Isaiah 8:5

The prophet looks out on the troubled prospect as on a deluge, amidst which the ark of promise carrying the elect, the remnant, the Church of the faithful and chosen, is seen riding.


1. The foreign sympathies of the people. Tired of the inefficient reign of Ahaz, they watch for the approach of the two northern kings with interest. They have forgotten their patriotism, which once rallied round the house of David as a political and spiritual center. The "softly flowing brook of Siloah" by Jerusalem was symbolic of that house. 'Twas the river that made glad the city of God, the holy place of the Highest's dwelling (Psalm 46.). Small was it compared with the great flood of Nile or Euphrates, but mild and gentle. "Nile, with its monstrous crocodile and behemah, might be the image of the cruel Egyptian rule; and mighty Euphrates, with its frequent overflowings, that of the Assyrian power and of its swift extension." As in ancient folk-lore dragons were supposed to haunt the waters, so the Assyrian power was like the daemon of the great river (cf. Isaiah 27:1).

2. The wave of Assyrian conquest. Onward it will come, a magnificent flood, to punish, to purify. The Assyrian king, with all the "pomp and circumstance of war," an awful array, will, as the river breaking its bounds and overflowing all banks, rush into Judah, overflowing and rolling, till the flood reaches to men's necks; or, as with the outspread wings of the flying dragon, the foe will cover all the breadth of the land - land of the passionately hoped-for Immanuel.

II. VICTORIOUS SPIRITUAL HOPES. The name of the Messiah, "God with us," acts like a charm on the troubled spirit of the seer. His discourse suddenly becomes a bold menace against all heathendom.

1. Material power defied. Let the nations rage and let them - despair! Let them fit out their armaments and - despair! exclaims the prophet. Let them form their plans - they shall be broken; speak their words - they shall not stand. For "with us is God!" What magic in a name, in a phrase! Carrying our thought forward through the centuries, we recall what powers were defied, what wonders wrought, what force reduced to impotence, what counsels reduced to folly, by the magic of the Name of Jesus. Yet it is not the mere name, but the reality denoted by the name, believed and felt to he operating through the human spirit, which is the source of energy.

2. Personal inspiration Idle had been these defiances, if the prophet did not know of a secret warranty for them in his own breast, in his own spiritual record. "Thus said Jehovah unto me in the ecstasy." He had heard a voice which all could not hear, and had cleared his vision in a light not vouchsafed to the vulgar. It was a discriminating light. He was taught to see that not all the multitude called rebellious was really such, nor all that it feared was really to be dreaded. The allusion is somewhat obscure. Probably under the guise of fear the people were secretly rejoicing, and meditating the dethronement of Ahaz. The language strikes a side-blow at the pusillanimity of the time. The prophet has learned that Jehovah is the true Object of fear; that noble and steadfast reverence which, a mighter passion, expels the feebler and baser.

"Fear him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear." If this condition be fulfilled, Jehovah will be found an inviolable Sanctuary, a Shelter from all coming trials. We find the same thought in Ezekiel 11:16. He will be a "little Sanctuary" to the fugitive and dispersed among the nations. Fleeing from the pursuer, men laid hold of the "horns of the altar." These things are to us a parable. Religion is the spirit's asylum from all distress. In times when the newspaper teems with war, revolution, rumors of dread, or the evils of social life seem intolerable, we may go into our chamber, shut to the door, pray to our Father in secret, flee to the steps of the altar that slopes through darkness up to God, and lo! a new scenery unfolds, and from the secret place of the Most High fear vanishes, and reverential contemplation reigns in the spirit.

III. SOLEMN WARNINGS. He who will ever prove an Asylum to the faithful and an Altar of refuge, will be to the faithless a Stone of stumbling, a Rock of offence, a Trap, and a Snare. We know how these thoughts were applied to the coming Christ, and how they were fulfilled. Set "for the fall and rising again of many in Israel," and for the "revealing of the thoughts of many hearts," he is to them that believe precious "a Stone, a tried Stone; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded."

