend to heaven and be heard by God. But it seems to me that the former is the correct interpretation. Their fastings were accompanied with the loud and hoarse voice of contention and strife, and on that account could not be acceptable to God.
5Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? - Is this such a mode of fasting as I have appointed and as Iapprove?
A day for a man to afflict his soul? - Margin, 'To afflict his soul for a day.' The reading in the text is the more correct; and the idea is, that the pain and inconvenience experienced by the abstinence from food was not the end in view in fasting. This seems to have been the mistake which they made, that they supposed there was something meritorious in the very pain incurred by such abstinence. Is there not danger of this now? Do we not often feel that there is something meritorious in the very inconveniences which we suffer in our acts of self denial? The important idea in the passage before us is, that the pain and inconvenience which we may endure by the most rigid fasting are not meritorious in the sight of God. They are not that at which he aims by the appointment of fasting. He aims at justice, truth, benevolence, holiness Isaiah 58:6-7; and he esteems the act of fasting to be of value only as it will be the means of leading us to reflect on our faults, and to amend our lives.
Is it to bow down his head - A bulrush is the large reed that grows in marshy places. It is, says Johnson, without knots or joints. In the midst of water it grows luxuriantly, yet the stalk is not solid or compact like wood, and, being unsupported by joints, it easily bends over under its own weight. it thus becomes the emblem of a man bowed down with grief. Here it refers to the sanctimoniousness of a hypocrite when fasting - a man without real feeling who puts on an air of affected solemnity, and 'appears to others to fast.' Against that the Saviour warned his disciples, and directed them, when they fasted, to do it in their ordinary dress, and to maintain an aspect of cheerfulness Matthew 6:17-18. The hypocrites in the time of Isaiah seemed to have supposed that the object was gained if they assumed this affected seriousness. How much danger is there of this now! How often do even Christians assume, on all the more solemn occasions of religious observance, a forced sanctimoniousness of manner; a demure and dejected air; nay, an appearance of melancholy - which is often understood by the worm to be misanthropy, and which easily slides into misanthropy! Against this we should guard. Nothing more injures the cause of religion than sanctimoniousness, gloom, reserve, coldness, and the conduct and deportment which, whether right or wrong, will be construed by those around us as misanthropy. Be it not forgotten that the seriousness which religion produces is always consistent with cheerfulness, and is always accompanied by benevolence; and the moment we feel that our religious acts consist in merely bowing down the head like a bulrush, that moment we may be sure we shall do injury to all with whom we come in contact.
And to spread sackcloth and ashes under him - On the meaning of the word 'sackcloth,' see the notes at Isaiah 3:24. It was commonly worn around the loins in times of fasting and of any public or private calamity. It was also customary to sit on sackcloth, or to spread it under one either to lie on, or to kneel on in times of prayer, as an expression of humiliation. Thus in Esther 4:3, it is said. 'and many lay on sackcloth and ashes:' or, as it is in the margin, 'sackcloth and ashes were laid under many;' (compare 1 Kings 21:27). A passage in Josephus strongly confirms this, in which he describes the deep concern of the Jews for the danger of Herod Agrippa, after having been stricken suddenly with a violent disorder in the theater of Caesarea. 'Upon the news of his danger, immediately the multitude, with their wives and children, "sitting upon sackcloth according to their country rites," prayed for the king; all places were filled with wailing and lamentation; while the king, who lay in an upper room, beholding the people below thus falling prostrate on the ground, could not himself refrain from tears' (Antiq. xix. 8. 2). We wear crape - but for a somewhat different object. With us it is a mere sign of grief; but the wearing of sackcloth or sitting on it was not a mere sign of grief, but was regarded as tending to produce humiliation and mortification. Ashes also were a symbol of grief and sorrow. The wearing of sackcloth was usually accompanied with ashes Daniel 9:3; Esther 4:1, Esther 4:3. Penitents, or those in affliction, either sat down on the ground in dust and ashes Job 2:8; Job 42:6; Jonah 3:6; or they put ashes on their head 2 Samuel 13:19; Lamentations 3:16; or they mingled ashes with their food Psalm 102:9. The Greeks and the Romans had also the same custom of strewing themselves with ashes in mourning. Thus Homer (Iliad, xviii. 22), speaking of Achilles bewailing the death of Patroclus, says:
Cast on the ground, with furious hands he spread
The scorching ashes o'er his graceful head,
His purple garments, and his golden hairs;
Those he deforms, and these he tears.
Laertes (Odys. xxiv. 315), shows his grief in the same manner:
Deep from his soul he sighed, and sorrowing spread
A cloud of ashes on his hoary head.
So Virgil (AEn. x. 844), speaking of the father of Lausus, who was brought to him wounded, says:
Canitiem immundo deformat pulvere.
Wilt thou call this a fast? - Wilt thou suppose that these observances can be such as God will approve and bless? The truth here taught is, that no mere outward expressions of penitence can be acceptable to God.
6Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? - Fasting is right and proper; but that which God approves will prompt to, and will be followed by, deeds of justice, kindness, charity. The prophet proceeds to specify very particularly what God required, and when the observance of seasons of fasting would be acceptable to him.
To loose the bands of wickedness - This is the first thing to be done in order that their fasting might be acceptable to the Lord. The idea is, that they were to dissolve every tie which unjustly bound their fellowmen. The Chaldee renders it, 'Separate the congregation of impiety;' but the more probable sense is, that if they were exercising any unjust and cruel authority over others; if they had bound them in any way contrary to the laws of God and the interests of justice, they were to release them. This might refer to their compelling others to servitude more rigidly than the law of Moses allowed; or to holding them to contracts which had been fraudulently made; or to their exacting strict payment from persons wholly incapacitated to meet their obligations; or it might refer to their subjecting others to more rigid service than was allowed by the laws of Moses, but it would not require a very ardent imagination for anyone to see, that if he held slaves at all, that this came fairly under the description of the prophet. A man with a tender conscience who held slaves would have been likely to suppose that this part of the injunction applied to himself.
To undo the heavy burdens - Margin, 'Bundles of the yoke.' The Septuagint renders it, 'Dissolve the obligations of onerous contracts.' The Chaldee, 'Loose the obligations of the writings of unjust judgment.' The Hebrew means, 'Loose the bands of the yoke,' a figure taken from the yoke which was borne by oxen, and which seems to have been attached to the neck by cords or bands (see Fragments to Taylor's Calmer. No. xxviii.) The yoke, in the Scripture, is usually regarded as an emblem of oppression, or compulsory toil, and is undoubtedy so used here. The same word is used to denote 'burden' (מוטה môṭâh), which in the subsequent member is rendered 'yoke,' and the word which is rendered 'undo (התר hatı̂r from נתי nātar), is elsewhere employed to denote emancipation from servitude. The phrase here employed would properly denote the release of captives or slaves, and would doubtless be so understood by those whom the prophet addressed. Thus, in Psalm 105:17-20 :
He sent a man before them, even Joseph,
Who was sold for a servant;
Whose feet they hurt with fetters;
He was laid in iron:
Until the time when his word came,
The word of the Lord tried him.
The king sent and loosed him (ויתירהוּ vaytı̂yrēhû),
Even the ruler of the people, and let him go free.
And let the oppressed go free - Margin, 'Broken.' The Hebrew word רצוצים retsûtsı̂ym is from the word רצץ rātsats, meaning "to break, to break down" (see the notes at Isaiah 42:3); to treat with violence, to oppress. It may be applied to those who are treated with violence in any way, or who are broken down by bard usage. It may refer, therefore, to slaves who are oppressed by bondage and toil; or to inferiors of any kind who are subjected to hard usage by those who are above them; or to the subjects of a tyrant groaning under his yoke. The use of the phrase here, 'go free,' however, seems to limit its application in this place to those who were held in bondage. Jerome renders it, 'Free those who are broken' (confracti). The Septuagint Τεθρασμένος Tethrasmenos - 'Set at liberty those who are broken down.' If slavery existed at the time here referred to, this word would be appropriately understood as including that - at least would be so understood by the slaves themselves - for if any institution deserves to be called oppression, it is theft of slavery.
This interpretation would be confirmed by the use of the word rendered free. That word (חפשׁים chophshı̂ym) evidently refers to the act of freeing a slave. The person who had once been a slave, and who had afterward obtained his freedom, was denominated חפשׁי chophshı̂y (see Jahn, Bib. Ant. Section 171). This word occurs, and is so used, in the following places; Exodus 21:12, 'And the seventh (year) he shall go free;' Exodus 21:5, 'I will not go out free;' Exodus 26:27, 'He shall let him go free;' Deuteronomy 15:12, 'Thou shalt let him go free;' Deuteronomy 15:13, 'When thou sendest him out free' Deuteronomy 15:18, 'When thou sendest him away free;' Job 3:19, 'The servant is free from his master;' that is, in the grave, where there is universal emancipation. Compare Jeremiah 34:9-11, Jeremiah 34:14, Jeremiah 34:16 where the same Hebrew word is used, and is applied expressly to the emancipation of slaves. The word is used in other places in the Bible except the following: 1 Samuel 17:25, 'And make his father's house free in Israel,' referring to the favor which was promised to the one who would slay Goliath of Gath. Job 39:5 : 'Who hath sent out the wild donkey free?' Psalm 88:5 : 'Free among the dead.' The usage, therefore, is settled that the word properly refers to deliverance from servitude. It would be naturally understood by a Hebrew as referring to that, and unless there was something in the connection which made it necessary to adopt a different interpretation, a Hebrew would so understand it of course. In the case before us, such an interpretation would be obvious, and it is difficult to see how a Jew could understand this direction in any other way, if he was an owner. of slaves, than that be should set them at once at liberty.
