False confidence condemned. The names Zoan and Hanes significant.
Why told Hebron was seven years before Zoan. What God calls Egypt, and
what Egypt stands for. The insistence on smooth preaching. Error can rob,
but never give. What are the "hidden teachers"? Impossible to take what is said
of sun and moon literally. Force of the coming of the Name. The sieve of vanity.
What is Tophet? Who is "the king" here? A word as to Gehenna.
The chapter again divides into the same significant three parts, thus:
1: Verses 1 to 5: Jehovah's proclamation.
2: Verses 6 to 26: Discriminative judgment.
3: Verses 27 to 33: The end, in songs and groans.
The first part may be rendered thus:
1: Jehovah proclaimeth:We search in vain for any strict fulfilment of this prophecy in the past, since the woe is distinctly pronounced against "Judah and Jerusalem" (verse 19). Ephraim, the northern kingdom, did indeed bring their own doom upon them by an appeal to Egypt (2 Kings 17:4); but Ephraim is not Judah; and this Judah never did—Sennacherib's vain taunt notwithstanding (ch. 36:6), for his word against that of the pious Hezekiah is worth nothing. It follows that in "Egypt" we must see another symbol, of that false fleshly confidence that shall characterize the apostate part of the Jews in the day approaching. This chapter, then, in direct accord with its predecessors, refers to that same false confidence that in chapter 28 is termed "the covenant with death," although here seen in another light, and so having a different symbol: Egypt.
Woe to the children rebellious,
To them who take counsel together,
But not with Me (do they counsel),
To those who do make an alliance,
A covenant not of My Spirit,
Thus to heap sin upon sin.
2: Traveling down into Egypt,
But no word sought from My mouth!
Flying for shelter to Pharaoh,
Trusting in Egypt's vain shadow;
3: To you shall the shelter of Pharaoh be shame,
And the trust in the shadow of Egypt, disgrace!
4: His princes have come unto Zoan:
His messengers come unto Hanes.
5: Shamed shall they be of a profitless people;
For nothing of help or of profit is in them,
Nothing but shame and reproach.
In his vision the prophet sees the progress of these ambassadors. First, they are at Zoan, and then they have reached Hanes—names that surely must have some teaching for us, either in their meaning, or in something that other scriptures may tell us concerning them. Zoan is significant enough, for it comes from a root meaning "to strike tent," as do nomadic tribes; and so tells of the opposite of a permanent rest or abode, as Jerusalem shall yet be. For the very word Zoan is found in chap. 33:20, where it is rendered a tabernacle that "shall be taken down." What a perfect name for this poor world, characterized by constant "removals" where men must ever own that "here have we no abiding city," and that their very bodies are but tabernacles sooner or later to be taken down! "Zoan" is written on everything here. But beautiful indeed is the light that this throws by its very contrast on our Lord's words: "In My Father's house are many mansions"—abiding homes. Egypt and Zoan are in strict correspondence, as are our Father's house and the body which is the "building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1).
And even the old Hebrew names give a clear suggestion of this precious truth, for of Hebron it is written that it "was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt" (Num. 13:22). How little would the simple knowledge that one city was a few years more ancient than another profit us! What do we care which was built first? How will that serve in the awful problems of time and eternity that we have to meet? But to Jewish ears these names would tell a weighty truth, and so they may to ours when we learn that Hebron is the very opposite of Zoan and means "communion"—that harmony of sentiment and affection, combined with perfect intimacy, that really makes "Home."
Thus Joseph was sent by his father out of "the vale of Hebron" to serve his brethren; a picture of our Lord sent by His Father away from the joys and intimacies of the bosom of that Father to His brethren who refused Him. Whilst in 1 John 1:3 our Lord is bringing us back with Him to that "vale of Hebron," for "our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." We dwell in Hebron.
Now with these meanings in view, is it not something far more refreshing than merely saying which was the most ancient of two old cities, that "Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt"? The first would serve us little, but that "seven years"—symbol of a complete age—before this restless, homeless scene of constant "removals" was built, the purpose of God was to have all His redeemed home with Himself; or in other words, in grace incalculable, that we were "chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (that is, of Zoan), that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love" (Eph. 1:3). Thank God that Hebron was built before Zoan!