1. The Name of God is an object of dread or of delight to us according to the state of our own affections.

2. Truth is a touchstone. Either we recognize in it the "pearl of great price," and are willing to sacrifice all to possess it, or it is like a certain stone of which Plutarch tells, found in the river Inachos, which turned black in the hand of the false witness. Truth seems like falsehood to the debased imagination and depraved will. - J.

This people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly.
Isaiah does not find himself surrounded merely by the very wide circle of an incorrigible people ripe for judgment. He does not stand alone, but is surrounded by a small band of believing disciples who need consolation and are worthy of it. It is to these that the promising other side of the prophecy of Immanuel belongs. Maher-shalal cannot comfort or console them; for they know that when Assyria has done with Damascus and Samaria the troubles of Judah are not over, but are only really about to begin. The prophecy of Immanuel is destined to be the stronghold of the believers in the terrible judgment time of the worldly power which was then commencing; and to turn into the light and unfold the consolation it contained for the believers, is the purpose of the discourses which now follow (Isaiah 8:5-12).

(F. Delitzsch.)

1. Vision of a terrible devastation of the country, north and south, by the Assyrian.

2. The salvation and Saviour that rise to view behind the desolation (Isaiah 9:1-7).

(A. B. Davidson, LL. D.)

took their rise on Mount Moriah, "the hill of the Lord," the hill on which the temple was built. Indeed, the spring is said to have risen within the very precincts of the temple, and to have supplied its courts and cisterns with the abundant water required for its innumerable washings and sacrifices. From the summit of the hill it now flows gently to its base, not along any external channel however, but through a secret tunnel which it seems to have worn for itself through the solid rock. Its waters, therefore, flow underground, running fax before they meet the light of day. And, when they re-emerge, they rise and flow without noise or turbulence. They form no brawling torrent, no swift and angry stream, sweeping away its banks and carrying havoc before it. Softly and gently they rise and fill the pool. Softly and gently they overflow into a placid stream, a stream that does not fail even in times of drought; a stream that quickens all it touches into life, and reveals its presence only by the beauty and fertility which mark its course. This is no imaginary description adapted to the requirements of the passage before us, but a description given by a traveller who stood on its margin and tracked its course only a few years since. And yet how admirably it illustrates the prophet's words — "The waters of Shiloah that go softly"; or, as the Hebrew word also means, secretly. They do go both secretly and softly. They flow unseen for a while; and when they emerge from their rocky tunnel, they do not rush and fret and whiten in their course as most hill streams do, but lapse gently on, carrying with them a belt of verdure to the very margin of the Dead Sea. The words of Isaiah describe the waters of Shiloah as they remain to this day.

(S. Cox, D. D.)

The history of the Jewish nation mirrors the life of the individual man.


1. They flow vivifyingly. The waters of Shiloah were the life of Jerusalem. The stream of mercy here is our life.

2. They flow constantly. The streams of Shiloah are flowing now. The stream of mercy is constantly rolling by us from infancy to our mortal gasp.

3. They flow softly. It rolls by us almost unheard.

II. THAT THE ABUSE OF THIS STREAM OF MIRACLES IS AN IMMENSE CRIME. The text teaches that the crime of the Jew in relation to his privileges was two fold:

1. Rejection. "They refused the waters of Shiloah," which means, they refused to avail themselves of those means of national improvement and defence which the munificent reign of Jehovah under which they lived afforded. They refused to trust Him in their dangers.

2. Presumption. These people "rejoiced in Rezin and Remaliah's son." Their minds ever occupied by the failures and successes of wicked men, their hope of safety rested on the confidence they had in mere worldly alliances; they trusted in an arm of flesh. We abuse God's mercy when we allow it not to inspire us with unshaken confidence in His protecting love and power.

III. THAT THIS CRIME WILL BRING ON THE TUMULTUOUS RIVER OF RETRIBUTION. "Behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many," etc.