And that ye break every yoke - A yoke, in the Scriptures, is a symbol of oppression, and the idea here is, that they were to cease all oppressions, and to restore all to their lust and equal rights. The prophet demanded, in order that there might be an acceptable 'fast,' that everything which could properly be described as a 'yoke' should be broken. How could this command be complied with by a Hebrew if he continued to retain his fellow-men in bondage? Would not its fair application be to lead him to emancipate those who were held as slaves? Could it be true, whatever else he might do, that he would fully comply with this injunction, unless this were done? If now this whole injunction were fairly complied with in his land, who can doubt that it would lead to the emancipation of the slaves? The language is such that it cannot well be misunderstood. The prophet undoubtedly specifies those things which properly denote slavery, and demands that they should all be abandoned in order to an acceptable 'fast to the Lord,' and the fair application of this injunction would soon extinguish slavery throughout the world.
7Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry? - The word renderd 'deal' (פרס pâras), means to divide, to distribute. The idea is, that we are to apportion among the poor that which will be needful for their support, as a father does to his children. This is everywhere enjoined in the Bible, and was especially regarded among the Orientals as an indispensable duty of religion. Thus Job JObadiah 31:16-22 beautifully speaks of his own practice:
If I have witheld the poor from his desire,
Or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail;
Or have eaten my morsel myself alone,
And the fatherless hath not eaten thereof;
If I have seen any perish for want of clothing,
Or any poor without covering; - ...
Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade,
And mine arm be broken from the bone.
And that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house - Margin, 'Afflicted' Hospitality to all, and especially to the friendless and the stranger, was one of the cardinal virtues in the Oriental code of morals. Lowth renders this, 'The wandering poor.'
When thou seest the naked ... - This duty is also plain, and is everywhere enjoined in the Bible (compare Matthew 25:38).
And that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh - That is, from thine own kindred or relations who are dependent on thee. Compare Genesis 29:14; Genesis 37:27; where the word 'flesh' is used to denote near relations - relations as intimate and dear as if they were a part of our flesh and blood Genesis 2:23. To hide oneself from them may denote either, first, to be ashamed of them on account of their poverty or humble rank in life; or, secondly, to witchold from them the just supply of their needs. Religion requires us to treat all our kindred, whatever may be their rank, with kindness and affection, and enjoins on us the duty of providing for the needs of those poor relatives who in the providence of God are made dependent on us.
8Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.
Then shall thy light - (See the notes at Isaiah 44:7). The idea here is, that if they were faithful in the discharge of their duty to God, he would bless them with abundant prosperity (compare Job 11:17). The image is, that such prosperity would come on the people like the spreading light of the morning.
And thine health - Lowth and Noyes render this, 'And thy wounds shall be speedily healed over.' The authority on which Lowth relies, is the version of Aquila as reported by Jerome, and the Chaldee. The Hebrew word used here, (ארוּכה 'ărûkâh), means properly "a long bandage" (from ארך 'ârak, "to make long"), such as is applied by surgeons to heal a wound (compare the notes at Isaiah 1:6). It is then used to denote the healing which is secured by the application of the bandage; and figuratively here means their restoration from all the calamities which had been inflicted on the nation. The word rendered 'spring forth' (from צמח tsâmach) properly relates to the manner in which plants germinate (compare the notes at Isaiah 42:9). Here the sense is, that if they would return to God, they would be delivered from the calamities which their crimes had brought on them, and that peace and prosperity would again visit the nation.
And thy righteousness shall go before thee - Shall be thy leader - as an army is conducted. The idea is that their conformity to the divine laws would serve the purpose of a leader to conduct them in the ways of peace, happiness, and prosperity.
The glory of the Lord - The allusion here is doubtless to the mode in which the children of Israel came out of Egypt (see the notes at Isaiah 6:5).
Shall be thy rere-ward - Margin, 'Shall gather thee up.' That is, shall bring up the rear (see the notes at Isaiah 52:12).
9Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
Then shalt thou call - The sense is, that if we go before God renouncing all our sins, and desirous of doing our duty, then we have a right to expect that he will hear us. But if we go indulging still in sin; if we are false and hollow and hypocritical in our worship; or if, while we keep up the regular forms of devotion, we are nevertheless guilty of oppression, cruelty, and dishonesty, we have no right to expect that he will hear us (see the notes at Isaiah 1:15).
If thou take away ... the yoke - (See the notes at Isaiah 58:6).
The putting forth of the finger - That is, if you cease to contemn and despise others; if you cease to point at them the finger of scorn. It was usual to make use of the middle finger on such occasions. Thus Martial, ii. 28, 2:
Rideto multum -
- et digitum porrigito medium.
So Juvenal, Sat. x. 52:
- mediumque ostenderet unguem.
And speaking vanity - Lowth and Noyes render it thus, 'The injurious speech.' Kimchi understands it of words of contention and strife. The word used here (און 'âven) denotes either nothingness, vanity, a vain and empty thing Isaiah 41:29; Zechariah 10:2; or falsehood, deceit Psalm 36:4; Proverbs 17:4; or unworthiness, wickedness, iniquity Job 36:21; Isaiah 1:13; here it means, probably, every kind of false, harsh, and unjust speaking - all of which probably I abounded among the Jews. The Septuagint renders it, ̔Ρῆμα γογγυσμοῦ Rēma gongusmou - 'The word of murmuring.'
