The way of salvation at every point is intended by God to humble sinful pride and to extol His grace.
We read in I Corinthians 1, God hath chosen the foolish things of the world. The weak things, the base things, the things which are despised hath God chosen. Why? That no flesh should glory in His presence, but he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. You are not saved by your will, by your merit, and not even by your repentance. Repentance is the gift of salvation, not the basis of your salvation. You are not saved by the strength of man. You are not saved by his ingenuity. You are not saved by the indomitable human spirit or anything else that you would want to place your trust in. Salvation is only by the blood of Jesus Christ, which flows from the cross and is able to hide all our sins from view and make us clean and whole again.
In the words of our text for today, found in Isaiah 8:5-7, salvation is by the waters of Shiloah that go softly. That is, salvation is to be found in the appointed way of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. Salvation is not to be found by human strength which, according to Isaiah 8, is Rezin and Remaliah’s son, two Old Testament kings that the people of Judah were enamored with. No, salvation is not by human strength. Salvation is only in the way of God’s mercy through Jesus Christ.
Do you know your need before the face of God? Do you see yourself as undone and in the gutter of sin and depravity? The Lord God, in His Word, points to the only way of salvation, the way of His grace through Jesus Christ His Son and in His cross.
As I said, our passage today is Isaiah 8:5-7. At this particular point in the history of Judah, God’s people were in great and grievous troubles. Looming on the horizon were mighty nations seeking their destruction, and they were powerless before them. The cause for their weakness was not that as a nation they had lost the race in technology. It was not that their economy had taken a down-swing and they became weak and had lost pre-eminence among nations. The cause was their sin. They refused to humble themselves before God, to confess in brokenness their sins. Instead they clung to their own ideas and devices and looked to human help and human alliances. The way of trust, humility, confession, repentance, reliance upon God – this way they despised, they refused. The words of the prophet Isaiah that the judgments of God would catch up to them in the way of their rebellion – this word, they said, was preposterous. They continued in their sinful way, confident, arrogant, unashamed before the words of the prophet which they regarded as gibberish.
But God comes to them and says, “The way of salvation will be found alone in the way of grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.” God calls us to renounce all confidence in self and in man. And God calls us, by faith, to find our salvation only in the waters of the blood of Christ, the waters of God’s mercy.
In Isaiah 8:5ff., God is making the sad observation to His prophet Isaiah that the people of Judah, in the midst of their grievous problems, were committing an enormous sin. The sin that they were committing was that they rejected the waters of Shiloah. We read: “The LORD spake also unto me again, saying, Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son.”
As I said, Judah was pressed by her enemies. Rumors of confederacies of nations joining together for their destruction flooded the land. It was a time in which the people of Judah began to take stock of their resources. And in the midst of their calamity, they refused – literally they rejected, they scorned, they held in contempt – the waters of Shiloah that go softly.
The waters of Shiloah refer to a small fountain sending forth a little stream to the city of Jerusalem – a brook bubbling up from Mount Zion which flowed quietly and peacefully through the city. Shiloah means “gentle, quiet.” The root word means “rest.” You might know that in the Scriptures Jesus Christ is called “Shiloh,” that is, “Rest-giver.” Now the people of Judah were in the midst of a siege upon their capital city, the city of Jerusalem. In the midst of that siege and in the need for defense against their enemies, they refused the waters of Shiloah, they ridiculed the waters of that little brook which was in the midst of Jerusalem. It was not like the mighty rivers in the capitals of the nations – the capital of Assyria, built upon the Euphrates; the Nile River, which sustained the kingdom of Egypt. These rivers were strong and overflowed. These were rivers which would provide commerce. These rivers gave excellent defensive protection. But what was Shiloah, that little brook, that little river that God had provided. They held it in contempt.
Rather, God says, they rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son. Rezin was the king of Syria. Remaliah’s son was Pekah, the king of the ten tribes of Israel. These two kings had just formed an alliance against Jerusalem to war against it but could not prevail. Now, even though these two kings had been plotting the destruction of Jerusalem, the people of Judah yet rejoiced in them. They boasted in them. Even though they were their enemies, the people were saying, “Now there are nations who have it together. There are some real leaders, men of courage and resources, with some weight and some prestige. We ought to be like them.” They refused the waters of Shiloah which ran softly and they boasted in Rezin and Remaliah’s son.
