Here begins a quite distinct section of our prophet, which is not occupied so much as before with Israel, though, of course, we find Israel therein. Still Israel cannot be said to be the immediate object of the new series, but rather the nations and their judgement, running down from circumstances that were then comparatively imminent to the very “completion of the age.” It is as general in its character throughout, as the first section is occupied with Israel. Yet naturally we therein heard of the nations in relation to Israel, either as subjected willingly to Zion, as they will be in “that day,” or as instruments of providential chastening to the guilty people in this day, even though they may have enticed them from their true allegiance by their idols or any of their other iniquities. But in the second series, from chapters 13 to 27, we shall see how the scope is enlarged in presenting the “Burdens” of the nations (as the various prophecies are here first called), until we open out into the whole world coming under judgement in order to blessing quite as wide, though Israel’s part is shown us in corresponding largeness at the close. And here too, as in the first, we have at the close songs in unison with the grand result.
As to the expression, “completion (end) of the age,” which occurs so often in the Gospel of Matthew, its application is to that condition of things during which Israel are found under the law and without their Messiah. The new age, on the contrary, will be characterized by their being under the new covenant. Their Messiah will then reign over them in glory. The Old Testament gives us, not only these ages, but the times before them, as the New Testament unveils the eternity that is to follow them. Practically the New, like the Old, speaks of these two ages as connected with Israel: the age that was going on when Christ came and was rejected, and that which is to come when He returns in glory. “In this age” there is a mixture of good and evil, to be closed by an awful conflict in which the Beast and the false prophet will fall. The age to come will see Satan bound and the Lord Jesus governing the earth in displayed power and glory. “End of the world” is an unequivocal mistranslation, which has led astray not only the mass of men but their leaders, particularly in their false expectation of earthly progress and victory for the church, and along with this their unbelief of Israel’s restoration to favour and glory under the promised reign of the Messiah, and the universal blessing of the earth and the nation.
Thus the difference of the ages is of incalculable importance. If you do not distinguish the present age from that to come, all must be confused, not for truth only, but for practice also. For now it is a question of grace and faith, evil being allowed outwardly to triumph, as we see in the cross. In the age to come the evil will be externally judged and kept down, and the good will be exalted over all the earth, and fill the whole world with the knowledge of Jehovah and His glory. The completion of the age, therefore, is evidently future; and so scripture speaks. Thus for us it is “this present evil age,” from which Christ’s death has delivered us (Gal. 1:4); the new age will be good, not evil, as surely as it is a future time. Again, if we think not of the church, but of Israel, it is to be supposed that the age began with their being under the law in the absence of the Messiah. The new age will be when Israel have their Messiah not only come, but come again and reigning; for the presence of the Messiah in humiliation did not interrupt the age; and still less did their rejection of Him bring in the new age.
Only let us not forget, there is now another mighty work of God in process, based on the heavenly glory of Christ and the personal presence of the Holy Ghost, and marked here below by the church of God. During this period mercy is flowing out to the Gentiles; so that we may call it the Gentile parenthesis of mercy. Before, and quite distinct from this, were the Gentile times when God in His providence gave certain nations to take the government of the world, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar, the golden head of the great image. This we may call the Gentile parenthesis of judgement. They are both of them within the limits of “this age,” and are going on still. The new age will be brought in by the Lord’s coming in the clouds of heaven.
This at once introduces a very important change, namely, that repentant Israel will be delivered, and the nations come up for the judgement of the quick when the Son of man shall have entered on His kingdom. (Compare Matt. 25:31-48; Rev. 11.-20) The first part of Isaiah we saw to be the judgement of Israel, and then their final blessing. It is always a principle in the dealings of God, that when He judges, He begins at His own house. Hence Peter says, “The time is come that judgement must begin with the house of God”; and then he enquires if “the righteous scarcely [or with difficulty] are saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” But God has undertaken to save the righteous, although it be with difficulty and in face of an amazing mass of contradiction and trial, as well as of their own utter weakness. All these things make it hard indeed; but what is insuperable to us is an opening for the glory of God and He has got over the greatest difficulty, for this lay in our sins. Is sin - even all sin - any longer a difficulty for Christ? Has He not, for the believer, blotted out sins, and made peace by the blood of His cross? But if there remains no difficulty to God, there are many for us; and the word, “the righteous scarcely are saved,” is in relation to our dangers by the way. Now if this be so, what will be the end of the ungodly? The apostle Peter applies it to the Christian, and looks at the world as coming under judgement when the Lord shall appear. In the Old Testament it is not the church but Israel we find to be concerned; but God, in such a dealing, invariably begins with that which has the nearest responsibility to Him. Accordingly all the first twelve chapters of Isaiah have been occupied with Israel as the foreground of the picture, whatever incidental notice there may be of others.
But from this portion onward through a dozen chapters more we have the Gentiles prominent, though Jerusalem too is judged in their midst, ending with the dissolution of the earth and with the higher ones punished on high. He had shown us the judgement of His own house; now He deals with the nations and all else in relationship with His people, one after another: both close, like all others, with triumph.
First of all Babylon comes up: “The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see” (v. 1). Babylon was the great Gentile power first allowed to take possession of Jerusalem. But God shows that, while He may use the strangers to chastise His people, He will turn round ere long and deal with their oppressive cruelty, because their mind was to destroy, while God employed them only to chasten. And inasmuch as there was pride of power without conscience toward God, yea also the main source of idolatry, so Babylon cannot escape, being the first among the Gentiles summoned to judgement. Thus the section we now enter upon is not the divine scrutiny of His house in Israel, but the judgement of the world and of the nations, and hence right early of Babylon. Observe, however, that, if the Spirit of God takes notice of what was ere long to befall the Jews (expressly noticing the ruin of their land and people that was imminent, when they should be taken captive to Babylon), for all that He never confines Himself to any blows, however grave, that were then struck. Human limits do not apply to scripture, which goes on from His first acts to the ultimate end.
This indeed is just a characteristic difference between what is of God and what is of man. If man speaks, there are necessary bounds to the application of his words. In what God says there is invariably a germinant sense deepening farther on, evidence of what God has in view to show what He is and to glorify Christ. This appears to be the true meaning of the scriptural canon in 2 Peter 1:20: “No prophecy is of any private (i.e. its own) interpretation.” Apply it but to some isolated event, and you overlook the purpose of God; while prophecy may doubtless include such an event, it as a whole looks onward to the counsels of God in reference to the glory of His Son. Hence the holy prophets needed inspiration in the strictest sense; for whose eye could look onward unerringly and speak of the future according to God? Such therefore is the aim of the Spirit’s testimony. Indeed this is true of all scripture, for Christ is the object of God in giving scripture first and last. He is not merely thinking of man, or of his salvation, blessed as it is, nor of Israel His people, nor of the church, Christ’s body, but of His Son. This in effect, as in purpose, is the vindication, security, and display of His own glory; while it gives scope to the fullest love and the holiest judgement, it will illustrate His rich grace in the heavens and His righteous and merciful government on the earth. Compare Eph. 1; Phil. 2; Heb. 2; Rev. 20.-22.
God thinks of Christ, Who is more precious to Himself than all besides. It is in virtue of Christ that there can be a holy purpose of good brought to issue in such a world as this has been. For it is not possible that the creature itself could have any intrinsic value in the sight of God. That which merely flows out of the sovereign will and almighty hand of God can cease to be. He that made can destroy; but when you come to Christ, you have that which, we may reverently say, nothing can annul; yea all the efforts of man or Satan to oppose and dishonour Him have been only turned, in the mighty and gracious wisdom of God, into a display of all-surpassing glory.
Hence we arrive at the great truth for our every-day walk, no less than for eternity and God Himself. We have to do with One now, Whose love nothing can exhaust, Whose ways too are all perfect; we have to do with Him day by day, to wait on Him, to expect from Him, to trust Him, and to be sure of His admirable care for us. Christ is worthy that our hearts should confide in Him, and He cannot be confided in without the blessing that ever flows out. Thus God proves Himself greater than all that can be against us. Apart from Christ there is nothing even that He Himself made but what, connected with man on earth, soon had a cloud over it. Nay, it is wider still: look where you may, above or below; look at any creature height or beauty apart from Christ, and what is the security?
What is Satan now, and his angels? Where are those that left their first estate, and broke through all bounds of nature? Is not the earth, once so fair, a wilderness? Is not man a moral wreck, and mortality working in him? Israel were brought out into the wilderness to keep a feast to Jehovah; but they made and worshipped a golden calf to His deep shame and their own. And what was Egypt’s wisdom? What is the world’s of old or now? In the church of God, called to the unity of the Spirit and the reflection of Christ’s heavenly glory here below, what breaches, divisions, schisms, sects, heterodoxies, confusions, and every evil work! What guilty ignorance of the Father, what bold denial of the Son, what flagrant sin against the Holy Ghost! How many antichrists, the sign and forerunner of the last antichrist! For all this goes on at an aggravated and accelerating ratio, as the apostasy draws near and the manifestation of the man of sin; the lawless one, to succeed the mystery of lawlessness, whom the Lord Jesus shall destroy with the breath of His mouth and shall annul by the appearing of His coming (2 Thess. 2).
By the lamp of prophecy we look as it were on the closing history of Christendom, the eve and execution of the judgement that slumbers not. But, thank God, we await first of all our Saviour from heaven - a blessed hope, which may be forgotten by worldliness and unbelief but will never fade, because it is not founded on anything short of the grace and word of the Lord Jesus. He is coming; and as surely as He does, we have the turning-point of all blessing reached for our bodies and all things, even as now by faith for our souls. What a discovery it has been to some of us, that prophecy has the selfsame centre as the rest of scripture, and that its centre in Christ is so much the more conspicuous as it cannot content itself with past accomplishment, but ever looks onward to the grand fulfilment in the future! No matter what it may be, all acquires importance because God is thinking of His beloved Son. And His Son is to inflict the last strokes of judgement: God will deal with man, first by providential means, then in the person of Christ at His return in glory. “Lift up a banner upon a bare mountain, raise the voice to them, wave the hand that they may enter the gates of the nobles. I have commanded my separated ones, yea, I have called my mighty ones for mine anger, even those that exult in my majesty. The noise of a multitude on the mountains, as of a great people! a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations assembled together! Jehovah of hosts mustering the host of the battle! They come from a far country, from the end of the heavens - Jehovah and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole earth” (vv. 2-5).
From the chapter now before us we may gather these two things plainly enough - a preparatory application to the times of the prophet or near them, but the only adequate fulfilment reserved for the great day which is still future. This divine perspective simply and unequivocally meets the difficulty some find in the view of the city, not only taken and ravaged by the Medes, but such as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, the abode of doleful creatures, which was not for centuries after Cyrus conquered. And so it is that Isa. 14 regards its downfall even to the day when Jehovah will yet choose Israel and set them in their own land: a consummation far beyond the return of the remnant of Judah, and only “in that day” fulfilled when Israel shall take them captive whose captives they were, and rule over their oppressors, which in no real sense has been accomplished. Those who explain it away are no friends of God or man. Those who presume to deny its future fulfilment set up to prophesy against scripture; and we need not hesitate to say that they are not prophets but do lie.
For instance, in verses 6-10 one can see there are greater signs than have ever been verified. “Howl ye; for the day of Jehovah [is] at hand; as destruction from the Almighty shall it come. Therefore shall all hands be feeble, and every heart of man shall melt, and they shall be dismayed: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall writhe as a woman in travail; they shall be amazed one at another; their faces [shall be] faces of flames. Behold, the day of Jehovah cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation, and to destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun is darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause its light to shine.” These things cannot fairly be said to have literally taken place; yet the Spirit of God does not hesitate to connect them with Babylon’s fall. To talk of hyperbole or exaggeration is to show unbelieving ignorance of scripture and of the power of God. One understands an infidel talking such language as this; but the moment men begin to allow that the Spirit of God willingly sets Himself to exaggerate, the authority of the whole written word is shaken. If He magnifies a temporal judgement beyond the facts, how can we be assured that He does not exaggerate grace and eternal redemption? And where is the ground in this case for solid peace with God? Is it, or is it not, a fixed principle, that the Holy Ghost always speaks the truth? Still, along with this, we must take care that we understand its application.
“And I will punish the world for evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. I will make weak man more rare than fine gold, a man than the pure gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens to tremble, and the earth shall be shaken out of her place, at the wrath of Jehovah of hosts, and in the day of his hot anger” (vv. 11-13). To restrain this scene to the past judgement of Babylon is to limit the word of God, and make the Spirit seem to be unreliable. But this is merely our own evil misconception and irreverent error. How momentous, then, it is that we should be in malice children, in understanding men! We may well shrink with horror from a pathway that leads to an end so dishonouring to the word of God. On the other hand, that the Holy Ghost did really speak inclusively of a past accomplishment we hold to be just as certain as that He was looking onward to far more than that.
In verses 14-17 the terms imply that it is a temporal judgment that is spoken of, a description of the lawless way in which man wreaks his wrath upon his fellow. “And it shall come to pass, that as a chased roe, and as sheep that no one gathereth, they shall turn every one to his own people, and shall flee every one to his own land. Every one that is found shall be thrust through; and every one that is taken shall fall by the sword. Their infants also shall be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their women ravished. Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, who will not regard silver, and [as for; gold, they will not delight in it.” Verses 18, 19 present a total destruction. “And [their] bows shall dash the young men in pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb, their eye shall not spare children. And Babylon the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, shall be as God’s overthrowing Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Babylon has indeed been judged in its beauty and pride. An almost unprecedented disaster and destruction fell on that golden city; and this, we know, was under God effected by the junction of the Medes and Persians with Cyrus for their leader. Only the closing verses point to the utter ruin that followed centuries after, and is to last for ever. “It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in to generation and generation; neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there, nor shall shepherds make [their flocks] to lie down there. But beasts of the desert there shall lie down; and their houses shall be full of owls (or howls); and ostriches shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And wolves shall cry in their palaces, and jackals in the pleasant castles. And her time [is] near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged” (vv. 21-22).
But plainly Jehovah here uses the strongest language to show that it goes on to His day. In reading the New Testament as well as the Old, it is of the utmost moment to understand “the day of the Lord” in its real character and import. It is not the same thing as the Lord’s “coming” to receive us. When He comes, the dead saints are raised and the living ones are changed, which is not “the day of the Lord,” nor ever so called in scripture . There is one chapter (2 Peter 3) where there might seem to be some difficulty, but there it flows really from this very confusion, for when you distinguish the two phrases and thoughts here as elsewhere, all is plain. What the scoffers of the last day say is, “Where is the promise of His coming?” etc. What the Spirit of God replies is, that the day of the Lord shall come, and come like a thief in the night to judge wickedness upon the earth. They make light of the Christians who are looking for this bright hope, their Master’s coming; but the Holy Ghost threatens them with the terrible day of the Lord. The Lord is never represented as coming like a thief by night, except when judgement is distinctly spoken of, as to Sardis (Rev. 3:3). In 1 Thess. 5:24 the Spirit brings in the comparison of the thief when He speaks of the day of the Lord coming upon the world, not in relation to the saints who wait for Christ and are not in darkness that the day should overtake them as a thief. (Compare vv. 3-8)
The plain truth is that the expression “coming of the Lord” may apply to His presence before He is manifested to every eye; while “the day of Jehovah” pertains to that part and aspect of His action which inflicts just vengeance upon the world, and after that presents Him judging in righteousness. Here it is the day of Jehovah; and, therefore, of darkness and destruction to sinners. There is not a word about the righteous dead being raised, still less of the living changed; all that which is proper to the New Testament you find therein, and therein only. In the Old Testament you have the dealing of Jehovah with Israel, judging their wrong but finally blessing them, and patient long-suffering with the Gentiles, where He took notice of them at all, till the day of visitation come in punishment of all ungodliness.
This accounts for the language of Isaiah 13. The Spirit of God has in His view Jehovah’s judgement of the whole world; and, therefore, it is called “the day of Jehovah.” It will be the termination of all the space allowed to man’s will and self-exaltation. It will be the manifestation of God’s moral ways when all that is high shall be abased, and Jehovah and the lowly whom He loves shall be exalted for ever. But while the Spirit of God goes onward to that day, there was enough to mark Babylon devoted to destruction by a predicted and extraordinary intervention of God near at hand. The truth of the prophecy was thus witnessed by a special accomplishment in those days. Babylon was doomed to become as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. Its desolation at last was as clearly announced in vers. 19-22, as its sudden and unexpected fall in vers. 2-8. If physically it was not so manifestly a divine judgement as that which of old fell on the cities of the plain, it was morally a stupendous event which changed the whole course of the world’s history. The conquest of Persia was in no way a type of the final judgement of the world, neither was the fall of Greece of any striking significance in this respect. The final judgement of Rome, of the fourth world-power, will be even more impressive of course; but this is yet future. It has been, as it were, shaken to pieces, and passed into a long transition state of separated kingdoms. The day is coming when Rome will rise again into splendour and commanding political power, when it will become the centre of a revived and godless empire. But it will then rise to meet its final doom from the mouth of the Lord (Rev. 17:11-14; Rev. 19:11-21). The past ruin of Babylon is a type of the future destruction of Rome. When Babylon fell, the children of Israel were delivered, there was nothing of the sort when Persia yielded to Greece, or Greece to Rome; there will be a yet mightier result at the end of the age before and when the Son of man comes in power and glory.
Thus the fall of the first great power of the Gentiles is a type of the doom of the last, when Israel will have been finally set free, a converted people, being delivered spiritually as much as nationally, and thenceforward made to express the glory of Jehovah upon the earth.
