Song of Israel forgiven and restored. What are the "wines on the lees"?
The veil over all flesh. Moab; who is meant?
Now we consider, and I trust with some true delight, a wondrously beautiful chapter. The strains of those ancient prophets are for the most part sad rather than joyous, and any burst of singing, amid their confessions, tears and stern denunciations, is like that song in the prison at Philippi, a striking witness to the intervention of the blessed God in grace. We heard a little trill of singing in the previous chapter, but this soon died away, awaiting some long-expected event before being continuous; that event was the revelation of the Lord Jesus as the Redeemer of Israel. Our songs will never be unmixed with sighs till we see Him.
At the close of the chapter moon confounded and sun ashamed tell that He has come. Long hidden, as was the High Priest on the day of atonement, He has been revealed at last in all His glory and the holy angels with Him (Matt. 25:31). While songs did attend His first coming, they were but from a feeble remnant, and soon died away; nor has there been any singing from that poor nation since: it has been silent God-ward, and uttered its wails alone to the stones of its ruined temple. But now the whole nation—few in number, it is true, but as a unit—has been learning to sing these songs that have been provided for them in Psalms 95 to 100, and with great joy do they cry: "O sing unto the Lord a new song, for He hath done marvellous things: His right hand and His holy arm hath gotten Him the victory."
Let us, then, listen to the song:
1: Thou art my God, O Jehovah!Joyous as is the song, it certainly is not, to our ears, as sweet as that we hear in heaven. We miss one note that is the very ground of our own singing, nor are we altogether in accord with what we do hear. There is no clear avowal of redemption by the blood of God's spotless Lamb; while, on the other hand, it rather grates against our spirits to rejoice over ruined cities, fallen fortresses, and desolated palaces. We are not of that "manner of spirit." But that is the way of God's dealing with the earth, and its government; judgments great and terrible can alone usher in that fair morning which is like the "clear shining after rain" (2 Sam. 23:4); the rain-storm, with accompanying lightning and thunder, must first clear the murky atmosphere.
I will exalt Thee: Thy Name will I praise!
For Thou hast wrought wonders.
Thy counsels of old: Faithfulness! Truth!
2: For 'tis Thou who hast made
Of a city a stone-heap!
Of a fortress a ruin!
The palace of foemen, no longer a city,
To be built nevermore,
3: 'Tis for this the strong people
Shall give Thee all honor.
'Tis for this the great city
Of terrible nations
Shall yield Thee its fear.
4: For to the poor Thou hast been as a stronghold—
A stronghold to needy ones sunk in distress:
A refuge from rain-storm:
A shade from the scorching,
When the blast of the fierce ones
As storm 'gainst a wall, beat.1
5: As the heat in the desert, the noise of our foemen
Thou didst subdue.
As a cloud's shadow doth temper the noon heat,
So was the triumph song of our foemen,
Our terrible foemen, brought very low!
The "city" here referred to is not necessarily literal; this is rather another reference to that "city" of which the previous chapter (ver. 10) spoke as "The city of confusion," the full expression of all that man, in the pride of his heart, is building on the earth. While this is, if I err not, the direct reference, it is not of course at all impossible that the unified civilized nations—again forming an imperial world-power—may build or adopt a central metropolis to which they may attach some high-sounding name, yet God may call it (since it is only another Babel), "the city of confusion," for that word is, as we know, but another form of "Babylon."
Be that as it may, here we have Jehovah celebrated as having brought down to ruin all the proud building of man. The foundation of that city is being laid and its walls are being built this very day. Whenever or wherever you hear the sound of boasting, you will, if your spiritual senses are at all keen, discern the same materials that were used in building the Babel of long ago: the "slime" of self-exaltation and self-seeking that still poor men substitute for the "mortar" of divine love and self-forgetfulness; and the dead dry "bricks," manufactured by ordinances quite powerless in themselves to give the life needed, in the place of the "living stones" that make the whole building to be filled with divine Life. Let us have nothing to do with it. It looks fair; it shall soon be a ruin. It looks strong; it shall soon be fallen to the ground. It looks as grand as any palace in its lofty pride; soon shall it all be in the dust, and be rebuilt nevermore! This, and only this, is in accord with these divine counsels determined very long ago, and now declared in this fulfilment to be even more than faithful and true, for they are "faithfulness," "truth," in very essence.2 May every one of us have full confidence in them.