The waters of Shiloah were a fitting symbol of God’s presence and mercies in Jesus Christ. Well would the people of Judah understand the significance of a river in a city. That was very crucial in those days of siege and war. God had said that His people would have a river in the midst of their besieged city. So also the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has a river, as we are besieged in a world of evil. That is the river of God’s grace. We read of it in Psalm 46:4, 5: “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.” Psalm 46 speaks of the fact that the nations were moved and the kingdoms raged. But God would be present with His people. And God would help them.
Those waters of Shiloah which flowed through Jerusalem represented God’s presence in streams of mercy flowing from His throne, the presence of God’s grace in the midst of His people to save them. And, therefore, they represented the call of God to trust, to repose, to be quiet in their God. God called His people not to be frantic, crying, looking for someone to show them any good. But God called His people then, and He calls them now, to rest on the provision of His mercy and grace through Jesus Christ.
Instead of that, Judah held those waters in contempt. And they rejoiced in Rezin and Remaliah’s son. They rejoiced at what those two kings represented: assertiveness, self-reliance, resourcefulness. And they looked to Assyria for help in their trouble. They said the water of Shiloah, that little brook, is for fainthearted and for old people. The religion of the cross and mercy is for people who are not
determined enough to make it on their own. So God warned the people of Judah (and He warns you and me) of where the rejection of the waters of Shiloah would lead. He tells them that the power that they looked unto to help them, that very power would be their undoing. He tells them that since they are so enamored with the power of nations, and since they are so enamored with rivers, mighty rivers surrounding the capitals of the world, soon these very things will be the forces which will all but bring them to destruction. “Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel” (vv. 7, 8). That is, God says, the power of man in which you want to place your trust – human resolve and ingenuity – these will be the very things which will all but do you in. You will be up to your necks in it. And were it not for the fact that Judah was Immanuel – they were God with us, God’s chosen nation and people, God’s people were in them – they would all have been destroyed.
Hear the Word of God. The very things that men boast themselves in as being able to save them are in reality the forces that will drown them in sorrow and despair. The rich man’s wealth when he looks to his wealth for deliverance; the drunkard’s bottle when he looks to the bottle for comfort; the self-confident strong will when he looks to his strong will for fortitude – all of these things will drag you down. Salvation is to be found in the waters of Shiloah which flow softly.
Only in the way of grace, through Jesus Christ. That is the only way of salvation. There is none other.
It was a horrible thing when the people of Judah rejected the waters of Shiloah. It was due, of course, to the fact that the people were looking for the cause of their troubles outside of themselves, not in themselves. That is always the way it is with our nature. Our response, and the response of men, is to look for the cause for our ills and woes in our surroundings and in things outside of self. Then we look to fate, chance, government, parents, environment. And we say, “Because these are lined up the way they are, that is why I am in trouble.” They say, “My problem is my husband/wife, my boss, my lack of education.” We fix the cause anywhere but in ourselves to avoid responsibility.
Why was Judah in such a terrible plight? What had happened since the days of David when they were a mighty nation? Why did they have those difficulties? The answer is plain when we read the Word of God. It was not due to the circumstances outside of themselves. But the answer was sin. They had defied God. They refused to keep His laws. And because they did not want to see the problem of sin in themselves, they therefore rejected the waters of Shiloah. For to fall down at a stream of mercy one must first be brought to know his sin and unworthiness. But they would not fall down at a stream of mercy because they refused in the hardness of their hearts to confess their sin. They looked at the way of God and they said, “That’s restrictive, narrow, confining. We won’t walk in His laws.” And, therefore, they refused the waters of Shiloah.
How is it with you? Are you fighting today a problem? Do not look to the circumstances. Do not look to what is outside of you. Do not say, “I’m not happy because of the kind of parents I’ve got. I’m not happy because there are other people around me who won’t leave me be, to go the way I want. That’s why I’m not happy, because of the way people are.” Do not be such a fool.
