A complete revolution; the slave becomes the master, issuing in a song of
triumph over Babylon. Sh'ohl and its shades. Lucifer; for whom does that
word stand? The problem of the existence of evil in the world: whence could it
come, the one Creator being absolute Good? Our foe's first appellation now
borne by the Lord Jesus. Significance of the points of the compass.
Philistia; its teachings. Who is the "flying serpent" here?
Israel expects no "rapture." No deliverance shall there be for her save by "the revelation of the righteous judgment of God" in the destruction, from the earth, of her oppressors. What wonder, then, that her prayer is for the execution of that sentence, whilst ours, who expect to leave the world to our oppressors, is for mercy upon them. It is with Israel we have to do, and I paraphrase, keeping as close to the literal as I can, to give the sense:
1: The Lord shall have mercy on Jacob,A little remnant of a few thousand Jews did return from Babylon in the day of Ezra and Nehemiah, but it is absolutely impossible to be satisfied with that as a final fulfilment of this promise, for, far from leading their captors into captivity, they confessed themselves to be servants still: "For we are bondmen," says Ezra (chap. 9:9, R. V.), and, "Behold, we are servants this day," says Nehemiah (chap. 9:36). Who then can possibly claim that the promise that they should not be bondmen was fulfilled, when they were? Nor can any time be found, between that and this, that has seen any fulfilment at all. It must await this then in the future; surely it must, for neither Jew nor Christian can be finally blest save by the very Presence of the Lord Jesus.
And again shall make choice of Israel—
Shall settle them in their own land;
Where the stranger shall join himself to them,
And cleave to the people of Jacob.
2: Back to their own place (and homeland)
Shall they be brought by the Gentiles,
Who then become servants of Isr'el,
And held as bondmen and handmaids
In the land of Jehovah.
Thus shall they take them as captives,
Whose captives they themselves had been;
Thus shall they rule o'er their rulers.
3: And in the day when Jehovah shall rest thee,Thus will Israel's joy at the fall of her enemy be celebrated. Their oppressor comes to a sudden end: the place in which they have been tortured has ceased to exist, and now the whole earth is flooded with genuine peace. The poet follows the fallen oppressor into the Underworld:
Give ease from thy sorrow, thy fear and thy toil,
In the which, a poor slave, thine oppressors have made thee,
4: This is the song thou shalt raise over Babel:
Chanting in triumph over her king:
How hath th' oppressor ceased (from oppressing)
The place of extortion come to its end!
5: Jehovah hath broken the rod of the wicked!
(Jehovah hath broken) the sceptre that ruled!
6: He that smote peoples with scourgings relentless,
He that ruled over the nations in wrath,
With such persecution that none did restrain
(Jehovah hath broken).
7: The whole of the earth is at rest and is quiet,
Breaks forth into jubilant singing.
8: Even the cypresses joy at thy fall,
Lebanon's cedars now are all singing:
Since thou art laid low, in safety we stand,
No woodman his axe lifts against us.
9: Sh'ohl beneath thee shakes with excitement—We must most surely not assume with some, that we have here a simple prosaic revelation of the world of the dead, any more than that in the previous verse we are told with prosaic literalness that the trees talk. In both cases the language is intensely poetical, and yet nothing could more graphically bring before our minds the height from which this king of Babylon had fallen, and the depth to which that fall had taken him. The poet-prophet pictures his entry into the unseen world of disembodied spirits, called "Sh'ohl."2 As he enters, the whole concourse of those who have preceded him are pictured as thrilled with excitement, the royal shades (for they are assumed to retain the same dignity as they enjoyed on earth) spring from their thrones with a cry of astonishment—"What! Is it possible that thou art become as weak and powerless as we? It is incredible!"
Springs at thy coming to welcome thee there!
The Shades1 are thrown into tumult—
All who on earth were its leaders—
From their thrones do they spring:
All the kings of the nations.
10: All of them (scoffingly) cry to thee,
Art even thou become feeble as we—
Art even thou become like unto us?
Then the original chorus resumes the taunting chant:
11: Low, low to Sh'ohl thy pomp!No one could surely suppose that the entry of weak, dissolute Belshazzar could be pictured as causing any such commotion as this anywhere. Be as literal as you will, one is at least compelled to lose sight of the person, and see only the king, the ruler of the world. But if Belshazzar must thus disappear in person, and be seen only as the representative world-ruler, may not that world-ruler himself be "the prince of this world," upon whose person and dignity our New Testament Scriptures throw their clearer light? As in the mysterious tziim and ochim of the previous chapter we discerned those unclean demons that shall be inhabitants of fallen Babylon, so in the fallen king of that fallen Babylon we are compelled to discern the prince of those demons, whom we know as the devil, the king of all the children of pride, and who, far from reigning in hell, shall be brought to the lowest depth of all!
