The opening appeal of the prophet is to the conscience. No reader can avoid seeing that through Isaiah Jehovah charges His people with ungrateful, enormous, and persistent rebellion. It is the more terrible, because it is expressly general. There were marked differences between Uzziah and Jotham, between Ahaz and Hezekiah yet more and deeper. But the state of His people before the Holy One of Israel all through could not be truly described in terms less scathing. in themselves they were hopelessly evil; and one of the most pious of Judah’s kings, prompt beyond all (2 Chr. 29:3) to care for Jehovah’s honour and will, and large-hearted enough to embrace of all the tribes those who humbled themselves before Him Whom they had long despised, gave the occasion for most solemn appeal. Granted that no one can fix a special epoch, or an outbreak of iniquity of peculiar malignity. Even this, however deplorable, is not so desperate as a continuous state of alienation, where their corruption was the companion of despite done to Him Who had ever watched over them with a patience and tender mercy as perfect as His righteousness; His chastenings only preceded revolt more and more. Not even intense misery drew out groans to Him. Israel was utterly insensible to their loathsome wounds and mortal disease at His hands Who loved them, Whose readiness to heal was set at naught by their callous indifference. The body politic, civic and rural, was a disastrous ruin and desolation; and Zion’s daughter left as a temporary booth, instead of sitting for ever in royal grace above all rivals as became the favoured of Jehovah. In short, but for Him Whose title is to rule heaven and earth, and Who was pleased to reserve a very small residue, they had been as the doomed cities of the Plain.
But is this the gospel? or is such a national appeal in the least degree according to its spirit, or the revealed examples of those who preached it? Is it not evident from the Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, etc., as well as the Acts of the Apostles, that the gospel is sent forth by God’s grace, on the proved ruin of Jew no less than of Greek, to proclaim God’s righteousness in Christ (now that man’s unrighteousness is beyond dispute) unto all, and upon all that believe? Here probation still goes on under the law, as the rule of Jehovah’s government of His people. Their sins and their sufferings are urgently pressed home, and that mercy which is mingled with His law, as declared in Ex. 32-34, is before the prophet in pleading with the people perseveringly. Yet was he well aware that the mass would still stumble at the word, being disobedient, madly rushing to destruction, and that a very small residue would hear and in the end be blessed and triumph, when Jehovah would intervene for that double issue. This, however, is in no way what the gospel now makes known to the believer, but the display of Him Who is coming to bring in together the acceptable year of Jehovah, and the day of vengeance of our God: not the mysteries, but the manifestation, of the kingdom of the heavens. The judgement of the wicked, and the restoration of the righteous remnant are here joined, which is a state of things wholly foreign to the gospel, as every Christian knows. And our hopes are as different from theirs, as heaven is higher than the earth. They will look for the Messiah to restore the kingdom to Israel in that day of the earth’s glory, as He surely will, and from Zion to rule all the nations; but we hope to be with Him in the Father’s house, though we shall also reign over the earth. Those who merge both in one, not only defraud the Lord of His earthly reign, and Israel of the promises for them and the land, but lower and lose the heavenly glory of Christ and the church, which is our proper position. And this loss is Satan’s aim and success, ever since the apostles were succeeded by men who corrupted the truth.
Here, as elsewhere, we find grave and precious instruction, humbling lessons for the heart of man, and on God’s part unfailing pity and long-suffering, but withal solemn and sure judgement of all evil. Everywhere and at all times God’s character shines out to the eye of faith, as His glory will to “every eye” in a day which hastens fast. But the only wise God has been pleased to bring out His mind and display His ways in a variety of forms, which create no small perplexity to the narrow mind and unready heart of man. Some are apt to forget the past, as if the revelation of present privilege were all; many more would merge the actual calling of God in a vague amalgam, a truly unintelligent monotony, which confounds Israel and the church, law and gospel, earth and heaven, grace and glory. Here it is national dealing throughout: national apostasy with vain religious self-complacency; as it will be national judgement, and national restoration for a remnant, by Jehovah Himself in the day of the Lord’s return.
Doubtless, now that the Son of God has appeared, it is meet that we should hear Him; and it is vain to talk of honouring the law and prophets, Moses or Elias, if He have not the central and supreme place in our hearts. And it is to hear Him, if we believe that the Spirit of truth is come to guide into all truth; much of which even apostles could not bear, till redemption was accomplished and the Son of man ascended where He was before. It is due, therefore, to the New Testament that we should look for our special portion there, the revelation of that mystery which was hid from ages and from generations. But we cannot forget, without dishonour to God and loss to our souls, that there are certain moral principles which never change, any more than God can act or speak beneath Himself, whatever may be His condescension to the creature.
Thus obedience is always the right pathway for the faithful, and holiness is inseparable from the new nature; but then the character of the obedience and the depth of the holiness necessarily depend on the measure of light given of God and the power of the motives He reveals for working on the heart. What was allowed in Levitical time and order is largely out of place now, if we heed the Saviour’s authority. And this is at least as strikingly true of the public worship and service of God as of private life and duty. In many measures and in many modes He spoke in the prophets to the fathers; now He has spoken in the person of His Son. Hence unbelief assumes the character of resistance to the fullest love, light, authority, and wisdom, revealed in Him Who is the image of the invisible God - Himself God over all, blessed for ever; while the faith, which has bowed to Him thus displayed, loves to hear the earlier oracles and to reflect the true light which now shines, along with the fainter but equally divine luminaries which pierced through the darkness of man’s night; for all the blessed promises of God are now verified in Christ.
The title is, “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (ver. 1). This gives unity to the entire collection, as distinguished from particular dates, as in Isa. 6:1; Isa. 7:1; Isa. 14:28; Isa. 20:1. In strict accordance with all, the first chapter then has a more general character than any other in the book. It most pathetically accuses the people and the capital and the sanctuary of the grossest ingratitude.
By the prophet before us God is still dealing with His people as a body; and therefore He pleads with them because of their iniquities, setting forth a full, searching, and even minute portraiture of their evil ways. For if prophecy encourages the faithful by the sure word of coming blessing from the Lord, it casts a steady and convicting light on the actual state of those who bear His name; its hopes strengthen those who bow to its holy sentences. Hence, if handled in a godly and reverent manner, it never can be popular, though notions drawn from it and used excitingly may be so. But the Spirit addresses it to the conscience in God’s presence, and there is nothing man as such shrinks from more.
If it grieved Jehovah at His heart to behold man’s wickedness great in the earth and to blot him out from the face of the ground, what was it now for Him thus to despair of the chosen people full of disease and wounds? For though He smote, they were but hardened, and revolted more and more. And outward disasters completely failed, though He had allowed it so far that only His mercy hindered destruction as unsparing as that which befell the doomed cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. How very small the residue! Compared with the days of David and Solomon, how evil and fallen even now!
Need the details be pointed out in further proof of these remarks? “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for Jehovah hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children; and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah! sinful nation; a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children corrupting themselves. They have forsaken Jehovah; they have despised the Holy One of Israel; they are estranged backward. Why be smitten any more? Ye will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it (or him): wounds, and weals, and open sores - they have not been closed, nor bound up, nor mollified with oil. Your country [is] desolate; your cities [are] burned with fire; your ground, strangers devour it in your presence, and [it is] desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard, as a lodge in a melon-field, as a besieged city. Unless Jehovah of hosts had left us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, we should have resembled Gomorrah” (vv 2-9).
So the law-giver in his song (Deut. 32:1) called the heavens and the earth to give ear, as he proclaimed the name of Jehovah, and set before the people that searching glance into the future which, through divine power, took in the failure and ruin of Israel. Moses sees Jehovah judging Israel’s idolatry, and hiding His face from them, also the call of the Gentiles, but to provoke them to jealousy, not to give them up for ever; and at length His glorious intervention, both to deliver them and the land, and to execute judgement on their adversaries, while in the end causing the nations to rejoice with His people. Isaiah was given to fill up that magnificent outline, bringing in Messiah and His work and His reign in the clearest and richest way for all that have eyes to see. Here it is the dark picture of their sins. What an expostulation from God and for God! Heaven and earth are summoned to hear the complaint against His people. The dullest of their own beasts of burden put them to shame. God’s chastenings were as vain as His gracious training. The body politic was utterly diseased and loathsome from head to foot; medicine and remedial measures quite neglected. Country and town a waste and scene of devastation; the ground eaten up by strangers; the daughter of Zion no longer enjoying that holy fortress, but left in distress and isolation like a city besieged. But that Jehovah had left a very little residue, we (says the prophet) had been as Sodom and like Gomorrah. Sudden and complete destruction was their deserved doom. The last chapters of the prophecy, like others throughout, attest the judgement executed by fire on the mass, the remnant also delivered and blessed as Jehovah’s servants under His righteous Servant.
It is the Jew, not the church, throughout that is in question. Zion measures the privilege and the guilt of Judah. Nowhere in scripture is it applied to the church, which is Christ’s body. In Heb. 12:22 this is distinguished from Zion; and Rev. 14. sets Zion forth quite distinctly from those already glorified above as the church then is. In Matt. 20:15; John 12:15; Rom. 9:33; 1 Peter 2:6, the word has its historical sense. And so it is with Rom. 11:26. To read the church in any of these instances would yield no right meaning. And these are all the occurrences in the New Testament.
But has not such an appeal to Judah a voice for us? It is not only that the church of God began to be called out and formed when all was a failure: man, Israel, the world, were judged morally in the cross. But besides for us, too, the house of God is in disorder. The last time of many antichrists is long since come. The Christian witness has more deeply and widely departed from God than the Jewish one, notwithstanding immensely greater privileges. What remains but judgement for the mass, with the reserve of grace for those who humble themselves under God’s mighty hand? Does this produce hardness of feeling? On the contrary a spirit of intercession is the invariable companion of a holy heed to prophecy, both of them the offspring of communion with God. He loves His people too well to look with indifference on their sins, of all men’s; He must vindicate His outraged majesty, and those who are in the secret of His mind cannot but go forth in importunate desire for the good of souls and the glory of the Lord. But real love has no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness; rather does it reprove them. Neither does that love which is of God measure sin as nature does, but feels first and most that which slights Himself, His character, and His word
As to Israel, they were more guilty than the heathen, as bad as the worst. Hence it is no longer the doom, but the abominations of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Hear the word of Jehovah, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith Jehovah: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample my courts? Bring no more vain oblations: incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies, - I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear [them]. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes. Cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken” (vv. 10-20).
There was no lack of zeal in religion, nor did they fail to seek a remedy for the evident gravities of their day; but their remedies were worse than useless. Divine privileges only rendered their moral state more portentous and intolerable. If they approached the doom of Sodom but for Jehovah’s mercy, morally they were already Sodom, and, therefore, their sacrifices, feasts, and assemblies all the more odious to Jehovah, Who felt His courts to be profaned by their tread, and refused to hear their multiplied prayers. There was no real repentance, no trembling at His word, but a religious veil over utter and shameless iniquity.
Yet Jehovah deigns to call them to repentance and the fruits suited to it. The language is clearly founded on the ceremonial washings so familiar to the Jews; but moral reality is the point, as is immediately after made plain. God can tolerate iniquity nowhere, least of all in His people. They must therefore cease from evil and learn to do well, proving it in ways of ordinary life. But He adds withal a gracious invitation that He and they should reason together. Soon would they then find where the fault lay, and with Whom is the grace that is willing to wash the foulest clean. The call ends with His promise to help them if they were broken down and obedient, and the threat to devour them by the sword if they refused. In the earlier of these verses there is much which we can freely take to ourselves now, for the immutable principle of God is to ally repentance to faith, and to insist on suitable works and ways in all whom He draws to Himself. Particularly do the words apply to saints who shirk responsibility and trifle with a pure conscience; and we may fairly encourage timid souls by the words “Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” But we necessarily stop there. Vers. 19 and 20 cannot be torn away from the Jewish stock. Christians have ample appeals, and more direct in the later volume of inspiration. For God’s moral government as Father follows His grace.
The universal corruption of Jerusalem, and of its rulers especially, is then laid bare. “How is the faithful city become a harlot! she that was full of judgement, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water. Thy princes [are] rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them” (vv. 21-23). Finally Jehovah shows He must deal with His adversaries, as well as Himself restore Zion, when idols and their makers perish together under His mighty hand. Their present state of ruin is contrasted with what it was and what it is to be. “Therefore saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies. And I will turn my hand on thee and thoroughly purge away thy dross, and take away all thine alloy. And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: after that shalt thou be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful town. Zion shall be redeemed with judgement, and her converts with righteousness. But the destruction of the transgressors and the sinners [shall be] together; and those that forsake Jehovah shall be consumed. For they shall be ashamed of the terebinths which ye desired, and ye shall blush for the gardens that ye have chosen. For ye shall be as a terebinth whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water. And the strong shall be as tow and his work as a spark; and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench [them]” (vv. 24-31).
The promise and judgement go far beyond the circumstances before and after the Babylonish captivity. The last fiery trial of Israel is in view, which grace will use for spiritual refining; after which will follow the times of restitution of all things, when the former rule shall come to Zion (Micah 4), the kingdom to the daughter of Jerusalem. It is a comprehensive preface of the prophet to his entire prophecy. But it is in no way the gospel as now, which is grace reigning through righteousness unto life eternal by Jesus Christ our Lord. Here it is destructive judgement executed on the evil, when the repentant remnant of the Jews enjoy God’s mercy. This is beyond cavil the bearing of the address, and the only just inference from its terms. What God has thus joined, let not man sunder to suit the present dealing of God in Christianity. Only “in that day” will Jehovah restore the judges and the counsellors of Jerusalem as at the beginning, and the city itself be one of righteousness and fidelity. In that day shall Zion be redeemed with judgement and her converts with righteousness, coincidentally with the execution of Vengeance on the wicked and her idols. It is a victory reserved for Christ’s appearing in the consummation of the age. Jerusalem must be purged before God can make her a centre of the nations. It is Christ there in power which accounts for all.
All believers thankfully acknowledge how much is shared by the faithful on earth from the beginning to the end of time. There is but one object of faith for all, though made known in very different measures before and since redemption, and in ways so distinct as the day of the displayed kingdom must be from preceding time and especially from the present. Hence none need cavil at Jerome’s calling our prophet evangelical, as compared with his fellows, or wonder at the countless gospel discourses preached from this chapter and many more. But the important thing exegetically is to observe the essential differences which prove that not the gospel but God’s ways with His ancient people, strictly speaking, are intended. Thus in the first paragraph (vv. 2-9) the appeal is national, whereas the gospel is strictly individual, though the house may be joined in a spirit of grace to its head. In the second (vv. 10-20) Jehovah declares He will hide in anger from their hypocritical worship. Now, since the grace of redemption, this is never said of the Christian. God did hide His face from, yea forsake, Him Who is our propitiation, and for this very reason when God made Him sin for us; but it was that we might never be thus abandoned. But He did abandon guilty Israel. In the third (vv. 21-31) He promises that “Zion shall be redeemed with judgement, and they that return of her with righteousness.” This characterises the redemption which will be, not only as a witness by the blood of the Saviour Who rose again, but with the mighty execution of God’s judgement of His adversaries when He with lye purges away Israel’s dross. So confirms all the context to the last verse. It is the distinctions, not of course the resemblances, which mark off the varying dispensations or ages one from another.
But no Christian ought to need proof how different is the ground of the gospel from such an intervention of Jehovah as the prophet describes here, and almost everywhere else. For moral probation is closed; law can only condemn those under it. All alike are lost; every mouth is stopped, and all the world under judgement to God. The Lord Jesus, the Son of God, sent as Man in the infinite love of God, has been by all rejected and crucified. Yet the judgement of sins and sinners was then and there laid on Him; and God is so glorified in His sacrificial death that He can and does proclaim to everyone that believes life eternal in His name, remission of sins, justification, and salvation as everlasting as glory. Such is the new state of things under the gospel and for the church, which meanwhile suffers with Christ, and waits for His coming to take us on high; whence He will appear in due time to judge the habitable earth, and introduce His kingdom before every eye here below, and over all nations and lands.
But our prophet, like the rest, predicts that day of His appearing to judge living man on earth, and deliver a remnant, here of Jews, as elsewhere of Gentiles also, for His manifested reign, when no evil will be tolerated but righteousness is exalted under His dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. Divine judgement will not be on Him, as the gospel we know is based on; but then at length, as the new and predominant fact in God’s ways, He will judge His people in a way beyond all past experience, and put down the wicked both there and outside them throughout the world, as He alone can, and thus establish His kingdom not only in Zion but over all the earth. It is this of which the chapter speaks, though in the general way which characterises every part of it, each divine communication having that perfect consistency with itself, which is proper to revelation, and in strong contrast with the gospel and the church, whatever be the efforts of popular theology in all ages to identify them, thus losing the distinctive power of both truths.
We have seen that though the people if repentant are assured of God’s blessing, they are shown that governmental punishment must first be executed on the wicked by Him Who alone is capable of righteousness; then, and not before, shall Zion be redeemed in deed and truth. This redemption in power and with judgement is manifestly distinct from redemption by blood only, as we know it in Christ by the gospel of salvation. Judah’s deliverance is accompanied by divine judgement. Jerusalem’s heart is at length reached, her time of hardness accomplished, her iniquity pardoned.
