EPISTLE TEXT: <236001> ISAIAH 60:1-6. 1 . Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee. 2 For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but Jehovah will arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. 3 And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. 4 . Lift up thine eyes round about, and see; they all gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be carried in the arms. 5 Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart shall thrill and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee, the wealth of the nations shall come unto thee. 6 The multitude of camels’ shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praises of Jehovah.
4. Plainly the injunction is addressed to one not risen, one who lies sleeping or is dead. I think Paul refers to this passage when he says ( Ephesians 5:14): “Wherefore he saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.” Undoubtedly, Christ is the light of which Isaiah here speaks, and which, through the Gospel, shines in all the world, enlightening those who rise ¾ who desire him. That Jerusalem is mentioned here and not by Paul is of no significance: In the text of Isaiah “Jerusalem” is not found. Some one added it in the epistle, because Jerusalem, or the people of Israel were addressed by the prophets.
5. Now, who are the sleepers and the dead? Unquestionably, all who are under the Law. They are dead because of sin. Particularly are they dead who disregard the Law and live independently of restraint. The selfrighteous, who recognize not their wants and defects, are the sleepers.
Both classes have little regard for the Gospel. They remain sleeping and continually die. The Spirit must awake them to recognition and acknowledge the light. But the third class, they who feel the power of the Law and the torments of the conscience, thirst after grace and sigh for the Gospel. They rest not until it comes and is given them. Then they proclaim it. Isaiah is one of these. In such manner do the sleepers and the dead awake and receive the Gospellight.
6. So Isaiah says, in effect: “Permit yourself to be enlightened; or, Let there be light. Allow the light to fall upon you. Thou dead one, crawl not into the grave of thy filthylife ¾ that is, cease to love and to follow thine evil course of conduct ¾ that the light of the Gospel may fall upon thee and abide in thee. And thou sleeper, awake! Seek not the bed of careless and lethargic security, and of presumptuous reliance upon thine own selfrighteousness.
Let the true light have some claim upon thee.” It is necessary frequently to admonish both classes. The great hindrance of the class represented by the dead is an unrestrained life; and a secure selfrighteousness will scarcely allow the sleeping class to recognize and accept the blissful light of the Gospel.
7. “Thy light is come.” Why does Isaiah say “thy light” when God’s light is meant, as will later appear? I answer, it is at the same time God’s light and Jerusalem’s light and the light of us all. It is God’s in that he gives it; ours in that we are enlightened by it and enjoy its rays. Similarly, Christ speaks of the sun as the Father’s ( Matthew 5:45), “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good.” Again, he says ( John 11:9), “If a man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.” That is, God’s sun enlightens the world. Again, referring to himself, he declares ( John 8:12), “I am the light of the world.” Further, the light Isaiah refers to is particularly the light of Jerusalem and the children of Israel, because of the promise. He was promised only to Abraham and his seed.
There is evident, too, the conclusion that the seed of Abraham is true man as well as God; that he must be born of a virgin; that his kingdom cannot be temporal or of this world; and that he must die and shortly rise from the dead to Lordship over all creatures.
All this apparently is briefly but explicitly concluded in this divinepromise.
9. We have frequently spoken of the little word “glory.” It means honor, brightness, splendor. The Gospel is simply a grand report, a noblecry, having origin in a glorious reality; it is not a mere empty proclamation. A glorious being is to be compared to a sun or a light. The sun is a fountain of light, so to speak, and its luster is the glory, the diffusion, the distinction of that light. The luster may be called the natural expression of the sun, the sole medium whereby the sun is recognized in the world ¾ through which it is diffused. Similarly, the glory of an individual is the fountain, the sun, the foundation, of his glorious reputation. His reputation is the luster of his glory. It is the medium whereby he is proclaimed, extolled, recognized as glorious. This much, you will perceive, is implied in the word “glory” ¾ honor, renown, brilliancy.