Low now the notes of thy harp-strings!
Maggots beneath thee alone for thy couch,
And worms must suffice for thy cov'ring!
12: O thou bright star, thou son of the dawn,3
From heaven how low hast thou fallen!
Down to the very ground art thou hurled—
Thou who didst hurl down the nations.
13: Thou who hast said to thyself in thine heart,
I will mount up to the heavens.
My throne shall there be exalted on high,
Far above the stars of Elohim.
On the highest bound of the gathering-mount,
On the verge4 of the dark northern quarter,
14: Far o'er the heights of the clouds will I rise,
Will make myself equal the Highest.
15: Nay, but to Sh'ohl depths4 shalt thou go,
To the depth of the pit of perdition.
But so important is this, so closely linked even by the most striking contrasts with the path of our divine Lord, that we cannot pass over it without considering the very words used, patiently and carefully. While I am well aware of the need of the utmost caution, lest the working of the mind take the place of the teaching of the Spirit, yet caution may go too far, and become refusal to be led of that Spirit.
In verse 11 I have felt compelled to leave the word Sh'ohl untranslated, for I know of no exact English equivalent. Its etymology I have given in a footnote to ver. 9, and this tells us that it is a word that recognizes both the intuitive knowledge in man, that there is a continuance of being after death, and at the same time his ignorance of the place and condition of that continuance—an ignorance that itself cries with agony for light. Of one thing he is sure; death is, for him, not the end. The grave takes the body; but the body is not the whole of man. There is some thing that the grave does not take. His reason, apart from any divine revelation, rebels against the thought of there being no radical distinction between himself and his dog. But where, then, does that immaterial, that responsible, part of himself (for insensate matter cannot be responsible), that survives the dissolution of his body, go? Where? To the place that gives no answer to this agonized question of human affections, yet is ever demanding fresh victims! It is the place on which no clear light of revelation had dawned in the Old Testament, and thus even to the most upright of men it was "the land of darkness and shadow of death, a land of darkness as of darkness itself and where even the light is as darkness" (Job 10:22). This is sh'ohl, the underworld, the region of the unclothed spirits of the departed, irrespective altogether of their character, of their relation to God, or of their final destiny. God be praised that the resurrection of Jesus has thrown so clear a beam of light on that darkness, that for the believer in Him, it has been dispelled, and sh'ohl, or hades, is no longer the "undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns," for one Traveler has returned, filled its once dark chambers with the warmth of the Love that took Him there; with the light of a sure hope, for it could not retain Him, and in that light we see death to be the introduction to "Paradise," "with Christ"—"at home"—"far better"! The everlasting question, "Man dies, and where is he?" of Job 14, is thus answered now for the penitent believer in the Lord Jesus.
In verse 12, this "King of Babylon," King over "Confusion," and so a representative of the "prince of this world," has a distinct name given him which is very literally rendered: "Bright-shining one, son of the dawn," and the last is simply a poetical term for the morning star, and thus the whole is a very close parallel to "Bright Morning Star."
Here then is a name at least worthy of being given as expressing the person of him who "sealed up the sum" of creature perfection, "full of wisdom, perfect in beauty" (Ezek. 28:12). When bearing this name he does not "transform himself into an angel of light," for he is that by creation. When he has lost the name of Bright Morning Star and become Satan, then he does transform himself, in assuming still to be an angel of light.
As surely then as students of Scripture have seen him who now is called Satan, behind the King of Tyre in Ezek. 28:11, etc., there is equal reason for discerning the same personage behind this "king of Babylon." Tyre was the representative exponent of Commerce, as Babylon was of the Religion of this world; Tyre represents the material side of this fallen one's activity, ever desiring to possess the earth; Babylon the spiritual, that would aim at heaven, and as in those primal days when rebellious man would build both "a city and a tower," Tyre would correspond with the city that was to cover the earth, and Babylon with the tower that was to reach heaven. Both the king of Tyre and of Babylon evidence the same sin of pride, and whilst this is not, alas, distinguishing, being the common heritage of all of us as fallen from God, yet the superhuman character of this aspirant that would ascend "above the stars of God," can but suggest an idea far beyond poetical rhetoric in the mouth of any mere man, and that these two are one, and that one he who is now called Satan.