In the chapter before us the Spirit of God goes forward to Israel’s deliverance. The connection is plain. The general character of the Burden becomes thus evident and most instructive. “For Jehovah will have compassion on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and rest them in their own land: and the stranger shall join himself with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. And the peoples shall take them, and bring them to their place; and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of Jehovah for servants and for handmaids; and they shall take them captive, whose captives they were, and they shall rule over their oppressors” (vv. 1, 2). The overthrow of Babylon involves the emancipation of Israel. It has thus much greater importance than the history of any ordinary power; and the past Babylon is simply a type of the fall of the greater power, its final heir, which is to the last the enslaver of the Jews, the would-be protector but master of the holy city. Israel are yet to have as their servants the very persons who formerly enslaved them themselves. Expecting this glory for Israel, and this mighty deliverance for the people of the Jews, one can understand their exulting tone.
“And it shall come to pass in the day that Jehovah shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy trouble, and from the hard service wherein thou wast made to serve, that thou shalt take up this parable against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased, the golden city ceased! Jehovah hath broken the staff of the wicked, the sceptre of the rulers. He that smote the peoples in wrath with a continual stroke, that ruled the nations in anger, hath a persecution without restraint. The whole earth is at rest - is quiet: they break forth into singing. Yea, the cypresses rejoice at thee, the cedars of Lebanon, [saying,] Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us. Sheol from beneath is moved for thee to meet [thee] at thy coming; it stirreth up the giants for thee, all the chief ones (or, he-goats) of the earth, raising up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All of them shall answer and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to Sheol, the noise of thy lyres: the worm is spread under thee, and vermin covereth thee. How art thou fallen from heaven, O day-star, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, that didst lay low the nations! And thou saidst in thine heart, I will ascend into the heavens, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit upon the mount of assembly, in the recesses of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, they shall consider thee, [saying,] [Is] this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; [that] made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities thereof; [that] let not loose his prisoners to their home? All kings of the nations, all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house. But thou art cast out from thy sepulchre like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain - those thrust through with the sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcass trodden under foot. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, thou hast slain thy people: the seed of evil-doers shall not be named for ever. Prepare ye slaughter for his children because of the iniquity of their fathers; that they rise not up and possess the earth, nor fill the face of the world with cities. And I will rise up against them, saith Jehovah of hosts, and cut off from Babylon name and remnant, and son and son’s son, saith Jehovah. I will also make it a possession for the porcupine, and pools of water; and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith Jehovah of hosts” (vv.3-23).
The king of Babylon sets forth no other than the last head of the Beast, just as Nebuchadnezzar was the first of that line. We must distinguish the imperial chief of the last days from the religious head of the antichrist; and the more carefully, because, having a similar policy and being confederates in evil, they are very generally confounded by ancients and moderns. Although the king of Babylon typifies the person who will finally have the Jews as his vassals, it would be a great mistake to conceive that it is to be a king of the Babylon in Shinar. We refer to this now merely to show that it rests upon a wrong principle. Some have the thought that there will be a re-establishment of oriental Babylon in the last days. They suppose there will be a literal city in the plain of Shinar. This appears to be fundamentally false.
The New Testament points out by evident marks what the future one will be; and, in order apparently to guard against that illusion, even contrasts the Apocalyptic Babylon in some respects with that of the Chaldees. The Babylon of the old world was built upon a plain; the future Babylon is characterized by the seven mountains it sits on. Thus every one of common information would distinguish the scene of Chaldean pride, and understand the locality of the future Babylon. There is but one city that has had universally and proverbially this title attached to it among Gentiles, Jews, and Christians. Other cities may include seven or more hills, but everywhere Rome has acquired a designation from the circumstance; so that if you speak of the seven-hilled city, there was, there is, hardly an educated child but would answer, “It must be the famous city on the banks of the Tiber.” So every one must have known in apostolic days. This is the city which is to occupy in the last days the same kind of importance that Babylon had in the beginning of Gentile times. It began then and ends with the person that is called in the Book of Revelation, “the Beast.” There were four Beasts in Daniel, but one is by St. John called “the Beast,” as indeed only the last then existed; and if it had to become imperially extinct, it was also to rise again and be present once more before its judgement.
Here then God makes the old enemy to be a type of the new one that menaces them. The final holder of the power of Babylon thus naturally is a type of him who will wield imperial power against the glory of God in the last days. So in Revelation 17 the general principle is exceeding clear, without the violent supposition of a literal metropolis in Chaldea; where man would have not merely to build the city, but, first of all, to create seven hills. Another thing the Spirit of God speaks of is the reigning of the city over the kings of the earth, not of the control exercised over the empire, but far beyond, under the symbol of the harlot riding the beast; she sits too on “the waters.”
The Apocalyptic Babylon will finally shift from a papal heathen character, as it did from an openly heathen beginning, to final utter corruption. What we have in Isaiah furnishes the groundwork for that which meets us in the Revelation. Thus the strong language in verses 9-14 could scarcely be said to have been exhausted in Nebuchadnezzar or Belshazzar. There was pride and self-exaltation in the one, and most degrading and profane luxury in the other; but what we have here will be fully verified in the last days and not before. After taking this place of power, the lofty one is to be thus abased as no Babylonish monarch ever was historically.
We do not enter into the rest of the chapter farther than to point out another declaration in verses 24, 25. Some suppose that the king of Babylon and the Assyrian are one and the same person; it is a common mistake, and particularly among men of learning. But it is clear that the later statement is something added to the fall of Babylon’s king, who has been already judged. Then the Assyrian follows, who is dealt with summarily in Jehovah’s land. This agrees perfectly with what may be gathered from other parts of God’s word as to the future. “Jehovah of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass, and as I have purposed, it shall stand: to break the Assyrian in my land; and on my mountains I will trample him; and his yoke shall depart from off them, and his burden from off their shoulders: this the purpose [that is] purposed concerning the whole earth, and this the hand [that is] stretched out over all the nations. For Jehovah of hosts hath purposed, and who shall frustrate [it]? and his hand [is] stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (vv. 24-27)
But, if we look at the past history of Israel, the Assyrian came up first; his army was destroyed, and himself sent back into his own land, there to be slain by his rebellious sons in the house of his god. The astonishing destruction of his host was typical of the fall of “the Assyrian” in the last days, but only an earnest of it. This was considerably before Babylon was allowed of God to become supreme. It was after the disappearance of Nineveh that Babylon sprang up into the first place. The Assyrian never gained the supremacy of the world, but Babylon did, as a sovereign grant from God, after the royal house of David had become the helper on of idolatry, following the Jewish people in their love for the abominations of the heathen. Then, not before, God told (as it were) the king of Babylon to take the whole world to himself. Babylon was always most conspicuous for its many idols; but as the chosen witness had become idolatrous, the worst might as well have supremacy as another. Babylon was thus exalted to the empire of the world, when Lo-Ammi (not-My-people) was written on all Israel, even on Judah. Its active enmity and idolatry could hardly be thought a claim on the true God, Jehovah; on the other hand, all this was not allowed to hinder its rise in God’s sovereignty into the place of the government of the world. This was, in fact, subsequent to the destruction of the Assyrian, which we have seen before in other chapters (Isa. 8; Isa. 10) must besides contemplate the future.
Here, not as in previous history, Babylon is judged first; then the Assyrian comes up and is smitten in the land of God’s people. Why is this? Because the Spirit of God is now taking the circumstances of the Assyrian as well as the king of Babylon, not as a history of the past, but as looking onward to the last days; and in the last days the king represented by Babylon will be destroyed first, when the power of the Assyrian will be broken last of all. This perfectly agrees with the scene as a typical or prophetic picture of the last days. Whereas, if you confine it to the past, it does not tally, and there could be no right understanding of it. While the Spirit of God speaks of the Assyrian subsequently to Babylon, it is certain that in past history the Assyrian fell first in order, then Babylon afterwards. By-and by Babylon will be smitten in the last holder of the Beast’s power, and this in connection with the Jews; while the power then answering to the king of Assyria will come up after that, when God occupies Himself with the ten tribes of Israel. The Babylonian despot and the Assyrian, then, are two distinct enemies of the Lord, and types of two different powers in the last days, the one before, the other after, the Jews are in recognized relationship with Jehovah.
The Lord grant that we may be enabled to profit by all scripture, using it for instruction and warning, as well as refreshment and joy. All plans for worldly ease and honour will end only in destruction and bitter disappointment. Our business is to work out what God gives us now to do. He is saving souls to be the companions of Christ in heaven. Our responsibility meanwhile is to carry out His thoughts of mercy toward sinners, and His love to and in those that cleave to the name of His
The division of chapters is singularly unhappy here, for Isa. 14:24-27 has a distinct place of its own to mark the future judgement of the Assyrian relatively to the “burden” of Babylon, which is to be the inverse of history. Also the last five verses of the chapter form a sub-section to themselves, though the whole appears to be connected. The two following chapters (Isa. 15 - Isa. 16) are but one subject, and a new one. What adds to the confusion is the insertion of the sign of the new paragraph at Isa. 14:29; whereas Isa. 14:28 really pertains to the new “burden” - not to Babylon or to the Assyrian, but to God’s Judgement on the Philistines.
“In the year that king Ahaz died was this burden. Rejoice not thou, Philistia, all of thee, because the rod that smote thee is broken; for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a viper and his fruit [shall be] a fiery flying serpent. And the first-born of the poor shall feed, and the needy shall lie down in safety; but I will kill thy root with famine, and thy remnant shall be slain. Howl, O gate! cry, O city! dissolved, O Philistia, [is] the whole of thee; for out of the north cometh smoke, and none straggleth (or, standeth aloof) in his gatherings. And what shall [one] answer the messengers of the nation? That Jehovah hath founded Zion, and in it the afflicted of his people find refuge” (vv. 28-32).
The death of Ahaz might naturally excite the hopes of his neighbours, the Philistines, who had been put down by the strong hand of his grandfather Uzziah. Of him it is written in 2 Chr. 26:4-8 that “he did that which was right in the sight of Jehovah according to all that his father Amaziah did. And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought Jehovah, God made him to prosper. And he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and brake down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities in [the country of] Ashdod, and among the Philistines. And God helped him against the Philistines, and against the Arabians that dwelt in Gur-baal, and the Meunim. And the Ammonites gave gifts to Uzziah; and his name spread abroad even to the entering in of Egypt; for he strengthened [himself] exceedingly.”
And now not only Uzziah but Ahaz were gone, “the rod [of him] that smote” the land of the Philistines was “broken.” The enemy had learnt to despise Judah in the days of unworthy Ahaz. “For Jehovah brought Judah low because of Ahaz, king of Israel: for he made Judah naked and transgressed sore against Jehovah.” Who was his son that they should fear him? Let them not rejoice, however; “for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a viper, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.” The primary accomplishment of this was in the reign of Hezekiah, of whom it is recorded (2 Kings 18:8) that “he smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.”
But is there any reason whatever to suppose that this “burden” is an exception to the rest? Especially does the strength of the language point to a mightier destruction than what was inflicted by that pious king of Judah. Its proper fulfilment therefore awaits the latter day. And then to the full will be seen the twofold application of divine power, when, on the one hand, “the first-born of the poor shall feed and the needy shall lie down in safety”; and, on the other, Jehovah will not merely break the rod, but kill the root of Philistia with famine and slay its remnant (v. 30). In the next verse the prophet bursts forth with the utmost animation, calling on the gate to howl, and the city to cry out. “Howl, O gate! cry, O city! dissolved, O Philistia, the whole of thee; for out of the north cometh smoke, and none straggleth in his gatherings (i.e. of troops).” Thus an overwhelming and vigorously sustained force is threatened, which will sweep all before itself, as far as the Philistines are concerned. Here too the end is deliverance for the tried of His people. “And what shall one answer the messengers of the nation? That Jehovah hath founded Zion, and the afflicted of his people shall trust [or, find refuge] in it.”
This forms a sufficiently distinct sub-section: Babylon judged; the Assyrian broken in Jehovah’s land; Philistia melted away; and Zion founded by Jehovah as a refuge for the afflicted of His people.
It is instructive to observe that in the day that is coming Jehovah will deal with comparatively small powers as well as the greatest, according to their behaviour toward Israel. Thus, after Babylon and Assyria, we have now Philistia, as we shall have in their place Moab and Syria, the races and lands which surrounded the chosen people. It is in vain to argue that they are now unknown, or to assume that they are extinct. Whatever may have been in the past, these chapters look on to the future; and He, Who will before all the world bring forward distinctly Israel as compared with Judah, will not fail to single out the long hidden remnants of their neighbours for His retribution in the end of the age.
Nor can we have a more manifest evidence of divine prescience conveyed to God’s people than that Babylon should take precedence of Assyria, then in its glory, while Babylon gave no sign of its eventual supremacy; unless indeed we add that, in contrast with history which testifies of Assyria’s fall making way for Babylon’s rise, we read in prophecy of Assyria to be trodden down on Jehovah’s mountains after the desolation of Babylon has been set out to the utmost: a prophecy which awaits fulfilment.
This was feebly, or not at all, seen by the mass of interpreters of old and in modern times. Bishop Lowth expresses their vagueness when he remarks on v. 25 that “the Assyrians and Babylonians are the same people”; yet he refers to his father, W. Lowth, who, after giving a similarly uncertain sound, says, “I am apt to think that by the Assyrian may be meant some remarkable enemies of God’s church (see note on Isa. 11:14; Isa. 32:16), and particularly those expressed by Gog and Magog (Ezek. 38), who, as the prophet there tells us (v. 17), were under several names “spoken of by the prophets of Israel”; and it is particularly said of them that they shall ‘fall upon the mountains of Israel.’“ This is at least better than his son’s comment, and ought to have dispelled at once the confusion of Assyria with Babylon. It ought also to have shown without a doubt that our prophet was given to speak of a judgement which closes Jehovah’s indignation against Israel (for “the church” of course is not in question) in the destruction of the last of their enemies, when His whole work is performed on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem. Even Dr. Driver confesses (Lit. of the Old Testament, 202) that “The prophecy has no connection with what precedes. It is directed against Assyria, not Babylon; and it anticipates, not the capture of the city of Babylon, but the overthrow of the hosts of Assyria in Judah.” This witness is true; but, if true, it points to an immense intervention of God at the close of the age, no such overthrow having ever been in the past, whatever the earnest then given.
In chaps. 15 - 16. we have “the burden of Moab,” the neighbour of Israel among the surrounding races as a pastoral people and outwardly prosperous hitherto. What a picture of desolation and woe; and so much the more felt, because so unexpected and sudden! The Philistines were not more offensive to God because of the pleasure they took in the calamities of Israel, than the Moabites in their excessive self-security and pride. They were among the neighbouring races which were allowed to harass Israel for their unfaithfulness during the Judges, till David reduced them. Afterwards they took advantage of the revolt of the ten tribes to shake off their subjection, first to Judah, and finally to Israel; but they, like others, fell under the Babylonish conqueror, as we may gather from a comparison of Jer. 10:58, which adopts and enlarges these very predictions of the older prophet, and serves thus to fix the epoch of their application. “For in a night of laying waste, Ar of Moab is undone; for in a night of laying waste, Kir of Moab is undone!” [Dr Henderson prefers to render it thus: “Assuredly in the night of assault Ar-Moab is destroyed assuredly in the night of assault Kir-Moab is destroyed.” They were the two main defences of Moab the city and the castle a few miles off the storming of which decided the fate of the people] (v. 1). Ar-Moab is the more forcible a phrase, because it was not only the capital, but the only real city that Moab possessed. Ar means city, and Kir means a wall and thence a walled fortress. It was not far from the city on the S.E.
Broken thus in their city and stronghold, one after another surprised to their dismay, the people are supposed to go to their places to weep, with deep and universal signs of mourning in public and in private; and this, to the extremities of their land, the very soldiers crying out like the weaker sex. “He is gone up to Bayith, and to Dibon, to the high places, to weep; Moab howleth over Nebo, and over Medeba: on all their heads [is] baldness, every beard is cut off. In their streets they gird themselves with sackcloth; on their housetops, and in their broad places, every one howleth, weeping abundantly. And Heshbon crieth out, and Elealeh; their voice is heard unto Jahaz. Therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud; his soul trembleth within him” (vv. 2-4).
The prophet, or whosoever is personated by him, cannot but feel for the disasters of Moab; and the graphic sketch of desolation and want and carnage is continued to the end of the chapter. “My heart crieth out for Moab; their nobles [flee] unto Zoar, to Eglath-shelishiyah: for by the ascent of Luhith with weeping they go up by it; for in the way of Horonaim they raise up a cry of destruction. For the waters of Nimrim shall be desolate; for the grass is withered away, the tender grass faileth, there is no green thing. Therefore the abundance they have gotten, and that which they have laid up, shall they carry away to the brook of the willows. For the cry is gone round about the borders of Moab; the howling thereof unto Eglaim, and the howling thereof unto Beer-elim. For the waters of Dimon are full of blood: for I will bring yet more upon Dimon, a lion upon him that escapeth of Moab, and upon the remnant of the land” (vv. 5-9). Even the escaped should find fresh disaster and destruction from Jehovah. Extreme humiliation is the chastening of excessive pride. But the intense feeling of the prophet, which was assuredly no less in Jeremiah, is the most complete disproof of the heartlessness which unbelieving critics ascribe to Isaiah, or at least to these “burdens” assigned to him. Ewald had too much sense of taste to overlook it. There is no doubt as marked a difference in tone between the deep pathos over Moab’s fall and the ode of triumph before the Babylonish potentate. This is as it should be; but vindictive and sarcastic in an evil sense it is not. Even the Christian, who is heavenly, is called to abhor evil, and cleave to good. And heaven resounds with hallelujahs over God’s true and righteous judgement of the Great Harlot, though her smoke goeth up for ever and ever (Rev. 19:1-6). How suited for a Jewish prophet to triumph over the last holder of the impious power allowed to rise When Judah was swept away, and whose fall at length ushers in Israel delivered for ever! Here in chaps. 15, 16. he can yield to the most impassioned feeling over kindred but proud Moab brought low.
