An Exposition of Isaiah.
Section 3: Isaiah 28 - 35
This portion, which is intimately connected with Isa. 29, gives us a clear and detailed view of the ways of God with His people and His land, more especially with Jerusalem, in the last days. Israel is to fade as a flower, Jerusalem to be in sore displeasure, but delivered gloriously and for ever. I trust it may be seen plainly how impossible it is to apply what the Holy Ghost announces here, as a whole, to anything that has yet been accomplished. We must leave room for a further and closer bearing of these "woes" of the prophet.
Now simple as this may be, it is immensely important. For even many Christians are looking onward for the gradual progress (not testimony alone) of the gospel. They expect that by the blessing of the Holy Ghost upon the preached word, the nations are to be by degrees brought in; moral evil, infidelity, every form of superstition, all the pride and worldliness of man to be slowly broken down, when the power of the Holy Ghost shall fill men's hearts with righteousness and peace and joy, and thus the world in general become the reflection of God's will and ways. To such persons the assertion seems strange that there is to be a total change of dispensation; that God, having first taken us away to be with Christ above, is going to restore Israel into pre-eminence in their own land, — not to convert them simply and bring them into the Christian church, but to lead them to repent and receive their Messiah. Then they shall have their own distinctive promises and the new covenant made good to them, Jehovah's glory shining upon Zion, themselves exalted above all nations, who will take a place of conscious willing inferiority to Israel, and vie with one another which shall pay most honour to the chosen of Jehovah. All this, with many weighty consequences, involves such a mighty revolution in people's thoughts, that those more accustomed to the word of God can hardly conceive what an immense draft it makes upon the faith of those who are unversed in the prophetic word; how repugnant it is to all that is most cherished in their minds; and what a death-blow it gives to what they had fondly considered the legitimate hope of the church.
If we come to God's word as the only source of truth and sure test of all previous thoughts, nothing can be plainer; for here we have clearly a vision of the terrible blow that is to fall upon Ephraim, which is not only the name of a particular tribe, but the general designation of the ten tribes who mustered under that leading tribe. Judah and Ephraim are the two chief titles by which the prophets continually contrast the two houses of Israel. What the prophet communicates here is the "woe" that is to fall specially on Ephraim, that is, on those we call the ten tribes. This furnishes us with means for judging the time and circumstances of its fulfilment, because no such judgement as is here described ever historically fell upon the Jews. The others (i.e. Israel) were carried away into captivity to Assyria, and were never as a people restored to the land. Isaiah wrote when this dreadful blow was falling upon Israel, and goes onward to their last days, even to the days when Christ Himself, first in faith, then in delivering power and glory, shall be connected with Judah's remnant.
Looking at the past history of the people, we fail to see any such connection of Christ with Judah, anything that answered to this recourse to the tried Stone, save in those disciples who left the synagogue for the church at a later epoch. The ten tribes were swept away at an early day, and later on the two tribes were carried to Babylon, whence emerged only an inconsiderable remnant of Judah. The prophecy therefore has not yet been accomplished; and that which has not been must be fulfilled. Surely no canon of interpretation can be surer or plainer than this. Scripture cannot be broken: the word of God must be verified sooner or later. The end of this age is the ripe season for making good the bulk of prophecy. Therefore the one question here is whether anything has occurred really and fully corresponding with these judgements to fall on the ten tribes and Judah with Jerusalem also. That there never has been an adequate accomplishment will be manifest enough as we pass on. To the believer the fulfilment is future and certain.
"Woe to the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which [is] on the head of the fat valley of them that are overcome with wine! Behold, the Lord has a mighty and strong one, as a storm of hail, a destroying tempest; as a storm of mighty waters overflowing, shall he cast down to the earth with might" (or, hand) (vv. 1, 2). It is not to be thought that drunkenness is to be taken in its merely literal acceptation. It represents their dreadfully excited and stupefied and besotted state, given up to their own pleasure and self-indulgence to the shame of the true God. What intoxication is among men with its frightful natural effects, such in a large moral sense will be the condition of these proud insensate men of Ephraim. Fulfilled at whatever time it may be, plainly it will be in Israel as such. "The crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim shall be trodden under feet; and the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which [is] on the head of the fat valley, shall be as an early fig before the summer; which [when] he that looks upon it sees, while it is yet in his hand, he eats it up" (vv. 3, 4). And true glory follows: "In that day will Jehovah of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty to the remnant of his people; and for a spirit of judgement to him that sits in judgement, and for a strength to them that turn the battle to (or, at) the gate" (vv. 5, 6). Yet was the condition of Judah better?
"But these also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are they gone astray; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are gone astray through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble [in] judgement. For all tables are full of vomit [and] filthiness [so that there is] no place" (vv. 7, 8). In vain had God met their weakness, and fed them with infants' food. "Whom will he teach knowledge? and whom will he make to understand the message? [them that are] weaned from the milk, [and] drawn from the breasts? For [it is] precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, there a little" (vv. 9, 10). Another dealing is needed and will surely follow. "For with stammering lips and with strange tongue will he speak to this people: to whom he said This [is] the rest, give ye rest to the weary; and this [is] the refreshing. But they would not hear. Therefore shall the word of Jehovah be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken and snared and taken" (vv. 11-13). Not with that child like instruction which they had slighted, but with the foreign tones of enemies would He scourge them. They would not have His words of rest for the weary, they must needs have a nation they understood not. It was a judgement on their unbelief.
Thus the Assyrian is first represented as a hail-storm coming down from the north on Ephraim, "a mighty and strong one," "as a storm of hail, a destroying tempest, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing." It is the "king of the north," as he is last described in Dan. 11:40. Attention has been already drawn to the mistaken supposition that the lawless one, who is to be manifested as "the king" in Palestine, is the only danger for the Jews. No doubt he, though their king, is at bottom an enemy of the worst character. For what can be more afflicting or disastrous than to have one in your very midst whom you have embraced as a friend, and who turns out the bitterest foe?
Such will be the case when the Antichrist appears in the midst of the Jews and reigns, accepted by them as the Messiah. The Antichrist will be in lawless ways and in false pretensions what the Lord Jesus was in deed and in truth. Though He was God, when He came as man among men, never did He assert His rights as God in His ordinary path here below, however true the glory of His person was to faith. When did He ever use the Godhead to avert trials and sufferings, or man's contempt of Him? He invariably waited on God and trusted in Him. His obedience as man contributed only the more, because of His divine dignity, to prove that He was willing to encounter all shame and reproach, yea, the death of the cross, that God the Father might be glorified. Antichrist will, on the contrary, use all that Satan gives him (and Satan will endue him with such energy as never has been possessed before by man upon the earth), putting forth all power, and signs, and lying wonders. The consequence will be that the Jews, who characteristically look out for external tokens and prodigies, will accept and worship him as both Messiah and Jehovah their God in Jerusalem.
This is the person who, as 2 Thess. 2 warns us, is to come, as well as the apostasy. With him first of all will the shining forth of the Lord Jesus deal; though the day of the Lord will take in the whole course of judgements, from its first destruction of the enemy's power on earth till the end of the thousand years. All this period will be for the display of divine glory, but conspicuously in the execution of judgement from time to time on those that oppose themselves. Thus, of the other enemies of Jehovah, the chief is Daniel's king of the north, or, as other prophets designate him, the Assyrian scourge that comes down upon Ephraim. Clearly he is an enemy that rises up against the people and the land; whereas Antichrist will reign in the land, being there received by the Jews, and probably a Jew himself, for otherwise he could hardly hope to pass himself as Messiah. But the other external enemy, though he may set up to understand dark sentences (Dan. 8:23), takes, of course, an antagonistic attitude, as a fierce king and mighty man of craft.
From Isa. 28-29 we hear of two attacks on Jerusalem in the coming day. First of all the enemy assails Ephraim, entering the Holy Land from the north, on which occasion he has it all his own way. He humbles the pride of Ephraim, and is allowed of God to gain a partial success over Jerusalem also. "Therefore hear the word of Jehovah, ye scornful men, that rule this people which [is] in Jerusalem. For ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol are we at agreement: when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come to us; for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves. Therefore thus says the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I lay for foundation in Zion a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner [stone], a sure foundation: he that believes (or, trusts) shall not make haste. Judgement also will I appoint for a line, and righteousness for a plummet; and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding-place. And your covenant with death shall be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, ye shall be trodden down by it. As it passes through, it shall take you; for morning by morning shall it pass through, by day and by night; and it shall be terror only to understand the message. For the bed is shorter than that [one] can stretch himself; and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself. For Jehovah will rise up as [on] mount Perazim, he will be wroth as [in] the valley of Gibeon; that he may do his work, his strange work, and bring to pass his act, his unwonted act. Now therefore be ye not scorners, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord Jehovah of hosts, a consumption, and [one] determined upon the whole earth" (vv. 14-22). Was this the case in past history? Supposing you look at Sennacherib and his army (2 Kings 18), what is there like it, save as a preparatory type? Was not his power completely humbled before the Jews? (2 Kings 19). Was it not a godly son of David who then reigned at Jerusalem? Had not Ephraim been swept off years before? It is manifest and certain that Sennacherib never gained an advantage over Jerusalem; whereas this power is to be victorious in the first instance, and even in the second to reduce them to the utmost, when total ruin befalls the enemy.
Mark the language of the prophet here, "Wherefore hear the word of Jehovah, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem … I have heard from the Lord Jehovah of hosts a consumption and [one] determined upon the whole land" (or, earth). Compare with this Isaiah 10:23 in the first section of the prophecy. The fact is, when Sennacherib came of old against Jerusalem, the pious king Hezekiah ruled there who, instead of making a covenant with death, implored the help of Jehovah against the scornful king of Assyria. The result was that the angel of Jehovah smote the host of Assyria, so that there fell no less than 185,000. Save that the Assyrian will once more oppose the Jews, there is scarce a feature in the past which is not the reverse of what we have here.
Let rationalists, if they will, conclude that the book (for the Spirit of God they deny) has made a mistake; believers may be assured that it mainly looks onward to the judgements of the last days. Indolent readers, unintelligent or prejudiced commentators, may slur over the distinctive points of the prophecy, turning what they can to moral profit. But if a man follows out the matter closely, he must accept the truth of the future or become a rationalist, that is, an infidel. It is perfectly certain that nothing which approaches the prediction has yet occurred. Therefore the only legitimate inference to be drawn from it is, either that the prophecy is yet to be fulfilled, or that the pseudo-prophet was guilty of a lie or a flourish. The Christian, on the contrary, believes that God has written nothing in vain, and that every word, not yet accomplished, must be fulfilled to the letter; among the rest this wonderful dealing in which God is to make "the land of beauty" the grave of man's pride and power.
Then God will appear for the everlasting deliverance of poor Israel. And that very people, now so proverbial for their obstinate rejection of Christ, will go forth zealously spreading the tidings of divine mercy to the ends of the earth. What an evident contrast with that which exists now! Israel will be brought into their own land and blessed there, when Jehovah of hosts shall reign in mount Zion. Now God has no land that is more particularly holy. The land, holy in His purpose, is (1896) the possession of the Turk. It is still largely a waste country, though proofs of fertility are not wanting in the midst of barrenness. How is so vast a change to be brought about? When consummated, God will lead Israel to build a magnificent temple. The priests, the sons of Zadok, shall minister in due order. The land shall be divided among the twelve tribes after a new fashion. This and more we know from the last chapters of the prophet Ezekiel. Indeed abundant proofs are manifest elsewhere to any person moderately acquainted with the prophecies.
At present the characteristics are, Israel rejected, the Gentiles called, the church formed in union with Christ on high and by the Holy Ghost here below, in which church is neither Jew nor Gentile. Thus the character of blessing for man is entirely altered. Instead of outward honour resting upon the Jews, they are cast out and dispersed, and have yet to pass through a fiery tribulation at the close. We are God's people, His children now, not they. Peace in Christ is ours, but in the world we have tribulation. In the days that are at hand all will be changed: God, instead of rejecting the Jews, will again choose them to stand forth in their own land, converting them to Himself, quenching all tendency to rest on ordinances, and taking idols for ever away; whereas they formerly and persistently mixed up idols with the worship of Jehovah, later and worse still they rejected their own and His Christ.
Plainly therefore a new state of things must have come in. The prophecies may take us down to the change; but how is the change itself to be brought about? By more tremendous judgements on Israel, and especially on their enemies, than the world has ever witnessed; not only on a great nation, but on the east and west, their old enemies, represented in their descendants. All nations of the earth, in short, will have their representatives there and then. The result will be that God will judge all the nations, at length blessing His ancient people according to the promises He had assured to the fathers, then accomplished to the children. In order to bring about this change, not only must there be an execution of judgement, but also the removal of the heavenly saints to be with the Lord above. As long as the church goes on here below, it is impossible, morally speaking, that God could accomplish these events of a wholly contrasted character. For it is contrary to all analogy that God would act upon two opposite principles at the same time. For instance, how could God both give and withhold outward honour for a Jew? How form the church at the same time that He restores and owns Israel? If a Jew were to believe now, he, baptised by the Holy Ghost, becomes a member of Christ's body; whereas what we find in the prophets is, that a godly Jew in the last days remains a Jew. The Lord will quicken his soul, no doubt; but he will be found in his own land, where, instead of suffering, he will be blessed in earthly things. Thus it is an altogether different state here below. To this the New Testament supplies the key. Before Jehovah begins thus to work in Israel, the church is removed to heaven.
Hence in the Revelation the great initiatory lesson is taught, that when "the things that are" (or the seven churches) terminate, when those that truly believe now are seen glorified with the Lord in heaven, then (Rev. 7) God takes up a new work among Israel and the Gentiles, who will be, both of them blessed, but even so, presented as distinct from each other. Without doubt the Jews will return to their land in unbelief, and Satan will induce them to install a man as their Messiah who will draw them by degrees to worship himself and an idol in the temple of God. Some might think it strange to assert that these civilised and christianised nations, which count it impossible that the educated could worship idols or the Antichrist, should fall into these very snares. But scripture is explicit, that those who now boast of progress, knowledge, and religion will at that time fall into idolatry and the anti-Christian pit. All western Europe will be drawn into perdition with the mass of the Jews. God will have previously translated to heaven all properly called Christians. Then the apostasy will take place, though in the midst of this fearful evil the Spirit of God will work, specially among certain of the Jews, who will go through this scene faithful to God, some being killed for the truth, and others surviving in the flesh — a remnant God will reserve to Himself to make of it the nucleus of a new Israel. The Lord Jesus will appear in the midst of this lawlessness, and will execute judgement upon the ungodly, preserving the spared remnant who thereon become the chosen means of spreading the knowledge of Jehovah's glory for the millennial age.
When the Holy Ghost says, "Because ye have said, we have made a covenant with death" (v. 15), we are not to suppose that this is to be taken as if they confessed it. God is rather exposing their real mind in its evil and ruin. They may boast of their covenant, but they do not know it is with Sheol. They are deceived to accept a false Messiah, whose power will turn out to be of Satan; but they are ignorant of the cheat. Jews would not openly say that they had entered into a compact with the devil: a man must be in an extraordinary state of blindness and defiance of God in order to own such a thing. Nor does the word of God at all limit us to such an interpretation. The reference, one may suppose, is to those that enter into a covenant to save themselves from the king of the north. It appears to be a compact entered into between the false prophet and the Beast. The power that scripture designates as the Beast is the emperor of the west, the last Roman ruler when that empire re-appears.
There was a living man, even of late, said to have his mind set on some such scheme: it is a notorious fact, that within the last few years the project had entered into the brain of one who proved that an idea was apt to govern him. Nor is it absolutely new, this yearning after the reorganisation of the empire, with Rome for its capital. The plan is not to overthrow other European nations, but to make them subject kingdoms, each having its king, under one supreme head. That this was the theory of a recent monarch, there can be no more question than that it was the idea of another before him. I may add, that he, too, like his predecessor, meddled with the affairs of the Holy Land, and that both sought to have a hold of Rome. Some of us have held these interpretations of the prophecies long before the war of the holy places or the possession of Rome. They were thoughts derived not from political events, but from scripture, the shadows of coming events. Plainly then a great power shall arise, in scripture called "the Beast" or the revived Roman empire, with this peculiar form, that instead of putting aside the various kings of Europe, it will allow of separate kingdoms under him, nominally independent but really dictated to by the emperor. He accordingly will be the contracting party with the apostate Jews, in concert with their king the Antichrist; the emperor of the west being the political head, as the prophet-king will be the spiritual head of Christendom (then properly Antichristendom). Thus Jerusalem, which has been the cradle of professing Christendom, will be its grave. As to the particular person who will effect all this one says nothing. He shall be revealed in his own time. The great point is the manifestation of the chiefs at Jerusalem and Rome. Rome will be the centre of an earthly empire, with separate but dependent kings in western Europe, each having their kingdom subject to the one head. This is one feature. The other is, that many Jews will be in their own land, and will be allowed to form a kingdom; and that this will bring them into the hands, not of Christ, but of Antichrist.
When the Jews are there, the rest of the great drama will follow; they will soon have its predicted leader. Then comes the scene spoken of here. In order to strengthen themselves against the great northern oppressor, or the overflowing scourge, they enter into a covenant with "the Beast." In vain do they think to escape. At this very time God will raise to Himself the hearts of a little band of faithful Jews, who will feel assured that the wicked prince cannot be their Messiah; that the true God is a holy God; that His servant, their promised King, must be, not the man of sin but of true righteousness. The false Messiah they refuse, their hearts in penitence cry, Blessed is He that comes in the name of Jehovah. These are here individually spoken of as "he that believes" (v. 16). The rest plot, make preparations, and hope to be saved from the overflowing scourge. But no; God will permit the mass to be trodden down (vv. 17-20). They shall in no wise escape. The first attack upon Jerusalem is to be successful. In the next chapter we see a very different result, when the people in the city have been purged and Jehovah interferes. (Compare Zech. 12 — 14)
Thus Jerusalem is the great battle-field of the nations, and the main platform of the judgements of God. We do not speak now about the last eternal judgement — the great white throne; for this has nothing to do with the earth. Heaven and earth will have fled away before that. Remember there is to be a judgement of the habitable earth, not only a judgement of the dead, but also and previously of the quick. Every baptised man professes that Christ is coming to judge the quick and the dead. How few truly understand and believe it! All its acts will not take place at the same time. One form of the judgement of the quick comes before us here. The reason why Jerusalem becomes the scene of God's judgements on the nations is that Jerusalem, Judah, and the people of Israel are the chosen centre of God among the nations. In the latter day He will resume His former relations with Israel, though on a better and everlasting ground.
What solemn words in vers. 14-22 for the scornful men ruling in Jerusalem! In vain do they plead past favour or present privileges. Jehovah should rise up to do His work, His strange work, and accomplish His act, His strange act. He loves not vengeance but mercy. But mockers are odious: most of all in Zion. A consumption, therefore, is determined upon the whole earth. He is the same unchanging God: let them not presume because of His long-suffering.
Even with man it is not always ploughing, nor always time to sow. Threshing comes at last, and in divers modes and measures. So will it be in God's judgement of the earth. "Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech. Doth the ploughman plough all day to sow? doth he [all day] open and break the clods of his ground? When he has made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad dill, and scatter cummin, and set the wheat in rows and the barley in an appointed place and the rye in the border thereof? His God doth instruct him in judgement, he doth teach him. For the dill is not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cartwheel turned about upon the cummin; but dill is beaten out with a staff, and cummin with a rod. Bread [corn] is ground; for he will not ever be threshing it; and though he drive the wheel of his cart and his horses [over it], he would not grind it. This also comes forth from Jehovah of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel, great in wisdom" (vv. 23-29). The discipline of the people under the mighty hand and the profound wisdom of Jehovah had been in vain through their unbelief. The dull earth yielded far better fruit to the husbandman. But the day of Jehovah is yet to come, and hastens. For yet a very little while He that comes will come and will not tarry. And every righteous one shall live by faith.
As the present chapter was to some extent anticipated in the remarks on the preceding one, one may speak the more briefly now. It opens with the final siege of Jerusalem by "the Assyrian," so familiar in the prophecies. "Woe to (or, Ho!) Ariel, to Ariel, the city of David's encampment! Add ye year to year; let the feasts come round. Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be sorrow and sadness; and it shall be to me as an Ariel" (vv. 1, 2). By Ariel, the lion of God, is meant Jerusalem, which the proud stranger menaces with destruction. Spite of great names and associations of the past, it is actually brought down into deep distress. Delay should not hinder its humiliation. Feasts or sacrifices should not avert the storm. God's indignation is in question, and not yet ended: still it abides to Him as Ariel, brought justly and utterly low, yet His lion. "And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege against thee with watchposts, and I will raise forts against thee. And thou shalt be brought low, thou shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall come low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be as of one that has a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust" (vv. 3, 4). That is, agony of terror would produce effects similar to the tone or language affected by those who dealt with spirits. "And the multitude of thine enemies shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the terrible ones [shall be] as chaff that passes away: and it shall be at an instant, suddenly. Thou shalt be visited by Jehovah of hosts with thunder and with earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest and the flame of devouring fire" (vv. 5, 6).
