Thus hath the Lord spoken unto me, Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the Lord of Hosts come down to fight for Mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the Lord of Hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also He will deliver it, and passing over, He will preserve it. (Isaiah 31:4,5.)
THE kingdom of Israel in the days of Isaiah and later — the days to which this prophecy would refer — occupied a position between the two great kingdoms of Assyria and Egypt. It was, in fact, like corn between two millstones. But by some strange infatuation the people were always most afraid of Assyria, and most opposed to that state; and they were constantly desiring an alliance with Egypt, believing Egypt to be the stronger of the two, and hoping, that through the assistance of the Egyptians, the Assyrians might be kept in check. You will see again and again that, contrary to the bidding of God’s servants, the prophets, they tried to enter into league with the Egyptians, when they ought, according to the divine direction, to have submitted to the sway of the Assyrians. Again and again were they rebuked for this, and never more pointedly than in the language with which this chapter opens. They are told that woe shall be unto them because they stay themselves upon Egypt, and they are reminded that the Egyptians are men and not God; and their horses are flesh and not spirit.
The prophet tells them of the right place for their confidence. Where strength is to be found there will he have them place their faith. The infinite Jehovah was greater than the Assyrians or the Egyptians, for He is Lord of all. And Isaiah would have his people confide in the Lord and put their trust in Him. To this end he presents to them in the verses before us prophecies of the divine protection in which God is represented under two figures.
And here let me say how condescending it is of God that He should represent Himself to us by metaphors at all, for nothing that exists can be a true picture, nothing that exists through His creation can be a true picture of Himself, the self-existent one. The whole sea is too small a mirror for the Almighty to mirror His face in it: the whole universe is too narrow to express the attributes of God. But let it be a matter of astonishment to us that the Lord selects even animals to be the types of Himself — wild beasts and little birds. This is frequently done throughout Scripture, and is done in our text. First, the Lord is likened to a lion, and in the next verse He is likened to birds. To a lion — this shall be our first point — for strength: to birds flying — for solicitude for His people’s good.
I. First, then, the Lord for the defense of His people is represented as a lion — illustrative of his power.. We will read the verse again. “Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the Lord of Hosts come down to fight for Mount Zion, and for the hill thereof.”
Note, then, for strength the Lord here on His people’s behalf compares Himself to a lion. A lion — a beast of such matchless strength and courage that he is set down as the king of beasts, the emperor of the forest. He seems to be formed and fashioned by creative wisdom on purpose for strength. Those that examine his form mark the development of his muscles, see how mighty is his spring and how quick he is to devour and how terrible are his jaw teeth to break the bones of his prey. There is none that can match him. Among the wild beasts he still wears the crown. The king of the creatures that God hath made in the forest is the lion. But oh, brethren, what is the lion when compared with the great King of kings?
What is a lion? Why, the mere insect of an hour is greater in comparison with a man than a lion is in comparison with God. All power belongeth unto Him. When we speak of the arm of God we mean Omnipotence; when we talk of His power we mean that He is Almighty. None of us can have any conception of the power that dwelleth in the Lord of Hosts.
Now all that power is pledged for the preservation of those that trust in Him. There is not a grain of strength in Jehovah that is not promised, engaged and certified for the defense of all His saints. When next you doubt, remember that you doubt Omnipotence. When next you tremble lest He should not be able to fulfill His promises, remember that you mistrust the Almighty one Himself. If there were a limit to the power of Jehovah, there might be a limit to our faith, for it were fair to measure our faith by the resources of God; but since there is no shore to the sea of His strength, no summit to the mountain of His might, for us to be dispirited, downcast, and distrustful is to forget the mighty God who feeds the strength of every saint. For the defense of everyone of His chosen and of His whole Church collectively God manifests Himself as the strong one, “the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, the Lord Who only doeth wondrous things Whose name be blessed for ever and ever.”
The text having given us the figure of a lion, then passes on to speak of a young lion. Very frequently, when the idea of majesty and strength is to be conveyed to us strongly, not only is the lion brought in, but the young lion; by which is meant the lion in the prime of his strength, in the freshness of his youthful vigor — not the old lion who has seen many fights, passed through many years, and is beginning to grow decrepit. But the young lion leaps and springs with all the agility of youth, and tears and rends his prey with all the fervor of new-discovered strength. Now the Lord God, on behalf of His people, is not only the lion — strong — but the young lion for ever strong — the young lion full of strength, in the freshness of his vigor — the young lion delighting to use his strength, in whom there is no failing, from whom his strength has in no measure departed.