These "messengers" of foolish Israel leave beautiful Hebron and go to Zoan. Then they are seen having made still further "progress" (?) to Hanes, a word that occurs nowhere else in Scripture; I take it to be a compound of Han, "grace," and nes, from a root "to flee," which is at least suggestive of the path the messengers were taking away from that grace that should have been Israel's surest confidence, as it is where we, too, alone can "stand," as Rom. 5:2 tells us. Is it strange that the outcome of such a course should be shame and dishonor?
These things were not written for our entertainment, nor even for our enlightenment with that knowledge that puffeth up; they were given by One who knows our dangers and who cares for our profit. Who of those whose eyes may scan these lines, but is in the same peril of cherishing some false shame-bearing confidence? Always, through all dispensations, there are the same alternatives, Egypt or Jehovah, self or Christ, flesh or Spirit, sight or faith. Nor is it wise for us to mount the judgment-seat in order to condemn others, but rather challenge ourselves as to where our own hearts' true confidence is placed. Well for us, if we can in any measure sing, "Satisfied with Thee, Lord Jesus, I am blest."
The Seer is looking on this symbolic picture:
6: The burden of the beasts of the southland:The prophet sees his people making a very poor bargain. They are giving much, but receiving nothing. In the Spirit, Isaiah is looking at a train of burden-bearing beasts going southward loaded with riches; nor do the perils of the desert hinder them. They will run many risks and suffer much in order to—What? To give away their wealth! What infatuation! And as for Egypt, what will Egypt do for them? Promise them much, and that is all. She will give them nothing; so Jehovah names her "Rahab,"1 or "Boaster, who does nothing!"
Through a land of trouble and anguish,
(Lion and lioness thence,
Viper and burning winged-one).
Their riches they carry on backs of young asses,
Their treasure on bunches of camels,
To give to a people that profit them nothing!
7: And Egypt! Vain, hollow, her help!
Therefore I give her this name,
Boaster, who does nothing else!1
But this involves a truth so weighty, so constant and so characteristic of fallen man through all time that Jehovah commands a permanent record to be taken of it:
8: Go now, and write it for them on a tablet:Here the only One who really knows the human heart tells us in the most clear and emphatic speech, that any thought of evolution in the character of that heart is hopeless nonsense. The lines could not have been drawn clearer, and much as it may sadden and humble us, it can but strengthen our conviction that only One who could thus see from afar, is the real Author of the Scriptures. For both professing Jew of 2,700 years ago and professing Christian of today are alike. The former hated the faithful Word, it was unwelcome. He would rather be comfortably deceived in listening to a soothing lie, than be rendered uncomfortable by an unpalatable truth; smooth and only smooth things would he listen to.
In a book make a (permanent) note;
And let it be there for the day that is coming:
For aye, and forever and aye.2
9: For this is a people rebellious,
Children who lie, children not willing
To list to the law of Jehovah;
10: Who say to the seers: O see not!
And to those having visions:
For us, have no vision of right things,
See visions that are but illusions;
11: Depart from the way,
Err from the highway,
Remove from being ever before us
The Holy One of Israel.
Looking forward to this very day in which our lot is cast, another holy man of God, speaking by the same Spirit, wrote: "For the time will come that they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:3,4). The time was when the ministers of Christ our Lord had no sense of being dependent for their livelihood on those to whom they preached. They were thus free from any temptation arising from that cause to suit their message to the wishes of those hearers. They served God, and Him only they feared, and of Him they sought approval; or, if they called themselves "your servants," it was only "for Jesus' sake" that they were that. But now, in that universal spirit of democracy that has taken possession, not only of the political field, but of the Church, the people select their own "pastors" (as they term them, as if that were the only gift of Christ to His Church, or as if each assembly was to have but one!), call them, hire them, pay them, and since the preachers are thus their hearers' paid servants, they must see to it (poor men!) that they preach what shall suit their employers, and not witness too strongly against either their pleasures, their worldliness, or their false expectations. Let them beware of anything approaching "pessimism," or of throwing the slightest doubt on the spiritual prosperity of the day: never let them suggest that "as it was in the days of Noah," or "of Lot," so shall it be at the end of the present time; and that a black cloud of threatening judgment overhangs the scene, ready to burst in a storm at any time. Nay, let them prophesy smooth things and only smooth things, that can bring even Christ and Belial into sweet accord, and still gently treat these itching ears with assurances that all is going well. These preachings may indeed prove to be fatal illusions and awful deceits, but that is better than unwelcome truth. So let the seers of this day—millenniums after Isaiah wrote—see that they utter no heart-searching word that shall bring their hearers into the presence of the Holy One, for they still desire Him to be far away!