1. The abuse of mercy leads to retributive misery.

2. The streams of retributive misery stand in awful contrast with them of mercy.


There are more reasons than one why Siloam, rather than the other waters of Jerusalem, is selected by the prophet as a type of Gospel influences and Gospel grace. It filtered clear from the temple rock, — emblem of grace in its source, — and for a time ran its unseen course underground, — emblem of grace in its secrecy. Then it sparkled out and along a broad band of silver, till it reached the gardens and the vineyards, beyond, where it divided into a hundred tiny courses that covered the sward with their shining network, and filled the air with their gentle music, — emblem of grace in its power to refresh and fertilise. Add to this the fact that Siloam played a part in Jewish religion, and entered once and again into Jewish story. It was there that the temple vessels were cleansed. There, once a year, at the Feast of Tabernacles, the priests went in solemn procession, and fetched water in golden goblets, to pour as an offering to the Lord. There, in later times, dwelt virtue to heal. It was by the brink of Siloam that the impotent man lay till He of whom Siloam testified wrought the cure he had waited so long for in vain. It was in the waters of Siloam that the blind man washed and received his sight. And it was close to Siloam that our Saviour most probably stood, when He spoke of a better store than gushed from its mossy fountain, or rippled in its pebbly bed, and uttered that greatest of all Gospel invitations, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink." The figure is fruitful in striking analogies, suggesting, much as to the nature and progress of Christ's kingdom of grace beyond the main fact of its gentleness. The Gospel of Christ as a matter that comes not by observation, — the prime and outstanding illustration of that gentleness of God which makes great, — an agency which pursues its peaceful process and accomplishes its peaceful results, not by might nor by power, but by God's own Spirit whose operations are generally noiseless and often unseen, — is the subject before us.

1. When we speak of the gentleness of the Gospel, it is not denied that there may be a great deal of stir in the means and the circumstances that precede and prepare for the Gospel. That, however, does not interfere with the truthfulness of the figure; the figure, on the contrary, suggests it. When you wish to dig a bed for a stream, and lead its waters through a region hitherto dry, you must be prepared for a certain disturbance. Rocks may have to be blasted, trees to be torn up, long accumulations to be removed, as rough places are made smooth and crooked places plain, and a channel prepared for the fertilising current. But the stream when it comes may flow softly all the same, gurgling gently past the seams, of the pickaxe and the stones that the powder has stained. The fact is, all God's saving work is gentle. He may smite like the hammer, but He heals like the dew; His severities may crush, but it is the gentleness that comes after that makes great.

2. Nor, in speaking of the gentleness of the Gospel, do we forget that a great deal of stir may follow it. Most true it is that the Gospel fits a life for outward processes of activity, expenditures of effort and of energy, feats of work and of warfare, which may be far from being secret or noiseless. Just so with a stream. You may have the industry and stir of the mill on its banks, when the wheels whirl and the looms hum, as corn is bruised for man's food, or cloth is prepared for his raiment; and you may have at the same time the quiet of the stream that turns it, whose current flows softly, and whose ripple is all but unheard as it steals brimming through the lush, level meadows, or hides beneath the overarching elms. Yes, the outcome of the Gospel may mean stir. But the Gospel itself, the secret and spring of it, that is always as the waters of Shiloah that flow softly.

3. Nor, once more, when we speak of the gentleness and equality of the grace and influences of the Gospel, do we fail to remember that even the Gospel itself has its periods of quickening and enlargement. Every now and then the stream of its influences is more copious, and the evidence of its existence more visible and obtrusive. Again the figure fits in at this point, — for Siloam was intermittent. Every few hours or so the calmness of its surface was broken, the speed of its current was hastened, by a richer jet of water from its spring. But no perception of the good to be gained at such epochs is to blind our eyes to the fact that the blessing may exist, and exist to fertilise and enrich at other times, when the course of God's dealings is more ordinary, and their effects more regular and unseen. After all, the waters of Shiloah flow softly, and, even when stillest and most secret, they are visible enough for thirsty souls to discover their existence, abundant enough for them to dip their pitchers, and drink.

(W. A. Gray.)