What questions have ever been asked as to the source of the evil, the sin, suffering and sorrow, so universal in this poor earth. Whence did all this moral and physical disorder and confusion come, if the one Creator of all is only good? Can God then be the Author of the confusion that is not good? Can good produce evil? It would be an equally intelligent question to ask: "Can the sun give out darkness?" If we take, then, simply as a working hypothesis, that as God is the Source of all that is good, so the devil is the source of all evil, we have narrowed the question down to, "Whence then that devil?" Scripture, God be thanked, is at least clear that as "God created man upright, but he sought out many inventions" (Eccl. 7:29), so God created one, long before man, "perfect in his ways," and the very top-stone of His spirit-creation; and that being the case, necessarily having absolute liberty in his equipoise, to go in any direction—not compelled (since a creature, and not divine; innocent, but not holy) even to keep aright, but with power of free choice of, and to walk in, any direction, moral as well as physical. Thus launched from his Creator's Hand, what name could be given him? It must at least express what he then was, not what he afterwards made himself to be. No "Devil" was he then—no "Satan" could or did God make, but a brilliantly shining one, the very "Star of the Morning" amid the hosts of heaven. To so name Belshazzar, or any poor mortal man, would be hyperbole gone mad and carried to an absurdity.
This, then, is very clear, that as it would be absurd to trace sin and all its evil consequences in this world up to the Source of all good and of good alone, God, so it is reasonable in the light of Scripture to trace it to him who was the first sinner (1 John 3:8), once the "Bright Star of the Morning," but now called Satan.
If freedom of will, liberty of choice, was the most exalted attribute of the highest and erstwhile noblest of God's creatures, if that liberty necessarily predicated the possibility of that free unbound will arising opposed even to his Creator, what follows as to our Lord Jesus? Do we not believe that He could not err, was impeccable? Does not then that apparent lack of the very power of choice rather detract from, than add to the dignity of His Person?
Far be it. On the contrary, He, though impeccable, by no means lacked freedom of choice, yet could only walk in a path that was not relatively, but absolutely good. It may well be that into these higher mysteries of His Person, no finite mind can penetrate, for "No man knoweth the Son but the Father" (Matt. 11:27). But this I am bold to say, that in this He transcends all creatures. In Him there was and ever will be freedom of choice, yet a freedom—paradoxical as it may sound to some (and there will ever be paradoxes in these infinitely holy mysteries)—that it was impossible for Him to exercise in an evil way, for that was forbidden by the law of His holy Being. It is written even of the poor failing and often sinning children of God, that, as so born of God, they cannot sin (1 John 3:9). If He so speaks of those to whom the Word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken, can anything less than that be true of the Son of God Himself? It is the difference between Innocence and Holiness. Innocence has not done, but can do wrong; holiness cannot, any more than a sheep can willingly roll in filth, even though it has perfect freedom of choice to do so, or than the lily can be tainted with the mud amid which it lives its own pure life, ever repelling all its defilements. So our Lord, in virtue of His own inherent immaculateness (not that of His mother, as the Papacy blasphemously teaches), both before and after birth, repelled all the evil by which He was surrounded here; and this so adds to the superhuman dignity of His Person that every believer veils his face in spirit, and adores Him as God manifest in flesh.
But, our enquirer may say, that only pushes back the difficulty as to the presence of evil in the creation of a God only good, and gives rise to another question: whence could that evil suggestion come to him here called king of Babylon, when there was no evil occurrent in all the universe? It certainly could not have come from anywhere external to himself, for there was none there.
True; but our Bible suggests a clear answer in the words, "Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness" (Ezek. 28:17). It was self-born; it came from self-occupation with his own creature beauty, ignoring his dependence on his Creator for all. You and I, my reader, may learn much from this. Complacent self occupation even with what God may work in us, is filled with grave danger, and only in occupation in our thoughts with the Lord Jesus Himself, His beauty, His perfections, His love, lies our safety, joy, blessing—yes, our true holiness. For, to be attracted to Him, where He is, out of this defiling scene, as strangers and pilgrims, is practical holiness.
But the name of the Bright Morning Star being given to him whom we have known as the very antithesis of light and hopefulness, may give rise to a certain sense of resentment, since we know it as justly belonging to Another, who now claims it, and in whom alone all light and hope for our race is focused—Jesus. He is for us alone, the Bright Morning Star.