10. Thus the Gospel is God’s glory and our light. It is our light in that it reveals to us God, ourselves and all else. It is God’s glory in that it is the medium whereby his work ¾ all his glorious doings ¾ are proclaimed, extolled, recognized and honored in the whole world.
11. But, carrying the analogy to a finer point, it might be necessary to say that the Gospel is not the actual brightness of the light, nor is it the light itself. It is the rising of the brightness, the approach of the light. It is simply a manifestation of the light and brightness which existed from eternity. As said in John 1:4, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”
Yet they of the schools are not nearer the true light than are others. Rather they are farther from it. This could not be if the light of reason were helpful in obtaining the true light. Devils are wiser, more artful and crafty, than men; yet they are not therefore better. No, that kind of light is always at enmity with the true light. As Paul tells us ( Romans 8:7): “The mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be.”
18. But the weak-minded may ask: “How can it be that all natural reason teaches is darkness? Plainly, three and two are five, are they not? Again, if a man make a coat, is he not wise to make it of cloth, or foolish to make it of paper? Is he not wise who marries a godly woman, and he foolish who marries a godless one? And are there not similar instances innumerable in human affairs? Never can you persuade me that all natural reason is darkness. Even Christ implies that it is light, when he says ( Matthew 7:24 and 26): ‘Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock... And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand.’ Now, if the builder upon the rock is in darkness, who builds wisely?
19. I answer: This is all true, but it is necessary to make a distinction between God and men, between spiritual and temporal things. In earthly, human affairs man’s judgment suffices. For these things, he needs no light but that of reason. Hence God does not in the Scriptures teach us how to build houses, to make clothing, to marry, to wage war, to sail the seas, and so on. For these, our naturallight is sufficient. But in divine things, the things concerning God, and in which we must conduct ourselves acceptably with him and must securehappiness for ourselves, human nature is absolutely blind, staring stone-blind, unable to recognize in the slightest degree what these things are. Natural reason presumptuously plunges into them like a blindhorse. But all its conclusions are, as certainly as God lives, false and erroneous. In this capacity it proceeds like a man who builds on sand, or one who would use cobwebs for garments. Isaiah 59:6. It employs sand for meal in making bread. It sows wind and reaps the whirlwind, as Hosea 8:7 has it. It measures the atmosphere with a spoon, carries light into the cellar upon a tray, weighs flames in a balance, performing all manner of perverted nonsense ever known or possible to be devised. For all its efforts are designed as service to God and they must utterly fail.
20. Ask nature what is necessary to please God and to be saved, and it replies: “Truly, you must build churches, cast bells, institute masses, observe vigils, make chalices, pyxes, images and ornaments; must burncandles, pray so long a time, fast in honor of St. Catharine, become a priest or a monk, go to Rome and to St. Jacob, wear hair-shirts, torture yourself, and so on. Such are good works and true ways to salvation.” But if you ask for proof that these things are acceptable with God, reason is unable to give any other reply than that it thinks them acceptable. This doctrine is sheer imagination; more, it is gloom, it is darkness. It is what Isaiah refers to as “darkness” and “gross darkness.” Into it must fall all who do not accept the divinelight. It is impossible for them to do anything that shall be right in the sight of God.
22. All this the Jews meant only for divine service. They presumed thereby to serve the true God. Consequently the prophets who denounced their conduct were slain by them as destroyers of the divine service and blasphemers against God. But their services of God were instituted according to the dictates of human nature and not according to God’s commands. In the true service of God, he himself will be the light and accepts only the worship he has instituted and commanded. We read ( Leviticus 10:2) how Nabad and Abihu, sons of Aaron, were consumed by fire at the altar even though they were God-ordainedpriests and had transgressed no farther than to put strange, or unconsecrated, fire into their censers; a thing, however, not in accordance with the commandment of God. And just as little will God tolerate us when we style as divine service what he has not so appointed, and when we recognize it as such. What else does he who presumes so to do, but make of God an idol? He imagines him to be of his opinion, and forms in his mind his own God, presuming that God must be delighted with anything he devises.