Are we not all more or less in the position of the Jews whom Isaiah addresses, with perils surrounding us, and with the need of protection and assistance pressed home on us? Have we not all, too, an alternative of the same kind presented us, — between Gospel grace and Gospel influences on the one hand, and worldly advantages and alliances on the other, — between the waters of. Shiloah that go softly, whose very silence and secrecy may offend us, and the noisier rapids of earth, which attract, like the Euphrates in the prophet's figure, only to disappoint or betray? Every man's life yields an opportunity for choosing, and every man's life is shaped and conditioned by the choice which he makes.

I. Let me exemplify the alternative before us by a reference to THE EXAMPLE WE FOLLOW. Our example has been given us. It is the example of one whose existence while here was a living embodiment of the figure of the text It ran its course through this earth of ours like the waters of Shiloah that go softly. The stream of Shiloah was a picture and a prophecy of Christ. The mystery lies wrapped in the very name, and John, the evangelist, who was ever quick in discerning such references, and ever ready in expressing them, intends the analogy to be marked when he says: "The pool of Siloam, which is by interpretation, Sent." And was not the sending of Christ, to begin with, and His life all throughout, characterised by the aspect of the text! What of His youth? For thirty long years, His life ran its hidden course, — through a self-restraint that may well be called marvellous, making music and greenness, no doubt, in the mountain retreat where it flowed, but known nowhere besides; scarcely recognised, as it seems, even there. And when solitude and secrecy had accomplished their work, and His hour for disclosure had come, and the stream that had hitherto hid itself took its way through the glare of publicity, as He wrought and spoke among men, was it otherwise? Still, as before, His life, like the waters of Shiloah, flowed softly. Take His mien and bearing among men. Popularity did not elate Him; difficulty did not bewilder Him; insult did not ruffle Him. He was never unquiet; He never made haste; He was never surprised. Or take the nature of His kingdom and His sway. It was a powerful sway that He exercised even while on earth, but how was it manifested, and to what did it owe its might? No flaunt of banner nor beat of drum accompanied His progress. Victor and King though He was, He did not cry nor lift up His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He did not break; the smoking flax He did not quench. Whatever of tumult and confusion He experienced, it was in His circumstances and not in His life. Have you found your ideal of life in a picture of purity, of charity, of self-restraint and self-sacrifice such as this? If your heart's real creed is, Blessed are the rich, blessed are the joyful, blessed are the self-aggrandising, blessed are they of whom all men speak well, — your choice is the choice of the Jews; you have pitched by the rivers of Assyria, with their treacherous waves for protection, and their turbid stores for supply.

II. We pass from the examples men follow, to THE PRINCIPLES AND THE AGENCIES THEY RELY ON, and try to illustrate how the alternative holds there. And the choice is just as before, between such agencies as are unobtrusive and gracious, and those that are pretentious and human; between the aids of religion and the aids of the world. Most men have an eye to success; especially have the young; and how often do they, in the choice of the agencies they depend on and the means they adopt, choose wrong. The thought applies to communities and to Churches as well as to individuals.

III. Let us apply the principle of the text to THE MODES OF RELIGION WE ADOPT. There, too, there is the difference between what is unobtrusive on the one hand and what is ostentatious on the other; between what is satisfying and secure and what is disappointing and unsafe; between what is true and what is false. "The waters of Shiloah that go softly"; does not the phrase remind us —

1. Of the Gospel's simplicity.

2. Of its secrecy and noiselessness?Phases of religion may come and go, and those who imagine that religion is real only where its instrumentalities are special, and its outward manifestations demonstrative, may have their hopes dashed and their faith staggered, as they watch these manifestations disappear. But religion itself, the kingdom which cometh not by observation, may be pursuing its quiet course, and extending its beneficent influences notwithstanding, and that in ways and in quarters which are unseen and unguessed of now, but which the last great day will in due time declare.

(W. A. Gray.)

Not only because of their usefulness had the waters of Shiloah endeared themselves to the heart of Israel. There were other and more hallowed associations which they suggested.