10And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry - Lowth, on the authority of eight manuscripts, renders this, 'If thou bring forth thy bread to the hungry.' So the Syriac and Noyes. But the authority is not sufficient to justify the change in the text, nor is it necessary. The word 'soul' here is synonymous with heart, or benevolent affection; and the idea is, if they expressed benevolent affection or kindness toward those in want.
Then shall thy light rise in obscurity - That is, it will be as if the cheerful light of the sun should rise amidst the shades of midnight. The sense is, that their calamities and trials would be suddenly succeeded by the bright and cheerful light of prosperity.
11And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
And the Lord shall guide thee continually - Yahweh will go before you and will lead you always.
And satisfy thy soul in drought - (See the notes at Isaiah 41:17-18). The word rendered 'drought' (Margin, 'droughts;' Hebrew, צחצחות tsachetsâchôth) means "dry places" - places exposed to the intense heat of a burning sun and parched up for the want of moisture. The idea is, that God would provide for them as if in such places copious rains were to fall, or refreshing fountains to burst forth.
And make fat thy bones - Lowth, 'Shall renew thy strength.' Noyes, 'Strengthen thy bones.' Jerome renders it, 'Shall liberate thy bones.' The Septuagint 'Thy bones shall be made fat.' The idea is undoubtedly that of vigorous prosperity, and of strength. Job JObadiah 21:24 expresses a similar idea of a strong man dying:
'His watering places for flocks abound with milk,
And his bones are moist with marrow.'
For the propriety of this translation, which differs from the common version, see my notes on Job, in loc. The word used here (חלץ châlats), however, does not often, if ever, denote to make fat. It rather means to be manful, active, brave, ready for war; and the idea here is, probably, derived from the preparation which is made for the active services of war, rather than that of being made fat.
And thou shalt be like a watered garden - Syriac, 'Like paradise.' This is a most beautiful image to denote continued prosperity and blessedness - an image that would be particularly striking in the East. The ideas of happiness in the Oriental world consisted much in pleasant gardens, running streams, and ever-flowing fountains, and nothing can more beautifully express the blessedness of the continued favor of the Almighty. The following extract from Campbell (African Light), may illustrate this passage: 'In a hot climate, where showers seldom fall, except in what is called the rainy season, the difference between a well and ill watered garden is most striking. I remember some gardens in Africa, where they could lead no water upon them, the plants were all stinted, sickly, or others completely gone, only the hole left where the faded plant had been. The sight was unpleasant, and caused gloom to appear in every countenance; they were pictures of desolation. But in other gardens, to which the owners could bring daily supplies of water from an overflowing fountain, causing it to traverse the garden, every plant had a green, healthy appearance, loaded with fruit, in different stages toward maturity, with fragrant scent proceeding from beds of lovely flowers; and all this produced by the virtue God hath put into the single article of water.'
Whose waters fail not - Margin, 'Lie,' or 'Deceive.' Hebrew, כזב kâzab - 'Lie.' Waters or springs lie or deceive when they become dried up, or fail in the dry seasons of the year. They deceive the shepherd who expected to obtain water there for himself or his flock; they deceive the caravan which had traveled to the well-known fountain where it had been often refreshed, and where, it is now found, its waters are dried up, or lost in the sand. Hence, such a brook or fountain becomes an emblem of a false and deceitful friend Job 6:15 :
My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook,
As the stream of brooks they pass away.
But in the supplies which God makes for his people there is no such deception. The fountains of pardon, peace, and joy are ever open and ever full. The streams of salvation are always flowing. The weary pilgrim may go there at any season of the year, and from any part of a desolate world, and find them always full, refreshing, and free. However far may be the pilgrimage to them from amidst the waste and burning climes of sin, however many come to slake their thirst, and however frequently they come, they find them always the same. They never fail; and they will continue to flow on to the end of time.
12And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.
And they that shall be of thee - They that spring from thee; or thy people.
Shall build the old waste places - Shall repair the old ruins, and restore the desolate cities and fields to their former beauty. This language is taken from the condition of Judea during the long captivity at Babylon. The land would have been desolated by the Chaldeans, and lain waste for a period of seventy years. Of course all the remains of their former prosperity would have gone to decay, and the whole country would be filled with ruins. But all this, says the prophet, would be restored if they were obedient to God. and would keep his law. Their descendants would be so numerous that the land would be entirely occupied and cultivated again, and cities and towns would rise with their former beauty and magnificence.
Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations - That is, the foundations which had endured for generations. The word 'foundations' here (מוסד môsâd), means properly the foundation of a building, that is, on which a building rests. Here it means the foundation when that alone remains; and is equivalent to ruins. The Hebrew phrase translated 'of many generational' (דור־ודור dôr-vâdôr, generation and generation), is equivalent to one generation after another, and is the usual form of the superlative degree. The exact amount of time is not designated; but the phrase is equivalent to a long time - while one generation passes away after another. Vitringa applies this to the gospel, and supposes that it means that the church, after long decay and desolation, would rise to its former beauty and glory. The promise is indeed general; and though the language is taken from the recovery of Palestine from its ruins after the captivity, yet there can be no objection to applying it in a more general sense, as teaching that the people of God, if they are faithful in keeping his commandments, and in manifesting the spirit which becomes the church, will repair the ruins which sin has made in the world, and rebuild the wastes and the desolations of many ages.
Sin has spread its desolations far and wide. Scarce the foundations of righteousness remain in the earth. Where they do remain, they are often covered over with ruined fragments, and are surrounded by frightful wastes. The world is full of the ruins which sin has caused; and there could be no more striking illustration of the effects of sin on all that is good, than the ruins of Judea during the seventy years of exile, or than those of Palmyra, of Baalbec, of Tyre, of Ephesus, and of Persepolis, at present. It is for the church of God to rebuild these wastes, and to cause the beauties of cultivated fields, and the glories of cities rebuilt, to revisit the desolate earth; in other words, to extend the blessings of that religion which will yet clothe the earth with moral loveliness, as though sin had not spread its gloomy and revolting monuments over the world.
And thou shalt be called - The name which shall appropriately designate what you will do.
The repairer of the breach - Lowth, 'The repairer of the broken mound.' The phrase properly means, 'the fortifier of the breach;' i.:e:, the one who shall build up the breach that is made in a wall of a city, either by the lapse of time, or by a siege.
The restorer of paths to dwell in - Lowth and Noves render this, 'The restorer of paths to be frequented by inhabitants.' The Septuagint renders it, 'And thou shalt cause thy paths to rest in the midst of thee;' and Jerome. Avertens semitas in quietem - 'Turning the paths into rest,' which the Jewish exposition explains to mean, 'Thou shalt build walls so high that no enemy can enter them.' So Grotius renders it, 'Turning thy paths to rest;' that is, thou shalt leave no way of access to robbers. The Chaldee renders it, 'Converting the wicked to the law.' The common English version has probably expressed correctly the sense. The idea is, that they would repair the public highways which had long lain desolate, by which access was had to their dwelling-places. It does not mean, however, that the paths or ways were to be places in which to dwell, but that the ways which led to their dwelling-places were to be restored, or repaired. These roads, of course, in the long desolations would be ruined. Thorns, and brambles, and trees would have grown upon them; and having been long neglected, they would be impassable. But the advantages of a free contact from one dwelling and one city to another, and throughout the land, would be again enjoyed. Spiritually applied, it means the same as the previous expression, that the church of God would remove the ruins which sin has caused, and diffuse comfort and happiness around the world. The obstructed and overrun paths to a quiet and peaceable dwelling on earth would be cleared away, and the blessings of' the true religion would be like giving free and easy access from one tranquil and prosperous dwelling-place to another.
13If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath - The evident meaning of this is, that they were sacredly to observe the Sabbath, and not to violate or pollute it (see the notes at Isaiah 56:2). The idea, says Grotius, is, that they were not to travel on the Sabbath day on ordinary journeys. The 'foot' is spoken of as the instrument of motion and travel. 'Ponder the paths of thy feet' Proverbs 4:26; that is, observe attentively thy goings. 'Remove thy foot from evil' Proverbs 4:27; that is, abstain from evil, do not go to execute evil. So here, to restrain the foot from the Sabbath, is not to have the foot employed on the Sabbath; not to be engaged in traveling, or in the ordinary active employments of life, either for business or pleasure.
From doing thy pleasure on my holy day - Two things may here be observed:
1. God claims the day as his, and as holy on that account. While all time is his, and while he requires all time to be profitably and usefully employed, he calls the Sabbath especially his own - a day which is to be observed with reference to himself, and which is to be regarded as belonging to him. To take the hours of that day, therefore, for our pleasure, or for work which is not necessary or merciful, is to rob God of that which he claims as his own.
2. We are not to do our own pleasure on that day. That is, we are not to pursue our ordinary plans of amusement; we are not to devote it to feasting, to riot, or to revelry. It is true that they who love the Sabbath as they should will find 'pleasure' in observing it, for they have happiness in the service of God. But the idea is, here, that we are to do the things which God requires, and to consult his will in the observance. It is remarkable that the thing here adverted to, is the very way in which the Sabbath is commonly violated. It is not extensively a day of business, for the propriety of a periodical cessation from toil is so obvious, that people will have such days recurring at moderate intervals. But it is a day of pastime and amusement; a day not merely of relaxation from toil, but also of relaxation from the restraints of temperance and virtue. And while the Sabbath is God's great ordinance for perpetuating religion and virtue, it is also, by perversion, made Satan's great ordinance for perpetuating intemperance, dissipation, and sensuality.