Is it not true? Is it not awfully, sadly true? Has there been any evolution or advance? And have you and I no part, nor interest, nor responsibility in it? Think, my dear brother or sister, think! There is the gravest danger in simply denouncing as if we were not connected at all with that faithless witness, and can congratulate ourselves on this superiority—it is fatally evil!
Could there be a truer word spoken of both forms of error that are oppressing us today than that they will take everything from us and give nothing? We are invited to give up our "treasure," all that we have on which to rest for time and eternity; and what do they give us in exchange? Can Rationalism, that takes from us His birth of a virgin, His literal, personal and physical resurrection from the dead, His coming again as He went, can Rationalism, I say, give us one single hope? It is only "Egypt" again; the "Rahab, Boaster who does nothing else." Nor is the other form of error any more able to give, although equally ready to take. Superstition, or Ritualism, is today the "seer" that gives only illusions that shall eventually make ashamed.
12: Therefore thus Israel's Holy One saith,No one is likely to feel very kindly to him who knocks away the one prop on which he is leaning; that always awakens resentment, as here. The mass of Jews will turn away with loathing from the word that rebukes their vain hope in the Gentile protector, whether he be symbolized by Assyria or Egypt. It is true that this puts them in fellowship with those who oppress their brethren—that matters not. Then the prophet will show them the value of their protector. You have seen a wall in which there was a horizontal breach; it is bending outward, slowly, slowly, till in one terrific crash down it comes. And, since it was only a poor thing made of mud and straw, so small are the fragments that one would search in vain for a piece large enough for the simplest service.
Because ye despise this word (I have spoken),
And trust in oppression—perverted self-will—
Making these to be your reliance,
13: Therefore shall this sin be to you
As when a wall lofty
First slowly out-bulges,
Then suddenly crashes
To ruin instanter!
14: The breaking shall be as the smash
Of a vessel made by the potter.
He smashes it all to small pieces;
Nor will he be hindered by pity;
Nor can there be found in the fragments,
A sherd to take fire from the hearth-stone
Or skim from the cistern the water!
Do you, my reader, know of anything that awakens resentment like witnessing to those whose hopes for eternity are in a bloodless, Christless "religion," that it is a vain hope? Oh, the heart changes not. It was not the publican or harlot that "hated Him" (John 7:7) because He thus witnessed against their evil deeds. It was the most religious men of that day. And we shall experience the same hatred in this, if we give a similar testimony. Yet would true care and love for them lead to any other? Are smooth things evidence of true charity? What parent knows not that the love that is always shown by an embrace is spurious, for ever are there times that demand rebuke, warning and stern destruction of false props. Denounce murder, adultery, and theft, and who will not chime in with that denunciation?—if only to show how free they claim to be from such crimes that revolt the natural conscience. But denounce respectable "religion," which denies or ignores the need of the precious blood of the Lamb, that has in it no seeking of mercy and forgiveness with contrition, that makes membership of a "church" do duty for membership of Christ, and, as surely as this sweeps away all false confidence and baseless hopes, so surely is the word loathed, and he who speaks it hated. But while Egypt takes all and gives nothing, God gives the true in the place of the false, thus:
15: For thus saith Adonai Jehovah,If there has been no improvement in man's spiritual sickness, neither has there been any variation in God's remedy, and although it has since been expressed in clearer terms, yet it is essentially the same. Instead of departure from, a returning to God; instead of weary labor, rest; instead of perturbation of spirit, calm and peace; instead of quaking mistrust, confidence. But still, this is ever too humbling, and men "will not." Far more manly, virile, red-blooded is it to mount horse and away, swiftly escaping all danger, with no one to thank for it but ourselves!