It must be plain, I think, how entirely all this falls in with and confirms the reference to the great king of the north in the time of the end. Sennacherib was but a type. Hence the commentators, not seeing this, stumble in hopeless perplexity. Some, applying it to the typical enemy, cannot get over the fact that Isaiah himself expressly predicts (as was the fact, of course) that Sennacherib should not come into the city of Jerusalem, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with a shield, nor cast a bank against it. (See Isa. 37:33). Others, again, suppose the Roman siege to be intended, but this, it is evident, is still more flatly contradicted by Jehovah's intervention at the last gasp to the deliverance of Jerusalem and the utter overthrow of their enemies. In fact it is the future siege at the close of this age, when the great confederacy of the north-eastern nations shall be broken after a previous success against the Jews. The reader can compare Zech. 12 — 14, which bear on the same events; also Ps. 83; Ps. 110:2, 6; Micah 4:11, Micah 5:4-15; and the end of Daniel 11 compared with the beginning of Daniel 12.
The next verses, 7, 8, strengthen this conclusion. "And the multitude of all the nations that war against Ariel, even all that war against her and her fortifications, and that distress her shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when the hungry [man] dreams, and, behold, he eats; but he awakes, and his soul is empty; or as when the thirsty dreams, and, behold, he drinks; but he awakes, and, behold, [he is] faint, and his soul craves: so shall be the multitude of all the nations that war against mount Zion" (vv. 7, 8). Calvin's notion that they were the various garrisons which the Jews brought in from elsewhere to defend their capital, and that they are threatened with being useless refuse, is quite unworthy of his reputation. It is a clear prediction of the destruction of their foes at the last, led on by him who was prefigured by the Assyrian. They shall be as disappointed of their prey as a hungry or thirsty man who wakes up from his imaginary feast.
The prophet then turns to describe the moral condition of the Jews themselves, and the blind infatuation that ensued. For such a trial as God thus brought on them will have its ground in their evil state, whatever may be His mercy and its rejoicing against judgement in the end. "Be ye amazed and astonished; infatuate yourselves and be blind: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For Jehovah has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers, has he covered. And all the vision is become to you as the words of a book that is sealed, which they deliver to one that can read, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he says, I cannot; for it is sealed. And the book is delivered to him that cannot read, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he says I cannot read" (vv. 9-12). Israel were spiritually blind to God's lessons. Judicial sleep oppressed all: learned or simple made no difference.
Alas! they were formalists and hypocrites taught by the precept of men, as certainly as they avowed their ignorance of God's word. Therefore by God's sentence their wisdom should perish. "And the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw nigh with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught of men: therefore, behold, I will proceed to do marvellously among this people, to do marvellously even with wonder; and the wisdom of their wise [men] shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent ones shall be hid" (vv. 13, 14). In vain their efforts to hide from the Lord or be independent of Him. God, after all, remains God, and man is but as clay in the hand of the potter. "Woe to them that hide deep their counsel far from Jehovah! And their works are in the dark, and they say, Who sees us? and who knows us? Ye turn things upside down! Shall the potter be counted as clay; so that the thing made should say of him that made it, He made me not; or the thing formed say of him that formed it, He has no understanding?" (vv. 15, 16). If this be solemnly true, it is full of blessed comfort. For "[Is] it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest? And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and out of obscurity and out of darkness the eyes of the blind shall see; and the meek shall increase their joy in Jehovah, and the needy among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. For the terrible one shall come to naught, and the scorner shall be no more, and all that watch for iniquity shall be cut off, that make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproves in the gate, and turn aside the just for naught" (vv. 17-21).
Soon all will be reversed: not only the lofty Assyrian be abased, and humbled Israel be exalted, but the culpable insensibility of the people give place to spiritual understanding and earnestness. Sweet traits of the Spirit should find increase of blessing and joy: violence, scorn, and iniquity be judged and vanish. "Therefore thus says Jehovah Who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale. But when he sees his children the work of my hands, in the midst of him, they shall sanctify my name, and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall stand in awe of the God of Israel. They also that err in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmur (or, the disobedient) shall learn doctrine" (vv. 22-24).
It is clear that both the external deliverance and the internal work of spiritual blessing in spiritual intelligence indicate a time and a state which have never yet been realised for Israel. The day of Jehovah is in view, of which the sudden overthrow of Tartan and Rab-saris was but a proximate sign. Never yet has the blind stupor lifted from the heart of the people and its rulers, but wrought deeper sin and worse desolation. But the day is at hand which will verify the prophetic word to the full.
There is a topic here which has been scantily noticed hitherto, on which the Spirit of God enlarges much. Inasmuch as it comes before us in this chapter, a few words may well be said on it — the moral condition of Israel, as proved and brought home to them by the revelation of God. For what we have all throughout this section is not merely deliverance, nor this in His grace only, during a time of ruin, but also the righteous Lord proving that He loves righteousness. There was a cause for the proof that the condition of Israel was morally unbearable to God. Blindness was there, religious and finally judicial blindness. This condition is traced by the Spirit in a variety of ways. We will look briefly at what we have before us here.
The first feature of their evil which draws out the indignation of God is that His people should go down into Egypt; that a people blessed of God and possessing promises of still better blessings than they ever tasted, with which they are yet to be blessed by God's own grace in the last days — the best possible blessings for a people upon earth — that such a people should go down into Egypt for help, was not only debasing to themselves, but also peculiarly dishonouring to God. Hence the Holy Ghost now, having shown us their deliverance, goes back and indicates from what they were delivered. God brings out one character of evil after another, and shows that the necessary issue of it was destruction. Yet He brings them out of all their distresses, and at length blesses them fully as His own people. It is peculiarly comforting to read of the ways of God, how He is not only a deliverer from dangers, from outward enemies, from Satan, but also from every form of sin. He does not in any wise gloss over moral evil, for chapter after chapter brings it out, though, as the effect of its judgement, Israel seemed ready to be swallowed up. But as the dark side thus appears so on the other God is seen interfering in grace, plucking their feet out of the net, setting the dispersed in their own land, and securing the triumph of His own grace as well as righteousness. For this cause, "Woe to the rebellious children, says Jehovah that take counsel but not of me, and that make leagues, but not by my Spirit, that they may heap sin upon sin" (v. 1). It is a solemn thing to read such words as these, and still more so to think how applicable they may be to ourselves. Even as children of God, the proneness of our hearts is to act according to our own judgements; for the flesh in the Christian is not a whit better than in any other man. Whenever there is a listening to ourselves, we may be sure the same character of evil is at work that the Spirit of Jehovah was rebuking in Israel.
What for Israel was going down into Egypt is to us the taking counsel not of God but of natural wisdom in any difficulty. It was the same fleshly wisdom which Israel sought and of this Egypt is the symbol in the ancient world. No country in the early history of men was so distinguished for the wisdom of nature as Egypt. In later days Greece and Rome sprang up, but that was long after the time to which this vision applied as an historical fact. They were at first little more than a number of contentious hordes. No such wisdom was found anywhere to the same extent as in Egypt. The great Assyrian who invaded Israel was characterized not so much by wisdom as by vast resources and appliances in the way of strength. Egypt depended mainly on good counsel, as if there were no living God — on the counsel of man sharpened by long experience, for it was one of the oldest powers that attained eminence. Accordingly, as they had been versed in the statecraft of the ancient world, they had an immense reputation for their familiarity with means of dealing in national difficulties, peace, plenty, etc.
Israel, when threatened by the Assyrian, sought the help of Egypt: I am speaking now of the literal fact when this prophecy first applied. Though it did bear on the days of Isaiah, yet the character of the prophecy shows that it cannot be limited to that time: only a very small part of it was accomplished then. But between the two terms of Israel's past and future unfaithfulness in turning to the wisdom of the world in their troubles, there is a serious lesson for us in the pressure of any trial that concerns the testimony of God. The tendency is immense to meet a worldly trial in a worldly way. That you cannot meet the world's efforts against you by spiritual means is what one is apt to think; so there is the danger of recourse to earthly means for the purpose of escape. What is this but the same thing that we find here? And yet who that feels for the children of God and for the truth, but knows the danger of this? Be sure, if we do not feel the danger, it is because we are ourselves under the world's influence. The feeling of the danger, the dread of our own spirits, the fear lest we should meet flesh by flesh, is what God uses to make us look to Himself. God will never put His seal on self-dependence; on the contrary, the great lesson the whole life of Christ teaches is the very reverse. He lived for the Father; so "he that eats Him shall live for Him." It is in dependence upon another, even Christ, as our object that the joy and strength and wisdom of the Christian are found. This we gather before the difficulty comes. Then "I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).
Where we often fail is through acting from impulse. If we think to plan, instead of praying in real subjection to God, we need to fear for ourselves. What is rendered in 1 Tim. 2:1 "intercession," and in 1 Tim. 4:5 "prayer," means such intercourse with God as admits of confiding appeal to Him. We can thus freely and personally speak to Him about all things, now that through the one Mediator we know Him as a Saviour-God, Who has first spoken to us in grace, and given us the access we have into this grace wherein we stand. Is it not, then, an outrage on the God Who has thus opened His ear to us if we look to fleshly means? And yet who does not know that this is the very thing to which perhaps, more than any other, the wise and prudent are prone?
In this way it seems that the moral lesson of this chapter is to be seen — it is taking counsel, but not of Jehovah. Hence God caused the land of Egypt to become the means of deeply aggravating their evil. "Woe to the rebellious children, says Jehovah, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering (or, as some prefer, that make leagues), but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin; that walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be a shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt a confusion. For his princes are at Zoan, and his ambassadors are come to Hanes. They shall all be ashamed of a people [that] cannot profit them, that are not a help nor profit, but a shame, and also a reproach" (vv. 1-5). His princes mean those of God's people, as the next chapter proves decisively. The prophet's irony thus expresses itself.
"The burden of the beasts of the south. Through the land of trouble and anguish, from whence [come] the lioness and the lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the bunches of camels, to a people [that] shall not profit. For Egypt helps in vain, and to no purpose: therefore have I called her Rahab (or, Arrogance) that sits still" (vv. 6, 7). Not man's pride, but God's guidance avails for His people.
If we examine the New Testament for our guidance in these difficulties, we shall find just the same truth. If the apostle is speaking merely about the ordinary trials of each day, we have the same lesson in other words. Thus he tells us we are to let our moderation be known to all men, the Lord being at hand; that instead of being careful or anxious about anything (not that we are to be careless, but not to be careful in the sense of anxiety), our requests should be made known to God with thanksgiving.
Our strength, it is said, is in quiet confidence. Christians have a right to expect God to appear for us; He has entitled us to count on it. We may be perfectly sure, it matters not what the circumstances are; even supposing there has been something to judge in ourselves, if one tell it out to God, will not He listen? He cannot deny Himself. He must deny him that slights the name of Christ (2 Tim. 2:12-13). Where He now puts to shame, it is in our self-will; so far from His putting shame on such being a proof that He does not love them, it is precisely the proof that He does. But at the same time, let men venture to go beyond what God sees good for the discipline of His child, He soon takes up the rod; and there can be nothing more terrible than when the adversary exceeds the chastening that is just, gratifying his hatred toward them. For God will rise up in His indignation, and deal with them according to His own majesty; even the grace of the gospel does not set aside that. For instance, see 2 Tim. 4:14. If persons bearing the Lord's name are carried away by their fleshly zeal, and fight against the truth of God or those charged with the proclamation of that truth, God may use them for dealing with faults in His people. God knows how to bring down His people where their looks are high because of anything in themselves, or that grace has conferred upon them. But when the limit of right rebuke is exceeded, woe be to those that fight against them, covering their own vindictiveness or envy under God's name! It is evident that the very grace of the gospel makes it to be so much the more conspicuous; for it sounds so much the more tremendous that God should thus deal in the midst of all that speaks so loudly of His love.
The Gospels also bring out, in the words of our Lord Himself, the wickedness of fighting against what God is doing even by poor weak disciples. This is the great lesson for us; we are not to consult our own heart or have recourse to the strength of man. When we flee to the various resources of the flesh, we slip out of our proper Christian path. Whereas the strength of God has indeed shone in that foundation-pattern in which all the blessing of grace to sinners is contained; and it always takes this form for a Christian, and that is, death and resurrection. There may very likely be a great pressure of trial; there may soon appear a sinking down under it; but as surely as there is the semblance of death, there will be the reality of resurrection by-and-by. Let no one be disheartened. The cross is the right mould for the blessing of the children of God. When we were brought to Him, was it not after the same sort? We knew what it was to have the horrors of the conviction of sin; but God was going to bring us for the first time into a place of special blessing.
It has always been so with His own. We find it in the case of Abraham, and in proportion to the greatness of blessing is the force of sorrow that precedes it. Isaac was given when Abraham was a hundred years old, and Sarah as good as dead. There was death, as it were, and he had to wait for a son. Even after the birth and growth of the child of promise, he had to surrender him, to offer up his only son to God. Directly that the singleness and truth of his heart was proved, and that the sacrifice was in principle offered up, the angel of Jehovah arrests his hand. How much sweeter now, when Isaac was, as it were, the child of resurrection! And so it is with all our blessings, it matters not what they may be. There must be the breaking down of our feelings, the mortification of self in a practical way, if we are to know what God is in blessing: our blessings are cast in the mould of death and resurrection.
The way by which come all our blessings, is in Him Who is dead and risen. To be blessed practically we must morally go through the same process. There comes the frustration of all natural hopes, the blasting of all the objects we desire. When God visits us in His faithfulness with trial, the first thing man seeks is to escape. Israel goes down into Egypt, instead of looking up in the confidence that God is the giver of wisdom and of power. They go down to the land of human wisdom and ability. Were there no God, were they not His people, it would have been intelligible; but as it is, what folly! Yet is it the folly of our own hearts. Are we not conscious of it? Beware lest it be, because we are so accustomed to forget it, that we do not realise the humbling truth. We need to consider it more deeply to profit by this lesson. Their strength is quiet confidence instead of hurrying down into Egypt. "Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever. For it is a rebellious people, lying children, children [that] will not hear the law of Jehovah; that say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not to us right things, speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits: get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us" (vv. 8-11). Those that wait not on Him for His power must feel the power of His enemies and theirs.
"For ever and ever" (v. 8) it was to be graven in a book that they were "children that will not hear the law of Jehovah" (v. 9). That was even the last of all; rebellion could be forgiven, lying children could be made ashamed of their lies. "Prophesy not to us right things" (v. 10), that is, things according to God. We are not to suppose that they actually said these words. We often read in the Gospels that Jesus answered in many cases where not a single question was put to Him. Why does the Spirit of God say Jesus answered, when He was not asked? Because He knew the thoughts of their hearts. He answered not what they said, for they said nothing; but what He knew they would say if they dared, what He knew was at work within.
So here, Israel may not say it in so many words, but it is what God saw and knew to be the truth of what they were feeling and doing. They did not like the truth which brought before them their rebellion and lies; they endeavoured to get out of the way and reach of the truth. God was in none of their thoughts. Why not use the best resources of men, now that God did not work miracles for them? Whereas, in truth, God had called out Israel for this — to be the manifestation of a people whose strength was in Jehovah; to be the witness of how blessed it is thus nationally to trust the living God in all their public dealings and in their domestic life. All was to be regulated by the law of Jehovah (which is the technical term for the Old Testament). They were to be the practical exemplification of the blessedness of a people and land in such a case.
To go down into Egypt was to give up God for man: if they had asked counsel, they well knew God would never send them down to Egypt, out of which He had brought them. But they did not seek counsel, they act before they ask, and may have then prayed about it. But what is it to pray for God to bless what we are doing in self-will? Let us ask Him what He would have us to do before we act. It may be that God would have us to do nothing, or possibly give us counsel through one of His children. For God does not intend us to be so many independent lines that never unite, though they may closely approach. He works by Christ's members; He purposes to make us feel that we are members one of another; but whatever may be the value of any one's counsel, each must be responsible to God. The danger is of putting another in the place of God. Men do not value a man more for this, because when we are self-willed and our counsellor is firm for good, the speedy consequence will be that he who stood in the place of God one day may seem to stand almost in the place of the devil the next. This is the flesh — apt to deify the creature one day, and to demonize it the next.
What we have to seek then is to look up to God; and this is just why the first word is here, "returning and rest." But there was more besides. In the chapter before, the point was the word of God, which the flesh treated as a sealed book; but God must be waited on as well as His word. He never intended scripture to be taken apart from Himself; over and above the Bible is God Himself. Not that God can ever be against His word, but He is the only power of entering into the application of it. For the Bible is not only for me to look down into: I must look up to God. I am not intended to read it merely as a book of true stories or good sermons, still less of enigmas to solve by wit or learning, but as the voice of the living God to my soul. When one reads it in true subjection to Him, the relation and attitude of the soul is totally changed; you are delivered from the danger of bending the word of God to your own mind and will. Whereas, when the word leads you out in prayer to God, then it is neither the word without prayer, nor prayer without the word; both of which habits are exceedingly dangerous, one leading to rationalism, as the other does to fanaticism. Hence, says the apostle, "I commend you to God and to the word of his grace" (Acts 20:32). We need to wait upon God that we may gather profit from His word, and ever to lean on Him for His grace that we may with simplicity and faithfulness carry it out in the Spirit.
Here Israel had failed, as we see in Isa. 29. So now in Isa. 30 they flee down to the nearest neighbour that could help by human prudence, slighting God's wisdom and the grace which entitled them to cast themselves on Him for it. Were they not a people that should dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations? "Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, Because ye reject this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon, therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking comes suddenly in an instant. And he shall break it as the breaking of a potter's vessel that is broken in pieces without sparing; and there shall not be found in the pieces of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth or to take water out of the cistern" (vv. 12-14).
Such was Egypt. The flesh is habitually fraudulent and perverse. But God judges it in His own. It is ever restless and pretends to something. It may look imposing, but it is ready to crumble from top to bottom, and is doomed of God. "For thus says the Lord Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength; but ye would not. And ye said, No, for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift [Egypt's resources of common sense]; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift. One thousand [shall flee] at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on a hill" (vv. 15-17). God would make them a signal example, and show that the resources they trusted were only so many nets in which they were to be snared. Had they sought to flee? They should flee in terror. Had they sought help to swiftly escape? Swift should be the vengeance of their foes. God constantly makes the earthly object of trust to be the rod for the fool's back.
What is the answer of the Lord when He comes to this? Nothing can be stronger than His condemnation. But if He deals sternly with His faulty people here, is it not always for blessing in the end? If God exposes His children, pulls them down from the seat of pride, brings them into trouble from those they prefer to Himself in some extremity, it is the real action of His great grace. To return to Him even with broken bones is blessed. How magnificent is the burst of the prophet! "And therefore will Jehovah wait, that he may be gracious to you, and therefore will he lift himself up [not to cut off Israel, but] that he may have mercy upon you; for Jehovah [is] a God of judgement: blessed [are] all they that wait for him. For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem. Thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious to thee at the voice of thy cry; as he hears it, he will answer thee. And the Lord will give you the bread of adversity, and the water of oppression; yet shall not thy teachers be hidden any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers. And when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left, thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This [is] the way, walk ye in it" (vv. 18-21). He had let all this trouble fall upon His people; He had Himself waited and been exalted; and why? That He might be gracious. The enemy might prove his malice, and they their weak and guilty preference of flesh to Himself; and He allowed it all to take place that He might have nothing to do but to take them out of the pit into which they had fallen, and bless them as they had never been blessed before, at length without hindrance to the outflow of all His love. He waits for them, and though He seem to tarry, it is to enrich them with a still greater blessing. They should be morally restored, too, and take vengeance on what had seduced their hearts in previous times. "And ye shall defile the silver covering of thy graven images, and the gold overlaying of thy molten images; thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; Out! shalt thou say to it" (v. 22).
Outward happiness follows here below, and inward blessing and glory from above. For Jehovah asserts the rights of His grace, when His people, all wrong, have been chastened in adversity, and returned to Him in heart.
"And he will give the rain of thy seed, with which thou shalt sow the ground; and bread, the produce of the ground, and it shall be fat and plenteous. In that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures; and the oxen and the young asses that till the ground shall eat salted provender, which has been winnowed with the shovel and with the fan. And there shall be upon every high mountain, and upon every high hill, brooks, water-courses, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. And the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that Jehovah binds up the breach of his people, and heals the stroke of their wound" (vv. 23-26).
Such is the deliverance which God will work for Israel; but what about the Assyrian? Israel are blessed, but not yet the Assyrian judged; Israel had been wrong, but the Assyrian had been merciless. God had dealt with Israel; now He must deal with their foes, as we are told in Isa. 10:12. "When the Lord has performed His whole work on mount Zion," then will He bring down the Assyrian. "Behold, the name of Jehovah comes from far, burning [with] his anger, and a grievous conflagration: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire; and his breath as an overflowing stream, that reaches even to the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity; and a bridle that causes to err [shall be] in the jaws of the peoples" (vv. 27, 28). The foe will not know that it is God Who is guiding them to the Holy Land, but think they are going to have the land and the people an easy prey: God, on the contrary, is going to meet them there, and avenge His people. "Ye shall have a song as in the night a holy feast is kept; and gladness of heart, as of one going with a pipe to come to the mountain of Jehovah, to the Rock of Israel" (v. 29). This is even more than there had been when Egypt was judged; Israel could then eat the lamb but with bitter herbs. Not so in the day which is coming; it is not that part of the passover that this is referred to, but the song of their holy festival. "And Jehovah will cause his glorious voice to be heard, and will show the lighting down of his arm, with indignation of anger, and a flame of devouring fire, [with] a crashing and tempest and hailstones" (v. 30).