Such a proceeding is but changing God’s will and perverting his design to accord with our will and our design. It is mocking God and regarding him as man of straw, a specter or wooden image, to be changed and fashioned at our pleasure. This is a thing God will by no means allow. He will not permit us to make of him an image ¾ an idol; the first commandment makes that plain. Nor will he allow us to misuse his name, as the second commandment clearly shows. And both commandments are just and right.
Hence it is impossible for us to please God thus, according to the dictates of nature. Indeed, such conduct is in the highest degree presumptuous, and of all things the most offensive to God.
THE TRUE LIGHT.
23. Recognizing this distinction concerning the things of God and man, there can be no difficulty in discerning between the true light and the false.
Whatever is not commanded of God is to be most carefully avoided, though ordained of angels or saints. For the most part, the laws of the Pope and the orders of the ecclesiasts must be false. For in the main they are but human devices relating to outward works not commanded of God.
Idolatry is more prevalent in the world today than it was in the Jews’ time.
Men presume to serve God in this humanly-appointed way, notwithstanding it is wholly wrong.
24. Divinelightteaches us to trust in God, to believe in him, to leave all to him, to submit readily to his workings, to accept whatever in his providence may present, bearing all and performing every duty, and to serve our neighbor throughout life. With such faith there is no difference in works; all works are alike. Having faith, well may we serve God in erecting buildings, in planting and threshing, in performing any sort of external works. These things are the proper expression of faith, of divinelight. God regards them as service to him, as devotional conduct.
25. The introduction to the Pope’s lawsteaches this principle of relying not upon one’s own understanding. But his object is, by these Scripture warnings to intimidate the world from rejecting his foolish laws, the right and essential thing to do, however. His object is to lead captive the minds of men, and to have them regard him alone as wise and to follow him in disregard of the wisdom of God. His laws are mere human devices and directly opposed to the doctrine of Solomon and of Paul. He forbids everyone to think for himself, and yet abominably enforces his own opinions in all the world. Solomon means that we are to be taught neither of ourselves nor of any human reasoning or device, but only of God our Lord. Whatsoever is not taught of God we are to avoid as darkness. He cannot tolerate an assistant in teaching and doing divine things. He intends to be himself the teacher, the light, that our faith may be pure, our understanding of divine matters clear.
27. Such, you perceive, is the meaning of Isaiah where he says, “Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples.” He cannot be understood as speaking of literal darkness; the sun has continued to give its light. He has reference to a darkness opposed to that light whereof he says, “Thy light is come,” and, “Jehovah will arise upon thee.” Now, they upon whom Jehovah has not risen, upon whom he has not shone, are in darkness. The darkness here meant is simply unbelief, the darkness of human reason; just as the light represents Christ, or faith in Christ whereby Christ dwells in the heart, as Paul says. Ephesians 3:17. Similarly, the reference here to the earth does not mean the material earth; the material earth was not darkened through Christ. The meaning is, earthly or worldly men; men who do not believe, do not accept Christ through the Gospel; men who remain in their earthly conceptions, in the naturallight of reason, as Isaiah himself explains when he says: “Gross darkness shall cover the peoples.”
Previous to Christ’s advent was the light of the Law, in which Christ was promised to the Jews. But when he came in fulfillment thereof, they continued to cling to that Law, to still look for his coming. In this way they seem to have lost what they once recognized, the meaning of the Law. And so it befell them as befalls one who leavesfar behind him the light properly going before, or the light that once preceded him, and now goes deeper into darkness, without that light. He who has his eyesfixed on a light before him, however far away, may see where he is going. But he who leaves the light behind, who turns his back upon it, walks toward the darkness, not seeing his objective point.
29. Such is the conduct of the Jews, who have behind them the Law shining upon Christ now come. They reject its Christ-revealing light, expecting it to shine for them upon another Christ yet to come. Thus they are without light. Their expectation will come to naught. The Law points to no other Christ.