We may note among the places named which share in the national grief that the Dibon of ver. 2 appears to be called Dimon in ver. 9, a play on the word in order to associate it with the Hebrew for “blood,” which was to be its portion. Jerome records that the place in his day was called both. Death and disasters yet more impended. What a contrast was Beer-elim to Moab and Israel! There Moab’s howling was to reach; there Israel sang their song of triumph as they drew to the end of their journeying, where for the refreshing of all the well sprang up under the staves of the chiefs and nobles (Num. 21:16-18). So the true end with enduring joy yet awaits the people after a far longer wandering. But judgements accompany and distinguish “that day,” judgements on all the enemies of Israel small and great; judgements that begin with the ancient people of God, and with Judah first of all. For there is no unrighteousness with God. And if it be a day of sifting for all the nations of the earth, He must begin at His house, before Israel can say in truth of heart, His mercy for ever!
Our chapter opens with a call to Moab to send the lamb to the ruler of the land from Sela in the wilderness unto the mount of the daughter of Zion: “Send the lamb to the ruler of the land from the rock in (or, to) the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of Zion. And it shall be, as wandering birds, as a scattered nest, the daughter of Moab shall be at the fords of Arnon” (vv. 1, 2). I see not the smallest reason to justify the notion of an allusion to the lamb as the well-known type of the Messiah, still less that He is here spoken of as the Lamb, the Ruler of the earth, as if we were reading the Revelation. This appears to be a reference to their ancient tribute to Israel. They were subdued by David of old, and they sent him gifts. “And he smote Moab and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive; and [so] the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts” (2 Sam. 8:2). Later on in the history, we find that the king of Moab was a sheep-master, and used to render to the king of Israel the tribute of 100,000 lambs, and as many rams with the wool (2 Kings 3:4, 5). The prophet seems here to remind Moab of its obligation; otherwise their daughters must prepare for still greater calamities to come.
“Take counsel, execute judgement; make thy shadow as the night in the midst of the noonday; hide the outcasts, discover not him that wandereth. Let mine outcasts dwell with thee, Moab, be thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler. For the extortioner is at an end, the spoiler ceaseth, the oppressor is consumed out of the land. And in mercy shall the throne be established; and one shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging and seeking judgement, and hasting righteousness” (vv.3-5). The prophet, in his second counsel, touches on the dire offence of Moab in Jehovah’s eyes. Had he sheltered the outcasts of Israel? or had he taken advantage of their distressful flight to smite and betray them? The prophetic Spirit looks through Hezekiah to the true Son of David, Who shall reign in righteousness when the last oppressive spoiler has come to his end. For who can have overlooked that in the vast theatre of judgement we see in Isaiah 24, 25, etc., that Moab has a conspicuously affecting place? (Isa. 25:10-12). To confine it to the past is far from spiritual intelligence.
The verses that follow (6-12) detail once more the pride of Moab and his most humiliating downfall, when, spite of his arrogance, “Moab shall howl for Moab; every one shall howl,” and the country shall vie with the towns in extent of devastation; and the prophet weeps afresh at the sight of the wretchedness of the once lofty foe, who prays in his sanctuary; “but he shall not prevail.” “We have heard of the arrogance of Moab - [the] very proud - of his pride, and his arrogance, and his wrath: his pratings [are] vain. Therefore shall Moab howl for Moab, every one of them shall howl. For the foundations of Kir-hareseth shall ye mourn, verily afflicted. For the fields of Heshbon languish, the vine of Sibmah; the lords of the nations have broken down its choice plants: they reached unto Jaazer; they wandered [through] the wilderness; its shoots stretched out, they went beyond the sea. Therefore I will weep with the weeping of Jaazer for the vine of Sibmah; with my tears will I water thee, Heshbon, and Elealeh, for a cry is fallen upon thy summer fruits and upon thy harvest. And taken away is joy and gladness out of the fruitful field; and in the vineyard there is no singing, neither is there shouting: the treaders tread out no wine in the presses; I have made the cry to cease. Therefore my bowels sound like a harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirhares. And it shall come to pass, when Moab shall appear, shall weary himself on the high place, and enter into his sanctuary to pray, that he shall not prevail” (vv. 6-12).
It is remarkably added, “This [is] the word which Jehovah hath spoken from of old concerning Moab. And now Jehovah speaketh, saying, Within three years . . .” (vv. 13, 14). It seems to be a supplement added to the former strain after an interval. The last verse shows that, whatever may be the full bearing of this “burden” on Moab, “within three years, as the years of a hireling [i.e., I suppose, exactly measured out, as would be the fact in such a case], and the glory of Moab shall be brought to naught, with all that great multitude, and the remnant shall be small, few, of no account.” That this was accomplished to the letter, there can be no doubt to the believing mind, though we know not the instrumentality, whether the king of Judah or the Assyrian.
But as little need one question that the fulfilment of all the unaccomplished terms of the prophecy will be in the grand future crisis; for it is certain that the final king of the north will fail to reach Moab, and that the children of Israel under the Messiah are to lay their hands upon him. Compare Isa. 11:14 with Dan. 11:41. Nothing more clearly proves that, if unknown or little known now, there will remain representatives of that nation in the end of the age to take their part in that catastrophe, humiliating to man but to the glory of God, when the chosen people, in their totality, shall be saved, and restored by divine mercy to the land of their inheritance and their promised dominion. It is certain, from a later strain of our prophet (Isa. 25:10-12), the epoch of which is the day of Jehovah, that the final ruin of Moab will only be at the time when He exalts Israel to their promised place of everlasting supremacy on the earth.
We may notice that if Micah was led to use a prediction of Isaiah in Isa. 2:2, Jeremiah was inspired to borrow from this strain of Isaiah. Compare Jer. 10:58. Was this poverty in the resources of any one of them? No inference can be more shallow and unjust, even if we only regard them as writers; but if we believe in plenary inspiration, it is baser and more evil still. It was the Spirit of God only the more firmly welding the divine together in that grace which honours every true testimony from God and the vessels of it.
Assuming that these prophecies, whatever past accomplishment they may have received, have for their centre the day of Jehovah how are we to meet the difficulty about these various peoples and cities which once troubled Israel? How are we to account for these prophecies looking onward to a future day, seeing that they no longer, or very feebly, exist? The answer is that the very same difficulty applies to Israel. No one knows clearly or certainly where the ten tribes are; neither does it seem any one’s business to search beforehand. We may leave them in the obscurity that God has put them in. We know, if we believe His word, that as surely as He has preserved the dispersed remnant of the two tribes, so will He bring out of their hiding-place the descendants of the ten. We know that not only the Jews proper are to be restored, but also the full nationality of Israel. To this the
δωδεχάφυλον hope to come; the full twelve tribes making one nation in the land, and one King shall be king over them all. “And they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all” (Ezek. 37:22). Every letter of the promises will be accomplished. Scripture cannot be broken.
Even if we saw no signs, why doubt? Do we need such tokens? It is a proof of feebleness of faith, if we ask a sign. God’s word is the best assurance; on this let us take our stand. If God has said that so it shall be, we have a right to expect that He will bring from their recesses the ten tribes, and will save them out of all their dwelling-places wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them. We are far from being fully acquainted even with the little world on which we live. Long ago there were parts of the world better known than they have been till of late. Thus the early accounts of Africa and central Asia, for instance, have been largely confirmed by recent researches. God may have the ten tribes in some of earth’s little explored regions; or they may emerge unexpectedly out of a nation with which they have long been confounded. But we are not bound to show where they are. God has declared that He will bring them into their own land, and this in a peculiar manner; for the house of Israel are to pass through the wilderness again, and there be purged of the transgressors in their midst, who thus never reach the land, instead of being destroyed in it like the apostate Jews (Ezek. 20:36-38). Thus there is a totally different destiny for the ten tribes as compared with the two. If God will accomplish both, nothing will be easier than for the same God to define the descendants of their old Gentile enemies, whether near or farther off. The truth is that the very same principle of faith accepts and accounts for both, as it is mere incredulity which finds a difficulty in either. These remarks apply to almost all these chapters.
Again, some strangely misunderstand the bold figures of the prophets, as if employed to cast their subjects into an enigmatic, if not ambiguous, mould. This is a great error. For they are meant, not so much to throw a cloud over things, as to give emphasis and energy. Many, whose object is to deter Christians from reading the prophecies, talk much of these tropes, as if their presence was evidence enough to show that the meaning is doubtful. Nothing can be more contrary to the fact; for in the inspired writings, as in others, figures are used, by a kind of understood license, to illustrate, adorn, and enforce the sense, and in no case to mystify. Figures and even symbols are quite as definite as plain or literal terms, and are meant to be only more forcible. The very speech of ordinary life abounds in metaphor and simile; but, of course, the poetical language of the prophecies gives occasion to their more frequent usage therein.
Further, the difficulty of scripture does not lie so much in its figurative style as in the depth of its thoughts. In the word of God there is perhaps nothing more profound than the first chapter of the Fourth Gospel. Yet what first strikes one there is the exceeding simplicity of this scripture as a matter of language. It used to be and perhaps is the common habit, of those teaching the Greek language in some parts of the country, to make this Gospel a sort of initiatory exercise. Notwithstanding, in all the Bible you can find no revelation or handling of truth more full of depths, none that will cause the really spiritual to stand more amazed, however attractive the grace it displays in Christ. This will show how entirely unfounded is the notion of such as fancy it is a simple question of words.
The divine depth of scripture is in sober fact the difficulty, not its obscure language. It is difficult because of our darkness morally, because of our want of acquaintance with the mind of God, judging appearances by the natural senses or by the mind, instead of receiving things from God, and reading His words in the light of Christ. So far from the prophetic scriptures being the most difficult part, they are much easier than is commonly imagined. It is a great thing to begin with believing them; intelligence follows and grows apace. If we may compare the various parts of scripture, the New Testament is without doubt the deepest of God’s communications; and of the New Testament none exceeds the apostle John’s writings for penetration into the knowledge of what God is; and of his writings who would treat the Epistles and the Gospel as less profound than the Apocalypse? None, I am persuaded, but such as are too superficially acquainted with any of them to warrant their pronouncing a Judgement.
This may encourage some to take up the prophecies with a more child-like spirit, always bearing in mind that God looks onward to the future crisis that ushers in “the day of Jehovah.” He thinks of His beloved Son, and of His glory here below. This gives importance to the prophecies; they unfold the scene, objects, and ways of His interests. The Jews are the people of whom the Lord Jesus deigned to be born as to the flesh. They have proved what they were to Him; He has now to prove what He will be to them. He means to have an earthly people (Israel), as well as a heavenly (the church), for His glory. The word of God stops not short of this. If it is not fulfilled, yet it is in the sure keeping of God, Who has already given a partial accomplishment. Hence we learn the principle for interpreting prophecy; it is as a whole for the glory of the Lord Jesus in connection with Israel and the nations upon the earth. We speak now of Old Testament prophecy. The New Testament takes another character - the Lord Jesus in connection with Christendom also, besides confirming the oracles about Israel. The church then, too, is outside, and above all in union with its glorified Head in heaven, His body even now on earth.
This may show too why Jehovah attaches importance to a little place or people on the prophetic field. Israel was much in His eyes, because of the Messiah; and His own counsels are not dead if they sleep. Hence too, when God removes the veil from His ancient people Israel, their old antagonists will begin to appear. This is assuredly full of interest. There is a resurrection for every individual. The body will be raised for the manifestation of everything that was done in the body, for it is by the body that the soul acts. Even so will it be with these nations. There is a destiny analogous. As scripture tells us, they are to reappear when Israel does, for the Lord Jesus to take the kingdom; and God will distinguish them according to their original names, not by those they may bear in the process of human history. Jehovah will go up, as He alone can, to the sources. Hence we have their judgement connected with the last days, and not merely that which fell upon them long ago. His words go down to the close. Some may have been more completely accomplished in the past than others, but with this difference, they all look onward to the future.
The last generation will do as their fathers, only with added manifestation of evil by-and-by; then judgement will fall. Thus it is that God will deal with the nations. They will manifest the same hostility to Israel, the same pride against God, as formerly. This may seem a hard principle to some, but it is most righteous. If a child has grown up, knowing his father’s dishonour, hearing of his disgrace and punishment, would not that sin be most peculiarly odious in his eyes, if any right feeling existed? The public example of his father’s evil ways would be ever before him. But if the son trifled with it, and used it as an encouragement to walk in the same path, is it not just that there should be a still more severe punishment exacted of that son? Besides having the universal conscience of men, he had special witness in his own family, which the heart of a child ought to have felt and pondered deeply to avoid all repetition of its evil.
This is just the principle of God’s way in government. Man ought to take the more earnest heed from the past; and God, Who deals righteously, will judge according to that which man ought to have remembered. For he ought to have used the witness of the past as a warning for the future. These nations will then reappear, and, instead of recalling their fathers’ ways for their own warning and profit, they take exactly the same road of iniquity; and once more they will also endeavour to root out and destroy the people of God.
So it is in Isaiah 17 Damascus, which was to the north of the Holy Land, was the very ancient and most celebrated city of Syria of old. (See Gen. 15:2) It was to be made a heap of ruins - the cities of Aroer a place for flocks. “The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from [being] a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap. The cities of Aroer [are] forsaken; they shall be for flocks, which shall lie down and none shall make [them] afraid” (vv. 1, 2). And as of old Syria and Ephraim conspired against the realm of David’s son to their own discomfiture, so once more the remarkable feature of this judgement is that God will deal with His people as well as with their old ally. “The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria; they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith Jehovah of hosts. And in that day it shall come to pass, [that] the glory of Jacob shall be made thin, and the fatness of his flesh shall become lean. And it shall be as when the reaper gathereth the corn, and reapeth the ears with his arm; yea, it shall be as he that gathereth ears in the valley of Rephaim” (vv. 3-5). He will gather out all scandals from them and punish the transgressors; He will employ their enmity to purge that threshing-floor of the land of Israel; He will deal in a judicial manner with His people. The nations may lure themselves and each other on with the hope that it is going hard with Israel; but their conspiracy will be offensive to God, however He may use it for Israel’s good. This is here described. “And a gleaning shall be left in it, as at the shaking of an olive tree: two, three berries in the tree-top; four, five in its fruitful boughs, saith Jehovah God of Israel. In that day shall man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel. And he will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, nor have regard to [that] which his fingers have made, neither the Asherahs nor the sun-images” (vv. 6-8).
It is well to bear in mind that not Sennacherib but Tiglath-Pileser destroyed Damascus, a ruin that followed the alliance of Pekah and Rezin to depose David’s house in Judah, unworthy and false as Ahaz was. This had been predicted by Isaiah in Isa. 7, and our chapter speaks of its being a ruin heap. But the prophecy clearly goes on to its reappearance and overthrow in the latter day.
There is also plainly anticipated at that time a discriminating judgement proceeding in the land of Israel. Compare Isa. 28:14-22, where the course of the overflowing scourge is described. “In that day shall his strong cities be as the forsaken tract in the wood, and the mountain-top which they forsook before the children of Israel; and there shall be desolation. For thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the Rock of thy strength; therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plantations, and shalt set them with foreign slips: in the day of thy planting wilt thou hedge [them] round, and in the morning wilt thou make thy seed to flourish: [but] the harvest [will be] a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow” (vv. 9-11).
In due time comes the retribution that regards the end of the age set forth with great vigour. “Woe to [or probably Ho!] a tumult of many peoples, [which] roar like the roaring of the seas; and the rushing of nations, [that] make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters but he will rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like whirling [dust] before the storm. Behold, at eventide trouble; before the morning they are not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us” (vv. 12-14). Let the nations gather their multitudes; let them rush on like mighty waters. But the rebuke comes; and they flee and are chased, yea, like thistle-down before the whirlwind. “Behold at eventide trouble; before the morning they are not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us.” When was all this accomplished in the past, from the day that Isaiah wrote? Where was seen the gathering of all these nations and their complete dispersion? On the contrary, Israel was broken and scattered, as were the Jews afterwards. Here it is not one nation triumphing over God’s people, but a gathering of all nations, who seem but waiting for the morning to swallow up Israel, but before the light dawns they and their leader are not. Surely it shall be; for the mouth of Jehovah has spoken it.
The true reference to Egypt and Ethiopia is in Isa. 19, 20, which accordingly have the title prefixed, “The Burden of Egypt.” It is not so here. Neither is the chapter called a “burden”; nor should the opening exclamation be rendered “Woe” as it often is, but “Ho!” as the context shows. It is a call to a land designedly unnamed, quite outside the bounds of those which Israel knew, and characterized at the time of the action by sentiments of friendship, in contrast with the usual animosity of Gentiles, which here breaks out once more. The last verse intimates that the time when these events occur is the closing scene marked subsequently by Jehovah’s interference on behalf of His people, and in full grace their re-establishment in Zion, to which prophecy as a whole points.
Our chapter seems thus to be distinguished from the overthrow of the nations, predicted at the close of the preceding section, “the Burden of Damascus,” and so forms a scene sufficiently distinct to be treated separately. It is a deeply interesting episode, and it is plain that the new “burden” opens Isa. 19, and distinguishes the judgement of Egypt from the subject before us.
This it is well to notice distinctly, because Jerome and Cyril, Bochart and Vitringa, among many more, have fallen into the error of supposing that Egypt is the “land shadowing with wings,” addressed in verse 1, and that the Egyptians or the Ethiopians are the people to whom the message is sent in ver. 2, some of them being even brought to the grateful worship of God in ver. 7. Others again are no less confident that Ethiopia is meant, as Calvin, Piscator, Michaelis, Rosenmller, Gesenius, Ewald, Delitzsch, Drechsler, and Driver. Yet Jerome and Calvin agree with the more famous Jewish authors that the people spoken of in vers. 2 and 7 are the Jews. All must be confusion where this is not seen. And a nation is here distinguished by favour to the Jew in its own way, but in vain. There follow nations hostile as usually of old. But the main issue is God, Who observes all, at length accomplishing His gracious purpose in Israel.