It is not a mere providential judgement — God from a distance acting and merely raising up one people to destroy another. The intervention of God shall be manifested, an unmistakable display of divine judgement. "For through the voice of Jehovah shall the Assyrian be broken in pieces, he will smite with a rod. And every stroke of the appointed staff, which Jehovah shall lay upon him, shall be with tabrets and harps; and in battles of shaking will he fight with them" (vv. 31, 32). It is the staff of God's correction, which shall deal to the bitter end with the Assyrian. For Israel such joy and gladness shall follow as never had been tasted heretofore. So manifestly is God espousing their cause, that it will be with the loftiest music of praise and every sign of confidence in God. Has this ever, since Isaiah, been accomplished in Palestine? Was it heard there even at the time of Sennacherib? Israel was already in captivity, and Judah was soon swept away by the king of Babylon. Here we have triumph, peace, blessing, and glory. The mighty power of God will have destroyed their enemies for ever. There must then be a fuller accomplishment than the prophecy has yet received.
But it is not to be a mere devastation. "For Topheth [is] prepared of old; for the king also it is prepared; he has made [it] deep [and] large: the pile thereof fire and much wood; the breath of Jehovah, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it" (v. 33). Tophet is ordained: this shows clearly when and how it will be. Tophet is the figure of the judgement on God's part that is coming. It should be "for the king also," not "yea, for the king." That little change has done much mischief in confounding two important personages. Nobody need deny that the word translated "yea" may be rightly so in certain cases; but the natural meaning of it is either "and" or "also," and the latter is just what is required here. His declaration is, that Tophet is ordained not for "the Assyrian" only, but also for "the king." The king and the Assyrian are so totally different and opposed that it was needful to reveal the same doom for both. The mistranslation was because our translators did not know the difference, but fancied the king and the Assyrian to be one and the same.
"The king" is that false Messiah who will be found with the Jews in the last days. Received in his own name, he will be accepted as the true Anointed, but he is the devil's Messiah. And the consequence is that God's fire or Tophet is prepared for him. The point here is that God will prepare the same fire for both of them; not only for the hostile Assyrian, but for the leader of Judah's wickedness, "the king." For him the fire of Tophet is prepared as well as for his enemy, the Assyrian. God in this marvellous manner, and not waiting for the day of eternity, will cast him directly into hell, even before the devil himself. Lest we might think that he is the only one, it is said, "for the king also"; for this personage, who is to reign over the apostate Jews, will also be singled out of God to be dealt with in the same way. Figurative expressions may be used, but they are figures of a terrible reality which Christendom has long forgotten. The more urgent is the need that the believer should wake up to his fuller confession of the truth, in a day when men sink down in a self-complacent dream of an onward progress for the earth, the ritualist being as besotted as the rationalist. "Behold, the Judge stands before the door."
The chapter now coming before us is a brief moral comment on, or a compressed rehearsal of Isa. 30. "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help, and stay on horses; and trust in chariots, because [they are] many, and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not to the Holy One of Israel, neither seek Jehovah!" (v. 1). How touchingly the prophet warns of the danger through Egypt as defection from Jehovah! "But he also [is] wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words [which Israel vainly would escape], and he will arise against the house of the evildoers [Israelitish or not] and against the help of them that work iniquity. Now the Egyptians [are] men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit: and Jehovah shall stretch out his hand, and he that helps shall stumble, and he that is helped shall fall, and they all shall perish together" (vv. 2, 3).
Jehovah's protection over the righteous would be proved in the day when He judged the helpers and the helped. Their material resources were great, their political wisdom famous; but where were they in that which is highest and alone enduring? The true God was in none of their thoughts. They were the most besotted of creature-worshippers. From Zion, not heaven only, He will deal. It is the day of open intervention here anticipated. "For thus says Jehovah to me, Like as the lion growls, and the young lion over his prey, if a multitude of shepherds be called forth against him, he will not be dismayed at their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so will Jehovah of hosts come down to war upon mount Zion, and upon the hill thereof. As birds hovering, so will Jehovah of hosts cover Jerusalem: covering he will also deliver, [and] passing over, he will rescue [it]. Turn ye to [him from] whom, O children of Israel, ye have deeply revolted. For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made to you [for] a sin. And the Assyrian shall fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him; and he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall become tributary. And his rock shall pass away by reason of fear, and his princes shall be dismayed at the ensign, says Jehovah, whose fire [is] in Zion. and his furnace in Jerusalem" (vv.4-9).
The commentators naturally are perplexed who look not beyond Sennacherib; for though his host was smitten by the angel of Jehovah, and this might in some measure meet the prediction, there are strong expressions which can never be satisfied, short of the great enemy at the close. Then only will be felt the force of Tophet; then only will be seen the ensign of the Divine presence and power which protects Zion and Jerusalem.
For what can be plainer than the assurance that Jehovah will in very deed appear for the deliverance of His people? Whatever has been in the past is but a pledge of the coming glory. We know as a fact that Judah did not hear any more than Israel as a whole; and that as in Christendom, so among the Jews thenceforward evil men and seducers waxed worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. Bright exceptions there were now and then; and faith working by love is never without honour from God, and fruit among men. But the general issue of old, as now, is the same sad and at times rapid and audacious declension. But the time of ultimate blessing is all the more sure. For the Lord will come quickly to receive His heavenly redeemed, and this will but give the utmost impulse to Satan's wiles and apparent victory on earth, when those who stood most opposed in the Spirit are taken out of the way, and God works in a remnant of both Israel and the nations for the kingdom soon to be displayed. Only in Isa. 31 we must hold fast that it is not a question of Antichrist sustained by the Beast or Western Empire, but of the external chief of the nations hostile to the people and their land — the Assyrian. He is not to be destroyed, like the Beast and the False Prophet by the Lord's shining forth from heaven, but by His going forth and fighting against those nations as when He fought in the day of battle. His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives. (Zech. 14) He will then deign to be in relationship with His people; of which His King set on His holy hill of Zion is the token and the glory.
The whole work being now finished at Jerusalem, Jehovah is then shown us reigning, for He and no other is the personage spoken of here. "Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgement. And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly. The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said [to be] bountiful. For the vile person will speak villainy, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise profaneness, and to utter error against Jehovah, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and to cause the drink of the thirsty to fail. The instruments also of the churl [are] evil: he devises wicked devices to destroy the meek with lying words, even when the needy speaks right. But the liberal devises liberal things; and in liberal things doth he stand" (vv. 1-8). It is no longer a question of Christianity but of the kingdom. When He reigns for Whom all believers wait, as all prophets spoke of Him, the righteous shall be called no more to suffer, but to dwell at ease. It is in view of heavenly glory, and as following Him Who passed through sufferings, that we are now called to do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently. This indeed is grace. But in the day that is coming righteousness shall be displayed by divine power here below, when Satan is set aside and Christ reigns.
This is a totally different state of things from what prevails at present, for it is grace that now reigns through righteousness to eternal life, not (so to speak) righteousness through glory in the government of the world. In the day that this chapter contemplates, the Lord Jesus will righteously take in hand the sceptre of the earth, and especially of the land of Israel. All the nations will come indirectly under His reign, because there will be one King over all the earth, not to the setting aside of others, as we know, but one supreme central government is to be then maintained. Other kings will be obliged to submit (compare Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 60:3, 10, 16) to the sway of the Lord, which will continue throughout the whole unbroken period of the millennium. It is called therefore "the everlasting kingdom," not being transferred to another, and lasting as long as the earth endures. At the end of the thousand years there will be an awful proof of man's radically unchanged condition; for the nations will then gather together against "the beloved city," the earthly Jerusalem, compassing about the camp of the saints. This will be allowed for the express purpose of proving the solemn truth that glory no more ameliorates the heart than does the present long-suffering patience of God. If judgement against evil works be not executed, men's hearts are hardened in wickedness; when God's judgements are in the earth, the world will learn righteousness. But alas! even that lesson is forgotten in time; and then is the end.
Jehovah will reign in righteousness, Whose it will be to exercise strong and beneficent government all through His day; but it will be proved once more that the heart is no more changed thereby than under the gospel now, unless renewed in conscience by the power of the Spirit. There must be the possession of a new nature. Man must be born again to see or enter the kingdom of God. It will then be evident that the new birth is requisite not merely for the heavenly glory, but even for the earthly things of that kingdom. (John 3) It is in reference to the earthly part that we hear of a king reigning in righteousness. Rev. 20:7-9 shows the total failure of this display of glory to make the heart of man one whit better. In a higher point of view, far from failure, there will he during this time an amazing exhibition of that which will bring praise to God Himself; and to this we have a reference here.
But what a proof of the selfishness of our hearts, that we do not think much about this blessed time that is coming! Not that it is not believed in; but God give us to think far more, not only of a world set free, but of being with Christ where He is in heavenly blessedness. How blind men are! For, to love, what is so much our own portion as His? Besides we are too apt to slight the deliverance of creation (now travailing in pain) during the thousand years, and this because we are so little identified with the interests of Christ. Whatever glorifies Him ought to be very dear to us. Again we shall be connected with the earth, though our home will be heavenly. We shall indeed reign with Christ over it. God will make the risen saints to be the intermediary vessels of His glory, and the fruitful channels of His goodness in that bright day. Does it not then show the insensate selfishness of the heart that we are but little filled with the thoughts and feelings suitable to such expectations?
lt is freely granted that there is a far higher and nearer hope, even to be with Christ Himself in the Father's house. To see His glory there is more blessed than any inheritance we share anywhere else. But if we look around and see all the sins, miseries, sufferings, and sorrows of a world far from God, what a cheering truth it is that the day is so near when we shall be able to say even of the yet unbelieving Jews, "Their iniquities are forgiven, their sin is covered!" Will not God be magnified? A remnant of Israel suffices not: all shall be saved; every one of them, as the rule, shall then be righteous. Further, the miracles of Christ are called the "powers of the world to come," because it was the sample of that divine energy in man which will never be revoked, though it may be suspended. But it is always in Christ, though the church may not know how to count upon Him for it, or apply it to a needy creation. But we ought to know it is in Christ for faith to draw on, and God has rebuked our low state by withholding the display of these outward ornaments. It is good, however, to remember that it is always in Christ, and that He is coming, and that the end of this age will witness the exercise of the glorious power of that exalted Man, the church too being associated with Him, and every blessing brought in to the exclusion of all evil. This is what the chapter before us anticipates.
Now while God does not put evil down, grace reigns; and now it is only grace in the gospel that can deliver from sins as well as for heavenly glory. But when the power of evil is smitten above and below (and the Lord will smite before the millennium), the King will rule. It is the kingdom of God administered by the exalted Man, Christ; and a blessed truth it is that God has always had it in His view to exalt Him. Adam's sin was not the fall of man only, but, through him, of all the lower creation too; for the whole system was ruined when he departed from God. Adam was not a mere individual but a head. All thenceforward depends on the coming in of another Man, the Lord Jesus, Who has won a title, not for Himself to stand, which He did not need, but for us to have a standing in virtue of His blood, and death, and resurrection. The consequence is that for the believer the glory of Christ is saving in character, not destructive except of evil in that day.
But much of bright expectation is practically lost for those who do not dwell upon the coming scene of glory. The distinctive mark is Jehovah reigning in righteousness; and moreover, it is a Man Who thus reigns over the earth, not only a divine person. God will put all things under the Man that died and rose in delivering power, as truly as Adam drew down in his fall the race and creation. The world became a wilderness of thorns and briars; it was the consequence of man's fall. Do you believe it? Believe also that the Second Man would be defrauded of no small part of His heritage if He did not deliver, not believing man only but creation, and govern it in power and glory. This future reign is necessary to vindicate the faithfulness of God, to manifest the worth of Christ and the results of what He has done, to display His bride along with Him. It is good therefore to look onward to the scene where this blessed Man shall thus reign in righteousness. This would be true apart from our own share with Him, for which we must turn to the New Testament. The prophet's subject is earth; we belong to heaven. Hence it is the province of the New Testament to reveal the Father's house and heaven, no longer shut but opened first upon Christ and consequently upon us, that in peace and joy we may approach the presence of God. What a totally different theme from the Old Testament, which brings the earth into prominence as the scene of the reign in righteousness! In the earth it is judicial power that governs. A rod of iron, a sceptre of righteousness, is that by which Jehovah is to break down the pride of the world.
But there are intimations of peace and comfort too. Jehovah is here viewed "as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (v. 2). The world had long been weary of the effects of sin, if not of sin itself. Now the blessing is come. "And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. And the heart of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly. The vile (or fool) shall no more be called liberal, nor the churl said [to be] bountiful. For the vile person will speak villainy, and his heart will work iniquity, to practice hypocrisy, and to utter error against Jehovah, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and to cause the drink of the thirsty to fail. The instruments also of the churl [are] evil: he devises wicked devices to destroy the meek with lying words, even when the needy speaks right. But the liberal devises liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand" (vv. 3-8).
It is not as you see now, men who appear to have every good natural quality, and yet when tested they have no heart for divine things, love not the name of the Lord Jesus, nor care for His glory. Here it will not be so. Blessing will flow, evil be judged, shame will vanish away. Things and persons will be manifest and bear their true character. Man will then accomplish for the first time on the earth that for which he was made. It is in contrast with all the deceitfulness of unrighteousness that has gone, and still goes, on here below. We know the uncertainty of human judgement, and yet how men cling to and keep up appearances. There will be no vain show then. Good fruits will spring out of the rich resources of divine mercy, and, in the light of God then shining, there will also be the detection of everything that is false. If wickedness appear, the judgement of the Lord will fall upon it. For during the millennium there will be cases demanding vengeance; and God will not fail to deal with wickedness in a summary manner. There will be a solemn public sight of the execution of His wrath continually before men's eyes (Isa. 66:24) — the more stern in that day, because thenceforth is no temptation to evil. Accordingly, the rebellious objects of God's curse will be immediately visited, so as to keep up a wholesome horror of iniquity in the hearts of men.
This leads the Spirit of God to give a warning, which will be needed, especially as the blessing of Israel will not be brought about in a single day. There is a coming time of sifting: as we know there will be for Israel in the wilderness, so in Jerusalem too there will be another mode of dealing with the Jews proper. Even when Jehovah appears for their deliverance, it is a mistake to suppose that all is complete at once. Jehovah will gradually put down the enemies round about the Holy Land, and will use Israel as the instrument of certain judgements (Isa. 11; 63; Micah 5; Zech. 9 — 10). He will send forth His armies and deal with the nations in various ways. In His appearing from heaven He does work by His own power. The Jews will have nothing to do with the judgement of the Beast and the false prophet; but He will employ them to put down the then representatives of their old neighbours, who rise up once more in envy against them. He will remember what their forefathers did, and will then definitely deal with them, seeing that they retain and show the same spirit to the last. Thus Jehovah will act thoroughly in righteousness, and Israel will need a warning previous to this judicial period.
"Rise up, ye women that are at ease, hear my voice; ye careless daughters, give ear to my speech. For days beyond a year shall ye be troubled, ye careless women; for the vintage shall fail, the ingathering shall not come. Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones; strip you, and make you bare, and gird [sackcloth] on [your] loins. They shall smite on the breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine. Upon the land of my people shall come up thistles [and] briars: yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city. For the palace shall be deserted; the multitude of the city shall be forsaken; the hill and watch-tower shall be dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest. And judgement shall inhabit the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field" (vv. 9-16). The allusion is to what precedes Jehovah taking His place and reigning in the land. And all the sorrow is to be until the Spirit is poured down upon them. Then comes the great change in Israel. There is not of course the same dwelling of the Holy Ghost in any sense in the believer as now, for that He has a special dwelling in the church also is manifest. But there will be a suited and large outpouring of the Spirit in that day, as we have seen already. It is a mistake to suppose that Jehovah's reigning is incompatible with the Spirit's being thus poured out. He will be poured out very richly then. Now it is more in depth — if we may so speak of a divine person — than in extensiveness. What is not now in breadth is made up otherwise. The Holy Spirit has now baptised into union with Christ on high. Then will be the day for a wide diffusion over all flesh. Now this is only true in principle; and so it is applied from Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:16-21, not as if what is now were the full result for all flesh throughout the earth.
The present time on earth is not a manifestation of judicial righteousness. The righteous One was rejected of men. God's righteousness set Him risen at His right hand and justifies those who believe on Him. Then it will be the King, coming and sitting upon His own throne (not a rejected King exalted on His Father's): earth will be ordered righteously. In incomparable grace our Lord Jesus puts aside for the time His earthly Jewish titles, and God's heavenly counsels are accomplished and revealed while He is above. The Father has seated Him at His right hand and said, as it were, "You shall reign; only, till You are seated on Your own throne, come and sit with Me on Mine." Before Christ comes from heaven, the Jews (at least a remnant of them) will have welcomed Him in their hearts. Then He will come, where they are, to bless them in the earth, to govern them, and accomplish in the children the promises that were made to their fathers, and this for all the families of the earth.
Accordingly, when the Christians are taken from this world at Christ's coming, the Jews will in due time be converted, so as to be the earthly people of Jehovah, Who will make good in their midst earthly glory according to the prophets; and not this only, but the Holy Ghost will be poured out upon them. The great earthly change is consequent on the effusion of the Spirit from on high. Isaiah speaks of thorns and briars until the Spirit be poured upon Israel. Instead of all being in its appropriate order, everything will need to be restored round the only due centre. All as regards the earth and the Jews is now in confusion and misrule; but the Spirit shall be poured on them from on high, and then what a change! Thus, besides the removal of Satan, there are two things necessary to bring in this time of blessing — the King reigning in righteousness, and the outpouring of spiritual power, specially among the Jews, but also on the Gentiles. In nothing will God fail.
Then shall "the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest." "Then judgement shall inhabit the wilderness": instead of its being the resort of robbers, judgement shall dwell there. Instead of covetousness hankering after the fruitful field, righteousness is to remain there. "And the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and confidence for ever" (v. 17). Ends and ways shall be righteous: all is governed with blessing. "And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places. And it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place" (vv. 18, 19). The proud organisation of human order, wit, and power, shall be utterly abased in that day. Not the peaceful influence of grace shall effect it, but solemn judgement by the Righteous One. Nevertheless then as now there is every incentive, the right and best encouragement to earnest and free dispersion of the good seed; and grace will bless and use what was once common or unclean. "Blessed [are] ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth [thither] the feet of the ox and the ass" (v. 20). God's people shall be sheltered and prosper in peace, whatever befall His enemies. For them assured blessing takes the place of fear and evil. The Seed of the woman triumphs, and the serpent is smitten. Heaven and earth and all things are set under Him Who is worthy.
The Spirit of God, having given us a blessed picture of the King-Messiah reigning in righteousness, here contrasts with it a certain spoiler who is not expressly named by our prophet. But we need not find much difficulty in identifying him, if we remember the last prophecy of Ezekiel that describes a hostile Gentile power. It is remarkable that he there describes Gog as one who had been predicted before. Hence it is certain that this marauding power is not peculiar to the later prophet, who tells us in Isa. 38:8-13, "After many days thou shalt be visited … at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought, and thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will come to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, to seize a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thy hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon a people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land. Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say to thee, Art thou come to seize a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?" The next chapter comes in to show in detail that, if there be that which might seem inconsistent with their security, if God permits that there should be a dark cloud gathering for a while over Palestine, it at length falls on their foes themselves, not on Israel. This appears to be the same enemy who is here introduced by Isaiah. It is the last effort of the great coalition against Israel, which leads to the overwhelming destruction of the assembled nations, especially of the East. Then Israel will help themselves to their arms; and their mere burial will occupy the conquerors, still more the spoiling of their arms and appurtenances.
One need not doubt that the policy of the Assyrian, or king of the north, at the end is thus described. Gog will presumably have then accomplished his long-cherished designs on Constantinople and the Turkish empire in its chief dominions. Now "the Assyrian" is a familiar subject of prophecy. This may account for the statement that they were known before. There must clearly have been predictions of him previously to Ezekiel's time, though some may have prophesied things not committed to writing.
By the way, some have been too anxious to show that the apostles never wrote anything but what we have got. It is quite enough to know that all intended to be of permanent use to the church and for God's glory is preserved. Certainly apostles taught (2 Thess. 2:15), and it is possible they may have written, things which were not meant of God to be preserved as part of the scriptures. But there is a character of perfectness about what we have, which to my mind precludes more. That this is not at all an exorbitant idea is evident from the fact that the apostles preached many discourses that are not recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Of course we have only a very small part of what the apostles preached, as the evangelists were led only to select from what our Lord did. To have added more would have been rather to encumber scripture. Had more communications even of the apostles been added, it would have marred the perfectness of God's written word. We must have confidence in Him. He manifested His will in that all, which He designed for the permanent instruction of the church, was kept by His power in the midst of thousands and myriads of enemies who would have gladly destroyed the scriptures if they could. Never more in Christendom has this dislike of the word of God betrayed itself than now. But the efforts of the enemy only bring out God's power, wisdom, and goodness for all who love Him, as they will to the ruin of those who hate and despise Him.
