Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria” (Isaiah 7:20).
The Bible is the boldest book ever written. There is no similitude in Ossian, Iliad, or Odyssey so daring. Its imagery sometimes seems on the verge of the reckless, but it only seems so. The fact is that God would startle, arouse, and propel men and nations. A tame and limping similitude would fail to accomplish the object. While there are times when God employs, in the Bible, the gentle dew, the morning cloud, the dove, and the daybreak in the presentation of Truth, we often find the iron chariot, the lightning, the earthquake, the spray, the sword, and, in my text, the razor.
THE LORD’S RAZOR IS SYMBOLIC
This keen-bladed instrument has advanced in usefulness with the ages. In Bible times and lands the beard remained uncut save in seasons of mourning and humiliation; the razor was a suggestive symbol. David says of Doeg, his antagonist, “Your tongue is a sharp razor working deceitfully” (Psalm 52:2); that is, it pretends to clear the face, but is really used for deadly incision.
In this morning’s text the weapon [razor] of the toilet [grooming] appears under the following circumstances: Judea needed to have some of its prosperity cut off, and God sends against it three Assyrian kings—first Sennacherib, then Esrahaddon, and afterward Nebuchadnezzar. These three sharp invasions, that cut down the glory of Judea, are compared to so many sweeps of the razor across the face of the land.
And these circumstances were called a “hired” razor because God took the kings of Assyria, with whom He had no sympathy, to do the work, and paid them in palaces, spoils, and annexations [lands]. These kings were hired to execute the divine will. And now the text, which on its first reading may have seemed trivial or inapt [incomplete], is charged with momentous import: “In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria”
THE LORD’S RAZOR IS JUDGEMENTAL
Well, if God’s judgements are razors, we had better be careful how we use them on other people. In careful sheath these domestic weapons are put away, where no one by accident may touch them and where the hands of children may not reach them. Such instruments must be carefully handled or not handled at all.
But how recklessly some people wield the judgments of God! If a man meet with business misfortune, how many there are ready to cry out, “That is a judgement of God on him because he was unscrupulous, or arrogant, or overreaching, or miserly. I thought he would get cut down! What a clean sweep of everything! His city house and country house gone! His stables emptied of all the fine bays, sorrels, and grays that used to prance by his door! All his resources overthrown, and all that he prided himself on tumbled into demolition! Good for him!” Stop, my brother. Don’t sling around too freely the judgements of God, for they are razors.
Some of the most wicked businessmen succeed, and they live and die in prosperity; and some of the most honest and conscientious are driven into bankruptcy. Perhaps a man’s manner was unfortunate, and he was not as proud as he looked to be. Some of those who carry their head erect and look imperial are as humble as a child, while many a man in seedy coat, slouch hat, and unblacked shoes is as proud as Lucifer. You cannot tell by a man’s look.
Perhaps he was not unscrupulous in business, for there are two sides to every story, and everybody that accomplishes anything for himself or others gets industriously lied about.
Perhaps his business misfortune was not a punishment, but the fatherly discipline to prepare him for heaven; God may love him far more than He loves you, who can pay dollar for dollar, and are put down in the commercial catalogues as A1. “Whom the Lord loves” He gives $400,000 and lets die on embroidered pillows? No. “Whom the Lord loves He chastens” (Hebrews 12:6).
Better keep your hand off the Lord’s razors, lest they cut and wound persons who do not deserve it. If you want to shave off some of the bristling pride of your own heart, do so; but be very careful how you put the sharp edge on others.
How I do dislike the behavior of those persons who, when people are unfortunate, say, “I told you so—getting punished—served him right.” If those I-told-you-so’s got their deserts, they would long ago have been pitched over the battlements. The mote in their neighbor’s eyes—so small that it takes a microscope to find it—gives them more trouble than the beam that obscures their own optics (cf Matthew 7:3-5). With air sometimes supercilious [superior] and sometimes Pharisaical, and always blasphemous, they take the razor of divine judgement and sharpen it on the hone of their own hard hearts, and then go to work on men sprawled out at full length under disaster, cutting mercilessly. They begin by soft expressions of sympathy, pity, and half-praise, and, lather the victim all over before they put on the sharp edge.
Let us be careful how we shoot at others lest we take down the wrong one, remembering the servant of King William Rufus who shot at a deer, but the arrow glanced against a tree and killed the king.
Instead of going out with shafts to pierce, and razors to cut, we had better imitate the friend of Richard Coeur de Lion. In the war of the Crusades, Richard was captured and imprisoned, but none of his friends knew where. So his loyal friend went around the land from stronghold to stronghold, and sung at each window a snatch of song that Richard Coeur de Lion had taught him in other days.