These are not in darkness, nor covered with darkness. To them Jehovah was preached, and with the result that his glory is manifest in them. Isaiah does not say merely, The glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee, but, It “shall be seen upon thee.” Not only was the glory of Jehovahrevealed to the Church ¾ a revelation embracing even the unbelieving Jews ¾ but it appeared to them, and they knew him and his glory. They held these fast.
Therefore the rising of the light ¾ the Gospel ¾ was not taken from them.
31. Apparently we are to understand Isaiah as referring in the latter part of the text to the fruits of the preachedGospel, and in the first part to the preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel arose, admonishing men to arise.
After its advent some became so hardened, so overwhelmed in darkness, that the light did not again arise upon them; it was no more preached to them. But others were enlightened and continued in that illumination. Such has ever been the case unto this day with reference to the preaching of Christ and the Gospel. Some accept it and are enlightened. Others ¾ the majority of them ¾ condemn it as error and turn from it. Consequently they are overwhelmed in their unbelief. The Gospel is no longer proclaimed to them and they are not disposed to hear it. Truly, then, they must be concealed from the rising illumination of this light.
32. Let no one regard this as new or strange. The Scripture is unchangeable ¾ “Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples.” If this was true of the chosen people, the Jews, the naturalseed of Abraham, to how much greater degree may it be true of us heathen, descendants from one of different blood and nature! We see today that the people will permit no one to preach to them what the Pope and his followers have condemned; they will not tolerate it. Therefore they remain covered in their darkness. They have their own preaching wherewith they foster and conceal their blindness. And it befalls them as they desire, as it befell the Jews. “And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”
33. When the majority of the Jews refused to cultivate the fruits of the Gospel ¾ and fruit essentially accompanies the Gospel ¾ and continued in their blindness, the Gospel expanded into all the world, gathering the gentiles in place of the blinded and fallen Jews. So says Isaiah in this verse, the accomplished fulfillment of which renders it clear. The heathennations embraced Christianity and by genuine faith walked in Christ the true light.
Such was the increase of the Gospel fruit that even kings, the most exalted of earth, humbled themselves under the faith. The revelation of these future conditions was made that preachers might not be unduly elated over their conversion of kings, or any other, as if they had accomplished it of themselves. God foresaw it all and caused it to be revealed. Besides, he promised the Gospel.
34. This prophecy of Isaiah had strong fulfillment in former times. Many of the nobility and of high standing among the gentiles embraced Christianity.
Today, however, so perverted are these nations by the Turks and the Pope, the prophecy seems to have little bearing. And it is a remarkable fact that even other heathennations have been led astray by the converted gentiles.
35. What is the import of the phrase, “to the brightness of thy rising”? The prophet styles Christ the glory, or brightness, of the rising; that is, of the Gospel. For the Gospel will be continually advanced and preached; it will ever rise to oppose human doctrines, doctrines formerly in the highest degree dangerous to kings and holders of lofty positions. Upon these individuals first the evil spirit seizes with his perversions and human doctrines. Having them in his power, he can easily drag along with them the common, illiterate people. Thus the Pope first grasped kings and princes and then the masses. He could not have accomplished it had the Gospel continued to rise. No such thing was wrought when the Gospel first arose. But now it has set, and human doctrines have come up. None today walk in God’s light. “Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: they all gather themselves together, they come to thee; thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be carried in the arms.”
39. Isaiah’s meaning seems to be: “Look round about thee, unto the four quarters of the world. I will expand thee into all the earth, and thy children shall dwell everywhere.” The words of the text were designed to comfort the first Christians at Jerusalem in view of the fact that they were few in number, despised and in the midst of those who, when they should have been their bestfriends, were their enemies, as appears later on this same chapter. It was seemingly absurd for so small a band to attempt an undertaking so vast and unusual and to defy the overwhelming masses.
40. The Jews thought soon to check the efforts of the Christians, even to exterminate them. They began everywhere the work of persecution, expulsion and slaughter, presuming it easy to root out these poor and powerless people. Foolishly, they failed to see how they but fanned the fire already kindled, and scattered it world-wide. Their violence only helped to fulfill this God-directed prophecy of Isaiah against themselves. Their persecution drove Christians into all the world and extended the Gospel until everywhere the sons and daughters of Jerusalem were gathered to the light.