The reader need not be surprised at confusion, alas! too Common in commentators ever so erudite and otherwise eminent. For there is hardly a portion of Isaiah which has given rise to greater discord and more evident bewilderment among men of note, from Eusebius of Caesarea (who saw in it the land of Judaea in apostolic times, sending Christian doctrine to all the world, an interpretation founded on the
ἀποστέλλων . . . .ἐπιστολὰς βιβλίνας of the LXX) down to Arias Montanus, who applied it to America, converted to Christ by the preaching and arms of the Spaniards! Plainly the right understanding of the chapter depends on seeing that the Jewish nation are those intended in verses 2 and 7; and this, not in the days of Sennacherib, save perhaps as an historic starting-point, but for the future crisis, and its glorious issues. A few expressions, especially in verses 1 and 2, may be obscure, but the general scope is remarkably clear and of exceeding interest.
It is true, as Henderson says in common with very many, that the chapter is not a “woe” (as the Sept., the Vulgate, and the A.V. translate), nor yet like the preceding or following “burdens,” but rather a call summoning attention - “Ho!” - to the land unnamed, which is to be described. The contrast seems plain between Isa. 17:12-14 and Isa. 18:4-6. One nation whose name is not given, will seek to befriend the Jews in the time and way spoken of; while others break out into their old jealousy and hatred, and wreak their vengeance on them all the more. But that the friendly protector is Ethiopia seems wholly without and against the tests of the chapter. According to this idea, when Tirhakah in alarm summons his troops, the Jews send swift messengers to acquaint him with the destruction of Sennacherib’s host when it seemed to threaten, not only Jerusalem but Ethiopia. But this dislocates the chapter, making the Ethiopians the prominent figure instead of the Jews, and terminating ineptly with a present offered by the Ethiopians to the God of Israel. It is enough to examine the words of the prophet with care, in order to refute any such speculation.
“Ho! land shadowing (or, whirring) with wings, which [art] beyond [the] rivers of Cush” (i.e. beyond the Nile and the Euphrates). It means a country outside the sphere of those nations, which up to the prophet’s day had menaced or meddled with Israel. Usually firm against mere tradition, and careful of scriptural truth, even Dr. Kay has failed to notice the true force of this remarkable expression found here only and in Zeph. 3:10. The object is not at all to direct attention to the country adjoining the file, nor even to combine with this the land adjacent to the Euphrates. The call is expressly to a land beyond either limit. Egypt and Assyria had been the chief of those powers, for there was an Asiatic as well as an African Cush. The land in question lay (not by any means contiguous to, but perhaps ever so far) beyond these well-known countries. Here is the first indication; and it is of the highest importance, but neglected by most. It expresses a country far away. This comparatively distant land espouses the cause of Israel; but the protection would be ineffectual in result, however loud the proffer and the preparation. The use of “wings” to convey the idea of a cover for the oppressed or defenceless is too common to need proofs. “Ho! land shadowing with wings, which [art] beyond [the] rivers of Cush; that sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of papyrus upon [the] face of [the] waters, [saying,]” (vv. 1, 2).
The second verse shows, in addition to the previous characteristics of this future ally of the Jews, that it is a maritime power, for it sends its ambassadors over the sea, and in vessels of bulrushes (i.e. of “papyrus”)15 on the face of the waters Israel is the object of their interest. “Go, swift messengers, to a nation scattered (or dragged) and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning and onward, to a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled” (v. 2). The attempt to apply this description to the Egyptians, or the Ethiopians, has largely affected the view taken of the epithets here applied (e.g. “tall and smooth,” and “that meteth out and treadeth down”). The mistake of not a few is to introduce Christianity into the chapter; whereas it is really a question of earthly things and the earthly people in presence of a friendly effort, but also of enemies before God’s time comes to deliver them Himself. The learned may enquire whether “boats” are really intended by “keli-gem’?” ; in verse 2. Here only is the word so rendered in all scripture. It occurs very frequently for an ornament, implement, or utensil; even for sack, stuff, or any such thing in general; for armour, or weapons; for instruments of music, or furniture, etc. Hence the Seventy here translate by “paper letters,” which we can well understand requisite for ambassadors sent on their errand. It is the more worthy of careful consideration, as this phrase more than any other has misled the commentators. Otherwise there is but little difficulty in the chapter.
But, in fact, there seems no sufficient reason to question the general accuracy of our authorised version, which, as predicating Israel in ver. 2 yields the sole clear and good sense. Above any, they are a nation whose hope is indeed long deferred, and who have suffered indignity beyond all; yet marked by portents from their existence and thenceforth. Upon them has been exactly measured divine judgement, as none other had. Who else trodden down as they? Nor had their land escaped the desolating ravages of powers overwhelming like rivers, as we find the same figure used of it in Isa. 8 and elsewhere. The difference between the land in the first verse which sends out its messengers and ships, and the dispersed people from all time marvellous or hitherto formidable, but of late ravaged by their impetuous enemies, stands on no minute points of verbal criticism, but on the general bearing of scripture history as well as the context, which the English-reading Christian is quite able to judge.
This is the weakest point in Bishop Horsley’s (Bibl. Crit. ii. 162) otherwise able investigation of the chapter: “The standard of the Cross of Christ; the trumpet of the gospel. The resort to the standard, the effect of the summons, in the end will be universal.” But it is the prevalent bane of theologians to bring in the gospel or the church into the prophets, where the dealings of divine government and ultimately of Messiah’s kingdom are really meant.
Thus far we have seen the intervention of this unnamed land, described as the would-be protector of Israel actively engaging with their swift ships, it would seem on a friendly mission in quest of that scattered people, to plant them again in their own land.
But another enters the scene who puts an arrest on the zeal of man. Universal attention is demanded. Great events tremble in the balances. Signs are given visibly and audibly. “All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye when an ensign is lifted up on the mountains; and when a trumpet is blown, hear ye. For thus Jehovah said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will observe in my dwelling-place like clear heat upon herbs, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest” (vv. 3, 4). God is contemplating this busy enterprise. Man is active. Jehovah, as it were, retires and watches. It is like a clear heat in the sunlight, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest. It is a moment of deep stillness and suspense, where He allows apparent advantage of it but does not act Himself, while immense efforts are made to gather in the Jews by the patronage of the maritime nation of verses 1 and 2. All then seemed to flourish: but what is man without God? “For before the harvest, when the bud is finished (or, past), and the blossom becometh a ripening grape, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning-knives, and take away And cut down the branches” (v. 6). Thus total failure of the friendly plan ensues. Everything in appearance betokened a speedy ingathering of good to Israel, and their national hopes seemed to be on the eve of being realized, when God brings all to naught by letting loose once more the old passions of the Gentiles against His people. The effect is that “they shall be left together unto the birds of the mountains and to the beasts of the earth; and the birds shall summer upon them, and all the beasts of the earth shall winter upon them” (v. 6).
It was not for that power to interfere, nor was it Jehovah’s time; and yet it was for Himself in the end. The shadow of God’s wings is the true resource of His people’s faith (Ps. 57:61). For “in that time [a period of course, not an epoch merely] shall be brought unto Jehovah of hosts a present of a people scattered and peeled, and from a people terrible from their beginning and onward, a nation meted out and trodden under foot, whose land the rivers have spoiled, to the place of the name of Jehovah of hosts, the mount Zion” (v. 7). Thus will the presumptuous help of man be rebuked, as well as the renewed wrath of the nations once more preying on the poor but loved people of Jehovah. For as surely as they turn again to rend Israel, He will appear in the midst of the desolation, and with His own mighty hand accomplish that which man as vainly seeks to effect as to frustrate. The Jewish nation, at that very season, shall be brought a present to Jehovah; and they shall come not empty-handed but emptied of self, with lowly and grateful hearts to Jehovah in Mount Zion, after their final escape from Gentile fury in His mercy which endures for ever. They bring the present, and they are the present to Jehovah. Here, as ever, the dealings of God in judgement result in the blessing of His ancient people; and Zion accordingly is the place where His name is manifested in connection with them. We also see how unreasonable it would be to imagine that the church, called to heavenly glory, is concerned as God’s object in the chapter. It is Israel only, destined to pass through renewed and bitter trouble, most of all at the close, before Jehovah does His own work of establishing them in the seat of royal grace under Messiah and the new covenant. He has never abandoned this purpose of His for the earth.
The call of the church for union with its glorious Head and heavenly glory came into realization, when the Jews stumbled at the Messiah in humiliation, as they had gone after idols, followed respectively by the Babylonish captivity for the latter, and by the Roman destruction for the former. Meanwhile Christendom enjoys far higher privileges; but not having continued in His goodness, it too shall be cut off, and irrevocably. There is no restoration, but utter destruction for the Babylon of Christian times; there is to be for Jerusalem. The natural branches shall be grafted into their own olive-tree. All Israel shall be saved, and so declares the apostle of the Gentiles as to both. The true members of Christ’s body shall be caught up to Christ, and glorified with Him. It is Israel, not the church, which is to be purified on earth, as we see throughout Isaiah and the prophets generally. The restoration of Israel to their land, and supremacy given it over all the nations, we recognize as true and sure. But it is after the heavenly bride has joined the Bridegroom, and purging judgements then fit Israel for its destined place on earth, which is entirely incompatible with the church wherein Jewish and Gentile distinctions are gone, and Christ is all and in all. According to the last great prophecy the church has the promise of being kept out of the hour of temptation that is coming (Rev. 3:10); whereas all the Gentiles shall be in it, though faithful ones come out (Rev. 7). Again Jer. 30:7 and Dan. 12:1 are express that the Jews must pass through it but be delivered - those that are “written in the book. “
This chapter gives “the Burden of Egypt,” and is followed in the next by a personal sign enjoined on the prophet, as a token of the degradation soon to befall Egypt and Ethiopia. The general drift is so clear as to render prolonged remarks almost useless.
“The burden of Egypt. Behold, Jehovah rideth upon a swift cloud, and cometh unto Egypt. and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. And I will stir up the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour; city against city, kingdom against kingdom. And the spirit of Egypt shall be made void in the midst of it; and I will destroy the counsel thereof; and they shall seek unto the idols, and unto the conjurers, and unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto the soothsayers. And I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord Jehovah of hosts” (vv. 14). The prophet thus boldly and with the fullest moral truth sets forth the sure overthrow of the great realm of the old world’s prudence, and of debasing idolatry, and abundant natural riches. What availed the boasted bulwarks of their watery barriers, if Jehovah, Who “rideth upon a swift cloud,” dooms Egypt to humiliation and decay? Worse than idle their appeal to their false gods; for their idols should be moved at His presence, and the heart of Egypt melt in its midst. Intestine division and civil war (v. 2) should be added to the overwhelming assaults from without; and the downfall be consummated by infatuated counsels as well as the wasting away of all national spirit; for on their recourse in their distress to their old haunts of superstition and sorcery, God would shut them up to the hard bondage of cruel lords and a fierce king.
But the hand of Jehovah should be not only upon the defences of the country, but upon its internal supports, and this in all that was their glory and their confidence. For is not this Ezekiel’s “great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is my own, and I have made it for myself?” (Ezek. 29:3). Surely it is the same, of whom Isaiah here predicts, “And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up. And the rivers shall stink; the streams (or, canals) of Egypt shall be diminished and drain away: the reeds and the flags shall wither. The meadows by the Nile, by the banks of the Nile, and everything sown by the Nile, shall be dried up, be driven away, and be no [more]. And the fishers shall mourn, and all they that cast hook into the Nile shall lament, and they that cast nets upon the waters shall languish. And they that work in fine flax, and they that weave cotton (or, white stuffs), shall be ashamed. And her pillars shall be broken in pieces, all workers for hire shall be sad of soul” (vv. 5-10).
The prophet next (v. 11) proceeds to taunt this haughty power in that for which, most of all, it stood high in its own conceit and the reputation of men. For who has not heard of “the wisdom of the Egyptians “? Who does not know of their science and civilisation while the most renowned lands of the west, which early aspired to the sovereignty of the world, had not yet emerged from their condition of wild untutored barbarism? “The princes of Zoan [are] utterly fools; the counsel of the wise counsellors of Pharaoh is become senseless. How say ye unto Pharaoh, I [am] the son of the wise, the son of ancient kings? Where [are] they then, thy wise [men]?” is the piercing challenge of the prophet; “and let them tell thee now; and let them make known what Jehovah of hosts hath purposed upon Egypt” (vv. 11, 12).
Alas! how many now are wrapped up in the same carnal security. How many in our day, like the wise counsellors of Egypt, are caught in their own craftiness, too wise to heed the sure and solemn words of divine prophecy; not wise enough to guard themselves from foolish superstition, or still more foolish incredulity! Is it not a maxim among the sages of Christendom, that prophecy cannot be known till the event accomplishes it and fixes its interpretation? Than which notion, we dare to say, none can be produced less reasonable in itself or more flatly contrary to the word of God. Not a believer in the Old Testament but protests against the sinful error; for not a soul then was justified who did not look onward, trusting his soul and spiritual hope on that which was as yet necessarily in the womb of the future - the coming of the woman’s Seed, the Messiah. And are believers of the New Testament called of God to be less trustful, less to realise what is coming, with incomparably more light of revelation? What! we, to whom God has revealed by the Spirit, that which, as the brightest of old was compelled to say, “eye had not seen, nor ear heard, neither had entered into man’s heart” to consider?
Even on grounds of reason, of which some are so vainglorious, what can be more opposed to it, seeing that God has beyond controversy given His prophetic revelation? Is this alone, of all scripture, to be put under human ban? Even on grounds of personal danger the suicidal folly of such scepticism as this is most apparent. For as the great central point of prophecy is the nearness of the day of Jehovah, which is to judge all the pride and irreligion, all the idolatry and rebellion against God, found then on earth and specially in Christendom, it will be too late for men, before they believe, to await that event which will prove the truth of the prophecies in their own destruction. In short and in every point of view the maxim is as false as it is perilous. It really amounts to blotting out all direct use of prophecy whatsoever: for it refuses to hear its warning till its voice is wholly changed. Prophecy accomplished becomes in effect history rather than prophecy (no small value of which is the silencing of God’s enemies); it properly has, while unfulfilled, the admonition and comfort of His people for its primary aim.
But to return. “The princes of Zoan [the ancient royal city of Egypt, named Tanis in profane authors] are become foolish, the princes of Noph [Moph, or Memphis, Hosea 9:6] are deceived; and the corner-stones of its tribes have caused Egypt to err. Jehovah hath mingled a spirit of perverseness in the midst thereof; and they have caused Egypt to err in every work thereof, as a drunkard staggereth in his vomit. Neither shall there be any work for Egypt, which head or tail, palm-branch or rush, may do” (vv. 13-15). They are judicially confounded of God in their policy.
Now we ought not to be indisposed to allow a measure of accomplishment in the time of the prophet. Only let not this measure be allowed to exclude the complete fulfilment which yet remains to be made good. Such a germinant inclusive style, we have seen, is the habit of Isaiah, as indeed of the prophets. Enough was then accomplished for a stay to the faithful; but it was no more than an earnest of that punctual and full payment which God will yet render, in honour both of His own words and of the Lord Jesus when His manifested glory dawns and His world-kingdom comes (Rev. 11:15). “In that day shall Egypt be like unto women, and it shall tremble and fear because of the shaking of the hand of Jehovah of hosts, which he shaketh over it. And the land of Judah shall be a dismay unto Egypt: every one that thinketh of it shall be afraid for himself, because of the counsel of Jehovah of hosts, which he purposeth against it (or, them)” (vv. 16, 17). Egypt has its part to play in the tremendous convulsions which precede Jehovah’s appearing; and to this our chapter looks onward, with which compare Daniel 11:40-43. Out of that land shall He gather some of His outcast people (Isa. 11:11, 15), and in the process, as we know, destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea, and with His mighty wind shake His hand over the river, the Euphrates, smiting it into seven streams.
But mercy shall rejoice over judgement; and at the very time when Egypt shall be as women trembling at the shaking of Jehovah’s hand, and the very mention of the land of Judah shall strike terror, “In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to Jehovah of hosts; one shall be called, The city of destruction (or, Heres). In that day shall there be an altar to Jehovah in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to Jehovah. And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto Jehovah of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto Jehovah because of the oppressors, and he will send them a Saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them. And Jehovah shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know Jehovah in that day and serve with sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto Jehovah and perform it. And Jehovah will smite Egypt; he will smite and heal: and they shall return to Jehovah, and he will be entreated of them and will heal them” (vv. 18-22). Thus evidently shall Jehovah then deliver and revive Egypt. In that day there will be doubtless not only a governing but a religious centre for all the nations of the earth (Isa. 2:3). For Jehovah shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Jehovah and His name one (Zech. 14:9). It will be accomplished in and by the Lord Jesus, Who shall build the temple of Jehovah and bear the glory, and sit and rule upon His throne, as Priest as well as King (Zech. 6:12, 13). His house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples (Isa. 56:7). But this will not hinder the fulfilment of Mal. 1:11: “For from the rising of the sun even unto its setting, My Name shall be great among the nations; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My Name, and a pure oblation.” Under this universal provision for the local worship of the nations falls the special assurance of it for Egypt in that day, which Isaiah here predicts. It was the more impressive to declare it of a nation so debased by idolatry as Egypt of old.
The efforts of interpreters to explain these verses are as manifold as they are vain: and justly are they doomed to darkness who see not the link with Christ, and with Christ the glory of His people Israel then, if they despise Him now. Origen, Eusebius, etc., interpreted it of the flight into Egypt (Matt. 2:13,14), and of the overthrow of idolatry and spread of Christianity there also; Jerome embraces along with this an application to the wasting of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar. Others have tried to find its accomplishment in the temple which Onias induced Ptolemy Philometor to build for keeping the Jews and their worship in Egypt, and which after 200 years was destroyed under Vespasian, like that in Jerusalem. Moderns generally apply it in substance as Jerome did (in part historically, of the disasters under Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Psammetichus, or the Romans; and in part mystically, of the triumphant spread of the gospel past, present, or future). These speculations do not seem to call for refutation: to state them is to condemn them sufficiently.