Aye, true enough; but, let me ask, do not all His acquired (mark) glories come to Him by the way of creature sin and failure? First, the creature fails, and then He lifts up that which has thus been bemired by that fall. What greater dignity has He than in that name which is above every name—Jesus, Saviour? But could that highest Name ever have been given Him had there been no poor sinners, as we, to save? (Phil. 2:9). The eater has indeed thus been made to yield meat, the strong, sweetness, to our great joy. God planted a vine, His people Israel, and that vine brought forth vile grapes (Isa. 5); then He comes, the true Vine, in whom alone sweet fruit is found (John 15). Do we joy in Him less, because every other source of fruit has been found vain? Not till the Church has utterly failed as a witness, as it has in our day, does He present Himself as "The faithful and true Witness," who alone shall never fail (Rev. 3:14), to our great consolation—our shameful failure is the dark foil that sets off His perfection. So here, that name of Bright Morning Star has been dragged into utter ruin by the mighty creature to whom it was first given, but is lifted therefrom by One who is indeed the true Bright Morning Star, the Herald of a day that knows no night, as cloudless as clear shining after rain. Surely there is no sound reason for questioning that Lucifer, Son of the Morning, "The bright Morning Star," was the original and worthy name, expressing the creature-dignity, of him who was afterwards named, as expressing his self-acquired character, the Devil, Satan, that old serpent, and the dragon! Thus there is no rivalry, for he to whom that name was first applied has lost it forever, and gained these others which tell out most clearly his antagonism to our poor race. But that race has been so loved by Him who now bears it, that He has Himself borne the sins of His people, and now lives (in contrast with him who accuses day and night), to make intercession for them.
Let us trace the ambitious path of this "Lucifer" further. He who reads all hearts has read this in his: "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God," that is, above the other angelic powers, for the term "stars of God," as that other, "the host of heaven," covers both the material and spiritual, both the visible and invisible. This Bright Star of the Morning aims to place his throne above all other stars. "I will also sit upon the mount of the assembly, in the extremity of the north."
The term "Mount of the Assembly" is strikingly suggestive of that other mount, Har-Mageddon, for that also means when translated from the Hebrew tongue, "mount of assembly, or gathering"; but the last part of the word (maggedon) has in it the idea of a military gathering of troops, in undisguised warfare, and speaks of the final gathering of all the children of pride in open conflict with "Him that sits on the horse" (Rev. 19:19), in whom we recognize our Lord Himself. But this idea of a military gathering is quite lacking in the word rendered "congregation" (ver. 13). That is the peaceful word used for those appointed feasts in Israel's day, when Jehovah gathered His people around Himself; and we can see how perfectly consistent is this peaceful word with the time in which the proud king is speaking in his heart. No rebellion had as yet broken the calm waters of that sinless past, and introduced the storm that is even to this day raging. All angelic "assemblies" then were in willing submission to the Throne of God. It is with this assembly in mind, that this Bright Morning Star aims to place his throne, in the "extremity of the north," the highest possible elevation.
Scripture itself affords the clearest evidence that even the cardinal points of the compass have deep spiritual teaching. Thus "east" in the light of Gen. 41:6 and Exodus 14:21 is beyond all question the quarter that speaks of sharp distress, and indeed divine judgment—a teaching with which that of nature is in perfect accord, for everywhere the east wind is esteemed as opposed to man's good. The "west" must, as the opposite quarter, speak of prosperity and blessing. Scripture fully confirms this, for when Moses blessed the tribes, Naphtali is given the "west and the south"; but far from that being literally true of that tribe, its lot fell rather to the north and east, bordering the Sea of Galilee and extending north of it. But let the clear, typical meaning be heard, and in the bright sunny south we have no difficulty in reading of the love, warmth and light of God. So Naphtali's possession of "west and south" means the enjoyment of the divine light and love that those points figure.
Then the north, being the direct opposite to the south, must speak as clearly of the opposite, "darkness"—it is the dark, obscure quarter,5 as the word itself proves. But in our prophet, "the extremities of the north" seems to be less in contrast with "south" than with "the pit" of the next verse; it is the most exalted situation possible, as the pit is the lowest (cf. Matt. 11:23). We must then combine these two ideas of exaltation and impenetrableness, and learn that Lucifer's proud ambition did not stop short of sitting enthroned at a height far above the power of any other creature to penetrate.
But this is essentially a position that belongs to the Creator alone. In human affairs it is what we call Providence, that ambiguous word with all its impenetrable mystery of suffering and calamity, knowing no intelligent discrimination; for as the rain falls indifferently on the just and unjust, so everything in this disordered scene is apparently under the guidance of blind chance. So the wisest of all men wailed as he looked upon these inequalities and confessed his inability to pierce this "north" quarter:
For the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong . . . but time and chance happeneth to them all. For man also knoweth not his time; as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time when it falleth suddenly upon them (Eccl. 9:11, 12).Who of us has not echoed that groan? For still we, too, even to this present hour, have the same "north" to perplex us, in the same providences so impossible of interpretation. As Israel's foes ever came from the literal north, so do the attacks on our faith come from these dark, obscure providences that answer to that quarter, till like Job we hardly know to whom to attribute the afflictions from which all are indiscriminately suffering. Is not our enemy in them? Has he not some power, however limited it may be, over these providences, as we are told he had in Job's day? But, blessed be God, we have at least learned two comforting truths: first, that our God over-rules all for the real good of His people (Rom. 8:28), and that all the present discords of providences shall eventuate for them in the sweet harmonies of eternity. Secondly, that the "seventh angel" shall soon sound, and then this "mystery of God"—that is, a God of infinite benevolence, infinite wisdom, and infinite power, permitting the apparent triumphing of evil—"shall be finished" (Rev. 10:7).