“The word that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall come to pass in the end of days,2 [that] the mountain of Jehovah’s house shall be established on the top (head) of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples will go and say, Come and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and Jehovah’s word from Jerusalem. And he will judge between the nations, and will reprove many peoples; and they will forge their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning knives: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (vv. 1-4). “He” Who thus reigns is Jehovah, but, having become man, is withal the Messiah, and the Son of man with rights universal given Him.
Apply this to Zion and the nations in the future day, and all is clear, sure, and consistent; accommodate it to the church, either now or in that day, and what contradiction ensues! The Lord Jesus, when here, announced that “the hour cometh when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, ye shall worship the Father,” and that “the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such the Father also seeketh as his worshippers” (John 4:21-23). The Saviour Who alone leads by the Spirit into true worship is now in heaven. There is our centre, not Jerusalem nor any other place on earth, save as He is in the midst. And we are exhorted to approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having boldness for entering into the holiest by the blood of Jesus: such is the new and living way which He dedicated for us; as we have also a great priest over the house of God. Nor is this all. For it is of the essence of the church that we are no longer what we were after the flesh: “For by (
ἐν) one Spirit were we all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). When Christ comes again, the glorified will have manifestly their heavenly blessedness as they have the title even now (1 Cor. 15:48, 49). Thus they are in quite a different position and relationship from either the nations, or even Jerusalem. They are members of His body Who will reign over both Israel and the nations in that day. But He is sitting now, rejected by both and glorified on His Father’s throne; and we who believe are united to Him, one new man, both reconciled to God in one body by the cross. All for us is merged in heavenly glory; whilst on earth we are told to go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. For we are not of the world as He is not; and if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.
Undoubtedly to apply these terms to the feeble remnant’s return from the Babylonish captivity refutes itself. But will the language seem hyperbolical when Christ appears in the glory of His kingdom? Nor are other allegories more tenable. What for instance can exceed the poverty of Theodoret’s scheme (Opera 2., i. 183, ed. J. L. Schulze)? He tries to find the accomplishment in the flourishing unity of the Roman empire when our Lord first appeared, in the conquered races that composed it being no longer at war but engaged in agriculture, and in the unhindered diffusion of the gospel far and wide. Cyril of Alexandria (in his Commentary on our prophet) and Eusebius of Caesarea (Dem. Evang. 8:3), and Latin Fathers like Jerome (in loco) follow in the same wake. Yet one knows nothing better in the attempts of men since, unless the Popish interpretation be thought more homogeneous, inasmuch as it is all supposed to be verified in the Catholic church. Certainly the interpretation of others cannot be preferred, which makes it all mystical, and imagines its accomplishment in the unbroken oneness and peace of all believers, in their perfect holiness, and their entire subjection to the scriptures. As on earth the actual state is far different, some seek more consistency with truth by transferring the scene to heaven when every conflict is over; and these views have prevailed amongst Protestants.
It is apparent that we have here the similar, if not same, prediction which Micah gives in his prophecy (Micah 4:1-3). The two prophets were contemporaries. The question arises, who first communicated it from God? Three opinions are conceivable, and, as a fact, the commentators range themselves respectively under each of them: (1) Micah adopted it from Isaiah (Vitringa, Calmet, Lowth, Beckhaus, Umbreit). (2) Isaiah from Micah (Michaelis, Gesenius, Hengstenberg, Hoffmann, Drechsler, Pusey). (3) Both from an older source (Koppe, Rosenmller, Maurer, De Wette, Knobel, Vogel, and Hitzig, Ewald specializing Joel). The certain fact is, that one prophet uses another prophet’s words, only with such variations as the inspiring Spirit was pleased to sanction, as we find Daniel gathering light from the then to be accomplished word of Jehovah to Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2). The hypothesis of an older source seems wanton and unworthy of serious discussion. Certainly the great apostle, in writing his first pastoral to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:18) adopts as scripture the language of his beloved companion Luke (Luke 10:7), and not that of the apostle Matthew (Matt. 10:10). And some have argued that this passage in Isaiah was originally Micah’s, from the context in each. For in Micah we have the desolation of Zion and of the mountain of the house, at the end of his Micah 3, followed immediately in the beginning of Micah 4 by this promise of glory, where the connecting particle (rendered “and,” or “but,” according to the exigency of the discourse) is fully in place, “But in the latter days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of Jehovah’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow unto it. And many nations shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, and to the house of the God of Jacob and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.” Isaiah has the same initiatory particle, as if cited just as it stood, though in his case sounding strangely. But Dr. Kay has shown that the particle is used more freely than this admits, and that the time favours Isaiah as the original rather than Micah (Speaker’s Comm. in loco).
However this may have been, these opening verses of Isa. 2 constitute a noble frontispiece of lofty expectation for the earth’s blessing. The previous preface of Isa. 1 proved the necessity of fiery judgement to consume the transgressors, and leave room for Jehovah thereby to purify a remnant for His purpose of blessing. Whatever intervene through creatures, His goodwill shall assuredly triumph in the end. And in the answering vision of glory, which winds up the strain (Isa. 4:2), we see the Branch of Jehovah, often to reappear, on Whose agency all depends. Here it is the establishment, beyond all rivalry, of what had been hitherto feeble and fluctuating and fallen, the place which Jehovah chose of old to cause His name to dwell in, now at length cleared of every mark of evil, dishonour, ruin, and exalted in holy and indisputable supremacy. Then will all the nations flow unto it in undivided and peaceful stream. They need no compulsion then, nor yet inducements any more than emulation. They have seen Jehovah’s uplifted hand; they have beheld His arm laid bare. His judgements have been in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world are now learning righteousness. Nor need we wonder, since fire will have devoured His adversaries, who were many, strong, and high. And thus it is not merely that Israel has the heart enlarged to invite them in the sense of that mercy which endures for ever, and alone sufficient to save themselves, but the Gentiles also join together in holy zeal and earnestness. “And many peoples will go and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.”
Never has it been thus under the gospel for a single nation. At no time hitherto has one people thus acted and exhorted others as a whole, no, not for a day; whereas here with Micah we have a double witness of it in the divine forecast of “that day” for all the earth. “Today” on the contrary, even for His chosen people, the word is, “Oh, that ye would hear His voice. Harden not your heart, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness.” But then the wilderness and the dry land shall be gladdened, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. For then Jehovah reigns in the person of His Image and Anointed; and Satan will have been hurled from his bad eminence as the prince of the world and god of this age, which he is still. Then the latter rain of the Spirit will have fallen on all flesh with fertilising power. “And he will judge among the nations, and will reprove many peoples; and they will forge their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning knives: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more.” Can terms more explicitly or exclusively describe when God shall judge in the sense of reigning over the quick? It is humbling to think that Christian men could persuade themselves that these magnificent and delightful changes for mankind have ever been verified. They are reserved exclusively to the praise of Jehovah and His Christ in the latter day. Should we not rejoice that so it is to be?
Nor is it without interest or importance to notice that the later words of Isaiah render just the same testimony in Isa. 60; Isa. 61; Isa. 62 and Isa. 66. Throughout the exaltation of Zion is still more fully developed, as it is involved plainly enough in Isa. 42 and Isa. 49. As Jehovah will introduce that day, pleading in word and fire with “all flesh,” which mankind has never yet seen, so will He gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see His glory after an unparalleled sort. “And it shall come to pass that from new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh [not all Israel only] will come to worship before me, saith Jehovah” (Isa. 66:23). In Zech. 14 it is declared that the spared of all the nations that came against Jerusalem will go up year by year to worship the King, Jehovah of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. Mal. 1:11 provides for the constant and universal recognition of Jehovah’s name among the Gentiles, and due worship in every place. More copious testimony assures us that they will regularly and solemnly come up, as is only right and due, to that earthly centre where He has set His name as nowhere else; a fact and principle entirely incompatible with “the hour that now is” as the Lord Himself clearly laid down in John 4. If this distinction be not firmly kept, if this age be confounded with that which is to come the mind of God is lost and darkness ensues as to the preset and future. Zeph. 3:8-10 is most explicit that the judgement of the Gentiles, and the restoration of the Jews then converted, precede the blessedness here described: “Therefore, wait ye for me, saith Jehovah, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger; for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.”
The Vision contemplates a wholly unprecedented panorama to be seen by every eye in that day. Christ will have been manifested, instead of being, as now, hidden on High; and we also shall be then manifested with Him in Glory. But no word here reveals our association with Him. As He will have the earth as well as the heaven put under Him, in fact as now in title the holy hill of Zion will be His seat as Jehovah’s anointed King; and the nations will be given Him, and the uttermost parts of the earth. Jerusalem will be purged, and the people restored, not merely in virtue of an interior work, but through searching and solemn judgements. His enemies and adversaries must fall under His hand. As the mountain of Jehovah’s house is established above every rival whatever they material vastness, or the loftiest associations of the creature, thither flock the humbled yet happy and obedient nations to pay homage and worship, and to learn that they may walk in His paths, owning Himself King of kings and Lord of lords, and Israel as His peculiar people here below. Jehovah reigns, and the earth rejoices as never before. universal peace accordingly in subjection to the God of Jacob characterises the nation hitherto self willed and ambitious, jealous and cruel, but now under His firm and righteous sceptre, Who from His earthly centre of divine light and resistless power judges among them, and reproves many peoples. As these are the regular designations of the Gentiles, so with the same literality are Israel and Judah, Jerusalem the capital and Zion the citadel of the chosen people. Quite as little is Jehovah, the God of Jacob, to be taken vaguely; for this definite name will then shine and be known, when His mighty acts have made good unmistakably His purpose from of old that Israel shall be the chief people on earth (Deut. 32:8, 9), restored from all halting and affliction and evil, and Jehovah reigning over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever.
Rev. 21:9-27 presents the heavenly glory in that day, but it is wholly different from that of Jerusalem and the temple as show in Isaiah. The bride, the Lamb’s wife, is seen under the symbol of the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, but not on the earth till the eternal day (v. 3). Instead of Jehovah’s house being the centre of attraction, no temple is seen therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof. There is thus complete contrast with the Jerusalem of that day in which the temple with its ordinances and officials occupies much the largest part of Ezekiels last great vision (Ezek. 40 - 47). The utmost care is thus taken that should not confound the earthly city with the heavenly one. The difference turns on relationship to Christ. The new Jerusalem is His heavenly bride, and reigns with Him; the earthly Jerusalem is the city of the great King, and is reigned over by Him. Whilst it is grace now to suffer with Him on earth, it is to fit us for heaven. Israel will have deliverance by judgement on the earth, as scripture shows. The Christian, the church, makes its way by faith while evil is in power till the Lord comes; for Israel, or Jerusalem, the evil is crushed, and righteousness reigns over the earth in Christ’s person from first to last. No contrast can be more decided.
This is plain if we be simple. It is not only Shiloh come provisionally, as at the first advent; but when “that day” arrives the link with Him, now broken by Judah’s ruinous unbelief, is riveted for ever; and as God’s repentant people welcome in Jehovah’s name their once rejected Messiah, to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples (Gen. 49:10). The early oracle of dying Jacob will be at length fulfilled by the living God of Jacob, not in part, but in its entire and unforced meaning. It has no reference to the intermediate Christian system; when Christ’s flock compared with the world is “little,” having tribulation assured in the world; despised, hated, and persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and yet more for Christ’s. They have the kingdom in mystery, not in manifestation as it will be in that day; and hence are we called to the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, waiting for heavenly glory with Him. The vision sets nothing of this before us, but the kingdom not in patience but in power, when the Lord sits on His Own throne and reigns in righteousness. It is no longer the Gospel of God’s grace calling believers to Christ in heaven, doing well, suffering for it, and taking it patiently, in accordance with grace reigning through righteousness unto life eternal by Jesus Christ our Lord, but out of Zion shall go forth the law, and Jehovah’s word from Jerusalem; for He shall then be King over all the earth, in that day one Jehovah, His name one. Thus He is both Messiah reigning in Zion, and Son of man, to Whom was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and a kingdom which shall not be destroyed. This new age characterises our vision, in evident contradistinction to what we now experience in the gospel, which separates from the world, and gathers together God’s children in one for heaven. Such is the church of God.
Thus then is the divine government of this world, of which all the prophets bear witness as Christ’s reign over the earth. Isa. 4:2-6 describes its application to Jerusalem, as Isa. 11 - Isa. 12 to the earth and the creatures on it, with Israel’s joy. Compare also Isa. 24:21-23; Isa. 25; Isa. 27; Isa. 22; Isa. 33:20-24; Isa. 35; Isa. 60; Isa. 66. Two differences of the utmost importance mark the new age from the present evil one - the displayed presence of the Lord in the power of His kingdom, and the enforced absence of Satan. So immense a change bespeaks the intervention of God in the person of Christ, Whose action will then have smitten the great image of Daniel 2, and replaced it by God’s kingdom, which became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. When such judgements are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
We know from scripture that the gospel was to be preached for a testimony to all the nations; and so it has been; as it will yet be in a special form when the heavenly saints are taken on high (Rev. 14:6, 7). But according to the apostles Peter and James the Just, God has now visited the Gentiles, not to fill the earth with the knowledge of Jehovah, which awaits the Messiah in the day of His power, but to take out of them a people for His name; and with this eclectic condition, both the name and nature of the church fall in; and therefore it suffers now to reign with Him in that day. Whereas these words of the prophet contemplate the wondrous change on earth, when judgement has delivered Zion, and Jehovah makes it His earthly capital for all the nations, no longer rebellious, but waiting for His law. In no sense is the vision yet accomplished. It is for the glory of the returning Jehovah-Messiah. He only will judge between the nations, and will reprove many peoples. Then, and not till then, will they abandon sword and spear for the implements of peace, and learn war no more.
To attribute all or any of this to the church now dislocates all scripture, and dissolves the special teaching of the apostles and prophets in the New Testament. For we are not of the world, as Christ is not and are now called to suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. “Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). When that day comes, there is peace on earth, and no tribulation more, but righteousness reigns in manifest triumph. Our calling of God in Christ Jesus is upward, bearing Christ’s reproach. But when the world-kingdom of our Lord and His Christ is come (Rev. 11:15), the destroyers of the earth are destroyed, and Israel and the nations repose under the sceptre of a King reigning in righteousness, and princes ruling in judgement (Isa. 32:1).
Ignorance of the kingdom of the heavens, whether in its manifest form according to the prophets, when the Lord returns to reign in power and glory, or in its mysteries as now running their course while the Lord is seated on the Father’s throne and Christendom is the result - in either way ignorance of the kingdom is the common and fatal fault of most commentators. Hence they fall into the further error of confounding the kingdom with the church or assembly of God, which is fraught with evil consequences, both doctrinal and practical. Of this fanatics took advantage, or perhaps by it fell into a snare on the other side; for it is hard to say which were most astray, persecutors or persecuted. In fact, to take an instance from Protestants, whether one thinks of the wild Anabaptists who tried to set up a Zion of their own by force of arms, or of their more sensible, if not more spiritual, antagonists who put them down by fire and sword, both went on the mistaken ground of the servants in the parable of the wheat-field, who would root up the tares spite of the Saviour’s interdict, instead of leaving that work of judgement to the angels at the end of the age. The powers that be are responsible and competent to maintain order and punish evil-doers. Popery, as is notorious, has always acted, ecclesiastically, on the same error. Others, shocked by the evident mistake of Papists and Protestants alike, fell into the opposite extreme of denying to the king and the magistrates the title and duty of using the sword. All these serious aberrations of men are due to confounding what ought to be held simply but firmly, and without confusion - God’s external authority in civil government, which holds good everywhere, and His spiritual power in His assembly, the church, where alone the Spirit is present to maintain the rights of the Lord according to the written word.
Where these truths are seen, it is not merely that one stands amazed at those Calvin [Calvin Translation Society Series Isaiah 1 p101, 102] calls “madmen,” who torture this passage to promote anarchy, but at the Genevese chief who chides them for thinking that “it took away from the church entirely the right to use the sword,” and bringing it forward for condemning with great severity every kind of war. Certainly those Christians were inexcusably wrong who dictated to the powers that be, and interfered with their policy, either domestic or foreign. But not less in error was Calvin, who claimed for the church the right to use the sword. Mischievous idea! which denies in principle the pattern of Christ, the place of suffering holiness and love in this present evil world (1 Peter 2:20, 21). So the citation by Calvin of Luke 22:36 in this connection is just of a piece with that which we see in Romish controversialist They are equally mistaken, from not seeing the true nature and calling of the Christian, they are equally mistaken in thinking that it is a question of acknowledging the kingly power of Christ (for He has not yet taken His own throne); they are equally mistaken in fancying we must always think of making progress, and so gradually bring in the perfection of that peaceful reign. Calvin charges it on the revolutionaries as excessive folly to imagine Christ’s kingdom in the sense of Isa. 2 consummated. But was it wise in himself to think that it was even beginning? Not less unintelligent and false is his conclusion that “the fulfilment of this prophecy in its full extent must not be looked for on earth”; for it is plain and certain that its terms refer to Christ’s future kingdom on earth exclusively, and not to heaven. How important to distinguish difference of dispensation and relationship!