I. The waters of Shiloah represented to the Jew the idea of FATHERLAND. Both Israel and Judah were in danger of forgetting the true ideal of patriotism which David had fostered, and were fast degenerating into a spurious imitation of it, a mere feverish militarism. How are we to translate this message into the English of the twentieth century? Does it not mean that the springs of our national greatness are not the matters which bulk most largely in our newspapers, are not the doings of courts and kings, of diplomatists and statesmen, of generals and armies, though these have an influence on a nation's destiny, and often one not to be despised? But far more important are the more unobtrusive factors of a nation's greatness; its care for the moral nurture and intellectual equipment of its children, its fostering of the arts and sciences and industrial training, the quality of its manufactures and the honesty of its commerce, its care for the moral and material condition of the workmen who produce its wealth, the freedom of its subjects, the equity of its laws, the purity and loftiness of its literature, the respect for religion, for home, for marriage bonds, — these are the things that make a nation great, though they are as "the waters of Shiloah that go softly" little seen and regarded The penalty for refusing these softly flowing waters of Shiloah is obvious to Isaiah's mind. The instinct of the statesman in him, apart from any predictive faculty, would be quite sufficient to show him the inevitable end of such fatuity. The king of Assyria, at first invited to interfere in Judah's interest, would be sure finally to interfere in his own, and both Israel and Judah, weakened by mutual jealousy and strife, and by internal dissensions, would fall an easy prey. So do God's retributive providences ever fall on the nation which forgets the true sources of its greatness, relies on the arm of flesh while inward corruption is working unheeded at its vitals, forsakes an enlightened patriotism which strives to be great for a spurious one which labours to appear so.

II. These waters of Shiloah suggested to the Jew, not only his Fatherland, but his RELIGION. It was a sacred stream, for it rose in a spur of Mount Zion, near the temple. And at the Feast of Tabernacles, on "the last great day of the feast," a priest brought water from the Pool of Siloam in a golden vessel, and poured it on the altar amid the rejoicings of the people. It was on this annual occasion that the Immanuel prophesied by Isaiah stood and cried, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." Judah, in Isaiah's time, was fast deserting the religion so closely associated with this stream. Such apostasy from God brings its own retribution before long, whether on the nation or the individual that practises it. Some such loosening of moral fibre is often seen, not only in the man who loses his hold on religion itself, but who loses his loyalty to the Church which nurtured him.

III. The waters of Shiloah also represented to the Jew the sanctities of HOME, and the prophet here reproves him because he had rejected these sanctities and beauties of religious family life for polygamy and foul idolatry, which broke up the family, and embittered and destroyed its hallowed relationships. The word "home" is one in which we English have a special heritage. Be careful where you go outside the home for your enjoyments. Do not cast aside the healthful restraints of home, and reject those quiet waters, lest there rise upon you "the waters of the river, strong and many," remorse and unavailing repentance, self-contempt, lost character, and a hopeless future.

(C. A. Healing, B. A.)

The brook which flowed by the base of Mount Zion, and down by the side of the temple-covered Moriah, was an emblem of the help and defence which the God of Zion and of the temple supplied to His people in Jerusalem. And it was no angry or noisy torrent, but water that flowed softly. So for communities and individuals now who trust in Him, there is a quiet but most potent protection from the Lord. Let us show this in the case of an individual.

I. TROUBLE WITHOUT. Say that gloom or pain, or both together, fall upon you. Your heart, like that of the king and people referred to by the prophet Isaiah, is agitated "as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind." You seek God in your affliction: you hearken to His prophets; you look to Him for deliverance. And from some unexpected quarter help arises. Your burden is lightened; your disaster is retrieved. Do not call it good fortune. You do well to seize what helps and remedies are brought within your reach; but give the glory to God. It is His secret will, His noiseless care that has been your true defence. You are not hurt because of "the waters of Shiloah that go softly."