And call the Sabbath a delight - This appropriately expresses the feelings of all who have any just views of the Sabbath. To them it is not wearisome, nor are its hours heavy. They love the day of sweet and holy rest. They esteem it a privilege, not a task, to be permitted once a week to disburden their minds of the cares, and toils, and anxieties of life. It is a 'delight' to them to recall the memory of the institution of the Sabbath, when God rested from his labors; to recall the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, to the memory of which the Christian Sabbath is consecrated; to be permitted to devote a whole day to prayer and praise, to the public and private worship of God, to services that expand the intellect and purify the heart. To the father of a family it is the source of unspeakable delight that he may conduct his children to the house of God, and that he may instruct them in the ways of religion. To the Christian man of business, the farmer, and the professional man, it is a pleasure that he may suspend his cares, and may uninterruptedly think of God and of heaven. To all who have any just feeling, the Sabbath is a 'delight;' and for them to be compelled to forego its sacred rest would be an unspeakable calamity.
The holy of the Lord, honorable - This more properly means, 'and call the holy of Yahweh honorable.' That is, it does not mean that they who observed the Sabbath would call it 'holy to Yahweh and honorable;' but it means that the Sabbath was, in fact, 'the holy of Yahweh,' and that they would regard it as 'honorable.' A slight inspection of the Hebrew will show that this is the sense. They who keep the Sabbath aright will esteem it a day "to be honored" (מכבד mekubâd).
And shalt honor him - Or rather, shalt honor it; to wit, the Sabbath. The Hebrew will bear either construction, but the connection seems to require us to understand it of the Sabbath rather than of the Lord.
Not doing thine own ways - This is evidently explanatory of the phrase in the beginning of the verse. 'if thou turn away thy foot.' So the Septuagint understands it: Οὐκ άρεῖς τὸς πόδα σου ἐπ ̓ ἔργῳ Ouk areis ton poda sou ep' ergō - 'And will not lift up thy foot to any work.' They were not to engage in secular labor, or in the execution of their own plans, but were to regard the day as belonging to God, and to be employed in his service alone.
Nor finding thine own pleasure - The Chaldee renders this, 'And shalt not provide on that day those things which are necessary for thee.'
Nor speaking thine own words - Lowth and Noyes render this, 'From speaking vain words.' The Septuagint, 'Nor utter a word in anger from thy mouth.' The Chaldee renders it, 'Words of violence.' It is necessary to add some epithet to make out the sense, as the Hebrew is literally, 'and to speak a word.' Probably our common translation has expressed the true sense, as in the previous members of the verse the phrase 'thine own' thrice occurs. And according to this, the sense is, that on the Sabbath our conversation is to be such as becomes a day which belongs to God. It is not less important that our conversation should be right on the Sabbath than it is that our conduct should be.
14Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord - That is, as a consequence of properly observing the Sabbath, thou shalt find pleasure in Yahweh. It will be a pleasure to draw near to him, and you shall no longer be left to barren ordinances and to unanswered prayers. The delight or pleasure which God's people have in him is a direct and necessary consequence of the proper observance of the Sabbath. It is on that day set apart by his own authority, for his own service, that he chooses to meet with his people, and to commune with them and bless them; and no one ever properly observed the Sabbath who did not find, as a consequence, that he had augmented pleasure in the existence, the character, and the service of Yahweh. Compare Job 22:21-26, where the principle stated here - that the observance of the law of God will lead to happiness in the Almighty - is beautifully illustrated (see also Psalm 37:4).
And I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth - A phrase like this occurs in Deuteronomy 32:13 : 'He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of fields.' In Habakkuk 3:19, the phrase also occurs: 'He will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.' So also Psalm 18:33 : 'He maketh my feet like hinds' feet, and setteth me upon my high places.' In Amos 4:13, it is applied to God: 'He maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth.' Kimchi, Calvin, and Grotius suppose that the idea here is, that God would restore the exiled Jews to their own land - a land of mountains and elevated places, more lofty than the surrounding regions. Vitringa says that the phrase is taken from a conqueror, who on his horse or in his chariot, occupies mountains, hills, towers, and monuments, and subjects them to himself. Rosenmuller supposes it means, 'I will place you in lofty and inaccessible places, where you will be safe from all your enemies.' Gesenius also supposes that the word 'high places' here means fastnesses or strongholds, and that to walk over those strongholds, or to ride over them, is equivalent to possessing them, and that he who has possession of the fastnesses has possession of the whole country (see his Lexicon on the word במה bâmâh, No. 2). I give these views of the most distinguished commentators on the passage, not being able to determine satisfactorily to myself what is the true signification. Neither of the above expositions seems to me to be entirely free from difficulty. The general idea of prosperity and security is undoubtedly the main thing intended; but what is the specific sense couched under the phrase 'to ride on the high places of the earth,' does not seem to me to be sufficiently explained.
And feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father - That is, thou shalt possess the land promised to Jacob as an inheritance.
For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it - This formula often occurs when an important promise is made, and it is regarded as ample security for the fulfillment that Yahweh has promised it. What more ample security can be required, or conceived, than the promise of the eternal God?