Let us note that as this extremity of the north was and is the only limit to the proud ambition of the first Bright Morning Star, so shall that very dignity be His who has now the only true claim to that name, for so speaks Ps. 48:23: "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides (or extremities) of the north, the city of the great King. God is known in her palaces for a refuge." No doubt the reference here is to that millennial scene wherein the literal down-trodden Jerusalem has indeed become the city of the great King, our Lord Jesus, so that a topographical interpretation is not to be rejected. In this divinely designed topography, we may discern spiritual verities by which we see the true Bright Morning Star actually occupying the place desired by the first. Then nevermore shall the "north" be dark, for He, the Lamb, is there, and shall enlighten it, as He does all. The seventh angel will then have sounded, and in the complete expulsion of him who had been permitted so wide a sway over providences, the "mystery of God is finished." It is refreshing to hail that scene, and salute it, surrounded as we still are, by all the darkenings of the "north quarter."
The rest of the chapter, as far as it refers to the King of Babylon, would appear to need but little comment, and I will only paraphrase as closely as possible. It frequently seems to return to the earthly monarch, as will be seen.
16: They that now see thee look at thee narrowly,In sharp contrast with the ordinary custom of following with honor the very corpses of deceased kings, this king, in his death, is likened to three shameful and worthless things: a sucker-sprig that although still living is ever ruthlessly thrown away, its life is valueless; ruined garments that by their condition tell of discord and conflict with men; and a carcass left to be trampled in the dust; again, it is not difficult to see a reference to man's tripartite being, spirit, soul, and body.
Consider thee carefully, saying:
Can this be he that made the earth shake:
Its (mighty) kingdoms to tremble?
17: Who made the earth-dwelling a desert;
Destroyed its (populous) cities;
Nor e'er let his prisoners homeward.
18: All kings of the nations are buried with honor;
Each in his sepulchre lying.
19: But thou art cast out afar from thy grave,
Like a sucker-sprig deemed worse than worthless.
Like the garments of those slain in battle,
Ruined by tearing and sword-thrust,
Going down to the stones of the pit;
Aye, like a carcass down-trodden.
20: Thou shalt not be joined unto them in the graveHere in this threefold sentence "the true sayings of God," ends the "burden" of Babylon; what follows returns to the Assyrian, but in a very peculiar way. We are in what we may call the "burdens," in which every separate object of the divine judgment is introduced by the word "burden." But here, as if to assure us that although the names differ, there is some form of identity in the object of this infliction with the one we have just considered, there is no word to indicate any break at all. The burden flows on in uninterrupted continuity, most surely suggesting at least, as so much else does, that there is a close link between the king of Babylon and the Assyrian, for they come under one and the same "burden."
For thou hast destroyed thy land,
Thou hast murdered thy people,
The seed of the wicked shall ne'er be renowned.
21: Sow for the seed of the sinner the slaughter,
Because of the sin of their sires!
For never again shall they rise,
As conquerors over the earth,
Nor fill the world's face with their cities.
22: For I will rise up against them,
Saith Jehovah Tzebaoth:
From Babel the name and the remnant—
Both issue and offering—root out,
23: I'll make it the home of the bittern;
Turn it to marshes of water:
With the broom of destruction will sweep it,
So saith Jehovah Tzebaoth.
As a matter of history, the Assyrian came to his end as the dominant world-power before the Babylonian, who succeeded him in that supremacy, while here, it is after we have heard of the doom of the Babylonian that we are told of that of the Assyrian.
In all these prophetic details the oldest of us are but beginners, as it were, in this school of God, but, as already written, I have become increasingly assured that this "Assyrian" of Isaiah must be found in the holder of the same place of world-power in the time of the end, and called in the book of Revelation "the Beast from the Sea," even although the empire over which he rules is then Roman and not literally Assyrian. The identity consists in the same position of world-power he enjoys, not in the geographical boundaries, or the name given his empire.
