The Book of Isaiah - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
I am full of the burnt offerings of rams ...
The first verse of this chapter constitutes the Title Page of the book, and gives us with perfect clearness the dates of Isaiah's prophesying. Chapter 6 speaks of Uzziah's death. In chapters 1 to 5 we have the notes of the prophet's messages during the reign of Uzziah. This first chapter Ewald called "the great Arraignment"; and that most accurately describes it. Throughout, the nation is seen from the Divine viewpoint, and its terrible condition is vividly set forth. From the material standpoint, the reign of Uzziah was characterized by great prosperity, Moreover, the Temple service was maintained. At the heart of the chapter these words occur, and they are startlingly revealing of the Divine attitude toward the sacrifices which are being offered. The words, "I have had enough of," are expressive of loathing, produced by satiety. The whole force of this is derived from the fact that all these offerings were Divinely appointed. What an interpretation we have here of the attitude of God toward all religious observances. When the highest and best of these, those of His own ordination, cease to be the expressions of a true spiritual and metal condition, He loathes them. The reason is clearly revealed in a subsequent sentence: "I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting." In all our exercises in worship we need to remember this. The singing of hymns, the offering of prayers, the giving of money, the study of the Word, all may become hateful to God, and do, when the spiritual and moral condition of the worshippers is not in harmony with what these things stand for.
O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.
After the indictment of the nation contained in the first chapter, there follows a prediction of the ideal conditions which will obtain "in the latter days," that is, in the established Messianic Kingdom. "The light of Jehovah" referred to in this appeal is the glory of that vision of the latter days. It is to be noted that immediately after this appeal, the prophecy returns to the sad conditions then existing, to a denunciation of them, and to a declaration that in order to end them, and bring in the true order, "there shall be a day of Jehovah," and that a day of "the terror of Jehovah." The arresting and instructive fact is that in the midst of the darkness and degeneration, this prophet of God had a clear vision of the ultimate glory, an unwavering faith that it would be realized; and that he described it, and made his appeal to the nation to walk in the light of it. An examination of all the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, and the Apostolic writings of the New, will show that this has always been true of the God-inspired messengers. No men saw so clearly, or denounced so consistently and vehemently, the godless and calamitous ways of wickedness; but they never lost sight of the final triumph of righteousness, and they constantly bade men "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God," and called them to walk in the light thereof. This is a matter which we do well to ponder. In days of darkness, and of widespread corruption, we are in danger of becoming so conscious of these conditions, as to forget, or even to doubt, the ultimate issue of the triumph of God. This never happens to those who live in close fellowship with God. They see through all the mysterious present, to the determined end, and in the light of that glory, order all their steps.
... The daughters of Zion are haughty ...
These words constitute the central charge made against the women at the court, in this message of the prophet. The whole oracle is a brilliant and satirical exposure of the vanity and futility of their mode of life. This mode of life to the prophet was not vain and futile only; it was positively wicked in view of the fact that the luxury in which they lived was made possible by the crushing of the people, and the grinding of the face of the poor. Yet there is a deeper note here than that. It is not possible to imagine that a prophet like Isaiah would have wasted his time denouncing these women, if he had not recognized how they were involved in the guilt of the rulers, and the degeneracy of the nation. At a later period in this prophetic work he again denounced them (see chapter 32). Amos at the court of Samaria was fierce in his invective against the women. All this is very suggestive. The influence of women is most powerful for good or for ill. I once heard one of the keenest of observers say that no great movement for the uplifting of humanity had been generated in human history but that woman's influence had much to do with it. Whether so superlative a statement is capable of substantiation I do not know; but I believe there is a great element of truth in it. It is equally true that the part that women have taken in corrupting the race has been terrible. When the womanhood of a nation is noble, the national life is held in strength. When it is corrupt, the nation is doomed. Woman is the last stronghold of good or of evil. Compassion and cruelty are superlative in her.
... By the spirit of judgement, and by the spirit of burning.
In the oracle concerning the women, the prophet had foretold the destruction of the city by reason of the corruption in which these women were involved, both as to cause and course. As ever, this messenger of God saw that the retribution resulting from Divine judgment would issue in restoration; and in the brief but beautiful utterances contained in verses 2 to 6 of this chapter he described the new order. In the process of that judgment, evil will be eliminated, and those left in Jerusalem will be holy; the daughters of Jerusalem will be washed from their filth and the city cleansed of its blood. The words we have stressed are those in which the prophet described the agency by which this process of cleansing will be carried out. It is a remarkable description: "The spirit of justice and the spirit of burning." Justice is government in action, and in strict and impartial justice, it is discriminative and irresistible. Burning is a process which exterminates the things that are base and unworthy, and purifies to freedom from all alloy the things which are noble and worthy. This conception of God as a Spirit of justice and of fire, recurs again and again in these Old Testament writings, and passes over into the New Testament with its interpretation of the age of the Spirit. While there are senses in which the Spirit as fire is now available and at work in special ways, as the result of the perfected work of the Son of God, there are senses in which all human history has known the presence and power of "the spirit of justice," and "the spirit of burning." That spirit ever blasts the evil, and establishes the good.
... He looked for judgement, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
These words are of supreme importance in that they constitute the prophet's interpretation of his own song of the vine-yard. In that song he had likened Judah to a plant of Jehovah's planting, from which he expected grapes, but which had brought forth wild grapes. Now the figure is explained. The fruit which Jehovah expected from the nation is described by the two words "justice" and "righteousness." In order to the bringing forth in the midst of the nations of "justice," that is true government; resulting from "righteousness," that is right relationship with God, He had created the nation. Instead of this fruit, it had produced oppression - literally bloodshed - and the cry of the oppressed. Therein lay its failure. Thus, in this remarkable song, did the prophet teach his contemporaries, and all those who study his song, that the Divine government of a nation requires that it should realize a true order within itself, in the interest of other nations; and where it fails to do so, and permits conditions which are those of oppression, He proceeds against it in destruction. We trace this figure of the vine through the Scriptures until we find its final occurrence in the allegory of Jesus. Finding it there, it is good that we should apply its principles to the Church as to her responsibilities for the world. So far as this age and this earth are concerned, she exists to bring forth the same fruits of justice and righteousness. If within her borders, oppression obtains, and the resultant cry, she also is failing.
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.
We have all felt the wonder and the glory of this chapter. It records the vision which came to the prophet when Uzziah died. For the first time in Isaiah's life the throne of Judah was vacant. The man who had symbolized national order and authority had passed away. Then he saw the Throne which is never vacant, and the King, the Lord, Who never dies. He saw Him, moreover, surrounded by spirits of fire, serving Him, in worship, or - as in the case of the one who came to the prophet with the cleansing coal - in service. This vision gave him a new conception of Jehovah, and created a crisis in his work. The words we have emphasized constituted the song of the worshipping seraphim. In our thinking of this song we are too apt to think only of the first half, that in which they celebrated the holiness of Jehovah. Certain it is, that this was, and is, the first note. It must never be omitted or placed second. It gives interpretation to that which follows. But let us go on. .They in their worship also celebrated the fact that "the whole earth is full of His glory." Thus, here in the Old Testament is emphasized the truth which contradicts the false idea that anything in the earth itself is inherently evil. The earth is full of His glory, which glory is manifested in its form, its colour, its resources for human well-being. Evil is there, but it is a poison introduced from without. Against it, the holiness of Jehovah is for ever at work; and at last, through redeeming activity, its victory will be won. Then, the whole creation, set free from the bondage of evil, will utter forth His praise. These are the fundamental convictions which make great ministries.
But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.
The title page of this book (see 1:1) refers to "The vision of Isaiah ... in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah." In chapter six we have an account of the death of Uzziah, and the vision which then came to the prophet. In chapter 7 we find ourselves in the reign of Ahaz. That means that at least sixteen years had elapsed, for Jotham reigned for that period. He seems to have followed generally in the steps of his father Uzziah, and we have no record of any prophesying by Isaiah. With the coming to the throne of Ahaz the nation was plunged into more definite courses of evil. With his accession also the national life was threatened by a confederacy against it, of Israel and Syria. The king was filled with alarm. Then Isaiah interfered. He knew that Ahaz was likely to seek the aid of Assyria. This the prophet knew would be fatal. Therefore he appealed to him to rely only on God, and offered him a sign. It was to this offer that he replied in these words. Mark them well. They have all the sound of religion and reverence. He would not seek to prove Jehovah! And yet his refusal of the sign offered was irreligious and irreverent, for it was born of the fact that he did not wish to follow the policy which the prophet argued. It was born also of fear. He knew that the sign would be given, and he did not desire it. There is the most solemn suggestiveness in this. How easy it is to deceive ourselves! Let us ever watch lest, under cover of some high-sounding phrases which seem to be those of religious conviction, we refuse the way and the will of God. It is one thing to tempt Jehovah in unbelief; but it is of the nature of the deepest unbelief to refuse a sign which He offers.
And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and that mutter, should not a people seek unto their God?
On behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead?
These words are of tremendous import in our day. Mark well the situation. The King had refused the Divine sign. The nation had rejected the Divine policy. The prophet was commanded to seal up the testimony, that is to cease his public ministry. He was to devote himself to his spiritual children, the elect remnant loyal to Jehovah. This he did; and we have no further record of public utterance until we reach chapter 28. All now was instruction to this inner circle. In this ministry the very first word was this of solemn warning against necromancy, against spiritism, or as we now designate it spiritualism. When the voices of Divine prophecy are silent, men are ever prone to resort to this traffic with the spirit-world. Let those loyal to Jehovah beware. In a brief note we can do no more than indicate the general conception of this most exhaustive passage. There are "familiar spirits." There are mediums, those who have them, that is who communicate with them. They are wizards, and their speech is that of peeping or chirping, and muttering. That is, nothing is clear either in matter or in manner. When men are asked to "seek unto them," the answer should ever be that such seeking is, to say the least, stupid, because men may seek unto God. Why should the living turn from the living God, to seek guidance from dead spirits? Mark carefully this alternative. It is between God the living One, and spirits who are dead. Their death is spiritual; they are evil in that they are cut off from God. This is the Biblical and Christian answer to Spiritism. Those who seek after familiar spirits are those who do not seek after God.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this.
If the first note of the prophet's teaching of his spiritual children was one of warning against necromancy; the seeking after dead spirits, that is, those cut off from God; the second, immediately following, was one which described a great and glorious deliverance. These words end that description: "The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this!" They are arresting words. Isaiah employed them again (see 37:32). The same idea is found in Joel (2:18): "Then was Jehovah jealous for His land, and had pity on His people"; and in Zechariah (1:14): "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy"; and (8:2): "Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath." The words zeal and jealousy are identical in the Hebrew. It is a word which stands for passion, and is used in many different ways. When predicated of Jehovah it invariably refers to His anger against that which destroys those whom He loves. It is therefore an anger, love-inspired. This is the force which brings deliverance. The prophet in this message foretold the overthrow of the enemies of the people of God, the destruction of all the implements of war, and declared that this final deliverance would come through "a child born ... a son given." He would establish the true Kingdom. Then he told the way of this mighty deliverance. It would come to pass by the zeal of Jehovah. We live after the advent of this Child, this Son; and we are living while He reigns; "for He must reign till He hath put all His enemies under His feet." Let us rest assured of His victory, because "The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this."
Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith ? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? As if a rod should shake them that lift it
up, or as if a staff should lift up him that is not wood.
In these words we have the language of one who sees the whole world under the Divine government. They must be interpreted in the light of the opening words of this particular message (see verse 5). "Ho, Assyrian, the rod of Mine anger; the staff in whose hand is Mine indignation." Call to mind the political situation. The Nation, under the influence of Ahaz, was looking toward Assyria for help. The prophet, instructing his spiritual children, declared that Assyria would be an instrument in the hand of God to scourge His people. This he declared in this oracle, and then proceeded to describe dramatically the arrogance of Assyria, who does not recognize the Divine purpose, but has it in his heart to destroy (verse 7). Over against that intention of Assyria, is the intention of Jehovah, Who, when His work is accomplished on Zion and Jerusalem, will punish Assyria for its arrogance. Thus the prophet saw all these nations in the hands of God. For the punishment of His own guilty people, Assyria is His rod and staff; but Assyria can go no further than the fulfilment of the Divine purpose. The light of this teaching falls upon modern conditions as clearly as upon this ancient history. God is still the God of all the nations, even when they fail to recognize Him, or even boast themselves against Him. He will use their power to accomplish His purpose, and then destroy it. The axe is ever in His hand; the saw is doing His work. What folly for either, to boast against Him.
He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears.
After the oracle foretelling the destruction of Assyria, and, by implication, of all the enemies of the Nation, the prophet uttered to that inner circle of faithful souls this matchless prediction of the Messianic Kingdom. He described the character of Messiah, revealed the methods of His government, gave a glowing description of the results of His reign, and told of how the scattered people would be gathered from the four corners of the earth. These words occur in the midst of the revelation of the methods of government, and they are certainly among the most marvellously arresting things ever said about that great Kingdom of heaven which is yet to be. Their arresting nature is realized when the conception of government and decision is compared with the highest and best methods existing among men. All human laws are made and administered as the result of what men see with their eyes and hear with their ears; and that because man in his dealing with other men has no other means of knowledge. These laws break down, and justice goes astray, because what the eyes see often misleads, and what the ears hear is not true, or is not all the truth. But in the kingdom of God, government is based upon absolute knowledge, and decisions are the result of perfect understanding. Not alone the deed evident to sight, or the word caught by hearing, but the motive of the deed, the intention of the word, will be known by Him, God's anointed and appointed King, Himself being human, a Child born to us; and Divine, a Son given. Nothing more than this one sentence need be uttered to prove the glory of that reign, or to possess us with a burning passion to hasten its coming.
Cry aloud and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion; for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.
The connection of this song of chapter twelve with the Messianic foretellings in chapter eleven is indicated by the introductory words: "And in that day thou shalt say." The song itself is in two movements. In the first (verses 1 and 2) the singer is the personified nation praising the God through Whom her salvation has been wrought. In the second (verses 3-6) the prophet in glad exultation addresses the nation thus delivered. These words constitute the final note in this movement, and set forth the chief reason for the strength of the city, and the joy of the people. It is that the One Who is great in the midst of her is holy. That is the fundamental note in the Kingdom and City of God, and thus it stands in contrast with all the false ideas of greatness which have blighted and blasted the kingdoms of men. In the midst of human kingdoms which for a time have seemed to be strong, but which have perished, have been those counted great because of military prowess, of diplomatic acumen, of economic shrewdness. None of these is sufficient to create stability or insure permanence. In the midst of the City of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Great One is the Holy One. That separation from evil will insure the victory of His warfare, the triumph of His diplomacy, the perfection of His economy. Therefore His City and Kingdom will be stable, and permanent, having no end. That, therefore, is the supreme note in the song that celebrates His reign, and His people's salvation.
The Lord of hosts mustereth the host for the battle.
With this chapter we begin a section of the prophecy which includes and ends with chapter twenty-three. It consists of ten burdens concerning the nations, and one concerning Jerusalem. These are all to be conceived of as having been delivered to that inner circle of faithful souls, among whom in this period the prophet was exercising his ministry. The value of them as a whole lay in the prophet's presentation of God as governing all the nations. Amos, prophesying in Samaria, was influenced by the same outlook. An understanding of this would reveal most clearly the folly of looking for national safety in alliances with any of these, while neglecting the government of God, and refusing to ask or to act upon His signs. The first of these oracles (13-14:27) unquestionably had to do with Assyria, the people toward whom Ahaz was looking for help. This is clear from internal evidence notwithstanding the inscription "The burden of Babylon," due probably to the mistake of a copyist, or more likely to some subsequent adaptation of the message to Babylon (see 14:4). The message in its entirety is a description of the overthrow of this cruel and proud and relentless power, by the might of Jehovah. Hosts are seen to gather against this grim nation which has held the world in thrall, and the words we have emphasized give the word of prophetic interpretation of that gathering: "Jehovah of hosts is mustering the host for the battle." This is the authentic note of the prophet. While men discuss war in the terms of human diplomacies, he passes beyond secondary causes, as he sees the Throne never vacant. To him it is Jehovah Who musters the host for battle. Our watching eyes have looked upon modern events in which the same fact has been patent.
The Lord hath founded Zion.
These words occur in the Burden concerning Philistia, which is of interest because of its historical allusions. The Burden was uttered in the year Ahaz died (see verse 28). Messengers from Philistia were in the city (see verse 32). From the history found in Kings and Chronicles we know that Ahaz had carried out his policy of seeking help from Assyria, robbing the House of the Lord to send a present to its king. We know also that the Philistines had carried out depredations in the South of Judah (2 Chron. 28:18). Now Ahaz was dead, and envoys from Philistia were in the city. Probably they were there offering to make terms with Judah, possibly to offer to form an alliance. This called forth the Burden of the prophet. It foretold the discomfiture and doom of Philistia, and gave the true answer to the messengers. It was just this: "Jehovah bath founded Zion"; which was a refusal to seek any safety from alliances with the nations which were corrupt; and a declaration that the safety of Zion lay in the fact that it was founded by God, this necessarily involving the necessity for Zion's maintenance of true relationship with her Founder. Here is a principle of true statecraft. When a nation, which God has created and blessed, consents in the interests of her own safety to alliance with nations which in their deepest life are pagan, such a nation acts for her own undoing. She is safe always, and safe only as she maintains right relationship with God, and finds her confidence in His power to defend her against her foes.
My heart crieth out for Moab.
The Burden of Moab occupies this and the next chapter. There have been very different interpretations of this oracle. Glance ahead for a moment to verses 3 to 5 in chapter 16. The older expositors treat these as constituting the prophet's message to Moab as to the way by which she may be delivered, and his prediction of the benefits which will come to her under the Messianic reign. On the other hand, many modern writers interpret these verses as containing Moab's appeal to Judah for protection. I refer to this because the interpretation of the burden is dependent upon which view is taken. Without any misgiving, I adhere to the older view. This, then, is one of those instances in which the outlook of prophecy was enlarged so as to take in the wider purposes of God for the ultimate deliverance of all nations. In this chapter the theme is that of disaster for Moab, "In a night," that is with abrupt and startling suddenness two of her principal cities are laid waste, and she is reduced to impotent desolation. The vengeance is just, a righteous retribution for her pride and wickedness. Nevertheless her suffering touches the heart of the prophet of Jehovah; hence the exclamation, "My heart crieth out for Moab." This is the true evidence of sympathy and co-operation with God. Wickedness must be punished, but in the heart of God there is no joy in the suffering of the wicked. The "My heart crieth out for Moab" of Isaiah, is in perfect harmony with the lamentation of Jesus over Jerusalem doomed. The man who talks of the punishment, of the wicked without a sob in his heart, is not in close fellowship with God.
And a throne shall be established in mercy; and One shall sit thereon in truth, in the tent of David ; judging, and seeking judgement, and swift to do righteousness.
These words - as we have said in the previous note - constitute part of the prophet's indication to Moab of the way of deliverance. They may have been intended to represent the language of Moab in its plea for the help of Judah. It is, however, more than difficult, it is impossible for me to believe that words so full of light as to the principles of the Messianic Kingdom should have been suggested by Isaiah as coming from Moab. In either case, however, their value abides as a revelation of the only way of deliverance for Moab, or for any nation, from disaster which must follow the ways of pride and of evil. Such deliverance must result from a Throne, a centre of authority and administration; and from the fact that such a Throne is occupied by One Who is Himself seated on Truth, and Who in the administration of His Kingdom seeks justice, and is swift in the deed of righteousness. We need rightly to apprehend the statement that: "a Throne shall be established in lovingkindness." We are apt to think of it as meaning that a Throne is to be established for the display of leniency, as though the claims of righteousness may thereby be waived. Nothing is further from the truth. The Throne will insist upon righteousness and justice. Its Occupant is to be seated on truth. The crowning lovingkindness of God to the world is that such a Throne is to be established. The most merciful method of government is that of strict justice. When we see in the midst of the Throne the Lamb as it had been slain, we know by that wondrous token that justice is vindicated, and so the Throne is for ever the Throne of lovingkindness.
In that day shall a man look unto his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel. And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his
hands, neither shall he have respect to that which his fingers have made.
Isaiah 17:7, 8
These words occur in the Burden of Damascus which is principally concerned with the overthrow of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. At the time, Israel was in league with Damascus in order to protect herself from Assyria; while, as we have seen, the policy of the Kingdom of Judah, against which Isaiah protested, was that of seeking the aid of Assyria against the peril threatening her from this coalition between Israel and Syria. In this Burden the prophet foretold the destruction of Damascus, and the breaking down thus of that to which Israel was trusting. The result would be that Israel or Ephraim, would be reduced to a mere remnant. In these verses he declared what the result would be of this Divine judgment. Men would return to God, instead of trusting to their own policies. Isaiah does not state the alternative to confidence in God, as that of trusting in policy, but rather as that of trusting in false altars and false gods. This is a profound word; recognizing as it does, that what man puts his trust in is his god. These politicians of the Northern Kingdom in all probability would not have admitted that in making alliance with Damascus they were guilty of idolatry. Yet that was the prophet's view of their action. Their refusal to trust in Jehovah, and their seeking of safety in the help of Damascus, was equal to seeking the help of the altars and gods of Syria.
For thus hath the Lord said unto me, I will be still, and I will behold in My dwelling-place; like clear heat in sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.