The Holy One of Israel:
In returning and restfulness shall ye be saved;
In quiet and trustfulness shall ye find strength.
But this ye would not!
16: But ye said, No, for we'll flee upon horses—
Therefore (indeed) ye shall flee.
And, We will ride on the swift—
Then shall those who pursue you be swift.
17: A thousand shall flee at the threat of but one,
At the threat of but five shall ye all flee,
Till ye be left as a pine, alone on a mount-crag,
Like a lone flagstaff set on a hill.
They shall indeed in the truest sense of the word, flee; but those who pursue them shall be swifter. Nor will this flight be due to the overwhelming numbers of their enemies, for the promise to themselves, that "one should chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight" (Deut. 32:30), shall be reversed, and they shall be the fugitives from the few. Till, like one lone pine on a mountain-top, all the world wonders at their being so reduced, yet preserved. But now our prophecy turns to a more gracious strain.
No dispensational distinctions affect the heart of God; ever swift is He to hear the cry of true penitence, ever does He run to meet the returning prodigal seen afar, and only waits for the first heart-confession to show the mercy sought:
18: Therefore will Jehovah wait,Verse 18 is the pivot on which the spirit of prophecy turns from threatenings to consolations that begin with a promise of a settled home. Babylon shall never be rebuilt (chap. 13); Nineveh may be a desolation (Zeph. 2); the city of the nations be no city (chap. 25); yet the Jew shall have in Zion, even Jerusalem, an everlasting dwelling.
That He may be gracious to you;
Therefore will He be raised up,3
That He may have mercy on you:
For a righteous God is Jah,
Blessed all who wait on Him.
19: For in Zion dwells a people
Having now their home in Salem.
Never shalt thou weep again:
Most gracious He'll be at the sound of thy prayer,
As soon as He hears it, His answer is there!
20: And though the Lord feed you with bread of distress,
And give you the water of sorrow to drink,
Yet shall thy teachers be hidden no more;
But thine eyes on thy teachers shall look.
21: Thine ears then shall list to a word that's behind thee,
Which says to thee, This is the way, walk therein,
When to the right or left ye are turning.
22: Then shall ye stain the beautiful cov'rings
Of thine idols all graven of silver;
And the adornments that are overlaying
Those that are molten of gold:
Thou wilt cast them away as a vile filthy thing,
With a cry of: Away! Get ye gone!4
In that millennial earth the metropolis shall surely be an earthly city; and although closely united with, yet not the "heavenly" Jerusalem that the Book of Revelation shows us as coming down from heaven. Israel shall take the place of the "wall" of the city, between it and the Gentiles, or nations.
It is this beautiful and everlasting city on earth that is here addressed. He waits that He may be gracious; that is both His desire and, in view of the Cross, His ability. But still He must wait till penitent faith in those atoning sufferings shall permit the righteous exercise of that grace. Then, in the next couplet, Jehovah must be exalted, or lifted up, that He may have mercy on His people. This has raised much discussion among commentators, but at least it is not unusual for the Lord's exaltation and man's salvation to be thus linked. In Ps. 108:5, 6, we find an illustration of it. The power to have mercy is dependent on the being lifted up, and I can but see an indirect suggestion of that which lies at the base of all scriptural revelation. If the first lines speak of the essentials on the part of Israel (and of us all), repentance and faith; these speak of the divine prerequisite, that "lifting up" or resurrection of which we get a direct view in chap. 52:13. There we see One, who a few hours before hung as a malefactor on a cross of shame, now exalted, raised, lifted up from the tomb, and in that resurrection lies the evidence of His power to have mercy. Then the last couplet of verse 18 gives the final reason for both the waiting and the lifting up, that "Jehovah is a righteous God," and can only act in righteousness, and that depends on faith on man's part and complete atonement on God's.