And one day, coming before a jail where he suspected his king might be incarcerated, he sung two lines of song, and immediately King Richard responded from his cell with the other two lines; and so his whereabouts were discovered, and immediately a successful movement was made for his liberation. So let us go up and down the world with the music of kind words and sympathetic hearts, serenading the unfortunate, and trying to get out of trouble men who had noble natures, but, by unforeseen circumstances, have been incarcerated, thus liberating kings. More hymnbook and less razor.
Especially ought we to be apologetic and merciful toward those who, while they have great faults, have also great virtues. Some people are barren of virtues. No weed verily, but no flower. I must not be too much enraged at a nettle along the fence if it be in a field containing forty acres of ripe Michigan wheat. At the present time, naturalists tell us, there is on the sun a spot 20,000 miles long, but from the brightness and warmth I conclude it is a good deal of a sun yet.
THE LORD’S RAZOR IS PRECISE
Again, when I read in my text that the Lord shaves with the hired razor of Assyria the land of Judea, I bethink myself of the precision of God’s providence. A razor swung the tenth part of an inch out of the right line means either failure or laceration; but God’s dealings never slip, and they do not miss by the thousandth part of an inch the right direction.
People talk as though things in this world are at loose ends. Cholera sweeps across Marseilles, Madrid, and Palermo, and we watch anxiously. Will the epidemic sweep Europe and America? People say, “That will entirely depend on whether inoculation is a successful experiment. That will depend entirely on quarantine regulations. That will depend on the early or late appearance of frost. That epidemic is pitched into the world, and it goes blundering across the continents. It is all guesswork and an appalling perhaps.”
My friends, I think, perhaps, that God had something to do with it, and that His mercy may have in some way protected us—that He may have done as much for us as the quarantine and the health officers. It was right and necessary that all caution should be used, but there has come enough macaroni from Italy, enough grapes from the south of France, and enough rags from tatterdemalions [ragamuffins], and hidden in these articles of transportation enough cholera germs to have left by this time all Brooklyn mourning at Greenwood, all Philadelphia at Laurel Hill, and all Boston at Mount Auburn [cemeteries]. I thank all the doctors and quarantines; but, more than all, first of all, last of all, and all the time, I thank God. In all the 6,000 years of the world’s existence there has not one thing merely “happened so.” God is not an anarchist, but a King, a Father.
When little Tad, the son of President Lincoln, died, all the land sympathized with the sorrow in the White House. He used to rush into the room where the cabinet was in session, and while the most eminent men of the land were discussing the questions of national existence. But the child had no care about those questions.
Now God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are in perpetual session in regard to this world and kindred worlds. Will you, His child, rush in to criticize, arraign, or condemn divine government? No. The Eternal Three can govern and will govern in the wisest and best way, and there never will be a mistake; and like razor skillfully swung, they will cut that which ought to be cut, and avoid that which ought to be avoided. Precision to the very hair’s breadth. Earthly time-pieces may get out of order and strike wrong, saying that it is one o’clock when it is two, or two when it is three. God’s clock is always right. When it is one, it strikes one. When it is twelve, it strikes twelve. The second hand is as accurate as the minute hand.
THE LORD’S RAZOR IS NATIONAL
Further, my text tells us that God sometimes shaves nations: “In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired.” With one sharp sweep He went across Judea and down went its pride and its power. In 1861 God shaved our nation. We had allowed to grow Sabbath desecration, oppression, blasphemy, fraud, impurity, and all sorts of turpitude [wickedness]. The South had its sins, the North its sins, the East its sins, and the West its sins. We had been warned again and again, and we did not heed. At length the sword of war cut from the St Lawrence to the Gulf, from Atlantic seaboard to Pacific seaboard. The pride of the land, not the cowards, but the heroes, on both sides went down. And that which we took for the sword of war was the Lord’s razor.
In 1862, again, it went across the land. In 1863 again. In 1864 again. Then the sharp instrument was encased and put away. Never in the history of the ages was any land more thoroughly shaved than during those four years of civil combat; and, my brethren, if we do not quit some of our individual sins and national sins, the Lord will again take us in hand. He has other razors within reach besides war: epidemics, droughts, deluges, plagues—grasshopper and locust; or our overtowering success may so far excite the jealousy of other lands that, under some pretext, the great nations of Europe and Asia may combine to put us down. This nation, so easily approached on north and south and from both oceans, might have on hand at once more hostilities than were ever arrayed against any power.
We have recently been told by skillful engineers that all our fortresses around New York harbor could not keep the shells from being hurled from the sea into the heart of these great cities. Insulated China, the wealthiest of all nations, as will be realized when her resources are developed, will have adopted all the modes of modern warfare, and at the Golden Gate may be discussing whether Americans must go.