Take all now in its natural import,3 and difficulties vanish. When judgement has done its work, “in the end of days,” the mountain of Jehovah’s house shall be established at the head of the mountains, and shall be lifted above the hills, and all the nations will flow unto it. Zion shall be the fountain of divine blessing in the word for all the world, and the centre to which the peoples shall gather when universal peace prevails, and Jehovah will administer justice as king over all the earth. “As is the Heavenly [Christ], such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the Heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:48, 49) Such is our relationship and our privilege: our responsibility is inalienable and clearly laid down in the New Testament. We are not of the world, as Christ is not, and are crucified to the world, as it is to us. The contrast of this glorious scene, the Lord predicted, should go on till the end of the age. “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” Such too are the evident facts now. By-and-by, when the new age dawns under Messiah’s earthly reign (Rev. 11:15)! “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” It will be an order of things of which the world has had no experience; and if the casting away of Israel were the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead? (Rom. 11:15). The flowing of all nations unto Zion is the great change in that day, and cannot mean the gathering out of them, which grace is doing now, and scripture speaks of as the church of God.
“First, Therefore the Messiah is not come, because the prophecies have not been accomplished.”
“Secondly, ‘Therefore the prophecies cannot be understood as they speak but in another better sense - allegorical or spiritual, in which sense they have been and are being verified in the present church’.....
“But is it very difficult to discover another conclusion conformed to Scripture? That is,
“Thirdly, ‘Therefore the prophecies of which we speak, and many others like them, which have not been verified, nor could possibly have been in the first time of the Messiah, may very well be verified in the second, which time is not less of divine faith than the first.”
After meeting the Jewish objections, as well as the traditional opposition of Christendom, the author replies to the last, which only sees in the day of His second coming a universal judgement of the dead. “But whence was this idea taken? From the holy scriptures? Certainly not, for they oppose and contradict it at every step....Therefore we may well hope without any fear that the prophecies spoken of, with countless others like them, will be fully verified according to the letter in the second time of Messiah, since in the first they could not be. When then the second time, which we all religiously believe and expect, is arrived, there shall be, among other things, primary or principal, the elevation of Mount Zion above all the mountains and hills: a manifestly figurative expression, yet admirably proper to explain, according to the scriptures, the dignity, honour and glory to which the city of David shall be lifted up ... in which time consequently shall the nations and peoples flow toward the top of Mount Zion. What nations and peoples? Without doubt those who shall be left alive after the coming of the Lord, as it seems most clear there shall be such.....How is He to judge the quick if there be none? What nations and peoples? Without doubt those who remain alive after the utter ruin of the Antichrist......What nations and peoples? Without doubt those who remain alive after the stone falls on the statue; and, this being reduced to powder, another kingdom shall be formed on its ruins, incorruptible and everlasting embracing all under the whole heavens. How ominous that a Romish priest, spite of all the hindrances around him should have had an insight into the prophetic word so much beyond most Protestants.
[Note, the name of the author of the preceding quotation is Manuel Lacunza who signed himself Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra. The translator was the Rev. Edward Irving, 1792-1894. W. J. H.
Besides, according to our chapter and all prophecy, there will be a divine judgement executed on all (the Jews especially) before that. And this era of peace and blessing and Messianic rule is to be coincident with the supremacy of Israel, which is transparent in the predicted facts, and supposes a condition wholly distinct from that of the church, wherein there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but Christ is all and in all. But in that day Jehovah will make Zion His seat and centre. From that day the name of the city is Jehovah-Shammah (Ezek. 48:35). It is no longer, as now, the call of sovereign indiscriminating grace to heaven, but the establishment and display of divine government in Messiah over all the earth.
The prophet on the contrary sees in the vision the religious supremacy of Israel under Messiah and the new covenant, when they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah, and all the nations shall be gathered to it. For, needless to say, the voices of the prophets agree in one, whatever the several tones of Isaiah or Micah, of Jeremiah or Zechariah (Zech. 14). And the latter is important in this respect, as a prediction of the new Messianic age after Christ’s return. The Lord in view of His rejection prepared the Twelve for war, not for peace meanwhile. “Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). Those who claim to be their successors in this wholly misrepresent the Master confound the church’s place with Israel’s, shirk the fellowship of His sufferings, antedate the time of earthly peace, and deny the restoration of the kingdom to the people to whom God promised it.
It is unfounded and undiscriminating to treat this as accomplished in, or even applying to, the mission of the gospel or the calling of the church. For the gospel is the proclamation of God’s sovereign grace in Christ to save lost sinners, who thenceforth as saints suffer with Christ on earth, and wait for heavenly glory, and to reign with Him. And the church is built on the rejected but risen and glorified Christ, when the Jews disclaimed their own Messiah, and have lost meanwhile all recognition on God’s part. In the Christian accordingly there cannot be either Jew or Greek, but the new man. Christ is what all put on. By one Spirit were we all baptized into one body whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free. It is in principle a heavenly corporation, though for the present on earth; not a mere idea, but a living body.
That which follows in Isa. 2 falls in with the reference to the future blessing and glory of Israel under the new covenant, and the King Who shall reign in righteousness. For, says the prophet (v. 5), after that happy picture of the new age, “O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of Jehovah.” The vision of glory when the Gentiles would bow and bless Jehovah, how should it shame Judah now! Then, speaking directly to Him, he owns why Jehovah had forsaken His people, instead of setting them on high, even because they were replenished “from (or, more than) the east” with all that man covets and worships. “For thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they are replenished from the east, and [full of] soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of strangers. Their land is also full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots. Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made” (vv. 6-8). Their sin was quite unpardonable, that Judah, with such glorious prospects from God’s sure word, should seek heathen superstitions, not only Gentile wealth and power, but alas! their idols also.
If their land was full of silver and gold, and no end of treasures; if it was full of horses and chariots, it was also full of idols! Oh what sin and shame! “And the mean man is bowed down, and the great man is brought low: therefore forgive them not” (v. 9), cries the indignant prophet.
Lastly, he calls on them to hide in the dust because of the day of Jehovah, which undoubtedly has not yet fallen on the pride and idolatry of man. “Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, from before the terror of Jehovah, and from the glory of His majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be brought low, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day” (vv. 10, 11). The passage needs only to be read in a believing spirit, in order to convince a fair mind, that neither on the one hand Nebuchadnezzar or Titus, nor on the other the gospel, has anything to do with the Lord’s advent in accomplishing the all-embracing judgement of man which is here portrayed. The true God would break down those who idolatrously bowed down. The hand of the Highest should be on all that is high and lifted up. The idols shall utterly pass away, and men go into caves and holes from before the terror of Jehovah and from the glory of His majesty when He arises to shake mightily the earth. All will be verified when Christ appears, not before. How can Christians flatter themselves that the gospel has done or can do this work, with the great majority of mankind openly idolaters, and the great majority of the baptized really so? For what is it to bow down to the mass or the crucifix, to the virgin and saints or angels?
“For there shall be a day of Jehovah of hosts upon all that is proud and haughty, and upon all that is lifted up, and it shall be brought low; and upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan and upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up; and upon every lofty tower, and upon every fenced wall; and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant imagery. And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low: and Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols shall utterly pass away. And men shall go into the caves of the rocks and into the holes of the earth, from before the terror of Jehovah and from the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake mightily the earth. In that day a man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made for him to worship, to the moles and to the bats; to go into the caverns of the rocks, and into the clefts of the ragged rocks, from before the terror of Jehovah, and from the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake mightily the earth” (vv. 12-21). Vain then would it be to invoke the aid of man: his day will then have ended. Jehovah in that day arises to shake terribly the earth.
How confound this with the gospel! It is not yet eternity but the age to come when the idols shall utterly pass away and Jehovah alone shall be exalted. The word, therefore, is “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of?” (v. 22). Man4 as such is not able to retain his own life-breath, still less to keep others in that day. All must manifestly hang on the sovereign pleasure of Him Whose glory will be no longer hidden, and Whose will is then to be displayed in righteousness. “That day” is the day of Jehovah. Whatever the gospel may effect for believers and it makes them meet for God’s light and heavenly glory), there can be no real deliverance for the earth and the nations, till Messiah comes again in glory, executing judgement on the quick and reigning in peace. Thus, as we see in Isa. 1 that divine judgement is the revealed way in which God will restore Zion or the Jews, so does Isa. 2 make it equally plain that it is at least as needful for man universally. The judgement of him and his pride and his idols will be in the day of Jehovah, in order that all the nations may flow to Zion in heart-homage, as the beginning of Isa. 2 describes. The world-kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ will then have come (Rev. 11:15).
The Lord, according to Heb. 12:25, is now speaking from heaven, and those who heed His voice He deigns to call holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. In the church of God national distinctions vanish even now. If we are Christ’s at all, we are members of His body, and in that day we shall reign with Him over the earth, where now we suffer with Him. Then shall go forth (not the gospel as we have it in the New Testament but) the law out of Zion and Jehovah’s word from Jerusalem: no longer will it be on earth that “through Him (Christ) we both (Jew and Gentile) have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18).
Isaiah 3 - Isaiah 4.1
But universal as the prostration of human pride must be, this chapter indicates that most crushingly shall the blow fall on Jerusalem and Judah, and this not only in their public political life, but minutely and searchingly on the daughters of Zion in all their haughty littleness of vain show. Here we have this double ground for divine intervention. But is it not pertinent to ask, What has all this to do with the gospel as we have it now? Does not the prophet look at the ancient people of God as nationally on the road to ruin? Does he not here entirely pass over the present ways of grace in the gospel to tell in the next chapter the deliverance which the Messiah will effect for the escaped of Israel? Does he not here omit all reference to the call of the Gentiles to-day and the church of God, that he may hold out the hope of Israel in the Branch of Jehovah for beauty and glory? For then everyone left in Jerusalem shall be called holy, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of Zion’s daughters. “For behold the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water; the mighty man, and the man of war; the judge, and the prophet, and the diviner, and the elder; the captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the skilful enchanter. And I will give youths to be their princes, and children shall rule over them. And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the elder, and the base against the honourable. When a man shall take hold of his brother, of the house of his father, [saying,] Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler and let this ruin be under thy hand: in that day shall he swear, saying, I will not be a healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing; ye shall not make me a ruler of the people” (vv. 1-7).
What surer sign of decay and of imminent dissolution than the absence of all power among those who are in the place of authority, when those who should be the props of the state are children - not in fact, but in mind and purpose! Respect for what is officially exalted must then give place to universal contempt, and oppression and shameless malpractices flaunt without check, with anarchy the result. “For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against Jehovah, to provoke the eyes of his glory. The show of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves” (vv. 8, 9) There is no ruin without sin; and here it was frightful and shameless.
Nevertheless the evil day only brings out the faithful care of God over the righteous, as surely as the wicked meet with the due reward of their deeds. It is, however, a humiliating, as well as a sifting, time for God’s people; though the prophet declares in the most animated terms, how Jehovah espouses the cause of the poor against those who grind down their faces. “Say ye of the righteous, that [it shall be] well [with him], for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked! [it shall be] ill [with him]; for the desert of his hands shall be given him” (vv. 10, 11). God holds in a day of confusion to His righteous government, and warns. “[As for] my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. My people! they that lead thee mislead [thee], and destroy the way of thy paths. Jehovah setteth himself to plead, and standeth to judge the peoples. Jehovah will enter into judgement with the elders of his people, and the princes thereof, [saying,] It is ye that have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor [is] in your houses. What mean ye [that] ye crush my people and grind the faces of the afflicted? saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts” (vv. 12-15). Thus far the rulers and princes. Others might plunder their enemies and enrich their followers at the expense of their neighbours; but the civil and religious chiefs of Israel were so degraded and depraved as to prey on the flesh and blood of their brethren for their own greed and gain, the defenceless poor faring worst in this scene of alternate flattery and oppression. How true that the corruption of the best thing is the worst corruption!
Quite as sorrowful is the picture of domestic life. When women live for display in apparel, no further proof is needed to bring to their door the charge that the sanctity of the home is tainted, and that there is no real heart for the relations God has set up. Such finery is assuredly not for a husband or the family, but, small as it is, it escapes not the withering notice of the Judge of all. Dress, gait, glances, are all noticed by the Spirit of God. “And Jehovah saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks, and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and Jehovah will discover their secret parts. In that day the Lord will take away the ornament of anklets, and the networks, and the crescents, the pendants, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the head-tires, and the ankle-chains, and the sashes, and the perfume-boxes, and the amulets, the rings, and the nose-jewels, the festival-robes and the mantles, and the shawls, and the bags (or purses), the mirrors, and the fine linen, and the turbans, and the flowing veils. And it shall come to pass, instead of sweet spices there shall be rottenness; and instead of a girdle, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a stomacher, a girding of sackcloth; branding instead of beauty. Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she, stripped (or desolate), shall sit upon the ground” (vv. 16-26).
How in the face of such a prolonged strain of detail as this can any one theorist as we all know has been done, on the essential contrast of history as particular facts with prophecy as general principles? Nowhere in the Bible or out of it does any historian so copiously and minutely expose that luxury which internally ruins a people in their homes as does Isaiah here, after dealing a deadly blow at their dishonour of the true God and hankering after false. It were more true to say that along with the infinitely great, the inspired prophecy penetrates and lays bare the smallest things as alike coming under God’s eyes. History in man’s hand would be ashamed to go down so low. Poor, proud, deceived man! Not only is there a change, and an exposure most humiliating to pride, but so complete would be the desolation, that the dearth of men is described as tempting women to a boldness contrary to female modesty. “And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name. Take away our reproach” (Isa. 4:1). Sober men will be surprised to hear it was an ancient notion of the spiritualizing school that the “one man” is Christ, and the “seven women” believers! Possibly this absurd result of departing from its obvious and real meaning may account for the severance of the verse from Isa. 3. and transferring it to Isa. 4, where the Branch at once follows.
But this time of tribulation, everywhere in scripture connected with the Jews in the last days, before they are delivered, is followed by an outshining of beauty and glory, and abundant mercy for the saved and holy remnant. “In that day shall the Branch of Jehovah be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel” (v. 2). The Branch is a favourite and frequent figure for the Messiah, as the reader of Jeremiah and Zechariah will recognize. He will be there in His beauty and glory, and all will be in unison for the escaped of Israel. However many the slain, this one Man will be the restorer of all breaches, and holiness will be a reality, and not a mere name, in Jerusalem. Yet it is not by the gospel of grace as now, but expressly “by the spirit of judgement and by the spirit of burning.” “And it shall come to pass, [that] he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, [even] every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem; when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgement, and by the spirit of burning” (vv. 3, 4). The translation of J. D. Michaelis is “by the righteous zeal of the tribunals and by a destructive wind.” Rationalism sinks yet lower than superstition. The truth alone preserves the dignity of the divine word. It is not the church but Israel which is in question, and her purification by judgement, when the manifested presence of Jehovah will follow, and be her security no less than her glory.
Vitringa’s application of the spirit of judgement and that of destruction to the Holy Spirit guiding the ruler and ministers of the church in discrimination, is the old source of endless error - the turning aside of Jewish scripture to an essentially Christian object. It is manifestly the day of righteous judgement on earth, and especially in its metropolis, Jerusalem, though one deny not for a moment the action of the Spirit to be here meant, but in judicial power. First purity is effected, then glory shines brightly on Zion. “And Jehovah will create over every dwelling place of mount Zion, and over her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flame of fire by night; for over all the glory [shall be] a canopy. And there shall be a booth (or tabernacle) for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a refuge and for a covert from storm and from rain” (vv. 6, 6). Even as the cloudy pillar once covered the tabernacle of the divine presence, so Jehovah will create on every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and on her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flame of fire by night; for upon all the glory shall be a canopy.
The attempt to refer to the gospel these revelations of coming glory for Israel, after purging trial, involves in the highest degree a distortion of scripture. During the present dispensation they are enemies for our sakes, as regards the gospel; while, as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers (Rom. 11:28). When that day comes, the fullness of the Gentiles shall have come in, and so all Israel shall be saved. It is a total change from this day of grace to judgement-day for the living when Christ reigns, whatever the mercy of God to the rescued out of Israel and the nations. “In that day shall there be one Jehovah and His name one.” Then shall be the deliverance, not the destruction, of the still groaning creation. “All the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem: and it shall be lifted up and inhabited in her place, from Benjamin’s gate unto the place of the first gate, unto the corner gate, and from the tower of Hananeel unto the king’s winepresses” (Zech. 14:9, 10). It is not the past nor the present neither is it the eternal state, but the millennium. It is an epoch of glory when Jehovah will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth, and the earth shall hear the corn and the wine and the oil, and they shall hear Jezreel. Divine judgement shall have washed away the guilt of Zion, and the glory shall return both more blessedly than at the first and for ever. What can contrast more with our day of suffering grace, absent as we are from the Lord?
Manifestly the figures employed do not suit heaven but the earth, especially the land and people of Israel; which again demonstrates that it is no question here of eternity when all distinctions of land and race are passed away. To apply so bright a description to the refuge provided for some in Pella, when the storm of wrath overtook the guilty people, is wholly misleading, as well as beneath the language used. So it is wide of the mark to look at the history of the apostolic church as the fulfilment of the prophecy in the gifts of the Spirit, and in the judgements on open persecutors. It is really a vision of future divine glory for Israel on the earth, after judgements, under the Messiah, when we shall reign (not on, but) “over” it, as it should be in Rev. 5:10. Thus only does all scripture fall into its due place without violence to any. Eph. 1:10-12 and Col. 1:20 lay the dogmatic foundation for this immense and blessed expectation, as Rev. 21:9 et seqq. give us the glorious vision prophetically.
