Jehovah-Jesus never leaves His people
in times of suffering.
He is with them in floods and flames,
although not to sight as in olden
days. When, why and how are nations
made to ransom Israel.
So swift, so striking, is
the change from the last verse of the previous chapter that a separation
was made here; but the address continues unbroken to verse 13, with only
such rapid changes as are necessitated by either the apostate mass, or
the penitent remnant coming into view.
If the miserable condition
of verse 25 of the last chapter referred to Israel, the literal nation
on earth, then the words of comfort here must also be so applied. The Church
being quite hidden from Isaiah, Israel—the literal nation—has the first
title to both the sorrow and the solace. That does not nullify the truth
that God's dealings with that elect nation are typical of His dealings
with His people as individuals today, nor that these exceeding great and
precious promises are not "Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus," and so for all
who are in Him. So our chapter opens with Jehovah gladly leaving His strange
work of punishment and returning to what is far more congenial to Him.
As another well puts it, "So the love that has been hidden behind the wrath
returns to its prerogative again."
1: But now, saith
Jehovah, Creator am I
Of Jacob, and Israel's Former.
Fear not, O fear not, for
thee I've redeemed;
Thou art Mine; by thy name
have I called thee.
2: When through the waters
I cause thee to pass,
E'en then will I surely
be with thee.
When through the floods,
they shall not overflow;
Or when through the fire
thou art walking,
Harmless the flame, thou
shalt not be burnt,
Nor shall it e'en kindle
3: For I am Jehovah, thine
Israel's Saviour, most Holy.
Egypt as ransom for thee
did I give,
Seba and Cush I gave for
4: Since in My sight thus
dear thou hast been,
Greatly hast thou been honored,
And I have tenderly loved
Therefore I'll give up men
in thy stead,
For thy life, too, will
I give peoples.
5: Fear not, oh, fear not,
for I am with thee;
Thy seed from the east will
I bring back,
I'll gather them too from
out of the west,
6: Commanding the north
to release them.
To the south will I order,
Hold them not back!
Bring back My sons from
From the ends of the earth
bring My daughters.
7: Yea, leave none behind
who're called by My name,
Whom I, for My glory, created,
Have fashioned, yea, finished
How unspeakably precious are
these gracious words! We too have some knowledge of what it means to pass
through deep waters, so swift and deep that oftentimes faith finds no footing
and has to float on these promises, and we know too something (all too
little, for some are "of little faith" in the hour of trial) of His being
with us in those trials as He was with the three Hebrew youths in the furnace
heated to seven times its usual intensity. But Israel has the first claim
on these promises. On what ground then is Israel to be saved through that
time of trial? Is it superior holiness that has demanded, as it were, this
discrimination? Surely not, but the submissive will, the heartfelt confession
of utter worthlessness, that alone permits the Heart of God to have its
way unhindered; and He cries from that Heart: "I have created—I have redeemed—I
have called thee by thy name—thou art Mine!"
Precious beyond all thought,
again I say, is this trinity of tender words! First "created"—we certainly
had nothing to do with that—then "redeemed—and that too was His work
entirely—and then, old enough to hear Him speak, we hear Him telling us
that we belong to Him. He will surely take care of His own property.
In verses 3 and 4 we find
a perplexity: "I have given Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia (or Cush), and
Seba for thee," and again, "I give men in thy stead, and peoples in place
of thy life." How are we to understand that? Notwithstanding that "none
can give to God a ransom" for his brother (Ps. 49:7), can nations do what
is thus impossible to individuals? The word for "ransom" is from the same
root and has precisely the same force as that constantly used for "making
atonement," as for instance in Exod. 30:10, 12, speaking of the atonement
half-shekel of silver: "They shall give every man a ransom," and
"Aaron shall make an atonement." Is then the suffering of one nation
an atonement for the sins of another? That at least would seem impossible.