To return, however: it is only Isaiah 33 which plainly connects itself in character with the northern leader of Ezekiel, unless we identify the Assyrian also with that power, which seems perhaps within certain limits to be true at the close. However that may be, the moral traits of this foe are sufficiently plain. "Woe to thee that spoilest, and thou [wast] not spoiled; and dealest treacherously, and they dealt not treacherously with thee! when thou shalt cease to spoil, thou shalt be spoiled; when thou shalt make an end to deal treacherously, they shall deal treacherously with thee" (v. 1). This covetous foe appears to be the last which comes up, and so far distinct from "the king of the north," which title is not limited to the end. But assuredly it is a ruler of the same sort, insatiable and treacherous.
The Spirit now draws out the prophet, as personifying the godly in Israel, to supplicate, "Jehovah, be gracious to us; we have waited for thee: be their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble. At the noise of the tumult the peoples fled; at the lifting up of thyself the nations were scattered. And your spoil shall be gathered [like] the gathering of the caterpillar: as the running of locusts shall they run upon them (or, it)" (vv. 2 4). How blessed to have Jehovah as the arm to lean on and do valiantly for us! How complete the reversal when the proud and countless foes yield their spoil to be gathered like that of the caterpillars or locusts! It is Jehovah's doing, and may well be marvellous in our eyes. "Jehovah is exalted, for he dwells on high; he has filled Zion with judgement and righteousness. And the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times: the fear of Jehovah [shall be] his treasure" (vv. 5, 6). Thus Jehovah Himself has taken them in hand, and all becomes a spoil for Israel, and their proud hopes are blasted for ever. Note that at this very time Zion shall be filled with righteousness and judgement. The doom which swallowed up the Beast and the false prophet, with the chivalry of Europe, is a lesson heard in vain. Blinded by superstition as well as the lust of universal empire, Gog dreams of destroying Israel, not believing in the presence of Christ, or thinking Him a mere human king. Thus they too will come to their own destruction.
The next verses portray the straits of the people of God and their despair before deliverance appears; nor is danger ever apt to be more felt than when blessing, that seemed to be ours, is once more in jeopardy. "Behold, their valiant ones shall cry without; the ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly. The highways lie waste, the wayfaring man ceases. He has broken the covenant, he has despised the cities, he regards no man. The land mourns, it languishes; Lebanon is ashamed, is withered, the Sharon is become as a wilderness, and Bashan and Carmel are stripped" (vv. 7-9). But man's extremity is God's opportunity, as they say; and so will the Jews then prove. "Now will I arise, says Jehovah; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself" (v. 10). Had He chastened His people sore, and should the insolent foe be unpunished? "Ye shall conceive chaff, ye shall bring forth stubble; your breath [as] fire shall devour [not Israel, but] you, and the peoples shall be [as] the burnings of lime; [as] thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire" (vv. 11, 12). It is Jehovah Who undertakes to dispose of their enemies and thus addresses them. Lime may be hard, but fire ere long reduces it to powder; and thorns, let them be ever so troublesome to those with whom they come into collision, are notorious, when cut up, for burning with singular rapidity.
Next, attention is drawn (v. 13) to the notable display of God's ways, as well as to the effects of these trials in showing out the true character of men even in Zion. "Hear, ye [that are] far off, what I have done; and ye [that are] near, acknowledge my might," followed by the most animated description of the alarm of the ungodly, and of the divine assurances to those that fear His name and walk in righteousness. "The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness has surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He that walks righteously, and speaks uprightly; he that despises the gain of oppressions, that shakes his hands from taking hold of bribes, that stops his ears from hearing of blood, and shuts his eyes from seeing evil: he shall dwell on high, his high retreat [shall be] the fortresses of the rocks; bread shall be given him; his waters [shall be] sure" (vv. 14-16).
Then follows (vv. 17-22) a sublime picture of Israel in their conscious blessedness. They should behold the King in His beauty, no longer cooped up within the beleaguered city, but free to look at the most distant part of the land or the earth. Their hearts should meditate on terror, now happily and for ever past; but then it is the more sweet to look back and think of the never-to-be-forgotten rescue, when every expert failed in his calculations, the scribe, or the receiver. The wisest were at fault — at fault in counting up human resources, as if they could avail — at fault in overlooking the only sure Deliverer, though He be not far from every one of us. On the other hand they should see no more and hear no more the foreign foe, but look upon Zion, the Mount Zion, which Jehovah loved. "Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold a far stretching land. Thy heart shall muse on the terror: where [is] he that counted, where [is] he that weighed [the tribute]? where [is] he that counted the towers? Thou shalt no more see the fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than thou canst perceive, of a stammering tongue that cannot be understood. Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tent [that] shall not be removed, the stakes whereof shall never be plucked up, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. But there Jehovah [will be] with us in majesty, a place of rivers, of broad streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. For Jehovah [is] our judge, Jehovah [is] our lawgiver, Jehovah [is] our King; he will save us" (vv. 17-22).
Is it not utterly vain to apply words like these to the days of Hezekiah with some ancients and of the Maccabees with others, or to gospel times with thoughtless moderns? Even supposing that the rest of the circumstances of the Jews at either of these epochs approached the strength of the prophet's language, which is not at all admitted, who, in the face of approaching captivity, of a continual servitude to the Gentile powers, of a still more calamitous dispersion under the Romans, the effects of which last to this day — who can affirm that Jerusalem has been seen a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down? How can one hitherto apply to that city, yet trodden down of the Gentiles, the precise and most precious declaration, "Not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be pulled up, neither shall any of its cords be broken"?
Let in the light of the future for that people and place, and all is changed: the difficulty is at an end, and no wonder; for indeed "there Jehovah is to us glorious; a place of rivers, of broad streams." And thus there is not the smallest necessity for dislocating the prophecy from all connection with its historic basis, or diverting its consolations from those whose sorrows it was given to assuage and dispel in proportion to their simplicity or strength of faith. No, whatever of comfort we justly glean, whatever hopes of future triumph from its bright anticipations we may gather, let us rejoice that God is here speaking of afflicted tempest-tossed Israel, who in that day will find in Jesus of Nazareth their long-estranged Lord Jehovah of hosts, Who will prove Himself to be a better safeguard than those rivers and streams, of which Babylon or Nineveh might boast against Jerusalem. But even a river has its dangers as well as its beauty, facilities, and sources of protection: so both these cities proved in opposite ways to their cost. Jerusalem has all these privileges without the perils, has incomparably more, in Jehovah. What if no galley with oars went there, what if no gallant ship passed by, will not Jehovah be their judge, Jehovah their lawgiver, Jehovah their king, and so save them pre-eminently of all nations on the earth? And why should we weaken their claim to advance our own — we who are called into heavenly seats of glory, the object of the Saviour's love as His bride on high?
To Jerusalem the King then will be their delight and boast and tower of strength. Had not the mightiest of old been broken when but a typical son of David was there, looking onward to Him Who will surely reign in Zion ere long? And what will it be when the Assyrian in his last phase — when Gog — essays to take Zion at the close of this age? "Thy tacklings are loosed; they could not strengthen the socket of their mast; they could not spread the sail: then was the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame took the prey." The triumph of Israel is complete, and the more so because it is Jehovah's hand for them, more than their own. "And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein [shall be] forgiven [their] iniquity" (vv. 23, 24). Happy the people that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is Jehovah! Thrice happy are they who now can rejoice in Israel's prospect, conscious themselves of a still higher portion in Christ, and in a still better country, that is, a heavenly! May we be content meanwhile to share His rejection, glorying in His cross, not as in an idol or vanity, but by faith graven on our hearts, and therefore proving it by the Spirit in our ways, each crucified to the world and the world crucified to each! For if we be dead together, we shall also live together; if we suffer, we shall also reign together. He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.
The Spirit of God has in chapter 34 brought together the earthly extremes of unsparing judgement and of unmingled mercy; these things in two races naturally akin, but so much the more manifesting their divergence and the divine dealing with each from beginning to end. These nations, so judged and so blessed, sprang from the same stock, from the same father, from the same mother, and branched out into twin brothers, Esau on the one hand and Jacob on the other. The land of Idumea is the centre of the one picture, as of the other is Zion. The proud elder must serve the younger. There was from their birth, and before it, we may say, in antecedent revelation, much to strike the mind in these sons of Isaac and Rebecca, much that would cleave to their posterity till His coming Who will not only judge righteously the past but impress the future with the signs and substance of His own glorious presence.
Yet the early history seemed little to answer either to prophecy or to its fulfilment. "Duke Teman, duke Omar, duke Kenaz" (Gen. 36) and their successors, flourished in the land of Edom, while the sons of Israel were strangers in a land that was not theirs, and ere long proving it a furnace of affliction in bitter bondage. But so it ever is: "that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual." If God's people hope for that they see not, they must "with patience wait for it." He Who is sovereign allows that the flesh should show its character to the utmost, save where special mercy interferes to arrest and restrain because of other wise and gracious purposes. But His mercy it is, shown of His own good pleasure, which roused to madness the unbending arrogance of Edom, who never looked to God with a broken spirit even in his deepest need.
On the other hand it was no small moral test for the sons of Israel, that, spite of the divine promises to them, Esau's descendants should be long settled in peaceful enjoyment as lords of their soil, while Jacob and his seed were sojourners on sufferance, soon to be slaves — and slaves for a long while — in the land of Ham. Half the space that separated the promise from their triumphant exodus saw them a mere family group; and if they afterwards shot up rapidly into a people, it was in circumstances of increasing oppression and degradation. This was no small trial of faith, whether they looked on this side of the picture or on that. Esau had been long established in power and peace and plenty, while Israel lay among the pots of Egypt, and the accursed race of Canaan ruled in their land. And the Bible contains, in the same books, the promise and the trial which early appearances made for faith, presenting all calmly as the word of One Who sees the end from the beginning, Who therefore needs no apologies, puts forward few explanations, but claims the confidence of His children, who know Him Whom they have believed, and are persuaded that He is able to keep against that day the deposit they have entrusted to Him. Scripture does not in a demonstrative way force the truth of God upon His people; on the contrary great simplicity of faith is demanded that we receive it unhesitatingly, trusting God in spite of appearances for the present and delays for the future.
Had you looked more closely and spiritually into Jacob's life, you might have expected long discipline; even as he, their father, was seen lying on his pillow of stone, and Jehovah held out the vision of glory before him. This might have prepared for the thought of trial first, then of gracious blessing. So, later, there was first the crushing of all natural hopes, and then the name of victory conferred (Gen. 32:28). Thus what we have in Jacob's early history prepares one for the vicissitudes of his sons. He was a poor trembling man, with plenty of faults shrinking from the presence of his brother, in whom might appear much that was attractive naturally. But God saw under it all that the flesh is a false and proud thing — enmity with God, Who allowed that the worst should show out in him, the despiser of his birthright, its real character. Present things were his life; hence profane unbelief and slight of the things of God. All this and more came out prominently in Esau, as they were to be verified in his race. If Gentiles, at any rate they had a blood relation with the people of God. But their very connection with them, though a sort of transition between Israel and the nations around, was the occasion of envious enmity and ruin. They were to prove that it was not only an Egypt and a Pharaoh who were raised up for God to manifest His judgement upon, but that God would do just the same to the sons of Esau, and that Esau's flesh would betray the bitterest defiance of God and His people.
The great northern enemy of Isa. 33 seems to be historically latest; but morally, the account of Edom's judgement is kept for the last, perhaps as being so near to Israel by nature. After that great enemy, the Assyrian, is destroyed, we hear of Edom's doom decided. The reader also may compare the intimation of Ps. 83:6-8. When God was dealing with Israel in blessing or chastisement we have Edom disputing the right of God to bless His people, and taking delight in their shame and sorrow. God resents such spite. And was it not in his race that despised the birthright? This, no doubt, accomplished the purpose of God; but then He admirably makes His end to agree with His word and means. Though a question of His own sovereignty, yet this goes hand in hand with His righteous ways. Jacob was chosen and Esau rejected; but God brought out at the critical time that there was also the seal of righteousness. Certainly Esau deserved to be cast off by God, though Jacob justly traces everything to His mercy and grace. Thus the transgression of selling his birthright confirms what God had already given out as a question of His own disposal. Esau showed that he set no value on his birthright, present existence being dearer to him than any blessing of God. Jacob was utterly wrong in following his mother's deceitful plan to hinder Isaac's wish and secure the promise. He ought to have waited in peace and confidence, expecting God to make good His own word. But weak as he was, quite wrong more than once, yet one thing you do find in Jacob, not in Esau — a heart for God, a faith that valued the promises of God. He might be apt to drop into his old craft, and to form plans for himself, for he was indeed "that worm Jacob," as scripture calls him; but still at bottom there was a purpose that clave to God and His word. So when the struggle came, when God wrestled with His servant, there was nature that needed to be withered up, lest he should suppose that because of any vigour of his own he prevailed. Still on blessing from God he was set, and would not desist till he had the assurance of it. If flesh was there to be judged, surely divine faith was very manifest. Hence Jacob becomes far brighter towards the close, when the flesh was practically set aside.
So with Israel. Though there will be the chastening of their unfaithfulness, yet the day will come when the nations are fully judged, not borne with; and how will it then fare with Edom? When Israel was in the wilderness, Esau stopped their way. The power of God could have smitten him down (as He had determined long before); but the time was not yet come. So Israel struck not a blow upon their guilty brother, but rather turned back like a rebuked child. Ah! it was the token in its patience that a still more tremendous judgement was in store for Edom; for there is nothing so ominous as when God takes patiently the iniquity of men. If there be remonstrance, it shows there is, as it were, a hope; but if all be borne silently, it is the solemn sign of judgement that will fall as surely as it lingers. Blessed as it is for those who walk in grace, there is perhaps no more evident a token of perdition to the world than the saints passing through it without lifting a finger in their own defence, or on God's behalf. Alas! we know that the church has failed in this, as Israel after their sort. But their path through the wilderness was a type of the journey of faith in grace, the earthly people and things being the shadow of the heavenly.
Possibly there may have been a preliminary judgement at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's onslaught on the Jews. One might judge from the Psalms (see especially Ps. 137, "Remember, O Jehovah, the children of Edom") that there is a connection between that and Edom; that is, there may have been a partial accomplishment in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. For though on his coming up against Jerusalem, the Edomites helped him to destroy the Jews more effectually, they themselves were not spared by the conquerors. In Ps. 83 we find connected with Edom the Assyrian, the great enemy of the ten tribes as we have seen; with Babylon the conqueror of the two. "Keep not thou silence, O God … They have taken crafty counsel against thy people … Let us cut them off." All confirms what has been already remarked. In the confederacy against Israel figure "the tabernacles of Edom." It is the first power mentioned, of course not as the mightiest, but as setting on the others to Israel's ruin. Being neighbours, they would have a better knowledge of the people and their land, and so be the more dangerous, besides the moral bearing of the case. There are also the Philistines, Tyre, and the various peoples that lived near the sea coast, as well as round about Idumea and the contiguous regions. Then we find the great power of Asshur mentioned as having joined them. So the Spirit of God classes Edom with Israel's final adversaries, as He had done already by Moses and Joshua with their earliest. There is an evident connection between their rise and the gradual course of their history through scripture. Now at the close we find distinct prophecies applying to Edom. "They are confederate against thee" (v. 5). All their covenants God will break up before the judgement falls upon Esau. They may have joined themselves to Asshur; but that great power, like the lesser ones, will be directed against God's people in vain, great and small alike hostile, uniting to aim a more effectual blow at Israel, but only to the destruction of themselves.
God, we may see, always goes back to the beginning when He judges. In the time of the Babylonish captivity, why did He judge Israel? He looks at what they did in the wilderness. It was because of Moloch and Chiun (Amos 5:26). They had learnt to worship their images in the wilderness, and therefore should be carried captive beyond Damascus. God, when the time of judgement comes, traces up to the root of evil. So our wisdom as Christians, when we fail, is to go back to our first departure. We never get right by merely judging this or that outbreak, but should always search out the cause. We do not else gather needed strength, nor is any sin rightly judged by merely judging the manifested effects; but we must probe into the hidden sources of the mischief. It is not enough to judge our acts; judging self is a very different process. We need to discern the springs within ourselves. If we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged. It does not mean pronouncing judgement upon any particular fault, but judging the real cause and not occasions merely. Such is the Christian way of judging. It is not occupation with the surface, but with that which is underneath, the hardly seen roots of the acts which any can see.
With unerring wisdom then God goes back to what Esau did from the beginning of his history. He had waited long and patiently, nearly a thousand years, and now shows His perfect knowledge of the course and end; but when the end does come, God invariably traces all up to the beginning.
We need not dwell on all the dark account. The full stroke of judgement comes upon the Edomites in the day of Jehovah. Here, though the scene be laid in Idumea, it is a question of all the heathen. This is referred to here. "Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye peoples: let the earth hear, and the fullness thereof; the world, and all that comes forth of it. For the indignation of Jehovah [is] upon all the nations, and fury against all their armies; he has devoted them to destruction, he has delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up from their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall away, as a leaf fades from off the vine, and as the withered [fruit] from the fig-tree. For my sword shall be bathed in the heavens; behold, it shall come down upon Edom, and upon the people of my ban, to judgement. The sword of Jehovah is filled with blood, it is made fat with fatness, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams; for Jehovah has a sacrifice in Bozrah, and a great slaughter in the land of Edom" (vv. 1-6). The day of the calamity of His people! If there be anything He repeats over and over again, it is the day of their calamity. (Compare Obadiah 11-14). He means blessing, and there is nothing that more rouses His judgement than, when through their sin deep sorrow falls and strikes their hearts, men should then take advantage of this to behave themselves proudly against them. There was never a truer picture of the spirit of man than at this very time, unless it be the feeling of Christendom towards those who are seeking to walk in the way that is pleasing to God. If failure is known that fills such with shame, is it not used to wrong them, or to speak evil against them? This was the feeling of Edom; so that we may see how true these principles of God are, and how solemn it is for us to realise the duty that becomes us at the present time.
"And the wild-oxen shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be drunken with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness. For [it is] the day of Jehovah's vengeance, the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion. And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night and day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever. But the pelican and the porcupine shall possess it; and the owl (or, bittern) and the raven shall dwell therein. And he shall stretch over it the line of confusion, and the plummet of emptiness. They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none [shall be] there; and all her princes shall be nothing. And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and thistles in the fortresses thereof; and it shall be a habitation of jackals, a court for ostriches. And the wild beasts of the desert shall meet with the wolves, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; yea, the night-monster shall settle there, and shall find her a place of rest. There shall the arrowsnake make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: yea, there shall the kites be gathered, every one with her mate. Seek ye out of the book of Jehovah and read: not one of these shall be missing, none shall want her mate; for my mouth, it has commanded, and his spirit, it has gathered them. And he has cast the lot for them, and his hand has divided it to them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein" (vv. 7-17). There will be one destruction upon the mountains of Israel, but another special carnage in Edom. It is important to bear in mind that this is a future judgement: if any one were to apply it rigorously and in all its extent to the times of Nebuchadnezzar, confusion must result, perverting either scripture or the facts. The contrary rather was seen then. The nations had it all their own way. There was no such thing as God having a great sacrifice of all nations, though treacherous Edom suffered. The real fulfilment will be at the end of the age, though even then will be merely a tremendous convulsion of nature: the total dissolution of heaven and earth will be at the end of the millennium. The Spirit of God in a measure puts the scenes together here.
In singular and striking conjunction with this terrible picture of the vast solitude for man, consigned as it were only to ravenous beasts and birds of prey and reptiles, God thereon shows that the day which beholds this desolation for Edom inaugurates Israel's blessing. Nor is it only Israel rejoicing, but Jehovah will form a large and enlarging scene for His own glory, where erst was misery and barrenness. "The wilderness and the parched land shall be gladdened;* and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose (or, narcissus). It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon: they shall see the glory of Jehovah, and the excellency of our God" (vv. 1, 2). It is not mere fertility, but the restitution of all things when the day is come on earth: every joy, fruitfulness, and beauty. How singularly blinding is the theological prejudice which the pious J. A. Alexander expresses, when he says (Comm. ii. 34) that without any change of its essential meaning, it may be applied to the restoration of the Jews from Babylon, to the vocation of the Gentiles, to the whole Christian dispensation, to the course of every individual believer, and to the blessedness of heaven. As it has been so applied, certainly it may; but the question is, what is its definite meaning? The chapter before gives the awful judgement that awaits the earth in one aspect of it; so does this the deliverance of creation, and especially of Israel that follows, "in that day."
*The ancient versions do not express the final, which the Authorised Version treats as a suffix, and renders "for them." Some refer this to the noxious animals before named, others to the judgements threatened, as others again to the returning exiles. Many moderns agree with the ancients.
And assuredly man's deeper wants are not forgotten. "Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the tottering knees. Say to them [that are] of a fearful (hasty) heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God! vengeance will come, of God the recompense! He will come himself and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped. Then shall the lame [man] leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the glowing sand (or, mirage) shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of jackals, where they lay, [shall be] grass with reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called, The way of holiness: the unclean shall not pass over it; but it [shall be] for these. They that go the way, even fools, shall not err [therein]. No lion shall be there, nor shall ravenous beast go up thereon nor be found there; but the redeemed shall walk [there]. And the ransomed of Jehovah shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (vv. 3-10).