Israel's destiny, like ours, is to have a restful Home. Jerusalem shall be their rest from all their wanderings in alien lands, and there every token of divine love awaits them.
Jehovah then lets His people know that He has been neither ignorant of, nor indifferent to the sorrows through which they have passed. He has indeed fed them with the bread of affliction; but now that chastisement has done its work, their teachers shall no more be hidden. Up to that time He had been teaching them indeed, but in a veiled way, and by sorrows and adverse providences hard to understand. Thus, I take it, the "hidden teachers" are the bread and water of affliction. But from now on He will guide in a very different way, as in that book which "reveals" what this only hints, "The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of waters," so that at every branching of roads, they shall not be in the slightest perplexity, but shall hear a voice behind them plainly telling them which is the right way. Would that you and I, reader, walked so closely with the same Lord that, in those many perplexities as to which path to take, that constantly arise in life, we too might hear that gracious directing voice; for surely if "all the promises of God" are "yea" in Christ, this one, being of a spiritual character, must be included.
The genuineness of Israel's conversion is indicated in verse 22, what they had honored and loved, they now loathed, as once they had loathed the divine Word. Such a complete reversal of loves and hatreds always accompanies a divine work in the soul of fallen man, whether for the first or hundredth conversion.
The land of Palestine, now so barren, under the fertilizing rains that Jehovah shall send it, shall then support more than it ever did; while the very beasts that serve it by their labor shall be fed with choicest fodder, as thus told:
23: And then shall He give thee rain for thy seeding,5For a people whose national promises and hopes are limited to this earth, their blessings must also be of the earth, and the only heavens that they know are those formed on the second day and garnished on the fourth. That earth and those heavens shall in that millennial day unite in expressing Jehovah's favor to His Israel. But I am not at all sure that we must take all that is here said of them as being necessarily literal, or conditions of life would have to be radically different from what we now obtain. Were, for instance, our sun to shine with sevenfold intensity, we should not esteem that a true benefit; for it would render present life insupportable, and we should long for a return to its gracious modified radiance. Or were our moon literally to shine with all the brightness of the sun, we should soon esteem that a very doubtful blessing, and more likely mourn the loss of the drooping eyelid of night, and the chaste silvery beams that do not prevent, but aid, the needed sleep. These verses simply make a perfect picture of abundance below, and an increase of every gracious and beneficial effect of the heavenly luminaries, whilst Truth corresponding to the Light shall flood the scene.
With which thou sowest the land;
And bread for thine eating the land shall produce
In full abundance and plenty.
24: Then shall the oxen, too, and young asses
Serving the land, feed on provender clean,
Winnowed by fan and by fork.
25: And then shall there be on every high mountain,
And every hill that's exalted,
Springs and fountains of waters,
In the day when the slaughter is great,
(In the day) of the falling of towers.
26: And the moonlight shall be as the sunlight,
And sevenfold bright shall the light of the sun be,
As seven days' light (seen in one),
In the day that Jehovah
Binds the hurt of His people,
And healeth the bruise of their wound.
But in the very midst of all this picture of peace and plenty, we have a few words that speak of quite a different condition; for this is to be "in the day of the great slaughter, and of the falling of towers." Israel's redemption by power is always thus linked with "the day of vengeance" on her enemies; when the "Lord goes forth and fights against those nations" that have captured Jerusalem, as Zech. 14; Rev. 14:20; 19:17-21, etc., and it is this that this crashing expresses.
27: Behold the Name: JEHOVAH!These two verses give Jehovah's indignant intervention for His poor Israel. Note He does not say that He Himself comes, but it is His Name that comes; for that Name, Jehovah, embodies in itself all that He is, in His relation to Israel. That Name, then, is, as it were, outraged by the condition of His people at their last gasp: such a condition for His redeemed contradicts His very Name, so now He will show that He is indeed Jehovah, the covenant-keeping, ever-living God of Israel.
It cometh from afar;
His lips are flecked with wrathful foam,
His tongue like flame devouring!
