The Final cleavage between the Penitent and Impenitent.
are now looking at the closing scenes on this earth, just prior to the
revelation of its true King. The preceding chapter has given a picture
of the profusion, luxury, and sensuous pleasure in which the mass are
living, and now, in the strongest contrast with this, we have another
smaller company who have for their portion, prison and death.
1: The righteous man perishes; none lays it to heart!
The pious1 are taken, and no one considers
That 'tis from the evil impending
The righteous is taken away.2
2: He goes into peace,
They rest on their beds,
Each one who walketh uprightly.
know well that sorrow will always grasp at every crumb of comfort, but
that these two verses are being fulfilled today in the death of every
Christian, can scarcely be esteemed satisfactory. For what
discrimination is there in this respect between the pious and the
profane, between the believer and the infidel? Death is a very
indiscriminating executioner; he takes away all equally. It follows
that what is true of the one is equally true of all, so far as
impending evil on this earth goes. If the righteous are saved from it
by decease, then so are the unrighteous.
The prophecy must therefore
refer to some specific hour, when there is a peculiar call for light on
the death of the pious alone, who are being taken away, whilst the
ungodly are in ease, luxury and profligacy, as in the closing verses of
the preceding chapter. It is not the common lot of mankind that is in
view here at all, but bitter persecution of the pious, and their
slaughter under that persecution.
Today the bereaved have solid
comfort in such words as that it is "far better" for those they have
lost awhile, and they look forward with cheerful hope for that hour,
ever drawing nearer, when the Lord shall descend from heaven with a
shout, and the dead in Christ shall rise first, and together we shall
be caught up to meet our Lord in the air. But suppose that hour to have
passed; suppose the Jews back in their land with a government of their
own; the mass, with Antichrist at their head, have erected an image to
the "Beast," and death is the portion of all who will not worship that
image (Rev. 13:15). Think of what that would mean for their friends.
They stand between the two "hopes"; that of being "caught up" is behind
them; that of sharing in their Messiah's glorious return has not yet
come; so they have apparently lost both. And, lo, they are "taken
away!" Would it not need some special word? Surely it would! And they
get it! It is but as a whisper here, but it rises into a strong divine
voice in Revelation 14. It is precisely such an hour as we have assumed
is to come; and the pious Jews are the saints who are supplying their
quota of martyrs' blood to the river that has run, since the first
trickle from Abel's wounds. This is the comfort given them:
are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the
Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow
Note the words, "from henceforth." They mark one special
moment, and should not be appropriated by any of us now. It is the
harmony in the interpretation of prophecy that assures us of its
correctness, and both Isaiah and John, both the Old Testament and the
New, refer to that "hour of trial" between the coming of the Lord for
His present heavenly people and His revelation on behalf of Israel.
Those slain during that interval have a heavenly place and blessing,
and it is they whose resurrection completes that which is called the
Peace was not their portion here, but to that peace they
go; they have forever left the scene in which the wicked trouble, and
peace unbroken lies before them now. Look at that tomb! It is
blood-stained. True; but look again through the medium of those
spectacles called Faith, and lo, it is on their beds they are lying.
Hear the shouts of hatred as Stephen falls beneath the shower of
stones, but let Faith hearken, and the martyr is quietly "falling on
sleep." It is the normal path and end of all who walk with their Lord
through a world in which His foe is reigning.
Now the address changes from the persecuted to the persecutors:
3: As for you, ye sons of the sorceress,
Ye seed of th' adulterer and of the whore,
Come, draw ye nearer!
4: Over whom do ye make yourselves merry?
At whom do ye stretch your mouth wide,
And thrust out the tongue?
Are ye not brood of rebellion?
Are ye not seed of a lie?
5: Enflaming yourselves with your idols,
Beneath ev'ry tree that is green,
Slaying even the children
In valleys under the rock-cliffs?3
6: Among the smooth [stones] of the torrent,
There, there is thy portion,4
They, they are thy lot.
Even to them thou hast poured a libation,
And laid a meat-offering on them!
Can these be pleasing to Me?
7: High on a mountain lofty, exalted,
There hast thou spread out thy bed,
Even there thou didst climb,
To sacrifice there thy slain off'ring.
8: Behind the door and the post,
Thou hast hid thy Reminder,
What time thou uncoveredst thyself
To another rather than Me:
Thou didst go up,
Made thy bed broad,
With them made agreement,
Loved their bed,
Saw their nakedness.5
9: Thou hast gone to the king with [thine] ointment.