God will then and thus demonstrate that, whatever Satan had brought of sin and woe into this world, goodness and mercy are His own delight. Such is the time that is coming for the earth, though an awful storm ushers it in. While all evil came through sin, and there is not an atom of the lower creation that does not bear some trace of Adam's fall, there will surely come the day of the Lord, the last Adam. It seems plain however, that in the world to come judgement will leave its effectual mark. On the land of Edom the destruction will be unsparing, and that land will be left as a sear upon the face of the earth. It is not said that Edom will be the only one, for Rome also will be proved to be the vile corruptress, as in Paganism so in Christendom and in Antichristendom. But when the proud lie of the "eternal city" is punished for ever, then the poor and despised Jew comes forward, as it is said here. Divine vengeance on the enemies accompanies their salvation. Take all its fullness of meaning: it will be accomplished to the letter. God will prove that not a word of His mercy to Israel and their land can fall to the ground.
Indeed the mighty and blessed transformation which the Lord will then cause for the lower creation is but part of the still grander prospect which the reconciliation of all things opens (Col. 1:20); when the things in the heavens and the things on the earth, even the universe, shall be headed up in the Christ, the Heir of all things (Eph. 1:10) and the Head over all to His body the church. But here it was enough to give the earthly side of glory. It is the common point where, we may say, the bright visions of all the prophets meet. How astonishing that any Christian should fail to see what is so fully attested and so plain! It is painful that pious men in our land or any other should be behind Hengstenberg and the like, who own the change in the lower creation that is to accompany and characterise Messiah's reign. The geologic ages do not touch the question. In Rom. 8:18-21 is apostolic dogma, which resists all such efforts of unbelief. And Christ's death, so far from being exhausted in reconciling all saints to God will assuredly reconcile all things in heaven and on earth, as Col. 1:20 affirms. Prophecy, therefore, is in no collision but in perfect harmony with Christian doctrine. It is popular theology which opposes itself to God's word through inattention and prejudice and tradition. It is irrational to talk of a fulfilment gradually growing more complete in life, but perfected only when probation is over. Scripture reserves the mighty change for the appearing of the Lord, when we are manifested with Him in glory. Then at once, but not till then, shall the creation be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.
It is equally erroneous to deny heaven for the risen saints "in that day," and to deny the change which God intends for Israel and the nations, and the earth itself and the creatures generally on it. If the fall be believed (and what more unblushing incredulity than to doubt it?), what joy to look onward to the glory of the Lord below as well as above! He is the Heir, as He was Creator, of all things; and were the least and lowest of His creatures excepted from the beneficent reach of His power, so far should He be defrauded of what is due to His name, and to His reconciliation which has no limit. Those only must be banished from the presence of His glory who persistently reject Him, yet even so they shall bitterly and for ever bemoan their rebellious folly. For "in virtue of the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of [beings] heavenly and earthly and infernal, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to God the Father's glory" (Phil. 2:10-11).
SECTION 4: ISAIAH 36 TO 39
Isa. 36-39 form the next portion, the historical episode which severs the earlier half of the prophecy from its latter half. They are of importance not only for the weighty facts they present (for this is sufficiently done and in a twofold point of view in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles), but for their connection with the great sections of the Book of Isaiah. No doubt the incidents had their value, and so also the record of them, as the most conspicuous seal which could then be affixed on the prophet's character; for the danger was extreme, the distress of the people intense, the antecedents of the king in opposition to the Assyrian by no means reassuring, the confidence of the enemy boundless. Yet was the word of Isaiah distinct, and soon most punctually verified.
But there are deeper grounds for the introduction of this historical matter into the midst of the prophecy. It was of moment that the believer should have the inspired and therefore sure means of discriminating between the part which was then accomplished and the part which yet awaits its fulfilment. The believer readily sees that the Shalmanesers and the Sennacheribs of the past have not exhausted the terms and scope of the prophecy; we can understand that enough has been done to form an adequate type, an historical basis, for that which is to come, and to make good every word that proceeds from Jehovah. Any mind can judge that the overthrow of the Assyrian — as the precursor of Babylon's supremacy, of the captivity of Judah, and of the long times of the Gentiles — widely differs from the final judgement of the final foe, when Babylon in its last phase is itself destroyed, and the times of the Gentiles close in the glory of Jerusalem and Israel under the true David, the Beloved, their King, and the new covenant in the pleasant land.
No king since the days of David had shown such trust in Jehovah as Hezekiah. But his faith was much tried. With alacrity of heart he had made Jehovah his object from the day he ascended the throne. "He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of Jehovah and repaired them" (2 Chr. 29:3). He inspired the Levites and priests with somewhat of his own desire to renounce long indifference for loyalty to Jehovah. "Now they began on the first [day] of the first month to sanctify, and on the eighth day of the month came they to the porch of Jehovah: so they sanctified the house of Jehovah in eight days, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they made an end." The vessels which were cast away in king Ahaz's reign were once more prepared. "The king rose early and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of Jehovah." Atonement was made for all Israel; "for the king commanded that the burnt-offering and the sin-offering [should be made] for all Israel." What governed all was "the commandment of Jehovah by His prophets." He was the first king, since the rent of Ephraim under Rehoboam, whose heart sought that all Israel should come to the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem to keep the Passover to Jehovah, the God of Israel. Godly predecessors felt it too little if they thought of it, they certainly did nothing toward it ungodly predecessors would have desired nothing less, however much they would have seen all Israel re-united under their own sceptre. Hezekiah clave to Jehovah and sought for all Israel the same blessing. Though his overtures were laughed to scorn and mocked by most, "divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of Jehovah." The old altars to their false gods, at any rate unhallowed and unauthorised altars, were taken away and cast into the brook Kidron, the images were broken, the Asherahs were cut down, the high places disappeared. The due honour of the house and servants and service of Jehovah was provided for as written in His law. "And in every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God, and in the law and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered. "
"After these things and their faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria entered into Judah, and encamped against the fortified cities, and thought to break into them" (2 Chr. 32:1). Was it not strange? A great work had been wrought in restoring the defaced lineaments of the worship of the true God throughout Judah: yet this was no sooner done, than the enemy came to swallow them up! Those who judged not by scripture but by providence would at once be stumbled: was it not plain that Hezekiah had done wrong in rejecting the traditions of his fathers? Was not, God now chastening him and them for his rash reformation? Had he not lifted up his sacrilegious hand to destroy the brazen serpent that Moses made, treating with contempt as a piece of brass the venerable sign of divine grace to their perishing fathers in the desert, to which the children of Israel had till his days burned incense? Was the Assyrian a judgement?
Moreover the pious king did what he could to fortify himself, sent the lowliest message to the proud Assyrian, gave him all the silver in Jehovah's house, and stripped off for him the gold from its doors and pillars; but in vain. There was little of the simplicity, strength, or wisdom of faith in all this: no wonder that the blessing of God was not with him there, and that the enemy was emboldened to ask all. Rabshakeh is sent from Lachish to insult king Hezekiah, to blaspheme the God of Israel, and seduce the people to surrender at discretion to his master. Along with insolent, deceitful, and profane reproach of all kinds like this, truth is mingled; for there were those (not Hezekiah) who did look to Egypt for help. But the aim of all was to reduce the Jews to despair, and to accomplish the designs of Assyria. Hence the very piety of the king, his zeal for Jehovah in throwing down the altars of false gods, is cunningly perverted into a charge of robbing Jehovah of His honour, from Whom (he pretended) his master had received his charge to come up against Hezekiah. Thus the enemy knows how to give a religious gloss to his own wicked devices as easily as he can blacken the most faithful of God's servants. What a mercy to have the unerring standard of His word to test and be tested by!
Thus the account stands in the prophecy. "And it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah [that] Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them. And the king of Assyria sent Rab-shakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem, to king Hezekiah with a strong force. And he stood by the aqueduct of the upper pool, on the highway of the fuller's field" (vv. 1, 2). There it was where Ahaz despised the gracious word of Jehovah through Isaiah some thirty years before; there now the Assyrian rudely insulted Jehovah and the king.
"Then came forth to him Eliakim the son of Hilkijah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe (or, secretary), and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder. And Rab-shakeh said to them, Say now to Hezekiah, Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence [is] this wherein thou trustest? I say [sayest thou], Counsel and strength for the war [are but] a word of the lips. Now on whom trustest thou that hast revolted against me? Behold, thou trustest on the staff of that broken reed, on Egypt, on which if a man lean it will go into his hand and pierce it: so [is] Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to all that trust in him. But if thou say to me, We trust in Jehovah our God: [is it] not he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar? And now, I pray thee, engage with my master, the king of Assyria, and I will give thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them. How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master's servants? And thou trustest in Egypt for horses and chariots! And am I now come up without Jehovah against this land to destroy it? Jehovah said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.
"And Eliakim and Shebna and Joah said to Rab-shakeh, Speak, we pray thee, to thy servants in Syriac (or, Aramean), for we understand [it]; and speak not to us in the Jewish [language] in the ears of the people that [are] on the wall. And Rab-shakeh said, [Is it] to thy master and to thee that my master sent me to speak these words? [Is it] not to the men that sit on the wall, to eat their own dung and drink their own urine with you? And Rab-shakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jewish [language] and said, Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus says the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you, for he shall not be able to deliver you; neither let Hezekiah make you trust in Jehovah, saying, Jehovah will certainly deliver us: this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Hearken not to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria, Make peace (lit. blessing) with me, and come out to me; and eat ye every one of his vine, and every one of his fig-tree, and drink ye every one of his cistern (or, well); until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. Let not Hezekiah persuade you, saying, Jehovah will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where [are] the gods of Hamath and of Arpad? Where [are] the gods of Sepharvaim? And have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who [are they] among all the gods of these countries, that have delivered their country out of my hand, that Jehovah should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand? And they were silent and answered him not a word; for the king's command was, saying, Answer him not.
"And Eliakim the son of Hilkijah, who [was] over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, came to Hezekiah with clothes rent, and told him the words of Rab-shakeh" (vv. 3-22).
The entreaties of Eliakim and others that Aramean should be spoken rather than the Jewish tongue only drew out further and audacious insolence; for Rab-shakeh stood and cried in their own tongue to the people on the walls, warning them against their king and commending to them the hard terms of deportation to the east, in the face of the overthrow of the nations already broken by the Assyrian. Little did the blasphemer think that there listened to his taunting demand whether Jehovah should deliver Jerusalem, not Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah only, nor the men on the wall also, but Jehovah Himself. It was now His affair; and then at length begins to shine once more the faith of Hezekiah, whose commandment it was to answer him not.
His clothes rent, the king covered in sackcloth repairs to the house of Jehovah, and enquires of the prophet, who returns Jehovah's answer that they were not to fear the words of blasphemy; for Jehovah would undertake the matter and send back the Assyrian to perish in his own land. "And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard [it], that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of Jehovah. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said to him, Thus says Hezekiah, This day [is] a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of contumely (or, rejection): for the children are come to the birth, and [there is] not strength to bring forth. It may be Jehovah thy God will hear the words of Rab-shakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master has sent to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words which Jehovah thy God has heard. Therefore lift up [thy] prayer for the remnant that is left. And the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah. And Isaiah said to them, Thus shall ye say to your master, Thus says Jehovah, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will put a spirit into him, and he shall hear a rumour, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land" (vv. 1-7).
Still confident, Sennacherib from Libnah sends a letter of similar import to Hezekiah, who spreads it before Jehovah with earnest prayer for His intervention. "And Rab-shakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, He is come out to fight against thee. And when he heard [it], he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, which my fathers have destroyed, Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden that [were] in Thelassar? Where [is] the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivvah? And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up into the house of Jehovah, and spread it before Jehovah. And Hezekiah prayed to Jehovah saying, Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, that sittest [upon] the cherubim, thou [art] He, even thou alone, the God of all the kingdoms of the earth, thou hast made heaven and earth. Incline thine ear, Jehovah, and hear; open thine eyes, Jehovah, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, who has sent to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Jehovah, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the countries and their land, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they [were] no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone; and they have destroyed them. Now therefore, Jehovah our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art Jehovah, thou only" (vv. 8-20).
Isaiah again returns the answer of the only living God. "And Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus says Jehovah the God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, this [is] the word which Jehovah has spoken against him. The virgin-daughter of Zion has despised thee, [and] laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted the voice? Against the Holy One of Israel hast thou lifted up thine eyes on high. By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, With the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the recesses of Lebanon; and I will cut down its tall cedars, its choice cypresses: and I will enter into the height of its border, the forest of its fruitful field. I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of Matsor" (or, Egypt) (vv. 21-25).
Insult as he might, himself or his servants, the great king, the Assyrian, must learn that God knew all about him, making him but the instrument of His own dealing with the nations. This work done, he must go back humbled and smitten, for he had exceeded his commission; and would God sanction his rage against Himself? "Hast thou not heard long ago I have done it, how of ancient days I purposed it? Now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest waste fortified cities [to] ruinous heaps. And their inhabitants [were] powerless, they were dismayed and put to shame; they were [as] the grass of the field, the green herb, the grass on the housetops, and [corn] blighted before it be grown up. But I know thy sitting down, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy raging against me. Because thy raging against me and thine arrogance is come up into mine ears, I will put my ring in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will make thee go back by the way by which thou camest" (vv. 26-29). After a sign of coming to Judah (vv. 30-32), Jehovah pronounces His decree (vv. 33-35). "And this [shall be] the sign to thee; ye shall eat this year that which grows of itself, and in the second year that which springs of the same; and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of mount Zion they that shall escape; the zeal of Jehovah of hosts shall perform this. Therefore thus says Jehovah concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come to this city, nor shoot an arrow there, neither shall he come before it with shield, nor cast a mount against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and he shall not come to this city, says Jehovah. For I will defend this city to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake. And the angel of Jehovah went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when men arose early in the morning, behold, they [were] all dead corpses. And Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat (or, Armenia): and Esar-haddon his son reigned in his stead" (vv. 30-38).
The total fall of the haughty Assyrian's kingdom followed a few years after. Those that walk in pride God is able to abase. How blessed to hear His voice and know His love! Real as it was however, it was no more than a shadow of the great chief of the eastern nations in the latter day; even as Judah's deliverance and blessedness under the son of David of that day was but the witness of a brighter era and a more enduring glory, when Jehovah shall exalt him that was low and abase the high one. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn: and it shall be no more, until he comes whose right it [the diadem] is; and I will give it him" (Ezek. 21:27).
The history we have seen in the preceding chapters is but a testimony to the total destruction which awaits the final Assyrian as well as his hosts, in the latter day and upon the mountains of Israel. This will be the more striking because he will, first of all, be allowed to capture Jerusalem, and slay a portion of the men and treat with indignity some of their women. Jerusalem must pay the penalty of its sins. The Assyrian, or king of the north of Daniel, will then retire southwards for other projects of ambition; and coming up again, when Jehovah meanwhile has owned His people Israel, he will be for ever put down and destroyed.
This being so, it is evident that the mention of these historical circumstances, and no other, in the midst of our prophecy, is a remarkable sign, not only that their character is typical, but also that God would make plain to His people how far the prophecies already given had been accomplished. They might thus be encouraged to take what was already verified as an earnest of what was to come in full delivering power and glory. Nothing since that day has in the slightest degree resembled these intimations of the prophets. The past Assyrian, after having lost an immense part of his army, returned to his own land, and there was killed by his sons. The future Assyrian, after a partial success, is to come up a second time, and there and then be overwhelmed. The difference is made particularly manifest by the introduction of the past history here; typical of yet greater things, as we know from direct prophecy in Isa. 28 — 29, not to speak of other scriptures.
But now in chapter 38 we see another lesson: Hezekiah is sick, and apparently to death. "In those days was Hezekiah sick to death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, Thus says Jehovah, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to Jehovah, and said, Remember now, Jehovah, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done [that which is] good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept much" (vv. 1-3). The king in this shadows forth the spiritual work God will by-and-by accomplish in His people. For Israel is destined in that day not only to furnish a grand external display of His power, but to experience a deep internal change — the great practical lesson of death and resurrection. This we learn not in our souls alone, but still more profoundly according to the full scope of grace and truth in our Lord Jesus Himself.
Hezekiah then is given up to die; but he humbles himself before Jehovah, Who sends word by the prophet that he was to live. And here we have exercise of spirit; at first, exceeding sorrow, not unmingled with fear, with regrets at leaving the land of the living, and a certain shrinking from God. "And the word of Jehovah came to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus says Jehovah, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add to thy days fifteen years. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city. And this [shall be] the sign to thee from Jehovah that Jehovah will do this thing that he has spoken: behold, I will cause the shadow on the steps, which is gone down with the sun on the dial (or, steps) of Ahaz, to return ten steps backward. So the sun returned on the dial ten steps whereby it was gone down" (vv. 4-8).
Is it possible that any professing to know and teach the truth do not perceive that this is not life and incorruption brought to light by the gospel — not what we should look for in a Christian now, though Hezekiah was as truly a saint of God as any Christian? The working of the Holy Spirit in a godly Jew was necessarily modified in both depth and height for the Christian because of accomplished redemption. When believers, Jews or Gentiles after the flesh, are brought to the knowledge of Christ now, they are entitled to the same high privileges. If they see or enjoy them not, it is because the flesh is not judged; they are merely following in this respect their own thoughts, instead of entering into the new revelations of God founded on a dead, risen, and ascended Christ, made known by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The natural thought and hope even of a converted Jew then was to live long upon the earth. He could not say "to depart and be with Christ is far better." It was in the land of the living he desired to praise Jah, as he said, "the living, the living shall praise thee."
Israelites looked not within the veil; they saw not the Forerunner for them entered in. No such precious sight was revealed to their faith, though they did most truly expect, by God's teaching, a coming Messiah to deliver and bless them. But they could not yet know death vanquished, nor raise the song of resurrection, nor look on a known Saviour theirs through the opened heavens. Hezekiah goes through the sign of death; he was sentenced however to it, and shrank from it; earnestly pleading, he hears the sentence reprieved. This is the token of the spiritual work God will effect in Israel — not only deliverance from foes without but deliverance from the power of death working in them. But the millennial kingdom will not furnish to Israel or any other on earth, the faith or experience of the Christian, properly speaking nor will they be raised from the dead or changed to go through that reign, but after it for eternity. The valley of dry bones is merely the symbol of their resurrection from death, when they are as a nation caused once more to live, though doubtless there will be a real spiritual work within. But still theirs will be a very different thing from our portion either now or when we are caught up to meet the Lord.
"The writing of Hezekiah, king of Judah, when he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness. I said, In the still noon (or, cutting off) of my days I shall go to the gates of Sheol; I am deprived of the residue of my years. I said, I shall not see Jah, Jah in the land of the living. I shall not behold man longer with the inhabitants of the world. Mine age (or, dwelling) is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent. I have rolled off like a weaver my life; from the thrum he cuts me off; from day to night wilt thou make an end of me. I kept still till morning: as a lion he breaks all my bones; from day to night he will make an end of me. Like a swallow, a crane, so did I chatter; I mourned as a dove; mine eyes failed [with looking] upward. Jehovah, I am oppressed: undertake for me. What shall I say? He has both spoken to me, and himself has done [it]: I shall go softly all my years for the bitterness of my soul. Lord, by these things [men] live, and wholly in them [is] the life of my spirit; and thou recoverest me and makest me to live Behold, for peace I had bitterness on bitterness; but thou hast in love delivered my soul from the pit of destruction, for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. For Sheol doth not praise thee, [nor] death celebrate thee; they that go down into the pit do not hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I this day; the father to the children shall make known thy truth. Jehovah — to save me! My song too we will sing to stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of Jehovah" (vv. 9-20).
Death was to him the most painful prospect. What can more pointedly differ from this than the triumphant language of 2 Cor. 5:1-8 for instance? There the apostle says, "In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon." "We are always confident, willing rather to be absent from the body [the very thing good Hezekiah was not] and to be present with the Lord." Living here "we are absent from the Lord." You, no doubt, find the king turning his face to the wall; but who could imagine such a thing of dying Stephen? If a Christian were in the spirit beholding Christ, it could not be so. It is not for any of us to say what chastening might fall on self-confidence, on negligence of walk, or anything else unjudged: God might smite the pride of heart which looked down upon a person thus tried. In Old Testament times there could not be the rest and peace and joy of heart created by the revelation of Christ's work and glorified person.
In Hezekiah's case God made him, as thus manifesting the feelings of a godly Jew, to be the sign of the quickening of the Jews, who will by-and-by go, as a nation, through a spiritual process which is likened to death and resurrection. In the future however, one gathers from other scriptures that their outward and inward deliverances will be in the inverse order of that which appears in the history given here. The quickening of at least the remnant will precede their external triumph. Ere the antitypical Babylon has been smitten, the Jew will go through no small spiritual sifting with God, and then the mighty outward deliverance will follow when the last Assyrian is broken and disappears. Thus distinctly is the future marked off from that which has been already accomplished. God will work in them first, and then display His power in their behalf. He gives us now in Christ that in which we shall be displayed at His appearing. Thus we know death and resurrection, because we are taught everything in Christ. Therefore, the apostle asks, having died with Christ, "why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?" (Col. 2:20). They will be like men living in the world; and so they will have their splendid temple, and their venerable priesthood, and their impressive ordinances, "Touch not, taste not, handle not." The seventh or sabbath day will be resumed. In the millennium it will not be the Lord's day but the sabbath-day. God will renew His sabbaths, instead of continuing the first day of the week, the Christian's memorial of redemption. The sabbath-day occurs once more enforced beyond doubt, as we read in the prophecy of Ezekiel.