Let us now listen to one of the best of the so-called spiritualising, but really allegorising, school on this chapter. “It is commonly agreed that this prediction has been only partially fulfilled, and that its complete fulfilment is to be expected, not in the literal Mount Zion, or Jerusalem, but in those various assemblies or societies of true believers, which now possess in common the privileges once exclusively enjoyed by the Holy City and the chosen race of which it was the centre and metropolis” (Dr. J. A. Alexander’s Comm. on Isaiah, i. 122).
One essential contrast overthrows this assumption. Israel was divinely severed from the Gentiles by the partition-wall. For the church it is gone absolutely: we are one body in Christ. In that day Israel is a blessing to the nations; yet are they distinct, and never joined in one body but the contrary. We are now united to Christ in heaven, where such distinctions are unsuited. On the earth, even when Christ reigns over it, they reappear. It is the kingdom, in the beginning of Isa. 2, with the undisguised exaltation of the chosen people, yet the nations blessed and subject to Jehovah’s reign in Zion. So Isa. 4. shows the Branch Who alone produces in Israel such excellent fruit, after His judgement has purged the guilty. The intervening part of Isa. 2 and all Isa. 3 unveils the evil and ruin of Zion publicly and privately. Judgement begins at God’s house. What will it be for Christendom still more favoured? The New Testament answers definitely without confounding the professing church with Israel, though we may and ought to use the principle in every case possible. The most ordinary creeds acknowledge that the Lord Jesus will come to judge the quick, as well as the dead. None but open infidels would deny the judgement of the dead. Few alas! really believe in the judgement of the living. Yet it is of this the Lord so often warned, as in Matt. 24, 25, Mark 13, Luke 17 as well as 21, which Christendom relegates to the end of the world; whereas it will be at the end of this age, after which will come the future good age, the blessed era on which the Psalms and the Prophets dwell with delight and joyful anticipation. Of this our chapter is a witness, as also is the beginning of Isa. 2, while its latter part speaks of the humiliation of man and the overthrow of evil under Jehovah’s hand when ushering in His day.
The comparison of Isa. 5 with Isa. 6 illustrates most strikingly the ways of God in the judgement of His people. They are quite distinct. Indeed Isa. 6. comes in abruptly in outward form, itself distinct from what follows down to Isa. 9:7 inclusively. All this intervening portion (Isa. 6:1-13) forms a strikingly peculiar parenthesis, but a parenthesis of profound interest and instruction; after which the strain of woe, begun in Isa. 5, is resumed in the thickening disasters of Israel and of the land up to their mighty and everlasting deliverance, which yet awaits its accomplishment in the latter day.
But if these chapters were distinct in time as they certainly are in character, the Spirit of God has been pleased to set them in immediate juxtaposition with a view to our better admonition. In fact they are the two-fold principle or standard of judgement which God is wont to apply to His people. In the one He would have us to look back, in the other to look forward; in the former by all He has done for them He measures what they should have been toward Him; in the latter He judges them by His own glory manifested in their midst. The one answers to the law by which is the knowledge of sin; the other to the glory of God, from which every soul comes short (Rom. 3:20, 23)
In Isa. 5 the prophet sings a song of Jehovah, his well beloved, about His vineyard. Moses had already (Deut. 32) spoken in the ears of Israel a song which celebrates in magnificent language the sovereign choice and blessing of God, the sins and punishment of the people, but withal His final mercy to His land and people, with whom the spared nations are to rejoice. Our chapter takes in a narrower field of view.
“I will sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well beloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill; and he dug it up, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine; and he built a tower in the midst of it, and also hewed a winepress therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (vv. 1, 2). There was no failure on God’s part. He had established Israel in the most favourable position, separated them to Himself, removed stumbling-blocks, crowned them with favours, vouchsafed not only protection but every means of blessing. “And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?” was His appeal to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah (vv. 3, 4). Yet was all in vain. The result was only bad fruit. “Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” They, like Adam, transgressed the covenant. It was the old story over again. Human responsibility ends in total ruin. Man departs from God and corrupts his way on the earth. “And now let me tell you what I am about to do to my vineyard; I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down; and I will lay it waste - it shall not be pruned nor hoed; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of Jehovah of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgement, but behold bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold a cry” (vv. 5-7 Such is His own application of the parable. Thus the nation, as a whole, is weighed in the divine balances, and found wanting. So manifest and grievous is the case, that God challenges the men of Judah to judge between Him and His vineyard, though they themselves are the degenerate trees in question. There was no more doubt of the goodness shown to Israel than of their obligation to yield fruit for God. But obligation produces no fruit meet for Him. What was the consequence on such a ground as this? Nothing but woe after woe. Their doom would be according to their guilt.
The truth is that, on the footing of responsibility, every creature has failed save One, Who was the Creator, whatever might be His lowly condescension in appearing within the ranks of men. And what is the secret of victory for the believer now or of old? We must be above mere humanity in order to walk as saints; yea, in a sense, be above our duty in order rightly to accomplish it. As of old, those only walked blamelessly according to the law, who looked to the Messiah in living faith; so saints now can glorify God in a holy righteous walk, only as they are under grace, not law. The sense of deliverance and perfect favour in the sight of God frees and strengthens the soul where there is the new life; the written word illustrated in Christ is the Christian rule. Therein, not in the law, is the true transcript of God.
It will be observed, accordingly, that there is nothing of Christ here as the means and channel of grace. Consequently all is unrelieved darkness and death; and the prophet presses home the evidence of overwhelming constant evil in the people of God. Not a ray of comfort or even hope breaks through, but only their sins and His judgements chime continually. It is the severity of God, Who did not spare the natural branches, as the apostle says in Rom. 11:21. Detailed sin is retributively dealt with, as under the government of God in His people. A sixfold series of bold and open sins then follows with their punishments from Jehovah.
“Woe unto them that join house to house, [that] lay field to field, till [there be] no room, and ye be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land! In mine ears [saith] Jehovah of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall be desolate, [even] great and fair, without inhabitant. For ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield [but] an ephah. Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, [that] they may follow strong drink; that tarry late into the night, [till] wine inflame them! And the harp and the lute, the tabret and the pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of Jehovah, neither have they considered the operation of his hands. Therefore my people are gone into captivity, for lack of knowledge; and their honourable men [are] famished, and their multitude [are] parched with thirst. Therefore Sheol hath enlarged her desire, and opened her mouth without measure; and their glory, and their multitude, and their tumult, and he that rejoiceth among them, descend [into it]. And the mean man is bowed down, and the great man is humbled, and the eyes of the lofty are humbled: but Jehovah of hosts is exalted in judgement, and God the Holy One is sanctified in righteousness. Then shall the lambs feed as in their pasture, and the waste places of the fat ones shall wanderers eat. Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope; that say, Let him make speed, let him hasten his work, that we may see [it]; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know [it]! Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto [them that are] wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe unto [them that are] mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink; who justify the wicked for a reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! Therefore as the tongue of fire devoureth the stubble, and as the dry grass sinketh down in the flame, [so] their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have rejected the law of Jehovah of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (vv. 8-24).
There is a woe to such as joined house to house and field to field, reckless of all but their own aggrandizement: Jehovah shall desolate so that their coveted vineyards and lands shall yield but a tithe of what they put in (vv. 8-10). There is a woe to the luxurious hunters of social pleasure: captivity shall drain them, and Hades itself shall swallow up the mean and the mighty - multitudes without measure (vv. 11-17). And as for the bold sinners who scoffingly invited Jehovah to make speed that they might see His work (vv. 18, 19); and for the moral corrupters, who broke down all moral distinction, and the wise in their own eyes, who could do without God, and the unjust friends of the wicked, whose heroism was in wine and strong drink, being foes of the righteous, there is woe upon woe with utter destruction; “because they have cast away the law of Jehovah of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (vv. 20-24).
“Therefore is the anger of Jehovah kindled against his people and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them, and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses [were] as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand [is] stretched out still. And he will lift up an ensign to the nations afar off, and will hiss for them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly: none shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken: their arrows [are] sharp, and all their bows bent; their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind. Their roaring [shall be] like a lioness, they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall growl, and lay hold of the prey, and carry [it] away safe, and there shall be none to deliver. And they shall roar against them in that day like the roaring of the sea. And if [one] look unto the land, behold darkness [and] distress, and the light is darkened in the clouds thereof” (vv. 25-30).
He had dealt with them already, but the strokes are not exhausted. “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand [is] stretched out still.” Such is the sad and recurring burden, as may be seen in chapters 9, 10. The avenging nations may be far away; but He would give the signal to them and the hiss (as for one far off), and “behold, they shall come with speed lightly.” A most graphic picture follows of their vigour and promptness, their equipment and fierce determination from which none can shield or escape. Against Israel shall these foes roar. But they are not yet defined by name. “And if one look unto the land, behold darkness [and] distress, and the light is darkened in the heavens (or clouds) thereof.” Such is the lot of man, or rather here of Israel, where Christ is not. There is no deliverance, only judgement after judgement on the people and the land. Unrelieved darkness rests there. Such is the issue of Israel in their land, of Judah and Jerusalem tried under law, no matter what the favours of Jehovah on His vineyard and the plant of His pleasures. If He waited for judgement, behold bloodshed; if for righteousness, behold a cry. What on this ground could follow but woe upon woe?
This chapter opens a very different scene. It is not the law, but Jehovah revealed. Not that the people are one whit better; in fact it was only when Christ appeared seven centuries afterward, that man fully disclosed what he was and is. The law proved that man is not only sinful but loves sin; Christ’s presence proved that he hates good - hates God Himself manifested in all the purity and lowliness, in the grace and truth, of Jesus. It was not only, then, that man was himself failing and guilty; but when an object was there in every way worthy of love and homage and worship, the perfect display of man to God and of God to man, He was a light so odious and intolerable to man, that he could not rest till it was extinguished as far as he could effect it. Still we are on ground sensibly and strikingly distinct; and this because the manifestation of Jehovah is in question, not the responsibility of Israel merely. Both chapters show the people judged, but the principles of judgement are wholly different.
It was not in Uzziah’s palmy days that the prophet received this vision of glory and this solemn commission, but in the year when the once prosperous and now leprosy-smitten son of David breathed his last. Nevertheless “the year that king Uzziah died” looked very different from “the year that king Ahaz died” (Isa. 14:28). Yet in the former came the vision which fully disclosed to the prophet the universal uncleanness of God’s people; as in the latter a burden came on that enemy which vexed their south-western flank. In the former year, too, came Pekah to the throne of Israel, who laid the deadliest scheme with the Gentiles to destroy the line and hope of Messiah. Then, however, Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up, and the mere skirts of His glory filled the temple.
“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, [is] Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth [is] full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke” (vv. 14). No vision more glorious had ever burst on human eyes: but if the attendant burning spirits embraced the fullness of the earth as the scene of His glory, His holiness was their first care and chiefest cry. Activity even in the winged seraphim is not all nor most. Not all six wings did each need for flight, but two only. “With twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet,” in awe toward God and shame as to himself, in both the reverence that befits them in His presence.
The effect was immediate on the prophet. It is no longer woe unto these or those, but “woe to me.” He is profoundly touched with a sense of sin and ruin - his own and the people’s. But it is uttered in His presence Whose grace is no less than His glory and His holiness, and the remedy is at once applied. “Then said I, Woe to me! for I am undone; for I [am] a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts. And there flew one of the seraphim to me, having a live coal in his hand, [which] he had taken with tongs from off the altar; and he laid [it] upon my mouth and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is expiated” (vv. 5-7). Nor this only: for thus set free in His presence, he becomes the ready servant of His will. Before this there was no haste to act, but deep self-judgement, and true sense of the defiled state of His people, in the light of His glory. “Also I heard the voice of Jehovah, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here [am] I; send me. And he said, Go and tell this people, Hear indeed, but understand not; and see indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make its ears heavy, and smear its eyes: lest it see with its eyes, and hear with its ears, and its heart understand, and it be converted, and be healed” (vv. 8-10).
Grace thus gives confidence to do God’s bidding; and though the sentence on the guilty people of God is an awful one, not only is it most righteous, but a remnant of grace is assured in the face of consuming judgement on judgement. This is not the way of the gospel which reveals Christ bearing divine judgement, but the believer saved in sovereign grace, made meet for sharing the inheritance of the saints in light at any moment, and waiting for Christ’s coming as the chief joy. Judgement must be before the kingdom come for the remnant of Israel. Such is the charge, and we know how surely it was fulfilled in the judicial blindness which fell on the nation, when they confessed not their uncleanness and beheld no glory nor beauty in Christ present in their midst, and refused the testimony of the Holy Ghost to Him risen and exalted by the right hand of God.
But the Spirit of prophecy, if it pronounce the sentence of God on the people’s unbelief, is none the less a spirit of intercession. “Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted for want of an inhabitant, and the houses for want of man, and the land be utter desolation; and Jehovah have removed men far away, and have multiplied forsakings in the midst of the land. But yet in it [shall be] a tenth, and it shall return and be for consuming; as the terebinth and the oak, whose stock [remaineth] when cut down: the holy seed [shall be] the stock (or trunk) thereof” (vv 11-13). That is, a vital principle survives, the nucleus of what will sprout again.
Nor is there a more surprising moral fact than the accomplishment of this divine sentence on the Jews to this day. Thousands of years have elapsed. The Messiah came, and confirmed it (John 12:40); the Holy Spirit followed, sent of Him and the Father, and He has fully ratified it (Acts 28:26, 27). No recondite arguments are needed, no evidence from Nineveh or Babylon, from Egypt or Palestine. There the Jews are before all eyes, dead while they live, the standing witnesses of judicial blindness indicted, after incomparable patience with their unbelief, by their own aggrieved and thrice Holy God, Jehovah of hosts. And the mark is proved all the more indelible, because they were not permitted to abide in the land they defiled, which was to become utterly waste, and themselves removed far away.
Yet dispersed as they are everywhere, and really amalgamating nowhere, no changing circumstances change the Jews any more than lapse of ages: a fact which staggered the incredulous Hegel as inexplicable, but failed to convince; for unbelief is invincible to nature. And what adds to the wonder is that they outwardly honour the Old Testament, which we Christians believe as fully as our own scriptures. But like the philosopher, though staggered by Law and Psalms and Prophets that teach the sufferings of Messiah and the glories to follow, as well as their own scattering for unbelief, and the call of Gentiles during that sad interval, the Jews believe no more than the philosopher. But this prophecy, with others, makes it plain and accounts for all; and He Who smote with blindness has made it known here to them as to us; and, blessed be His name, He has set a limit to the sentence of woe. For the prophet that knew His grace said not in vain, “Lord, how long?” They are kept for His blessing and glory in the end. But oh, what tribulation and sifting and consuming yet! Burning judgement is to be their means of purifying in a way wholly distinct from what ushered the church into its place, a still more solemn and unique judgement having been borne by Him, Who died, rose, and ascended to be its Head. The Jews must pass through the tribulation which has no parallel (Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24) before their deliverance comes. “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer. 30:7).
Thus, if the departure from God is to be punished with outward and inward visitation, a remnant is clearly indicated here, mercy rejoicing against judgement, and God making good His own glory in both respects. But that returned remnant must be thinned under the pruning hand of Jehovah. Still the holy seed shall be there, the stock or rooted stump5 of the nation, when judgement has done its work over and over again. There is ever a remnant according to the election of grace.
We may also observe that, while Isa. 5 begins the impeachment of Israel’s guilt as responsible under the law, Isa. 6 first and briefly presents their sin in despising Christ’s glory or disbelieving it, as John 12:40 applies this prophecy. So far is the earlier half of the book from being heterogeneous with the later, that these are just the twofold Indictment which we had there, expanded and applied with mature and touching beauty.
In the last chapter we saw the glory of Christ revealed, and the assurance of a holy seed after the judgement of the land and people. We have now a weighty sequel recounting facts which occurred, not in the year king Uzziah died, nor even in the days of his successor, but strange as it might seem, in those of Ahaz. “This is that king Ahaz,” who without faith in Jehovah sent to the kings of Assyria for help. Sacrilegious he and at last apostate, Jehovah brought Judah low because of Ahaz, of David’s line; for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against Jehovah. Even in the midst of his distress he trespassed yet more. Hence the occasion for a fresh outburst of prophetic light. It could not otherwise have been clearly gathered how the glory of Christ was actually to appear. Our chapter solves this question, and connects His incarnation (for indeed He is God, yea, Jehovah) with His rejection and His final and everlasting triumph (Isa. 8; Isa. 9:1-7). The first part alone comes before us now.