In verse 3 we have indeed the "conversion of the world." This intervention of Jehovah has so awakened its inhabitants that the cry is no longer heard: "Since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as from the creation of the world," for there has been a terrific break in the ordinary course of nature and providence, the result of which is that the "strong people," i.e., the Gentiles, in genuine fear and holy reverence, join with the restored Jew in giving honor to Israel's Jehovah. Happy earth, in such a case!
How sweet the memory of such a deliverance will be to that little flock! How beautiful the figures used in verse 4 to express that tender care during the day of awful stress! In the hour of storm there may have been moments when they (it would not be very unlike many of us) had said: "Hath the Lord forgotten to be gracious? Is His mercy clean gone forever?"(Ps. 77:7-9). Now, with clearer eye, no longer dimmed with, but rather cleansed by, past tears; with mind no longer darkened; with heart no longer weighted with pressing distress; they look back and see that all through He has been a stronghold against the attack which, nevertheless, He had permitted to so far succeed as to capture their city (Zech. 14:1). Even this was a rain-storm beating vainly against a wall.3 In the scorching heat of that persecution, when all who refused to worship the image of the Beast were under sentence of death, even then Jehovah, now discerned as being the long-rejected Jesus, was to them as a gracious cloud modifying the burning heat of a summer day.
So when the shout of victory that the enemies of Israel's remnant raised as they captured the city, and the words, "Peace and Safety," resounded all through the earth—for, say they, we have finally disposed of the only Witness to God upon it, hence forth the earth is ours—it was then, at that moment, that He, His feet standing on the Mount of Olives, has made that proud boast sink to a whisper, and finally to silence. It is intensely significant that within the last few years we have heard precisely that awful character of defiance against God, not merely as the fool, saying that there is no God, but admitting that truth, and then uttering the most blasphemous defiances and obscene insults. God has shown us in Moscow what shall be all over the earth, before our Lord is revealed. How loud will be the cry of the earth in that day!
This brings us to the first division of the second part of the song, verses 6 to 8, and it is here that we find our special direct interest.
6: For in this mountain Jehovah TzebaothJudgment being over, the pride of man humbled, the Lord alone exalted, Satan bound, Jehovah becomes the world's Host, and while He makes the whole earth "laugh with abundance," yet, in one spot, He spreads a table loaded with such dainties for eating, and such wines for drinking, as our poor race has never yet enjoyed. One need hardly say that these must not be understood as literal, even although there can be no question as to the literal abundance, but we must most surely discern spiritual dainties and refreshments, of which these material things are the figures.
Doth make for all peoples a feast of rich dainties,
A feast of old wines on the lees,
Of fat things rich in their marrow,
Of wines on the lees well refined.
7: Yea, in this mountain doth He destroy
The cover that shadows the face of all peoples,
The veil that has spread its shade o'er the nations.
8: He swallows up death, and that, too, forever!
Jehovah Adonai wipes tears from all faces.
His people's reproach He taketh away
From all over the earth—Jehovah hath spoken!
If this is justified, then these material things, these "fat things" and "wines," stand for some real corresponding spiritual feast in which we, even we, have our divinely given part. At this table we can sit, and the spiritual dainties that Israel shall enjoy in the millennial day we may enjoy in the same spiritual way and by the same grace, even now. Those "fat things, rich in marrow," speak of those rich blessings that we have in Christ—the "unsearchable riches of Christ" that are made ours, and on which we can feed, through the Holy Spirit making them realities to our souls. They thus become as much part of our spirits as literal food of our bodies. Do we never enjoy a taste of these "rich things" at His bountiful table?