The striking way in which the Assyrian is introduced here serves to confirm such an interpretation. The most simple deduction would be that in the last days there will be two individuals so governed by the same spirit, the same aims, as to be united in both sin and doom.
If we look at the matter in the light of the New Testament, all becomes plain. Just as in the prophet Daniel we have two "horns," western in chapter 7, eastern in chapter 8, and have no difficulty in discerning the antitypes of these in the two prominent personages of evil, the two "Beasts" of Rev. 13, so here we have the same two evil personalities in Assyrian and Babylonian, again foreshadowing, respectively, the same two expressions of creature wickedness, "the Beast from the sea" and "the Beast from the land," in such evil accord with one another, in being possessed and governed by that one fallen spirit, Satan (of whose primal fall from heaven we have just heard in our prophet, and of whose final fall and literal expulsion from heaven we have been similarly told in Rev. 12) as to make together a trinity of super-human pride and rebellion. Here, too, both the human dupes shall come to one awful end at the same time (Rev. 19:20) and by the same divine judgment, as is suggested in the unification of the two under one "burden," or divine sentence, in the prophecy of Isaiah.6
This burden closes with the following solemn assurance of its fulfilment, and to that we are rapidly approaching.
24: Jehovah Tzebaoth hath uttered His oath,Does this not remind us of Acts 17:31: "God hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world by that Man whom He hath appointed; whereof He hath given assurance unto all, in that He hath raised Him from the dead"?
And thus doth He speak: Without question
As I have thought, so shall it be—
As I have purposed, so shall it stand;
25: Th' Assyrian will I smash in My land,
Underfoot on My mountains will tread him.
Then from off them his yoke shall depart,
His burden be rolled from their shoulder.
26: This is the purpose that has been determined
To come upon all of the earth—
This is the hand outstretched
Over all of the nations!
27: For Jehovah Tzebaoth hath purposed
And who can bring it to naught?
His hand is still outstretched
And who shall turn it aback?
Our chapter closes with a return to the word that is characteristic of this part of the book, "burden"—"In the year that King Ahaz died was this burden" (ver. 28); but the construction of what follows makes it by no means easy of understanding by those accustomed to the more prosaic, and less spiritual form of Gentile speech. To gather the intent of the inspired writer, we had better forget, to some extent at least, the rather tame rendering of our venerated Authorized Version, and remember that we are listening to the most emotional, the most lofty, in poetic flights, of all the prophets of Israel.
It is, of course, of great significance that we are again told the very year in which the "burden" was given, that in which "king Ahaz died." Very low indeed at that time had fallen the fortunes of the House of David, and consequently of the whole nation. Blow after blow from Syria, and from the northern kingdom of Ephraim, had apparently brought that elect House very near its end; and in such case, it was but natural that the Philistines, those hereditary foes of God's chastened people, should rejoice at their sad condition. That is the setting of the "burden" which runs thus:
29: Rejoice not so fully, thou land of Philistia,The above is the first of the two strophes into which the "burden" is divided, and surely not without practical value and interest can it be for us, since it tells of that turning-point in God's ways with His people when His chastening of them, bringing them very low, has provoked the mirth of their enemies. But that turning-point can never be severed altogether from Him through whom alone all blessing can come, and we must find Him here. It is true that we naturally shrink from thus applying the intensely figurative language used, and from seeing even in that "burning and flying one" the Messiah of Israel, the Christ of God. But that was the unprejudiced explanation given even by the Jewish Targum, and we must see if it has not at least some good foundation.
Because that the rod that once smote thee lies low;
For out of the serpent's root springs forth an adder,
Whose fruit to a burning winged serpent shall grow.
30: The poorest of poor shall pasture in peace then,
In peace shall the needy lie down once again.
But to thy root I'll destroy thee by famine,
Thy remnant, Philistia, by him shall be slain.
The "serpent" here, then, is the elect House of David, brought low indeed, but its root remains, and from that root springs an adder, or basilisk, a far more terrible creature than the ordinary serpent, but which in this case would represent the good King Hezekiah. The moral character of the figure must then not be pressed, but only the severity of the judgment it inflicts. In this way, Hezekiah was indeed as a "basilisk" to Philistia; for "he smote the Philistines even to Gaza, and the borders thereof." Still more intense is the next agent of divine judgment: the "fiery flying one." Here, too, as in the case of both the House of David and of Hezekiah, we must see a good agent, and none can so well answer to this as Messiah. He comes, and Philistia is destroyed to the very roots; nothing can spring from them, as there shall in the case of Israel, and we see the Lord's people, like a well-protected flock basking in peace in the divine favor. Much do we need in these democratic days, to bear in mind the severity as well as the goodness of God; it is denied, but is quite unaffected by the denial.