28: His breath is like a stream o'erflowing,
Reaching half-way up the neck,
To sift the nations in a sieve
That shall reveal their vanity;
And be a bridle on the jaws
That leads the peoples all astray.
What a contrast is the promised Presence with us in Matt. 18:20, to that in which He here intervenes for Israel. Burning with anger He comes: lips, tongue, breath, aflame with awful indignation. His lips are flecked with foam, His tongue flashes as lightning, His very breathing is the snorting of irrepressible wrath. Then, in a change of figure, that breath becomes as a torrent of molten lava by which the people who are in its path are swept away, for it reaches half-way up the neck, the head alone appearing above it.
What is the purpose of Jehovah in this? It is "to sift the nations in the sieve of vanity." A sieve is used for separating between the chaff and the wheat, between the false and the true. Then there must be something at this crisis that must have just this effect; and to determine what this is, we must bring the light of other prophetic scriptures to bear. After the heavenly redeemed have been caught up out of this earth to be "forever with the Lord," Scripture tells of a time of testing that is "coming on all the earth, to try them that dwell on the earth" (Rev. 3:10), and that test shall sever between the apostate mass and the God-fearing remnant of the Jews, between the goats and the sheep of the Gentiles. It is "the image of the Beast," that last expression of man's idolatry that shall be set up at Jerusalem at the direction of the other "wicked one," the "Beast from the land," to represent, in the then metropolis of the religious earth, the imperial world-power, seen in its head, and called in Revelation "the Beast from the sea" (see Rev. 13).
But would such an idol-image be called "vanity?" One clear scripture will be enough to answer: "I have hated them that regard lying vanities; but I trust in Jehovah" (Ps. 31:6); the contrast with the true God says that "vanities" are the false. That idol-image is the sieve that separates the true from the false, and with regard to the latter is "the bridle leading astray."
Could any illustration speak more clearly of that "strong delusion" so near at hand, by which the mass of men, religious men, in order to be "up-to-date," will "believe a lie." Perhaps it would be as well for us even now not to be over-anxious to be "up-to-date"; we may well be warned.
But how refreshing the contrast:
29: To you shall be the song,The foe may threaten, it shall not affect those whose mind is stayed on Jah: or on the Stone, tried, great and precious. These shall sing, as in the night of that feast, when the very remembrance of the delivery from Egypt led to the going to the House of God with a multitude that kept holiday, keeping joyful step with the sweet strains of music.
As in the night of hallowed feasting,
To you shall be the joy
Of those who march with flutings,
To go up to Jehovah's mount,
The Rock of Israel!
Now again, and for the last time, the prophecy turns to one of the great adversaries of the Jewish remnant, here termed "Asshur"; nor can the stroke that slew 185,000 in one night be anything more than a shadow of the final fulfilment of this prophecy. There was nothing, in that quiet single blow, in the silence of the night, to correspond with the terrific words here used; and this becomes more clear as the prophecy draws to a close:
30: Jehovah shall cause to be heardLet us bear in mind the warning of the Apostle Peter: "No prophecy of scripture is of its own interpretation," but needs for that interpretation to be justified, the accord of all other scriptures. Following that safe counsel here, we learn from Rev. 19 that when the Lord does intervene for Israel, He will cast the Beast and the False Prophet into the lake of fire. Where, then, is "Asshur," if one of these be not he under another, yet fully justified, name?
His voice ever majestic!
Shall cause His arm to be seen
In blows heavily falling,
With snortings of His wrath
The blaze of a fire devouring:
The bursting of a cloud,
Rain and hailstones outpouring.
31: For by Jehovah's voice,
When with a rod He's smiting,
Th' Assyrian shall be down-stricken.
32: At every stroke of the rod of doom,
Jehovah shall cause to fall on him,
'Twill be with the sound of timbrel and harp;
With blows of an arm ever-swinging,
Shall He do battle against him.
33: For Tophet hath long been ordained,
For the king too hath been made ready:
Deep and wide (hath He made it)6
Its pile is of fire and much wood,
Whilst, like a brimstone-stream,
Jehovah's hot breath sets its flaming!