41. To accomplish an object with eminent success through the instrumentality of an enemy is characteristic of the divinehand. By the very fact of their furious attempts to exterminate the Word and the people of God, men but destroy themselves and only further God’s Word and his people. Therefore, it is good and profitable, to have enemies and persecutors for the sake of the faith and the Word of God. Incalculable comfort and benefit result. Psalm 2:1 is in point here: “Why do the nationsrage, and the peoples meditate a vain thing” against Christ? The thought is, they violently strive to exterminate Christ, and fail to see that in so doing they but strengthen him.
42. Isaiah’s message here to his belovedJerusalem is, practically: “Fear not, grieve not. Cast not down your eyes, but joyfully raise them and look about. Be not misled by the fact that your nearest relatives are your worst enemies, seeking to exterminate you and regarding you too mean to dwell among them. Let them go on in their rage. Where they kill one among you, a thousand shall rise in his place. Where they drive one away, he shall return with many thousands. If they extinguish the Gospel at one point, it will spring up in ten others. At length, without their consent and with no thanks to them, you shall everywhere have sons and daughters to fill the places of those others now become enemies. Thus ultimately you shall be strengthened and multiplied, and your enemies shall be diminished even to extermination. Their evil designs for you shall fall upon themselves and you shall enjoy what they begrudge you. We see plainly the complete fulfillment of this prophecy. “Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart shall thrill and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee, the wealth of the nations shall come unto thee.”
43. By “the abundance of the sea,” we must understand, not the water of the sea itself, but the inhabitants of the country bordering on the sea. As, for instance, we might say that the whole Rhine is risen up, when we mean the people of the country adjacent to the Rhine. Scripture usage, notwithstanding there are many seas in the world, terms the Mediterranean Sea simply “the sea,” while it designates the RedSea by its particular and full name.
Geographers give the Mediterranean that name because of its position. It lies midway between the continents, west of Asia. On the left, or the north, are Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Asia Minor, as far as Cilicia. On the right, or the south, are Africa and Egypt, as far as Palestine. The sea is touched on both sides by great countries, powerfulkingdoms. It has numerous islands ¾ Candia, Rhodes, Cyprus, now for the most part in control of the Turks. The Mediterranean is, as we said, in the Scriptures called “the sea.” It is west of the Jewishcountry; for Palestine is at the end of the sea in the east.
44. The people of the territory bordering this sea, particularly those on the north, are scripturally given the general term “gentiles.” To those on the south and to the east the Scriptures give particular names. To the gentiles we belong, as do all on the north, or left side, of the sea. Paul, in Timothy 1:11 and elsewhere, calls himself a preacher and apostle to the gentiles. To this section of the country on the north side of the sea, he preached. To it he addressed all his epistles. He did not go south of the sea.
Isaiah refers to these gentiles or nations when he says, “The abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee, the wealth of the nations shall come unto thee.” “The abundance of the sea” is synonymous with “the wealth of the nations.” Thus he shows we are not to understand by the former expression “water” but “peoples.”
45. Again, “wealth of the nations” does not signify their strength, or power. Of what advantage would that be to the Church? The reference is to great multitudes. We are wont to call a large quantity of coin “a power of money”; that is, a great pile of money. Likewise here “wealth” of the nations means a great mass or multitude of them. Again, we speak of the lord of a great country, one who rules over vast territory and many peoples, as a “mighty” lord.
Thus we have further evidence that the coming to Jerusalem is not to be literally understood. How could such a multitude, such an “abundance,” such a “wealth,” gather within the limits of that single city, to say nothing of dwelling there permanently? Isaiah says the abundance of the sea shall be “converted,” or turned about. The thought is of a facing about. The word itself is opposed to the idea of a literal gathering of the gentiles at Jerusalem. The “turning about” is the assembling. Before, they were turned to the world; now they are changed, turned to the Church.