The second strophe opens with the most lively poetic language:
31: Howl then, O gate! Cry aloud then, O city!In verse 31, so futile will be the resistance of the defences of the Philistine to the invading host from the north, that the cities are bidden to howl, rather than rejoice, for as wax melts in the sun's heat, so shall they melt away in the fierce heat of that coming trial. But what is that trial? Look northward, and see that cloud of smoke. It tells of the burning of towns wasted by the devastating march of a large army from whose ranks there are no stragglers.
All melted must thou be, Philistia's land!
For see, from the north a smoke is advancing;
No straggler is there, 'tis a well-ordered band.
32: What shall we say to the messengers coming
Afar from the Gentile? Oh, speak of His care;
And tell them Jehovah hath founded Mount Zion,
And the poor of His flock have found covert there.
This may or may not have some degree of interest for us, but of how little practical value it is if it has no kind of application to our present time and to the living issues that face us. Have we any foe such as the Philistine was to Israel? Have we, too, a covert answering to Zion? Surely these questions can have but one answer. Every enemy that oppressed Israel in her last days oppresses us in its spirit-counterpart in ours. None is more fatal than the Philistine, and it becomes us to ask where he may, in this very day, be found.
He came of the house and lineage of Ham (Gen. 10:6-14), and "wandering" (the word "Philistine" has in it the meaning of "wanderer") from Egypt, found his way, but not as a pilgrim, into Immanuel's land, to which he attached his own name, Palestine. He enters that land by an easy way—it is the "other way" of John 10:1, by which the blood of the Lamb is not sprinkled, the Red Sea and the Jordan are avoided. Thus no blood and no cross in its true power (the Philistine has plenty of crucifixes) serve to mark him to this very hour. He depends on dead works, rather than grace; on form rather than power, on Church rather than on Christ, and practically does away with the perfect efficacy of the one Sacrifice, once and forever offered on the Cross. In his conflict with the armies of the living God, he ever takes his stand in Ephes-dammim (1 Sam. 17:1), which literally means "without the shedding of blood,"7 for his strong strategic position to this day is in that "unbloody sacrifice of the mass," as his chief exponent calls it. In a word, he represents the spirit of Ritualism, for as the Philistine dwelt on quite the opposite side of the land from the Ammonite, so does his spirit-representative, Ritualism, and cold, heartless Formalism, live at quite the opposite extreme from the Rationalism of which this son of Lot speaks.
Easy enough is it to discern him in his clearest expression, Papal Rome. Here, from first to last, from the sacrament of baptism, whereby a little child is not merely introduced into the external sphere of Christian profession, but is supposedly actually made a "member of Christ, and a child of God," down to the very last, when that same poor soul is launched into eternity under the futile shield of the sacrament of "extreme unction"—all reliance is on religious form and ecclesiastical sacraments. Oh, there, most assuredly, is the Philistine, in very truth.
But has he no close relations? Has "Rome," that veritable Jezebel, no "children" (Rev. 2:23)? Where is not the Philistine? Have you never been in Protestant churches, where all is as cold as ice, and as formal as arithmetic—where all the external forms are correctly gone through, but love and power are conspicuous by their absence? Well, there, too, is the spirit of the Philistine.
Have you never been in a gathering, professedly to the Name of Jesus, that once was characterized by a hunger for the Word of God, and by the warmth of Christian love that pervaded it and met you at the very threshold; but now it has become very "rich, and has need of nothing." With calm, courteous indifference they will listen to the sweet truths that no longer affect them—they are tired of that "light food." There, too, none other than the Philistine has become the lord of that meeting or assembly. Who among us dare say that he has nothing to fear from the Philistine? He is our most terrible and dominant foe this very day.
But is there no deliverance from that dominance? Most surely there is. If the Philistine figures the spirit of self-sufficient formalism, then Samson, his hereditary foe, is the spirit of Nazarite separation to the Lord. But this must ever be distinguished carefully from all that pharisaic separation from fellow-believers that is not altogether unknown in this day just before He comes again, as it was when He came at first. The Philistine and the Pharisee are very close relations, as father and son; so Samson and the spirit that finds every loveliness, beauty, power and grace in the Lord Jesus are related in the same way. As Samson at the close of his stormy life was "poor" (what could a captive really possess?), "blind" (for they had put out his eyes), "naked" (they had even cut off his hair!), and thus "wretched and miserable"; so He who cannot lie, tells us that this is the precise condition of the last phase of the professing church (Rev. 3:17). It is true that the great mass of professing Christians "wist it not," but are filled with foolish boasting; but wherever this is confessed in heart, there, in that individual, "the hair begins to grow again" (Judges 16:22), and once again there comes the power that is ever connected with being hidden and dependent, for of this the veil of the long hair ever speaks (1 Cor. 11:15). To let the same narrative throw its light on that fast-coming future, as Samson was more fatal to the Philistines by his death than he had been in his life (Judges 16:30), so when the true heavenly testimony is "caught up," the spurious pretender to being that—the professing Church of the day—shall be "spewed out of His mouth," a nullity.