How is it between you and God? Do you acknowledge Him? Do you bow down before Him? Do you obey Him?
We come to the waters of Shiloah, the way of God’s mercy, only when the grace of God works in us a deep and profound humility. Do you drink, from the waters of God’s grace, soft streams of forgiveness in the Savior’s precious blood? Do you stand in reliance upon your Savior? Do you trust in your God? Are you confident of His faithfulness to keep you? Then God has humbled you to see your need, your sins. Only from that vantage point can you see the wonders of the waters of Shiloah, the fountains of His love and mercy which ever flow softly towards us in Jesus Christ.
One can drink from these waters only in the posture of a godly humility of soul which means, first of all, an acknowledgment and confession that the real source of our problem is our sin. Judah, in rejecting these waters, showed that they were not prepared to confess their sins. They asked the question: “Where did we go wrong?” And they answered it this way, “It has nothing to do with God or religion. Oh, we want relief. We want to have some help out of our straits. But we are not going to acknowledge that the root of our problem is that we have departed from God. No, the root of the problem must be found in a failure of diplomacy or strategy on the part of our king. But it is not due to the fact of sin.”
Are you like that? Do you say, “It’s just too simplistic that the reason I fell into these problems, the reason I fell into this lust, the reason I am filled with hatred, is that I have proudly departed from God.” You say, “Oh, that’s too simplistic. No, the reason lies in other things. I’m having a bad day. Or, I’m filled with hatred because they approached me the wrong way. Or, I fell into lust because there is some type of chemical imbalance in my makeup.” So the problem is not traceable to yourself. It is traceable to the things outside of you. Then you, with the people of Judah, refuse the waters of Shiloah. For the way of God’s grace is to be found only when grace gives you to know your sin as the problem.
Today man likes offers of salvation which come packaged in the form of self-help and self-improvement. People flock to a church which will tell them, not that they have sinned, but this, “You have been sinned against. You really don’t deserve all your hardships. You poor person. The problem is outside of you. It’s not you. It’s the world or others around you.” But then they cannot taste the waters of Shiloah. For the waters of Shiloah are tasted only by those who are made humble, thirsty sinners who not only know their sins, but know that of themselves they cannot deliver themselves; who know that by their own power they have no way of salvation; who confess, “Lord, not only is my sin before Thee, but I cannot fix it, I cannot pay for it. And I cannot deliver myself from it.”
There is only one way. The way of mercy. The waters of Shiloah. Do you know that?
That way of mercy in the cross of Jesus Christ does and has saved. God swears an oath to it. God tells us that there is a fountain of His mercy which flows eternally from His own heart unto His children; a fountain of mercy which flows from Mount Calvary; a fountain of mercy which removes all of our sins and guilt; a fountain of mercy which is able to deliver us from the vanity of sin and bring us to God. We drink from those waters. That water is to be found in the holy gospel and in the gospel preached to you. They are as living fountains of refreshing and cleansing water to the child of God.
The waters of Shiloah were in Jerusalem. There was no need for the people of Judah to go up and down throughout the land looking here and then there for a way of salvation and help, forming all types of plans and alliances. It was right in front of them. It was in Jerusalem. It was in the words of the prophet Isaiah who brought the Word of God to them. The Word of God is nigh thee, even in thy mouth.
You do not need to go searching all over. It is the gospel preached to you, the Word of God. There is the answer. That way is lowly. That way is the way that God brings your heart to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is a very personal way when God’s grace and mercy comes to our hearts and all of our strength is spent and through His grace and gospel He says, “You are Mine. I have redeemed you. I shall keep you.” The waters of Shiloah are a never-failing stream. All the power of man is like a desert. It is like parched ground. It dries up. But the waters of Shiloah, the waters of God’s grace and mercy through Jesus Christ, these waters do not fail. Go to them, child of God. They will satisfy you. They will wash your sins away. They will refresh and revive your soul. They will fill your heart with quiet and peace. Drink from the never-failing stream that comes from the throne of God, the stream of mercy in Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the gospel of Thy grace and mercy. Humble us by grace that we might know our sin and inability and be led by a faithful Savior to place all of our trust in His work and in Thy grace. Amen.