The occasion was the offensive and profane alliance of Rezin, king of Syria, with Pekah, Remaliah’s son and king of Israel, against Judah and Ahaz. “And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, [that] Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart shook, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (vv. 1, 2). There were they in great fear, where no fear was, and this, alas! in Jerusalem and David’s house; and no wonder, for the heir of David’s throne walked not like David his father, but in the ways of the kings of Israel or worse, and drew Judah with him into sore transgression against Jehovah. Panic-stricken, yet in no way driven by his distress to God, on the self-same spot where Rabshakeh uttered his blasphemies against Jehovah at a later day, “the aqueduct of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field,” Ahaz is met by the prophet. “And Jehovah said to Isaiah, Go out now to meet Ahaz, thou and Shear-jashub thy son, at the end of the aqueduct of the upper pool, on the highway of the fuller’s field. And thou shalt say unto him, Take heed and be quiet; fear not, and let not thy heart faint before these two ends (tails) of smoking firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. Inasmuch as Syria hath taken evil counsel against thee, Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, saying, Let us go up against Judah, and harass it, and make a breach therein for us, and set up a king therein, the son of Tabeal” (vv 3-6)
How foolish, as well as base, is unbelief! It is joyous and confident when a labouring volcano is about to burst; it is filled with anguish, when God is going to deal with the evils it dreads. In this case, how could He behold in peace a compact between apostate Israel and heathen Syria? It was not merely that their enterprise, if successful, must vex Judah, but set aside David’s line. It was a blow at the Messiah, little as they might have thought of this; and the oath and honour of God were thus at stake. But “thus saith the Lord Jehovah, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria [is] Damascus, and the head of Damascus [is] Rezin; and within sixty-five years shall Ephraim be broken, so as to be not a people. And the head of Ephraim [is] Samaria, and the head of Samaria [is] Remaliah’s son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established” (vv. 7-9).
How blessed are the ways of God! The effort to destroy, which seemed so awful to its objects, especially as their conscience was bad, led at once to the revelation of the doom of the destroyers. The confederacy came to naught. The Syrian chief would not avail to shield more guilty Ephraim; for it was sentenced - yea, to be so broken as not to be a people, within sixty-five years; and so it fell out to the letter (2 Kings 17). The chief of Ephraim’s capital is paraded before us like his ally in due form and title. Such would each remain, and no more. Who were they to dispute the counsels of God as to David’s royal line, let Ahaz be personally faithless and false as he was? God at least is God, and His word shall stand for ever, though surely unbelief shall not be established, whether in Ephraim or in Judah. God’s people, God’s king; how inexcusable, if such failed in faith!
One can understand why rationalists cavil at the sixty-five years, challenge its accuracy, and reason on its being no answer to the anxiety of Ahaz. It does prove how specific is prophecy, and this beyond the present moment; for it is the exact point when Ephraim, suffering repeated blows, was not only swept away but excluded from the land by Esarhaddon’s importation of foreigners. It opens the way for the great prediction still farther off. For this was only the prelude to the weightier announcement that follows. “And Jehovah spoke again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask for thee a sign from Jehovah thy God: ask it in the depth or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt Jehovah” (vv 10-12). Alas! how often the hypocrisy of unbelief thus essays to hide its contempt of Jehovah; and through presumption, which really despises the word of His grace, assumes the garb of superior reverence and humility. The prophet, however, sees through the cheat put forward by an evil heart of unbelief, and calls now on the house of David to hear, not alone his reproof, but what the Lord Himself was to give. Ahaz shrank from God even in His goodness. Flesh never trusts God. It is bent on its own will and instinctively avoids grace, which must assert and give effect to the will of God.
Ahaz did not like God to draw too near. God answered it by Immanuel - God with us. “And he said, Hear then, house of David. [Is it] a small matter for you to weary men, that ye weary also my God? Therefore will Jehovah Himself give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel. Curds and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and to choose the good” (vv. 13-15) Was it not the most marvellous grace so to promise to such a man? Yet in truth grace condemns unbelief and all other sin as the law never did or could. Had Ahaz asked any sign within his range of earth and heaven, how immeasurably short of God’s! If man refuses to ask through unbelief, God fails not to give a sign for His own glory: the virgin’s Son, the woman’s Seed, Immanuel! What thoughts, feelings, and facts cluster here together! What grace and truth, God and man united in one person! The security of David’s royal line and rights, how much more than the predicted ruin of plotting Ephraim, in the presence of the sign, the truth of truths - God with us! Yet was it the assurance, if its grandeur betokened other and higher glories, that no conspiracy could prosper which struck at the Root and Offspring of David.
It is well known that the Jews have made desperate efforts to evade this luminous testimony to the Incarnation in their own prophet. First they exaggerate the difference between “almah” and “bethulah”. (confessedly the latter is the more common word for virgin, for the former occurs in not more than six passages beside the one before us. But it is certain that in Joel 1. 8 “b’thulah” is employed for a young married woman, which is never the case with “almah”; see also Deut. 22:19. For the argument on Prov. 30:19, 20 is quite invalid to prove it synonymous with an adulterous woman. In the present instance the context requires the sense of virgin with the utmost precision; for in a young married woman’s bearing a son there is no sign or wonder. It was from the first known that the Deliverer of man from the serpent-enemy of the race must be born of woman in some distinctive way; it was known that He must be also son of Abraham, in the line of Isaac and Jacob, of Judah and David. It is now narrowed to a virgin therefore, by necessary implication, of that royal house. The virgin should be pregnant and bear Him; a sign indeed! in one sense explained, in another enhanced, by the capital truth that He should be God - of divine nature as truly as the woman’s Seed. The virgin’s Son is Immanuel, the Lord Jehovah, Whose glory the prophet had seen in connection with the preservation of a holy seed, spite of their repeated desolations. Thus the person of the Messiah, and specifically the solution of the enigma of His divine being, yet in association with the family of David, is fully cleared up.
Hence the Septuagint (a version made before the dispute arose) very properly gives here (as in Gen. 24:43)
ἡ παρθένος, whereas Aquila and Symmachus chose
νεᾶνις . But it is plain that even the latter cannot get rid of the truth intended in the context; and the wild interpretations of some Jews and all Rationalists prove how hard set they are to evade its truth. In Solomon’s Song (6:8), where the Septuagint translates the Hebrew term as
νεάνιδες the strict meaning of virgins is certain; for it is distinguished from
παλλαχαί , and, like our word “maidens,” can only be used as “virgins,” as Rashi seems to allow in his comment on chapter 1. 3. Nor can there well be a more glaring instance of an offensive prejudice than Gesenius’ abandonment of the evident source of the word in “alam”, to “hide,”6 in order to justify a more vague origin from an Arabic source.
Again, the most recent Jewish version known to me, that of Isaac Leeser, renders the article by the demonstrative. This is illegitimate. The object clearly is to refer the person in question to a young person then present. Nevertheless Mr. Leeser is more candid in his rendering of “harah” than some of his brethren and their rationalistic followers; for he, like Rashi before him, correctly renders it “shall conceive,” not “is with child.” Probably the latter considered the prophet’s wife to be in question, and the child to be the same as Maher-shalal-hashbaz. Here the Rabbis are in conflict. Thus Kimchi held that the young woman could not be Isaiah’s wife (for she must then have been designated the prophetess, as in chap. 8:3), and therefore conceived her to be the wife of Ahaz, and imagined for them an unknown son named Immanuel. Aben Ezra is at issue with both; for he held it to be a third son of the prophetess, and so rather approached Rashi; but with Kimchi he held the sign to be the child’s eating cream and honey as soon as born. No more words are needed to expose such views. Even Kimchi disposes of Isaiah and the prophetess by asking how then the land could be called Immanuel’s land.7
Manifestly the Jews do not agree, save in opposing the only interpretation which carries with it a clear and noble sense, yet to be the joy of repentant Israel. The notion that Hezekiah was the virgin’s son is wholly inadmissible; for as Ahaz reigned sixteen years, and he himself was twenty-five years of age when he began to reign, he must have been a boy at least eight years old before his father’s reign began; and hence no prediction of his birth could have been made by Isaiah to Ahaz already on the throne. There is not a hint in scripture of Ahaz taking another wife after his accession and the announcement; still less is there room for a personage so wonderful, to say the least, as the Immanuel to be born, Who should altogether eclipse Hezekiah and break off the yoke of the Assyrian from the neck of Israel, the glorious person to bring in the glorious state promised in Isa. 9:6, 7.
It is as plain as can be on the face of these chapters that Shear-jashub (= the remnant shall return) was already born, and was the prophet’s companion, as we see at the beginning of Isa. 7. Not less plain is it that Maher-shalal-hash-baz (= hasten prey, speed spoil, Isa. 8) was to be born of the prophetess. Both distinctly set forth the great events of undying interest to Israel, the one pledging the return of the remnant, the other intimating the Assyrian attack and its consequences. Why trust the Assyrian who should spoil the holy land? Why dread the kings who were so soon to be swept away? But between the two comes a wholly different promise, the virgin’s Son, excluding in all fairness of exposition both the king and the prophet with their children. His name Immanuel (God with us) speaks incomparably better things; and it reappears after the prophet’s second son, and even after the horrors represented by his name, when devastation had done its worst. But woe to those who meddle with Thy land, O Immanuel! Israel, and Judah, and David’s house may too justly bring down the chastening, and “the king” in the land at the end be yet worse than the unworthy politician who then held the sceptre. The ruin may seem complete, deliverance hopeless; but Immanuel! that is, God is with us. Such is the general outline. Further details are yet to be given in their place. We shall see that the following chapters, both in the extent and nature of Israel’s distress and evil, the changed relation of God to His people, and above all the glorious interposition of Immanuel, go far beyond any present or proximate encouragement to Israel (though there was this of course), and look on to days still future and quite distinct from anything meanwhile accomplished by Christ for the Christian or the church.
Nothing can be more apposite than “the sign” Jehovah gave, little as the feeble and self-willed Ahaz might appreciate it. For the coalition of the king of Israel with him of Syria was to depose the house of David and set up Ben-Tabeal over Judah. Man would have counted it enough to promise that his son Hezekiah, and his son, and so on, should succeed; and this would have been much to comfort one who simply confided in a promise through a divinely sent prophet. But as howsoever many the promises of God, in Christ is the Yea, so through Him too is the Amen for glory to God by us. Hence for the Jew all is made to centre in the Messiah. Not merely shall a remnant return, but the Seed of promise, the virgin’s Son, be born. Put this birth as far off as you please from the time of Ahaz, only thereby do you render more conspicuous the voice of God in prophecy and the sure mercies of David. The righteous covenant of God would not fail to judge what an Ahaz and a Manasseh, a Jehoiakim, a Jehoiachin, and a Zedekiah would sow, spite of a faithful Hezekiah or a godly Josiah. But Immanuel was an indefectible assurance that no confederacy could put down David’s house finally. Messiah, Son of David, is the divine guarantee. The virgin must bear Him of that stock; the virgin’s Son must also be, in some true though mysterious way, God Himself. Immanuel ensures that God’s purpose of blessing shall stand and be established for ever.
It has been observed that the “son” Immanuel, in ver. 14 appears not to be “the youth” of ver. 16; which last refers rather to Shear-jashub, who for this reason seems to have accompanied the prophet. And it is pertinent to observe that the Hebrew here is neither “son” nor “child” strictly, but “the youth” or “lad”. “For before the youth knoweth to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land, because of whose two kings thou art alarmed, shall be forsaken (Cf. Isa. 6:11). Jehovah will bring upon thee and upon thy father’s house days which have not come since the day when Ephraim turned away from Judah - the king of Assyria” (vv. 16, 17). Great as the disaster had been under Jeroboam, a greater was at hand, with triumph in the end. It will be noticed, accordingly, that here we have Isaiah turning from “the house of David,” “ye” and “you” to “thou” etc. that is Ahaz. Compare vers. 13, 14 with 16, 17. And it is certain that the prophet’s child Shear-jashub had the character of a “sign” (see Isa. 8:18), though and of course very distinct from God’s great sign, the virgin’s Son. From verse 16 the king was to learn, that before the youth (who appears almost certainly to be Shear-jashub) arrived at years of discretion, the allied kings must disappear from the scene. And so they did: for three years more scarce passed when the kings of Israel and Syria fell before the treachery or might of their enemies.
It is only fair to add that some Christians, who fully see the Incarnation here, understand all the verses (14-16) to refer to Immanuel. Some even go so far as to accept the notion of certain Rabbis that the prophet in spirit beholds the virgin already pregnant, on the principle of prophecy anticipating the fact sometimes as though present. Others again, by the youth or lad of v. 16, understand any youngling, not one in particular. but whatever be the shade of difference in detail, the unique fact stands indelible in its majestic outline.
The difficulty urged as to “the land” which should be forsaken, whose two kings were an object of abhorrence or alarm to Ahaz, is imaginary. The land or ground “adamah” is not at all restricted to the sense of a single country. It is a word susceptible of considerable variety of meaning, as the context may require, from land or ground in the narrowest sense, to an entire country or several countries, or even to the superficial world at large the habitable earth. Thus in “all the families of the earth” its force is extended comprehensively; and here the two kings define it as the land, not of one only, but of them both. compare as to this Isa. 8:4, “For before the child [Maher-shalalhash-baz] shall have knowledge to cry, My father and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.” See also 2 Kings 15:29, 30; 2 Kings 16:9. The “two kings” would seem to be, therefore those of Syria and Samaria or Israel, and “the land,” that which pertained to each. The Messianic interpretation of ver. 14 rests on an irrefragable basis, whether or not it be continued to verses 15, 16, and the application of the two kings to those of Israel and Syria.
Should guilty Ahaz and Judah, then, go unpunished? In no wise, as the prophet proceeds to let him know. “And it shall come to pass in that day, [that] Jehovah will hiss for the fly that [is] in the uppermost part of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that [is] in the land of Assyria; and they shall come and settle all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and on all thorn-bushes, and on all the pastures” (vv. 18, 19). The faith of Hezekiah might stay the execution of Judah’s judgement, and the king of Assyria was rebuked for a season. But even Josiah, faithful as he was, suffered for his rash opposition to “the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt”; and “the bee that is in the land of Assyria” stung yet more fiercely at the summons of Jehovah. “In that day will Jehovah with a razor hired beyond the river, with the king of Assyria, shave the head and the hair of the feet, yea, it will also consume the beard. And it shall come to pass in that day, [that] a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep. And it shall come to pass for the abundance of milk [that] they shall give, he shall eat curds: for curds and honey shall every one eat [that is] left in the land. And it shall come to pass in that day, [that] every place where were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings shall become briars and thorns. With arrows and with bow shall they come thither, because the whole land shall become briars and thorns. And all the hills that were hoed with the hoe, thither they will not come for fear of briars and thorns; but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of sheep” (vv. 20-25). The character of Israel’s land should thus be wholly changed; and so complete is the desolation ensuing, that the owner of a young cow and two sheep would find the amplest range for his scanty flock in the wilderness that succeeded to the rich cornfields of Palestine, and himself be fed on the nourishment proper to wandering hordes, not on the food of cultivated land. What a picture! Yes, and the best of vineyards (compare Cant. 8:11) becomes a bed of briars and thorns; and men cannot pass unprotected by bows and arrows; and the carefully tended hills are turned into a place for oxen and lesser cattle. So dark as well as minute are the lines in which the sorrowful change in Juda is set before her king.
Thus the league Ahaz dreaded came to nothing; but the Assyrian on whom he leaned became the rod for the guilty king and people. God will be the refuge of His people, and turns the resource of unbelief into their scourge. Here the Assyrian pursues his sweeping ravages unchecked for a season. The figure of shaving as with a razor is expressive and obvious; but here it is carried out into striking details. It is not the head only that is thus stripped bare, but the least and lowest and scantiest parts of the body politic; as the beard represents that which in feelings then prevalent was most sensitive of dishonour. The closing verses set forth a vivid picture of the results of spoliation, where an agricultural people are reduced to a handful of stragglers living on pastoral produce that cost little or no labour. We must not confound a land flowing with milk and honey, the normal state of the land and people, and a man here or there keeping a young cow and two sheep, yet from that scanty stock finding such abundance of milk as to eat curds or butter. No corn, wine, or oil; no grapes or olives, figs or pomegranates; no exchange of harvest or stock produce for commodities amidst a numerous and thriving population; but thorns and briars where had been the richest vineyards, and one going thither with arrows and the bow; and what was once sedulously tilled consigned to cattle great or small.
We have already the two great parties of which the prophecy treats, Immanuel and the Assyrian. The virgin should conceive a Son - Messiah, Immanuel; Jehovah should bring upon the unworthy son of David the king of Assyria, to whom alone he had looked for succour. The humblest Jew ought to have cried to Jehovah.
In the chapter before us now we have other and fuller information vouchsafed of Jehovah. “And Jehovah said unto me, Take thee a great tablet, and write upon it with the pen of man, for Maher-shalal-hash-baz. And I took (or will take) unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said Jehovah unto me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (vv. 1-3). This is explained to Isaiah and by him, “For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and My mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria” (v. 4). And all this, as the inspired history proves, was fulfilled to the letter.
But there is more, “And Jehovah spoke again unto me, saying, Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that flow softly, even rejoicing in Rezin and in Remaliah’s son, therefore behold the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And he shall mount up over all his channels, and go over all his banks; and he shall sweep on into Judah; and he shall overflow and go farther, he shall reach [even] to the neck; and the out-stretching of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Emmanuel” (vv.5-8). We are here in the presence of the scenes of the latter day, whatever type in the measure of accomplishment near at hand. The water of Shiloah being despised, there must come the far different waters of the Assyrian and these all but overwhelmingly, when He (whose Incarnation had been announced to the unbelieving Ahaz as God’s sign in mercy) shall at length appear to vindicate His land. The Assyrian proudly fills the land, reaching even “to the neck”; yet he is not merely checked and put to shame, but utterly and for ever broken in Immanuel’s land. Compare Micah 5:3-6; for the mind of the Spirit is one, and scripture cannot be in vain.