These words occur in an oracle which begins in chapter seventeen at verse twelve, and runs through this chapter. It has two movements, each beginning with the exclamation "Ah!" (17:12 and 18:1). There are those who treat this as the burden of Assyria. I understand it rather as a prophetic soliloquy in the midst of the burdens of the nations; and one which is the result of the coming of ambassadors from Ethiopia to the court of Judah. Their coming caused the prophet first of all to utter his consciousness of the tumult caused everywhere by the rushing of the nations. In the first movement he spoke of Jehovah's rebuking of them under the figure of a storm. In the second movement, in the words we have emphasized, he gave another picture of Jehovah. It is that of His stillness. That stillness is that of the heat and the dew, which ripen the grain and produce the harvest. The context here shows that the harvest contemplated was that of His vengeance and punishment of guilty nations; and God is seen by His very stillness and apparent inactivity as preparing for, and compelling that harvest, as the clear heat of sunshine, and the dews prepare for and compel the harvests of Nature. The same conception of God is revealed under different figures in these prophetic writings. It is one which is full of comfort when the heart is assaulted by all the commotions of godlessness, in the presence of which God seems to be in-active. He is never so. When He is still, He is beholding; and His beholding is that of compelling the ultimate purposes of His will.
In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth.
These words occur at the close of "the Burden of Egypt." They constitute perhaps the high-water mark in that element of prophetic utterance which, looking beyond the immediate, and the processes, foresaw a triumph of God wherein the opposition of the nations would be overcome, and they would be included in His realized Kingdom on earth. The first part of this burden had to do with the over-throw of Egypt by a Divine visitation in judgment. The second foretold the ultimate effect of the dealing with God with Egypt. She is seen as turning to Jehovah; His worship is established within her borders; a Saviour from Him brings her deliverance. Jehovah will deal with Egypt - smiting and healing. Then the prophet saw a still more glorious result. The ancient enemies of Israel, Assyria in the east, and Egypt to the west, are seen united by Israel, her territory becoming the highway over which they pass to and fro in their friendly communication with each other. The three states form a triple alliance, united in the worship of Jehovah and His perfect reign over them. It is a glorious vision. It has never been realized. It will be. Study the map and the newspaper today. There is the land of Israel to which Israel is surely returning. Egypt is still there, and through turmoil it is approaching order. Away to the west is the great and fascinating area, and the peoples to whom the power of Assyria will pass. Presently, when the true King comes, the alliance will be consummated. Let us realize the principle involved in its yet wider reaches. Presently under the rule of God, through His anointed King, all those nations, today at enmity against each other, will be unified. That will be the lasting and glorious leaguing of the nations, and there is no other way.
And the inhabitant of this coast-land shall say in that day, Behold, such is our expectation, whither we fled for help to be delivered from the King of
Assyria; and we, how shall we escape?
This is a most interesting chapter, because of its historic nature. First the expedition referred to in the first verse, is now definitely placed by Sargon's inscriptions as having taken place in 711B.C. Then this reference to an activity of Isaiah is arresting. For three years he went in and out among the people of Jerusalem, in tatters and shoeless, as a mendicant. Here, in close connection with his Burden of Egypt, he gives an account of the reason for this strange action, and the signification of it. We may think of him as doing this during that period in which the testimony to the nation was still sealed, and he was teaching the elect remnant of loyal souls. His wretched appearance was the symbol of what would happen to Egypt as the result of the triumph of Assyria over her. Behind all this we discover the proposed policy of the rulers of Jerusalem. By this time they had learned the futility of looking to Assyria for aid, and were proposing to turn to Egypt for help against Assyria. This was futile, for Assyria would conquer Egypt. The closing words of this chapter enforce the teaching. The inhabitants of this coastland, that is of Palestine in its entirety - will see the folly of their expectation, and cry "And we, how shall we escape?" It is most probable that Hezekiah the king was at this time among those being instructed by the prophet. Again it is for us to recognize the principle involved. There is no place of security for the people of God, other than that to be found in the rule of God. All expectation not centred in God, is doomed to disappointment and discomfiture. The policies which exclude Him, all, invariably, inevitably, break down.
... The morning cometh, and also the night.
In this chapter we have three Burdens, those concerning Babylon, Edom, and Arabia. They are characterized by a mystic and visionary note. The first, concerning Babylon, is perfectly clear as to its vital message. It foretold the fall of Babylon. The last, concerning Arabia, that is, concerning the wandering tribes occupying that region, is obscure as to the particular events calling it forth, but it was a definite prediction that within a year the tribe of Kedar should be destroyed. The central Burden, that concerning Dumah, which is Edom, is indefinite as to a message, and that very indefiniteness is the message. The prophet interpreted the mental attitude of Edom as that of inquiry as to whether the night of her desolation was passing. That is the significance of the voice calling out of Seir - "Watchman, what of the night?" To such an inquiry the reply of the prophet was intentionally indefinite. There was no answer, except that there were signs of morning and of night. It has been suggested that the prophet meant that he had no clear vision of Edom's destiny; or that he foretold some relief to be followed by more terrible suffering; or that some would find release, and some destruction; or that there was morning for Israel and night for Dumah. To me none of these is satisfactory. It would rather seem as though the prophet declared an alternative of morning or of night, and by his final words suggested an attitude. If the spirit of inquiry was aroused, let it be maintained; and let them turn and come again. To all the restless crying of men in the midst of trouble as to the passing of the night, the answer of revelation is that there is morning coming, and night also. Men by their own attitudes and choices decide whether they will come to the morning or pass to the night.
And in that day did the Lord, the Lord of hosts call to weeping ... and behold, joy and gladness ...
Isaiah 22:12, 13
That statement gives the key to the situation calling forth this Burden of the valley of vision. In it the prophet turned from his messages concerning the surrounding nations, to give attention to Jerusalem. While many separate between the first part of this chapter (verses 1-14 and the last part (verses 15-25), I cannot do so. In the second part we have again an historical incident. Shebna is seen, holding high office. Nothing is definitely said about his wrongdoing, but it is almost certain that he was the leader of the political party which was looking toward Egypt. The message of the prophet was that he was to be removed from office, and Eliakim appointed. That this was done, we gather from the fact that in the day when Assyria came to the gates, Eliakim held the office, and Shebna only a second place. The city, under the rule of Shebna, was given over to every kind of material festivity. It was against this that the prophet declaimed. There was the gravest danger in the hour; it was a time when the only hope of the nation lay in its tears of penitence and repentance. For these the Lord was calling, and the nation was responding with drunken revelry. To the prophet the sin of Jerusalem in this matter was past forgiveness. Hence his agony and his anger. The words give us solemn pause. How often in our own national history, when we have been indulging in riotous rejoicing, we should have been in sackcloth and ashes! Yet there was a man who refused to be comforted (see verse 4); and around him were gathered a group of loyal souls. By these the nation was better served than by the wild and shouting crowds. It is true national service, to bear national sins upon the heart and conscience, and by our tears to witness to our God, in all such hours.
And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord; it shall not be treasured nor laid up; for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before the
Lord, to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing.
In the Burden of Tyre there is no gleam of hope for her ultimate inclusion in the Kingdom of God, as in the case of Egypt and Assyria; but throughout, there is the declaration that she is within that Kingdom as to the fact of the Divine government. In the much fuller and more elaborate article of Ezekiel concerning Tyre, there is the same note of hopelessness. Moreover in Ezekiel the reasons for that hopelessness are very fully revealed. Isaiah foretold the catastrophe that would overtake Tyre, bringing a seventy years desolation. Then he declared that she would be restored, because Jehovah would visit her. But she would remain a harlot, trafficking as before, with all the kingdoms of the world. It is in that connection that these words were uttered. They do not mean that Tyre will conduct her commerce on holy principles; but that, under the pressure of the Divine government, her gains will not be stored for her own enrichment, but employed on behalf of the people of God. This prophetic word has an application much wider than to Tyre. The earth is Jehovah's and the fullness thereof, and in the day of His perfected Kingdom on earth, all its resources, which man has exploited for selfish purposes, will be recovered and employed for the people within that Kingdom. The ultimate destiny of wealth is not that of establishing tyrannies, but that of providing sufficiency for the people constituting the commonwealth of God. To this end Jehovah reigneth. Happy are those who dedicate whatever they have or earth's resources to this high and holy purpose.
The earth also is polluted under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.
This and the following three chapters constitute one prophetic utterance. It is a vision of the Day of Jehovah. In the series of the Burdens of the nations the
prophet had taken a wider outlook than that of his own people, but always with the nation of God at the centre. Here his outlook is still further enlarged as it takes in
the whole earth; but here also God's people are in mind from beginning to end, viewed in their relation to the earth. The vision is in two movements; the first describes
the desolation of the earth (24:1-20); the second describes the restoration which comes by the Day of Jehovah (24:21-27) The desolation is first declared to be the
result of Divine action. It is "Jehovah maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof."
Then - in these particular words - the reason of this desolate activity of God is revealed. It is that the earth is polluted under its inhabitants. The act of
God is the operation of the laws by which the Divine creation is governed. Man has transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the covenant. For an
interpretation of these words of Isaiah read Paul
Romans 1:18-32. In these words we find a recognition of a true order. In it, man, keeping covenant, observing the ordinance, obeying law, reigns over the earth, and leads it out into all beauty and fruitfulness. When man breaks down in his relationship with God, His laws, His ordinances, His covenant - then he becomes polluted, and he communicates his pollution to the earth. This is the interpretation of all disease, all insanity, all the things of waste, of disorder, of strife, of misery in human history and human experience. A polluted race pollutes the earth, and chaos is the result.
And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us; this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad
and rejoice in His salvation.
"In that day," is the phrase which unifies the section of this vision of restoration. Note its occurrences, 24:21; 25:9; 26:1; 27:1,2,12,13. Each time a new line of consideration is introduced, which it is not within our province to deal with now, but which the student will do well to observe. The Day, throughout, is the Day of Jehovah. The words we are emphasizing declare the sense which will result from the activity of Jehovah. In that activity He will subdue all false authority, both spiritual and human. See chapter 24 verse 21, where "the host of the high ones on high," refers to the spiritual forces of evil, and stands in contrast to "the kings of the earth upon earth." The activity of Jehovah in His Day will be that of such retributive justice as will deliver the poor and needy. But let the whole of the chapter be pondered, then this great exclamation will be understood. The truth of it is the song which inspires the hope, the courage, the service, the sacrifice of His people in all the days of travail. The only way of deliverance for the earth from the desolation resulting from its pollution by men who have turned their back upon God, is that God does not forsake the earth or them. He acts in holy wrath, inspired by eternal love, against all the forces of evil. And in His great Day men will discover Him, and know that through Him alone salvation is possible. The discovery of God through His judgments will be the way of the restoration of the earth, since it has rejected His disclosure of Himself in grace through His Son. Yet that discovery will be a discovery of His grace, for He has appointed that the Man of His right hand shall administer the activity of His judgment.
Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast forth the dead.