No one can thus feed on Christ without corresponding joy, and that is figured by the "wines." The one single word in Hebrew for the four in English, "wines-on-the-lees," is from a root meaning "to keep, to preserve," and is thus used to speak of wines that have been kept on those lees, or the dregs, that have been eliminated from the grape-juice, and have sunk to the bottom during the process of fermentation. The clear wine is not drawn off at once, but kept on those dregs; and by that keeping, it is improved in strength, color and bouquet. Before being put away for use, it must be drawn off, and in the last line of verse 6, the pure clear liquid has thus been decanted, and is now well-refined from the dregs that have done their work.
Who could resist the conviction that where all is so filled with symbolic significance, this cannot be an exception? Jehovah has been dealing with His elect nation Israel, but Israel is but a representative of the whole race, and in those dealings we can trace, as taking place in an open way on the earth, what has taken place, what is taking place in a spiritual way and individually in His elect heavenly people, not of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles also.
He does leave the lees, the dregs, of our old Adam nature within us; does He not? The wine that is above them is that life in Christ that is indeed joy-filled, and which every child of God, from the youngest to the oldest, has by his new birth. But it is still "on the lees" of the old nature derived from Adam; for thus, and from those very "lees," it shall gather what shall increase the strength of its joy, add fragrance of humility to its adoring worship, and yield a lovelier hue to the eye of God in that day when there shall be no lees at all, but it shall be "well-refined," even the dregs, the "lees," having done their work, and under the grace of God our Father, done it well. Does not this give a worthy reason for our present condition with the old nature within us still?
Delitzsch again writes here of Isaiah's wonderful word-painting—the very words used bringing the picture of the scene that they portray. "The ring of the verse 6," he says, "is inimitably pictorial. It is like joyful music to the heavenly feast. It is as if we heard stringed instruments, played with the most rapid movement of the bow." That my reader may test this, let him quickly pronounce the Hebrew of the lines, beginning at the words, "A feast of fat things" (verse 6), and see if his ear can catch the sounds, and his eye see the rapid movement of the bows of the violins: "mishteh shemahnim mishteh shemahrim shemahnim memuchim shemahrim mizuqahqim."
Can you not see the arms of the musicians working their bows rapidly over the strings?
Oh, how good it is to note the strong words the Lord uses when speaking of death! As a feeble folk might rejoice to see their oppressor abased and overcome by a strong ally, so we joy that our terrible pitiless oppressor that has caused rivers of tears to flow from human eyes, and tempests of anguish to sweep over human hearts, is swallowed up in victory. The Septuagint reads, "Death has prevailed and swallowed up." That has been true enough; but now the tables are turned, and it is death that is swallowed up, and not a single tear-drop will be left on human eye to bring the griefs of the past to remembrance. Of all the wonderful visions that prophecy brings before our eyes, can any greatly exceed that of seeing God—God infinite in every attribute, the Creator of all—actually wiping away tears from the face of His poor creature, man! Are we not reminded of that symbolic picture of a poor blind man, and the disciples' question: Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? No, no, says the Lord; that was permitted that the works of God should be made manifest in him. And so the sorrows, the tears, of life are permitted that God may manifest His beloved work in wiping them away. Is it not a blessed vision of God? These are the cords that draw and bind us to Him.
As to Israel, the Jew, the despised, hated, baited Jew, whose national name has been a reproach throughout the earth, that reproach shall be taken away (can we not well afford to joy in that joy?), and then the Jew shall be the glory of mankind; and this, "Jehovah hath spoken!"
The seventh verse continues and deepens the interest, yet has its difficulties which, in the danger that we feel of erring in so infinitely important a matter, may well cast us on the grace of Him who loves us, by whose Spirit we trust we may not only be kept from error but led "into all truth." Let us then take the context as being the divinely given, and so the safest, key. That context says with the clearest precision that it is the "earth"(verse 8) and not heaven that is in the prophet's Spirit-taught mind. It follows from this that "this mountain" necessarily refers to a mountain on the earth, and not to the heavenly Church. The specific mountain must be Zion, as we have seen was meant by "mountain" in chapter 2. But, as we have also seen, Zion is but the representative of Israel when restored and established solely by the grace of which, as Hebrews 12 tells us, Zion speaks. Do not, I beg of you, divert this from Israel, as the first prime recipient of this joy. She has had darkness and sorrow enough, but her God, even Jehovah, has never forgotten nor ceased to love her for the fathers' sakes. That very name for God, "Jehovah," speaks of this as clearly as all else, for it is by that Name that He is directly in relation with Israel, as by the dear name of "Father" with us. We can well afford to let Israel find her part in this lovely scene, for as we shall see, we can find ours too.
