A sensibly different portion of the prophecy now opens on us, forming what may be called Isaiah’s second volume. No longer is the overthrow of kings and peoples in the foreground; nor are we occupied as before with the various Gentile enemies that long beset and troubled Israel. Hence, most appropriately introducing it, stands a touching controversy between God and His own people. We are evidently not looking here on God’s dealings without; we enter within. His judgement begins as ever at the house of God: and more closely and thoroughly than the same process in the preface of our prophecy (Isa. 1). More was wanted than ways and judgements in providence. There are moral wants and spiritual wrongs which must be taken up, if the people are to be blessed according to God; and what makes the distinction so much the more striking is the fact that we shall find Babylon again in a totally different aspect from that which had been seen as yet, not so much in her aspect of worldly magnificence and power, but in her sad notoriety as the source and bulwark of idolatry on earth. Evidently this accords with God’s pleading with His people, and His distinct unfolding of the chastening that He caused to light upon them because of their idolatry and even worse spiritual sins, as we shall see. Thus not political but spiritual wickedness is here before us; into which they had been drawn by the enemy to set them into opposition to God Himself.
This great change gives rise to an altogether different character of revelation and even style of address. “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people,” graciously lets us see the end of all. In the beginning of the book the Spirit of God appealed to Israel as the people then were, attesting God’s judgement of their wickedness and the introduction of the glory of Jehovah. Here too the same Israel were guilty, and the divine glory is surely to be established in judgement; but before we behold the full distressing picture of what they really were in His eyes, He begins with unfailing words of comfort. Thus the heart of every saint would be strengthened at the very outset with the assurance that they were the object of divine mercy, and so too all the better would they bear to hear what Jehovah must tell them of their grievous faults, which could not but be in themselves fatal.
The chapter before formed a kind of link with what follows; for there we have the prediction of their deportation to Babylon; which, as has been often remarked, holds a peculiar place. Babylon, being the beginning of the great image of Daniel, becomes also the type of the last representative of imperial power. The head of gold received supremacy from God in a more direct form than any of the other powers, which were only successors in the line. The grant of imperial power was immediate from the God of heaven to Nebuchadnezzar, who thus typified in a certain sense the image from first to last. More particularly the fall of Babylon prefigured the overthrow of the world-power in the earth which rose on Judah’s ruin, now Lo-ammi; the final judgement of that system of universal supremacy then begun, and, if not still going on, only suspended. For the image-power has not yet been struck by the little Stone (Dan. 2:34), and is awaiting its reorganisation before it is dissolved for ever. Its components are at present in a broken state; but by-and-by they will again coalesce with an appearance of amazing and renewed strength, which its last head will use directly to oppose the Lord of lords and King of kings. This Rev. 17. clearly shows us; for the judgement of Babylon and of the Beast as there set forth is not yet accomplished. The old Roman Empire, destroyed by the Gothic races, could not be fairly represented by the Beast with seven heads and ten horns, any more than the pagan city answers truly to the harlot drunk with the blood of the saints. What filled the seer with great wonder was the mystery of what claimed to be Christ’s bride seated on the Beast, the mother of the fornications and, yet more, of the abominations (or idols) of the earth, and guilty withal of such sanguinary persecution of Christ’s followers.
Babylon has thus a special place as being the power of all others that was allowed to enslave Jerusalem and the house of David from whom the Deliverer of Israel was to spring. Now we know that the Son of David is actually come, that He was presented to Israel and rejected by them, that He suffered death on the cross and is gone up to heaven, where He has taken His place, not as Son of David, but as the rejected Son of man Who is the Son of God. The Lord Jesus is there the great High Priest of God as well as Head of the church, seated at the right hand of God, where and whence He acts in power and love, sending down whatever is needful for the good of the saints and for winning sinners by the testimony of God’s grace here below. This is what Christ is now doing, not yet fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Son of David as such, nor yet as the King of the nations.
Hence anyone who in a serious inquiry takes up the Old Testament to find the full and clear announcement of what occupies Christ now must, either give up these prophecies as dark and unintelligible, or he must put a false gloss and violent strain on them to eke out such an application as their full scope. In truth they refer to the future, not to the present; and to Israel, God’s earthly people, not to the heavenly church, save in certain general principles or special allusions to the Gentile parenthesis, which the provident wisdom of the Holy Ghost took care to furnish in order to confound God’s adversaries. Then there are displays of God in moral ways from which (though about Israel rather than ourselves) we can and ought to extract for our own souls that which is most helpful and cheering. For God is good and full of tender mercy to Israel; and He is surely not less full of grace to us. If He is love to the people He will govern, can He love less the children He now adopts to Himself by Jesus Christ? There are no doubt great differences between the saints He calls now, and those who are to be blessed in the age to come. Now it is His church, Christ’s body, the children He is bringing into the place of heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Israel will inherit the promise made to the fathers; but we, if Christ’s now, are heirs with the Firstborn, sons not merely of “the fathers,” but of God the Father.