How I like to think of this ! We are very apt to think that in the days of the patriarchs faith in God could do wonders, and in the days of David it might slay giants, but now — now we have fallen upon degenerate times, and as the fable is that men were once greater in stature than they are now, and we are dwarfs compared with our sires, so it is thought that the power of faith is much weaker now and its accomplishments must necessarily deteriorate, and hence it looks as if the security of God’s people was not as great as it used to be. He could deliver then; will He deliver now? He could spread a table in the wilderness then, and He could divide a Red Sea to swallow up His people’s enemies; but now can we expect anything of the sort? Have not we come, as it were, to the end of the feast when the great Master bringeth forth that which is worse, having already set forth the best wine? Beloved, it is not so. It is unrighteous of us to think it is so. If there be any failure anywhere, if we be straitened in any place, let us rest assured of this, that we are not straitened of God. If faith doeth fewer wonders to- day than in the centuries gone by, it is because faith herself is weaker; but if she could deal with God as Abraham dealt with Him, if she could lean upon Him as David leant upon Him, she would find Him the same God, able to do the same wonders, yes, and ready to do them and delighting to do them on behalf of His people.
Grow old! Nay, never can this be said of our God. He is no older now than He was myriads of ages ago. Time makes no difference to Him. The ages yet to come are present with Him as are the ages past. He is for ever the same. It has been said of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Thou hast the dew of Thy youth.” He is still young. Though he is described in one place in Scripture as having a head and hair like wool, as white as snow to show that He is the Ancient of days, yet in another place it is said of Him, “Thy locks are bushy and black as a raven’s,” to show that He is still in all the strength and vigor which He ever possessed. Oh, let us not think that God has changed.
From this fountain there has been no diminution; it brims as it did of old. Is it not said, “I am God ! I change not. Therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed “? Is He not “the Father of lights with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”? Beloved, it should be our delight to think that our Protector is not only strong but as strong as ever He was — -not only the lion but the young lion for the defense of His people.
II. Now, pass on to a very important part of the metaphor. The Lord on behalf of His people is like as the lion, and the young lion, roaring on his prey.
Now, there is no condition in which the lion is more terrible. We know that any creature when it is feeding becomes fierce, if we attempt to disturb it.
Try to take a bone out of a dog’s mouth, and you will soon see that what strength it has will expend its fury, for it is soon awakened then. But a lion, when it has slain its prey, and begins to devour it, and the shepherds come to take the sheep away or snatch the lamb from him, is all awake. If it be possible, he will certainly defend himself, and that which he has gotten with so much trouble; for the whole lion is there ! He is all awake, aroused and furious for the war. And such is God for the defense of His people. “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of Mine eye “; that is to say, to touch a saint is to touch God in His tenderest place.
Now, there are many things which provoke God. All sin does so; but this is a peculiarly God-provoking sin at any time to touch His people — molest His servants? He may bear long with you, but He remembers it. He may not for the moment avenge them; but there is an answer to that question, “Shall not God avenge His own elect? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily, though He bear long with them.” I like to think of this — this picture of God over His people protecting them, being as fully awake and aroused as the young lion is when he bestirs himself to protect the prey that the shepherds would take away from him. It is the picture of intensity of purpose. He means to have the prey, and it shall not be taken from him. All his strength shall be put forth to prevent it. The same intensity of purpose we see in our God. He determined to save His people before the Day-Star began to shine, and from that purpose He has never turned. Sooner than turn aside from His purpose, He gave His Son to die. sent His Spirit to indwell in the hearts of His people, and nothing shall turn Him aside from that purpose now. Behold, how Satan comes out against Him! See how the powers of darkness rise with all their force! See how they come forth to take the prey from the mighty God, to deliver out of God’s hand into a dire destruction ! But shall they conquer Him? Ah ! no. For the whole of God is set for the defense of His Church. It is not one attribute that is there; they are all there. As I said of the young lion over his prey, he is all a lion; every nerve and muscle and bone of his body seems to burn with indignation against his foes, so every attribute of God — all His power, His wisdom, His justice, His holiness — all these are intensely aroused and all set with intense purpose for the defense and the deliverance of His people.