Have we in this gone far away from "Isaiah"? Indeed, no; if there be any significance in his name, "the salvation of Jehovah." For in that day of shadows that salvation consisted in a literal deliverance from an earthly and literal foe—all well enough for those who then lived. But our lot is cast in the end of the age, and we need another kind of salvation of which that was but a type, and Isaiah must speak to us of that, or it will lack its practical value.
How sweetly the closing words sound even to us who hear them from afar. "Jehovah hath founded Zion" speaks of grace, and it is in the ceaseless flow of that grace that His people have found their "covert" even to this day.
Oh, blessed, blessed end of all His ways with us! After permitting all kinds of chastenings and sorrows, "Zion," well and firmly "founded" in the atoning death, the precious Blood of the Lamb, is the security of all who cast themselves upon that grace, and not one of them shall ever be confounded. Thank God! Thank God!
1 Shades, from a word meaning "to be weak," "since the life of the Shades is only the shadow of a life."—Delitzsch.
2 Usually taken to be from shahal "to ask," either because that place is constantly demanding fresh victims, being one of the four things that never say, "Enough!" (Prov. 30:15,16); or because it takes from those who still live, all knowledge of their deceased friends, and it is they who ask, and ask, and ever ask in vain, as to where those who have thus gone are—as Job 14:10: "Man dies and wastes away, he giveth up the ghost, and where is he?" or it may well cover both ideas, as I have assumed in the text.
3 This term "son of the dawn" is but a poetical expression for "star of the morning."
4 The word rendered in our A.V., in both these verses, "sides," carries with it the idea of "extremity" in whatever direction it may be. Here, this proud one aimed upward at the extreme of self-exaltation; his doom is to be cast down to the extreme of humiliation. See Phil. 2:5-10.
5 North: Heb., tzahphohn; properly, "hidden, obscure."
6 I find it impossible to accord with Mr. Wm. Kelly in his comment here. He writes: "The King of Babylon sets forth no other than the last head of the Beast" (Exp. of Isaiah, p. 194). That would be the head of the revived Roman Empire of Dan. 2, but continuing on the same subject, he finds the same personage "under the symbol of the harlot riding the Beast" (p. 195)—that would mean that Babylon symbolized both the Beast and the woman riding upon that Beast! This is surely self-refuting.
We must, I believe, exclude any reference to Babylon as the woman of Rev. 17 in our interpretation of Isaiah; for, though she is utterly rejected by the Lord—spewed out of His mouth, and so left on earth in the day of the fulfilment of 1 Thess. 4:13-18, she will still claim that high-sounding title, "Historic Church"; and as such the vision of the prophet could not include what was "kept secret" from him (Rom. 16:25).
If we then eliminate that religious harlot of Christendom, the secular or civic opposition to Christ must be found in the Gentile whom Isaiah terms "Assyrian," and who shall be found in Immanuel's land when the Lord returns and shall be "broken upon its mountains," as is also told in Zech. 14. The religious opponent will then be seen in a Jew, that False Prophet, the "Beast from the land," but who, Scripture tells us, is also a king (as Dan. 11:36), of whom our prophet speaks as the king of Babylon, and who is the true Antichrist—both being completely united under the control of Satan. In Isaiah, the Assyrian shares the "burden" of Babylon. In Revelation (the woman Babylon, having previously been "eaten and burnt with fire by the ten kings and the Beast, as Rev. 17:16 should read) the religious form of antichristian antagonism passes from apostate Christendom to the apostate mass of the Jews, and specifically to their head, the False Prophet. In Revelation 19:20 we see the infliction of what is in Isaiah called the "burden": "And the Beast was taken and with him the False Prophet . . . these were both cast alive into a lake of fire, burning with brimstone"—a burden indeed!
7 The word "ephes" is translated for us in Dan. 8:25: "without hand"; while "dammin" is the plural form of "dam," "blood." As long as this is in the body, the word is used in the singular, but as soon as it is out of the body, every separate drop speaks, and so the plural form, "dammim," is always used. So "Ephes-dammim" must mean, "Without the shedding of blood."