If the combined jealousies of Europe and Asia should come on us, we should have more work on hand than would be pleasant. I hope no such combination against us will ever be formed, but I want to show that, as Assyria was the hired razor against Judea, Cyrus the hired razor against Babylon, and the Huns the hired razor against the Goths, there are now many razors that the Lord could hire if, because of our national sins, He should undertake to shave us.
In 1870, Germany was the razor with which the Lord shaved France. England is the razor with which shortly the Lord will shave Russia. But nations are to repent in a day. May a speedy and worldwide coming to God hinder, on both sides the sea, all national calamity. But do not let us, as a nation, either by unrighteous law at Washington, or bad lives among ourselves, defy the Almighty.
One would think that our national symbol of the eagle might sometimes suggest another eagle, that which ancient Rome carried. In the talons of that eagle were clutched at one time Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Dalmatia, Rhactia, Noricum, Pannonia, Moesia, Dacia, Thrace, Macedonia, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, Egypt, all North Africa, and all the islands of the Mediterranean, indeed, all the world that was worth having, 120 million people under the wings of that one eagle.
Where is she now? Ask Gibbon, the historian, in his prose poem, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ask her gigantic ruins straggling their sadness through the ages, the screech owl at windows out of which worldwide conquerors looked. Ask the Day of Judgement when her crowned debauchees, Commodus and Pertinax, and Caligula and Diocletian, will answer for their infamy.
As men and as nations let us repent, and have our trust in a pardoning God, rather than depend on former successes for immunity! Out of the thirteen greatest battles of the world, Napoleon had lost but one before Waterloo. Pride and destruction often ride in the same saddle.
THE LORD’S RAZOR IS HIRED
But notice once more, and more than all in my text, that God is so kind and loving, that when it is necessary for Him to cut, He goes to others for the sharp-edged weapon. “In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired.” God is love. God is pity. God is help. God is shelter. God is rescue. There is no sharp edge about Him, no thrusting point, no instrument of laceration. If you want balm for wounds, He has that. If you want salve for divine eyesight, He has that. But if there is sharp and cutting work to do requiring a razor, He hires. God has nothing about Him that hurts, save when dire necessity demands, and then He has to go clear off to someone else to get the instrument.
This divine geniality will be no novelty to those who have pondered the Calvary massacre, where God submerged Himself in human tears, crimsoned Himself from punctured blood vessels, and let the terrestrial and infernal worlds maul Him until the chandeliers of the sky had to be turned out (cf Matthew 27:45), because the universe could not endure the indecency. Illustrious for love He must have been to take all that as our substitute, paying out of His own heart the price of our admission at the gates of heaven.
King Henry II, of England, crowned his son as king. On the day of coronation the father put on a servant’s garb and waited [served]—he, the king—at the son’s table, to the astonishment of all the princes.
But we know of a more wondrous scene: the King of heaven and earth offering to put on you, His child, the crown of life, and in the form of a servant waiting on you with blessing. Extol that love, all painting, all sculpture, all music, all architecture, all worship!
In Dresden gallery let Raphael hold Him up as a child, in Antwerp Cathedral let Rubens hand Him down from the cross as a martyr [Descent From the Cross], and in musical arts let Handel make all his oratorio vibrate around that one chord—“He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquity” (Isaiah 53:5). The painter’s pencil loves to sketch the face of Christ. The sculptor’s chisel loves to present the form of Christ. Organs love to roll forth the sorrows of Christ. But not until all the redeemed are gathered home and the ransomed shown the wonders of redemption, will man, seraph, or archangel know the height, depth, length, and breadth of the love of God!
At our national capital is a monument in honor of him who did more than anyone to achieve our American Independence [Washington]. It was scores of years in building, and most of us thought it never would be completed. How glad we all were when in the presence of the highest officials of the nation, the work was done!
But will the monument to Him who died for the eternal liberation of the human race ever be completed? For ages the work has been going up; evangelists, apostles, and martyrs have been adding to the heavenly structure. Millions of redeemed ones have made their contribution of gladness. The weight of glory is swung to the top of other weight of glory, higher and higher as the centuries go by, higher and higher as millennia roll, sapphire on jasper, sardonyx on chalcedony, and chrysoprasus above topaz, until, far beneath will be the walls, towers, and domes of the great capitol, a monument forever and forever rising, and yet never done.
“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and made us kings and priests … to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. [Hallelujah!] Amen” (Revelation 1:5, 6).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Washington Bridge and Harlem River Drive, New York
Featured for this series are photographs of old New York.
*Adapted from “The Lord’s Razor,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], New Tabernacle Sermons Vol I (New York: George Munro, 1886). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.