How safe, then, are those that trust in God! You have not only God to defend you, but that same God most fixed and settled as to His mind’s eternal will — that God concentrating all His majestic attributes upon this one point, that He will save His people. He would sooner that the world should crash and the solid wheel of nature should be snapped than that this which is His innermost decree, the secret purpose of His inmost soul, should fail — yen the salvation of His people. O, my Lord, if ! have ever doubted Thee, let this figure chase the doubts from my mind. Hast Thou brought me into the bond of the covenant and sprinkled me with the blood of Thy dear Son, and shall I not depend upon Thee? And now that ! see that Thou hast bestirred Thyself and shown Thyself strong on behalf of Thy people, aroused Thy whole nature to the fullness of its majestic potency for the deliverance and salvation of Thy redeemed, shall not my spirit be quiet and still and calm? “The Lord of Hosts is with us: the God of Jacob is our refuge.” “If God be for us, who can be against us ?”
Still, let us pursue the figure. This lion is represented as being surrounded by a multitude of shepherds who have been called forth against him. The cry has gone amongst the shepherds, “A lion! A lion has seized a lamb!
Come forth, ye shepherds! Take the prey out of the monster’s fangs!” You see them come — some timidly, advancing slowly, some more bravely, each one with his crook in his hand or such instruments as they can gather.
They find out the thicket where the young lion is feeding himself, and they come as near as they can and create a great din and make a noise that they may frighten him. But observe how it is put.- “He will not be afraid of their voice.” He listens, looks around, sees who it is, lifts himself up, and, perceiving that they are nothing but a company of feeble men, he just lies down on his prey again, and goes on with his repast. “He will not be afraid of their voice.” It seems to me to be a grand picture of the sublime indifference of God to His adversaries. “Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing? The people set themselves and the rulers take counsel together: ‘ Let us break his bands asunder and cast his cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens doth laugh. The Lord doth have them in derision.’” He is not stirred by them. What a grand passage that is in the song of Miriam where the enemy said, “I will pursue; I will overtake; I will divide the spoil; My lust shall be satisfied upon them.” Hear the rage of that boast, and what follows? “Thou didst blow with Thy wind: the sea covered them. They sank as lead in the mighty waters!” Oh, how placid it is! How calm is God! His enemies are in a rage: they stir themselves like these many shepherds — all excited — and they come against the lion, and make strange noises to alarm him. But there the mighty monarch of the forest lies still, and turns his royal eyes upon them, and lets them menace as they will.
III. So for the defense of His Church this day and every day, in past times and in all times to come, the Lord of Hosts is not afraid of all His enemies, neither doth He disturb Himself on account of His adversaries. You see sometimes in history very grand commotions. It seemed as if the whole world were stirred to put down the Gospel about the days of Luther, and the trembling children of God were not a little afraid. But how very quietly the Lord went on! He only enabled His servants to preach the Gospel, to translate the Scriptures, to teach children the Psalms — simple, homely means, and yet by such means as these He checked all the power of Rome and all the cunning of the College of the Jesuits. And this day sometimes, as we look abroad, our hearts sink, and we say, “Alas for God’s Church!
What will become of His truth in the land? Surely we shall see back the days of the Martyrs!” and all that kind of thing. “In quietness shall be thy strength.” “Stand still and see the salvation of God.” He in whom we trust is not afraid. Oh, if it were possible to think of God, if our minds could conceive Him! How He must scorn the machinations of men! They meet together in their council chamber; they are devising a plan by which they shall establish Antichrist as on a rock, and God looks and He sees the rock is nothing but sand, and that the building itself is all honeycombed, and if a fox pass by it shall fall. And then they meet together and say, “There is no God,” and in their wisdom they concoct methods by which “the fools that believe in God” sham be put to nought, and God’s cause shall be stamped out like a spark beneath a man’s foot!
Oh, how contemptible it must seem to the Most High! What miserable worms that they should come together and think that they can in any way affect His kingdom! Let ten thousand drops of spray conspire to move a rock in mid-ocean from its base! Let a company of ants unite to shake a continent and move it from the place where God has planted it! Their schemes and devices would be infinitely more rational than the attempts of men to stay the course of God. When He makes bare His arm, What shall His cause withstand ?
When He His people’s cause defends, Who, then, who shall stay His hand?
He looks upon His adversaries with scorn and contempt. Brethren, stay yourselves upon Him then. Be of good cheer, for the Lord is confident; and let your hearts glory in the strength of Him who has espoused your cause.
To complete our interpretation of this, it is necessary to notice that He says, “He will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase Himself for the noise of them.” A cur at the sight of so many shepherds come out armed would turn tail and hide himself; but not so the lion. He does not abase himself; he does not crouch and whine, as though he asked his life of them; neither doth he turn away and look into the thicket to find a shelter where he may conceal himself, but he goes on quietly with his work and bids them do their worst. God will not alter His purpose to please the devil nor shape His plans because of the power that is brought to bear to stop them. All that has ever been done in this world has not affected the divine purpose — nay, not a solitary atom. Up to this moment He hath done as He will amongst the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of this lower world. The most violent antagonists of the divine dominion have still been subservient to His supremacy. He has yoked the tempest that came forth against His Church. He has yoked it, I say, to her calm, and He hath ridden upon the wings of the wind and made the clouds His chariot. It shall always be so.
