Jehovah's intervention irresistible. Jehovah's
discrimination in judgment. Confession and appeal.
chapter is in such close relation with the preceding one that in the
Hebrew Bible the first verse of this is placed in the earlier chapter;
and since the second verse, as we have it, speaks of the consequences
of Jehovah coming down, we see that there cannot be any real separation
between them. The "three" parts may again be discerned thus:
1: Verses 1-3: Jehovah's intervention irresistible.
2: Verses 4, 5: Jehovah's discrimination in government.
3: Verses 6-12: Confession and final appeal.
first of these continues an ardent appeal for Jehovah's intervention
and is again clearly divided by the threefold "from before Thee."
1: Oh, that Thou wouldst the heavens rend,
Thyself to earth come down;
So would the very mountains melt
And trembling pass from 'fore Thee!
2: As the fire makes brushwood burn,
As the fire makes water boil,
So would Thy Name to foes be known
And nations shake from 'fore Thee!
3: When Thou didst do those deeds of dread,
Which we had not expected,
Thou camest down, and mountains then
Did trembling pass from 'fore Thee!
at the scene! Here is a man, representative of Israel, with streaming
eyes and bent knees crying for Jehovah to tear the very heavens apart,
come to earth, cause mountains to flow down, and shaking in terror pass
away; then, as sure as fire makes brushwood to kindle and water to
boil, so would these enemies of Jehovah (for our foes are His too)
learn what the Name of "Jehovah" really means, and would call, but call
in vain, for the fleeing mountains to hide them from that burning wrath
that once before caused that "mountain" of Egypt to pass away from
before His face with trembling terror.
Now if Israel still provides
types for us—and who that reads 1 Cor. 10:11 can admit that to be even
a question?—so shall we too, out of the depths of our distress, cease
lukewarmly to "hold the doctrine of the Lord's coming," and cry like
them, "Oh, tear the heavens apart and come!" Only such aspirations can
justly express the heart's longing for the coming of our Lord Jesus.
that self-centred spirit that remains in us all, we are but too prone
to attribute to our prayers themselves, the gifts of divine grace.
"Prayer changes things," we say, and true as that is, we must still be
careful that in the words we do not transfer our praise from our
prayer-hearing God to our own prayers. How frequently God hears the
Intercessor who is nearest to Him (His Son) and acts without any prayer
at all from His people, for His grace surpasses all that we ask or
think. Did the disciples beseech Him to wash their feet? Did the two on
the way to Emmaus beg for His company? Were the disciples gathered
together on the first day of the week praying that He would come to
them, when He appeared in their midst? Not at all; He is ever active in
grace. Of this we have a sample in verse 3, as the prophet identifying
himself with his people cries: "What Thou didst once, when we did not
wait on Thee expectant, Thou wilt surely do now that we do." There is
no setting aside or belittling the value of prayer in this, for the
speaker goes on: "With terrifying deeds Thou didst come to our relief
in Egypt, when our pain-extorted groan alone appealed to Thee, but now,
not those groans alone, but our hearts, cry, Oh, tear open the heavens,
and come down, for groans surely cannot end Thy ways with Thy people."
Then the speaker goes on:
4: For from everlasting none has ever heard,
No ear has e'er perceived,
No eye has ever seen,
A God to be compared with Thee,
Who does such deeds on his behalf
Who waits expectant on Him.1
5: Thou meetest him who doth rejoice
In doing what is right,
And those who bear Thee aye in mind
In all Thy wondrous ways:
Behold, behold, Thou angry wast,
'Twas we then who had sinned:
In these is everlastingness
And so we shall be saved.2
apostle quotes verse 4 very freely in 1 Cor. 2, and adds, "Neither hath
it entered into the heart of man." No one has ever discerned a God who
interposes so marvelously for those who trust Him, and with a
confidence that tells of a heart won, just quietly wait His time for
their relief. But in the New Testament Epistle it has quite a different
connection, for there is added the significant sentence: "But God hath
revealed them to us by His Spirit." There the reference is not to the
manifested acts in the past, but to the deep things of God which are
even now revealed to those who are themselves spiritual. None but the
Spirit of God can communicate these precious things, for the very
capability of a man is limited to "the things of a man " (1 Cor. 2:11),
and these are far beyond that. But the Spirit of God has not now left
the future of eternity in the dark, to be the subject of imagination,
speculation, or poetic sentimentality, but to the Christian with whom
that divine Teacher is not grieved, these unsearchable wonders are
revealed. The basic idea common to both the Old Testament writer and
the New is that none can wait upon God in vain, for His delight is to
give and bless.
This is emphasized in the fifth verse. Never hast
Thou turned Thy back on any one who rejoiced in Thy holy ways; but then
look at the sad history of our nation; it seems summed up in "wrath and
sin: sin and wrath." Thou changest never in Thy attitude to sin—it is
always wrath; but neither dost Thou change in Thine attitude to
confession and penitence—it is always salvation. Thy ways are ever
consistent and unchanging; we can say, "In them is everlastingness," so
on our part we will continue in the way of penitence and confession,
and so shall be saved. We will therefore confess the simple truth:
6: For we are become as a vile filthy thing,
Every one of us!
As a garment defiled are our righteousnesses,
Every one of them!
E'en as an autumn leaf do we fade,
Every one of us!
Our sins as a storm-blast have swept us away!
7: There is never a one who calls on Thy name,
Stirs himself up to take hold upon Thee;
For Thou hast turned Thy face away from us,
And given us up to the hand of our sins.3
8: But now, O Jehovah, Thou art our Father:
We are the clay and Thou art the Potter,
And we are the work of Thine hands, Every one of us!