It would deny, rather than evidence, the justice of God's government. Nor
is there any specific word as to sins being atoned for at all. The earth,
and the earth alone is in view, not heaven, nor eternal issues. But the
earth affords types of heavenly truth, and for that, the righteousness
of the divine government must be evidenced on the earth, among the nations.
these are evil, nor is Israel, although elect, less so. Indeed God says,
"You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will
punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2). But at the standpoint of
our chapter Israel has been severely punished, her sufferings have been
extreme. Her city has long been trodden down of the Gentiles, who have
been in the ascendant. It would look as if all of these were guiltless,
and poor Jacob alone guilty. That unrighteousness must be set right; for
it not only gives a false witness to God's government, but also to the
work of Israel's Messiah. Israel is His "peculiar treasure" (Exod. 19:5),
and He has bought the field in which that treasure is now hidden. It is
being kept for this day of manifestation. Then the judgment of God
shall pass to the Nations (here represented by Egypt, Cush and Seba) instead
of Israel. It is a graphic way of putting before us what is clearly thus
brought out later: "Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling
. . . and will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee" (Isa. 51:17,
The judgment of God is over
nations of the earth: Israel has already felt the force of that judgment;
but at this time of which our prophet speaks, the oppressing Gentiles must
take the place of, stand in the stead of, are substituted for,
and so, and only so, are a ransom for oppressed Israel (comp.
2 Thess. 1: 6, 7). There are two scriptures that tend to confirm this interpretation.
Prov. 21:18 reads: "The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous." That
is very close to what we have been considering, especially as we know that
the only "righteous" amongst men are those who from their hearts confess
the truth that they are unrighteous; that is the only possible evidence
of righteousness that any sinful son of Adam can give. But when is that
the case? We turn to another proverb: "The righteous is delivered out of
trouble and the wicked cometh in his stead" (Prov. 11:8). The time is certainly
drawing near when a penitent Israel, seen in her remnant, righteous in
her repentance, shall be "mourning as one mourneth for his only son" (Zech.
12:10-14). There we see the "righteous people," and the other proud,
impenitent nations must "ransom" her by taking her place and drinking
of her cup.
But we will go a little further.
The intrusion of evil into God's creation has not been permitted apart
from a profound and worthy purpose, whether we can discern it or not. Even
the wicked shall be made to serve that purpose. But how can that be?
Thus, they shall serve to manifest that side of God's nature, Light, His
inflexible justice in the infliction of retribution against obdurate impenitence.
How could God be fully known were that not shown? Thus all shall serve,
as it is written: "God hath made all things for Himself, even the wicked
for the day of evil" (Prov. 16:4). The devil, his angels, impenitent men,
shall all eventually be seen as "vessels," or servants, but vessels to
dishonor, and not to honor. Solemn truth!
How far from evidencing the
righteousness of divine government is the earth today! There is no just
discrimination whatever. Not only do sorrow, suffering and death come alike
to all, but oppression, wrong, sin, meet with no equivalent retribution
here; on the contrary, these seem often to have the easiest path. Can that
condition be eternal? Most surely not. This prophecy tells of a day in
which all these abnormal conditions shall be righted, and the activity
of judgment on the impenitent shall as fully express the righteous government
of God, as shall the perfect acceptance of the penitent; or, in the words
we are considering, Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba shall then take the place
of suffering Israel, and in this sense alone be a ransom. The righteousness
of God's government of the earth must make discrimination between impenitence
and penitence; in this sense the former shall be a ransom for the latter.
Of course this awakens further
questions, as it is intended to do—questions which only find a perfectly
satisfactory answer in that Cross where the "righteousness of God is manifested"
in the infliction of full penalty on the most holy, but willing Substitute.
The Cross of Christ alone meets all such difficulties. Well may we thank
God that they are so met.
In verses 5 to 7 we see our
Lord Jesus, having come in great glory, taking His place at Jerusalem,
and with infinite majesty commanding every point of the compass to send
back His long-scattered people to their homeland. East, West, North and
South hear the summons; and not as fugitives flying from a Russian pogrom,
or from a Nazi persecution, but as the elect of Jehovah they are conveyed
with all honor as acceptable gifts to their God. We must never permit this
joyous ending of all their wanderings and sorrows to be identified with
the present return in unbelief. How firm the foundation that the perfect
harmony of the word of prophecy gives us! Let the reader see how perfectly
the Lord's words in Matt. 24:31 accord with those of the prophet.
We are once more taken back
to hear Jehovah's challenge thus:
8: Cause to come
forth the blind people with eyes,
And deaf to whom ears are
9: Let all the nations be
gathered as one,
And let the peoples assemble.