When we thus examine the prophecies, not biased with the foregone conclusion of finding ourselves in them, but free to understand the words as they are written, and simply accepting the intended objects God here speaks of, nothing can be clearer or more certain. Here for instance He calls to comfort His people. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her time of toil (or, suffering) is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; that she hath received of Jehovah’s hand double for all her sins” (vv. 1, 2). The ground He puts it on is that the warfare of Israel is over. Jehovah now interposes. Bad as Jerusalem’s sins were, she had, to His reckoning of love, suffered double what her sins deserved in His government. He is not looking at the sins of Jerusalem apart from Christ, but as it were through Him. If there were no suffering Messiah connected with Jerusalem, nothing would remain but the judgement of her sins to her everlasting shame and ruin. But God always looks at Christ on her behalf, and can thus say, “Comfort ye, comfort ye.” After disowning Israel as not His people, Lo-ammi, which holds good through the times of the Gentiles not yet expired, He will acknowledge them once more and for ever under Messiah and the new covenant.
Next we have the manner or moral principle in which the comfort will be brought home to them. This furnishes a grave and interesting insight into God’s ways. “The voice of one that crieth in the wilderness.” The allusion is evident to John the Baptist, who was “sent from God” to bear witness of the True Light and prepare a way for the Messiah. In the midst of his testimony he was slain. Messiah too came, and in the midst of His testimony He was slain. Master and servant, they were both cut off by wicked hands. Thus God’s work was, as far as man could see, nipped in the bud; and hence the world is yet in mis-rule and confusion, in sin and misery. When God really fulfils for the earth what He has at heart, there will be the manifest power of ordered blessing to His glory.
But look up, not down, and read in the risen and glorified Christ the proof to faith that the cross, the very thing that seemed the total ruin of all the counsels of God, is in truth their solid basis and justification, by which He is and will be for ever glorified. The cross of the Lord Jesus is the triumph of grace, as the resurrection and ascension are its righteous answer; but it is a triumph known only to faith. The world sees not heaven opened nor Him glorified there; it saw in the cross One Who suffered to death. In the Acts of the Apostles man’s rejection of Christ is constantly contrasted with God’s raising Him from the dead. There we see that man and God are in complete opposition. The cross is thus looked at in the light not of God’s purposes, but of man’s wickedness. In the Epistles the truth chiefly insisted on is the cross, not so much as the extreme point of all man has done against God, but as the deepest exercise of the grace that God feels towards guilty man. Not that love was created by the cross; it was in God before the coming of Christ, and because of it He sent His Son. The propitiation is the fruit of God’s grace, not its cause. Propitiation vindicates it, judging and putting aside all the sin on man’s part, which otherwise would have proved an insurmountable barrier. But the love was on God’s part from everlasting. We must bear this in mind in looking at propitiation, which indeed is the strongest possible proof of His love, while it equally proves His holiness and the necessary judgement of our sins.
John’s testimony was a call to repentance in view of Messiah’s advent; his baptism therefore was a confession both of sins and of Him, Who should come after himself. it was “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (v. 3). It was not the person nor the work of Israel’s hope in power. For Israel as a whole was blind and deaf; the testimony was interrupted, the Messiah refused. There was therefore but a partial application, the people’s unbelief thus intercepting and breaking off the thread of God’s ways, while His counsels abide irrefragable and accomplished, through their unbelief, in the cross as they never else could have been. The way of Jehovah was not yet prepared, nor was there a straight highway in the desert for God. Man was put on his responsibility and heard the cry only to sin the more; but by-and-by God will make all good in grace by His own power. Then “Every valley shall be exalted; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh (not Israel only) shall see [it] together; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken” (vv. 4, 5).