Unstintedly measured thy spices;
I Didst send thy messengers far,
And degraded thyself down to Sh'ohl!
10: So long was the road, thou didst weary,
Yet said not: Attainment is hopeless.
Thou didst find a revival of strength,
Therefore thou wast not exhausted.
11: And of whom hast thou been so afraid?
And of whom so stricken with terror
That thou becamest a liar?
And hast not been mindful of ME,
Nor laid to thy heart what must follow?6
Have I not long held My peace?
And thou didst give Me no rev'rence!
12: Thy righteousness [vain] I'll expose,
And thy works shall yield thee no profit.
13: When thou dost cry let thy rabble deliver thee;
A wind shall disperse them, a breath take them off;
But he that takes Me for his trust,
Even he shall inherit the land,
And possess My mountain most holy.
14: Then shall a cry be heard:
Cast up! Cast up!
Take from the path of My people
Everything that might stumble!
here brings an indictment against His witness upon earth, Israel, under
the most scathing terms. They are commanded to draw near, and that part
of the nation that is in downright apostasy is first addressed. Jehovah
has marked their persecution, even though it might only consist in
putting out the tongue in ridicule of the true-born penitent children
of faith, whilst their character—the nature that must show itself in
some form of evil activity—evidences them as the offspring of rebellion
and falsehood. They follow in the path of that ancestry, violence
keeping equal step with corruption, as witness those sacrifices even of
little ones in the gloomy valleys under the shadow of the rock cliffs.
Stones smoothed by the brook, such as once slung by the hand of faith
killed the threatening giant, are themselves worshipped as gods,7 everything once used is now worshiped. Can Jehovah look on such scenes with complacency?
worse remains, The figures become more repulsive. Jehovah's witness,
Israel, in the mass, is likened to an adulteress, who, first putting
that Memorial that she was ever to keep in a prominent place, out of
sight—behind the door instead of on it,8—abandons herself to
the vilest impurity, not even ashamed of her shame, but exposing her
lewdness on a lofty mountain, requiring toil and energy to climb,
enlarging there her bed, inviting her lovers, and loving their
Under such repellent terms is simple
departure of heart from the Lord pictured. Oh, how little is thought of
that among men! No laws are aimed at it; no court takes notice of it;
Society is very lenient to such violators; but well may we be sure, and
lay it to heart, that the same unfaithfulness on the part of our God's
present "witness," the professing Church, is not looked at with any
greater complacency this very day; as it is written: "Thou hast there
them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a
stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed
to idols, and to commit fornication" (Rev. 2:14-20).
Let us not
think for a moment that "our God," who is also "a consuming fire," can
endure complacently in Christendom what He so abhorred in Israel, nor
that greater privilege diminishes responsibility; it vastly enhances it.
9 is of deep interest. Israel, in insatiable lust, cares not how far
she has to send her go-betweens; and all self-respect stifled, she so
lowers herself that her abasement is likened to a descent to sh'ohl,
the lowest depths. The representative of that "sh'ohl" is here called
"the king," and again we have that agreement that in chapter 28 is
termed "the covenant with death, and agreement with sh'ohl," which
speaks of some alliance that has in it a voluntary connection with evil
powers. But this leads up to a question the answer to which will govern
our understanding of other prophetic Scriptures; who is that "king" to
whom apostate Israel goes with her present of ointment?
there may be a pattern of this in the past, yet for the definitive
fulfilment we must surely look to that "time of the end," when all the
powers of evil are being headed up, and the devil, cast out of heaven,
has his only sphere of activity here (Rev. 12). Many excellent
commentators insist that this "king" will be found in him who is the
Jewish Antichrist. Thus Mr. W. Kelly writes:
be the climax of their heartless desertion of Jehovah and rejection of
Messiah. They received not Him who came in His Father's name, they will
receive another who will come in his own name. The spirit of this has
been often verified, doubtless; but it awaits its full signature (sic)
in the Antichrist of the last days—The king will be in the land and
city destined for Messiah—The Beast and the false prophet, or "the
king," perish together.9
Thus the writer
identifies this "king" of verse 9 with the Antichrist, who is also the
false prophet and Beast from the land, of Revelation 13. But we ask,
How can that possibly be? Those that are here addressed are, beyond all
controversy (nor does Mr. Kelly differ), the apostate mass of Israel;
and it is equally certain that the Antichrist, or False Prophet (for we
are in full accord with Mr. Kelly, that these are different names for
the same person) will be at the head of this last Jewish apostasy. But
then it would follow that the apostate mass make an agreement with
their own king! Surely no people need to make agreement with their own
self-chosen leader.10 Even if this be granted as a
possibility, why should they send messengers "far off"; for, as Mr.