The true reference to the future crisis on the earth is yet more confirmed by the blessed intimations of the closing verses. “In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth; whom Jehovah of hosts will bless, saying, Blessed [be] Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance” (vv. 23 25). It is not a heavenly scene, but earthly. It is not the present church condition, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, and Christ is all and in all, but a future state of large yet graduated blessing of nations. It is not this dispensation, where tares are mingled with the wheat, but the coming age when all scandals are removed from the scene where the Great King reigns in righteousness. That nation, so proud of its natural wisdom, the old oppressor and frequent snare of Israel, shall be humbled to the dust, and out of the dust cry to Jehovah God of Israel, Who shall send them a mighty deliverer; and they shall know Him and worship Him acceptably, Who smote them but will heal them with a great salvation. For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, Jehovah’s name will be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto it and a pure oblation; for His name shall be great among the heathen. No wonder therefore that there shall be an altar to Jehovah in the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to Jehovah - a sign and a witness unto Jehovah of hosts in that land. At the same time nothing will supersede Zion as the earth’s exalted and religious centre.
But what of that later oppressor of Israel? Has Jehovah but one blessing for the stranger-foe? Has He not reserved a blessing for the Assyrian? Yes, for the Assyrian also. The haughty rival of the north and east shall be brought into the rich blessing of Jehovah. “In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria.” Old jealousy and long-lasting animosity shall flee apace and for ever; intimacy and generous trust and mutual love shall cement the alliance that is founded on Jehovah truly known. “And the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria; and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.” Happy, though none then be despised and poor! “In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria.” That is, Israel shall form one of the trio here specified, and stamped with singular favour in the millennial day. For indeed Jehovah shall bless them, “saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.” Thus again is Abraham ‘s blessing verified and manifested. “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” But even here, as it appears, the due place of Israel is maintained, and the rank of the others nicely distinguished in God’s wisdom, however large His goodness to the rest; for Israel has the glorious title of Jehovah’s inheritance, if Egypt be called His people and Assyria fashioned for His praise, the work of His hands.
From this chapter, which is an appendix to the last, we learn that the Assyrian ravaged Egypt (with the Ethiopians), leading his captives in shame. “In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it; at that time Jehovah spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go, and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy sandal from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot. And Jehovah said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years [for] a sign and a wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; so shall the king of Assyria lead away the captives of Egypt, and the exiles of Ethiopia, young and old, naked and barefoot, and with buttocks uncovered, [to] the shame of Egypt. And they shall be dismayed and ashamed, because of Ethiopia their expectation and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitant of this coastland shall say in that day, Behold, such [is] our expectation, whither we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria: and how shall we escape?” (vv. 1-6). History here seems to be silent;16 but not so prophecy, which declares that the land of Egypt shall not escape the king of. the north, or the last Assyrian, at the time of the end, who must then himself be broken without hand (Dan. 11:41-45).
It may also be mentioned, that it is more than doubtful whether Tartan be a proper name. It means more probably “general” or ‘‘commander-in-chief” of Assyria both here and in 2 Kings 18:17. As the other two given as proper names are appellatives of the chief eunuch and the chief butler, so this would point to a chief general employed by Sargon in taking Ashdod, as another was later by Sennacherib when Jerusalem was menaced So Prof. Rawlinson in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible.
It is not surprising that those who look only at the historic pivots on which these utterances turn find a very unaccountable confusion of the events which then occurred. But who is to blame for reading the book of a prophet in a spirit so unbelieving? When it is received from God, as it claims and ought to be, light is shed on those scenes of darkness and evil, and all points harmoniously to Him Who is coming again in the power of His kingdom. There prophecy points and rests.
The symbolical action is by many supposed to be in vision merely, not actual. Perhaps this is due to the very uncalled-for supposition, that the call was to a condition of entire nudity. But this is baseless, as “naked” is frequently used (see too 1 Sam. 19:24; 2 Sam. 6:20; Amos 2:16; John 21:7) to express the absence, not of all covering, but of the usual outer garb, in one sort or another: so it is not uncommon in well known Latin authors, as many have shown. The prophet already wore sackcloth. This he was to loose from off his loins, and to pull off his sandal from his foot. It seems not improbable that the true sense is “for a three years’ sign and portent,” etc., as the Masoretic punctuation implies and the Septuagint corroborates. The aim avowedly was to produce fear and shame in all who confided in Ethiopia or boasted of Egypt; for the Assyrian was to humble both to the dust. Vain therefore was man’s help.
The moral lesson is apparent. Let not the people look to the kingdoms of the earth for protection in the hour of danger. Jehovah as the true God is and must be jealous. He will not allow compromise any more than unbelief. What are Mizraim and Cush to Israel? Let there be no hope for Israel, but weeping for their own impending humiliation; and let the dweller in the coastland, or Palestine, humble himself, for God is not mocked, and vain the help of man. Israel was really more guilty than any.
Is this chapter, though not a long one, are three sentences of judgement - on Babylon (vv. 1-10), on Dumah (vv. 11, 12), and on Arabia (vv. 13-17).
“The burden of the desert of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south pass through, it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land. A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, Elam; besiege, Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease” (vv. 1, 2). There can be no doubt to any fair mind that the great Chaldean capital is referred to. The command to the Medes and Persians to go up and besiege is one indication; and so yet more is the graphic description of the sudden destruction in verses 3-5, which turned the night of revelry into the pangs of terror and death for the dissolute king and his court (Dan. 5). “Therefore are my loins filled with pain; pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman in travail; I am bowed down so as not to hear; I am dismayed so as not to see. My heart panteth, horror affrighteth me; the night of my pleasure hath he turned into trembling unto me” (vv. 3, 4). Is this vindictive feeling or language? It is a holy man of God deeply moved by the prophetic vision of the fall of Babylon, so awful and unexpected. Yet was Babylon Judah’s captor.
“Prepare the table, appoint the watch; eat, drink; arise, ye princes, anoint the shield” (v. 5).
“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman; let him declare what he seeth. And he saw chariots, horsemen by pairs, a chariot with asses, a chariot with camels, and he hearkened diligently with much heed. And he cried [as] a lion, Lord, I stand continually upon the watch-tower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward every night; and, behold, chariots of men come, horsemen by pairs. And he answered and said Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. O my threshing, and the corn of my floor! what I have heard of Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you” (vv. 6-10).
The latter part of the ninth verse crowns the proof, and expressly names Babylon’s fall as the object intended. The prophet personifies the city or its people in verse 10.
Nevertheless there is somewhat to be noted in the phrase used of the doomed mistress of the world, especially as there seems to be an evident link between this enigmatic title, “the burden of the desert of the sea,” and that applied to Jerusalem, “the burden of the valley of vision,” in the beginning of Isa. 22. As the rise and glory of the first Gentile empire was only permitted sovereignly of God in consequence of hopeless idolatry in Judah and Jerusalem, so the judgement of Babylon was the epoch of deliverance for the Jewish remnant, the type of the final dealings of God with the last holder of the power which began with the golden head of the great image. There is thus a correlation between these two cities Jerusalem and Babylon - whether historical or symbolic; and as the latter is designated “the desert of the sea,” the former is “the valley of vision.” Jeremiah in his vision (Jer. 51:42) beholds the sea come up upon Babylon, so as to cover her with the multitude of the waves. In fact too we know to what a waste this seat of human pride sunk; and so; notoriously it remains until this day.
In verses 6-10 is set forth the twofold leadership of the coming invasion, or at least the twofold nationality of the armies that conquered. The watchman in the vision attests his vigilance, and reports what he saw. This is followed by the solemn tidings of Babylon’s fall, and the prophet’s seal on the truth of the announcement. The ruin also we saw in Isa. 13 - 14 irremediable, in the face of the fullest hope and stoutest purpose to make it the metropolis of the earth. So too predicted Jer. 50-51, that Babylon should sink and not rise again.
Next comes “the burden of Dumah,” which some consider to border on, if not to be identified with, Idumea. “The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire; return, come” (vv. 11, 12). The Edomite cry is one of proud scorn and self-security. The brief answer is pregnant with serious expostulation. Let them not trust to hopes of the bright morn; for the dark and dangerous night would assuredly come. Nevertheless a door was still open for repentance. Let them “return, come.” How great is the long-suffering of God, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance! But whatever man does or fails to do, His purpose stands, and the day of Jehovah will come as a thief; not more welcome, as little expected. Insult as the world may during the night, the morning will surely come. But there is no morning for the earth till He comes, Who was and is the true Light, and Whose it will be to judge the habitable earth. This is neither the gospel or church time, nor is it eternity when the new heavens and earth are wherein dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). It will be an age of government when He reigns Whose right it is, alone competent to put all evil down, and to maintain both the glory of God and the blessing of man, as He will surely do in that day.
As for “the burden upon Arabia,” little remark is needed. “The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O travelling companies of Dedanites. Unto him that was thirsty they brought water; the inhabitants of the land of Tema did meet the fugitives with their bread. For they fled away from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war. For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Within a year, according to the years of a hireling, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail; and the residue of the number of the archers, the mighty men of the sons of Kedar, shall be diminished for Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath spoken” (vv. 13-17). The thickets of Arabia17 would be no more an effectual hiding place from the storm than the rocks and mountain fastnesses of Edom. It is not only the travelling companies or caravans of Dedan which are cast on the pity and care of the men of Tema; but utter wasting within a year is pronounced on the mighty men of the sons of Kedar. Man fails, great or small; Jehovah abides and will reign over this earth and all the races of mankind. What a gap there is in the outlook of all who do not believe in the world-kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ!
Chapter 22 consists of a prophecy wholly directed against Jerusalem, and entitled, “The burden of the valley of vision.” There may have been some anticipation in the prophet’s day, but it was partial. So much so was this the case, that Vitringa can only eke out an appearance of an historical answer by piecing together the invasion of the city by the Assyrians under Sennacherib, and that by the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar; and even this by the strong inversion which places the Chaldean movement in verses 1-5 (comp. 2 Kings 25:4, 5) and the Assyrian in the part that follows (with which 2 Chr. 32:2-5 corresponds). Granting this as a primary application, it affords a strong presumption that this chapter, like the last and all we have seen, points to the great day when the reckoning of nations will come in “the morning,” and of every individual throughout its course, even to the judgement of the secrets of the heart. It seems strange that believers should rest satisfied with so small an instalment from One Who pays to the uttermost farthing. The spirit that treats as an illusion the expectation of a punctual fulfilment for these prophecies as a whole, in every feature save those expressly limited to a definite time in certain particulars, is either ignorance or scepticism, or, what is common enough, a mixture of both.
The order here ought to strike an attentive reader who believes in inspiration. After the events it would have been unmeaning, were man alone concerned. For where then is the sense of putting a vision of Jerusalem after that of Babylon, and of Babylon reduced to “the desert of the sea “? The order owes all its propriety and force to its looking onward to the end of the age, when Jerusalem shall be taken after Babylon’s fall, and the false administrator be replaced by the true, the Righteous Servant.
“The burden of the valley of vision. What aileth thee now, that thou art wholly gone up to the housetops? Thou that wast full of stir, a town of tumult, a joyous city, thy slain [are] not slain with the sword, nor dead in battle. All thy rulers fled together, they are bound without the bow, all that are found of thee are bound together, they fled far off. Therefore said I, Look away from me: let me weep bitterly; labour not to comfort me for the spoiling of the daughter of my people. For [it is] a day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity from the Lord Jehovah of hosts in the valley of vision, of breaking down the wall, and of crying to the mountains. And Elam beareth the quiver, with chariots of men [and] horsemen; and Kir uncovereth the shield. And it shall come to pass [that] thy choicest valleys shall be full of chariots, and the horsemen shall set themselves in array at the gate” (vv. 1-7). The certainty of the accomplishment of prophecy awakens the deepest feeling for God’s people, and even for their enemies on whom the judgement falls. It is the opposite of fatalism and its hardness on the one hand, and on the other, of that indifference to which the uncertainty of unbelief leads.
The city is shown us in the early verses, changed from its stir and tumultuous joy to the deepest uneasiness and deadly fear, the slain not fallen in battle but ignominious slaughter, all the rulers fled, but taken and bound; so that the prophet can but turn and weep alone in bitterness. For the trouble and perplexity sprang not from the dust but were by Jehovah of hosts.
The central verses expose the utter vanity and unpardonable sin of recourse to human measures by the people of God when He is dealing with them in judgement. Their only right place at such a time is to bow to His hand and accept the chastening He is pleased to inflict, always confident that mercy rejoices against judgement, and that the end of Jehovah is that He is exceeding pitiful and of tender mercy. Here there was no humiliation in them, no recognition of Him or His ways. “And he uncovereth the covering of Judah; and thou didst look in that day to the armour in the house of the forest. And ye saw the breaches of the city of David, that they were many; and ye gathered together the waters of the lower pool. And ye numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses ye broke down to fortify the wall. And ye made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But ye looked not unto the maker thereof, neither had regard unto him that fashioned it long ago. And in that day did the Lord Jehovah of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth; and behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. And it was revealed in mine ears by Jehovah of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord Jehovah of hosts” (vv. 8-14). The one effort was to escape by policy - a fatal path for the people of God, which speedily leads into mere latitudinarian Sadduceeism. The believer is delivered alike from fear and haste, and from despair and present license.
The close of the chapter sets before us the setting aside of the unworthy Shebna who had crept into the place of chief minister, next to the throne, living only for self, and even seeking after death nothing but his own name and glory. “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah of hosts, Go, get thee in to this treasurer, unto Shebna who is over the house, [and say,] What hast thou here, and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewn thee out here a sepulchre, [as] one hewing him out a sepulchre on high, graving a habitation for himself in the rock? Behold, Jehovah will hurl thee away violently as a strong man, and he will wrap thee up closely. He will surely roll and toss thee [like] a ball into a large country: there shalt thou die, and there [shall be] the chariots of thy glory, O shame of thy lord’s house. And I will thrust thee from thine office, and from thy station will He pull thee down” (vv. 15-19).
Thereon Jehovah’s servant Eliakim is called to take the reins of office in his stead, a father to Jerusalem and Judah, with the key of David’s house laid by Jehovah on his shoulder, with full authority and adequate power. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkijah; and I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him [as] a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a throne of glory to his father’s house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, every small vessel, from the vessels of cups even to all the vessels of flagons” (vv. 20-24). We cannot here fail to recognize the type of Christ displacing the Antichrist. The very fact of the past historical circumstances being put together without regard to mere date, as we have seen, and with personages introduced who officially were not the highest, yet described in terms which open out to a dominion and power beyond the highest, prepares one for the magnificent events of the latter day in the Holy Land as the only complete fulfilment of the scripture before us.
“In that day, saith Jehovah of hosts, shall the nail that is fastened in a sure place be removed, and be cut down and fall; and the burden that [was] upon it shall be cut off; for Jehovah hath spoken” (v. 25). It was not the position, but the person that made the difference. Shebna had just the same place, but he utterly failed and wrought ruin. Not so Eliakim who followed, as we have seen, in the verses last before us. Rev. 3:7 warrants the application to Christ.
The last of these local judgements here comes before us - “the burden of Tyre.” This city is the type of the world’s commercial glory; wealthy, corrupt, and self-confident, but taken though not destroyed after a long siege by Nebuchadnezzar. Such historically is the destruction announced not here only but in Ezek. 26-28. Tyre and the Tyrians formed the centre of the merchandise of the ancient world, the emporium of all the commodities and the luxuries of that day, the link through “the ships of Tarshish” between the west and the east. Its fall therefore could not but affect painfully and universally the dwellers on the earth; and the rather, as trading rivals were fewer than now. Yet how would not in our day the overthrow of the proudest seat of modern commerce make itself felt to the ends of the earth? We know from elsewhere that the siege was prolonged for a term quite unusual, thirteen years; indeed we need not travel beyond the prophetic record (Ezek. 29)18 to learn how severe a task it was for the Chaldean conqueror; but so much the greater was the moral effect of its fall. So that Tyre and Sidon remained the proverbial and most striking warning of divine judgement, as may be gathered from our Lord’s reference.
“The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish, for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them” (v. 1). There seems to be no need for departing from the ordinary sense of Chittim, either here or in ver. 12, in which the learned Bochart understands the Cutheans or Babylonians, and the meaning here to be “from the land of the Cutheans doth their captivity come.” Neither is there in Chittim any necessity to refer this burden to the sack of new or insular Tyre by Alexander the Great, as do Luther and others. The prophet calls the far-famed ships of Tarshish, first and repeatedly, to take up the dirge of the ruined mart for their merchandise, and intimates that though there was no house to receive them, nor haven for their ships to enter, the ill news would be revealed in the far west (primarily Cyprus).
“Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle (or, coast); the merchants of Zidon that pass over the sea have replenished thee. And on great waters the seed of Shihor, the harvest of the river, [was] her revenue; and she was the market of nations” (vv. 2, 3) What a change, when silence reigned where once had thronged their neighbours, the merchants of Zidon, where the treasures of the enriching Nile were gathered, “the market of nations,” now a waste! “Be thou ashamed, Zidon, for the sea hath spoken, the strength of the sea, saying, I have not travailed, nor brought forth, neither have I nourished young men, [nor] brought up virgins. As at the report concerning Egypt, they were sorely pained at the report of Tyre” (vv. 4, 5). Zidon was too nearly allied to Tyre, too intimately bound up with it, not to feel and suffer keenly; and as Tyre had been its boast heretofore, so now its degradation could not but darken their neighbours; since the very sea is by bold but happy figure made to bewail her desolation: whom had she pertaining to her lineage, now that Tyre was no more? And so it was with Egypt also. The Zidonians, though directly profited by Egypt more than all other foreign nations, did not more grieve over the ruin of Tyre than of their great southern ally.