Thus God will have prepared His people Israel for their future glory, not by what we know now in the gospel, but by what we have seen represented by Hezekiah's sickness. He prays that he may not be brought to the gates of hell. "I said, I shall not see Jah, Jah in the land of the living." To see the Lord in the heavenly country among the glorified is far better than to see Him in the land of Israel. Our joy is that we are to be with Him in heavenly blessing, as we know ourselves in Him in heavenly places even now. Such thoughts never entered the king's mind. He desired as a Jew that his life might be prolonged to see Jah in the land of the living. So Israel will see Him in the land of the living, and be themselves brought under the shadow of His wing, spite of all their mighty foes. The pure in heart shall see God. We shall be with the Saviour and see Him as He is (not as He was, but as He is), and be with Himself above in the Father's house, in the presence of God.
But here, on the contrary, the king mourns over his failing strength. "Mine age is departed." "He will cut me off as from a [weaver's] thrum." "As a lion, He breaks all my bones." He repines at God's will, not having a dead and risen Christ to interpret all by. He views death in itself, or its bearing on himself here. How deeply even saints needed a revealed Saviour and a known redemption! "Like a swallow, a crane, so did I chatter. … What shall I say? He has both spoken to me, and himself has done [it]." Now light begins to dawn somewhat more. He has asked Jehovah to undertake for him: "He has both spoken to me," etc. He began to appreciate better the blessed truth that it is not what we say to Jehovah which is the great matter, but what Jehovah says to us, and, more than that, what Jehovah does for us. "I shall go softly all my years." All this trial was just the needed discipline, and good for him. "And thou recoverest me." He anticipates his sure deliverance, as Israel will know "in that day," and surely be brought out of their distresses.
However blessed it all may be, as showing us the working of God in the heart of a real saint of old and the type of the future ways of God to be made good in the hearts of the Jewish remnant, need I repeat that God does not give this as the full standard we ought to apply now? It is a serious thing, this misappropriation of scripture, through attempting to lump together all its testimonies, old and new, as if all must be about one and the same object. Thus what is of earth for the Jew is jumbled up with what is of heaven for the Christian: the result is a mere waste of uncertainty. Of course the Spirit of God never allows the real children of God to suffer all the consequences of their folly. There is a merciful preservative from going through with their mistakes. But still the loss is great indeed. How much we have to desire, that we may be enabled to feel, serve, walk, and worship as Christians entering into all the will of Jehovah concerning us, not foolish but as wise! All depends on a better knowledge of Christ, for this is the only sure and holy way for every need.
God's will as regards His people on the earth depends on His counsels and ways at any given time in His Son. Where is Christ now? He is at the right hand of God, cast out of the earth, as He said, "I go to My Father." That is, He has total rejection here but all glory there, as may be seen in John 13 — 17. He is thus separated to heaven, as He says, "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth" (John 17:19). Not of course that there ever was anything impure in or of Him: such a thought of Christ would be blasphemy. It was taking a separate place from the earth, setting Himself apart from all here below as the heavenly Model-man, so to speak. This is the key to Christianity. It is the power of the Holy Ghost working in the hearts of God's children upon earth and forming them after the fashion of Christ in heaven, on the basis of His death and resurrection, which has justified them by faith. Thus it necessarily supposes Christ's cross, resurrection, and ascension, and that we know ourselves in Him there (John 14:20). We become heavenly because related to Him there. "As is the Heavenly, such are they also who are heavenly."
When Christ comes in glory by-and-by, and takes the earth under His government, and in the truest sense fills the throne of Jehovah over it, the saints here below (not those risen and glorified) will be earthly. They will be born anew; but it will be for the earthly things of the kingdom of God. So the Lord says, "If I have told you earthly things …" (John 3:12). There is the earthly department of His kingdom no less than the heavenly. To confound them, or the scriptures that relate to them, is to ruin the distinctness of revealed truth, and to sink into half-Jews, half-Christians. The new age, or dispensation, will accordingly, as far as earth is concerned, be the forming man here below according to the character in which Christ is then displayed and will deal. It will be no longer the Spirit making us heavenly, because of uniting us to the Head on high. Christ will then govern the earth and its inhabitants as King, instead of gathering believers out from the world into one as His body. This may serve to show what a wonderful place is ours: in the midst of all the ruin of the outward framework of Christendom there is one body and one Spirit, even as also we were called in one hope of our calling.
"Now Isaiah had said, Let them take a cake of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover. Hezekiah also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of Jehovah?" (vv. 21, 22).
If this addition seems trivial or spurious to the natural mind, it was not to the inspiring Spirit. God shows His interest in His own, whatever their infirmity, and explains the means employed, and why the sign was given. To unbelief such a detail has no value; for literary criticism knows as little of divine love or of the soul's need, as man's philosophy.
This chapter, it would seem, owes its place here chiefly as a basis for the very weighty place which Babylon (whither Judah was going into captivity) holds in the controversy which Jehovah had with His people. Hezekiah had not walked softly, when the ambassadors of Merodach-baladan came to congratulate him, but had sunk to their level. Wherefore Jehovah sent the threat of sure judgement. All that David's son in his vanity had spread before the eyes of the strangers should be swept into the city of confusion, the chastiser of Jerusalem's idolatry; only it should not fall in the days of the pious king, notwithstanding his failure.
"At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent a letter and a present to Hezekiah; for he heard that he had been sick, and was recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them the house of his precious things, the silver and the gold and the spices and the precious oil, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. Then came Isaiah the prophet to king Hezekiah, and said to him, What said these men? And from whence came they to thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country to me, from Babylon. Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that [is] in my house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shown them. Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of Jehovah of hosts. Behold, days come, when all that [is] in thy house, and [that] which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, says Jehovah. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good [is] the word of Jehovah which thou hast spoken. And he said, For there shall be peace and truth in my days" (vv. 1-8).
The chapter is of special interest as the first plain indication in later times of a power destined to overthrow the mighty kingdom of Assyria, to be then set up by the God of heaven, after the conquest of Jerusalem, in the imperial seat of the world as thenceforward an unrivalled king of kings. It was as yet the struggle of a province to be independent. This very man, whose name has been recognised in the Assyrian inscriptions, as well as in a fragment of Polyhistor (Euseb. Chron. Ca n. i. v. 1), and in Ptolemy's Canon, "sustained two contests with the power of Assyria, was twice defeated, and twice compelled to fly his country. His sons, supported by the king of Elam or Susiana, continued the struggle, and are found among the adversaries of Esar-Haddon, Sennacherib's son and successor. His grandsons contend against Asshurbani-pal, the son of Esar-Haddon. It is not till the fourth generation that the family seems to become extinct; and the Babylonians, having no champion to maintain their cause, contentedly acquiesce in the yoke of the stranger" (Canon Rawlinson in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, ii. 332).
This outline by a competent hand may serve to show what an enormous gap of circumstances yet more than of time severed the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar from him who sent his envoys to Hezekiah, still more from that Babylon whose downfall from the haughtiest seat on earth was announced long before by Isaiah in two of his most remarkable "burdens" (Isa. 13 — 14 and Isa. 21). But all was proved the more to be before God, Who deigned to disclose the end from the beginning. On every ground Hezekiah should have known better; whereas he forgot even the lessons of his sickness, as well as of God's dealing with Sennacherib's hosts, indulged in the things of men, and sunk to the level of a worldly politician. But at least the solemn rebuke of Jehovah through Isaiah recalled him humbly to accept the divine word with his wonted piety and thanksgiving, of which rationalism has no experience, and so with evil eye sees nothing but despicable egotism in a soul that judged self and bowed to God.
Reviewing the parenthetic history of Isa. 36 — 39 the believer can but acknowledge the divine wisdom of their place between the first great division of the prophecy and the last. None could be so suited to the work of introducing them at this point than the inspired writer of the entire book. Although strictly historical, they are very much more, for they are instinct with prophecy, and, on the judicial check given to Assyria, prepare for the prominence given ere long to Babylon, little as this was then expected, as the agent for sweeping Judah and the house of David into captivity. But they adumbrate also the Son of David and David's Lord, Who, instead of being sick and healed would go down, for God's glory and in His grace beyond all thought of man, into death most real as an offering for sin, yet rise again and make good an everlasting covenant for the blessing of Israel and all the earth, when kings shall stop their mouths at Him, once marred more than any, then exalted and high exceedingly. Striking it is to read in Isa. 35:4, "Behold, your God! vengeance comes" (which in no way characterises the gospel but the future kingdom fully), "the recompense of God. He will come himself and save you"; and in Isa. 40:9-10, "Behold your God! Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come with might, and his arm shall rule for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him." The same Spirit, the same hand wrote both passages.
SECTION 5: ISAIAH 40 TO 48
A sensibly different portion of the prophecy now opens on us, forming what may be called Isaiah's second volume. No longer is the overthrow of kings and peoples in the foreground; nor are we occupied as before with the various Gentile enemies that long beset and troubled Israel. Hence, most appropriately introducing it, stands a touching controversy between God and His own people. We are evidently not looking here on God's dealings without; we enter within. His judgement begins as ever at the house of God: and more closely and thoroughly than the same process in the preface of our prophecy (Isa. 1). More was wanted than ways and judgements in providence. There are moral wants and spiritual wrongs which must be taken up, if the people are to be blessed according to God; and what makes the distinction so much the more striking is the fact that we shall find Babylon again in a totally different aspect from that which had been seen as yet, not so much in her aspect of worldly magnificence and power, but in her sad notoriety as the source and bulwark of idolatry on earth. Evidently this accords with God's pleading with His people, and His distinct unfolding of the chastening that He caused to light upon them because of their idolatry and even worse spiritual sins, as we shall see. Thus not political but spiritual wickedness is here before us; into which they had been drawn by the enemy to set them into opposition to God Himself.
This great change gives rise to an altogether different character of revelation and even style of address. "Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people," graciously lets us see the end of all. In the beginning of the book the Spirit of God appealed to Israel as the people then were, attesting God's judgement of their wickedness and the introduction of the glory of Jehovah. Here too the same Israel were guilty, and the divine glory is surely to be established in judgement; but before we behold the full distressing picture of what they really were in His eyes, He begins with unfailing words of comfort. Thus the heart of every saint would be strengthened at the very outset with the assurance that they were the object of divine mercy, and so too all the better would they bear to hear what Jehovah must tell them of their grievous faults, which could not but be in themselves fatal.
The chapter before formed a kind of link with what follows; for there we have the prediction of their deportation to Babylon; which, as has been often remarked, holds a peculiar place. Babylon, being the beginning of the great image of Daniel, becomes also the type of the last representative of imperial power. The head of gold received supremacy from God in a more direct form than any of the other powers, which were only successors in the line. The grant of imperial power was immediate from the God of heaven to Nebuchadnezzar, who thus typified in a certain sense the image from first to last. More particularly the fall of Babylon prefigured the overthrow of the world-power in the earth which rose on Judah's ruin, now Lo-ammi; the final judgement of that system of universal supremacy then begun, and, if not still going on, only suspended. For the image-power has not yet been struck by the little Stone (Dan. 2:34), and is awaiting its reorganisation before it is dissolved for ever. Its components are at present in a broken state; but by-and-by they will again coalesce with an appearance of amazing and renewed strength, which its last head will use directly to oppose the Lord of lords and King of kings. This Rev. 17 clearly shows us; for the judgement of Babylon and of the Beast as there set forth is not yet accomplished. The old Roman Empire, destroyed by the Gothic races, could not be fairly represented by the Beast with seven heads and ten horns, any more than the pagan city answers truly to the harlot drunk with the blood of the saints. What filled the seer with great wonder was the mystery of what claimed to be Christ's bride seated on the Beast, the mother of the fornications and, yet more, of the abominations (or idols) of the earth, and guilty withal of such sanguinary persecution of Christ's followers.
Babylon has thus a special place as being the power of all others that was allowed to enslave Jerusalem and the house of David from whom the Deliverer of Israel was to spring. Now we know that the Son of David is actually come, that He was presented to Israel and rejected by them, that He suffered death on the cross and is gone up to heaven, where He has taken His place, not as Son of David, but as the rejected Son of man Who is the Son of God. The Lord Jesus is there the great High Priest of God as well as Head of the church, seated at the right hand of God, where and whence He acts in power and love, sending down whatever is needful for the good of the saints and for winning sinners by the testimony of God's grace here below. This is what Christ is now doing, not yet fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Son of David as such, nor yet as the King of the nations.
Hence anyone who in a serious inquiry takes up the Old Testament to find the full and clear announcement of what occupies Christ now must, either give up these prophecies as dark and unintelligible, or he must put a false gloss and violent strain on them to eke out such an application as their full scope. In truth they refer to the future, not to the present; and to Israel, God's earthly people, not to the heavenly church, save in certain general principles or special allusions to the Gentile parenthesis, which the provident wisdom of the Holy Ghost took care to furnish in order to confound God's adversaries. Then there are displays of God in moral ways from which (though about Israel rather than ourselves) we can and ought to extract for our own souls that which is most helpful and cheering. For God is good and full of tender mercy to Israel; and He is surely not less full of grace to us. If He is love to the people He will govern, can He love less the children He now adopts to Himself by Jesus Christ? There are no doubt great differences between the saints He calls now, and those who are to be blessed in the age to come. Now it is His church, Christ's body, the children He is bringing into the place of heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Israel will inherit the promise made to the fathers; but we, if Christ's now, are heirs with the Firstborn, sons not merely of "the fathers," but of God the Father.
When we thus examine the prophecies, not biased with the foregone conclusion of finding ourselves in them, but free to understand the words as they are written, and simply accepting the intended objects God here speaks of, nothing can be clearer or more certain. Here for instance He calls to comfort His people. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry to her, that her time of toil (or, suffering) is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; that she has received of Jehovah's hand double for all her sins" (vv. 1, 2). The ground He puts it on is that the warfare of Israel is over. Jehovah now interposes. Bad as Jerusalem's sins were, she had, to His reckoning of love, suffered double what her sins deserved in His government. He is not looking at the sins of Jerusalem apart from Christ, but as it were through Him. If there were no suffering Messiah connected with Jerusalem, nothing would remain but the judgement of her sins to her everlasting shame and ruin. But God always looks at Christ on her behalf, and can thus say, "Comfort ye, comfort ye." After disowning Israel as not His people, Lo-ammi, which holds good through the times of the Gentiles not yet expired, He will acknowledge them once more and for ever under Messiah and the new covenant.
Next we have the manner or moral principle in which the comfort will be brought home to them. This furnishes a grave and interesting insight into God's ways. "The voice of one that cries in the wilderness." The allusion is evident to John the Baptist, who was "sent from God" to bear witness of the True Light and prepare a way for the Messiah. In the midst of his testimony he was slain. Messiah too came, and in the midst of His testimony He was slain. Master and servant, they were both cut off by wicked hands. Thus God's work was, as far as man could see, nipped in the bud; and hence the world is yet in mis-rule and confusion, in sin and misery. When God really fulfils for the earth what He has at heart, there will be the manifest power of ordered blessing to His glory.
But look up, not down, and read in the risen and glorified Christ the proof to faith that the cross, the very thing that seemed the total ruin of all the counsels of God, is in truth their solid basis and justification, by which He is and will be for ever glorified. The cross of the Lord Jesus is the triumph of grace, as the resurrection and ascension are its righteous answer; but it is a triumph known only to faith. The world sees not heaven opened nor Him glorified there; it saw in the cross One Who suffered to death. In the Acts of the Apostles man's rejection of Christ is constantly contrasted with God's raising Him from the dead. There we see that man and God are in complete opposition. The cross is thus looked at in the light not of God's purposes, but of man's wickedness. In the Epistles the truth chiefly insisted on is the cross, not so much as the extreme point of all man has done against God, but as the deepest exercise of the grace that God feels towards guilty man. Not that love was created by the cross; it was in God before the coming of Christ, and because of it He sent His Son. The propitiation is the fruit of God's grace, not its cause. Propitiation vindicates it, judging and putting aside all the sin on man's part, which otherwise would have proved an insurmountable barrier. But the love was on God's part from everlasting. We must bear this in mind in looking at propitiation, which indeed is the strongest possible proof of His love, while it equally proves His holiness and the necessary judgement of our sins.
John's testimony was a call to repentance in view of Messiah's advent; his baptism therefore was a confession both of sins and of Him, Who should come after himself. It was "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (v. 3). It was not the person nor the work of Israel's hope in power. For Israel as a whole was blind and deaf; the testimony was interrupted, the Messiah refused. There was therefore but a partial application, the people's unbelief thus intercepting and breaking off the thread of God's ways, while His counsels abide irrefragable and accomplished, through their unbelief, in the cross as they never else could have been. The way of Jehovah was not yet prepared, nor was there a straight highway in the desert for God. Man was put on his responsibility and heard the cry only to sin the more; but by-and-by God will make all good in grace by His own power. Then "Every valley shall be exalted; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh (not Israel only) shall see [it] together; for the mouth of Jehovah has spoken" (vv. 4, 5).
Thus plainly we have, as far as its scope goes, the sure purpose of God. Every difficulty, depths, heights, rough or crooked, all must disappear: for God yet means to make this earth the scene of His glory. A most blessed prospect it is, that the sin, misery, and weakness of man, the groaning of all creation around, the wiles and power and presence of Satan must vanish and give place, not to the revealed grace of God in Christ, which has shone (we know) in the despised Nazarene, but to the revealed glory of Jehovah, when all flesh shall see it together. It cannot refer to the day of the judgement of the dead, because then it will not be "all flesh" nor any flesh whatever, but the dead raised before the great white throne. But here it is a question of man living in his natural body on the earth. The Jew was apt to overlook the judgement of the dead at the end of all dispensations; the Gentile is just as negligent as to the judgement of the quick, though it be confessed in the commonest symbols of Christendom. As infidelity increases, the rejection of this truth is perhaps more complete now than it has ever been since the gospel was preached to the Gentiles.
In the dark ages people at least believed enough to be panic-struck from time to time, but now Christians are accounted fanatics if they testify of these coming judgements. But none the less will God cut short the course of this world, and the glory of Jehovah will be revealed, so that all flesh shall see it together. This John the Baptist had to announce: only the first word committed to him, and already accomplished in its measure, was the preparation of the way of Jehovah. Hence it appears that the third verse does not refer solely to the mighty changes of the new age, but includes also such a moral preparation as befitted the coming of the Lord in humiliation. Thus, for the time, it went no farther than God's working in the hearts of a remnant, whose souls were made to be in a measure prepared for the Messiah. We know that such was the fact. See John's disciples leaving him to follow Jesus, and John delighting in it. "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:29-30). Hence says our Lord in Matt. 11:14, "If ye will receive it, this is Elias that was for to come," clearly showing that to faith John the Baptist was Elias (compare Mark 9:11-13); but, as a matter of fact, the full predicted circumstances are postponed till the great day that is coming (compare Mal. 4:5-6). Thus he is to come, not before the Lord takes up the church, with which he has nothing to do, but before the proper blessing of Israel, with whom he has a close connection. John the Baptist went before Jehovah-Jesus in the spirit and power of Elias but Elias himself publicly vindicated the true God in opposition to the apostasy of Israel and in the discomfiture of the priests of Baal. He will return by-and-by, and resume a work of the most solemn character before the great and terrible day of Jehovah. John the Baptist anticipated this in the way of preparing a remnant for receiving Him Who should and did and will come.
Next, "A voice says, Cry. And he says, What shall I cry?" Here follows the substance of John the Baptist's testimony, though it may be still more manifest in the end of this age. "All flesh is grass"; it is man morally and universally. "And all the goodliness thereof [is] as the flower of the field" (v. 6). Could a man use this to think well of himself? Verse 7 cuts down all boasting — "The grass withers, the flower fades: because the Spirit (or, breath) of Jehovah blows upon it." Not its beauty but its frailty God refers to. The moment you have God testing its character, if it were only by the breath of His nostrils, all flesh comes to nothing; and this too in Israel, not in Gentiles only: "surely the people is grass." Nor is this all; He utters its sentence again and again. The reason for the first repetition seems to be the emphatic judgement of "the people," that is, the Jews. The second case is particularly connected with the resource for faith. "The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God shall stand for ever" (v. 8).
Thus the reception of the Messiah and His reign over Israel by-and-by are conditioned by their repentance, a work wrought in their souls by the word of God applied by the Holy Spirit, as Nicodemus had to learn from our Lord in John 3. So the Christian proves yet more profoundly under the gospel, and by faith receives eternal life in the Son of God. So must the Jew in due time for the future world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. These two truths are of no less importance at the present moment, as we know how Peter used them for the Christian Jews from the first. They will be urgently needed when God begins to work in the Jews once more, when they painfully learn, feel, and prove the utter worthlessness of man as he is in divine things. Even now the men of the world are making no small strides in material things; but they will yet do greater things. And the devil will mature and display his plans as they have never been witnessed in the world before. What then will be the security of faith? "The word of our God shall stand for ever."
