The prophet here returns to speak of the present distress that Ahaz and his court and kingdom were in upon account of the threatening confederacy of the ten tribes and the Syrians against them. And in these verses,
I. He triumphs over the invading enemies, and, in effect, sets them at defiance, and bids them do their worst (Isa. 8:9, 10): “O you people, you of far countries, give ear to what the prophet says to you in God’s name.” 1. “We doubt not but you will now make your utmost efforts against Judah and Jerusalem. You associate yourselves in a strict alliance. You gird yourselves, and again you gird yourselves; you prepare for action; you address yourselves to it with resolution; you gird on your swords; you gird up your loins. You animate and encourage yourselves and one another with all the considerations you can think of: you take counsel together, call councils of war, and all heads are at work about the proper methods for making yourselves masters of the land of Judah. You speak the word; you come to resolutions concerning it, and are not always deliberating; you determine what to do, and are very confident of the success of it, that the matter will be accomplished with a word’s speaking.” Note, It is with a great deal of policy, resolution, and assurance, that the church’s enemies carry on their designs against it; and abundance of pains they take to roll a stone that will certainly return upon them. 2. “This is to let you know that all your efforts will be ineffectual. You cannot, you shall not, gain your point, nor carry the day: You shall be broken in pieces. Though you associate yourselves, though you gird yourselves, though you proceed with all the policy and precaution imaginable, yet, I tell you again and again, all your projects shall be baffled, you shall be broken in pieces. Nay, not only shall your attempts be ruined, but your attempts shall be your ruin; you shall be broken by those designs you have formed against Jerusalem: Your counsels shall come to nought; for there is no wisdom nor counsel against the Lord. Your resolves will not be put in execution; they shall not stand. You speak the word, but who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, if the Lord commandeth it not? What sets up itself against God, and his cause and counsel, cannot stand, but must inevitably fall. For God is with us” (this refers to the name of Immanuel—God with us); “the Messiah is to be born among us, and a people designed for such an honour cannot be given up to utter ruin. We have now the special presence of God with us in his temple, his oracles, his promises, and these are our defence. God is with us; he is on our side, to take our part and fight for us; and, if God be for us, who can be against us?” Thus does the daughter of Zion despise them.
II. He comforts and encourages the people of God with the same comforts and encouragements which he himself had received. The attempt made upon them was very formidable; the house of David, the court and royal family, were at their wits’ end (Isa. 7:2), and then no marvel if the people were in a consternation. Now,
1. The prophet tells us how he was himself taught of God not to give way to such amazing fears as the people were disturbed with, nor to run into the same measures with them (Isa. 8:11): “The Lord spoke to me with a strong hand not to walk in the way of this people, not to say as they say nor do as they do, not to entertain the same frightful apprehensions of things nor to approve of their projects of making peace upon any terms, or calling in the help of the Assyrians.” God instructed the prophet not to go down the stream. Note, (1.) There is a proneness in the best of men to be frightened at threatening clouds, especially when fears are epidemic. We are all too apt to walk in the way of the people we live among, though it be not a good way. (2.) Those whom God loves and owns he will instruct and enable to swim against the stream of common corruptions, particularly of common fears. He will find ways to teach his own people not to walk in the way of other people, but in a sober singularity. (3.) Corruption is sometimes so active in the hearts even of good men that they have need to be taught their duty with a strong hand, and it is God’s prerogative to teach so, for he only can give an understanding and overpower the contradiction of unbelief and prejudice. He can teach the heart; and herein none teaches like him. (4.) Those that are to teach others have need to be themselves well instructed in their duty, and then they teach most powerfully when they teach experimentally. The word that comes from the heart is most likely to reach to the heart; and what we are ourselves by the grace of God instructed in we should, as we are able, teach others also.