II. TROUBLE WITHIN. The spiritual life is invaded and endangered by unseen foes and spiritual wickednesses; and against such adversaries the appeal to God may still be made — "Strive Thou, O Lord, with those that strive with me: fight Thou against them that fight against me." In such cases of spiritual temptation, God knows how to help. But do not look for any mere show of power. It is the enemy that "comes in like a flood." Yet far greater than the power of the enemy is the power of Him who is to His people as cool Siloam's shady rill." Fussy Christians are feeble. The calm and strong are they who trust God simply and fully, and are content with "the waters that go softly." The Lord will beautify the meek with salvation. In new covenant faith and privilege we are come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God the heavenly Jerusalem. It becomes us to be calm, because that Living One is our defence.

(D. Fraser, D. D.)

All the Hebrew prophets, and Isaiah among them, use the kingdoms of Syria and of Assyria as types of the great world power, of those external forces of every kind in which it is our constant temptation to trust rather than in the Maker of heaven and earth. To the Jewish people, dwelling in their scattered village communities, with their self-elected judges and leaders — to this people, who were held together by religious rather than by political ties, the vast organised despotisms beyond their borders were a strangely impressive and terrible spectacle. It is impossible to read the inspired prophecies and chronicles without perceiving that the national imagination was dominated, that it was now attracted and now daunted, by the immense power of these great instruments of conquest and oppression; without perceiving that in the minds both of prophets and of the people these despotisms came to stand for all the hostile and seductive forces of that world which is without God and even opposes itself against Him.

(S. Cox, D. D.)

In preferring the alliance of Syria and Assyria to the help of God, these men were virtually renouncing their special prerogative, the peculiar hope and consolation of Israel For just as those ancient despotisms were prophetic types of the forces of the outward world, so the son of Isaiah was a type of the true Immanuel, and the waters of Shiloah a type of the quickening and cleansing ministry of Him who was sent of God to take away the sin of the world. To refuse the waters of Shiloah for the sake of Rezin and Remaliah's son, to pay so little heed to the promises and significance of the birth of Immanuel, was virtually, therefore, to reject the God whom they professed to worship, and to renounce the hope to which they had been called. It was to prefer man to God. It was to be conformed to the world, and alienated from the Christ.

(S. Cox, D. D.)

If we refuse gracious ministries we must encounter judicial judgment.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

Let us be vest pleased with the waters of Shiloah, that go softly, for rapid streams are dangerous.

( M. Henry.)

No sooner has St. John told us (John 9) that Jesus declared Himself to be "sent" of the Father, than he also tells us that Siloam means "sent"; the implication being that just as Christ was sent, so also the waters of Siloam were sent by God, and were His gift to the world. The commentators are agreed that the apostle adds this parenthesis in order to teach us that the cleansing, healing spring, which gave sight to the blind and kept the temple pure, was a symbol of the Messiah and of His cleansing and enlightening ministry. He tells us that Siloam meant "sent of God" in order that we may recognise in Christ the true Siloam - Him by whose virtue the sick are healed and the service of God is sanctified. So that, in fine, to refuse the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and to dread or to glory in Rezin and Remaliah's son, is, in the last resort, to put our trust in the forces of this visible and passing world, instead of trusting in Christ, the Sent One of God and the Saviour of the world. A very beautiful and suggestive meaning is thus reached. For the passage, so obscure at first, sets Christ before us —

I. AS THE SENT ONE OF GOD, the true Siloam. He is the Fountain of Life in the spiritual temple.

II. IN THE MIGHT OF HIS GENTLENESS. The waters of Shiloah go softly, secretly. In like manner, Jesus did not strive nor cry, nor make a home in the streets. His course through life, like that of the sacred hill stream, was to be traced by the blessings He shed around Him, the added life and fruitfulness He carried to prepared and fertile hearts, the new life and fruitfulness He carried to barren hearts.

III. AS REJECTED BY HIS OWN. They refused the waters of Shiloah — refused them precisely because they ran softly. Had Jesus come to reveal His power instead of to display His mercy, blazing fierce wrath upon His enemies and smiting hostile nations to the earth, the Jews would probably have received Him and rejoiced in Him. But He came not with observation.

(S. Cox, D. D.)

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