The joy of Israel (of course here confined to the faithful remnant) is in exact proportion to the terror of "Asshur." Every blow of Jehovah's rod has an accompaniment of timbrels and harps (ver. 32); whilst Jehovah beats time, as it were, to that music with swingings of His arm in battle-strokes against Asshur.
This brings us to the last verse, and a very solemn and important verse it is; nor can the least ray of divine light that it has pleased God in His mercy to give us as to the eternal condition of our race—whether penitent, or impenitent—be without the most profound interest, and worthy of the most dependent consideration. It is holy, a solemn theme, and I dare not approach it without a prayer to be kept from a mistaken interpretation: will not my reader join me?
What then is meant by "Tophet"? It is first found in 2 Kings 23:10. Josiah "defiled Tophet, which is in the valley of the sons of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech."
As the "garden" was to Eden, as "Paradise" to the "Third Heaven," so Tophet to Gehenna. The first was planted in Eden, specifically for man's abode. The second, we are told, is in that highest heaven, and the present dwelling of the saints who have fallen asleep; thus, apart from further revealings, we should expect Tophet to be in Gehenna (as 2 Kings 23:10 plainly tells us that it is), and prepared for some specific abode. Nor should we err in this expectation, for this word in 2 Kings tells us that Tophet, as it literally existed on the earth, was the scene of the most abominable idolatries, even to the sacrificing of little children as an offering to "Molech," the tribal deity of the Ammonites. But behind that Molech, 1 Cor. 10:20 shows us another awful figure, the great enemy of our race, the very prince of demons, Satan. Thus the deep depression in the earth's surface in which Tophet was, becomes the dread symbol of the deepest depression in that Lake of Fire where "the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9).
As to the word "Tophet," we find it elsewhere in just one place, Job 17:6; and there it has been completely misunderstood by the translators of the Authorized Version, who render it "tabret," and thus alter the force of the verse entirely, reading it: "And aforetime I was as a tabret." The Revised gives the opposite, the correct, meaning: "And I became an open abhoring," and in the margin, "One on whose face they spit." It thus bears in it the sense of vomiting, or abhorring as the vilest of the vile. Thus the very word "Tophet" speaks that awful truth that what answers to this Tophet will contain only that which is so utterly abhorrent to God that He speaks of it as "vomit." But that is precisely the repellent figure that our Lord used in His letter to the Church in Laodicea, in which many of us recognize the professing Church of our very day: "I will spue thee out of My mouth." Could anything speak more strongly of utter abhorrence? It is the perfect parallel to "Tophet."
Mark another significant correspondence: this Tophet had been prepared "long ago"—a word that is strongly suggestive of what had taken place before the day of man altogether. Before man had come upon the scene, before he fell in disobedience and so came under the penalty of the first death, Tophet had been "prepared." But that inevitably suggests that there had been a prior fall—a prior sin in a pre-Adamite era; and this, the word of our Lord distinctly confirms: "Then shall He say to them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41). Mark, that this fire is "prepared" for one direct purpose; and this very word "prepared" forbids that we conclude that it is literally the same as that element with which we are well acquainted, and that has its effect upon matter. But just as this literal fire has been prepared to affect matter, so that other fire has been prepared to affect spirit; the one being a perfect symbol of the other.
Further note in our scripture, it is "the breath of Jehovah" that sets on fire the pile in Tophet. Nor is the word for "breath" to be passed over without care. It is a word that speaks of action, what we call "breathing." As when deep emotion is aroused the breath comes quickly, and increases with the strength of the excitement, so here Jehovah's wrath has been stirred; His quick breathings express that wrath, and thus become the fire that kindles the flames of Tophet.
This, then, is the fire adapted to spirits such as are "the devil and his angels"; and which even now abides on all who "believe not the Son" (John 3:36). Alas, as long as in the material body, how unconscious men are of that abiding wrath till awakened by the Spirit of God; but when man himself is stripped of all covering, and, a naked spirit, departs, then he shares in the uncovered condition of the devil and his angels, and as he has taken the same path of rebellion, he shares the same "fire."