The powers of evil shall be servants to the dominion of the Most High. He will not abase Himself to them.
Now ye, His children — children of the living God, children of the light and of the sun, abase not yourselves; walk not in the midst of God’s adversaries with bowed head. Be ye like Mordecai, who scorned to bow to men. Know ye that ye yourselves are of the seed royal, and a royal mien becomes you who are the descendants of the King of kings. Tremble not when they tell you that science has discovered the unsuitableness of revelation; fear not when they say that some great one of the earth has disturbed the very keystone of the Christian arch. Are ye fools and slow of heart to think this? Do ye yourselves degrade your own pedigree by doubting your Father and distrusting the power of the eternal King? Nay, rather go on in confidence, in strong reliance upon the almighty God, and you shall find that He will surely defend His own, achieve His purposes, and win His victory, and at the last it shall be seen that the Lord reigneth, even the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Now, the second metaphor has in it solicitude. Somehow or other strength does not seem to comfort us when it is alone. That God is strong for His people is a very precious truth, but we are so tender and trembling that we want to see united with the power some tender attribute, and therefore we have a tenderer figure here. “As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem.” I suppose this alludes to birds flying for the defense of their young, and if so (and I think it is so) it means this: First, the bird when it has little ones in its nest is never long from the nest. It flies away for food for the young, but it never flew so fast before as it does then. Its little heart never forgets the nest, and if necessity takes it away for a few minutes it is quickly back, and long, weary hours will the little birds sit there over their young charges, lending to the little ones the warmth of their very life. But when they do go abroad they fly swiftly. Now, it is just so with God. If we could conceive it necessary for Him to leave His people for a while to attend to other concerns, yet His heart would be with them, and He would fly back to them. The bird is thinking of the worm, but only thinking of the worm for its little ones, and as soon as ever it has got it, it flies back again to the nest with eager wings. So if you have to conceive of God that He has to think of the management of the world and the arrangements of providence, yet He only thinks of those things for the good of His people; His heart is still with His chosen and He comes back to them. Only the figure falls very short, for the Lord never has to leave His people. He can think of all other things, and yet think of them as if there were none others in the world but them. I have often reveled in that thought that the Lord can think of one of His people as much as if there were no other being in existence but that one individual. If you were the only being God had made, how He would think of you and what care He would have over you! He has just as much thought and just as much care for you as if you were the only one, though He has no need to neglect anything because His mighty mind comprehends all. Neither has He ever to leave His people. You know that precious word, “I, the Lord, do keep it. I will watch it — keep it every moment lest any hurt it. I will keep it night and day.” The Lord is ever with His people. “I am ever with you,” is God’s word to His children. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” But the argument is drawn from the bird, who, if it leaves for a-moment, comes flying back. So the Lord’s thoughts and cares are ever towards His children.
But the little birds fly very swiftly in case their young should be in danger.
That, perhaps, is more the point of the picture. If they discover by some cry from their little ones that some robber is about to injure the nest, how quickly they come back! Only let the sound reach their ears and back they are at once for the defense of those they so dearly love. Now, the Lord comes quickly for the defense of His people. You remember that delightful psalm where David says that he was sunken in many waters and he cried unto the Lord; the Lord came, and David says, “He did ride upon a cherub and did fly ! Yea, He rode upon the wings of the wind.” It was the. fastest that could be found, and therefore God used it. He sometimes appears to us to tarry, but He never does. He is always swift for the defense of His children. We cry, “Make no tarrying, O our God,” and when we come to see the story in its true light, we shall find that He did make no tarrying, but came quickly, yea, came at once to defend His children.
IV. Birds, too, not only fly to come to succor their little ones, but they fight on the wing and fight very bravely too. I was reading the other day a story of a man who went to an eagle’s nest to take its young. The young birds began to cry as soon as he touched them, and he was at once assailed by the mother bird. It darted at his eyes and head, and he almost lost his life.