The people here had no faith, any more than the king in the preceding scene. Both of them despised the ways and the promises of God. Their confidence, as their fear, was man. If Ahaz cowered before the two tails of the smoking firebrands, as Jehovah contemptuously designated the fierce anger of the combined kings of Israel and Syria, the people refused the softly flowing streams of Shiloah. Just would be their retribution. The impetuous river, the Assyrian, should rise to overflowing and well-nigh overwhelm the land.
But is it not “Thy land, O Immanuel”? Assuredly; and whatever be the king, whatever the people, whatever the needed humbling of them both, will not God avenge the insult to Him Who, when reviled, reviled not again? He is not deaf to the cry of His elect: how does He feel for Immanuel and Immanuel’s land? Did the people associate themselves? They might spare themselves the trouble; they shall be broken. Did all they of far countries gird themselves? If they fear not, let them hear their sentence of Jehovah. “Rage, ye peoples, and ye shall be broken in pieces. And give ear, all ye distant parts of the earth. Gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to naught; speak a word, and it shall not stand; for God [is] with us [Immanuel]” (vv. 9, 10). Immanuel is far more and other than Shear-jashub.
This opens the door for pointing out the path of faith for the godly, Jehovah Himself the sole and sure resource, the one object of reverence and fear in a day of manifold evil and thickening danger. “For Jehovah spoke thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, Say ye not, Confederacy (or conspiracy), of everything of which this people shall say, Confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be in dread. Jehovah of hosts, him shall ye sanctify; and [let] him [be] your fear, and [let] him [be] your dread. And he will be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken and snared and taken. Bind thou up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait for Jehovah that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah hath given me [are] for signs and for wonders in Israel from Jehovah of hosts who dwelleth in mount Zion” (vv 11-18).
Now it is certain that those “disciples,” who had pre-trusted in the Christ (Eph. 1:12), while the mass of the Jews rejected Him, as alas! they do still, became at Pentecost the nucleus of Christianity, and were “added together daily” by the Lord, and formed “their own company” (Acts 4:23), distinctly called “the church” (Acts 5:11) thenceforward. But this heavenly transformation is quite omitted here, and left as a secret to be made known in the New Testament. The prophet looks onward to the accomplishment of their hopes as Israel for the earth under the Messiah in the latter day. In neither the Old Testament is it Israel transferred to the church, nor in the New Testament the church incorporating Israel by-and-by. But the church itself, as Christ’s body, is in no way revealed here. It is left as a heavenly secret to be revealed to the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit in the New Testament. And we pass over from the godly remnant at our Lord’s first advent to the troublous and dark scene which precedes the day of His appearing at the end of this age. This, which is the evident and simple truth of the passage, cuts up by the root the allegorizing fancy that Judah or Israel means the church. In fact, they never mean it but the ancient people of Jehovah reserved, through the just chastisement of their sins, to be His people blessed in sovereign mercy in His day of blessing for all the families of the earth. The church is called out of the world for heavenly glory. To identify two bodies so distinct and contrasted is to lose the definite truth of each and of both.
Meanwhile the prophet believes in what Jehovah made known, whether in judgement of the mass, or in mercy to the remnant. It is a Gentile thought, deserving of all reprobation, that prophecy was given only to be believed and understood when, being fulfilled, it then became history. There is a remnant always that believes; and they gather thereby present cheer in the midst of sorrow. In truth, to be thus in felt and confessed weakness, to be cast therefore on “Jehovah of hosts Himself,” is really, spite of all appearance to the eyes and reasonings of men, to be master of the situation. Even in a still more blessed way the apostle could take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake. “Most gladly (as he had said before) will I rather glory in mine infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” But here we listen to the prophet, who assures us of the final triumphant deliverance of Israel. There is connection with present facts, and looking onward through the dreary circumstances of the desolate remnant, till Jehovah rises up and settles all for their deliverance in the destruction of every foe. The united strength of their enemies should be vain. What those who feared Jehovah needed was neither a confederacy nor alarm at such as trusted in it, but to sanctify Jehovah, and make Him their sanctuary. Yet He should be a stone of stumbling, even to both the houses of Israel, yea, a gin and snare to Jerusalem itself.
It is clear, then, that here we have not only the nations who would have swallowed up Israel doomed to a total overthrow, but the truth so strange and unpalatable (save to Gentile conceit) long after, of Israel too in all its extent stumbling at the stone of stumbling - their own Jehovah-Messiah. And withal, in the midst are seen a feeble few cleaving to His testimony, and owned as His disciples, while Jehovah hid His face from the people as a whole. They become a separate remnant, when the mass stumble, fall, and are broken, snared and taken. Hence, in Heb. 2:12, 13, the Holy Spirit does not hesitate to cite v. 18 with other scriptures (Ps. 16; Ps. 22), to prove the sanctified and the Sanctifier “all of one.” For indeed He is not ashamed to call them brethren; and this, now in Christianity, while the nation is given over to blindness and unbelief.
Surely in presence of such a prophecy, more than seven centuries before it began to be fulfilled, men ought to be ashamed of their cavils. How overlook so plain a key to the light of God with Christ’s disciples, while the Jews have stumbled at the stumbling-stone, and Jehovah hides His face from the house of Jacob? Yet the Jews shall yet understand these signs and wonders when they bow their stiff neck to their rejected Messiah.
The closing verses show their exceeding iniquity and their impious recourse to the powers of darkness in their own evident want of light, as they despised and departed from the law and the testimony of Jehovah. The effect is intense misery, audacious rage, and blasphemy of their King and their God, in all the agony of despair. “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? on behalf of the living [should they seek] unto the dead? To the law and to the testimony! if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them. And they shall pass through it, hardly distressed and hungry: and it shall come to pass that, when they shall be hungry, they will fret themselves, and curse (or by) their king and their God, and turn their faces upward: and they will look unto the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and into thick darkness they shall be driven away” (vv. 19-22).
“For the gloom [is] not [to be] to her that was in anguish. At first he degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but later he honoured, the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations.8 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them the light hath shone” (vv. 1, 2). The citation of this in Matt. 4:14-16 gives much insight. There the fulfilment applies to the presence and ministry of the Lord in that region so despised, as far as the people are concerned. Let the hand of oppression be yet more grievous than had ever pressed upon them; yet would there be this difference (and how verified during our Lord’s first appearing in their midst!), that among the darkest and most despised in the land should spring up a great light. It was in Galilee, not Jerusalem, that the grace of Jesus shone. And so in the last days: the Galilean character attaches to the future remnant. Jerusalem will be the prey of the worst delusions and deadliest error. But the darkest and coldest night precedes a dawn of joy and glory. And so it will be for Israel when He Who was despised and their stumbling-block, but withal Jehovah the shield and sanctuary of the weak yet godly remnant, shall rise and shine in all His effulgence on His people.
“Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast9 increased their joy: they joy before thee as with the joy of harvest, as they rejoice when they divide the spoil. For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every boot of him that is shod for the tumult, and the garment rolled in blood, shall be for burning, fuel for fire. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Father of eternity (or the coming age), Prince of Peace. To the increase of the government and to peace [there shall be] no end upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with judgement and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The jealousy of Jehovah of hosts will perform this” (vv. 3-7).
The efforts of Jews and rationalists to shake this striking prophecy of the Messiah are not violent merely but pitiable. Thus some of them turn it: He Whose name is Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,10 Father of eternity, shall call him (Hezekiah) Prince of peace. Even here the witnesses do not agree: for the Talmud, which applies it in the same way, boldly gives all eight titles to the son of Ahaz. But the construction is also, as Dr. McCaul pointed out, contrary to Hebrew idiom, which requires that “shemen(?)”, referring to the person named, should be placed between the name and the person or thing named (see Gen. 16:15; Gen. 21:3; Gen. 22:14; Ex. 2:22; Ruth 4:17; 1 Sam. 1:20; 2 Sam. 12:25). The Talmudical application of all to Hezekiah is too exaggerated if not impious for some modern Jews who follow Rashi. But even their attribute of Prince of peace to that pious king is in the face of all the scriptural account of his troubled reign. Others, like Mr. Leeser, translate it “Counsellor of the mighty God, of the everlasting Father, prince of peace,” and think it important to note that it alludes to a child already born, contrary to his own version of Isa. 7:14, and forgetful of the habit of the prophets to speak of things that are not as though they were (realising them in prophetic vision, but giving enough in the context to prove that they are future).
But the Targum supports the proper Messianic reference, and proves that among the ancient Jews no doubt was entertained that the prophet spoke only of the Messiah. The desolation of the land of old by the Assyrian will be renewed by the last representative of the great northern and eastern power, to whom the prophets really look onward. How vain then for Ahaz to seek confederacy with the Assyrian of his day! Confederacies were of old, confederacies will be pre-eminently in the last days; but the people of God must not trust and need not fear them. Let Jehovah be their refuge and their sanctuary; the godly remnant, His disciples, will need it for the awful and unexampled troubles at the end of this age. Yet the light of Galilee will appear for them. Immanuel, because of Whose rejection Jehovah had so long hidden His face from the house of Jacob (what a comment on Jewish history since Titus took Jerusalem, yea, since the cross!), will cause light to spring up among the despised but godly ones of the people, as at Christ’s first coming. In that day, when the climax of trial is reached, and the righteous seem hopelessly broken by the pride and blasphemy of the apostate mass of the Jews in confederacy with the apostate head of the western powers to hold off the Assyrian, Jehovah of Israel will display Himself their deliverer, but prove no other than their own crucified Messiah now to reign over them in power and glory and peace for ever. The reader will find abundant confirmation of all this in the context, and by a careful study of Isa. 10, Isa. 11, where he will find the Assyrian once more, and his destruction followed by the reign of the victorious Messiah. Many who love the truth are, grievous to say, to be censured for a too eager conversion of these scriptures to their own relationship with the Lord. Now the Old Testament gives us but common divine principles for all saints; in the New should we look for, as there only can we find, specific direction and instruction in what is properly Christian. Such an evident bias, and the plain perversion which results, do incalculable mischief to the Jews, as well as afford ready occasion of attack to unbelief where mind is exercised on scripture. In such interpretations they can easily prove the popular views of Christendom erroneous, and hence harden themselves in their own deadly error against the truth which the least enlightened Christian knows he has from God.
Now the Messiah rejected by the Jews sits on the throne of God His Father, in contrast with His own throne, which He is to take another day. Neither David nor any other sat on the Father’s throne. The very notion is not only ignorance but profanity. At His coming again He will sit upon the throne of David according to the prophecy before us and many more. Then will be fulfilled the latter part of Psalm 2. The nations will be shattered, not converted (whatever mercy may follow), and Zion rejoice with gladness everlasting. The transition here is plain and immediate from the first advent in grace and humiliation to the second in power and glory. The heavenly exaltation of Christ, and of the church in union with Him, is passed over.
The hour of freedom and victory for Israel is come; and Jehovah it is Who has done all. But it is not as in ordinary war: the noise of human conflict and bloodshed shall end, greave and war-cloak be for burning and fuel of fire. And no wonder, when He stands out their Kinsman-Redeemer, the true but once rejected Son of David, Who is their boast now, with every name of power and peace and blessing, with an endless reign before Him, established with righteousness and judgement from hence forth and for ever. Truly “the zeal (or jealousy) of Jehovah of hosts will perform this.”
The prophet now resumes the dirge of judgement on the nation in general, begun in Isa. 5, and interrupted by the two-fold episode of Isa. 6, and of chaps. Isa. 7; Isa. 8; Isa. 9:1-7. This last gave us the special development of Jehovah’s ways with His people: the revelation of His glory in Christ, with its effects in judgement and mercy; the Incarnation, or Immanuel, the virgin’s Son, the stay of David’s house and hope of Israel, spite of the land desolated by the Assyrian; then the reappearance of the Assyrian, now that it is Immanuel’s land, and the overthrow of all the Gentiles associated with him, whatever his great but temporary successes even in the pleasant land. Next, is an inner moral view of the people when (strange to say) Jehovah should be for a stone of stumbling to both the houses of Israel, but a sure sanctuary for a godly remnant, “My disciples,” who would be for signs and wonders in Israel at the very time Jehovah hides His face, as He is clearly doing now, from the house of Jacob. All closes in darkness and trouble such as never was for the mass, and yet with light for the despised Galileans, as at the Lord’s first advent. So just before the nation is multiplied, the oppression is broken, the victory won not by human sword but by burning and fuel of fire; and He Who is not more surely the virgin’s Son, the woman’s Seed, than the mighty God, the Prince of peace, establishes His blessed kingdom from henceforth even for ever.
Here we take up again (compare Isa. 5:25) the general strain, but with allusion to some of the instruction, as for instance to Rezin and the Assyrian, in the parenthetical part. Vers. 8-12 contain the renewed announcement of divine displeasure, which began with the sin of Jerusalem and Judah, as was fitting; now it passes to Ephraim and Samaria. “The Lord sent a word unto Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel. And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, that say in pride and stoutness of heart, The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will replace [them] with cedars. And Jehovah will set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and stir up his enemies, the Syrians before and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with open mouth.” It is clear that as yet the ten rebellious tribes are the object of judgement, and emphatically their pride of heart in despising Jehovah’s rebuke and confiding in their own powers. For this is their fond hope and vainglorious arrogance, turning their breach into an occasion of greater strength and display than ever. “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will replace [them] with cedars.” But here came the retributive dealing of God. Had Syria’s king, Rezin, joined them in unholy league against Judah? “Therefore Jehovah shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and join his enemies together; the Syrians before and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with open mouth.” So it ever is. The unfaithful people seek the world’s alliance against those with whom God’s testimony is, but prove ere long that the friendship of the world is not only enmity against God but destruction to themselves. “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand [is] stretched out still.”
The next view of their judgement (vv. 13-17) is not so much judicial retribution from without, but, because His chastening was slighted, Jehovah’s giving up Israel to utter internal demoralization. “But the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek Jehovah of hosts. And Jehovah will cut off from Israel head and tail, palm-branch and rush, in one day. The elder and honourable, he [is] the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he [is] the tail. For the leaders of this people mislead [them]; and [they that are] led by them are swallowed up.” The ruin is universal in one day on all classes, from the highest to the lowest of Israel, “palm-branch and rush”: all plunged into common destruction, leaders and led. What a picture! and how much more dismal and hopeless, when the righteous Lord, indignant at the abounding falsehood and wrong under the highest pretensions to sanctity alike shuts up His affections, and even His compassion! “Therefore the Lord will not rejoice in their young men, neither will he have mercy on the fatherless and widows.” Neither youth and vigour are pleasant to Him, nor can orphanage or widowhood touch His heart longer in a people so depraved. “For everyone [is] a hypocrite and an evil-doer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand [is] stretched out still.”
Then follows a most vivid picture of wickedness burning like fire; of Jehovah’s wrath consuming the land; and of the reckless unsparing violence of brother against brother. “For wickedness burneth as the fire; it devoureth the briars and thorns: yea, it kindleth in the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in thick clouds of smoke. Through the wrath of Jehovah of hosts is the land burnt up: the people also are as the fuel of fire; no man spareth his brother. And he shall snatch on the right hand, and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm: Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh; [and] they together shall be against Judah. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand [is] stretched out still” (vv. 18-21). The nearest of the ten should devour each other, and both Judah. Nevertheless, it is the earthly judgement of God. We must look elsewhere to find the still more awful eternal judgement which awaits the impenitent and unbelieving in the resurrection of judgement. For the full revelation of this, however, we must turn to the New Testament, where the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men that hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18); as indeed the Lord in Mark 9:43-48 had solemnly shown in giving an everlasting force to language drawn from the earthly judgement of Isa. 66:24.
The last of these disciplinary inflictions is given in Isa. 10. Here (vv. 1-4) it is the unrighteousness of the judges, who stood in the place of God Himself, and were called Elohim or gods (Ps. 82:6), but who most grievously misrepresented His character and wronged His people, specially the defenceless. “Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and unto the writers that prescribe oppression; to turn aside the needy from judgement, and to take away the right from the afflicted of my people, that widows may be their prey, and [that] they may rob the fatherless! And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation [which] shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help! and where will ye leave your glory? “And this is His sentence on them: “Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain.” The most exalted shall be most abased; and those shall fare worst whom it least became to turn their high estate and large power to God-dishonouring greed, and to oppression of the weak and wretched. “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand [is] stretched out still.”
But now, from verse 5, we enter on a most weighty change. The Assyrian desolator comes up once more. It is his final working which is chiefly in the mind of the Holy Ghost; as indeed this is the grand catastrophe and last trouble of Jacob, and in contrast with the oft-repeated formula of still continuing unexhausted wrath. Now, on the contrary, in this proud enemy of Israel we have the end of Jehovah’s anger. “The day of visitation” is there, the “desolation from far” is come. The indignation ceases and Jehovah’s anger in their destruction. His anger now is turned away and His arm stretched out no more. The rod should be broken, the scourge destroyed, as the chastening work is done.