Kelly very justly says, the false prophet (whom he identifies with this
"king") will be "in the land and city destined for Messiah." He will
surely be in the land, and in the city too, when it is captured (Zech.
14:9); then why send messengers far off? That in itself would appear
enough to condemn the interpretation we are examining; nor has it, as
far as I am aware, any support in any other Scripture—it must surely be
But assume that "the king" here is the head of the revived
Empire, not the Beast from the land of Rev, 13:11, but from the sea
(ver. 1), "the party of the first part" in that covenant of which
Daniel 9:27 speaks; "And he ('the prince who shall come,' of the
previous verse) shall confirm a covenant with many, for one week."
is, the Roman prince, the prince of the people who destroyed the city
Jerusalem, and who at that time had not come, makes a covenant with the
mass of the apostate Jews, who are addressed as seeking that alliance
in our prophecy. For that purpose they might send their messengers
afar, bearing with them presents. That surely is as reasonable, as it
is in accord with all Scripture. We have a pattern of this covenant in
the history of Israel: "Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser, the
king of Assyria, to say to him, I am thy servant; and Ahaz took the
silver and the gold that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the
treasures of the king's house, and sent it for a present to the king of
Assyria" (2 Kings 16:7, 8). Ahaz was a fitting representative of the
foretold leader of a revolted mass of Jews in the future. Nor is the
Gentile Assyrian king a less fitting representative and type of him who
shall hold precisely the same political position in the future, the
"coming prince" of a future world-empire. That covenant between the Jew
and the Gentile our prophet tells us in the words, "Thou wentest to the
king with ointment," shall be repeated in the future.This "king" then,
in this case, I take it, is not the false prophet, the "Beast from the
land," the Jewish Antichrist, but "the Beast from the sea," the Gentile
world-ruler of the last days, who, since he becomes completely
possessed and energized by the devil, whose own place is the
"bottomless pit," is "the Beast that ascendeth thence" (Rev. 17:8); and
thus that covenant is, as chapter 28 tells us, "with death and sh'ohl,"
terms expressive of the lowest source. This, again I say, accords with
all Scripture and throws its light on other texts that have, for the
lack of it, been misunderstood; but on such subjects, dogmatism does
not become us, for we are all only disciples, or elementary learners,
in the school of prophecy.11
In verse 10 appears a
slight change to pity, even for the wanderer, as Jehovah says: "'Tis a
weary road thou art traveling, meeting constant disappointments, yet
never despairing of finding something that will satisfy thy ever-hungry
heart; with every novelty, thinking that in it at last thou hast a
panacea for all thy troubles; and so, with that reviving of a false
hope, never taking the place of being sick and thus needing a
physician." How perfectly that applies to poor man at all times! Those
Pharisees to whom the Lord spoke, really needed Him as Physician as
much as the veriest publican and sinner, but resenting such a thing
they perished in their pride.
Jehovah continues (ver. 11): "I
know there is a fear over-hanging thee, and this has led to that
covenant with death and agreement with sh'ohl; but thus in making a Lie
thy refuge, thou hast shewn thyself to be a liar; and because I have
held My peace, and not interposed in wrath, thou hast not feared Me."
Note the reverential fear of God is the best possible antidote to any
Verse 12 is strongly ironic: "I will tell abroad thy
boasted righteousness, and expose its hollowness; and when I am dealing
with thee according to its real value, then, in thy trouble, let that
rabble in whom thou hast placed thy confidence, save thee! They be of
help! Why, a breath disposes of them, a puff of wind blows them away!
But he who makes Me his trust shall possess the land, and have his
place in My holy mountain. And not only that, but a causeway shall be
cast up and make a clear and clean road, and never, in any
dispensation, will I permit without penalty, an offence to those who
are returning to Me. Better far that a millstone were hanged about his
neck and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of the
least of the little ones who believe in Me" (Matt. 18:6).
This brings us to these last few verses of our chapter:
15: For thus doth He speak, the High and Exalted,
Even the One in eternity dwelling,
Whose name is ever The Holy:
I have, for My dwelling, the high and the holy,
Yet 'tis with him who is contrite and lowly,
To revive the lowly one's spirit,
To revive the heart of the contrite.
16: For not everlastingly will I contend,
Neither be angry forever;
For then would the spirit before Me wax faint,
The breathing I've caused would cease.