Remarks on Isaiah 58:1-14
I. From Isaiah 58:1-6, and the exposition given of these verses, particularly Isaiah 58:6, we may make the following remarks respecting slavery.
1. That the prophets felt themselves at entire liberty to animadvert on slavery as an evil. They did not feel themselves restrained from doing it by the fact that slavery was sustained by law, or by the plea that it was a civil institution, and that the ministers of religion had nothing to do with it. The holy men who were sent by God as his ambassadors, did not suppose that, in lifting up the voice against this institution, they were doing anything contrary to what fairly came within their notice as religious teachers, nor did they regard it as, in such a sense, a civil institution that they were not to advert to it.
It is often said in our country that slavery is a civil institution; that it pertains solely to political affairs; that the constitution and the laws suppose its existence, and make provision for its perpetuity; that it is not appropriate for the ministers of religion, and for ecclesiastical bodies to intermeddle with it. This plea, however, might have been urged with much more force among the Hebrews. Their constitution was, what ours is not, of divine appointment, and it would have been easy for a friend of slavery to say that the prophets were interfering with what was sanctioned by the laws, and with the arrangements which were made for its perpetuity in the commonwealth. Why would not such an argument have as much weight then as it should be allowed to have now?
2. The prophet Isaiah felt himself at entire liberty to exhort the people to restore their slaves to freedom. He considered that slavery was as proper a subject for him to discuss as any other. He treated it as entirely within his province, and did not hesitate at all to express his views on it as an evil, and to demand that the evil should cease, in order to an acceptable worship of God.
3. He does not speak of it as a good and desirable institution, or as contributing to the welfare of the community. It is, in his view, a hard and oppressive system; a system which should be abandoned if people would render acceptable service to God. There is no apology made for it; no pleading for it as a desirable system; no attempt made to show that it is in accordance with the laws of the land and with the laws of God. It would not be difficult to imagine what would be the emotions of Isaiah if, after he had written this 58th chapter of his prophecies, it should be represented that he was the friend of slavery, or if he were to read some of the vindications of the systems published in this Christian land by ministers of the gospel, and by ecclesiastical bodies, or should hear the sentiments uttered in debate in Synods, Assemblies, Conferences, and Conventions.
4. It may be inferred from the exposition given, that Isaiah did not suppose that slavery was in accordance with the spirit of the Mosaic institutions, or that those institutions were designed to perpetuate it. His treatment of it is just such as would be natural on the supposition that the Mosaic institutions were so made that, while it was for a while tolerated - just as polygamy and divorce were - yet that it was the tendency and design of the Mosaic system ultimately to remove the evil entirely, and to make the Hebrews throughout a free people, and that it was therefore proper for him, as a prophet, to enjoin on them the duty of letting all the oppressed go free. It may be added, that if this was proper in the time of Isaiah, it cannot be less proper under the light of the gospel and in the nineteenth century.
II. From the closing portion of this chapter Isaiah 58:13-14, we may derive the following important inferences respecting the Sabbath:
1. It is to be of perpetual obligation. The whole chapter occurs in the midst of statements that relate to the times of the Messiah. There is no intimation that the Sabbath was to be abolished, but it is fairly implied that its observance was to be attended with most happy results in those future times. At all events, Isaiah regarded it as of binding obligation, and felt that its proper observance was identified with the national welfare.
2. We may see the manner in which the Sabbath is to be observed. In no place in the Bible is there a more full account of the proper mode of keeping that holy day. We are to refrain from ordinary traveling and employments; we are not to engage in doing our own pleasure; we are to regard it with delight, and to esteem it a day worthy to be honored; and we are to show respect to it by not performing our own ordinary works, or pursuing pleasures, or engaging in the common topics of conversation. In this description there occurs nothing of unique Jewish ceremony, and nothing which indicates that it is not to be observed in this manner at all times. Under the gospel, assuredly, it is as proper to celebrate the Sabbath in this way, as it was in the times of Isaiah, and God doubtless intended that it should be perpetually observed in this manner.
3. Important benefits result from the right observance of the Sabbath. In the passage before us, these are said to be, that they who thus observed it would find pleasure in Yahweh, and would be signally prospered and be safe. But those benefits are by no means confined to the Jewish people. It is as true now as it was then, that they who observe the Sabbath in a proper manner find happiness in the Lord - in his existence, perfections, promises, law, and in communion with him - which is to be found nowhere else. Of this fact there are abundant witnesses now in every Christian church, and they will continue to be multiplied in every coming age. And it is as true that the proper observance of the Sabbath contributes to the prosperity and safety of a nation now, as it ever did among the Jewish people. It is not merely from the fact that God promises to bless the people who keep his holy day; though this is of more value to a nation than all its armies and fleets; but it is, that there is in the institution itself much that tends to the welfare and prosperity of a country.