Who of them all this can
Give us of former things
And that they may be fully
Let them bring witnesses
Who, hearing, shall say:
That is true!
10: Ye are My witnesses—so
saith the Lord,
And My servant whom I have
That ye may know, and in
I am He, thus clearly discerning!
Before Me no God ever was
Nor after Me shall there
11: I, even I, am Jehovah
And beside Me there is not
12: 'Tis I who've proclaimed,
'tis I who have saved,
'Tis I who have caused to
When no strange god was
Ye are My witnesses that
I am God
(And none other), proclaimeth
13: Aye, from this very
day, I AM HE!
And none from My hand can
'Tis I who will work—who
We have here another challenge
to the idolatrous nations of the earth to gather and put the powers of
the deities they confide in to the test. And that they may be publicly
justified let them bring their witnesses with them, who will publicly announce
how they shall answer to it. Israel has been through sore sorrows; were
those sorrows foreseen and foretold by these prophets of false deities?
they faithfully deal with her sin and warn of its certain retribution?
Nay; was not all their prophesying ever of smooth things, and giving the
assurance of ever-increasing prosperity? They were lies. Jehovah alone
announced the sorrows that lay in the future; and by the very sufferings
through which they passed, they can bear witness to that truth.
So has it ever been; so is
it today. And so shall falsehood ever prophesy a pleasant future as long
as the devil is unchained and can deceive the nations of the earth. How
unanimous were those four hundred prophets in assuring King Ahab who hired
them that God would deliver Ramoth-Gilead into the king's hand (2 Chron.
18:5), but smooth as were the words, you will remember that the
end of that way was exceedingly rough for Ahab. Truth at the close of a
dispensation is not always with majority of preachers.
So even to this day (and
indeed I speak with much sorrow) false prophets have the same characteristic
of preaching peace and prosperity to an impenitent Church. The New Testament
shows us behind the little pulpit-pawns on the human chessboard the rebel-spirits
that move them, for these are the real adversaries of our God and His Christ.
But Jehovah has ever had a very efficient, if unwilling, witness to His
truth in poor Israel: her whole history is an involuntary testimony to
the one true God. When she no longer rejects her Messiah, she herself also
shall recognize that that very Messiah has this divine mark; He too, as
Jehovah Himself speaks here, is "The First and the Last," for so
He proclaims Himself in Rev. 1:18.
Very precious to some of
us is that short eleventh verse in which Jehovah cries, "Beside Me there
is no Saviour." See, a human Babe rests upon a maiden's breast, and God
Himself directs that He be called Jesus, or "Saviour" (Luke 1:31); and
what is that but pronouncing that Babe to be very God of very God? Aye,
that very Name means that in Him we have Immanuel, "God with us." As that
far-off trial on Carmel in Elijah's time ended with the shout of the witnesses:
"Jehovah, He is God! Jehovah, He is God!" we too cry, "Jesus is God over
all, blessed forever!"
In verse 12 Jehovah insists
that every movement in salvation comes—not from man Godward, but from
Himself, even to the ability of listening in faith. Thus a wretched nation
of unbelief shall express the goodness of and be the "witness" to Jehovah,
by becoming a nation of penitents.
Stern are the words of verse
13, for we must remember that Israel's place, hopes and salvation are all,
as a nation, upon the earth, and that salvation can only be brought about
by a strong hand on her oppressors. This is here the "work" that none can
hinder. The text is often applied to the power of the present gospel of
His grace, but true as that is, its primary application is assuredly to
the government of the earth. This verse closes a subdivision of our prophecy,
as similar words did in Rev. 18,
where Babylon in another form is suffering under the Hand of God (see verses
In verse 15 again we hear
a thrice-repeated claim of absolute and unlimited supremacy: "I am Jehovah,"
the one unchanging, ever-existing, covenant-keeping God of Israel; that
is His personal Name, as we may say. Next, He is the Holy One, with infinite
abhorrence of all that is contrary to His own divine standard of holiness.
Then He owns Himself as the Creator of Israel; and as such, Israel must
be under the protection of His throne, and that forbids that she remain
captive to Babylon.
How blessedly suggestive
is this of the impossibility of one single redeemed individual from the
race of mankind remaining captive either to sin, or its penalty, death.