Again, it is of great moment to apprehend clearly that the Antichrist, or man of sin, is a totally distinct personage. The commentators from Eusebius to Horsley, to pass by a crowd of others who confound the two, are herein inexcusably careless of the Scriptures. For it is very clear that there will be a wilful king in the city and land who will set himself up as Messiah and Jehovah in His temple, received as such by the apostate Jews; and that, altogether opposed to this Antichrist in Jerusalem who is in league with the western power, will arise another chief, an external antagonist of the Jews, who is the Assyrian, or Daniel’s king of the north, so often occurring in the prophecies. Of him Sennacherib, to a certain extent, was a type.
The Assyrian then was first used as a rod to chastise Israel. “Ho, Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, the staff in whose hand is mine indignation. I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to seize the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. But he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but [it is] in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.” But he owned not God, “For he saith, [Are] not my princes all kings? [Is] not Calno as Carchemish? [is] not Hamath as Arpad? [is] not Samaria as Damascus? As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols (and their graven images exceeded those of Jerusalem and of Samaria), shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her images?” (vv. 5-11). His own doom is therefore sealed.
“And it shall come to pass [that], when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and upon Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done [it], and by my wisdom, for I am prudent; and I have removed the bounds of the peoples, and have robbed their treasures, and like a valiant man I have put down them that sit [on thrones]; and my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the peoples; and as one gathereth forsaken eggs, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or chirped.
“Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake them that lift it up; as if the staff should lift up [him that is] not wood. Therefore shall the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire. And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame; and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briars in one day; and it shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body; and they shall be as when a standard-bearer [or, a sick man] fainteth. And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, yea, a child may write them” (vv. 12-19). It is the closing scene. The Lord has not even yet performed His whole work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem. Nay, He will not have done it as long as the Antichrist will be in the land. He having been disposed of by His epiphany from heaven, the Assyrian still remains to be punished. The former is the enemy of the heavenly rights and divine glory of Christ (denying the Father and the Son), but will be destroyed by His sudden shining forth from heaven; the latter dares to oppose His earthly rights, and will be dealt with accordingly when He is come to reign over the earth.
“And it shall come to pass in that day [that] the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again rely upon him that smote them; but they shall rely upon Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant shall return, the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God. For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, [only] a remnant of them shall return: the consumption determined shall overflow in righteousness. For the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, will make a consumption even determined in the midst of all the land” (vv. 20-23). Then indeed Israel’s unbelief shall for ever pass away: Israel will trust no more in an arm of flesh, be it Egyptian, Assyrian, or what not. The slaughter of Midian and the manner of Egypt give the characteristic patterns of the future deliverance.11 “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian: though he smite thee with the rod, and lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt. For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall be accomplished, and mine anger, in their destruction. And Jehovah of hosts will stir up against him a scourge, as in the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb: and his rod [shall be] over the sea, and he will lift it up after the manner of Egypt. And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall depart from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing” (vv. 24-27). The sign of Shear-jashub is thus made good. The apostle in Rom. 9:27, 28, quotes this prophecy to justify from the Old Testament the fact which is assumed throughout the New Testament that only a remnant of the people had saving relations with God. So it is now under the gospel, as it was after Babylon; and so it will be when the last crisis comes, and the struggles of the Antichrist and the Assyrian, till the Messiah decides all and displays His kingdom in power here below. (Compare Dan. 8:19-25; Dan. 9:26, 27; Dan. 11:36-45; Dan. 12:11)
The chapter closes with a most animated description of the Assyrian’s march down from the north into the utmost nearness to Jerusalem. “He is come to Aiath, he is passed through Migron; at Michmash he layeth up his baggage. They are gone over the pass; they make their lodging at Geba: Ramah trembleth, Gibeah of Saul is fled. Lift up thy voice, daughter of Gallim. Hearken, Laishah. Poor Anathoth! Madmenah is a fugitive the inhabitants of Gebim gather themselves to flee. Yet today [is he] to halt at Nob: he shaketh his hand at the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem” (vv. 28-32). In vain, however: he shall come to his end, and none shall help him. “Behold the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, shall lop the boughs with terror; and the high ones of stature [shall be] hewn down, and the haughty [shall be] humbled. And he shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one” (vv. 33, 34). The image here employed most appropriately prepares the way for the introduction (in the next and connected chapter) of Messiah, the shoot from the stump of Jesse, and the fruitful sprout to grow from his roots.
In contrast with the destruction of the high and haughty Assyrian under the stroke of Jehovah, we have in this chapter a remarkable and full description of the Messiah: first, in a moral point of view; and, next, in His kingdom, its character, and its accompaniments. It is no longer “the rod of His anger,” the staff in Whose hand is Mine indignation, but a Branch from Jesse’s roots, yet withal the Root of Jesse, Who will infallibly bless both Israel and the Gentiles in that day of the kingdom, though He will bring the lofty low, as well as smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips slay the wicked or lawless one, in order to that wondrous end.
The entire strain is closed with a suited song of praise (Isa. 12) in the lips of Israel, now indeed and for ever blessed of Jehovah, their Holy One in their midst.
“And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit: and the spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah; and his delight will be in the fear of Jehovah: and he will not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: but with righteousness will he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he will smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips will he slay the wicked [one]” (vv. 1-4).
To look and contend for a fulfilment of this prophecy in Hezekiah or Josiah would be idle, and only shows the straits to which the rationalistic enemies of revelation are reduced. No king, let him be ever so pious or glorious, that followed Ahaz, no, nor David nor Solomon in the past, even approached the terms of the prediction either personally or in the circumstances of their reign. Did the “Spirit of Jehovah” rest upon the better of the two when he said, “I shall now perish by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines?” Was it “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,” when he feigned himself mad, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard? Was it “the Spirit of counsel and might,” when David amused his credulous host of Gath with his fictitious razzias against the south of Judah, when in truth he was invading the Geshurites, Amalekites, etc., without leaving a human being to tell the tale? Was it the “Spirit of knowledge” that dealt with Absalom? Was the numbering of Israel done in “the fear of Jehovah”? Was the matter of Uriah a proof that “righteousness” was “the girdle of his loins” or “faithfulness” “of his reins”? When was the earth smitten with the rod of any king’s mouth? Or whose lips ever breathed to the destruction of the wicked? And who has seen that wondrous change, depicted in verses 6-9, passing over the fierce beasts and the most timid; and man’s lordship owned at length by all, subject and harmonious, even in the person of a babe? Equally impossible, at the least, is it to say that the latter part of the chapter was met by anything resembling its predictions in any era of Israel. The idea of Zerubbabel fulfilling it is preposterous. There was not a single resemblance in that day of small things.
Is it contended, on the other hand, that so glowing a picture of the great King and His kingdom is realised spiritually in the church and in the blessings of the gospel? Without descending so low as the gross pretensions of papal ambition, the spiritual or rather mystical interpretation which suits worldly-minded Christendom finds its expression in Theodoret, or earlier still. This writer sees the apostolic doctrine change earth into heaven, and the picture in verses 6-8 accomplished in kings, prefects, generals, soldiers, artizans, servants, and beggars partaking together of the same holy talk, and hearing the same discourses! Paul with the philosophers at Athens illustrates, according to him, the weaned child putting his hand on the cockatrice’s den; as the promise to Peter (Matt. 16:18) answers to the predicted absence of any destructive thing! Jehovah’s holy mountain he explains as the loftiness, strength, and immutability of His divine teaching Theodoret justly explodes the folly of applying such a prophecy to Zerubbabel, who was only governor of a few Jews, and in no way whatever of Gentiles; but he offers an alternative hardly preferable in the Acts of the Apostles, or specially in St. Paul’s Epistles.
Such an interpretation as this is not only false in fact but injurious and corrupting in principle. It confounds the church with Israel; it lowers the character of our blessing in Christ from heaven to earth; it weakens the word of God by introducing a haziness needful to the existence of such applications; it undermines the mercy and the faithfulness of God, because it supposes that the richest and most unconditional of His promises to Israel are, notwithstanding, taken from them and turned into the wholly different channel of ourselves. If God could so speak and act towards Israel, where is the guarantee for the Christian or the church? The apostle can and does quote from the prophets, and from this very chapter of our prophet (Rom. 15:12), to vindicate the principle, so richly illustrated in the gospel, of God’s blessing the Gentiles, and of their glorifying God for His mercy. But the self-same apostle maintains that there is now the revelation of a mystery which was hid from ages and generations, the mystery of Christ and the church, wherein there is neither Jew nor Gentile, in the fullest contrast with the great day when Israel and the nations shall be blessed as such, and in their respective places, under Messiah’s reign openly displayed.
In this prophecy, however, as in the Old Testament generally, we see the distinctive blessing of Israel on earth, though there is bright hope for the nations, as well as judgement on all enemies, Jewish or Gentile. All this supposes a state of things essentially differing from God’s ways with His church, during which Israel ceases to be the depository of His testimony and promise. For as the natural Jewish branches were broken off from the olive tree and the Gentile wild olive was grafted in, so because of non continuance in God’s goodness the Gentile will be broken off and the natural branches grafted in again; “And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (Rom. 11:26, 27). Meanwhile blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. Then they will hail their rejected Messiah, and the universal blessing of the earth will follow His destruction of their foes as the initiatory act of His kingdom. Of this (not of the gospel, as regards which the Jews are enemies on our account) the chapters speak; and, thus viewed, all flows harmoniously onward both as a whole and in the smallest detail.
There is another decisive proof, furnished by the same apostle Paul in 2 Thess. 2:8, that the chapter applies to a future age as contrasted with the present where the rejected Christ is hid in God and glorified on high. It is beyond controversy that our verse 4 is authoritatively interpreted of the Lord Jesus destroying the lawless one with the breath of His mouth, and annulling him by the shining forth of His presence or coming. A wholly new age of triumphant power in righteous government will be introduced and maintained by the Lord’s appearing, and thus essentially distinguished from this day of grace, while Satan reigns, and those that are Christ’s suffer, yet overcome by faith. We wait for His coming as the close of our pilgrimage here below. They await His appearing as deliverance from imminent destruction, and as the beginning of their allotted place of honour and blessing under His reign, and of all the nations in their measure.
“And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit.” One cannot but think with others that the allusion to the stem of Jesse is significant. Elsewhere Messiah is viewed as David’s son, or styled David himself. Here He is a Shoot or Rod from the stock of Jesse, and a Branch out of his roots for Israel, and the Root of Jesse for the peoples and nations. There would seem a purpose of drawing attention to the lowly condition into which the royal race should have sunk at the birth of the Christ. It was from that family, when of no account in Israel, that David was anointed for the throne. The prophet designates the rise of a greater than David, not from the glory that had been conferred on the house, but in a way readily suggestive of obscurity. From this stock, lowly of old, lowly once more, sprang the hope of Israel on Whom the Spirit rested without measure; or, as Peter preached, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power. In Rev. 5 He is said to be the Root of David; in 22 his Root and Offspring.
“And the spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah.” Here, however, it is not in the activity of grace among the sorrows of men and the oppressions of the devil, that we see Jesus, but in view of His government. Thoroughly subject to Jehovah, He rules not according to appearance but righteously in His fear. Such is the effect of the power that rested on Him. And His delight [quick understanding or scent] will be “in the fear of Jehovah; and he will not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness will he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.” The Holy Spirit portrays the Messiah’s moral fitness for His earthly reign; emphatically His earthly reign, for so it evidently is throughout for every reader who is free from human tradition or prepossession. The Lord Jesus will then do what He refused to do at His first coming. He will judge in equity, and put down oppression, and cause righteousness to flourish in peace. This was in no way His work the first time; and the Christian, as the church, is called not to judge the earth or rule here below, but to suffer with Him, waiting to be glorified and to reign with Him when He returns. We walk by faith, not by sight.
Again, this is confirmed by the latter part of verse 4 already referred to. We need no human comment here, because we have already divine light supplied in 2 Thess. 2:8. The inspired apostle applies it to the Lord’s future destruction of the lawless one, the man of sin, the issue of the apostasy of Christendom. It is the same personage, doubtless, that the beloved disciple describes in 1 John 2:22: “Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is the antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” This latter testimony helps to link all together. 2 Thess. 2 views him specially as the result yet to be manifested of that mystery of lawlessness which was even then working unseen. Isaiah shows, not only the great outside enemy, the Assyrian, judged in Isa. 10, but in Isa. 11:4 the internal enemy, “the wicked,” whom the apostates will accept as their Messiah, destroyed by the true Messiah appearing in glory. He is “the lawless” one of Paul: such is the form of his iniquity. Again, 1 John 2. describes him, first, as the denier of the Messianic glory of Jesus; next, in his full character of the antichrist (not only the liar) as denying the Father and the Son, in other words, the personal glory of Christ as revealed in Christianity.
What deplorable prejudice in men like Jerome, who avail themselves of figurative language (as in branch, rod of His mouth, and girdle) to mystify the vision of earthly change - the restitution of all things! Even such admit the reality of Messiah, as they ought to own that of His reign here below, for heaven is not at all in view; and in order to this the earth is to be smitten by Him Whose word is power, and the lawless one of that day punished finally. Calvin and Hengstenberg would include the hope of a future change by divine power in the material creation (as pledged in Rom. 8:11-22); but this presupposes glory revealed, and the sons of God no longer hidden as now, but manifested with Christ in glory (Col. 3). We have the liberty of grace now, as creation is to be delivered into the liberty of glory then, our own bodies being part of it.
But this proves the mistake of applying the language to spiritual effects now, still more of denying what awaits the earth and its denizens in “that day.” If conversion and the fruit of the Spirit in the heart and life were sought, the supposed figures would ill express the idea. For the wolf and the leopard and the lion are represented as still existing, and contrasted with the lamb and the kid and the calf and the more general “fatling,” but with instincts of prey quite vanished. Spiritually regarded, how strange to represent mankind as thus distinguished when the gospel pronounces all as lost and ungodly on the one hand, and all believers as alike saved, and God’s children on the other! One could understand the metaphor of the wolf becoming a lamb, and perhaps the leopard a kid, if hardly a lion turning calf or fatling (though the shades become somewhat misty, even for the liveliest fancy). But the actual phraseology forbids all such flights; and as it speaks only of animals, once predaceous, dwelling in peace with the gentlest cattle, it cannot be duly interpreted, save as predictive of facts yet to be made good. Till then faith counts on the power God gives against a state of disorder, as when David saved the lamb, and slew both the lion and the bear, and as figuratively now one may be delivered out of the lion’s mouth.
In “that day” will surely be “the regeneration,” and the creature will be delivered into a state suited to Christ. An allegorical sense does not consist with the exactitude of the language; the simple grammatical or literal force is in unison with the Old Testament prophecy and New Testament doctrine. For as we were shown the setting aside of the antichrist at the end of this age, we have next a display of the reign of the true Christ and its beneficent effects. “And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the she-bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the adder, and the weaned child shall put forth his hand to the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea” (vv. 5-9).
It is the world or habitable earth to come “whereof we speak” (Heb. 2:5) - not heaven, but earth, and especially the land of Israel under Him Whose right it is. What ground is there to doubt its plain and punctual accomplishment? Who has ever heard of any serious objection, save for Sadducean minds which know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should, in honour of the reign of Jesus, change not the face only but the habits and bent of all animated nature, delivering the creature from the bondage of corruption under which it now groans? When the days come, as Jehovah declares they surely must, that the ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that sows seed, it is not only the earth that shall answer suitably to His beneficent power, but the animal kingdom also, with the one exception which seems good to Him that does not forget the subtle evil-doer. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all His holy mountain. Even now, when other and deeper questions are before Him, what pity for babes and even for cattle! (See Jonah 4:11)
The Psalms celebrate the great day with songs of joy; the prophets are plain-spoken about it; the apostle Paul distinctly treats it as a settled Christian expectation, as did Peter to the Jews in Acts 3:21, only awaiting the revelation of Christ and of the sons of God along with Him. There is a grievous gap in every scheme and in every heart which does not look for the world’s jubilee; without it the earth would only seem made to be spoiled by Satan; whereas to one as to this taught of God, if there were a single creature not put manifestly under the feet of the exalted Son of man, the enemy would be allowed so far to defraud Him of His just reward and supreme rights. In “that day” we shall see (for now we see not yet) all things put under Him: divine judgement on the quick, executed by Christ, brings it in, as we have gathered from verse 4 compared with 2 Thess. 2:8.
It is either forgotten or explained away, that God has purposed in Himself for the administration of the fullness of times (that is, in the millennial age, or the day of His manifested kingdom) to gather together in one all things in Christ, both those in heaven and those on earth (Eph. 1:9, 10); for the reconciliation will embrace not only those who believe, but all things whether on earth or in heaven (Col. 1:20, 21). Creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:21). Let those who allegorise the prophets take note that this divine and as yet unfulfilled purpose is plainly laid down in these great Epistles in the New Testament, to which we might add 1 Cor. 15:28 and Heb. 2:9. They cannot deny the literal form of this dogmatic teaching of inspiration. The time spoken of is neither the present state, nor is it eternity, but a blessed period between them which is to last a thousand years. It is strange doctrine to deny truth so clearly revealed; it is strange logic to adduce passages from the Greek and Latin classics, from the so-called Sibylline Oracles, Ferdausi, Ibn Onein, and the Zend-Avesta, as rendering improbable the direct interpretation. For it is certain that among the heathen lingered traditions of a golden age of creation to return another day. The complimentary application of this by a courtly poet is in no way inconsistent with the believer’s hope of a full fruition of God’s word. If it were so, what matters heathen thought, since scripture is clear in holding out such glorious expectations for the earth under the Messiah?