Verses 6, 7 finish these addresses with a direct appeal to the Tyrians themselves, taunting their haughty merchants with the reverse that awaited them, the just recompense of their deeds “Pass over to Tarshish: howl, ye inhabitants of the isle (or; coast). [Is] this your joyous [city], whose antiquity [is] of ancient days? Her feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn” (vv. 6, 7). Far from being an attraction to the ships of Tarshish, they must go and howl there themselves, they the men of the sea-girt land, whose city rang with gaiety, and whose years of proud security were only less ancient than Zidon, and yet more prosperous and eminent! Yes, they must go, and trudge sadly, painfully, in quest of some asylum in a strange land.
And why was this? Who would smite and prostrate the proud city of Phoenicia? “Who hath purposed this against Tyre, that giveth crowns, whose merchants [were] princes, whose dealers [were] the honourable of the earth?” (v. 8). The answer follows in verse 9. “Jehovah of hosts hath purposed it, to stain (or, profane) the pride of all glory, to bring to naught all the honourable of the earth. Overflow thy land as the Nile, daughter of Tarshish: [there is] no more restraint. He stretched out his hand over the sea, he shaketh the kingdoms. Jehovah hath given a commandment on Canaan [or, the merchant city], to destroy the strongholds thereof, and hath said, Thou shalt no more exult, oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon: arise, pass over to Chittim; there also shalt thou have no rest” (vv. 9-12). Here the moral reasons are not given in full; we must search other prophets for all. But Jehovah’s opposition to the proud is stated, His scorn for the glory of man, His slight of all trust in earthly strongholds. Even in exile the Tyrians should find no rest. In the next verse we have the instrumental means He meant to-employ: “Behold the land of the Chaldeans: this people existed not. The Assyrian founded it for the dwellers in the wilderness: they set up their towers, they destroyed the palaces thereof; he brought it to ruin” (v. 13). The Chaldeans, who, in contrast with old Tyre, were nationally a people but of yesterday, are seen by the prophet bringing Tyre to ruin. Such appears to be the meaning, which is confirmed by the fresh call to grief of the ships of Tarshish in verse 14: “Howl, ships of Tarshish, for your fortress is laid waste.”
But the conqueror himself yields to an avenger. Babylon falls; and the full term of seventy years, which beheld the returning remnant of Judah, had a revival in store for Tyre but a revival of her meretricious ways, pandering for gainful trade to all the luxurious habits and corruptions of the nations. “And it shall come to pass in that day that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the end of seventy years it shall be for Tyre as a harlot’s song. Take a harp, go about the city, thou forgotten harlot, make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered. And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that Jehovah will visit Tyre, and she will return to her hire, and will commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the ground” (vv. 15-17). Nevertheless the last verse intimates that even this prophetic scene, though so largely accomplished in the past, is not without its bright side in the day of Joy to the whole earth. “And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to Jehovah: it shall not be treasured nor laid up [as in former days, when conscienceless tricks of avarice dictated the manner and objects of her trade]; for her merchandise shall be for them that dwell before Jehovah, to eat sufficiently and for durable clothing” (v. 18). The daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift, when the King shall greatly desire the beauty of His earthly bride (Ps. 45:12).
That God was thus pleased to reveal, not only about Babylon and the Assyrian, but about Philistia and Moab and Damascus about Egypt and Tyre, may seem little in the eyes of unbelieving philosophy; but what a favour to His people of old, the centre of all, and not the less because they were weak and worthless and continually turning aside from Him like a deceitful bow! What will it be to that people when they are His in a truer and fuller sense than ever, as they can only be when they judge their apostasy, both in seeking every idol, and in rejecting His Messiah and theirs? Then they will know, as petty and pedantic rationalists cannot through their false starting-point (at bottom the same unbelief as Israel’s), that all these prophecies form parts of a vast harmonious system, converging on His future kingdom over all the earth, when He receives it of God in association with Israel, then made willing in the day of His power, and strikes through kings in the day of His wrath, and judges amongst the nations (Ps. 110:5, 6). Meanwhile the pride of commerce was judged in Tyre, as the pride of nature was in Egypt.
The prophet now launches into a larger theme. Hitherto we have had ten “burdens,” the burdens of the nations from Babylon to Tyre, not without involving Jerusalem in those judgements which, starting from local circumstances, sweep on to the “end of the age,” when God shall put down the rebellious pride of the earth. In the present chapter Isaiah enlarges the scene, with the land and people of Israel as the centre, so as to disclose, not the great white throne before which the wicked dead stand and are judged, but the hour of the earth’s universal retribution from God, “the day of Jehovah” in its unrestricted final sense, of which previous dealings, as in the cases of Babylon and Egypt, were but the shadow and the earnest.
“Behold, Jehovah maketh the earth [or, land] empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad its inhabitants. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest, as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with him from whom usury is taken” (vv. 1, 2). There are evidently no limits here. As verse 1 shows us the earth wasted, confounded, and prostrate under the divine dealing, so verse 2 indicates an unsparing overthrow of all grades among its inhabitants. “The land shall be utterly emptied and utterly spoiled: for Jehovah hath spoken this word” (v. 3). If it is hard work to apply such strong and comprehensive terms to the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, as some conceive, still less can verse 4 be evaded. “The earth mourneth, it fadeth away: the world languisheth, it fadeth away; the haughty people of the earth do languish” (v. 4). How carefully too the Spirit guards against the too common resource of unbelief - the alleged hyperbole of an impassioned seer! - “Jehovah hath spoken this word.”
Next, we have the moral ground on which God judged and executed thus sternly. “The earth [or, land] also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof, for they have transgressed the laws, changed the statute, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore doth the curse devour the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left” (vv. 5, 6). It is no mere providential judgement but a most comprehensive and divine infliction, of which God had spoken almost since the beginning. “Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these” (Jude 14). The oft-threatened long-suspended blow will at length fall, as Isaiah here intimates, and Jude later still, when Christendom’s evil becomes as plain as Israel’s.
“The new wine mourneth, the vine languisheth, all the merry hearted do sigh. The mirth of tambours ceaseth, the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth. They do not drink wine with a song; strong drink is bitter to them that drink it. The city of solitude is broken down; every house is shut up, that no man entereth in. [There is] a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone. In the city remaineth desolation, and the gate is smitten, - a ruin” (vv. 7-12). Such and so complete is the picture of woe. Desolation overspreads the country and the city alike. Nevertheless, as always, God reserves a remnant. “For thus it will be in the midst of the land among the peoples, as the shaking of an olive-tree, as the grape-gleanings when the vintage is done. These shall lift up their voice, they shall shout for the majesty of Jehovah, they shall cry aloud from the sea. Wherefore glorify ye Jehovah in the east, the name of Jehovah the God of Israel in the isles of the west. From the end [wing] of the earth have we heard songs, Glory to the righteous” (vv. 13-16). It is manifestly a description of the righteous in Israel, who shall come into prominence, as divine judgements mow down their proud oppressors.
Nevertheless verse 16 appears to mark how deeply the prophet, foreshowing the exercised godly souls of that day, deplores the low condition of the remnant, and the fearful defection and ruin of the mass of Israel. “But I said, My leanness my leanness, woe unto me! the treacherous have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous have dealt very treacherously. Fear, and the pit, and the snare [are] upon thee, O inhabitant of the earth [or, land]. And it shall come to pass [that] he who fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit, and he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit shall be taken in the snare, for the windows on high are opened, and the foundations of the earth do shake. The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is quite dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth reeleth to and fro like a drunkard, and is shaken like a night-hut; and the transgression thereof is heavy upon it; and it falleth, and riseth not again. And it shall come to pass in that day [that] Jehovah will punish the host of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth on the earth. And they shall be gathered together [as] prisoners gathered for the pit, and shall be shut up in prison, and after many days shall they be visited. And the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when Jehovah of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his elders [or, ancients] in glory” [or, gloriously] (vv. 16-23).
The entire chapter, specially its closing verses, brings into the strongest evidence the hopeless difficulties of those who confound earthly things with heavenly, and refuse to see the portion in store for Israel in the latter day, when judgement has fallen on the habitable earth. Writers as early as Theodoret confess the ulterior scope of the prophecy, whatever measure of accomplishment they might consider it to have had in the past: “The discourse contains a double prophecy; for it points out both what was going on at different times among the enemies, and what shall be in the consummation of the present age.” But then, immediately after, he makes the singularly unintelligent observation that the second verse describes a state of things properly and truly after the resurrection. The judgement of the quick is ignored. There is in truth not a word here of the dead raised, or souls giving an account of their deeds, but emphatically and repeatedly of the earth’s crisis, and of the world smitten and languishing under God’s mighty hand. The language, no doubt, is excessively strong; it here and there appears to look on to the dissolution of all things, as is sufficiently common in prophetic style, where the prediction of the signal change which ushers in the millennium contains a more or less covert allusion to the utter passing away of the heavens and earth that now are, and the coming in of the eternal state. But the conclusion of the chapter makes it plain that the grand aim of the Spirit here is to portray that mighty and universal catastrophe which is succeeded by the times of refreshing for Israel and the earth, of which God has spoken by His holy prophets since the world began.
So profound and all-embracing, however, is the dealing of God, that even the angelic hosts escape no more than the proudest potentates here below. “It shall come to pass in that day [that] Jehovah shall punish the host of the high ones on high [not, ‘that are on high’], and the kings of the earth on the earth,” These spirits of evil had up to this misled man and dishonoured God, seeking to corrupt every mercy almost from the source. But the time is come that angels should be judged as well as living men, far beyond even the judgement of the flood. The power of the heavens shall be shaken - not earth only, but also heaven. But far from its being as yet the melting away of time into eternity, “the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when Jehovah shall reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before his elders in glory.” It is the day of which Zechariah spoke (Zech. 14:9, 10), long after the return from the captivity, when Jehovah shall be king over all the earth. “In that day shall there be one Jehovah, and his name one. 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.” Could expressions be used more precisely to exclude the mystical interpretation, or more calculated to maintain the hopes of Israel, then to be built on the Living Stone over Whom they have till yet stumbled? Jehovah Messiah will come in His kingdom and reign in Zion. The land as it were broadens out to the earth; not only is the world comprehended in the divine dealing but the heavens. And He, Who has at length taken to Him His great power and reigned, proves Himself the ruler of all things that are in “heaven, and that are on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or principalities or authorities.” As they were created in virtue of (
ἐν) Him and through Him, so were they created for Him, as the day of Jehovah will display, when Jerusalem and Mount Zion still subsist: a state of things manifestly different from and antecedent to the eternity that follows.
The bearing of Isa. 24 on the consummation of the age is entirely confirmed by that which follows and is now before us, where we have the prophet personifying the people raising their hearts to Jehovah in praise. They are celebrating God for His wonderful doings, and own that His counsels of old are faithfulness and truth. “Jehovah, thou [art] my God I will exalt thee, I will celebrate thy name; for thou hast done wonderful [things]: counsels of old [which are] faithfulness [and] truth. For thou hast made of the city a heap; of the fortified town a ruin; a palace of strangers to be no city - it shall never be built up. Therefore shall the mighty people glorify thee, the city of terrible nations shall fear thee. For thou hast been a fortress to the poor, a fortress to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat; for the blast of the terrible ones [was] as a storm [against] a wall. Thou hast subdued the tumult of strangers, as the heat in a dry place; [as] the heat by the shadow of a cloud, [so] the song of the terrible ones is brought low” (vv. 1-5). The execution of His judgement takes effect on the strong and their city. It is the habitable earth which comes under Jehovah’s hand, as certainly as the end of the chapter before was His dealing with the heavens and the earth.
The eternal state does not enter into account. On the other hand there is no ground for making it bear on present circumstances. It is a new state of things that does not exist now; for if there be one place in the earth where, less than another, the Lord has the appearance of reigning, it is in that very Jerusalem and Mount Zion. The chosen land of Israel (1896) is in the possession of the Turk; it has been in his hands for hundreds of years, and before then it was the object of contention for the kings of the earth and equally so for the followers of Mahomet; it has been the great battle-ground between the east and the west; and up to the present time God has permitted that the devotees of Mecca should appear to have gained the victory there. Ever since the cross of the Saviour, God is no longer maintaining the glory of His Son in connection with Mount Zion. The Son of God has been rejected, and has died upon the cross. Since then all connection with the world is broken, every link with the Jew is gone; and no man has ever seen the Lord of glory, except the believer.
He was witnessed by the world before, seen of men - not merely of angels as now. He was displayed before human eyes, God manifest in the flesh. But, when man cast Him out, all acknowledgment of the world as such was terminated. He was no more seen after His resurrection by any unbeliever; none but chosen witnesses were permitted to behold Him. Taken soon after up to heaven, He sits at the right hand of God; and thence He will come to judge the quick and the dead. A great mistake it is to confound the judgement of the quick with the judgement of the dead. Scripture indicates that there is a long interval of most remarkable character, which separates the one from the other. Indeed there is to be, in a certain and most important sense, a peaceful judgement of the quick going on all through the interval of a thousand years An awful execution of judgement on open enemies must be before the Lord begins to reign, as there will be an insurrection of the distant nations at the end. The judgement of the dead follows that reign, before the eternal state is manifested. (See Rev. 20 - 21)
The judgement of the dead remains, then, perfectly certain. It is a truth of God that there is a resurrection both of the just and the unjust. But it has not been so generally seen that the Lord of glory is about to revisit this world and stop the whole course of human affairs, and interpose with both providential inflictions, and then His own personal judgement, upon the guilt of man; not yet for judging the dead, which will come afterwards. Before the dead stand before the white throne divine dealing by the Lord Himself will be the portion of living men from the highest to the lowest. To this our Lord referred, when He warned His disciples of the days that were coming. Thus Matt. 24 - 25. and Luke 17, 21 refer, save a part of the last chapter, exclusively to this time and to these circumstances. Some scriptures speak only of the judgement of the dead, others both unfold the portion of the risen saints to enjoy heavenly glory with Christ, and tell how the dead are to be judged according to their works.
The believer is saved according to the worth of Christ’s work; he who shall be judged according to his own works is lost for ever. No child of God, if judged as he deserved, could be saved. For, if judged at all, God must judge after His own justice with no less a standard than Christ. We must be as spotless as His Son in order to be fit companions for Him. But on that ground there is an end of all hope. The gospel turns on this, that Jesus was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification, not for our judgement. What is the value in God’s sight of the work He has done? Is it only a partial salvation? or for only some believers? If it be not a full salvation for sinners, yea, for the worst of those who believe it is not what God commends to us, nor a due and righteous answer to the cross of Christ. Therein is the very comfort of the salvation that Christ has effected. It is a perfect salvation, it delivers from all sins, it places the chief of sinners upon a new ground as Christians, kings, priests, and children of God. Thenceforward our business is to trust and obey Him, labouring for and suffering with Christ and for Christ, as we await His return from heaven, even Jesus our Deliverer, Who will judge His adversaries.
It is plain that there are two classes of men who are to enter the resurrection state. I do not say to rise at the same time, for no scripture says this. It is said that “the hour is coming when all that are in the graves . . . shall come forth, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgement”19 (John 5:28, 29). All this is quite true, but not a word about their coming forth at the same time. Other scriptures show that the two resurrections, here shown to be distinct in principle and issue, will not take place simultaneously. Hence, while both might be said to be the rising of the dead, that of the righteous alone is or could be called a rising from the dead, the rest being left as yet in their graves. From Rev. 20. again, it is plain that a thousand years at least will intervene between the resurrection of the just and that of the unjust. Any one reading the Revelation without prejudice could not fail to gather that the righteous dead are raised first to reign with Christ; and then, after the earthly reign, that the rest of the dead are raised, who are judged according to their works; and of these it is said that whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. There is not a hint of any who were found written. When God judges according to works, nothing can follow but destruction. Their evil works abound in the books; and the book of life has none of their names in it.
This strongly links itself with what is before us. Here we have the Lord, not hidden in heaven, but appearing from heaven to reign. He is not reigning on the earth now. It is chiefly. among idle speculative men (of learning perhaps) where you find any dream so foolish. Who is not aware that if any period in the history of Christendom was particularly dreary as to outward light, it is that from Constantine, or some time after, to the Reformation - the dark ages, as they are called? Yet even pious men are not wanting who maintain that this is the very time when Christ was reigning; that it began in the year 320 and ended 1320! that is, the most unrelieved reign of darkness that Christendom has yet seen! Augustine made this reign begin with Christ and extend all through Christianity. This was bad; the other is worse, though maintained by H. Grotius. Both exercised an enormous influence in the world. The great Dutchman, if consulted in a matter of erudition, would have probably given no inconsiderable help to most men; but when he came to the word of God, he was as much at sea there as St. Peter or St. John would have been in that which was his favourite province. In divine things learning is of small value - except as a drudge to men of spiritual judgement and lowly; for the meek only has God promised to guide in judgement. The assumption that, because a man is a profound scholar, even if a Christian also, he is a safe expositor of scripture, is a grave mistake.