In all this Oracle of the Day of Jehovah as the day of restoration, there is no more Wonderful word than this. It is a singularly clear and definite foretelling of resurrection. The truth of immortality had already been declared in the word of the previous chapter, "He hath swallowed up death for ever" (see verse 8). But here the prophetic word goes further. Immortality does not necessarily involve a resurrection of the body. It does mean the persistence of conscious personality beyond that dissolution of spirit and body which we call death. But here the fact of the resurrection is foretold so clearly that there can be no mistaking of the meaning of the prophet. Let it be granted that we need, and that we have, the full Divine revelation of this fact in the New Testament ; it is none the less remarkable that we find it so clearly stated in this wonderful message of Isaiah. Very beautiful is the prophet's poetic figure of the dew. Dr. Skinner says that a better rendering would be, "A dew of lights is Thy dew;" and that "it is a heavenly, supernatural dew that is meant; as soon as this falls on the dead they awake to life." These great facts of immortality and resurrection completely transfigure our conceptions of life, and we respond to the cry of the singer which calls us to awake and sing, even though we dwell in the dust. The dust is not the last word; the narrow confines of the here and the now, are not the boundaries of our being. Beyond, life brings its explanations, its fulfilments. What we know not now, we shall know hereafter. All that we have not attained, we may attain when He shall fashion anew the bodies of our humiliation, that they may be conformed to the body of His glory.
In days to come shall Jacob take root; Israel shall blossom and bud ; and they shall fill the face of the world with fruit.
Those "days to come" are within "that day." Here the fact which had been in the mind of the prophet throughout his vision of restoration for the earth comes out into clear declaration. It will be through God's own nation that the nations of the earth will be restored. The figure of the vineyard, of the plant of Jehovah, of the fruit which it is to bear, is employed. Let the mind go back to the earlier song of the vineyard which the prophet had sung (chapter 5). There the vine was seen, failing, bringing forth wild grapes, and given over to processes of judgment. Here, again, we have a song of the vineyard, but now it is a song of fruitfulness. Through the judgments, the glorious results have been realized. The fruit is unquestionably the same - that, namely, of justice and righteousness; and it is seen as filling the face of the world. Thus we have reached the climax in this great prophecy of restoration, and let us make no mistake about it; it will be literally fulfilled. God bath not cast off His ancient people for ever. He is watching over them, and through the long and fiery discipline of these days, He is preparing them for that day when they, cleansed from their pollutions, and restored to His government, shall be the people through which all the blessedness of His reign shall be extended to all the peoples. Jerusalem has long been trodden down of the Gentiles, but the times of the Gentiles are being fulfilled. Then under the sway of their long rejected Messiah, God's ancient people will fill the face of the world with fruit.
For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it; and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.
These words are vibrant with holy sarcasm. Let us carefully note their setting. With this chapter we find the prophet once more exercising a public ministry. In the section beginning here and ending with chapter 33, we have six addresses, each beginning with the word "Woe!" The first five were concerned with the chosen people, and the last with Assyria the threatening foe. The whole section pulsates with the prophet's anger at the false policy which hid sought help from Egypt. The outlook of faith as revealed in these discourses was twofold. He saw the real danger in Assyria's advance, and knew that Egypt could not help to avert it. But he also saw Jehovah; and knew that He would deal with Assyria. These two notes alternate in these messages. This chapter is full of dramatic power. Suddenly the prophet broke his long silence and appeared among these politicians, drunk with their own conceits (verses 1-8). They railed on him (verses 9, 10). He replied by employing the language of their tauntings (verses 11-13). Then he dealt with the false security in which they were acting. Interpreting their policy as that of a covenant made with death, and an agreement with Sheol, he declared that all such covenants and agreements the Lord Jehovah would disannul. Then he employed these words. They meant that their godless policies were insufficient to give them rest. We may ever employ the suggestive words of nations or of individuals, when attempts are made to find rest and security apart from God. Life cannot stretch itself out in perfect ease upon any other bed than that of the Divine government; life cannot find warmth in any other covering than that of the righteousness of God.
Their fear of Me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them.
In this chapter we have the second and third of the "Woe" messages of the prophet. The first was a condemnation of the city of Jerusalem, addressed as Ariel, for its frivolity and debauchery; but also a declaration that Jehovah would proceed against the foes of His people. The second was a condemnation of the politicians who imagined they could work in the dark, without God knowing; and a foretelling concerning a day in which Jehovah would demonstrate His power gloriously. The words we have stressed occur in the first of these, and are part of a searching criticism of the religious condition of the people. They were maintaining the out-ward forms of religion, but there was alienation from God, in all the deepest things of their lives. These particular words show that it is possible to have a fear of God, which results from receiving "a commandment of men." This fear is valueless, because even though the commandment so taught may in itself harmonize with the law of God, it is of no value save as it is a direct Word of God to the one upon whom it is laid. Thus a principle emerges which is of perpetual force in vital religion. It is that man must have direct dealing with God. None of us can possibly know the authority of the Bible if he merely receive and respect it, because it is given to him by his father. To accept a rule of life, because it is given by a man, however true the rule, however good the man, is to be without the element of real value in the acceptance. It is by the Word of God that man lives; and that word must be a direct word. Let those who are called upon to teach that Word recognize the necessity for withdrawing themselves from between those whom they teach and the word which they proclaim.
But ye said, No, for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift.
This is the fourth "Woe" message, and it was specifically concerned with the treaty actually made with Egypt, and in the making of which the nation was definitely and distinctly rebellious against Jehovah. In their turning to Egypt, there was evidence of their lack of trust in God; but in their persistence in this course, and the consummation of the policy in the actual treaty - in spite of the prophetic warnings - there was more than lack of confidence, there was positive rebellion. Very well, said the prophet, so be it, for so it must be. The Lord Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, had declared the way of deliverance and safety; "In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength." But they had said "No!" They had elected to flee, that is at the enemy, on horses, the horses obtained from Egypt. Very well, said the prophet, you shall have your own way - you shall flee - only it shall not be at the enemy, but from the enemy. They had said: "We will ride upon the swift." Very well, said the prophet, then ride - only those who pursue will also be swift. Thus it ever is. If we will not have God's way, He compels us to take our own; and by the experience resulting, we learn our folly. Thus - as the next verse shows - Jehovah has to wait to be gracious. If in our folly we refuse His way, then He compels us to take our own, and He waits until the disaster of our choice has taught us the folly of that choice. In this connection, observe the last words of the prophet, "Blessed are all they that wait for Him;" that is, those who do not make Him wait for them.
When the Lord shall stretch out His hand, both he that helpeth shall stumble, and he that is holpen shall fall, and they all shall fall together.
In the fifth "Woe" message, the prophetic word insists upon the government of God; and alternates between words which show the punitive, and the restoring elements in the activity of that government. Here the treaty with Egypt was consummated, and the politicians were confident in the multitude of the chariots and the strength of the horsemen. The prophet revealed the folly of the confidence, as he said that the Egyptians were men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. In this word he recognized the fact that man's true resources are not found in man, but in God; that the strength which accomplishes is not carnal, but spiritual. Then in these words he asserted the fact which he saw clearly. All the cleverness of human arrangements was of no avail. Egypt was to help; Judah was to be helped. Everything was arranged. But those making the arrangement had, in their calculations, left out the one supreme quantity. Jehovah would stretch out His hand. Then Egypt, the helper, would stumble; and Judah, the helped, would fall; and they would all fall together. Thus, with almost monotonous reiteration, the same fact of the Divine sovereignty, and of its activity in all human affairs is insisted on. And this is the one truth which humanity needs to learn, and learning which, it finds the only wisdom, for the ordering of its affairs. The whole of human history testifies to the stupidity of man when he trusts to his diplomacies, and fails to reckon with God. This is no old story merely. It is as modern as 1914-1919. We then saw the hand of Jehovah stretched out, and the helper and the helped go down in confusion.
And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and confidence for ever.
In this chapter we have the second part of the fifth "Woe" message concerning the chosen. It is principally concerned with the conditions which will obtain when the reign of righteousness is established. In the midst of this graphic description the prophet made another appeal to the women. In the earlier days of his ministry he had addressed them with grave solemnity, recognizing their influences for evil in the counsels of the rulers (see 3:16, 26). Now, he called upon them to lament at the desolations threatening the city and the nation. The burden of the prophet here, however, was as we have said, that of the glory of the Messianic reign. The words we have emphasized should be read in close connection with the opening declaration of this part of the message: "Behold a King shall reign in righteousness." The processes of righteousness, in the midst of lawlessness, are necessarily those of wrath and a curse, of the storm and the tempest; but the work of righteousness, that is its ultimate result, is peace, and its effect is quietness and confidence. These are the conditions of true joy, and lasting happiness. Peace is impossible so long as righteousness is disregarded; quietness and confidence can never be produced by unrighteous motives and methods. Such a conviction involves another. Righteousness will never be the principle of human life, unless and until that life is submitted to the King Who reigns in righteousness; and there is no king who perfectly reigns in righteousness other than the Man Whom God hath appointed to judge the world in righteousness. He is the Man Who will be as the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings ?
This sixth and last of the "Woe" messages in this series has to do with Assyria. It is a singularly exalted prophecy. The cruelty and strength of the foe is recognized and graphically described. In presence of such a foe the nation of Judah is hopeless and helpless in its own strength. Then the word of Jehovah is heard: "Now will I arise ... now will I lift up Myself; now will I be exalted." Then the outlook changes. All the force of the foe is as nothing in the presence of the fire of the Divine wrath. It is this vision which gives rise to these questions. Note, they are asked by dwellers in Zion, who are sinners. They fear and tremble for themselves. The whole conception is a revelation of the prophet's outlook upon the world. He saw everything in the fire of the Divine holiness. In that fire only things of essential purity and strength could live. Let it be noted that these questions are immediately answered. Those who can dwell in that fire, and not be consumed, are described in the next verse. Those who are righteous, alone can dwell with the everlasting burnings. This is a true vision of the world. It is wrapt in the fire of the presence of God. That fire is surely, if with apparent slowness, destroying everything which is out of harmony with eternal purity. In Nature there is such a slow burning fire. Scientists call it eremacausis. It is seen in the tints of autumn, and in the rust. Its function is that of destroying effete things. What that fire is to Nature, God is to human history and life.
For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance, the year of recompense in the controversy of Zion.
In these last two chapters of the first part of this book of Isaiah, the prophet again takes the widest outlook. As, at the close of the section containing the Burdens of the nations, he uttered prophecies concerning the whole world (see chapters 24-27), so does he here. Here again his outlook is first upon desolation, and then upon restoration. The indignation of Jehovah is seen proceeding against all nations because of their iniquities. Edom is made the centre and symbol of the antagonism to Zion. Edom is of Esau, as Zion is of Israel. All that the ideal nation stood for, had been opposed persistently by Edom. Now, upon that whole attitude the vengeance of God is seen to fall. In connection with this, let the prophecy of Obadiah be read. There, the antagonism is very clearly brought out. The issue of that spirit of animalism is that of complete annihilation. The vengeance of Jehovah is irrevocable and irresistible. It is at least a most suggestive fact that when our Lord, the one perfect flower and fruit of Israel's race, was here exercising His earthly ministry, an Idumean, that is an Edomite, in the person of Herod, was reigning over the people; and it is more than suggestive in that relation, that he is the one human being to whom Christ had nothing to say. Once He sent him a message full of contempt. When at last He was in his presence, He spoke no word to him. God makes no terms with that for which Edom stood. Its portion is destruction.