What a clear suggestion lies in these words of some strange spiritual power that has succeeded in weaving a veil by which our poor race has been kept in the dark, from the light of God's truth, and in the cold, from the warmth of His love. Alas! alas! Dark are all our minds by nature, dubious as to the disposition of our Maker towards us, while conscience gives justification for those doubts; nay, tends rather to assure us of the certainty of His wrath (Ps. 90:7-11), and that awful end, death, confirms all these fears. In this condition someone weaves a veil of contrasted attractions, such as this present scene and transitory life can give; pleasures, wealth with its luxuries, the boasting of pseudoscience, the marvels of man's inventive genius, with a decent amount of "religion," so long as it does not involve a heart-confession of sin. Out of such materials the same unseen enemy weaves so thick a veil that it hides all the radiant glory of God shining forth in the gift of His Beloved Son for the very sins that we have committed against Him! In a comparative few, that veil has been rent even now; and they have seen through that torn veil, the glory of God—all the perfections of His love and wisdom, grace and justice, shining with beauteous radiancy in the Face of Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 4:4), as we sometimes sing with chastened joy: "In that Face, once marred and smitten, All His glory now we read."
Our scripture speaks of a day in which that veil shall be torn away from all faces. Well may we cry, "Oh, haste that day of cloudless ray!" How many hearts will utter a silent "Amen."
Verse 8 is explicit, and it is this very verse that the Spirit of God quotes, telling us that when "this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor. 15:54). The epoch thus defined as "the corruptible putting on incorruption" must refer to the resurrection of those who have departed from this life, and whose bodies therefore have been subject to corruption. We must remember that there was ever a spanless difference between that "Holy Thing," the Lord's body, and ours. That was never subject to corruption; for while real flesh and blood, yet it was only the "likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3), and so differed from all others in that it had not the slightest taint of that ingredient that involves corruption, sin. As long as the life-principle is in the body of every sinful man, it prevents the action of corruption, but as soon as death intervenes and the soul departs, then the offspring of sin, corruption, has its way unhindered at once. The holy body of our Lord was never subject to corruption, for He knew no sin, and we refuse to enter into any unhallowed analysis, or speculation as to it. Our bodies are then in that full sense corruptible only after death, and the word "corruptible" has in view those who have departed this life.
Even as living, the children of Adam are not only capable of dying as was our Lord, but are subject to death, as He was not; and so with the living in view, the writer adds, "When . . . this mortal shall have put on immortality." That also is at the coming of our Saviour for us, for then He shall change this body of humiliation, and make it like His own body of glory (Phil. 3:21).
Note carefully the exact term used. It is not, "Then shall be fulfilled," but, "Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written." Do you say there is no difference? Ponder it a moment. If the saying had been fulfilled, that would have meant that at that specific moment of the Lord's coming for us, when His shout is heard, and we are caught up to be with Him forever, this scripture would be so finally and completely satisfied as to leave nothing more to be expected, either for Israel or for the rest of mankind. But since the words are, "Then shall it come to pass," it leaves room for others later to share in the infinite blessings of that death being swallowed up in victory when it shall come to pass for them.
We have a very simple yet clear illustration in the advancing tide. It comes to a certain marked spot, the tide "has come to pass" thus far, but it still advances and rises to a higher mark, and again we may say "it has come to pass" so far; finally it reaches its high-water mark, and then we may say the rising tide is "fulfilled" and will go no further.