Let my reader, if he know it not already, search and see whether there be not a time coming when the Lord, Who is now in heaven at the right hand of God, will leave it to introduce His reign over the earth with the chosen city as His earthly metropolis. Do you ask why there should be such an attraction to that spot? Certainly it has been the scene of sorrow and shame and rivalry between the east and west, and also of the deepest humiliation of God’s ancient people. But let me ask you, even on your ground, where there is a spot on earth so full of grand associations, so connected with all that is dear to the believer? There the Lord of glory came. There He died. It is His city, the city of the Great King. Why should He not then come and take it for Himself? Is it not worthy of Him to pardon and bless and sanctify and magnify Jerusalem before the world, overcoming her evil with His good? Most plain is the scripture that the Lord has to come there, and to establish it as the capital of His earthly kingdom. It is not meant that the Lord will dwell literally on the earth, but be King over it. Yet scripture says He will plant His foot upon the mount of Olives. It is therefore quite necessary for the truth of His future kingdom to maintain that He will visibly come and smite the earth, and establish His kingdom there, and fill the world with the blessed effects of His presence and glory. Scripture says that He will surely come and display Himself here; but for how long, to what extent, and how often during that reign, it is not for me at least to pretend to aver; for I am not aware that scripture answers those questions. And as there is a special place, so there is a people He will favour most Jerusalem and the Jewish people.
But what is to become of Christians? Are they and the Jews to be huddled in Jerusalem together as the old Chiliasts affirmed? Is this the Christian hope? Such an idea is ignorant and monstrous. The Christian is even now in title blessed in the heavenly places. Thence he will reign over the earth. The Jews then gathered and converted will be in their own promised land and city, on which the eyes of Jehovah rest continually; for it is the truth of God that He never withdraws a gift, and never repents of a promise. He might repent of creating man: this was not a promise; it was simply an exertion of His will. But if God chose Israel or the church, He repented of neither, though both have been unfaithful; for He meant to bless, He does bless, and, no matter what the difficulty, He will bless for ever. This we have to hold fast: the purpose of God shall stand. Changes in man and the earth may be, but the counsel of God must yet be accomplished.
Hence the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. He gave the land of Israel to their fathers. He gave the promise to make their seed a blessing. He connected His own Son with Israel after the flesh, that, spite of their sin in Christ’s cross, in virtue of His grace therein an immovable basis of blessing might be laid, when they shall be raised to such a pinnacle of greatness on the earth as is reserved for no other people here below. When the Lord will come to reign, He will have removed to the Father’s house the heavenly people. He will have raised the dead from their graves, and changed the living into the likeness of His own glory. For this all Christians should be looking, as their expectation. When they are caught up thus, then the earth is clear for the Holy Ghost to work among the Jews. The Spirit of God does not operate to two different ends - a heavenly and an earthly - at the same time. But here we find Him at work among the Jews who are not caught up to heaven, as we expect to be, but are blessed under the Messiah on the earth.
Our Lord then having first come and removed the Christians dead and living to be with Himself above, will next begin to act upon the Jews and prepare them as His people when He reigns. This is what is in question here. The earthly centre of His reign is Mount Zion and Jerusalem. This it is which gives to the reign of David such emphasis in the word of God. For he was the chosen type of the Lord, not merely in His humiliation, but also in His glory. He had also to war and put down his enemies, and therefore was called a “man of blood.” Our Lord will be first an executor of judgement, though not, as David, allowing anything of his own spirit or will to interfere and spoil the work; but, in the holy authority of God Himself, in the pouring out of divine wrath and indignation, all will be perfect and dealt with in righteousness. In that day the Lord will convulse the whole universe, punishing “the host of the high ones on high,” that is, in the scene that they have defiled, “and the kings of the earth on the earth” (Isa. 24:21).
Thus the believing Jews of that day will utter the song in evident reference to their experience of the faithfulness of God. They do not address God as Father in the Spirit of adoption, for they are not Christians; they will be believers, but believing Jews. It is gross ignorance to talk of Abel, Enoch, Abraham, David, or Daniel as Christians. They were all saints, but none then were Christians. Not merely was it after Christ came that the disciples were first called Christians, but the place into which believers were at length brought by the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit differs essentially. There is hardly a worse error for a believer now; for it alike tells upon the present and the future and the past, merging all the various displays of God’s mind in confusion. This blunts the edge of the word, hinders the full blessing and testimony of the church, and by its ignorance mars the glory of God as much as man can, who is not an open adversary.
Now, no doubt, in presence of the cross, and the Holy Ghost sent personally on earth, the old distinctions of Jew and Gentile fade before their common ruin in sin and death morally. But when the Lord comes, He will prepare the Jewish people to receive Him according to the prophets; and they will be made the witnesses of His mercies no less than of His glory here below; as now they are the most obstinate enemies of the gospel and of His grace to the Gentiles. Whereas in this chapter we hear the proper language of Jews. If a Christian were to address God as Jehovah, it is of course in itself true; but it is a very unintelligent title in our worship. To us there is one God, the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ. Jehovah is the name of God looked at as a governor that maintains His kingdom; whereas Father is that name which first came out in connection with His beloved Son, and now, by virtue of redemption, is true of us who believe in Him.
Hence, as often noticed, the very day that Christ was raised from the dead, He says, “Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). Christ, by His death and resurrection, has brought us into the same place with Himself. This the Lord always had in view when He was here, so that He never addressed God as Jehovah, because the New Testament presents Him in view of Christianity. But the Old Testament shows that the Lord will have a people, and that they will know Him and the Father as Jehovah. This suffices to indicate the difference; and these remarks have been made to show that another class of people are here spoken of, not Christians, but Jews, who recognise God by that title which God gave Himself in relation to Israel of old. When God chose Moses, He bade him go and make Himself known to them as Jehovah, telling them that He was not so known before. Thus was it ordered at the commencement of the public dealings of God with His people, and throughout their national history it was as Jehovah He appeared. It was not that the name did not previously exist, but He never took it before for His recognised title as the God of Israel.
It is now the prophet who speaks on behalf of Israel, he breaks into the language of praise, and individualises it in behalf of the people in ver. 1. What are the wonderful things? The death and resurrection of Christ? Not a word about either. These are the themes we should speak about. Thus, on the Lord’s-day morning, when we come together, what occupies our hearts is the burden of His praise. We have the still more wonderful works of God in Christ and the new creation; and the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven bears His witness to these (Acts 2:11).
Here Israel are supposed to be occupied with the wonderful things God has wrought for the deliverance of their nation. For God will have interposed and put forth His power to deliver His ancient people by the judgement of their mightiest enemies. They speak of the ruin God has inflicted on all around them. As long as the Jews are unbroken for their sins and indifferent to the truth of God, only bent on making money and serving as the world’s bankers, people will be content to use them and let them alone. But from the moment that God calls the Jew out of his present spiritual and national degradation, when the dry bones are gathered together, when their hearts turn to the rejected Messiah, the nations will turn against them, and once more rend them, as truly as ever. How do we know this? The Bible delivers the believer from guess work. People who do not study the prophetic word can only speculate about the future. There can be no certainty for them; to pretend to it would be presumptuous. But when you in detail believe the Bible, you are entitled through the teaching of God’s Spirit to have the certain light of God. It is entirely our own unbelief if we do not enjoy it.
“And in this mountain shall Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the veil which veileth all peoples, and the covering that is spread over all the nations. He will swallow up death in victory. And the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken” (vv. 6-8). The Spirit of God refers here to resurrection: so the apostle, in 1 Corinthians 15:54, applies the beginning of verse 8, “When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” The resurrection synchronises with the deliverance of Israel, which itself will be “life from the dead” for the world (Rom. 11:15). Thus the first open stroke at death will be at this very time. Jesus is the resurrection and the life; and when He comes with His risen saints He will receive His ancient people, and will swallow up the covering that is spread over all the nations. For there is no deliverance wrought in the earth up to that time. It is when His reign over the earth is to begin, not when it ends.
“Jehovah hath spoken.” Why, we ask, does He say so here? Is it not because He foresaw that man would be incredulous? The special mark of Jehovah’s voice is here, the evil heart of unbelief being well known to Him, and all the delusions of wise and unwise, deceiving and being deceived. He knew how Christendom would say, in reading of predicted judgements, they were for the Jews; and of blessings, these are for themselves. Thus they claim all the good things for the church, as they leave all the dark things for Israel; but even there they destroy conscience by the lie which views prophecy as past and obsolete. “And it shall be said in that day, Behold, this [is] our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this [is] Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For in this mountain shall the hand of Jehovah rest, and Moab shall be trodden down under him, even as straw is trodden down on the dunghill. And he will spread forth his hands in the midst of them, as he that swimmeth spreadeth [them] forth to swim, and he will bring down their pride together with the plots of their hands. And the fortress of the high defences of thy walls will he bring down, lay low, [and] bring to the ground, into the dust” (vv. 9-12).
We must examine of whom God speaks; there are judgements upon Israel and upon Christendom, and blessings for Israel and for the church. That this is for Israel has been already shown; the language used is only suited to them. They speak of themselves, not as we do, conscious children of God, but as His people and of judgements which introduce their blessing. Were all the earth to be dissolved, it would neither lessen nor increase our blessing. When Christ comes, He will simply remove us to Himself, changed into His likeness and out of the scene of weakness and sin and sorrow into His own heavenly home. Whereas here, “It shall be said in that day, Behold, this is our God, we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” They are not saved yet. Such is not our case now, save as to the body. Search the New Testament and you will see that, as regards the soul, we must be saved now; and if we believe, we are. It is plain that here is another class, Jews who have waited in shame for Jehovah, and who when He comes in glory, say, “This is our God, we have waited for Him, and He will save us.” Not for us but for them “shall the hand of Jehovah” rest in “this mountain.” Our portion is in heaven. “This mountain” is the lofty centre of the earthly glory. And accordingly the name of a proud national foe of Israel follows, as doomed to humiliation. Is the Christian looking for Moab to be trodden down? The wholesale christening of the Jewish prophets tends to make scripture ridiculous, and many a man has become hardened in his incredulity by such baseless preoccupation with the gospel and the church. There are general truths and principles that apply to us; for all prophets are intended for the use of the Christian, as the law also. Every scripture is inspired and profitable; but it is absurd thence to infer that all is about ourselves. “The law is good,” says the apostle, “if a man use it lawfully”; and very profitable are the prophets yet we must hear them not as if we were Jews, but as Christians.
Here then is proof plain enough that not Christians, not the church of God, are before us, but Israel. What have we to do with Moab as an enemy? and an enemy which is to be trodden down? Do we look to tread down our enemies, if it were even the Roman papacy? Here is scripture, but it is not a prophecy of scripture about us: assuredly we ought to enjoy it and to bless God for it; yet the people concerned are not ourselves but Israel. They on the earth will see their former enemies completely put down, and Moab among the rest - a consideration which ought to have kept any from interpolating the church and from obliterating the Jew. For they are preserved as a separate people for mercy at the end, and mercy enduring for ever, and for the first place of earthly distinction and power under the Messiah, whereas we of the church are sharers of Christ’s rejection on earth, but to be glorified on high as He is, and to reign over the earth with Him in that day.
Here we have another song to be sung. “In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah” (v. 1). That in the last chapter is not so called, yet was it an outburst of praise after the shaking of heaven and earth; in this we have the prophet still further celebrating what God has done for Judah.
If we look at the Jews now, the contrast with what they are to be made by-and-by is very striking. For in Romans 1:18 they are thus alluded to: “For wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness [i.e., Gentile wickedness in general] and unrighteousness of men that hold the truth in unrighteousness [that of Jews].” Here, on the contrary, it is said, “We have a strong city; salvation doth he appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, and the righteous nation which keepeth faithfulness shall enter in” (vv. 1, 2).
Scripture will have been abandoned by the Jewish people, or the larger part of them, in the last days. At the first advent of Christ it could be said that “salvation is of the Jews”; they had the truth but held it in unrighteousness. They had the form of sound doctrine maintained for the most part, save among the Sadducees. But before the Lord comes the second time, the great mass of the nation will not hold the truth but a lie, the great deceit of the last days, the lie of Antichrist instead of the truth of Christ. Their unrighteousness will be manifest and fatal.
Here we have the blessed contrast of all this: there is a remnant whom God will make to be a strong nation, and they are called, “The righteous nation which keepeth faithfulness.” In verse 3 it is not merely that there is a general profession of the nation, but there will be an individual reality among them. In the past they were called “the holy nation,” as a description that belonged to them, but in the future there is this comfort to all that love them that it will be real collectively and individually. No common privileges are ever meant to make us less mindful of individual fidelity. “Thou wilt keep in perfect peace the mind stayed [on thee], for he confideth in thee” (v. 3).
For very many years the common joy of the church was but little entered into, because of the worldliness, legalism, schisms, divisions, and innumerable wrong ways that had crept in. But there is the danger, now that God has been pleased to show the importance and comfort of corporate blessing, of our forgetting that the individual place has to be all the more carefully watched. It is of primary moment to know the standing of the Christian and the position of the church, but the practical state must be most jealously looked to. Strength depends upon what passes between our own souls and God, Who in His gracious and vigilant care watches over the saints individually.
These then do not forget the public blessings of the nation, but there is also the individual saint’s walk, staying upon God, caring for His glory, Who, on His part, keeps the soul in perfect peace; the mind is stayed upon God Himself. For no matter what the blessings be, if we have not God Himself as the object of our hearts, they are sure to be misused; therefore it is said, “because he trusteth in thee.” It is not merely the perception of the goodness of God and of the wonders He had wrought for them. Now they know Himself, and trust Himself, and this is a very real thing for our souls - the personal knowledge of God and trust in God. Need it be said that God looks for it now in a still more intimate way than even then? Yet all that ever has been done on the face of the earth will have been outwardly eclipsed with but one exception (and this exception is Christ, to say nothing of His body the church). Nothing can surpass the last Adam; nothing compare with Christ’s cross, unless it be Himself; and both will be our portion, of which we will joy and boast even in glory.
Remark this also that, in all these statements of what they are to share, never do we find such language addressed to them as supposes them to enter into the depths of God’s ways in the cross as is expected of us now. What can be sweeter than the way in which they count on their deliverance, and confide their souls to God? But where are heard such words as “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”? Yet nothing would have been more easy, had it been in due keeping, than for God to have said so here. We are called into such fellowship with God about His Son, and we are associated with the cross as well as heaven beyond what any one can really find in the Old Testament. When a person starts with the assumption that the theme is all one and the same, the distinctive value of scripture is lost. For the soul too the least possible measure of blessing is the result.
Here we have the Lord Jehovah brought in for all. “Confide ye in Jehovah for ever; for in Jah-Jehovah [is the] rock of ages” (v. 4). And the reason why they speak of His everlasting strength lies here, “For he hath brought down them that dwell on high, the lofty city; he layeth it low even to the ground; he bringeth it [even] to the dust. The feet shall tread it down, the feet of the afflicted, the steps of the poor” (vv. 5, 6). It will be one nation whom God in the last days will clothe with such honour, after they have been vilified in every way by the Gentiles. Hence they are singing; for not a single difficulty remains then why God should not fully bless them. It is touching to see how God insists that He has done everything that was needed for their deliverance and good. For them is assured the abasement of what is high and lofty; and grace can give poverty of spirit and lowliness to the Jews themselves, once so proud. They will have been brought through tremendous trials, having borne the added and painful reproach of being a most guilty and withal haughty people; but all is changed now.
For a godly few of the Jews will entirely gainsay the lie of Satan when all the power of their nation and the great mass of the westerns will have given way to Antichrist. A little despised remnant will still hold out for the Lord, refusing him who puts himself forward as the true Messiah. They will have been faithful in the face of death, and now they are made thus to praise God. “The way of the just [is] uprightness: thou, the Upright, dost make the path of the just even” (v. 7). It is sweet in thinking of this, that their triumph will not be by their power or their knowledge, but by their simple trust in Jehovah and faith in His word. But a scanty glimpse will be theirs, for they are the very souls referred to in Isa. 1:10, as walking in darkness and having no light. This ought never to be said of a Christian, though he may slip into such a feeling: for he has seen Christ, the light of life, the true light. He may have but a dim perception of Christ, but still Christ is before his soul and always shines; for it is not true, that where the light of grace has once shone, God takes it back again. The difference is on the part of the Christian. It is never the light that is gone; possibly he may have been unfaithful and turned his back upon it. The Holy Ghost has come down to abide with the Christian for ever. He may not always walk according to the light, but in it he walks as a believer, and cannot but walk; yea, he is now light in the Lord. The Christian walks in the light as long as he professes the name of Christ. He never walks in darkness. He may not enjoy the light, but this is quite another thing.
The contrary language is very common in Christendom, because they confound the position of the Christian with that of the Jewish people, who must go through darkness by-and-by, before their light is come and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon them. Possibly a very few may not be thus walking in darkness. Some certainly will have godliness in contrast “with the many”; they are “the wise.” But the beautiful feature of the godly is that although they thus walk in darkness, yet as they have been touched by the Spirit of God, and know that what is of God can never have alliance with sin, so they will refuse to own that idols and Antichrist can be of God. Thus they pass through the tribulation with but a feeble measure of knowledge of God, no doubt; but still they will be true to what they have got, and will be brought out to praise God. They are entitled to be spoken of as “the just.” So now, it is a great snare as well as mistake of believers not to take the place of being saints of God; for if they decline it, they feel not responsibility in their walk So in earthly relations, if persons in the position of masters or servants do not act from their true position, they will never carry themselves in practice as becomes them. To own our proper relationship is not pride, but a duty and wisdom. If you are occupied therein with self, no doubt pride comes in; but it is all right and important to acknowledge God in the relationships to which He has called us.
The Spirit of God leads them to say, “Yea, in the way of thy judgements, O Jehovah, have we waited for thee; to thy name and to thy memorial [is] the desire of [our] soul” (v. 8). Such is what they had been wading through. They had waited for Him in the way of His judgements; we follow Him in grace and look to appear with Him in glory. “With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgements are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (v. 9). Now we have the individual again. As far as the world is concerned, the patience of God will have ended in the most fearful departure from the truth. God is now suffering the ways of man. He has not left them to their own conjectures or darkness; but He has caused His light to shine in the person of Christ, leaving man to himself, save working by His word and Spirit. Outwardly God seems as though He did not notice what is passing here below, and all this after the full light of God has shone through Christ upon this world. Saving grace has appeared to men. Favour has been shown to the wicked, this is what is going on now. “If favour be shown unto the wicked, he doth not learn righteousness.” “In the land of uprightness,” it is added, “he dealeth unjustly and doth not behold the majesty of Jehovah” (v. 10). The gospel is but for a witness; it will not, it cannot, govern the world. When God’s judgements are here below, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. Hence there is the further warning in ver. 11, “Jehovah, thy hand is uplifted.” He is coming in the way of judgement. Does the first answer say that “they do not see”? But, says the prophet, “They shall see jealousy [for] the people, and be ashamed; yea, the fire which is for thine enemies shall devour them” (v. 11).