2. Now what is it that he says to God’s people?
(1.) He cautions them against a sinful fear, Isa. 8:12. It seems it was the way of this people at this time, and fear is catching. He whose heart fails him makes his brethren’s heart to fail, like his heart (Deut. 20:8); therefore Say you not, A confederacy, to all those to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; that is, [1.] “Be not associated with them in the confederacies they are projecting and forecasting for. Do not join with those that, for the securing of themselves, are for making a league with the Assyrians, through unbelief, and distrust of God and their cause. Do not come into any such confederacy.” Note, It concerns us, in time of trouble, to watch against all such fears as put us upon taking any indirect courses for our own security. [2.] “Be not afraid of the confederacies they frighten themselves and one another with. Do not distress yourselves with the apprehension of a confederacy upon every thing that stirs, nor, when any little thing is amiss, cry out presently, There is a plot, a plot. When they talk what dismal news there is, Syria is joined with Ephraim, what will become of us? must we fight, or must we flee, or must we yield? do not you fear their fear: Be not afraid of the signs of heaven, as the heathen are, Jer. 10:2. Be not afraid of evil tidings on earth, but let your hearts be fixed. Fear not that which they fear, nor be afraid as they are. Be not put into such a fright as causes trembling and shaking;” so the word signifies. Note, When the church’s enemies have sinful confederacies on foot the church’s friends should watch against the sinful fears of those confederacies.
(2.) He advises them to a gracious religious fear: But sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, Isa. 8:13. Note, The believing fear of God is a special preservative against the disquieting fear of man; see 1 Pet. 3:14, 15, where this is quoted, and applied to suffering Christians. [1.] We must look upon God as the Lord of hosts, that has all power in his hand and all creatures at his beck. [2.] We must sanctify him accordingly, give him the glory due to that name, and behave towards him as those that believe him to be a holy God. [3.] We must make him our fear, the object of our fear, and make him our dread, keep up a reverence of his providence and stand in awe of his sovereignty, be afraid of his displeasure and silently acquiesce in all his disposals. Were we but duly affected with the greatness and glory of God, we should see the pomp of our enemies eclipsed and clouded, and all their power restrained and under check; see Neh. 4:14. Those that are afraid of the reproach of men forget the Lord their Maker, Isa. 51:12, 13. Compare Luke 12:4, 5.
(3.) He assures them of a holy security and serenity of mind in so doing (Isa. 8:14): “He shall be for a sanctuary; make him your fear, and you shall find him your hope, your help, your defence, and your mighty deliverer. He will sanctify and preserve you. He will be for a sanctuary,” [1.] “To make you holy. He will be your sanctification;” so some read it. If we sanctify God by our praises, he will sanctify us by his grace. [2.] “To make you easy. He will be your sanctuary,” to which you may flee for safety, and where you are privileged form all the arrests of fear; you shall find an inviolable refuge and security in him, and see yourselves our of the reach of danger. Those that truly fear God shall not need to fear any evil.
III. He threatens the ruin of the ungodly and unbelieving, both in Judah and Israel. They have no part nor lot in the foregoing comforts; that God who will be a sanctuary to those who trust in him will be a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, to those who leave these waters of Shiloah, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son, (Isa. 8:6), who make the creature their fear and their hope, Isa. 8:14, 15. The prophet foresees that the greatest part of both the houses of Israel would not sanctify the Lord of hosts, and to them he would be for a gin and a snare; he would be a terror to them, as he would be a support and stay to those that trusted in him. Instead of profiting by the word of God, they should be offended at it; and the providences of God, instead of leading them to him, would drive them from him. What was a savour of life unto life to others would be a savour of death unto death to them. “So that many among them shall stumble and fall; they shall fall both into sin and into ruin; they shall fall by the sword, shall be taken prisoners, and go into captivity.” Note, If the things of God be an offence to us, they will be an undoing to us. Some apply this to the unbelieving Jews, who rejected Christ, and to whom he became a stone of stumbling; for the apostle quotes this scripture with application to all those who persisted in their unbelief of the gospel of Christ (1 Pet. 2:8); to them he is a rock of offence, because, being disobedient to the word, they stumble at it.