Here the tide is the new-creation life, given not only to the spirit, as indeed it is already, but to the whole man, spirit, soul and body. Paul in writing to the Christians at Corinth tells them, and us, that the rising tide of this "Life" will reach them, so as to affect their whole being when the last trumpet shall sound; that trumpet which is to give no "alarm," God be thanked, nor is it sounded, as it was in the day of Israel, to gather all the assembly to Moses, "to the door of the tent of meeting," but to gather all the redeemed to Himself, to the door of His Father's House, to which His gracious promise pledges Him to take us (see Num. 10:3, 7). It is what we call "the rapture," the very next critical and long-hoped-for event for which we look.
Isaiah, however, cannot possibly refer to that of which he knew, nor was intended to know, nothing whatever. His interest, and the interest here of the Spirit of God, lies with his nation, Israel; and when the Lord shall come for us, and we shall be caught up into that deathless scene, and death shall be forever destroyed, as far as it affects us, the poor Jew has the time of his greatest sorrow still before him; for in the time of persecution that shall arise concerning the worship of the "image of the Beast" (Rev. 13:25), death shall put his hand on many a Jewish saint, and prove that he is not yet destroyed. But let some years pass from the time of the rapture (at least seven, and how many more I am not aware that Scripture specifically tells us), and then our Lord shall be revealed to all flesh; every eye shall then see Him; and at that day, the saying that is written in our chapter "comes to pass" for that elect nation. From that time it would appear that there would be no death in Israel, for they "shall be all righteous" (Isa. 60:21).
Even then the victory over death will not be final, for Scripture tells us that even in the millennial day some will only yield "feigned obedience" (Ps. 18:44, marg.); and of such it is written: "The child shall die an hundred years old, but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed" (chap. 65:20). So that even during the millennium the saying is not "fulfilled" for all. But at its end, when for the third time that one word "Finished," or "Done," sounds through the universe, then shall be the final fulfilment of this saying: "Death is swallowed up in victory." For Death and Hades have had their long day, have fulfilled their needed but mournful ministry, and being no longer needed, shall be cast into the lake of fire which is the second death; the first thus passing into the second, which retains all the finally impenitent forevermore!
Alas, these impenitent are at that time, the "lees," the dregs of the universe, and the "wine" of that New-Creation scene must be well refined from them. Can we live for ourselves with such a prospect? Who does not feel the force of the apostle's, "Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men."
How we all love to linger on such joyous themes as the end of death for men, and leave them with reluctance. We feel with Peter when on the holy mount that "it is good to be here," and with him we rather shrink from again descending from this holy elevation into scenes of judgment that still lie before us. But our chapter itself carries us down, and we must follow. Here it is well worthy of our calling to keep in mind that in all the melody which the harp of prophecy gives, telling of the blessedness that divine Love has provided for penitence and faith, there is ever at the close a solemn note of judgment as still active. In the Old Testament we get pictures of this in the government of the earth. Take the prophetic blessing of the tribes by Jacob (Gen. 49); it ends with, "Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night shall divide the spoil." So, in the same way, in the closing blessing of the tribes by Moses (Deut. 32:41, 42), "I will make my arrows drunk with blood." Though having to do solely with the earth, they form pictures of eternal verities; and when we turn to those eternal verities themselves in the New Testament the witness is the same. Look at that chapter to which many a weary human heart has turned for refreshment (Rev. 21). Even there in that eternal scene the last word is: "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolators, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." So in the last chapter of our Bible, the close is filled with solemn warnings. We do not well, my beloved reader, we do not well to avoid or pass these by because they may not be agreeable to us, and perhaps especially we who live in an atmosphere by no means favorable to holy fear, filial reverence or creature awe. So we address ourselves to what Delitzsch calls "the second echo," reaching to the close of the chapter.