46. Again, Isaiah uses the Hebrew term “Hamon” when he speaks of the abundance of the sea. The word implies mass, or abundance. Undoubtedly there is a connection here with the promiseGod made to Abraham that he should be the father of many nations, or gentiles. For God said ( Genesis 17:5): “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee.” God adds the first letter of the word “Hamon” to “Abram,” making it “Abraham,” and gives us a reason for the change that Abraham should be the father “Hamon”; that is, the father of a multitude of nations. He says with Isaiah, in effect: He shall be the father, “Hamon,” of the sea ¾ a father of a multitude of nations. Accordingly, Paul in his epistles urges the statement that through faith the gentiles are the children, the seed of Abraham, according to the promise of God. Isaiah has reference to this promise and describes its fulfillment. At first the patriarch was called “Abram,” a father of the high, or exalted father. Afterward he was named “Abraham,” a father of the abundance, or multitude, of the gentiles. In the gentiles was completed his exaltation.
47. But why does the prophet here multiply words: “Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart shall thrill and be enlarged”? What is implied by “see,” “being radiant,” and “the heart thrilling and being enlarged”?
These are terms of comforting promise. Hebrew usage makes the word “see” expressive of satisfaction of mind over accomplished desire. For instance ( Psalm 54:7), “And mine eye hath seen my desire upon mine enemies.” That is, “I see what I have long desired for my enemies, namely, their suppression and the perpetuation of the truth.” Again ( Psalm 37:34): “When the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it” ¾ “then thou shalt see what thou didst desire.” And again ( Psalm 35:21): “Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me; they said, Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it.” In other words, “Indeed, what pleasure! We have long desired to see it.” So here we interpret “Then thou shalt see,” etc., to mean: “You are now a poor, weak little band. Your enemies see what they desire for you.
You desire to see yourselves great and numerous, but you may not yet.
You must behold for a little time what you do not desire to behold.
Afterward you shall see and they shall not. When the multitude of the sea shall be turned to you, then you will see what you have long desired to behold, and your enemies shall not witness what they have so ardently desired concerning you. You must have patience for a time, seeing not.
You must endure apparent insignificance and bear the cross.”
48. The expression is a natural one. Our eyes are prone to turn away from what we do not wish to see; but toward the things we desire they pleasantly and readily turn, to admire and enjoy. Hence the proverb, “Where the heart is, the eyes turn.” We may aptly say, “He does not see,” when we mean, “It does not please him.” Of all our members, the eyes are the best index of the heart’s pleasure or displeasure.
Whatever is soft is pliable and yielding; but that which is dry, hard and rough is inflexible and suggestive of trouble and displeasure. Isaiah’s thought is, then: “You shall see what is pleasing to your heart, and consequently be filled with delight. Your pleasure will make you radiant to perform your duty and to endure all things joyfully, cheerfully and promptly, without trouble or unpleasantness.” This is the fruit of the Spirit, the outcome of the comfort the divinepromise yields. Thereby all men are rendered mild, happy and radiant, and always content with their circumstances.
50. In the third place, how does the statement, “Thy heart shall thrill,” or be amazed, accord with the thought of pleasure? Real pleasures, those so great as to exceed our thoughts and desires, induce a thrill of amazement in their very transcendence of our expectations. When at Peter’s preaching the Holy Spirit fell on the gentiles ¾ on Cornelius and his company ¾ according to Luke ( Acts 10:45) they “were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The gift was something they did not in the least expect.
Similarly, Isaiah says that Jerusalem in her great joy shall be thrilled with amazement in heart, because of the vast multitude of gentiles joining themselves unto such a poor little persecutedflock.