They shall see the glory of the Lord, the excellency of our God.
In this brief but beautiful chapter we have the concluding note of the first part of this great book of Isaiah. It is a perfect song of restoration. It begins with a recognition of the wilderness, the dry land, and the desert (verse 1). It ends with Zion, the city of God, the realization of the Divine order (verse 10). This is the note found in all these Hebrew prophets. No men saw the corruption of life more clearly, or denounced sin more vehemently. At times their messages were dirges, almost, but never quite reaching the level of despair. Never quite, for they saw Jehovah, and that vision made despair impossible. Through all the clouds and darkness, the travail and terror, they saw the day of God coming; and His day was a day of restoration as to its ultimate, although a day of wrath and consuming fire in its processes. The words we have emphasized are the most revealing, in their portrayal of the final world order. The word "They," in the Hebrew "These," refers to the wilderness, the dry land, the desert. "They shall see the glory of Jehovah, the excellency of our God." That glory is the glory of Lebanon, the mountain of cedars; that excellency is the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, the places of fruitfullness. This is the final victory of God in the earth. It is the victory, not of creation, but of ransom, redemption, regeneration, renewal. Not that Lebanon should flourish and Sharon and Carmel rejoice; but that the wilderness and the desert places rendered desolate by human pollution, should come to see the glory of Jehovah. When Isaiah heard the seraphim sing, he heard them declare that the whole earth is full of the glory of Jehovah. Here he declares that this glory shall be manifested in spite of desolations widespread and long-continued.
And Rabshakeh said unto them, Say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?
This is the first of four chapters of history, inserted between the first and second parts of this book. They record incidents during the reign of King Hezekiah in which Isaiah exercised his influence. The first (in this chapter and the next), is that of the Assyrian threat to the city of God. This came as Isaiah had foretold, and it was defeated by God, as he had predicted. In this chapter we have the account of the coming of Sennacherib, and the speech of the Rabshakeh. That speech was intended to reduce the morale of the nation. With singular astuteness this man asked them to consider their confidence. He seems to have been familiar with the policies of Judah, evidently knowing that there were two parties, the one seeking aid from Egypt, the other - the king most probably being among them - looking only to Jehovah (see verses 6 and 7). With scorn and remarkable accuracy, he described Egypt as a "bruised reed." As to Jehovah, he first suggested that the action of Hezekiah in taking away high places had been a refusal of Jehovah. This was either deliberate misrepresentation, or ignorance, for what Hezekiah had done was to remove the high places of false gods. Later he defied Jehovah, as he declared that no gods had been strong enough to resist the king of Assyria. All this is very illuminating as revealing the weakness of earthly power. Diplomatists, who represent brute force, may gauge Egypt accurately, for her power is as their own; but when they try to explain God, they are ever dealing with that of which they are ignorant. In this God the unknown quantity among such men, is the strength of His people.
Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? And against Whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? Even against the Holy One of Israel.
When the tauntings of the Rabshakeh were completed, and replied to in silence (see 36:21), Hezekiah sent to Isaiah. The treaty with Egypt was of no avail. This was patent. Hezekiah, who had been largely in the hands of the politicians, while all the time most probably in sympathy with Isaiah, now, as king, assumed the garb of penitence for the false way. The answer of Isaiah was instant and assuring. Jehovah would intervene, and the King of Assyria would return to his own land and perish there by the sword. The Rabshakeh, returning to his master, found him at war against Libnah; he also heard that Ethiopia was in arms against Assyria. Then he made another attempt to intimidate Hezekiah by a letter, openly defying Jehovah. This the king spread before Jehovah. Isaiah declared the Divine answer to that prayer in the message he delivered. These words are those in which the prophet laid bare the deepest fact in the sin of Assyria. It is good here to turn back to an earlier word of the prophet concerning Assyria (chapter 10:5-33). In that he had described Assyria as the rod and staff in the hand of God for the chastisement of His people; and had fore-told Assyria's pride as boasting itself against the hand that held it. Here, in history, this foretelling was fulfilled; and the prophet denounced Assyria for this sin; and, in language full of force, foretold the doom thereof. The Divine intervention on behalf of Jerusalem came mysteriously, but with complete victory, as the angel of Jehovah smote the hosts and left them dead on the plain. Thus the deeds of God demonstrate the folly of policies which neglect Him, and justify faith in Himself alone.
Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption.
These words occur in the song of a man who, in mortal sickness, had been to the gates of death, but who had been restored to life by the mercy of God. The first half of it (verses 10-14) is a record of his experiences when, in his sickness, death seemed inevitable. It is full of sadness and darkness. To him there came no ray of light, illuminating that darkness. References to that experience in the after part of the song compel the conclusion that this sickness was of the nature of chastisement. It was for his peace, he admitted, that he had had great bitterness. That will explain his outlook upon death, and the absence of any hope in that outlook. The second half of the song (verses 15-20) contains his expressions of gladness in his deliverance from death by the mercy and power of God. This song is full of the sense of the deeper spiritual values of the suffering and deliverance. "By these things men live," he said, as he looked back; and significantly added, "wholly therein is the life of my spirit." In the words we have emphasized we have the deepest note of the song, for in it there is a recognition of the whole purpose and method of God in the discipline, and in the deliverance. As our translators have rendered the words, they are full of beauty; but a more literal translation of the Hebrew is yet more arresting. It runs: "And Thou has loved my soul out of the pit of corruption." How wonderfully that tells the story of the Divine activity. He loves our souls out of the pit of corruption, at cost to us of suffering, but at infinitely greater cost to Himself. The full and final interpretation of this old word is found in the marvel and mystery of the Cross; wherein He did Himself fathom the depths of the pit of corruption; and whereby, in love, He lifts us out therefrom.
Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts.
This brief chapter is full of dramatic force, and is principally interesting in its revelation of the relation existing between the King and the prophet. It is the record of a deflection on the part of Hezekiah, due largely to his vanity, and to his failure to realize the full meaning of what he was doing. It was the kind of mistake which good men make when they fail, in every detail of life, to seek for the light and guidance of the Will of God. The wrong having been done, Isaiah sought out the king, and the conversation between them is revealing. In it we see who, in those days, was really the representative of the Divine authority. The prophet instituted inquisition, and the king responded without questioning. In that, the better side of Hezekiah was manifested; and also, in his acceptance of the finding of the prophet as he said: "Good is the word of Jehovah which thou hast spoken." This abides the true function of the prophet. He asks no favour of kings, and accepts no patronage from them. He is the messenger of God, and it is his work to break in upon all the doings of men, whether kings, or lords, or commoners, with this self-same formula: "Hear the word of Jehovah of hosts!" He is not responsible to men, but to God. Moreover, he is not responsible for the response of men to his message; but only for its delivery. If men hear and obey, they walk in the way of wisdom. If, hearing, they rebel, even though they slay the prophet, his word will be fulfilled in their ultimate undoing.
Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
With this chapter begins the second part of this book. The theme of this part is that of peace. In its first section (40-48) the Purpose of Peace is discussed. In the second section (49-57) the Prince of Peace is described. In the third section (58-65) the Programme of Peace is declared. The words we have stressed occur in the Prologue of the whole movement. They catch up the ultimate thought of the first part of the book. Glance back at chapter 35. There we had the prophetic outlook upon the restoration of a lost order for the world, following upon the description of the desolation produced in the day of Jehovah's vengeance, contained in chapter 34. This restoration would be that of bringing the wilderness and 'the desert to fruitfulness (35:1). Now God is to be revealed in the procedure which brings this result; and in these words the people of God are called upon to co-operate with Him by preparing His way in the wilderness, by making straight His highway in the desert. The keynote of the prologue is the keynote of this second half of the prophecy. It is found in the words, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people." After the prologue follows a glorious description of the majesty of Jehovah; in the course of which, He is seen in His creative might and wisdom; idols are placed in contrast with Him; and His power and readiness to enable men is declared. In these facts of the majesty of Jehovah the first inspiration of true comfort is found for the sons of men. All this makes the appeal of this verse the more arresting and suggestive. This glorious God, majestic beyond compare, in might and in wisdom, yet calls the faithful among men to prepare His way, to make straight His highway. Let it at once be said that they do this when they yield to Him their complete loyalty, and confide in Him alone.
Keep silence before Me.
With these challenging words, the prophet introduces a message, which may be described as the manifesto of Jehovah. It occupies this and the following chapters. In the next chapter (42) we shall find its central proclamation. This is introductory and preparatory. In it there are four movements. The first (1-7) constitutes the challenge of Jehovah to the nations concerning the advance of a foe from the east, in which He claims that this powerful one is under the government of His will, and satirizes the attempts of men to secure safety by making new gods. The second (8-20) has to do with Israel, and declares the presence and protection of Jehovah. The third (21-24) challenges false gods to prove their divinity by prediction. The last (25-29) again affirms that the coming of the foe is by the will and act of God; and claims that the failure of others, whether gods or men, to foretell is proof of their vanity. The words with which all this begins might be rendered, "In silence listen to Me," and this is ever the word of God to men. The persistent clamour of many voices in the world drowns too constantly the voice of God. We are anxious to see the newspapers in order to learn what kings, statesmen, labour leaders, and even preachers, are saying, and the babel of their confused speech prevents our listening in silence for God. The emphasis on the value of prediction as evidence of Deity should not be overlooked. It is the key to all that follows. To make the prophetic messages which follow mere interpretations of contemporary events is to devitalize them. Here the prophet was patently conscious of these events, but was seeing through and beyond them, to greater things. Moreover, this element obtains still. Some of the things, then future, have now become history. Some of them are not yet fulfilled. Let us then keep silence, that we may hear these words of Jehovah.
Behold My Servant.