It is a time when worldliness is broken in upon by a periodical season of rest, and when the thoughts are left free to contemplate higher and purer objects. It is a time when more instruction is imparted on moral and religious subjects, than on all the other days of the week put together. The public worship of God tends to enlarge the intellect, and purify the heart. No institution has ever been originated that has contributed so much to elevate the common mind; to diffuse order, peace, neatness, decency among people, and thus to perpetuate and extend all that is valuable in society, as the Sabbath. Anyone may be convinced of this, who will be at the pains to compare a neighborhood, a village, or a city where the Sabbath is not observed with one where it is; and the difference will convince him at once, that society owes more to the Sabbath than to any single institution besides, and that in no way possible can one-seventh portion of the time be so well employed as in the manner contemplated by the Christian day of rest.
4. Society will have seasons of cessation from labor, and when they are not made occasions for the promotion of virtue, they will be for the promotion of vice. Thus among the Romans an annual Saturnalia was granted to all, as a season of relaxation from toil, and even from the restraints of morality, besides many other days of periodical rest from labor. Extensively among pagan nations also, the seventh day of the week, or a seventh portion of the time, has been devoted to such relaxation. Thus, Hesiod says, Ἑβδομον ἱερον ἡμαρ Hebdomon hieron hēmera - The seventh day 'is holy.' Homer and Callimachus give it the same title. Philo says of the seventh any. Ἐόρτη γὰρ ου ̓ μιας πολέως η χώρας ἐστὶν ἀλλὰ τοῦ πακτὸς Heortē gar ou mias poleōs ē chōras estin alla tou pantos - 'It is a feast, not of one city or one country only, but of all.' Josephus (Contra Apion. ii.), says, 'There is no city, however barbarous, where the custom of observing the seventh day which prevails among the Jews is not also observed.' Theophilus of Antioch (ii.), says, 'Concerning the seventh day, which all people celebrate.' Eusebius says, 'Almost all the philosophers and poets acknowledge the seventh day as holy.' See Grotius, De Veritate, i.
It is evident that this custom did not originate by chance, nor was it kept up by chance. It must have been originated by far-spreading tradition, and must have been observed either because the day was esteemed to be holy, or because it was found to be convenient or advantageous to observe such a periodical season of rest. In accordance with this feeling, even the French nation during the Revolution, while they abolished the Christain Sabbath, felt so deeply the necessity of a periodical rest from labor, that they appointed the decade - or one day in ten, to be observed as a day of relaxation and amusement. Whatever, therefore, may have been the origin of the Sabbath, and whatever may be the views which may be entertained of its sacredness, it is now reduced to a moral certainty that people will have a periodical season of cessation from labor. The only question is, In what way shall it be observed? Shall it be devoted to amusement, pleasure, and vice; or shall it be employed in the ways of intelligence, virtue, and religion? It is evident that such a periodical relaxation may be made the occasion of immense good to any community; and it is not less evident that it may be the occasion of extending far the evils of intemperance, profaneness, licentiousness, and crime. It is vain to attempt to blot out wholly the observance of the Christian Sabbath; and since it will and must be observed as a day of cessation from toil, all that remains is for society to avail itself of the advantages which may be derived from its proper observance, and to make it the handmaid of temperance, intelligence, social order, and pure religion.
5. It is deeply, therefore, to be regretted that this sacred institution has been, and is so widely abused in Christian lands. As it is, it is extensively a day of feasting, amusement, dissipation, and revelry. And while its observance is, more decidedly than anything else, the means of perpetuating virtue and religion on earth, it is perhaps not too much to say that it is the occasion of more intemperance, vice, and crime than all the other days of the week put together. This is particularly the case in our large cities and towns. A community cannot be disbanded from the restraints of labor one-seventh part of the time without manifest evil, unless there are salutary checks and restraints. The merchant cannot safely close his counting-room; the clerk and apprentice cannot safely be discharged; the common laborer cannot safely be dismissed from toil, unless there is something that shall be adapted on that day to enlarge the understanding, elevate the morals, and purify the heart. The welfare of the community demands that; and nowhere more than in this country. Who can doubt that a proper observance at the holy Sabbath would contribute to the prosperity of this nation? Who can doubt that the worship of God; the cultivation of the heart; the contemplation of moral and religious truth; and the active duties of benevolence, would contribute more to the welfare of the nation, than to devote the day to idleness, amusement, dissipation, and sin?
6. While the friends of religion, therefore, mourn over the desecration of the Christian Sabbath, let them remember that their example may contribute much to secure a proper observance of that day. On the friends of the Redeemer it devolves to rescue the day from desecration; and by the divine blessing it may be done. The happiness of every Christian is indissolubly connected with the proper observance of the Sabbath. The perpetuity of the true religion, and its extension throughout the earth, is identified with the observance of the Sabbath. And every true friend of God the Saviour, as he values his own peace, and as he prizes the religion which he professes to love, is bound to restrain his foot on the Sabbath; to cease to find his own pleasure, and to speak his own words on that holy day; and to show that the Sabbath is to him a delight, and that he esteems it as a day to be honored and to be loved.