The prophetic Spirit turns to speak of the blessing for the Jews. “Jehovah, thou wilt ordain peace for us, for thou also hast wrought all our works for us. Jehovah our God, other lords than thee have had dominion over us: by thee only will we make mention of thy name” (vv. 12, 13). What had become of them? “[They are] dead, they shall not live; deceased, they shall not rise: for thou hast visited and destroyed them, and made all memory of them to perish” (v. 14). This is of course highly figurative language. If we look at the resurrection, we know that the wicked are to rise as well as the righteous that is, there is a resurrection of all men just and unjust. These Gentile oppressors of Israel must rise in the resurrection of judgement. They will rise like other bad men. But when it is said here, “They shall not rise,” the Spirit does not describe the literal resurrection of the body, but the complete reversal of the lot of the nations and Israel in this world. These old lords are no longer to live or rise again in this world. This will suffice to show that the language here is put figuratively.
In Isa. 25:8 it is said, “He will swallow up death in victory.” This, we know from God Himself, will be realised in the literal resurrection of the body, when the saints are raised. But in Isa. 26:14 the allusion to resurrection is employed as a figure, because the context proves that it cannot refer to that literal fact; for if it did, it would be to deny that the unrighteous are to rise. This is the true criterion for the understanding of any passage of the word. If a person bring you a text against what you know to be true, always examine what surrounds it, see what God treats of. Here it is plain that it is a question of the way in which God will deal in that day with the nations who lorded it over Israel. But is it not the fact, some may ask, that these Gentiles were literally dead? Certainly, is the answer; but in this case it is not true that they shall not rise.
Perhaps this would not be worth dwelling on, were it not that many apply Isa. 26:19 to the same literal resurrection as Isa. 25:8. We must never force but bow to scripture. The passages that do refer to a raising of bodies we must hold fast; but it is dangerous to misapply others which only use it as a figure, because in this case one might infer, as from our chapter, that which is unfounded. In truth, as we know, all men must rise. “The hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth” (John 5:28, 29). There we have the most decisive proof that all the dead, just and unjust, are to rise again from the grave.
Here contrariwise the wicked enemies of Israel “shall not rise.” John clearly teaches the resurrection of all, good and bad. Isa. 26:14 refers only to the figure of not rising, to comfort Israel from all fears of their old troublers. “Dead, they shall not live; deceased, they shall not rise: for thou hast visited and destroyed them, and made all memory of them to perish.” Thus effectually will Jehovah have disposed of Gentiles who had lorded it over the Jews.
But what has been done for the nation? “Thou hast increased the nation, Jehovah, thou hast increased the nation; thou art glorified. Thou hadst removed [it] far [unto] all the ends of the earth” (v. 15). He does not here speak of the resurrection of the body. Clearly when this takes place as described, it could not be said that He had removed the risen saints far unto all the ends of the earth. Take it of Judah, and how true it is!
Equally plain is what follows. “Jehovah, in trouble they sought thee; they poured out a lisping [when] thy chastening [was] upon them. As a woman with child, [that] draweth near the time of her delivery, is in travail [and] crieth out in her pangs; so have we been before thee, Jehovah. We have been with child, we have been in travail, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought the deliverance of the land (or, earth); neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen” (vv. 16-18). They will review their past conduct, and see that they have not accomplished God’s design by them. Where had they brought in a divine flow of blessing? They had learnt the bad ways of the Gentiles, and brought a curse on themselves as well as on others; the name of Jehovah was blasphemed because of them.
But now it is said, as a glorious reverse, “Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise.” What mighty words, and how tender! Jehovah awakens Israel, and even calls them His dead bodies. It is no question of bodily death, but of national revival, and yet it will have spiritual character too. The daughter of Zion awakes from her long sleep, and Jehovah speaks of the Jews (so long defunct as His people) as His dead. They, for their part, own themselves to be just as bad as the rest of the nations; but the momentous difference is that Jehovah claims them as His own. “Let them be dead,” He says, as it were, “still they are Mine.” It is the Jewish nation that had been like a corpse which Jehovah is graciously pleased to identify as His own, and is bringing them out again. If Abraham would bury his dead out of his sight, here Jehovah asserts His title to fill them with a new life: “Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing in triumph, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is the dew of the morning, and the earth shall cast forth the dead” (v. 19). It indicates how fully the truth of the resurrection of the dead was familiar to the Jew seeing the prophet uses it so freely as the best expression for God’s resuscitating His people when they shall have been long defunct as a nation.
As some may think this a questionable interpretation of the passage, a scripture or two will prove its soundness. In Ezek. 37. the terms of the figure are quite as strong as here, the Spirit of God shows the prophet a valley of dry bones. And “they were very dry.” “Can these bones live?” was the question (vv. 2, 3). “Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you” (v. 5). Thus the vision is realized, the bones come together. Next there was flesh on them (v. 8). Then the bones, coming forth and clothed with flesh, answer to the dead men here raised out of their graves. But, beyond controversy, this means the whole house of Israel. “Thy dead shall live,” says Isaiah. To put this chapter of Ezekiel along with Isa. 26:19 makes, to say the least, a strong presumption, that if the figure of resurrection is used to show the fresh start of Israel in the one, so it may be in the other. But it is certainly so intended in Ezek. 37; for, if we have the vision, we have also the inspired interpretation. We are not therefore at liberty to explain the vision according to our own thoughts. The explanation of the Holy Ghost is express and conclusive. Thus we can carry divine light back to Isaiah 26:19, where the very same allusion is found.
In Hosea 6:2 again there is a similar figure. So there is also in Dan. 12:2, “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” If we divert this to a resurrection of the body, in the first place it is not a resurrection of all, but only of “many.” In the second place, it is of some to everlasting life and of some to shame and contempt at the same time. We must give up the doctrine of the first resurrection, separated by a thousand years and more from the second death (Rev. 20), in order to found on this a literal rising from the graves. All is plain and just if it apply in the same way as Ezekiel and Isaiah to the national revival of Israel, whom God will bring out of all their present condition of shame, though some of them be allowed to display fatal wickedness and pride. This is another confirmation of the truth of the interpretation.
But further the next verses are explicit, where we read, “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be past. For, behold, Jehovah cometh forth out of his place to visit the iniquity of the inhabitants of the earth on them; and the earth shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain” (vv. 20, 21). Those who interpret the context of a literal resurrection are led into the error, that the risen saints (for such this scheme supposes to be here meant) would be here on earth whilst the divine indignation is going on! One could understand their holding that some are to pass through the tribulation, though this is not quite the same thing as the indignation. But it is clearly a question of men alive here below not of men changed. God tells them (the Jews) to enter into their chambers until He has spent all His wrath upon the nations. Is this what we look for? Are we not to be taken out of this earthly scene and to enter into the Father’s house above? We are not an earthly but a heavenly people. We know the Lord is coming Who will take us to be with Himself where He is; and when He has translated the Christians above, the Jews will be called for the earth. The little remnant will be grievously tried, when the vast body of the nation will receive the Antichrist.
Hence, when the day of Jehovah comes for the judgement of the quick, it is said, “enter into thy chambers.” He will not provide a heavenly abode for them, but they are to enter into their chambers - assuredly some place of refuge and earthly security. All this renders plain the right interpretation of the passage, and shows that God is not speaking about the heavenly saints, but refers to the remnant of the Jews in the last days, who are to have a haven of refuge provided for them. It is not like Abraham, for this is our place. Israel will be much more like Lot, for they will be in the midst of the scene where the judgement is to be executed. Lot entered into his chambers (that is, Zoar) when the judgement came; but as for Abraham, he was entirely out of the trial, and pleading before Jehovah in earnest intercession; and yet before the day came to pass, he knew about it far better than Lot. His position, communion, and experience were typically different from those of his relative. So we shall be taken up to Christ and brought into the Father’s house; but afterwards, when the Lord comes to execute judgement, we shall come along with Him.
This is the closing portion of the series that has been occupying us. It is “in that day,” while Isa. 28 manifestly introduces a new part of the prophecy.
The great crisis is arrived. Not only does Jehovah come out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth is compelled to disclose her deeds of blood, and her slain shall be covered no more; but there are yet greater things. For “in that day Jehovah with his sore and great and strong sword will visit leviathan, the piercing serpent (or, fugitive), and leviathan, the crooked serpent; and he will slay the dragon (or, monster) that is in the sea” (v. 1).20 It is the execution of divine judgement on the power of Satan, figuratively set forth under forms suited to describe his hostility as at work against Israel among the Gentiles. “The day of Jehovah” takes in not only the thousand years of peaceful reign, but a little more.
Thence the Spirit turns to Jehovah’s ways with His own. “In that day [shall be] a vineyard of pure wine; sing concerning it: I Jehovah keep it; I will water it every moment: lest [any] harm it, I will keep it night and day” (vv. 2, 3). His care never failed, whatever the times that passed over His land and people. When earth comes once more into His view, and consequently Israel, His watchful goodness will prove itself unremitting on their behalf. “Fury [is] not in me. Oh that I had briars [and] thorns against me in battle! I would march through them, I would burn them together. Or let him take hold of my strength; let him make peace with me, peace let him make with me” (vv. 4, 5). There seems not a little obscurity in the language, if one may judge from the discrepancies of expositors, and the difficulty of suggesting such a sense as carries the unbiased along with it. But assuming that the substantial force is given in the English Bible, Jehovah on the one hand challenges the adversaries and warns of their sure destruction; on the other He proffers His own protection as the only door of peace and safety. The next verse is transparent, “In future Jacob shall take root; Israel shall bud and blossom, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (v. 6). Such is the purpose of Jehovah, and it shall stand.
It was not only purpose, however: there was patient and persevering discipline in His ways with Israel. “Hath he smitten him, as he smote those that smote him? [or] is he slain according to the slaughter of them that are slain by him? In measure, in sending her away, didst thou contend (or, wilt debate) with her? He hath removed [her] with his rough wind in the day of the east wind. By this, therefore, shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this [is] all the fruit of taking away his sin; when he maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones that are beaten in pieces - the Asherahs and the sun images shall not stand. For the fortified city [is] solitary, a habitation deserted and forsaken like a wilderness: there shall the calf feed, and there shall he lie down, and consume its boughs. When its branches are withered, they shall be broken off: women come [and] set them on fire. For it [is] a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and ho that formed them will show them no favour” (vv. 7-11). Thus, there was indeed a mighty difference in God’s ways with Israel and their enemies. Faithfully did He chastise them in their pride, and rebelliousness, and unbelief; but it was not with the unsparing judgement which uprooted and destroyed His and their foes. There was slaughter too; but what was it in comparison of those that are destined to be slain before the day of restitution arrives? In Israel’s case judgement was tempered with mercy; His dealing was measured. In His debate or controversy with Israel He deigned to plead; and even when the sorest trial came, there was a gracious mitigation and arrest in His people’s favour; and not this only, but also moral profit, when every trace of idolatry should be ground like chalkstones to powder. They must not be surprised, then, if in such mighty changes the works of the men of the earth passed away, the defended city was desolated, the habitation forsaken and left like a wilderness only relieved by pasturage for the calf, and by withered, broken firewood for women to come and set on fire; for oh! the folly of the people and the ruin they bring justly, necessarily, on themselves.
Yet here, as elsewhere, great tribulation is the immediate precursor of a greater deliverance. “And it shall come to pass in that day [that] Jehovah shall beat off from the flood of the river unto the torrent of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O children of Israel” (v. 12). The Judge of all the earth must do right; but He will interpose in saving and sovereign mercy. He will sift out and gather the Israelites one by one. Nay more, “And it shall come to pass in that day [that] the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come that were perishing in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt; and they shall worship Jehovah in the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (v. 13). Those who have accompanied me thus far will have no trouble or doubt in determining the true application. It is the trumpet of Matt. 24:31, not of 1 Thess. 4:16 and 1 Cor. 15:52. The latter scriptures refer to the divine summons to the heavenly saints; our chapter, as well as the passage in the first Gospel, describes the call to Israel to re assemble, from north and south, to worship Jehovah at Jerusalem.
It may be noticed that as Isa. 26 was occupied with Judah and its land, however deep it might go, our chapter which deals with the crushing of Satan’s power in various forms goes on to Israel; and this throughout, so as to prove it is not casual.
“We know not” (justly said the eloquent H. Melvill) “with what eyes those men can read Prophecy, who discover not in its announcements the final restoration and conversion of the Jews. It is useless to resolve into figurative language, or to explain, by a purely spiritual [rather, mystical] interpretation, predictions which seem to assert the reinstatement of the exiles in the land of their fathers, and their becoming the chief preachers of the religion which they have so long laboured to bring into contempt. These predictions are inseparably bound up with others, which refer to their dispersion and unbelief; so that if you spiritualize [or, allegorise] any one, you must spiritualise the whole. And since every word has had a literal accomplishment, so far as the dispersion and unbelief are concerned, how can we doubt that every word will have also a literal accomplishment, so far as the restoration and conversion are concerned? If the event had proved the predicted dispersion to be figurative, the event in all probability would prove also the predicted restoration to be figurative. But so long as we find the two foretold in the same sentence, with no intimation that we are not to apply to both the same rule of interpretation we seem bound to expect, either in both cases a literal fulfilment or in both a spiritual; and since in the one instance the fulfilment has been undoubtedly literal, have we not every reason for concluding that it will be literal in the other?”
(Sermon on the Dispersion and Conversion of the Jews, 131, 132 preached at Cambridge in February, 1837)
15 This description of their vessels or boats is an apparent difficulty, as it is that which has induced most to conceive that Egypt is meant. For no doubt boats of that slight material sufficient to cross the Nile were notorious of old. But may we not infer that as ships of Tarshish are sometimes used in a general way for those employed on long commercial voyages to whatever land they belonged so the vessels of papyrus may designate rapid cruisers in general whatever the material or wherein employed? Beyond the rivers of Cush must surely exclude Egypt as well as Babylonia, or any country within those limits. The maritime people meant is described as outside the lands which wed to have to do with Israel. Hence we find Bishop Horsley writing (Bibl. Crit. ii. 134, 135), Navigable vessels are certainly meant and if it could be proved that Egypt is the country spoken to these vessels of bulrushes might be understood of the light skiffs made of that material and used by the Egyptians upon the Nile. But if the country spoken to be distant from Egypt vessels of bulrush are only used as an apt image on account of their levity for quick-sailing vessels of any material. The country therefore to which the prophet calls is characterized as one which in the days of the completion of this prophecy should be a great maritime and commercial power forming remote alliances making distant voyages to all parts of the world with expedition and security and in the habit of affording protection to their friends and allies. Where this country is to be found is not otherwise said than that it will be remote from Judaea and with respect to that country beyond the Cushean streams.
16 The Assyrian inscriptions remarkably illustrate the accuracy of the statement here. For many now hold that the conjectures of commentators, which identified Sargon with Shalmaneser on the one side, or with Sennacherib or Esarhaddon on the other, are uncared for and erroneous. They count him a monarch of no common energy, not only distinct from his immediate predecessor, Shalmanesers but also of a distinct family, and yet not Sennacherib but his father. The national annals indicate no allusion to his own father which has been explained plausibly enough on the supposition that he contrived to substitute himself for his predecessor absent at the siege of Samaria, the conquest of which he claims in the inscription. And it is certainly worthy of note, as has been remarked that in 2 Kings 18:9, 10, though Shalmaneser is said to have come up against Samaria and besieged it, the writer avoids saying that he took it. stand at the end of three years they took it . . . And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel down to Assyria,” etc. Though this had been done by two of the preceding monarchs, it is known that Argon minutely details the settlement of 27,280 families from Samaria in his eastern dominions.
17 Dr. Driver (Lit. of the O.T. 206) remarks that Arab denotes not Arabia In our sense of the word but a particular nomad tribe inhabiting the north of the Peninsula and mentioned (Ezek. 27:21) with Dedan and Cedar as engaged in commerce with Tyre. Kedar was a wealthy pastoral tribe (Isa. 9:7; Jer. 49:29). Tema lay some 250 miles south-east of Edom. Sargon s troops were engaged in war with the Philistines in B.C. 720 and in 711; and it may be conjectured he adds that these two prophecies were delivered In view of an expected campaign of the Assyrians in the neighbouring regions in one of these years. How sad to leave God out of prophecy.
18 Zechariah 9:3, 4 alludes rather, It would appear, to the Macedonian chief who ravaged the sea-board cities of Phoenicia, and of Palestine north and south, so ruthlessly. This at least is the historic occasion, for the Holy Ghost, there, as everywhere has the closing conflicts in His eye, and the future triumph of Israel under the Messiah Some it may be added, think that Isa 23 refers to Shalmaneser’s siege of Tyre; but this seem’s to the last degree improbable as the city is seen soon after in an opulent and powerful state. Others even deny its capture by Nebuchadnezzar; but Ezek 29:18 teaches not that he failed to take it, but that its results did not compensate for the time and toil the Tyrian ships having carried off the treasures elsewhere.
19 “Damnation” though the effect of judgement, is not the sense of the expression. It is an instance of men giving their own strength to a word and really weakening the passage in result.
20 Delitzch suggests a reference to the Assyrian and Babylonian powers, answering to the swift and straight river Hiddekel, and the very winding Euphrates respectively. But the serpent in either form points to the subtle foe behind the scene.