That is the proclamation. All that follows is in interpretation of that call to behold. The more complete unveiling of this Servant of Jehovah is reserved for the next division (chapters 49-57). Here we have: (a) a wonderful portrait of this coming One (verses 1-9); (b) a great song in celebration of the triumph of Jehovah through Him (verses 10–17); and (c) an appeal to Israel based upon the facts revealed (verses 18-25). It is good at this point to stay to face the old and debated question as to Who this Servant of Jehovah is. That the reference was to Cyrus is so palpably absurd a suggestion that we need not stay to argue it. That it referred to Israel as she then was, is equally impossible to believe. That it referred to a spiritual element within Israel then existing is a suggestion which breaks down, in that such an elect remnant, which undoubtedly did exist, did not accomplish what is attributed to this Servant of Jehovah. To say that it is ideal Israel, is to say that no part of the forthtellings has yet been fulfilled, for the simple reason that such an ideal Israel is still non-existent. There can be only one interpretation which satisfies the reason, to say nothing of the heart; and that is that Matthew was right when he deliberately declared that this foretelling found its fulfilment in Jesus (see Matthew 12:15-21). As against that, it has been argued: "The Servant is invariably spoken of as having a present existence." And why not? It is certain that our Lord and Master, the Son of God, Who became His Servant for redemptive purposes, had then a present existence. To suggest that this prophet could have had no appreciation of the fact is to lower the conception of the Divine nature of the prophetic word. When Jehovah calls men to keep silence before Him, it is always in order that He may say to them, "Behold My Servant"; and there is only One Who can be so described.
But now ...
I have stressed these two words because they constitute a distinct and intended link between the Manifesto of Jehovah, of which the central proclamation is "Behold, My Servant," and a series of messages dependent upon that proclamation. These messages are found in this and the next two chapters, each one beginning with the formula, "Thus saith Jehovah." They constitute one great whole of interpretation of matters resulting from the fact that Jehovah has chosen, and anointed His Servant. In this chapter there are four such messages. Their content may thus be summarized. The first one (verses 1-9) affirms God's relation to Israel as Creator and Redeemer, and declares that He will yet gather them to Himself. The second (verses 10-13) declares that they will fulfil their function of being His witnesses, because of what He is, and what He will accomplish. The third (verses 14, 15) promises the destruction of Babylon, the opposing force, because He is Redeemer, Creator, King. The fourth (verses 16-28), referring to the past deliverances wrought, promises a new thing; and appeals to Israel, as unfaithful, promises pardon, and declares the method of punishment as necessary. All this is linked up with the revelation of the Servant by these words, "But now." Not yet in the prophecy is that Servant revealed, either in Himself, His method, or His victory. That will come presently. But the fact of His choice and appointment by God is declared; and these are some of the results. If we are true to the simplest intention of this great Hebrew writing we must interpret these predictions as having to do with Israel. In that case we realize that none of them is literally fulfilled as yet. Babylon as she then existed has been broken; but Babylon as the spiritual force antagonistic to Israel, is yet in power. But every prediction will be fulfilled to the letter. For us, the word of prophecy has been made more sure, because we have seen this Servant of Jehovah.
... O Jacob, My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen.
In this chapter we have three of these messages of Jehovah. They also are linked with the proclamation concerning the Servant in chapter 42 by the opening words of chapter 43 - "But now." Let this be kept in mind as we read. The first message here, called the nation not to fear, in view of Jehovah's redeeming purpose to pour His Spirit upon its seed (verses 1-5). The second is perhaps the finest satire in all the prophecy against false gods, in which the method of their making is mocked at; their futility is declared; and the people of God are called upon to remember these things (verses 6-23). In the last the greatness of Jehovah is celebrated in creation and in government; and His appointment of Cyrus as the instrument to accomplish His pleasure is announced (verses 24-27). We have emphasized these opening words to fasten attention upon the fact that throughout these messages, which interpret the purpose of Jehovah in the appointment of His Servant, the thoughts of Creation and Redemption persist, the ultimate emphasis being upon Redemption; and that therefore the nation is seen and referred to, as failing and yet as fulfilling the true ideal. It is Jacob; but it is Israel. It is Jacob; but it is Jeshurun. Thus we see the outlook of God, and understand His method. He sees Jacob, knows all about the persistent failure; therefore the dispensations of punishment; Jacob must pass through travail. But all the while He sees Israel, as set upon realization; therefore Israel must come to triumph. Once more let us remind ourselves that this redeeming realization of creative purpose will be brought about through the Servant of Jehovah.
I will gird thee, though thou hast not known Me.
In this chapter we have four messages of Jehovah, closely related to each other in that they take up and elaborate the fact announced in the previous message, that Jehovah had appointed Cyrus to perform His pleasure. The first of them is addressed to Cyrus, and indicates the fact of his government by God, ending with a Woe against him that rebels against that government (verses 1-10). The second re-emphasizes this fact that Cyrus will act under the direction of God (verses 11-13). The third foretells some of the victories which will come to Israel, when she is saved by Jehovah with everlasting salvation (verses 14-18). The last takes in the widest world outlook, and calls upon all the nations to look unto Jehovah in order to be saved (verses 18-25). Cyrus was raised up and used by God, and then set aside. Thus, there was a partial fulfilment of these predictions. But their ultimate fulfilment is not yet. Kings will yet be the instruments of God, under the authority of His Servant, for the accomplishment of His pleasure; and every glorious foretelling will have perfect fulfilment. The words we have emphasized occur in the message directly to Cyrus, and they reveal a principle of perpetual application. Connect it with the sentence found in the first verse, "I will loose the loins of kings," and its significance becomes more clear. The kings and rulers of the earth are all in the grasp of the might of God. Their loins are unloosed, or they are girded, by that power, in order to the ultimate carrying out of His pleasure. There may be in human affairs revolt and rebellion against God, working ruin to the rebels; but, so far as the ultimate accomplishment of His purpose is concerned, men can do nothing against Him.
I have made, and I will bear.
The prophecy now celebrates the might of Jehovah as manifested in the destruction of Babylon. This has two movements, contained in this and the next chapter. Here the theme is that of the contrast between the gods of Babylon - Bel and Nebo - and Jehovah. Perhaps there is nothing even in the Biblical literature more powerful than this chapter in its unveiling of the essential difference between false gods and the true God. With the finest poetic imagery and passion, the prophet pictured the gods of Babylon, and so all false gods, as being made by men, carried by the men who made them, set in their place by these men, unable to move from the place where they are so placed, and incapable of answering those that worship them in days of distress. Over against that, the truth about the living God is graphically and briefly expressed in these words which we have stressed. He makes, and He carries. Briefer sentences will help us to realize the contrast more perfectly. An idol is a thing which a man makes, and has to carry. The true God makes the man, and carries him. This has application far beyond the bounds of what we designate as heathendom. When a man turns from the living God, he always makes a, god for himself, and that god becomes an encumbrance; he has to carry it, and the burden is too heavy - he is heavy laden. When a man worships the true God, he worships his Maker, and he is carried, and so he finds rest. "Little children, guard yourselves from idols!"
Thus shall the things be unto thee wherein thou hast laboured.
These words occur in the second part of the prophetic message celebrating the Might of Jehovah, as manifested in the destruction of Babylon. Having - in the first part of the message (chapter 46), contrasted the gods of Babylon with Jehovah, the prophet uttered this "taunt-song," in which he foretold the doom of Babylon by likening the city to a woman, who having lived in luxury, is cast out to penury and to shame. In the course of this song, the prophet referred to those enchantments and sorceries in which he said Babylon had laboured from her youth (see verse 12). He tauntingly called upon her to test the false teachers to whom she had listened by seeking their aid against the determined doom; and declared the uselessness of such appeal because of the fierceness of the flame of the Divine wrath. This is the meaning of these words. Babylon had laboured from her youth in her traffic with the under-world of evil. That reference to "her youth" carried the mind back to the beginnings of Babylon, which were at Babel, where men attempted to frustrate a Divine purpose, by federating against God. This action was the result of traffic with evil conceptions, and evil spiritual forces. The process had run on through all the history. Babylon as a spiritual apostasy, persists unto this time. Its final testing will come in the flame of the anger of God. In that testing the futility of these dark forces of the underworld will be clearly manifested. "They shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame." Men who have trusted in them will be left desolate, for "Thus shall the things be unto thee, wherein thou hast laboured."
There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.
These words really stand separate from the chapter, and constitute a conclusion to the first section. We shall find them again at the conclusion of the second section (see 57:21). In this chapter the prophetic word celebrates in a very remarkable way the mercy of that God Whose majesty and might had already been described, and Whose manifesto and messages had been given. This message of Mercy emphasizes the failure and unworthiness of the people of God, who are the house of Jacob, even though called by the name of Israel; who do swear by the name of Jehovah, and talk about the God of Israel; but not in truth or in righteousness. Their obstinacy is declared to be the reason of the predictive element in prophetic teaching (see verses 3-8). Nevertheless, in spite of all this, for His own sake, Jehovah spares His people. He laments over their disobedience, and their consequent lack of prosperity; but He is their Reedemer, and will deliver them. All this having been said, there breaks in this great prophetic announcement: "There is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the wicked." Mark its relation to the whole movement of this section. From first to last the motive has been that of revealing the Purpose of God to bring Peace to His troubled people, and to the world. To this end He moves in His majesty, His might, and His mercy. This is the revelation of the manifesto and the messages. Nevertheless the people receiving this prophetic ministry, and all readers of it, are suddenly and sharply recalled to holiness and righteousness by this solemn word: "There is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the wicked." When we rejoice in the redeeming activity of God, which we have a perfect right to do, let us never forget this truth. It has two values. First: it accounts for the absence of peace today. Secondly: it reveals the only way by which peace can come tomorrow.
And He said unto me: Thou art My Servant; Israel, in Whom I will be glorified.
We now come to the central section of this prophecy; and any stressing of particular sayings, which failed to see them in relation to the whole, would be disastrous. Having revealed the Purpose of God to bring Peace through His Servant, the prophecy now presents the Servant of God, Who is the Prince of Peace. The section presents Him, first as sustained through Travail (49-53); and then as singing in Triumph (54-57). The first part is made up of words of the Servant, and oracles concerning Him. This chapter opens with the voice of the Servant Himself telling of His call. These are the first words of Jehovah in that call. They are inclusive. To this foreordained One, Jehovah says: "Thou art My Servant;" and the value of that is interpreted in the words: "Israel, in Whom I will be glorified." Another man had borne that name, meaning Ruled-by-God; but he had failed to fulfil the ideal. The nation had borne that name; but in its history God had not been glorified. Now to another Man the suggestive name is given, and in Him the purpose will be accomplished. God will be glorified; and through Him eventually the failing nation will realize its high destiny - through it God will be glorified. The Servant is conscious of the difficulty of the service to be rendered, and speaks of the apparent vanity of His spending of strength; and records the word of Jehovah which sustained Him, declaring that the realization of Israel's destiny is too light a thing for Him; He shall be also a light to the Gentiles, God's salvation to the end of the earth. Let the rest of the chapter - its words to the Servant spoken by Jehovah, and its declarations to Zion - be considered in the light of this record of the call of Jehovah.
The Lord God hath opened Mine ear; and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward.