17: For the iniquity of his self-seeking
Have I been angry and smote him:
But still he went on ever turning
In the way of his own evil heart.
18: His ways I have seen and will heal him:
Will lead him, and will restore
Lost comforts to him and to his,
To all of them who do mourn.
19: 'Tis I who create the fruit of the lips:
Peace, peace to him who's afar,
And to him who is near, saith Jehovah,
And I'll make him perfectly whole.
20: But as to the wicked—they are as the sea,
Storm-tossed, nor able to rest,
But its waters are ever upheaving,
Upheaving the mire and the dirt!
21: No peace can there ever be,
So saith my God,
Unto the wicked!
what solemn grandeur is this part introduced! It becomes in itself a
challenge to every opponent of the Scriptures; for we are bold to say
that it could not have been conceived by the man who held the recording
pen, had he not been himself moved by the Spirit of God. To claim to be
the very mouthpiece of God without any justification, is only possible
to one insanely fanatical, or inconceivably debased, with conscience so
seared that he does not shrink from being a false witness of God—the
very climax of wickedness, short only of assuming to be God. Yet being
that, the prophet has given such a conception of the one true God as,
in its blending of majesty and condescension, cannot be found in all
Note how the dwelling and the Dweller correspond,
as they ever will. God has His own place, high and exalted is He, high
and exalted His place, and as He is ever the Holy, so can He only dwell
in the holy.
The verse divides into two parts: Jehovah first
introduces Himself as "high," that is what He is in Himself alone, then
"exalted," as in relation to all creation. Alone in unrivaled
supremacy, there is not one on the same level as Himself. It would be
"robbery" for the highest archangel to claim equality with Him! Take
the wings of light and speed high, high and ever higher, and still
higher till the finite mind can conceive no more, and still is He
infinitely far above that feeble conception! Nor does His nature ever
vary—He is ever The Holy, and that burning seraphic holiness is also
Well may we veil our faces, put hand over lip as we
ask, as two of old, "Lord, where dwellest Thou?" "I dwell in
Eternity"—a word far beyond our finite powers to compass; but using our
own lives as a stepping-stone, we may at least approach its meaning.
Man is said to inhabit threescore years and ten. Call on him during
that time, and you may perhaps find him, as we may say, at home; but
soon after that, man leaves his dwelling, and the place that has known
him, knows him no more. But He, God, His dwelling is from everlasting
to everlasting, and thus is ever the "I AM," and ever "Holy" is His
But He, the infinitely high, infinitely exalted, infinitely
holy, chooses one other dwelling-place. What other dwelling can by its
grandeur be suitable for Him? This—the contrite and lowly spirit! And
what is the effect of this exalted One thus coming to dwell? Is it a
shrinking fear, a terror, a blasting and withering of all life, as when
a conqueror overwhelms a feeble opponent? Nay; it is always the revival
of true life with its hallowed accompaniments of love, joy and peace.
thoroughly this breaks down all barriers of social caste, all national,
and all mere ecclesiastical distinctions! Jew and Gentile, King and
Peasant, Romanist and Puritan, with all the sub-divisions that man has
made, all go to the common dust, and penitence, contrition, confession
of sin, and a low estimate of self form the only discriminating
boundary. 'Tis with such He dwells, and the spirit (the highest, or
reasoning, part of man's being) and the heart (the seat of emotion and
feeling) are both revived by that indwelling.
There is not one
word as to ecclesiastical position being correct or the reverse, not a
whisper of any discrimination because of clear intelligence in the
Scriptures. The religious, the reputable, and the moral are not
selected; there is solely a distinction that will make a strange
severance in all our ecclesiastical companies. Many a self-satisfied
heart, in the most perfectly scriptural outward position, will have no
such Visitant. Many a lowly and contrite heart, although it may be in a
very unscriptural church-association, will (and is today) entertaining
that high and exalted Guest. Does my reader ask: "How can I, even I,
prepare a chamber that shall attract so wondrous a Dweller?" Shall we
seek an answer together? Let us not then look within to see if we can
discover any lowliness there; for, even should we assume that we have
found it, it will turn instantly to pride because of that very
assumption. But let us not be discouraged, but turn our eyes to the
Cross, take a long, long look there, and as we discern Who is upon it,
and why, we shall see,
"How vile our low estate,
Since our ransom was so great."
shall again take our place with penitent Job, and say: "I see Thee with
the eye and I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes," and thus
shall we "pour contempt on all our pride." Nor shall we esteem this an
act of piety, assuming to accept a lowly place, because we know that it
is the right thing to do, but simply owning what is the bare fact, save
indeed that we can never be contrite enough, or as low as is our true
place.We may, if grace permit, go a little further. Another has used
this same language, and One with whom we poor sinners of the Gentiles
have had some common intimacy, for He said: "If a man love Me, he will
keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come and make
Our abode with him" (John 14:20).