Thus I conclude we have here in "Asshur" and "the king," the same two evil personages with whom other prophecies make us familiar. In Daniel 7 and 8 we see them under the figures of two "little horns," and in Revelation 13 as two "wild Beasts," one coming up from the "sea" and heading up the "violent" form of wickedness, and the other from the "land" and heading up the "corrupt" form of wickedness. In our prophecy, "Asshur," or the Assyrian, is the first, and "the king" is the second; and both come to the same doom, as Rev. 19:20 assures us.
Some have taken the anti in the word Antichrist as meaning that whatever the true Christ was, the false will not be. Hence that he will not be a king. But that is altogether indefensible, for the preposition carries the idea of opposing, the false is opposed to the true Christ. But Satan's most effective way of opposing is ever, as it was in the day of "Jannes and Jambres," by imitation. Thus as our Lord was and is a true Prophet, Priest and King, so in quite a false way shall Antichrist be all these.
Although the word "Gehenna" is not in this form at all in the Old Testament, yet our consideration of the subject would be altogether incomplete did we not notice it: for it stands for that awe-inspiring Saxon word "hell." It is a compound word made up of Geh, meaning "valley," and henna, the Greek form of Hinnom, so that the whole word means "The valley of Hinnom," as it occurs in Josh. 15:8, "The mountain that lieth before the valley of Hinnom" (Gehinnom).
The word used for "valley" is by no means the one used for a pleasant vale, watered by running brooks; but has in it the idea of stagnation, since there is no outlet. Thus it bears a close relation to that "Salt Sea" that affords another figure of the Lake of Fire, from which there is also no outlet.
As to the other part of the word Hinnom, it is, I believe, a part of the verb noom, "to sleep," and may be found in Ps. 76:5, "The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep." Here it speaks of that "sleep" from which there is no waking—it is death. The very word Gehenna thus suggests that awful Lake, which is the second death, as Rev. 20:14 should read: "And death (that is, the first death) and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire."
But all this, while quite literal in that millennial earth, is also a figure of all the moral filth and refuse which must be outside the universe of bliss: it could be nowhere else from its very nature. As with the human body, which, in rejecting all that is refuse, and that cannot be assimilated, "makes all meats clean" (Mark 7:19), so, in the same way alone, can all be made eternally clean, for nothing that defiles can be in that eternal scene of bliss of which the millennial earth and the human body are shadows.
It is not a pleasant theme: yet do our holy Scriptures speak of it clearly and strongly, and we should greatly err did we avoid it. Nay, my beloved in Christ, let us not leave it without drawing one soul-stirring truth from it—that vile thing is what we, by nature, were! That vile, horrible, repellent, moral filth (thus figured by dung7), that is called SIN, is what our Lord, the Holy One of God, in His immeasurable love to us, was judicially made in God's sight, with all the awful consequences! Do you wonder at the holy shrinking of Gethsemane? Do you wonder at the agony that was shown by the sweat, as it were drops of blood? Would He have been the Holy One that He was, had He not shrunk with strong cries and tears from such a cup of suffering? Oh, beloved, add your stronger, sweeter praise to my too feeble song, and together let us repeat: "To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
1Another play on words; for Rahab is the very word for Egypt in chap. 51:9, while in Job 26:12, it stands for "the proud"; thus the one word covers the double meaning of Egypt and pride—they are synonymous. The last line is very similar to the Latin proverb, "Vox et praeterea nihil," "a voice and nothing else."
2The idea of eternity is very strongly impressed on this line in a threefold repetition which Delitzsch paraphrases: "for futurity, for the most remote future, for the future without end."
3The word is precisely as in chapter 52:13, on which see notes.
4In the Hebrew there is but one short word, that, by its very sound, expresses the four that I have used in the text: "tzeh!"
5Lit., "seed"; but the promise refers to the early rain of about our October, preparing the land for the seed.
6There are but two words in the Hebrew, "Depth!" "Width!" as exclamations of astonishment.
7This word is never applied to any offering save those for sin or trespass, Lev. 4:11, etc.