As sure as we are redeemed by the Blood of Christ, so sure is it that "Sin
shall not have dominion over us"; that death has already lost all power
or claim over our spirits, although, till the Lord comes, our bodies are
still under its sentence; and that, as to those who have already passed
away to be with Christ, as yet imperfect, disembodied, they shall again
stand up as men; spirit, soul and body evidencing in that perfect condition,
the perfect efficacy of the Cross of Christ.
16: Thus saith Jehovah,
who maketh a roadway
E'en through the sea;
And through mighty billows
17: He who the chariot and
Army and hero, They lie
down together, rise nevermore!
They are extinguished, as
tow are they quenched!
18: Remember no longer events
of the old time,
Neither consider the things
that are past;
19: Behold, I do work entirely
a new thing—
Now shall it sprout, and
shall ye not know it?
Aye, through the wilderness
I'll make a road,
And streams in the desert!
beasts of the field shall then give Me glory,
Dogs of the prairie and
For in the wilderness I
will give waters,
And streams in the desert,
To give drink to My people,
even My chosen.
21: The people that I have
formed for Myself,
My praise they shall tell
In verses 16-18 the reference
is clearly to the past deliverance from Egypt, since it forms a figure
of a deliverance still in the future. The "sea," of verse 16, is the Red
Sea, through which a pathway was made by that violent east wind that blew
in that dark night. The chariots and horses, "the army and soldiers," are
the pursuing Egyptians. Then, as if that were a work no longer worthy of
holding in memory in comparison with what lies still in the future, Forget,
He cries, remember no longer, in view of what lies before you, all those
long past events.
Of course, that is not a
literal command. Israel could never forget that "night much to be observed,"
but another intervention is promised her that, in its glory, will eclipse
that of the past. His mercies are never exhausted. His powers are not enfeebled
by centuries; nor does He ever thus repeat Himself, as if the past evidenced
the limit of either His power or grace. He always adds some "better thing."
The same mighty Worker will always do a new thing; and even now if His
people will look closely at the present conditions they may discern that
new thing beginning to sprout, even as a gardener discerns the ripe and
perfected fruit in the bud, for in the present revival of the national
among the Jews may we not see the "fig-tree" giving sure promise of a coming
Literal was the rock struck
in the desert, literal was the man and literal was the rod that struck
it, and literal was the water that flowed; but all these literal earthly
things were to provide types of the most profound heavenly truths. The
bodily revival that the Israelites received by drinking that water was
a type of the reviving of our spirits by the "word of Christ," itself vivified
by the Spirit of God. What a key to many a difficulty is that basic truth
that all of earth has been formed as it has been to give figures of heavenly
and eternal verities.
Now we must listen to a reproach
so tender, so replete with affection, that it becomes itself as sweet as
these waters of which we have been speaking.
22: But thou hast
not called upon Me, O Jacob!
Yes, even of Me thou hast
23: Thou hast not brought
Me lambs for burnt-offerings,
Nor with thy sacrifice given
I have not burdened thee,
Nor have I wearied thee,
24: Thou hast bought for
Me no sweet cane with silver,
Neither refreshed Me with
fat of thy gifts.
'Tis Me thou hast made to
serve with thy sins,
'Tis Me thou hast wearied
with all thy transgressions.
25: I, and I only, am He
that doth blot out
For My own sake thy many
And will remember thy sins
Let us then come into judgment together,
And plead what thou canst
for thy justification!
27: Even the first of thy
Thy teachers3 revolted against Me;
28: Then I profaned the
To curses gave Jacob; to
Jacob's wanderings are over,
Israel is fully restored, and here the restored nation is led to look back
to the way it has been led to that restoration. It can but remind one of
that analogous counsel given us: "Wherefore remember that ye being in times
past Gentiles in the flesh," etc. (Eph. 2:11). Both Israel, as a nation,
and each individual Christian will own, and gladly own, that salvation
is due solely to free grace that bore with all waywardness so patiently.