What a divine ray this
scripture throws on the other! Isaiah is again seeing the glory of
Jesus, and speaking here of Him (John 12:41). It is He who thinks it no
robbery to be equal with God, the High and Exalted One, who inhabiteth
eternity: it is He who, by His Spirit, with His Father dwells in the
contrite heart that knows something of His love and would respond by
But Jehovah's address continues: "Were I to
be forever angry with My frail creature, man, not one of them could
endure it. The spirit indeed could not cease to exist, but it would
faint or fail, and that breath whereby man became a living soul would
This verse has been much used in the interests of
annihilation of the impenitent; but it gives no footing whatever for
such an insistence. The prophet gives no revelation here of heaven,
paradise, or the lake of fire, but deals solely with the earth and its
government, which indeed provides a pattern of eternal things. Here the
object is the humble and contrite, and for such there is a limit to
their affliction under the chastening Hand of God; but no such
limitation is predicated where there is no contrition. Eternity of
penalty rests on eternity of character, and if Scripture gives no hope
of any change after this life, then equally is there no hope of
limitation of penalty—varied however as this is by the measure of
This hungering heart of man must seek
satisfaction, and if Christ, in whom is all the fulness of the Godhead,
does not satisfy, it will, by the law of its own fallen nature, seek
that satisfaction somewhere else. Nor will chastening apart from
accompanying grace serve to countervail that law, but when He heals,
recalls us from all our foolish wanderings, sheds once more the
sunlight of His love on our spirit, heals, guides, and restores, then
mourning ceases, and comforts once more abound. The "fruit of the lips"
is a poetical form for the noblest use to which the lips can be put. So
from God manward, it is that gospel that comes both to those nigh (Jew)
and those far off (Gentile), while from man Godward, it is "praise
continually" (Heb. 13:15).
Note the last words of verse 18: "To
all of them who do mourn," to all who show that mark of true
relationship with the true Israel of God, by mourning over the
defection. Mourning in a day of apostasy is a very sure and prominent
mark of the true child of God; and the mocking cry of "Pessimist" only
completes the picture according to this scripture. It is sorrowful that
the Scriptures never end with universal peace and responsive praise. So
in verses 20, 21 the prophecy closes with the rejecters of grace. Such,
not merely the profligate, profane and morally debased, are here in
view as wicked. In reality, the publican in the temple was righteous,
the Pharisee was wicked. The penitent prodigal was righteous, the proud
elder brother was wicked. The self-judged penitent is always the
righteous: the self-complacent religious one, ever the wicked.
ocean may as soon refuse to respond to the gales that blow upon it, and
remain calm as a mirror while the storm-blasts tear over its surface,
as the restless heart of man find rest apart from Christ!
1 "Pious." Hebrew, "men of piety." The word meaning "gracious," both Godward and manward.
The Hebrew word "asaph" has in it contrasted ideas, both "swept away,"
as in Ezek. 34:29, and "gathered home," as Gen. 25:8. Note how fitting
these contrasted ideas are here; the righteous is slain by men, but
gathered by God.
3 The picture is of a valley flanked
by high rocks—dark and forbidding, a suitable setting for the horrid
rites that are described.
4 Another play on the words,
for both "smooth" and "portion" are "chehleq." That is, those stones
are thy gods, as Ps. 119:57 in the opposite sense.
difficult line as the many varying renderings evidence. I have adopted
the translation of Delitzsch, who is followed by Darby, always a
conservative. There is a natural shrinking from what is so repellent,
but Scripture often uses very plain language for these secret
6 Too free as a translation, but giving the sense.
7 Small stones were actually worshiped in the New Hebrides prior to the reception of Christianity, as Mr. J. G. Paton tells us.
"And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thy heart .
. . and thou shalt write them on the posts of thy house and on thy
gates" (Deut. 6:8, 9, 11, 20).
9 From Exposition of Isaiah, p. 439, by Mr. Wm. Kelly.
we are looking forward to the day figured by "iron and clay," and thus
the God-defying democratic principle of the authorities being elected
by an apostate people will have a large place.
11 This is examined in greater detail in the earlier chapters.