But as the church, the heavenly mystery of Christ (or rather part of it), really came into view when all hopes of the earth and man for the present (and always, as far as they are concerned) were buried in Christ's grave, so we may well believe, as the end draws nearer, we do greatly need to rest with simplicity upon God's word. We may, as only knowing in part, understand but little; but it is a poor feeling and unworthy to be called faith only to believe His word when understood. Not that it is not sweet and cheering when we consciously enter into any of its depths; but intelligence of the word is the gift of grace and product of faith, not the ground why one believes. God sends one His testimony, and the soul bows to it, setting to its seal that God is true. Am I a sinner without peace or even hope, or any real anxiety before God? That word comes and pronounces to my conscience that all flesh is grass. My soul is thus laid bare. If I do not believe God, all my life and death will be just the proof of my folly and sin. But if I submit to the humbling yet gracious testimony of God, while proving its truth in what I am, I enter into the comfort and strength of His own word, and I too am made to stand through that same word. "The word of our God shall stand for ever." Our experience follows, and confirms of course the truth of the word in breaking one down. Thus God's word is the only standing-ground. Yet outwardly the word of God is just like the cross of Christ. There may well be difficulties to such as we are; and the word seems a weak thing to confide in for eternity; but, in truth, it is more stable than heaven and earth. So in 2 Tim. 3:16-17 the apostle, anticipating the ruin of Christendom, casts the man of God on this unfailing resource.
But we turn in the next verse to the special earthly object of God's affection — Zion. It is the symbol of the grace of God working in Israel, also the centre of the royal glory that is about to be revealed here below. "O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into a high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, Behold, your God! Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come with might, and his arm shall rule for him; behold, his reward [is] with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs with his arm, and carry [them] in his bosom; he will gently lead those that give suck" (vv. 9-11). As there can be no doubt, the person Who came of old and will come by-and-by is Christ; in a word, the same Jesus is not only Christ but Jehovah. He is here spoken of as the God of Israel, Jehovah, Whose reward is with Him and His work before Him. First of all is His coming in power; next, with all tenderness of heart, as One taking compassion on them because of their defenceless and exposed condition.
But the verses from 12 let us know, when we come to inquire who is the great and loving Deliverer, that He turns out to be no such petty conqueror as Rabbis conceived and as the carnal desires of Israel craved so long and ardently; He is the Creator. How strange that such a height of glory should be unwelcome! Even then it was God's warning of His judgement on idolatry which is the first great question in this part of Isaiah's prophecy with Israel even more than the nations. His people would apostatise more and more from Jehovah and follow the Gentiles in their worship of idols. But before the Spirit of God deals with this iniquity, He first of all identifies the Messiah with God, and expatiates on what He is as the eternal, Almighty, and only wise, the Creator and Governor of all things, the Holy One, Jehovah of Israel.
This accordingly gives an occasion for a glorious description of the true God. "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out the heavens with [his] span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance, and the hills in scales? Who has directed the Spirit of Jehovah, and [as] his counsellor has taught him? With whom took he counsel, and [who] made him understand, and instructed him in the path of judgement, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are counted as a drop from a bucket, and as the fine dust on the balance, behold, he takes up the isles as an atom. And Lebanon [is] not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All the nations [are] as nothing before him; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity" (vv. 12-17).
Then He challenges the folly of those that set up graven images as entitled to resemble or to represent Him. "To whom then will ye liken God? and what likeness will ye compare to him? The workman casts a graven image, and the goldsmith spreads it over with gold, and casts silver chains. He that [is] impoverished so that he has no oblation chooses a tree [that] doth not rot; he seeks to him a skilled workman to prepare a graven image [that] shall not be moved. Do ye not know? have ye not heard? has it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood the foundations of the earth? [It is] he that sits upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof [are] as grasshoppers; that stretches out the heavens as a veil (or curtain), and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in: that brings the princes to nothing; that makes the judges of the earth as vanity. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely are they sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but he also blows upon them, and they wither, and the whirlwind takes them away as stubble. To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold. Who has created these [things], bringing out their host by number? He calls them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and strength of power, not one fails" (vv. 18-26).
Lastly, Jehovah falls back on what He has been to His own from the beginning. "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from Jehovah, and my judgement is passed over from my God? Dost thou not know, hast thou not heard, [that] the everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary? [There is] no searching of his understanding. He gives power to the faint; and to [them that have] no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall stumble and fall; but they that wait upon Jehovah shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint" (vv. 27-31). He cannot deny Himself, nor fail to strengthen the weakest that wait on Him. But the great public demonstration of His ways will be when His people at the consummation of the age are delivered from that evil heart of unbelief, which has been fatal to them hitherto in all their varied history, and has postponed the era of righteous happiness which yet awaits not Israel only but all the nations. Then shall the blessings prevail above the blessings of Jacob's progenitors to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of Him that was separate from His brethren: Jehovah, how long! Then will Judah own in deepest penitence his sin of blood-guiltiness, "the great transgression," against Him Who deigned to be his brother, and against a greater Father than his father. Benjamin will be joined to Joseph in a mightier sense, and the true Joseph make Himself known to His brethren by grace made true, and Israel be at length the Israel of God. The fame thereof will be heard throughout all the earth, and the long alienated and unworthy nations that knew not God will seek and rest in Him Who alone makes Himself known in deed and truth, Whose resting-place shall be glory.
Though a little out of its place, it seems but fair to say that while in the above translation the text of v. 9 has been rendered with the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, Grotius, both the Lowths, Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Leeser, and many otherwise differing scholars, that of the A.V. is supported by the Peschito, the Greek v.v. of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, as well as by Calvin, Vitringa, Ewald, Alexander, Stier, and many more of no small weight. According to these, Zion and Jerusalem are addressed as messengers of good tidings to the cities of Judah, instead of being the object of the message which is to be spread to others also.
It will be a blessed exchange, proved now in the soul of every one that believes the gospel, when Israel shall abandon confidence in self under law for the word of God which reveals His grace in Christ. They thus discover that flesh is but grass, and its goodliness no better than the flower of the field. He Who created the world is the same Jehovah, Israel's Saviour God, Who will make good in power and glory for His people what He once presented personally in humiliation and obedience, when alas! they in their pride and incredulity refused Him. None but the Framer and Governor of the universe could be adequate to such a result; and the nations that envied while they despised the Jews will judge all their folly in the day when their graven images shall be spurned for ever.
This chapter, if it be not a second part the preceding one being the first, is a most appropriate sequel. For Jehovah, having opened His counsels as to Jerusalem and its comfort (after many vicissitudes and troubles) at His coming in power and glory, turns now to the Gentiles, challenging them to meet Him in judgement. He had there been displayed in His shepherd care over Israel, in His might and wisdom over all, needing no counsellor, and the nations counted less than a cipher and vanity, so that comparison or image was futile, and Israel's unbelief was the more deplorable because of His special goodness to all amongst them who waited on Him. Now He says (v. 1), "Keep silence before me, islands, and let the peoples renew [their] strength: let them come near, then let them speak; let us draw near together to judgement."
Cyrus is meant though not yet named. It is no question of a past name of renown, but of a future deliverer, of whom God knew all: man and his idols could say nothing. Before the prescient eye of the prophet stands the mighty conqueror of Babylon. None but the true God, Who made him the instrument of His designs in providence, had anticipated his rise. Jehovah here describes him, but typically (in the manner of the prophetic Spirit) as the shadow of a greater than Cyrus, Who should for ever overturn the idols of the nations, judge their pride, and deliver the people of Israel from all their dispersions, as well as from the sins which brought them under wrath in the righteous ways of Jehovah. "Who raised up from the east him whom righteousness calls to its foot? He gave the nations before him, and made [him] rule over kings; he gave [them] as dust to his sword, as driven stubble to his bow. He pursued them, he passed on safely, by a way he had not come with his feet. Who has wrought and done [it], calling the generations from the beginning? I Jehovah, the first, and with the last; I [am] He" (vv. 2-4).
It is as vain to drag in the gospel of Christ here as in Isa. 40 to interpret Jacob and Israel of Christendom. Nor is the plea at all valid that the Jews will never more meddle with idols. Matt. 12:43; Matt. 24:15, not to speak of the Revelation, are clear evidence confirmatory of Isa. 65 — 66, and of other passages in the Old Testament, which prove that the end of the age will see a fatal revival of idolatry, the return of the unclean spirit (Matt. 12:43-45) with the full antichristian power of Satan, which will bring down the Assyrian scourge on the Jews and thereon also the Lord's coming in vengeance, when the indignation shall be accomplished, and Jehovah's anger, in the destruction of the foe. The last state of that generation which rejected Christ will then be characterized both by idol worship and the Antichrist; so that, on this score, there is no pretence for turning aside the expostulation, here addressed to the peoples, to the Gentiles that are now baptized, or for interpreting Jacob and Israel of Christendom as some have done who ought to have known better.
Again, it is absurd to say that the gospel could be foreshown by the first one raised up from the east; for, among the Jews, the east was always reckoned from Palestine, never Palestine itself. The Rabbinical idea (strange to say, espoused by Calvin, Hausschein, Piscator, Lowth the younger, Bengel, and stranger still, by the late Mr. Birks) was not so unreasonable: the allusion, they thought, was to Abraham, who was a righteous man called out of Mesopotamia. But this idea fails. For who could think that the patriarch's exceptional sally against the kings of the east who were returning after their successful raid into the valley of the Jordan, or the incidents of Pharaoh and Abimelech, duly answer to the discomfiture of nations and subjugation of kings, making his sword as a column of dust and as the driven stubble his bow in resistless progress? Still less does verse 2 suit the testimony of Christ in the gospel.
The comparison of Isa. 45:1, 13, ought to convince any unbiased thoughtful mind that Cyrus is really in view, but of course ultimately the foreshadowed triumph when Christ comes in His kingdom, putting all enemies under His feet instead of gathering souls out of the world in one body for heaven, as He is now doing by the Holy Ghost's power through the gospel. (Compare also Ezra 1:1-3) If the Babylonish captivity of Judah was the divine chastening of their idolatry by means of the chief patron of idols on earth, the fall of Babylon was a tremendous blow on its own idolatry, predicted as this was by the Jewish prophet long before either event. These were among the reasons which made the first success and the final ruin of Babylon so important in scripture. They were bound up with God's ways in His people. And hence the answer to the infidel sneer touching the silence of prophecy respecting America. What has the discovery or growth of the New World in the far west to do with Israel? From the New Testament again all such matters are excluded, because the rejected Messiah involves not only the disappearance of Israel and the kingdoms of the earth from the foreground, but the calling of the church for glory in the heavenly places as the body and bride of Christ, at least until the corruption of Christendom becomes morally unbearable. For the age ends in the judgement of apostate Jews and Gentiles under the Beast and the false prophet, when Christ and His glorified saints appear from heaven, and the godly remnant of Jews here below will become a strong nation, the earthly centre of His kingdom under the whole heaven.
Hence the suitability here of confronting in this very connection "Jehovah, the first, and with the last," the One Who had wrought and spoken. Why were the gods of the nations silent and powerless? why were the boasted oracles dumb? If the fall of Judah, moral necessity as it was (unless Jehovah must sanction His own dishonour in the midst of His people, and sustain them to give His glory to a graven image), made His power questionable in a Gentile's eyes, let them learn in the downfall of Babylon, which the Jews alone knew generations beforehand, even to the name and race of him who was its instrument, that His righteousness and wisdom were no less than His power, and that the chastised Jews were the people of His choice. "The isles saw [it] and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came. They helped every one his neighbour, and [each] said to his brother, Be of good courage. So the carpenter encouraged the founder, he that smoothes [with] the hammer him that smites on the anvil, saying of the soldering, [it is] good: and he fastens it with nails, [that] it be not moved. But thou, Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend, whom I have grasped from the ends of the earth, and called from its corners (or, nobles), and said to thee, Thou [art] my servant; I have chosen thee, and not rejected thee. Fear not, for I [am] with thee; be not dismayed, for I [am] thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness" (vv. 5-10).
The honour to which Cyrus was called by the way was no change in His purposes or affections respecting Israel. Not Cyrus but Israel was His servant. "Behold, all they that are incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they that strive with thee shall be as nothing, and shall perish. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, — them that contend with thee. They that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of naught. For I Jehovah thy God will hold thy right hand, saying to thee, Fear not, I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, ye few men of Israel; I will help thee, says Jehovah, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I have made thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh and beat small the mountains, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in Jehovah, thou shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel" (vv. 11-16).
These last words, however, render it beyond just doubt that the prophet carries his eye far beyond the immediate occasion, and presents, not the condition of the Jews under their Persian or other Gentile lords, but days still future when Israel shall take them captive whose captives they were, and shall rule over their oppressors. It is impossible to apply to the same period the prophetic description here and Nehemiah's language: "Behold, we [are] servants this day, and [for] the land that thou gavest to our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we [are] servants in it; and it yields much increase to the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we [are] in great distress" (Neh. 9:36-37). Here the word is in manifest contrast, and in figurative language, no doubt; but it prefigures neither servitude, nor the grace of the gospel, but triumph when the true Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings, and Israel shall flourish and tread down the wicked in the day that shall burn all the proud and lawless as an oven.
The Maccabean or the apostolic triumphs of Vitringa and others are a burlesque on a sound interpretation. Not only must we leave room for the future, but for a total change from the character of God's actual working in and by the church. Now it is grace building living stones on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone; then it will be the awful descent of the Stone cut without hands on the statue of Gentile empire in its last phase, which leads to, as it corresponds with, the judicial functions of Israel here described in "that great day" of the future.
Not that refreshment will fail from Jehovah for Israel. "The afflicted and the needy seek water, and [there is] none; their tongue fails for thirst: I Jehovah will hear them, [I] the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness into a pool of water, and the dry lands into water-springs. I will give in the wilderness the cedar, acacia, and myrtle, and oleaster; I will set in the desert the cypress, pine (or, plane), and box-tree together; that they may see and know and consider and understand together, that the hand of Jehovah has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it" (vv. 17-20).
Jehovah then recurs to a renewal of His challenge to the Gentiles and their idols, but in terms of justly increased contempt for their trust in a thing of naught, again grounding His appeal on their ignorance of the scourge of idolatry who should come from the north and east. "Produce your cause, says Jehovah; bring forth your strong [reasons] says the King of Jacob. Let them bring [them] forth and show us what shall happen: show the former things, what they [be], that we may pay heed to them, and know their issue; or declare us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye [are] gods; yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold [it] together. Behold, ye [are] of nothing, and your work of naught: an abomination [is he that] chooses you. I have raised up [one] from the north, and he shall come; from the rising of the sun will he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as [upon] mortar, and as the potter treads clay. Who has declared [it] from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, Right? Indeed there is none that declares, indeed there is none that shows, indeed there is none that hears your words. The first [I say] to Zion, Behold, behold them; and to Jerusalem I will give one that brings good tidings. For I look, and there is no man; even among them, and there is no counsellor, that, when I ask of them, can answer a word" (vv. 21-28). The oracles are dumb, even reason abashed — nothing but insensate folly is in men owning as gods things which could neither speak nor hear. "Behold, they [are] all vanity: their works [are] naught: their molten images [are] wind and confusion" (v. 29). Human helps to devotion are the death-bed of faith. Man by his devices, now as of old, only succeeds in shutting himself out from the living God; and the mercy He reveals in His word, as well as His judgements, are sealed up in the darkness of unbelief. Prophecy is the truest and most permanent witness of the true God, till His power overwhelm those that dispute it and dishonour Him. Hence the gravity of the present scepticism in Christendom which will issue in "the falling away" or apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3).
Distinguished though the place of Cyrus might be as "the righteous man from the east," whom God employed to break the pride of Babylon and set the captives free to return to the land of Israel, a greater is here. "Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect [in whom] my soul delights! I have put my Spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgement to the nations. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A crushed reed shall he not break, and dim flax shall he not quench; he shall bring forth judgement in (or, for) truth. He shall not faint nor be crushed till he have set judgement in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law" (vv. 14). We know that Christ is intended (the typical one, it seems, giving occasion to the introduction of the Antitype). It is the more remarkable as being lost after this brief moment when the prophetic strain resumes its previous course, and the servant of Jehovah elsewhere in this chapter and to the end of Isa. 48 is unequivocally not Christ, but Israel.
Here however it is the Servant, the object of Jehovah's delight as of His choice, the vessel of the power of the Spirit, and the manifester of judgement to the nations, compared with whom the Gentile avenger of God's honour on the source and patron of all idols was little indeed. Yet He, Whose glory was thus beyond all competition, displayed it first in perfect unobtrusive lowliness. Might of far-reaching testimony even was not what characterized Him thus, meek retirement rather, not only in presence of murderous hatred, but away from the multitudes that followed Him and the admiration of the healed who would have spread His fame. He "charged them that they should not make him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Behold my servant …" (Isa. 42:1-3; Matt. 12:14-21). This state of things is seen here terminated by the victory of His second advent, when He shall set judgement in the earth and the isles shall wait for His law. The intervening action of the Holy Ghost here below, while Christ is exalted on high, does not enter into account in this prophecy.
This leads Jehovah in magnificent terms to speak of what He will accomplish through His own name and glory, in contrast with graven images. "Thus says God Jehovah, he that created the heavens, and stretched them forth; he that spread abroad the earth and that which comes out of it; he that gives breath to the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein. I Jehovah have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thy hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles, to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, [and] them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house. I [am] Jehovah; that [is] my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them" (vv. 5-9). Is this, or anything else, too hard for Jehovah?
"Sing to Jehovah a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein, the isles and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up [their voice], the villages Kedar doth inhabit; let the inhabitants of Sela (or, the rock) sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory to Jehovah, and declare his praise in the islands. Jehovah will go forth as a mighty man; he will stir up jealousy like a man of war: he will cry, yea, he will shout aloud; he will do mightily against his enemies. I have long time holden my peace, I have been still, I have restrained myself: [now] will I cry out like a travailing woman, I will gasp and pant together. I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and will dry up the pools. And I will bring the blind by a way they know not, in paths they know not will I lead them; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do to them, and I will not forsake them. They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, [Ye are] our gods" (vv. 10-17).
From verse 18 onward we have the utter shame of such as trust in these lying vanities insisted on, so as to touch the conscience of the guilty Jew. "Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see" (v. 18). Could Israel as they are testify for Jehovah? How could they look the Gentiles in the face, and reprove their idolatries? What were they themselves after all the favours of the true God? "Who [is] blind but my servant? and deaf as my messenger [that] I sent? who [is] blind as [he that is] made perfect, and blind as Jehovah's servant? Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, he hears not" (vv. 19, 20). It is Israel who are in view, "perfect," yet "blind." Such was their perfection in privilege and therefore in solemn responsibility, but such their woeful failure. Jehovah contrariwise is right in all His ways. "Jehovah was well pleased for his righteousness' sake to magnify the law, and make [it] honourable. But this [is] a people robbed and spoiled; [they are] all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison-houses: they are for a prey, and none delivers; for a spoil, and none says, Restore. Who among you will give ear to this? [who] will hearken and hear what is to come? Who gave Jacob for a spoil and Israel to the robbers? did not Jehovah? — he against whom we have sinned; and they would not walk in his ways, nor be obedient to his law. Therefore he has poured upon him the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle: and it set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid [it] not to heart" (vv. 21-25).
Such has been the way of Jehovah in chastening His rebellious people. Nor does He disguise the severity of His discipline. The day is coming when it will prove not in vain, as the next chapter declares His faithful affection when they knew it not. But they will yet and soon learn it in His grace.
After all their faithlessness to His name, which entailed on Israel the fury of Jehovah (yet misunderstood and unfelt through the blinding influence of idolatry), in this chapter He proclaims His faithfulness Who had called Israel by their name and made them His own. "But now thus says Jehovah that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called [thee] by thy name, thou [art] mine. When thou passest through the waters, I [will be] with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I [am] Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour; I have given Egypt as thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee; and I will give men for thee, and peoples for thy life. Fear not, for I [am] with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the end of the earth every one that is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory; I have formed him, yea, I have made him. Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the peoples be assembled: who among them declares this, and shows us former things? let them bring their witnesses, that they may be justified; or let them hear, and say, [It is] truth. Ye [are] my witnesses, says Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I [am] He; before me there was no god formed, neither shall there be after me" (vv. 1-10).
This renders the subject (namely, Israel as God's servant) as plain as His own mercy in the last days. The Jews by their idol-loving were the blind people that had eyes and the deaf that had ears. Yet were they alone of all nations Jehovah's witness and His servant. They will yet know, believe, and understand. It was because of Him Whom they rebelled against that they have been so spoiled; it is because of Him that they will be delivered, pardoned, and blessed; for as He, Jehovah, is the only God, so is He equally the sole Saviour. It was for Israel's sake that He had sent them to Babylon and brought down their pride; and new things should cause the old wonders to be forgotten when God gives water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert for His chosen people, formed for Himself to show forth His praise. It was God Who once, for their sins, "profaned the princes" and people of Israel; it is He Who for His own sake will blot out their transgressions and justify themselves. Before that day dawn, we know (what is to them still a secret) the great salvation by His grace, whereby alone He can thus righteously deal with the guilty: Christ, the cross, is the only key.