In fact, though he escaped, he was a long time laid up in consequence of the serious wounds he received. He managed to use his gun and kill the bird, otherwise his own life would certainly have been taken. And it is not so only with eagles. Naturalists tell us that the smallest birds will seem to gather unusual courage and marvelous strength for the defense of their little ones. Birds that would ordinarily fly at the approach, the mere sound of human footsteps, have been known to attack and defend until their little ones have been able to escape. Now, God will thus fight for His people: He will not suffer anyone to harm us. He will defend us against Satan; He will guard us against persecutors; He will avenge us against slanderers; He will put forth all His strength in order that His children may be secured. Think of the little birds in the nest; there is the mother bird flying round and round the nest, watching to see if there is an enemy near, and if an enemy comes then that same bird is flying at the foe right and left. Even so God is watching over His people lest any should hurt them; and when a foe comes near them, then He flies on wings of love and darts at them, showing Himself strong for the defense of His own people. As birds fly, so will the Lord defend Jerusalem. These birds, whether big or little, however, expose themselves to danger sooner than their young should be injured. They seem ready to throw away their life for them, to preserve the lives of their offspring. And God, though He cannot expose Himself to danger, yet, yet — I must say so — He makes a sacrifice of Himself for His people. Did He not do so in the person of the only begotten? Did He not come and lay down His life for His people that they might be preserved? As the bird flies into the danger to save its young, so doth Jesus fly into the jaws of death that He might save His people.
And birds use many arts for the defense of their young. Some will feign to be wounded. You have, perhaps, walked in the morning and seen a lapwing appear to be wounded, and you have thought, “I can catch that bird..” You have followed it, and it seemed to fall right in your path where you might easily take it. It was not hurt at all; it was only decoying you away from the nest of its young. Many such arts have they. Love makes them wise for the defense of their little ones. And the Lord has infinite plans of wisdom, deep designs of providence, marvelous touches of supreme love and wisdom by which He will surely deliver His people out of the snare of the fowler and bring them safely to their desired rest. Oh, let us feel quite safe. Little birds are safe enough with their mother. To the best of her power will she protect them. And we are safe enough with our God. Let us not fear and tremble: quietly and patiently wait — always wholly, fully, believing in Him.
Now notice the last two sentences of our text, for they are very well worthy of our observation. “Defending also, He will deliver it, and, passing over, He will preserve it.” Now it is a precious thought that” defending also, He will deliver it.” There is a defense sometimes which does not end in deliverance. Valiant warriors have defended cities, but after all have fallen a prey to the besiegers; but God will defend His Church and He will defend it till He has delivered it from the last attack. God will defend His people, and He will hold His shield over them till no more swords shall be forged against them, and no more arrows shall fly to their hurt. God does not begin and stop short. The work that wisdom undertakes Eternal mercy ne’er forsakes. “Defending also, He will deliver it.” And then that last sentence, “passing over, He will preserve it.” Why, it takes me back to the days of Egypt; for God preserved His people there by passing over. It was the passover that preserved Israel. Forth into the black night went the angel of vengeance with his unsheathed sword, but the blood-mark was on the lintel and on the two side-posts of the house of Israel; and the angel sped past quietly and disturbed not the household. Into every house untouched with blood he entered and left the slain as a mark of his having been there. But Israel was preserved. Glory be to God, in that last day when the destroying angel shall come abroad, passing over, He will preserve His people. They shall not be hurt — nay, not a hair of their heads. The earth shall reel; the stars shall fall like withered fig-leaves from the bough; all nature at the sight of the great Judge shall prepare to flee away; but in that moment the people of God shall be secure in the bosom of Jehovah; they shall enter into the chamber and shall shut to the door till the tempest is overpast. “Passing over, He will deliver them.”
And until then, that great and last passover, it shall always be so. Nothing shall hurt us. God will protect us. Oh, come and cower down beneath the eternal wings. As I have seen at night-fall all the little chicks gather together at the mother’s cluck and there, under the feathers, hide their little heads and rest; oh, come ye children, ye people of God, come and shelter beneath the bosom of your Lord. Is it not written, “He shall cover thee with His feathers and under His wings shalt thou trust. His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” Come, then, and cower down there for the night.
And what day shall tempt you to come out? Nay, stay there till the day break and the shadows flee away. Rest ever there till the last night’s dew has fallen and the last kite, the last hawk, has been seen in the sky, and disappeared for ever. Stay there and trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah there is everlasting strength.
I sorrow deeply that any of you now present should be unable to trust in the Lord; but I pray you may. It is a blessed life, the life of simple faith in God. The way to God is through Christ’s wounds. There is one door to heaven and that is in the side of Christ. Go and rest in the atoning sacrifice and then trust in the ever-blessed Father of your spirits and be not afraid, but rather go forth and sing, “The Lord is my strength and my song! He also is become my salvation !” And let this spirit be upon you evermore.