9: Oh, be not, Jehovah, wroth to the uttermost,
Nor our iniquity aye bear in mind;
Behold and consider, oh, we beseech Thee,
For we are Thy people, Thy people indeed,
Every one of us!
10: Thy cities so holy have now become desert,
Zion itself has now become desert,
Jerusalem now has become desolation.
11: The house of our holiness and our adorning,
Wherein our fathers adored Thee,
Has been utterly burnt up with fire.
The things we deemed to be precious
Have now been laid utterly waste,
Every one of them!4
12: Oh wilt Thou, Jehovah, restrain Thee,
In view of such doings as these,
And in Thine unlimited silence
Leave us to unlimited suff'ring?
it not pathetic and affecting? What can we plead before Thee? We look
at ourselves, there is not one of us but is polluted. We consider our
doings, the very best of them; our righteousnesses, far from being an
honor, are as a filthy rag that defiles all it touches. While Godward,
our sins have provoked Thy wrath, and this has swept us away, as the
faded leaves of autumn are scattered by the blasts.
But that does not
affect this truth, that Thou art the Source of our existence as a
nation. We are as fully Thy work as is the vessel that the potter makes
from the clay. Canst Thou, then, leave Thy work so defaced? Canst Thou
leave us in such wretchedness as shall make all creation judge that Thy
love, wisdom, and power are helpless?—that Thy love is so limited that
Thou canst leave us in our shame, Thy wisdom so limited that Thou canst
find no way of restoring us, and Thy power so limited that Thou canst
not carry out that way?
"O Jehovah, look at Thy cities, once so
populous! They are as silent as the desert now! Consider Zion itself;
it is desert now. Jerusalem lies at the mercy of the desolator, and
shows it in her miserable condition. That very Sanctuary, holy and
beautiful as it was, in which our fathers raised their songs of
adoration, is worse than silent now—it is in ashes! While those
precious things, layer, lampstand, table, are now all laid waste!
Thou dost love; how hard it must be for Thee then to restrain those
tender affections! Is it possible that Thou canst have such
self-control as to see the miserable conditions of those Thou hast
loved, without interposing? Wilt Thou by keeping limitless silence—for
that is all that is needed—leave us to a suffering limitless?"
wrote the prophet with eyes so anointed that he saw afar to a time that
even now, to this day, lies in the future, when a God-fearing remnant
of Jews will thus be mourning as they who mourn for their first-born
(Zech. 12:12). The interposition of Jehovah on behalf of the penitent
remnant of His people of which Isaiah speaks, is to be final, and
cannot possibly be fully exhausted by the return under Nehemiah, for
that was only to eventuate in fresh sorrow, whilst in the prophet's eye
Jerusalem is to be a new creation, and the voice of weeping is to be
heard nevermore in her (chap. 65:18). That justifies our saying that
this prophecy awaits still its fulfilment; for do not Zion's stones
still only echo her wailings?
Again we may ask, Is there no
correspondence between their condition and ours? Is Israel alone the
"clay"? Scripture gives a clear negative, for Rom. 9:21-24 permits no
such limitation. The whole race of men is but "clay" and of this the
Jewish people is only a sample. In the picture our prophet gives us we
can see our own condition as the present responsible witness of God
upon the earth. It is then "we who have sinned." We may have relegated
too much to the evangelist the confession, "All our righteousnesses are
as filthy garments,"5 leaving him to convict by it the
careless and profane. Such disposal of it is scarcely permissible,
unless we esteem the prophet himself to be an ungodly sinner and not a
forgiven saint, for he must be included in the "us." The truth is that
to the very end, our very best deeds, even those that have been wrought
in us by the Spirit of Christ are ever—let that infinitely searching
ray of the Light of God fall on them—so stained by the defiling medium
by which they have been done, that they are filthy. The very basis of
our title to eat of the Tree of Life is that those "garments" have been
washed (Rev. 22:14), the Blood of the Lamb alone makes them white (Rev.
7:14), and makes them form those white robes that are the
righteousnesses of the saints. This is not what Scripture terms "the
best robe"—that is Christ in all the virtue of His atoning work, and
that needs no washing at all; let us be very careful not to lack that
garment, or the result can be foreseen in Matt. 22:12, 13. There is
that danger, or the Lord would not warn us (Rev. 16:15).
any fellow-believer who reads these lines to note this mark of the
Spirit of God in the last hours of any dispensation: the speaker is
ever saying, "Every one of us." No Pharisee is this petitioner,
thanking God that he is not as other men. He identifies himself with
all the rest, confesses his own full share in all that has brought
dishonor on the Name. It is by this humble confession, amid a mass of
boasting, that the true Israel was, is, and ever shall be manifested.
we have, "every one of us," to use the words of our prophet, a part in
that responsible witness, and so we will not say "they," but "we have
sinned," and thus confess to our place and part in the present Witness
upon earth, a Witness that has failed as much beyond all who have gone
before as its privileges have exceeded. But our boast and hope shall be
in One sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high, with whom
failure is unknown, and with whom interest and love for His redeemed
never chills nor varies!
1 Amid many various renderings I have kept as close as the text will permit to the apostle's free quotation in 1 Cor. 2:9.
line is obscure, and even the R.V. suggests that the text is corrupt.
"Few texts have caused interpreters more perplexity than this, and
twenty or thirty renderings have been proposed" (Birks). Under such
conditions, any translation must be more or less a paraphrase to be
intelligible at all; nor is the latent idea as obscure as the words
that clothe it.
3 "Given up" is literally "melted,"
that is, Jehovah had given them over (as one pours melted metal) to the
power (hand) of their sins, just as in Rom. 1:24, 26, 28.
4 Note the doubled "three" pressed upon these verses: the "all" in the A.V., "every one of us" here.
5 The unjustified word "rags" is apt to divert the mind from the correct meaning of beged, "garment."