9: In that day shall they say:In the day in which the prophecy in these verses shall become history, the Jews shall not only be back in their land, as a good many of them are even today, but they shall be there as they are not today, in that dignity that is expressed in the term, "the kings of the rising of the Sun" (Rev. 16:12). That "Sun" shall at that time have risen upon them with healing in His wings, and the people whose very name of "Jew" has been a term of reproach in all the earth, insomuch as it has added to the colloquialisms of Christendom a verb meaning "to drive a keen, hard bargain," shall then be a royal nation set high above all the nations of the earth. The promise of this as given in Deut. 28:1 was conditioned on their obedience to the Law, but when did any obtain promise on such ground? Far from it. Centuries of shame and sorrow have been their portion, through which they have had to await the salvation of Jehovah: it is a long waiting, and who of us does not know the difficulty of "waiting"?
Lo, 'tis our God; for Him we've long waited,
And now hath He saved us.
This is Jehovah, for Him we've long waited,
And in His salvation we'll joy and rejoice.
10: For in this mountain the hand of Jehovah resteth in peace;
But down it thrusts Moab to Moab's own place,
As straw is downtrodden in water of dunghill.
11: Yea, in their midst His hands He's outspreading
As the hands of a swimmer sweep round in his swimming:
Thus abases his pride with the craft4 that his hands wrought.
12: Aye, the steep walls so towering and lofty—
These He abases—these He down-forces,
Casts them to earth e'en down to the dust-heap.
Have any ever really waited for Him in vain? Most assuredly not. Here that salvation has come; and Isaiah, by his name, is a most appropriate announcer of it. Surely if our ears are a little opened we can hear, in the words of our ninth verse, their mutual and joyful congratulations. "Long have we waited," they say, "for this intervention of our God. Long has He borne with us, apparently not heeding our cry at all. But all through that weary time of waiting, we have been preserved amid all the nations of the earth, and now at last His Kingdom has come, and now His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. Joyfully do we fulfil His own word that we should not see Him henceforth till we should say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Yea, blessed is He!"
Verse 10 is admittedly difficult, as the many different renderings of commentators evidence. The main question is: Who is the subject, Jehovah or Moab? Many, naturally offended by Jehovah being assumed to be in such a place, have adopted the latter. But against this is the simple fact that the natural predicate of the verb "spread out" is Jehovah and not Moab. Nor does there appear to be any necessity for carrying on the figure of the dung-pond into the next verse. There we only see Jehovah's arms sweeping in a wide circle within which everything is brought low.
Thus the Hand of the Lord rests in benediction, for this is involved in the word used, on Mount Zion; but across the river there is still fleshly pride to be dealt with, and there it rests in different fashion. On Moab it falls heavily. Moab, I take it, is not to be interpreted as applying, at least exclusively, to the people literally so called, but to the sphere of this earth that is here in the mind of the Spirit of prophecy that is best pictured by Moab.
This necessitates our recurring to Moab and to what that name applies today. We must recall his shameful origin forever expressed in his shameful name, "Moab," that is, "seed of a father"—he is the son, by incest, of Abraham's nephew, Lot, the world-loving, "righteous man" (2 Peter 2:7, 8).
Since Moab owes his very being to shame, since he himself loves the filthiness of the flesh, he shall have a corresponding penalty. Reaping as he sowed, he shall be pressed down, ever down, lower and lower into a vile, noxious filth for which he has fitted himself. The pleasures in which he delighted have become filth, their true character. Thus he goes to his own place, as shall every individual—even you and I, my dear fellow-believer—but as in Christ, how different the place that He has prepared for us, and for which He has made us meet (Col. 1:12).
1 In this I follow the mass of translations, but am by no means convinced that it is the exact rendering. The very important word "against" has to be inserted, while not explicit in the original. The word for "storm" comes from a root, "to overflow, to inundate," and evidently carries with it the idea of a rushing mass of waters, so I have thought that the two words, "storm," "wall," might be intended to suggest what is known as a tidal wave, or bore, that sweeps all before it: "When the blast of the fierce ones was as a wall of a rushing flood." Lowth renders it, "Rages like a winter storm"; but the meaning is not greatly affected.
2 Both the Hebrew words are forms of the well-known "Amen."
3 See footnote 1.
4 The word rendered in A. V. "spoils," occurring nowhere else, is from a root meaning "to lie in wait," and so it becomes "cunning," or "craft," as adopted in the text.