Here again we hear the voice of the Servant of Jehovah; and in these words we have His response to the call of Jehovah. As we saw in the previous chapter, He is represented from the beginning as conscious of the fact that His service means suffering. This consciousness is yet more definitely marked in this record of His response. It grows in intensity until it culminates in the fifty-third chapter. Here, it is a consciousness of the sufferings which His enemies, these being the enemies of Jehovah, will inflict upon Him. The physical figures are arresting - the smiting, the plucking off of the hair, the shame, and the spitting. The call of Jehovah to His Servant was a call to these experiences; and in regard to this fact he said, "The Lord Jehovah hath opened Mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward." This statement, "The Lord Jehovah hath opened Mine ear," is very significant. We must not confuse it with another great Messianic word, "Mine ears hast Thou opened" (see Psa. 40:6), where the reference is to the willing surrender of the Servant to His Master's service. Here the thought is that of the communication of the secret of the Master to His Servant. To His Servant, Jehovah had made known His secrets; He had revealed to Him, not only the experiences awaiting Him, but the meaning and purpose of them. Thus the following statement, "I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward," means that between Jehovah and His Servant there was no conflict, but perfect agreement. Therefore this response to the call of Jehovah, involving consent to suffering, was vibrant with confidence in the help of Jehovah.
Hearken to Me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord. - Isa. 51:1
These words introduce us to what has been aptly described as "a series of short impassioned oracles, mostly of a lyrical character." They continue to the twelfth verse of the next chapter, and are full of abounding joy and confidence, resulting from the vision of the Servant of Jehovah in perfect fellowship with Jehovah for the accomplishment of His redeeming purpose. First, there are three messages to the elect remnant of souls, who amid abounding apostasy are loyal to the Throne, and love righteousness. These begin, "Hearken to Me" (verse 1); "Attend unto Me" (verse 4); "Hearken unto Me" (verse 7); and call such souls to look to the Rock; to attend to the Law which is salvation; and to know no fear. Then follow three messages, each beginning, "Awake, awake." In the first case it is the cry of the nation for Divine interference; and it is answered; "I, even I, am He that comforteth you" (verses 9-16). Then it is the call of Jehovah to His people, recognizing the sufferings resulting from sin, but promising deliverance (verses 17-23). Finally it is the call of Jehovah, specifically answering the call of His people. They had said "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of Jehovah"; He replied, "Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion"; and again promised redemption (52:1-10). All this is concluded by a poetical description of the return of Jehovah to Zion, full of beauty and power. Thus we have summarized the chapter, necessarily running over into the next, in order that the general impression may be gained of what the prophet saw; all of which would result from the suffering service of the Servant of Jehovah.
Behold, My Servant shall deal wisely, He shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.
With these words we are introduced to the last movement in the presentation of the suffering Servant of Jehovah, a movement, in which the sense of triumph is present through all the amazing unveilings of travail. The short paragraph with which this chapter closes introduces and belongs to the next chapter. It constitutes a pregnant summary of what here is given in detail. Moreover it is a Divine summary of what there, is human observation. These are the words of Jehovah concerning His Servant. While we have stressed only the opening words, a consideration of them involves the whole paragraph. Observe carefully then, that taken as a whole, it is a declaration of the victory and exaltation of His Servant. So it begins; so it ends. At the heart of it all, the fact of suffering is recognized. That recognition is contained in these words: "... many were astonished at Thee." That is a graphic and awe-inspiring reference to the impression made upon men by the appalling spectacle of Him in the hours of His suffering. It is further emphasized by the words in parenthesis: "His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men." But now most carefully observe the full statement. That reference to suffering is introduced by the words "Like as," and these are completed in the "So," which leads on to "shall He sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths at Him." Thus then, we behold the Servant of Jehovah from the standpoint of Jehovah. His sufferings are seen. They are beyond compare. But the issue and result of them is commensurately incomparable. "Like as ... So." To apprehend the glory is to fathom the sufferings. To fathom the sufferings is to apprehend the glory. We are not equal, with our finite intelligence, to do the one or the other, for the sufferings and the glory are infinite. But we can trust, and worship.
He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.
Is there any single statement in all the Oracles of God which brings to the heart of the child of God quite so profound a sense of perfect joy as this? I think not. We have joy in our forgiveness, and in all the riches of our inheritance in our Lord; we have even greater joy in all the victories of our Lord, in the glories which are His, resulting from His passion. But the joy of knowing that He will be satisfied is still greater. In this great chapter we are introduced to the mystery of the suffering of the Servant of God, in a way which can only make the lips dumb, and bow the soul to the most complete prostration of wonder and amazement. So great is the revelation that pity is impertinent; and sympathy is irreverent. We can only watch, and wonder, and adore, as we see Him; of men, despised and rejected; of God, bruised, and put to grief; in Himself, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; at last, cut off out of the world of the living, His grave with the wicked. And all this because, "All we like sheep have gone astray ... and Jehovah hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." With necessary self-abnegation and complete abasement and shame, I am constrained to say: Was it worthwhile? That is, was man worth it? Am I worth it? The answer is in these words: "He ... shall be satisfied!" Then I have but one thing to say, and it is this: Love so amazing, so Divine, Demands my life, my soul, my all.
That is the word which arrests us. It is the only fitting word, if indeed "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied." It introduces the second movement in the section presenting the Servant of Jehovah as the Prince of Peace. That movement ends with chapter 57. In it we have first, this song of assurance (chapter 54); then the great prophetic appeal resulting from this vision of the Servant of Jehovah (chapter 55); and finally a message dealing with the administration of this Divine triumph (56 and 57). This song naturally and necessarily celebrates the triumph of the Servant of Jehovah in its bearing on the nation of Israel, personified as a city under the figure of a woman. As we watched the sufferings of that wondrous One, we inevitably thought of wider applications, those which include the Church and humanity; and we have been justified in doing so. But in doing so, let us not fail to appreciate the application to Israel. It is in her redemption and restoration to fellowship with God, as that of a wife to her husband, that "the whole earth" is to be reached. The glowing and glorious description of the City of God, with its foundations, its pinnacles, its gates, all full of beauty, is a description of Jerusalem, as it will be in the Kingdom of Heaven. God has not cast off His earthly people for ever. They will yet see Him Whom they pierced, and mourn because of Him. Out of that mourning, their joys will spring. Through the One Servant of Jehovah, and by His travail and His triumph, shall they become the servants of the Lord, thus fulfilling the Divine purpose. To them the final words of this song belong: "This is the heritage of the servants of Jehovah, and their righteousness which is of Me, saith Jehovah."
Behold, I have given Him for a Witness to the peoples, a Leader and Commander to the peoples.
After the song celebrating the triumph of the Servant of Jehovah resulting from His travail, comes this perfect oracle of appeal. So perfect is it that every evangelist has felt its power, and used it in his sacred work. Opening with a description of life, as thirsty, hungry, unsatisfied, and so not life in the true sense at all; it closes with a picture of life in the midst of the garden of rest and fruitfulness. At its centre are the words which reveal the way from the one condition of life to the other. Man is to seek Jehovah; to forsake his way, and his thought, and to return to Jehovah, Whose thoughts are not man's thoughts, nor His ways man's ways; for the Divine ways and thoughts for man are high as the heavens, while man's ways and thoughts for himself are earth-bound. If man will so return, Jehovah will have mercy and will abundantly pardon. But upon what grounds is such a declaration made? The answer is in these words. To Whom is reference made in the proclamation? "Behold I have given Him for a witness?" Certainly not to David. Here we see the continuity of thought running through the section. The reference is to the One Whom we have seen as the Servant of Jehovah proceeding through Travail to Triumph. By the way of that travail in which "the chastisement of our peace was upon Him," it is possible for Jehovah to have mercy and to abundantly pardon. He then is the one and only Leader and Commander to the peoples; and He is that by virtue of His Cross.
Thus saith the Lord : Keep ye judgement, and do righteousness; for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.
This and the following chapter constitute one message, with which the section presenting the Servant of Jehovah as the Prince of Peace closes. These words give us the key to the message. It is the word of Jehovah to men in view of the salvation and the righteousness which result from the work of the Servant of Jehovah. The salvation of Jehovah is always in order to righteousness; and His righteousness can only be revealed through His salvation. To the men for whom this prophecy was spoken or written, the coming of salvation and the revelation of righteousness were associated with the appearing of the Servant of Jehovah. That was always near in the purpose of God, though on account of the persistent failure of His people, centuries elapsed before He came. But He did come, and fulfilled the prophecy as to His travail to the letter. The completion of the work will come when He appears a second time without sin unto salvation. In the purpose of God that salvation is near, and that revelation of righteousness; but it is still postponed through the failure of His people. To them this final message appeals as it alternates between comfort for the loyal-hearted, and denunciation of the false and disloyal. In this chapter there is first comfort for all those who in any measure have suffered loss for love of the name of the Lord; and then stern denunciations of those watchmen who fail to fulfil their true function, and give themselves to the false excitements of strong drink. In such a time the call of Jehovah to those who love His name and wait for His appearing is ever that they keep justice and do righteousness.
There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
We stressed words similar to these before. They concluded the first section of this great prophecy, that dealing with the Purpose of Peace. In doing so we pointed out in conclusion that the statement had a double value; first, that it reveals the reason why we lack peace today; and secondly, that it suggests the only conditions upon which peace can ever come to men. Now we come to the end of the second section, in the process of which, we have seen the Prince of Peace, the Servant of Jehovah, Who through the Travail passes to the Triumph of establishing peace. This section closes, as we have said, with a message to men in view of the nearness of salvation and righteousness. In the part of that message contained in this chapter we again have the two notes we found in the last. First, fierce denunciation of an apostate community which had given itself to all evil practices in its forgetfulness of God. Then a message of consolation for those of contrite and humble spirit, who are loyal to Him. Then the whole movement ends with this central statement. It is to be observed that there is a difference. In the first occasion the title of God was Jehovah; here it is God, that is, Elohim. To those who observe the use of Divine names and titles this is suggestive. In the section dealing with the purpose of peace the affirmation is made by Jehovah, that is the title of grace. In the section dealing with the Prince of Peace the affirmation is made by Elohim, that is the name of absolute might. God in grace purposes peace. When He makes it possible through His suffering Servant, His Might insists on the terms. If in spite of all the travail of the suffering One, men persist in wickedness, then there is no peace for them, even by the way of that travail.
Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and declare unto My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins.
This chapter and the next constitute, if not one message, certainly one movement. With them the last section of this prophetic unveiling begins. In the first, the burden was that of Jehovah's purpose of peace. In the second, the supreme teaching is found, that namely of the presentation of the Servant of Jehovah, the Prince of Peace, through Whom the purpose of Jehovah is to be realized. Now the prophetic word was influenced by prevailing conditions; and it showed what the programme of peace must be, in view of these conditions. In the words of this first verse, this movement opens with the prophet's recitation of the words which had commanded him to say what he was about to say. He was charged to declare to the people of God, their transgressions and their sins. They were sternly rebuked for observing the ritual of religion, while failing entirely to produce its true results. In the name of Jehovah the prophet repudiated the value of an attitude and activity of humility and lowliness before God, when in their dealings with their fellow-men, there was an absence of justice and of compassion. Thus sharply were those people recalled from the consideration of the purpose and grace of Jehovah, to the fact of their immediate unworthiness; and were warned that for them the way, and the only way, into the realization of the blessings which He would provide, was that of turning from their wickedness, and so vitalizing their religious observances. It is a principle we do well to ponder. The operations of the Divine grace are never in conflict with the requirements of the Divine holiness.
Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear.
If in this chapter we have a second discourse, the theme is the same as in the previous one, with a different application. There, these people were brought sharply face to face with their sins. Here, the truth involved in that message is stated plainly, namely, that these sins are preventing the fulfilment of the Divine purpose. In these opening words a statement is made which was probably intended to correct a false view of the delay in the realization of the declared purpose. It is conceivable that there were those who were declaring that Jehovah was either powerless to deliver them, or indifferent to their sorrows. The prophet declared that neither thing was true. His hand was not shortened; His ear was not heavy. Observe what immediately follows. "But," said the prophet - and beyond the "but," he uttered words which placed the blame on them. Note the short, sharp sentences, and the personal element - "Your iniquities ... your sins ... your hands ... your fingers ... your lips ... your tongue." To them he said - describing the attitude of the people as he vehemently denounced it - "The way of peace they know not." That is constantly the answer to those who charge God with inability, or indifference. When men say: Why does not God act? the reply is that His inaction is due to man's failure. Nevertheless, the last note is still that of confidence. When things are at their worst, and no man is found, then Jehovah arrays Himself as a warrior, and proceeds to accomplish His purpose.
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
This is the first of three chapters which constitute one movement, which thrills and throbs with joy in the certainty of the accomplishment of God's purposes of peace, through the Servant of Jehovah. This chapter is addressed to the nation, as she is revealed in "The City of Jehovah, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel" (see verse 14). This opening call was addressed; not to Jerusalem as she was in the time when the prophecy was uttered; not to Jerusalem as she has ever been in her history even to the present time; but to Jerusalem as she will be, when she is established in righteousness and beauty, through the travail and triumph of the Servant of Jehovah. Then the city will be the centre of the world's light, for then the glory of Jehovah will rest upon her, and will radiate throughout the world. In that day affairs will be as this great message describes them, Nations will come to the light, and kings to the brightness. The children of the city, long scattered, will be gathered. The peoples of the world will come, not grudgingly, but gladly, bringing their gifts with them, and pouring their wealth into this city of God. This is the city which Abraham saw and sought. This is the city concerning which John declared the nations shall walk in the light of it, and shall bring their glory and honour into it. It has never yet been built. All this is either only wild dreaming - and very beautiful at that - or it is Divine prediction, and must yet come to pass. As to which, there can be no question. Every word of it will be fulfilled for the blessing of all the world.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me.
In this great chapter we hear again the voice of the Servant of Jehovah. Of that there can be no question in the light of the use made of the words by our Lord Himself. Again the subject is that of the city of God, and the people of God as fulfilling the Divine purpose. It is impossible for us to read these words save in the light of our Lord's employment of them. He closed the Roll, from which He read in the synagogue, at the words, "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." That is, He broke off His reading in the midst of a statement, ending at the point where our punctuators have supplied a comma. The next phrase is, "And the day of vengeance of our God." He did not read that, because He had not then come to proclaim that day of vengeance. In the "acceptable year of the Lord," there have already been nearly two thousand human earthly years. How many more there will be the Lord alone knows. That it will be succeeded by "the day of vengeance" is certain; and that the Servant of Jehovah will also proclaim that day is equally certain. All the rest of this chapter is still prediction. Beyond the day of Jehovah's vengeance, and as the result of it there will come comfort for mourning Zion, and her complete restoration to prosperity, peace and power. For the accomplishment of all these things of the Divine programme, the Servant of Jehovah is anointed with the Spirit of Jehovah. When He came, He came by the overshadowing of the Spirit; in the power of the Spirit, He gave His teaching and did His works; through the Spirit He offered Himself in death. The acceptable year is the period in which the Spirit interprets the Servant of Jehovah. That same Spirit will be the fire of the day of vengeance, and the Comforter of the mourners.
And they shall call them The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord; and thou shalt be called Sought out, A city not forsaken.
This chapter completes the movement celebrating the result in human affairs of the work of the Servant of Jehovah. Still, the city is in view, and that even more definitely than before. Nevertheless, the existing conditions were clearly in the prophet's mind. First, he declared his determination to continue his ministry towards that consummation; but there was no question as to the issue in his mind (verse 5). Then, the watchers on the walls were charged to take no rest from their holy vocation of prayer, as Jehovah's remembrancers; but again the issue was not in doubt, for Jehovah was committed by oath to accomplish His purpose (verses 6-9). Finally, the call was uttered to prepare the way hack for the returning exiles; but that they were coming was certain, for Jehovah's proclamation had gone out to the end of the earth (verses 10-11). Thus the sense of responsibility, and assurance, ran through the oracle. All closes with these words, descriptive of the nation and the city, when the purpose of Jehovah is fulfilled. The nation shall be known as "The holy people; the redeemed of Jehovah." The issue and victory is the holiness of the people; the way of realization is that of the redeeming activity of Jehovah. The city shall be called "sought out," a name descriptive of her attractiveness. This is an arresting word. It means that there is a beauty in holiness which the nations of the world will recognize. When they at last see a really Holy City, they will name it "Sought out." True beauty is always the outcome of holiness and is always attractive.
Who is this? ... Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel?
The section of the prophecy contained in this and the two following chapters, is a very remarkable one. We need to seek its natural parts and ignore the chapter divisions, if we are to apprehend its significance. In it there are three movements. First, the prophet's vision of a great Warrior returning from conflict (63:1-6). Then a prayer, offered out of the midst of desolation (63:7-64). Then the answer of Jehovah to that prayer (65). Here we stress the questions of the prophet, because they fix our attention upon the vision which he saw. It was a vision of One returning from Edom, with garments dyed from Bozrah; of One glorious in apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength. Seeing this One, the prophet asked, "Who is this?" The answer was immediate and clear: "1 that speak in righteousness, mighty to save." This gave rise to the second question - Why were the garments red? What was the conflict from which the Warrior was returning? The answer was full and final. This vision has been interpreted as of Jehovah. In certain senses that is true. But it was the vision of the Servant of Jehovah, as the Instrument of Jehovah's act. It was a vision of Him in His first activity beyond that of proclaiming "The year of Jehovah's favour" (see 61:2). The next phase in His work is that of proclaiming "The day of vengeance of our God" (see again 61:2). Now, the Warrior is proclaiming that day as accomplished: "The day of vengeance was in My heart" (see verse 4). The prophet sees Him returning from the accomplishment of that purpose. He has trodden the winepress, so compelling the evil fruit of all godlessness to express itself. This is a persistent method of the Divine government of the world; and it will have its final expression and victory in Armageddon - which is not yet.
Oh that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at Thy presence.
These words occur at the heart of the prayer (63:7-64:12), in which the prophet expresses before Jehovah his sense of the desolation of the nation and the city, and cries for a Divine interference. It follows naturally the vision of the Warrior. It is as though the prophet agrees with the necessity for just such action; and prays that it may take place. This cry is the highwater mark of the great utterance. This, as the prophet understood it, was the real prayer of the nation. All that preceded this cry, and all that followed it, gave urgency and interpretation to it. The prayer opened with praise for the past lovingkindnesses of the Lord (63:7-9). That is always the ground of confidence in an appeal to Jehovah:-
- "His love in times past, forbids us to think
He'll leave us at last in trouble to sink."
Then there followed an acknowledgement of rebellion, and of the discipline following it, and the deliverance. Throughout this confession there ran the notes of assurance that the relationship, if disturbed, was not destroyed (63:10-19). Then this cry was uttered; and it continues to the end of the third verse. Immediately the prayer became a meditation on the wonder of God's ways; a new confession of unworthiness; and an appeal to the Father-heart of Jehovah, in view of the desolate condition of the city (64:4-12). How often, in hours of desolation, are men of faith constrained thus to cry out for the intervention of God in might and majesty. Let them ever do so in the spirit of this prayer of the prophet; remembering past mercies; depending upon God's faithfulness; confessing sin; acknowledging the righteousness of discipline; and appealing to the heart of the Father.
I am inquired of by them that asked not for Me; I am found of them that sought Me not.
In this chapter we have the prophet's interpretation of the Divine answer to the prayer of the people. These sentences are introductory, exclamatory, inclusive. They recognized first the prayer of the people in the words: "I am inquired of ..." They declared secondly the response of Jehovah in the words: "I am found." In each case attention was called to the failure of the people. They had not asked for Jehovah. Out of trouble they were doing so; but their trouble was due to their failure to ask. They had not sought Jehovah. That is why they had not realized His presence. Directly they sought, He was found of them. Then the whole prophetic interpretation of this answer moved forward on the line of these introductory words. In the first movement (verses 1-7), the resolute refusal of the people to respond to the Divine call was declared; and the relation of that wickedness to their sufferings was made plain. They had not asked for Jehovah; they had not sought Him; He had sought them; but they had refused, and turned to all evil things. Hence their desolation. Then the Divine answer to the prayer became the promise of restoration; and it moved forward to a description of the peace and prosperity yet to come to Jerusalem and the people of God through the accomplishment of His purpose. Throughout the movement the principle of discrimination is evident. Those that still forsake Jehovah are destined to retribution. Even in the established order of peace and prosperity, if there be a sinner, he shall be accursed. Thus in this section, from the vision of the Warrior to that of the established Kingdom, this even justice is manifest. God, determined upon mercy, never sacrifices holiness. So will it be to the end. The final triumph of compassion will be a victory for righteousness.
Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is My Throne, and the earth is My footstool.
This is the keynote of this last message of this great prophecy. The message is of the nature of an epilogue, in that it catches up, and carries out, the great ideas, or principles, of the government of God, as they apply to all the coming ages. Jehovah is omnipresent; that is the meaning of these first words. There can be no escape from Him. No temple made with hands can contain Him. From that standpoint He judges and discriminates between the false and the true, between the ignoble and the noble, between the corrupt and the pure. Therefore Jerusalem will at last be saved, and will realize its true function for the sake of those of humble and contrite spirit who tremble at the word of Jehovah. Therefore all evil and polluted souls, notwithstanding all their craft and boastings, will be overcome, cast down, and destroyed. The new heavens and the new earth, which Jehovah will make, and which will still be respectively His throne, His footstool, will realize life, around Jehovah, as moon by moon, and Sabbath after Sabbath, they worship before Him. Then the things of evil will only be known, as they are still seen wrapped in the consuming fire, and held in abhorrence by all flesh. Thus the prophecy ends on a note of dread and suggestive solemnity, in which the wrath of Jehovah is seen. Let it be remembered that the fire of this wrath proceeds against those things of evil which have brought all the desolations and sufferings of men. Its fierceness is the fierceness of Love against all that destroys; and it is because love makes no terms with evil that at last there is the restitution of all things.