"I, I [am] Jehovah; and beside me there is no Saviour. I have declared, and I have saved, and I have shown, and there was no strange [god] among you: therefore ye [are] my witnesses, says Jehovah, that I [am] God. Yea, since the day [was], I [am] He; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall hinder it? Thus says Jehovah, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, For your sake I have sent to Babylon, and I will bring down all of them as fugitives, even the Chaldeans, in the ships of their rejoicing. I [am] Jehovah, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says Jehovah, who makes a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters; who brings forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power — they lie down together, they shall not rise; they are extinct, they are quenched as flax — Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now shall it spring forth: shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, [and] rivers in the desert. The beast of the field shall honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; because I give waters in the wilderness, [and] rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen: the people have I formed for myself, that they might set forth my praise. Yet thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; for thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt-offerings; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not made thee to toil with oblation, nor wearied thee with frankincense. Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices; but thou hast made me to toil with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities. I, I [am] he that blots out thy transgressions for mine own sake; and I will not remember thy sins. Put me in remembrance; let us plead together: set thou forth [thy cause], that thou mayest be justified. Thy first father sinned, and thine interpreters have transgressed against me. Therefore I profaned (or, will profane) the princes of the sanctuary, and made (or, will make) Jacob a curse, and Israel a reviling" (vv. 11-28).
Kimchi remarks that the construction indicates the future or the universal present rather than past time, Jehovah always "profaning" the responsibly holy chiefs who betrayed His name (cp. Ps. 84:39). In the day that is coming grace will work not only for but in them. Jehovah will work for His own sake man having failed in every way. The "interpreters" or mediators of v. 27 that rebelled seem included in the "princes of the sanctuary."
It has been objected to the natural sense of "thy first father" (ver. 27) that Adam was not peculiarly father of Israel, being the parent of all mankind. But there seems to be no force in the argument. Israel alone had sure knowledge from God about him who was the first man and head of the race; and he alone, who was created innocent, gave the due emphasis to the description — "sinned."
The opening verses (1-5) seem to be the proper conclusion of the foregoing chapter. The salvation of God is worthy of Himself, even as it springs from His own grace, and can have no end short of His own glory. Hence it is that not only God blots out His people's transgressions for His Son's sake, and will not remember their sins, but that He would banish their fear and fill them to overflowing with His blessing. "And now hear, O Jacob my servant, and Israel whom I have chosen. Thus says Jehovah that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, [who] helps thee, Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up among the grass, as willows by the water-courses. One shall say, I [am] Jehovah's; and another shall call [himself] by the name of Jacob; and another shall inscribe [with] his hand, [I am] Jehovah's, and surname [himself] by the name of Israel" (vv. 1-5). There is not the slightest need, nay, nor even room, for diverting these exceeding precious promises from Israel to the Gentile. It is quite true of course that the wild olive graft enjoys now all this too; but the word of Jehovah is pledged and sure to Jacob His servant. The express object is to banish the dread of the conscience-stricken Jews after their long departure from the true God. Elsewhere express allusions to the call of the Gentiles during that interval appear, as notably in Isa. 65:1; Rom. 10:20, but the point here is the consolation of the ancient people when grace is at work on their behalf.
Some, like Fry, from whose general teaching better might have been expected, were led into this misconception by not understanding how the next sections could have any just bearing on the future ways or dangers of the Jew. But this is to overlook a large part of scripture, and a solemn portion of that people's wonderful destiny. For two thousand years idolatry has not been their snare, but other characters of evil, leading to and consequent on the rejection of their Messiah. This, as we shall find, has its place in our prophecy from Isa. 49 to Isa. 57; as the general picture of their moral condition is portrayed with signal precision in Hosea 3:4. But it is certain, both from the Old Testament and the New, that in the latter day they will fall once more into their old love of idols, along with the acceptance of the Antichrist, thus finally reproducing together the two sins of the past which had, each of them, brought on them such stern judgement providentially from God's vengeance. And "there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." (Cp. Matt. 24:15 with ver. 21) There is thus no ground for turning aside these plain predictions of Isaiah from the literal Israel, of whom he speaks so often and emphatically, to the apostate churches of Christendom. Idol-worship is here too, no doubt, and will surely not go unpunished; but the mass of the Jews in future days will fall for the last time into that besetment and worse. Hence, while the remonstrance of the prophet bore on the evil of his own days, there need be no question of its being requisite for the Jew up to the end.
And who can assert the glory of the true God, who expose the folly of false gods, like the Holy Ghost? "Thus says Jehovah, the King of Israel and his Redeemer Jehovah of hosts; I [am] the first, and I [am] the last; and besides me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? And the things that are coming, and shall come, let them show to them. Fear not, neither be afraid: have not I caused thee to hear long ago, and showed [it]? And ye [are] my witnesses. Is there a God besides me? yea, there is no Rock: I know not [any]" (vv. 6-8).
Next follows a withering exposure of idolatry. If Israel were witnesses of the true God, Jehovah, the idols themselves bore witness by their powerlessness against their foolish devotees. "They that make a graven image [are] all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they [are] their own witnesses: they see not, nor know, that they may be ashamed. Who has formed a god, or molten a graven image [that] is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed; and the workmen [are] but men. Let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; they shall fear, they shall be ashamed together. The smith [has] tongs (or axe), and works in the coals, and fashions it with hammers, and works it with his strong arm; but he is hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water, and is faint. The carpenter stretches out a line; he marks it out with chalk; he fits it with adzes, and he marks it out with the compass (or, chisel), and makes it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of man, to remain in the house. When he hews him down cedars, he also takes a holm-oak and a terebinth, and he makes one strong for himself among the trees of the forest; he plants a mountain-ash, and the rain nourishes [it]. And it shall be for a man to burn; and he takes thereof, and warms himself; he kindles [it] also, and bakes bread; he makes also a god, and worships [it]; he makes it a graven image, and falls down thereto. He burns part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eats flesh, he roasts roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warms [himself], and says, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the light. And with the residue thereof he makes a god, his graven image; he falls down to it, and worships [it], and prays to it, and says, Deliver me; for thou [art] my god. They have no knowledge and understand not: for he has plaistered their eyes, that they see not; [and] their hearts that they understand not. And none takes it to his heart, neither [is there] knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire, and also have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten [it]: and with the residue thereof shall I make an abomination? shall I bow down to a block of wood? He feeds on ashes: a deceived heart has turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, [Is there] not a lie in my right hand?" (vv. 9-20). The sarcastic shafts of classic poets are poor in comparison for beauty or power, not to speak of their worthlessness morally; for mere ridicule, which ends in leaving the satirist at the shrine of his despised divinities, is the mirth of a fool which ends in sorrow and shame without end.
Not so Isaiah: "Remember these things, O Jacob and Israel; for thou [art] my servant: I have formed thee; thou [art] my servant; O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return to me, for I have redeemed thee. Sing, O ye heavens, for Jehovah has done [it]; shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye mountains, the forest, and every tree therein. For Jehovah has redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel. Thus says Jehovah, thy Redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I [am] Jehovah the maker of all [things]; that stretches forth the heavens alone; that spreads abroad the earth by myself; that frustrates the tokens of the liars, and makes diviners mad; that turns wise [men] backward, and makes their knowledge foolish: that confirms the word of his servant, and performs the counsel of his messengers; that says to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited, and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof; that says to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers; that says of Cyrus [He is] my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built, and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid" (vv. 21-28).
And how comes it to pass after so lofty and striking an assertion of Jehovah's glory and wisdom and power, that men wonder He by His interpreter discloses to His people the conqueror of Babylon, and the restorer of the remnant? What more pertinent than to proclaim the name of Cyrus at this point? So did the man of God out of Judah name Josiah at Jeroboam's altar in Bethel (1 Kings 13:2) three centuries and more before the event. When will they be ashamed thus to belittle either God and His word, or His care for His people? Alas! if the night be far spent, the darkness is not less but more. And we know that the darkest hour is not yet come, though the day is at hand. But it will not be, except the falling away, the apostasy, come first, and "the man of sin" be revealed. Truly coming events cast their shadows before; which may sadly and satisfactorily account for the wave of incredulity, and against prophecy in particular, that now overspreads Christendom. But God does not leave Himself without witness; and He has wrought by His Spirit in many a land and tongue that there should be faithful men who have a Spirit-given confidence in the living oracles. These, not content with having learnt by grace what the church of God is in union with its glorified Head, are awaiting Him from the heavens and proclaim the coming of His universal kingdom over the earth. Hence they look with unwavering faith for a deep and gracious work in a remnant of the Jews first and of Israel afterwards, to be united at length as one people of Jehovah under the true Beloved, their Messiah once despised and crucified, their one Shepherd and Prince, yea withal the Lord Jehovah of Israel. All the earth in that day shall be filled with His glory, and with the knowledge of it and of Himself, when the heavens shall show it forth still more wondrously in the glorified saints, especially in the bride, the Lamb's wife.
Here Jehovah deigns to explain why He called the Eastern deliverer of His people by name. "Thus says Jehovah to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held fast, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two-leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee, and make the elevated places plain, I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron; and I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I Jehovah who call [thee] by thy name, [am] the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name; I surnamed thee, though thou didst not know me" (vv. 1-4).
The challenge of Jehovah which begins with ver. 5 does not appear to be a mere repetition of what begins in Isa. 44:6, but in a very interesting way it meets the special evil into which those fell who under Cyrus overthrew Babylon and its idolatrous vanities. For the Persians were famous for their dualistic scheme of good and evil, light and darkness, Ormusd and Ahriman. What can be more pointed in view of the utter confusion of this scheme than the words that follow? "I [am] Jehovah, and there is none else, there is no God besides me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I [am] Jehovah, and there is none else, forming the light, and creating darkness; making peace, and creating evil: I Jehovah do all these [things]. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I Jehovah have created it. Woe to him that strives with his Maker! [Let] the potsherd [strive] with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashions it, What makest thou? or thy work, He has no hands? Woe to him that says to a father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?" (vv. 5-10).
If Jehovah reprove with woe upon woe all striving with Himself and fault-finding with His ways, how graciously He calls on His people in the very next verse to ask Him of things to come about His sons, and to command Him concerning His sons, and the work of His hands! "Thus says Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of the things that are to come; concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands, command ye me. I have made the earth, and created man upon it; I, [even] my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded. I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will make straight all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let my exiles go, not for price nor reward, says Jehovah of hosts" (vv. 11-13). He Who made heaven and its host, earth and man upon it, was the raiser up of Cyrus to build His city and liberate His captives, "not for price nor reward, says Jehovah of hosts." The haughtiest of the Gentiles should yet own God to be in Israel, as enemies of Christ once owned the power of the Spirit in the church.
Then when the last idol-makers perish to confusion, Israel shall be saved in Jehovah with an everlasting salvation. "Thus says Jehovah, the labour of Egypt, and the merchandise of Ethiopia, and the Sebaim (Sabeans), men of stature, shall come over to thee, and they shall be thine, they shall go after thee; in chains they shall come over; and they shall fall down to thee, they shall make supplication to thee, [saying], Surely God [is] in thee; and there is none else, no [other] God. Verily thou [art] a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour. They shall be ashamed, yea, confounded, all of them they shall go into confusion together [that are] makers of idols. [But] Israel shall be saved by Jehovah with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded to the ages of ages." Jehovah, the Creator, had not spoken in secret nor bid the seed of Jacob seek Him in vain; He speaks righteousness. "For thus says Jehovah that created the heavens God himself that formed the earth and made it; he that established it, not a waste he created it; he formed it to be inhabited: I [am] Jehovah; and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret, in a place of the land of darkness; I said not to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I [am] Jehovah speaking righteousness, declaring things that are right" (vv. 14-19).
The closing appeal is exceedingly direct, urgent, and triumphant. "Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together ye [that are] escaped of the nations. They have no knowledge that carry the wood of their graven image, and pray to a god [that] cannot save. Declare, and bring [them] near, yea, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? [who] has told it long ago? [Have] not I Jehovah? and there is no God else besides me; a just God and a Saviour, there is none besides me. Look to me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I [am] God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth [in] righteousness, and shall not return, that to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Only in Jehovah, shall [one] say, have I righteousness and strength: to him shall [men] come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In Jehovah shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory" (vv. 20-25).
The commentators clash as to the "escaped of the nations" (ver. 20). But the conjecture of Mede is far from the mark, for he puts the expression along with Rev. 21:24. He ought to have known that "the nations of them that are saved" would be the inverse of Isaiah's phrase, rather than a parallel. But it is a bad reading, probably from a scholium of Andreas, and contrary to every authority of value, all of which have simply "the nations."
Our prophet widens the salvation in these concluding verses: "Look to me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." So in the next verse, "to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear." This extends beyond "all the seed of Israel who shall be justified and glory in Jehovah." It is clearly applied to the Lord Jesus by the apostle Paul in the largest extent, and with the utmost depth of its meaning (Rom. 14:1; Phil. 2:9-11).
It is indeed a triumphant result for Israel. An everlasting salvation is assured them when they recognize in the Christ Jehovah, to Whom every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear in that day. No glorying shall be in the creature thenceforth. The idols are no gods, but wood or stone, or other material of man's device, with demons behind all, as the apostle teaches. God is a just God and a Saviour: how true now in the gospel! how manifest when the vanities of man are demolished by the shining forth of the glory of the Lord!
The chapters 46 - 48 close this section of the prophecy, the discussion of Israel's guilty love of idols in presence of the doom of Babylon, the patron of idolatry and the instrument of the punishment of the Jews for that sin.
Chapter 46 in the most spirited way contrasts the fall of the helpless objects of Babylonish worship with God's gracious care over Israel. "Bel [their chief god, answering to the Zeus of the Greeks] bows down, Nebo [answering to the Greek Hermes] bends: their idols are upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your loads are lifted up, a burden to the weary [beast]. They bend, they bow down together, they could not deliver the burden, and themselves are gone into captivity" (vv. 1, 2). Thus, chief or subordinate these false deities could do nothing for their votaries, and could not deliver themselves. The victorious foe carries them off as part of the spoil. The Persians detested idols.
On the other hand, Jehovah had carried Israel from their national birth to their old age: "Hearken to me, house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne [by me] from the belly, who have been carried from the womb: even to old age I [am] He, and to hoary hairs will I carry [you]: I have made and I will bear; and I will carry and will deliver" (vv. 3, 4).
Next follows the challenge to whom they would liken the God of Israel. As for the Chaldean gods, it was but a question of gold and silver, which the goldsmith made up, and the people fell down and worshipped. "To whom will ye liken me, and make [me] equal, and compare me, that we may be like? Such as lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, they hire a goldsmith, and he makes it a god; they fall down, yea, they worship. They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he stands; from his place shall he not remove: yea, [one] shall cry to him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble. Remember this, and show yourselves men: bring [it] again to mind, ye transgressors" (vv. 5-8).
Nor is this the only appeal. It was well to bethink them that the gods of the nations were beneath those that adored them: but the prophet adds, "Remember the former things of old: for I [am] God, and there is none else; I [am] God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times [the things] that are not done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure, calling a bird of prey from the east, the man that executes my counsel from a far country. Yea, I have spoken, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed [it], I will also do it" (vv. 9-11). Cyrus is here again cited as a striking proof of the reality of God's dealings with His people, and this both in foreknowledge, in declared purpose, and in providential ways. This leads to the concluding call: "Hearken to me, ye stout-hearted, that [are] far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry; and I will give salvation in Zion to Israel my glory" (vv. 12, 13). Such is the end of Jehovah, and He is very pitiful and of tender mercy. He Who carried His people as a nurse through the wilderness at the beginning will manifest unfailing grace at the end. In the face of their long and manifold wanderings from Him Who did them nothing but good, He will deliver. Yet will His salvation be no more sure than His righteousness. This we know now in the gospel, as Israel also will when the kingdom comes in display.
This chapter shows us the degradation of Babylon itself, as in the preceding chapter we had judgement executed against its gods.
"Come down, and sit in the dust, virgin daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground: [there is] no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones, and grind meal; remove thy veil, strip the train, uncover the leg, pass over rivers. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will meet no man. [As for] our Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts [is] his name, the Holy One of Israel. Sit silent, and get thee into darkness, daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called Mistress of kingdoms. I was wroth with my people, I profaned mine inheritance, and gave them into thy hand: thou didst show them no mercy; upon the aged hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke. And thou saidst, I shall be a mistress for ever; [so] that thou didst not lay these [things] to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end thereof" (vv. 1-7).
The anger of God at His guilty people was no justification for the merciless behaviour of Babylon; and her confidence in the stability of her resources would be the precursor of ruin. "Now therefore hear this, [thou that art] given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thy heart, I [am], and all besides me [is] nothing; I shall not sit [as] a widow, neither shall I know loss of children. But these two [things] shall come to thee in a moment in one day, loss of children, and widowhood: in full measure shall they come upon thee, in spite of the multitude of thy sorceries, of the great abundance of thine enchantments. For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness; thou hast said, None sees me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it has perverted thee; and thou hast said in thy heart, I [am], and all besides me [is] nothing. And there comes upon thee evil; thou shalt not know the dawning thereof: and mischief falls upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it away; and desolation thou knowest not shall come upon thee suddenly" (vv. 8-11).
We must remember too that what made the taunt the more cutting was Babylon's boast in their sorceries and enchantments; but even so, they could not profit nor prevail. "Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest terrify. Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels: let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from [the things] that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as stubble, the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: [it shall] not [be] a coal to warm at, a fire to sit before. Thus shall they be to thee wherein thou hast laboured; they that have trafficked with thee from thy youth shall wander every one to his quarter none shall save thee" (vv. 12-15). As they could not really predict, still less could they save; so He predicts, Who is the Saviour God. And it is to be feared that such as believe not His prophetic word are strangers to His saving grace. For without faith it is impossible to please God. To predict, divine as it is, must be regarded as a small thing compared with the grace that saves righteously. Comparatively few in Christendom accept that man here as elsewhere is wholly lost in himself, or that in Christ the believer is truly saved. Those who trust in ordinances and in such as administer them never rise above the uncertainties of probation. Human contingency is not the true grace of God in which we are called to stand.
Our chapter is a more direct and exclusive appeal to Israel to those that come forth "out of the waters of Judah." It is a beautiful homily to His people. "Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah; who swear by the name of Jehovah, and make mention of the God of Israel, not in truth nor in righteousness. For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel; Jehovah of hosts [is] his name" (vv. 1, 2). It explains why God had long foretold, and then suddenly acted. They could not thus defraud Him of His praise. "I have declared the former things from of old; yea, they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them: suddenly I wrought, and they came to pass. Because I knew that thou [art] obstinate, and thy neck [is] an iron sinew, and thy brow brass; therefore I have declared [them] to thee from of old, before they came to pass I showed thee, lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol has done them, and my graven image, and my molten image has commanded them. Thou hast heard; behold all this; and ye, will ye not declare [it]? I have shown thee new things from this time, and hidden things, which thou hast not known. They are created now, and not from of old; and before this day thou heardest them not, lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them. Yea, thou heardest not, yea, thou knewest not; yea, from of old thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou didst deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb" (vv. 3-8).
In verse 9 Jehovah tells them why He had not cut them off. "For my name's sake will I defer mine anger, and [for] my praise will I refrain as to thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not as silver, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. For mine own sake, for mine own sake, will I do [it]: for how should [my name] be polluted? and I will not give my glory to another" (vv. 9-11).
Then (in vv. 12-21) comes a tender expostulation, accomplished in measure at the return from captivity, but to be fulfilled by-and-by in all its extent. "Hearken to me, O Jacob, and Israel my called: I [am] HE, I the first, I also the last. Yea, my hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand has spread out the heavens: I call to them, they stand up together. Assemble yourselves, all ye, and hear; which among them has declared these [things]? He whom Jehovah has loved shall perform his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm [shall be] on the Chaldeans. I, I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and his way shall be prosperous. Come ye near to me, hear ye this; from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time that it was, there [am] I and now the Lord Jehovah has sent me, and his Spirit. Thus says Jehovah, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, I [am] Jehovah thy God, who teaches thee to profit, who leads thee in the way thou shouldest go. Oh that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea; thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof: his name should not be cut off nor destroyed from before me. Go ye forth from Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans; with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it to the end of the earth; say ye, Jehovah has redeemed his servant Jacob. And they thirsted not [when] he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them; he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out." Cyrus had not acted without the God Who had called him by name. Nor was it (save judicially) he who had ordered things for Israel. The word is, "Jehovah has redeemed his servant Jacob." The moral is, "[There is] no peace, says Jehovah, to the wicked." It is a misconception of Israel's future to imagine that no future question arises between God and them as to graven images. The Lord Jesus has ruled the contrary, if we understand His intimation in Matt. 12:43-45, with other scriptures of like purport, and even from the prophet before us. We all know how confident the Jews seem that they are proof against idols. They were not in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, long after the return from Babylon; and they are destined to fall into the same pit again ere the age closes, as Dan. 9:27; Dan. 11:38-39 plainly prove. For when has self-righteousness effectually resisted Satan's wiles? "Even so shall it be to this wicked generation." The generation of unbelief has not yet passed away. And as it will be guilty once more of its old love of such abominations, it will also see greater than these, as the next part of our prophet notifies.