« הקודםהמשך »
ing the Ninevite invasion that Isaiah saw that retribution would come sooner or later, unless the nation repented and a radical reform should take place. He saw the people stricken with judicial blindness; so he clothed himself in sackcloth and cried aloud, with fervid eloquence, upon the people to repent. He is now the popular preacher, and his theme is repentance. In his earnest exhortations he foreshadows John the Baptist : “ Unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” It would seem that Savonarola makes him the model of his own eloquence. “Thy crimes, 0 Florence! thy crimes, 0 Rome! thy crimes, 0 Italy ! are the causes of these chastisements. O Rome! thou shalt be put to the sword, since thou wilt not be converted! O harlot Church! I will stretch forth mine hand upon thee, saith the Lord.” The burden of the soul of the Florentine monk is sin, especially sin in high places. He sees only degeneracy in life, and alarms the people by threats of divine vengeance. So Isaiah cries aloud upon the people to seek the Lord while he may be found. He does not invoke divine wrath, as David did upon his enemies; but he shows that this wrath will surely overtake the sinner. In no respect does he glory in this retribution: he is sad; he is oppressed; he is filled with grief, especially in view of the prevailing infatuation. “My people,” said he, “do not consider.” He denounces all classes alike, and spares not even women. In sarcastic language he rebukes their love of dress, their abandonment to vanities, their finery, their very gait and mincing attitude. Still more contemptuously does the preacher speak of the men, over whom the women rule and children oppress. He is severe on corrupt judges, on usurers; on all who are conceited in their own eyes; on those who are mighty to drink wine; on those who join house to house and field to field; on those whose glorious beauty is a fading flower ; on those who call good evil and evil good, that put darkness for light, that take away the righteousness of the righteous from him. His terrible denunciation and enumeration of evil indicate a very lax morality in every quarter, added to hypocrisy and pharisaism. He shows what a poor thing is sacrifice unaccompanied with virtue. “To what purpose,” said he, “is the multitude of sacrifices ? Bring no more vain oblations. Incense is an abomination to me, saith the Lord. Therefore wash ye, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Isaiah does not preach dogmas, still less metaphysical distinctions; he preaches against sin and demands repentance, and predicts calamity.
There are two points in his preaching which stand out with great vividness, — the certain judgments of God in view of sin, retribution on all offenders ; and secondly, the mercy and forgiveness of God in case of repentance. Retribution, however, is not in Isaiah usually presented as the penalty of transgression according to natural law; not, as in the Proverbs, as the inevitable sequence of sin, — “Whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap,” — but as direct punishment from God. Jehovah's awful personality is everywhere recognized, — a being who rules the universe as “ the living God,” who loves and abhors, who punishes and rewards, who gives power to the faint, who judges among the nations, who takes away from Judah and Jerusalem the stay and the staff of bread and water. “To whom then will ye liken God ? Have ye not known, have ye not heard, hath it not been told you from the beginning? It is He who sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers ; that stretcheth out the heaven as a curtain, that bringeth the princes to nothing. Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? He giveth power to the faint and weary, so that they who wait upon Him shall renew their strength, mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.” Can stronger or more comforting language be made use
of to assert the personality and providence of God ? And where in the whole circuit of Hebrew poetry is there more sublimity of language, greater eloquence, or more profound conviction of the evil and punishment of sin ? Isaiah, the greatest of all the prophets in his spiritual discernment, in his profound insight of the future, is not behind the author of Job in majestic and sublime description.
Whatever may be the severity of language with which Isaiah denounces sin, and awful the judgments he pronounces in view of it, as coming directly from God, yet he seldom closes one of his dreadful sentences without holding out the hope of divine forgiveness in case of repentance, and the peace and comfort which will follow. In his view the mercy of the Lord is more impressive than his judgments. Isaiah is anything but a prophet of wrath ; his soul overflows with tender sentiments and loving exhortation. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come to the waters! Come ye, buy and eat! Yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price! . . . Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. . . . Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear. . . . Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
According to modern standards, we are struck with the absence of what we call art, in the writings of Isaiah. History, woes, promises, hopes, aspirations, and exultations are all mingled together in scarcely logical sequence. He exhorts, he threatens, he reproaches, he promises, often in the same chapter. The transition between preacher and prophet is very sudden. But it is as prophet, that Isaiah is most frequently spoken of; and he is the prophet of hope and consolation, although he denounces woes upon the nations of the earth. In his prophetic office he predicts the future of all the people known to the Hebrews. He does not preach to them : they do not hear his voice; they do not know what tribulations shall be sent upon them. He commits his prophecies to writing for the benefit of future ages, in which he gives reasons for the judgments to be sent upon wicked nations, so that the great principles seen in the moral government of God may remain of perpetual significance. These principles centre around the great truth that national wickedness will certainly be followed by national calamities, which is also one of the most impressive truths that all history teaches; and so uniform is the operation of this great law that it is safe to make deductions from it for the guidance of states