Under Christianity there is according to our Lord (John 4:21-24) no such earthly centre as we see there will be in that day. Even Jerusalem has for this vanished. “Believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet in Jerusalem worship the Father.” The holy places made with hands are now abandoned for the true, even heaven itself, which Christ has entered. Further, it is the hour to worship the Father, of Whom we hear nothing at all as such, nor of worship in spirit and truth. Christianity is wherever the true worshippers adore the Father and the Son in the power of the Spirit. The place on earth is of no moment; only the true object, the true worshippers, and the true principle and power. This only is genuine catholicity.
But this is not all; Israel must be received back in order that the world may thus know life from the dead. “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse standing as an ensign or banner of the peoples;12 it shall the nations seek: and his resting place shall be glory” (v. 10).
“And it shall come to pass in that day [that] the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea” (v. 11). Those do the enemy’s work who contend that these scriptures are fulfilled, or even in course of fulfilment. Save the general principle (which is, no doubt, conspicuous in the gospel) - that Gentiles seek and hope for and find eternal blessedness in Christ, it is a scene wholly future. We have the nations and the peoples blessed as such, no less than Israel, but not a syllable about that heavenly body which differs from both. The church of God is to be no longer on earth but on high in that day when every creature will be in its true place according to divine purpose, because the Lord Christ will then have His rights everywhere incontestably displayed.
The person of the Messiah has been revealed: and we know how truly He was the vessel of the Spirit on earth, and that in Him was displayed every grace which became man toward God - or God toward man in Christ Jesus Himself man, withal God over all blessed for evermore. But He is not yet seated on His own throne nor exercising His public kingdom here below; nor is the remnant of His people yet recovered from north, south, east, and west. Are we therefore to suppose that His arm is shortened? or that He has abandoned His cherished purpose? and that His gifts and calling are subject to repentance? Such is not our God. Is He ours only and not also of the Jews? Yes, theirs also; “And he will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and they that vex Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim” (vv. 12, 13).
On the one hand it is a pitifully poor fulfilment of this exceeding great and precious promise to suppose all fulfilled in the feeble return from Babylon, when a small part of the Jews went up to Jerusalem with a very few individuals of Ephraim; and their neighbours sank lower and lower under the various imperial powers till Rome ground all down to servitude. No, it is a bright day of great things, not for man only, but for the name of Jehovah on earth. On the other hand, it is not the heavenly mystery of Christ and the church, but the times of restitution of all things according to prophecy. Nor is it the gospel calling souls out of the world for glory on high, but the earth delivered, Israel saved, and the Gentiles converted, under Messiah’s reign, when His rest shall be glory. The moral history of Israel shall be reversed, as decidedly as natural history must be learnt anew for the lower creation. Their old jealousies and mutual enmities, too well known after Solomon, fade away for restored Israel. And as for their plotting neighbours,13 they may reappear, but it is to be put down for ever not less than their mightier foes. “And they shall fly upon the shoulder of the Philistines toward the sea [or westward]; together they shall spoil the sons of the east; they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them” (v. 14).
It is a favourite infidel argument against the literal accomplishment of the chapter, adopted (one grieves to say) by the late Dr. Fairbairn (Prophecy, 272), that the people mentioned in verse 14 have disappeared from the stage of history, and therefore that neither the restoration of Israel nor the events growing out of it can be so understood. But this is sheer unbelief of the power of God and of the reliability of scripture. The God Who will bring His hidden ones of Ephraim out of the darkness that still veils them will disclose the descendants of their old adversaries in due time, and among these of their neighbours, who were not less jealous because nearly related in blood. From the Assyrian, the towering king of the north, Edom and Moab and the chief of the children of Ammon contrive to escape (Dan. 11:41); but not so from the hands of Israel “out of weakness made strong.” Jehovah shall be seen over the sons of Zion, and His arrow shall go forth as the lightning; and the Lord Jehovah shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south (Zech. 9:14): figurative language undoubtedly, but expressive of the divine intervention for Christ’s kingdom, which believers in the gospel should be the last to confound with their own mercies, still less to explain away.
Then, in verses 15, 16, we have Jehovah’s supernatural dealing with external nature on behalf of His people, when He utterly destroys the tongue of the Egyptian sea, and smites the river into seven streams, so that men may pass dryshod, and there is a highway for the remnant from Assyria, as of old from Egypt. “And Jehovah will utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his scorching wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it into seven streams, and cause [men] to march over dryshod. And there shall be a highway for the remnant of his people, which will remain, from Assyria; like as there was for Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.” In all this latter portion the mystical reading is at utter fault; and greater wonders than in the destruction of Pharaoh’s hosts await the final deliverance of Israel from Egypt and from Assyria in the face of a gainsaying and incredulous age.
Short of God’s glory established and manifested on the earth, no saint of God should ever rest. It is excellent to serve the living God and our Lord Jesus; it is better still to worship in spirit and truth also, as we wait for His Son from heaven; but the best of all is when He comes and in due time sets up the displayed kingdom, Himself the Heir of all things, and we joint-heirs with Him. For this will be God’s glory below as well as above. Even Pentecostal blessedness, wondrous as it was though transient, did not meet all; and even then the apostle Peter looks for such a result through no action of the Spirit, but through the sending of our Lord Jesus from heaven. Preaching may win souls for heaven; but Christ must come thence to restore all things to God’s glory; and this is the chorus which unites all the prophetic choir. Most of all should the Christian have it at heart: for many prophets and kings desired to see what we see, and saw it not; and to hear what we hear, and heard it not. What is it to be of His body, to be of His bride? Least of all should we rest satisfied with anything but Christ exalted over the universe to God’s glory. In this chapter is the earthly side of it, as the next is Israel’s appropriate song.
The song for “that day” concludes this section of our prophet, and is divided into two parts: the first of which (vv. 1-3) is Israel’s praise for what God has been and is to itself; the second (vv.4-6) is the call to one another to spread His praise in all the earth, though Zion be still the centre where God dwells. Yet the defiling hand of neology has not spared the entire chapter, which it declares an expletive, added by another writer to the already complete series foregoing, and not even in the tone, style, or phraseology of Isaiah. Now it is plain to any spiritual mind how sensible the loss would be if this most worthy conclusion of praise were lopped off. Everyone ought to see that the change to such a song involves a tone and style and phrase quite different from the grave addresses and denunciations and the solemn predictions which have preceded, but is the simple and suited sequel of Isa. 11.
“And in that day thou shalt say, I will praise thee, O Jehovah. Though thou hast been angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortest me. Behold, God [is] my salvation: I will trust and not be afraid; for Jah Jehovah [is] my strength and song, and he is become my salvation. And ye shall draw water with joy from the fountains of salvation.”14
“And in that day ye shall say, Give ye thanks to Jehovah; call upon his name; declare his doings among the peoples; make mention that his name is exalted. Sing psalms of Jehovah, for he hath done splendid things; this is [or, be it] known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitress of Zion; for great in the midst of thee [is] the Holy One of Israel” (vv. 1-6).
Certainly it is not a temporal deliverance only, however astonishing and complete, but there are rich blessings for the soul also. Best of all, the Holy One of Israel dwells in their midst. This, however, in no way takes it from Israel, nor compels us to interpret it of the Gentiles, however surely we now profit even more deeply during the gospel by the grace of God still more profoundly known in Christ. But it is plain that as a whole the language strictly belongs to a body once forsaken by God, and long the object of divine displeasure. This is not true of the church, but is precisely applicable to the ancient people of God, in the day when Messiah shall be manifested to them, and they shall say with heart and mouth, Blessed He that cometh in the name of Jehovah.
We have the amplest ground, material, and pattern for our praise, as the church of God, in the New Testament. And it differs essentially from Israel’s, who do not speak of the Father and the Son, and know not what it is to draw near into the holiest through the rent veil, any more than it will be theirs to suffer with Christ; whereas we walk by faith, and wait for Him by virtue of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. This cannot be conceived to be their experience, who have Christ reigning over the earth, freed from the tempter and blessed with boundless favours here below.
It is sad to read the words of Bishop Lowth, a man of refined taste rather than of Biblical lore, that “this hymn seems, by its whole tenor, and by many expressions in it, much better calculated for the Christian church than for the Jewish, in any circumstances, at any time that can be assigned.” The fact is that every word quite suits Jews when delivered and under the Messiah’s reign, and that not a sentence is in harmony with the church of God. There is no God and Father of Christ before us; there is no Christ in heaven made known by the Holy Spirit’s power in the saints; there is no consciousness of union in one body. His more intelligent father, W. Lowth, talked of “the triumphant state of the church”; but this will be in heavenly glory. Whereas it is earth only that is contemplated here.
The inhabitress of Zion has indeed the foremost place, and is called to cry aloud and shout, for great is the Holy One of Israel that dwells in its midst; but the Jews, blessed themselves to overflowing, are called, and will answer to the call, and declare Jehovah’s deeds among the peoples, and announce that His name is exalted. In all the earth is known what sublime things He has done. Mercy so rich causes greed and jealousy, pride and vanity, to vanish.
We may observe that the usual notion of “Jah” as an abbreviated form of “Jehovah” can hardly consist with its usage here (v. 2) along with “Jehovah.” See also Isa. 26:4, where the same association occurs. As “Jehovah” is used for the name of God in relation with His people (Ex. 6), His name of moral government in general (Gen. 2. and throughout the Old Testament, with or without the name of Elohim), so “Jah” appears to express His intrinsic being. There is therefore great force in combining it with His name of relationship; while its own propriety remains where it stands alone, as in Ex. 15:2, Ex. 17:16; Ps. 118:14. Jah then is God in His absolute being, the Self-existent; Jehovah in His relative and continuous character, the God of ages especially in connection with the sons of Israel, Who fulfils at length the promises He made to the fathers as God Almighty. So in Ex. 15:2, “Jah is my strength and song”; and in Ex. 17:16, “The hand is on the throne of Jah” as the oath that “Jehovah will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” So in Ps. 68:4, “His name is Jah”; and in v. 18 we find “the dwelling of Jah Elohim” for “the rebellious.” “The Most High,” as in Isaiah 14:14, and often from Gen. 14:18, etc., abundantly in the Psalms, and also in the so-called Chaldee of Daniel, is His title to be displayed in the future kingdom, when all rivals vanish into their nothingness.
2 Compare the expression, “the last days” or its equivalent in Gen. 49:1; Num. 24:14, Deut. 4:30, Deut. 31:29, Jer. 23:20; Jer. 30:24, Jer. 48:47, Jer. 49:39, Ezek. 38:16; Dan. 2:28; Dan. 10:14; Dan. 12:13; Hosea 3:5 ; Micah 4:1. All refer to the same time as Isaiah 2:2 the days when the power of the Second man supercedes the sinful weakness of the first. Joel 2:28 is “afterwards,” or Thereupon,” but Its full accomplishment also is in that day.
3 Those who have access to La venida del Mesias el gloria y Magestad en tres tomos, Londres, 1826, or the English translation in two vols. 1827, will read with pleasure the masterly investigation of the author, a pious Roman Catholic, in which he, by the scripture, sets aside the views which had so long reigned through the influence of Origen, Jerome, and others The reader is referred to vol. 2. P 174-190 for particular remarks on this very chapter of which a compressed sample must suffice here. “In the first place I sincerely agree with all the doctors, both Christian and Jewish, that the times of Messiah are manifestly the times spoken of in these prophecies. “It shall come to pass in the last days, that is in the time of Messiah, or of Christ. But this is very equivocal. That time according to all ancient and modern writers, and according to the fundamental principles of Christianity, is not one only, but two times infinitely distant from each other, one which is already past, but continues even until now, its effects assuredly great and admirable...another, which has not yet arrived, but which is believed, and hoped for with faith and a divine confidence...which second time would appear to be more great and admirable according to the scriptures which are manifestly directed toward this and terminate in it. This is the time of which the prophets have said so much, ‘in that day,’ ‘at that time,’ etc. This is the time of which S. Peter and S. Paul have said so much in their Epistles. And it is the time of which the Messiah Himself has said so much in parables and without them, as may be seen in the Gospels. The first time of Messiah, of which the Prophets speak, is certainly verified already; and the world has enjoyed, does enjoy, and may to its satisfaction enjoy, its admirable effects. And yet the prophecies have not been fully verified; for they embrace not only the first time of Messiah, but likewise and still more the second time, which is yet waited for. This is so evident and clear that, according to the different principles or systems, there have been derived two different conclusions; and though the one be more deadly than the other, they are both none the less for that illegitimate and false.
4 The notion that Christ is here Intended is one of those freaks of notable men which Illustrate the passage they so strangely misapplied. The LXX, strange to say, leave out the verse altogether.
5 “Matstsebeth” is derived from a verbal root - to stand fast or establish - and thus in its primary sense means a pillar. Hence it can naturally express what sustains a tree when cut down. Some take it as the root, others as the trunk or stump; but the destruction seems to go farther than leaving the stump erect, so that the idea of the Targum that it means the gap, or that part of the substance which contains the spring of life, seems agreeable enough to the context.
6 Even Aquila confirms this, the only true derivation of the word, and its kindred form for the other sex, by giving
ἀπόκρυφος in Gen. 24:43.
7 Gesenius, who thought so too, tried to escape the difficulty of “ho-almah”.
8 Dr. W. Kay thus translates it, “For no gloom is there to her that was distressed. At the former time He brought contempt on the land of Zebulun, and on the land of Naphtali; but in the latter time He brought honour, the way of the sea.
9 It is plain that “not increased the joy” is erroneous, The margin is right, substantially, as the next clause might prove to any reader.
10 Gesenius would like to translate this title “the mighty hero,” In order to get rid of “God” here. But “el” is never used as an adjective; and even so, if it were here only, it should follow, not precede, “gibbor”, as has been noticed.
11 Dr. R. P Smith, the late Dean of Canterbury says well (in his Authenticity and Messianic Interpretation of Isaiah, 63): “Thus the Prophet at once marks the difference between the two kingdoms. The one has a definite place in the Divine economy; the other is used but for a temporary object. For the moment, therefore, it may triumph; but it has no mission of its own, no settled final purpose in the world, and therefore no special providence hems it around. But Jerusalem, however unworthy, was the actual centre of the world’s history; and in spite of her feebleness in spite of her comparative insignificance she must outlive the far mightier kingdoms of Nineveh and Babylon, of Persia and Macedon and Antioch; for on her existence depended the accomplishment of God’s unchanging counsels.” It would have added immensely to the convictions of the author and to the value of his book had he seen that the purposes of God as to the earth which roll round Israel as their centre, are only suspended for a season because of their rejection of Messiah and the gospel to be renewed by grace at the end of this age in order to bring in the new age, when God has completed His present gathering out from the universe under His sway (and we with Him risen and glorified), and the nations then on earth will enjoy the blessing under His reign. The present age has quite another aim and character from that age to come, which again is distinct from the eternity that succeeds the great white throne or judgement of the dead.
12 It would appear that the reference is not to the tribes of the ancient people of God, but to such of the nations as shall be in relationship with Jehovah, as distinguished from other Gentiles who are not.
13 The remarks of Houbigant may be helpful to some on this head. He is objecting to the popular error of allegorising without limit: Sed enim occurrendum est difficultati quae ex eis quae mox diximus, nasci potest. Nam quaeritur, quomodo in ultimo reditu Judaeorum accidere possit ut Judaei excurrant in terminos Philistoeorum, Moabitarum, Ammonitarum, cum regna illa jamdudum perierint. Respondeo eadem regna jam periisse tum, cum Apostoli gentes Evangelio subdiderunt; itaque explicandum esse illis etiam, qui loc Isaiae caput XI. de conversione gentium per Apostolos facta intelligunt, quomodo Apostoli subdiderint gentes, quae eorum aetate jam interierant. Nos responsionem eorum nostram faciemus; quae quidem sic videtur fieri posse, ut credatur Isaias appellare Judaeorum vicinas gentes nominibus iis, quae tum cognita erant, et notari eas gentes quae illarum veterum regiones occupaturae olim sunt, forsan etiam idem nomen habiturae: quae responsio valere etiam potest in nominibus propriis, Assur, AElam, Sennaar, etc. Judicabit sapiens Lector an hoc sit in explicandis Prophetis aperte judaizare, non discedere a proprietate verborum, nisi adest magna necessitas. Nos quidem eam necessitatem tantam esse credimus, quanta maxima esse potest, si Prophetarum verba explicare allegorice nequeas, nisi intervertas Prophetae sententiam, ut mox Grotium fecisse vidimus; vel, nisi, ut nunc Forerium videmus, mutes personas de quibus praedicitur, et pugnes, vel tecum, vel cum ipsa vaticinatione, quam susceperis explicandam,” - Prolegomena ad Prophetas, p. cclxviii.
14 This verse 3 is no interruption of the song, but a connected and beautifully harmonious part of it, and transitional to what follows.