How delightful it will be to look back from the joy and security of the
Father's house to the long path by which we have been led there! I can
but think that here Jehovah tells His beloved Israel that He has been listening
at the closed door of their heart, and mourns that it has been so silent
In times of acute distress
there are always those cries of which Elihu speaks: "By reason of the multitude
of oppressions, they make the oppressed to cry" (Job 35:9); but the crisis
past, silence once more reigns, showing that the heart had not been affected—it
was but stricken nature's enforced cry. That will not satisfy Him who longs
for filial confidence. Israel has been weary of God! Not that there was
not "the form of godliness"—plenty of it—but it was a mere external form,
as that of which Jehovah complains in the first chapter, and which He abhors.
If the reference is merely to the daily sacrifices and the accompanying
incense, then the Lord surely received what He desired, for all was in
order as far as that went then. Have we not already heard: "I am full of
the burnt offering of rams"? Surely He could not be both "full" and yet
complain that His people had given none! No, it is the heart's love,
the heart's confidence, that He values more than men value gold; but a
dead "religiousness" from those dead in sin is nothing to Him.
His dear Israel, has pressed Him with iniquity on iniquity, till He is
weary under the load. Israel is not morally better than Egypt. But if all
are equally evil, what causes the difference? Verse 25 gives the answer,
thrilling in its terseness, of just three words: "I—I—He!" All the motive
for the Love of God to man must be found—not in its poor object, man,
but in Him who exercises it.5 Jehovah, and He alone, is the One who blots out all the rebellions of His
people, and remembers them no more, and that for His own sake. Humbling,
yet precious truth! It is thus that His blessing "addeth no sorrow with
it"; for whilst indeed enwrapping us with a love from which none in heaven,
earth, or under-world, can sever, yet it hides from us that pride that
has been ever, and still is, the very cause of the sorrow.
Verse 26 is a gracious parallel
to Chap. 1:18: "Come now, and let us reason together." Jehovah says, as
it were, "I will take no advantage of My infinite superiority as God over
thee, My poor sinful creature. Come into court with Me, call to remembrance
everything in thy favor, and see if it be possible to stand there maintained
by thine own righteousness."
It is impossible! Trace back
thy lineage to thy first father, and you will find a poor erring man. Do
you make your boast in being children of Abraham? Well, was he chosen because
of his holiness? Nay, for what "hath Abraham our father as pertaining to
the flesh found?" Grace, and nothing but grace from first to last, suited
him; he too simply "believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness"
(Rom. 4). And so all down the line of those who have taken the place of
interpreting God and His ways, each and all of them have been but self-confessed
erring men; all tell out, in one way or another, human sin, human frailty,
human error. Even the high priests who have a place of rule—"princes,"
thus as they are—He has been compelled to expose as the reverse of holy.
They are "holy" as to their position, but "profane" as to their condition.
They may have an external holiness, but within—Matt. 23:25! So Jacob must
be given up to the curse, and Israel to the revilings of the Gentiles.
It is well to bear in mind
that there is ever an external sanctification that God Himself recognizes
as that, quite distinct from personal holiness, a position of external
acceptance in which there is "much advantage every way"; very precious
privileges with corresponding responsibilities resulting from them, as
in the days past, in Judaism; and so now in the Christian sphere on the
earth, as 1 Cor. 7:10-14 evidences. Alas, it is greatly to be feared that
very many who are thus sanctified as to position will be found even in
perdition—that "sorer punishment" than that which befell him who despised
Moses' law and died without mercy (Heb. 10:36). With deep grief do we hear
from many so-called Christian pulpits teachings which count the "blood
of the covenant wherewith they are sanctified an unholy thing," nor can
we think of the end without trembling. "It is a fearful thing [thus] to
fall into the hands of the living God."
1 The word
I have rendered, "song of rejoicing," is a cry of deep emotion. Not once
does Isaiah use it except as expressing a joyous sentiment; thus, here,
"monsters and daughters of a cry." See notes on chap. 13.
3 The prime
meaning of the word is "to stammer," "to speak barbarously." Then as coming
between the barbarous speaker and his hearers, "interpreter," as in Job
33:23, and thus may be rendered here, "teachers."
4 See I Chron.
24:5, rendered "governors of the sanctuary," evidently referring to those
who have rule in holy things, as in contrast with civil authorities. These
princes are priests too.
5 And do
we not see Him, the same divine One, in John 13, serving His needy people
even because of their proneness to the defilement of the way? Can we ever
get low enough when God's beloved Son deigns even to be our Servant!