51. Fourth: “Thy heart... shall be enlarged.” Plainly, this phrase suggests true greatness, security and freedom. These things are the result of the comfort of the Spirit and the joy of heart experienced when God does for us in excess of our expectations and desires. Such is God’s way of doing, as Isaiah here teaches. And similarly Paul says ( Ephesians 3:20) that God always does “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”
Now, it is doubtful, and must ever be, whether Isaiah here refers to the Sheba who sprang from Abraham, or to Ham’s descendant. That, however, is of little importance. It comes to pass on earth that nation routs nation, and one occupies the other’s territory, as private property in cities changes hands, is bought and sold, or passes from one landlord to another. As said before, the countries east of Jerusalem are variously named; not designated by the general name “gentiles” as are the Mediterranean countries. They are called Chedar, Nabajoth, Midian, Ephah, Ishmael, Ammon, Edom, Moab, Sheba, according to their primary lords. Moses says ( Genesis 25:2-6) that Abraham separated from Isaac the sons of his wife Keturah and sent them toward the east. Hence undoubtedly they occupied many of the countries mentioned, Midian, Ephah and Sheba becoming the most important.
Fertile and greater Arabia, far distant from Judea and beyond desert and stonyArabia, is called in the Hebrew “Sheba.” Whether it derives its name from the son of Abraham or from the son of Ham is immaterial. Ephah is a portion of fertile Arabia. From this Arabia, or from Sheba, came the Turk Mohammed. His sepulcher is there in the city of Mecca. The country is called fertile, or rich, from its abundance of precious gold, fine fruits and particularly frankincense, something produced nowhere else in the world.
54. The thought of Isaiah is that camels and dromedaries shall come out of Sheba and Midian, spreading in multitudes over the country, as a vast army covers the land, moving or encamped. And the idea is not of riderless droves. Caravans are indicated by the explanatory sentences: “All they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord.” In other words: “In such vast numbers shall the inhabitants of Midian and Ephah come, the multitude of their camels and dromedaries shall cover thy country. And why speak only of Midian and Ephah, portions of Arabia? For all, every part, of fertile Arabia shall come.”
55. It may be asked: Is the reference to actual camels and dromedaries?
Did they bring material gold and incense? Did the entire inhabitants of fertile Arabia really come to Jerusalem? We must admit that we do not read of any of these things literally coming to pass. Many explain the passage as referring to the wise men who came to Jerusalem from that country after the birth of Christ, as the Gospel relates. But it cannot be said of these few that their camels covered the country in great multitude. Nor were they the entire population of Sheba; they were but a small fraction of the people.
We must not interpret spiritually unless necessary. But since these events have never transpired literally, nor may we reasonably expect that they ever will; since it is a thing inconsistent with naturallaw that the whole population of Sheba shall actually come to Jerusalem ¾ a mighty nation assembling in one city; since the foregoing portion of the chapter has reference merely to the spirituallight of the Gospel and of faith, and to a spiritual assembling and coming, and since the gathering to the Church is not by any means to be understood to refer to Christ’s physical person ¾ considering all this, we shall maintain the same method of the interpretation, feeling satisfied that the facts force us to spiritualize this latter part of the chapter. We understand, then, the ChristianChurch shall see and be radiant, her heart shall thrill and be enlarged, when not only the abundance of the sea on the west shall be gathered to Jerusalem, but also the greatest and richest people of Arabia from the east.
Further, many other things in the chapter inconsistent with a literal coming force the spiritual conclusion upon us. For instance, verse 7: “All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee; they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar.”
Again, verse 10: “And foreigners shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee.” These things have never occurred in a literal sense, nor will they ever occur.
56. Therefore, Isaiah’s meaning must be: “The people of the great countryArabia shall come in vast numbers to the faith of the Gospel, offering up themselves and all they possess ¾ their camels and dromedaries, their gold, incense and other things.” For true Christians will always give up themselves and all they have to serve Christ and his followers. Note, among ourselves, the generous donations made to the Church, and how all freely and willingly surrender self and property to Christ and his. Paul mentions the same practice among the Philippians and the Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 8:1 ff.
The phrase “All they from Sheba” does not imply that individually they will all become believers, but that the country as a whole will accept Christianity. There must remain, of course, some unbelieving individuals.