Thus plainly we have, as far as its scope goes, the sure purpose of God. Every difficulty, depths, heights, rough or crooked, all must disappear: for God yet means to make this earth the scene of His glory. A most blessed prospect it is, that the sin, misery, and weakness of man, the groaning of all creation around, the wiles and power and presence of Satan must vanish and give place, not to the revealed grace of God in Christ, which has shone (we know) in the despised Nazarene, but to the revealed glory of Jehovah, when all flesh shall see it together. It cannot refer to the day of the judgement of the dead, because then it will not be “all flesh” nor any flesh whatever, but the dead raised before the great white throne. But here it is a question of man living in his natural body on the earth. The Jew was apt to overlook the judgement of the dead at the end of all dispensations; the Gentile is just as negligent as to the judgement of the quick, though it be confessed in the commonest symbols of Christendom. As infidelity increases, the rejection of this truth is perhaps more complete now than it has ever been since the gospel was preached to the Gentiles.
In the dark ages people at least believed enough to be panic-struck from time to time, but now Christians are accounted fanatics if they testify of these coming judgements. But none the less will God cut short the course of this world, and the glory of Jehovah will be revealed, so that all flesh shall see it together. This John the Baptist had to announce: only the first word committed to him, and already accomplished in its measure, was the preparation of the way of Jehovah. Hence it appears that the third verse does not refer solely to the mighty changes of the new age, but includes also such a moral preparation as befitted the coming of the Lord in humiliation. Thus, for the time, it went no farther than God’s working in the hearts of a remnant, whose souls were made to be in a measure prepared for the Messiah. We know that such was the fact. See John’s disciples leaving him to follow Jesus, and John delighting in it. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29, 30). Hence says our Lord in Matt. 11:14, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias that was for to come,” clearly showing that to faith John the Baptist was Elias (compare Mark 9:11-13); but, as a matter of fact, the full predicted circumstances are postponed till the great day that is coming (compare Mal. 4:5, 6). Thus he is to come, not before the Lord takes up the church, with which he has nothing to do, but before the proper blessing of Israel, with whom he has a close connection. John the Baptist went before Jehovah-Jesus in the spirit and power of Elias but Elias himself publicly vindicated the true God in opposition to the apostasy of Israel and in the discomfiture of the priests of Baal. He will return by-and-by, and resume a work of the most solemn character before the great and terrible day of Jehovah. John the Baptist anticipated this in the way of preparing a remnant for receiving Him Who should and did and will come.
Next, “A voice saith, Cry. And he saith, What shall I cry?” Here follows the substance of John the Baptist’s testimony, though it may be still more manifest in the end of this age “All flesh is grass”; it is man morally and universally. “And all the goodliness thereof [is] as the flower of the field” (v. 6). Could a man use this to think well of himself? Verse 7 cuts down all boasting — “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the Spirit (or, breath) of Jehovah bloweth upon it.” Not its beauty but its frailty God refers to. The moment you have God testing its character, if it were only by the breath of His nostrils, all flesh comes to nothing; and this too in Israel, not in Gentiles only: “surely the people is grass.” Nor is this all; He utters its sentence again and again. The reason for the first repetition seems to be the emphatic judgement of “the people,” that is, the Jews. The second case is particularly connected with the resource for faith. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (v. 8).
Thus the reception of the Messiah and His reign over Israel by-and-by are conditioned by their repentance, a work wrought in their souls by the word of God applied by the Holy Spirit, as Nicodemus had to learn from our Lord in John 3. So the Christian proves yet more profoundly under the gospel, and by faith receives eternal life in the Son of God. So must the Jew in due time for the future world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. These two truths are of no less importance at the present moment, as we know how Peter used them for the Christian Jews from the first. They will be urgently needed when God begins to work in the Jews once more, when they painfully learn, feel, and prove the utter worthlessness of man as he is in divine things. Even now the men of the world are making no small strides in material things; but they will yet do greater things. And the devil will mature and display his plans as they have never been witnessed in the world before. What then will be the security of faith? “The word of our God shall stand for ever.”
But as the church, the heavenly mystery of Christ (or rather part of it), really came into view when all hopes of the earth and man for the present (and always, as far as they are concerned) were buried in Christ’s grave, so we may well believe, as the end draws nearer, we do greatly need to rest with simplicity upon God’s word. We may, as only knowing in part, understand but little; but it is a poor feeling and unworthy to be called faith only to believe His word when understood. Not that it is not sweet and cheering when we consciously enter into any of its depths; but intelligence of the word is the gift of grace and product of faith, not the ground why one believes. God sends one His testimony, and the soul bows to it, setting to its seal that God is true. Am I a sinner without peace or even hope, or any real anxiety before God? That word comes and pronounces to my conscience that all flesh is grass. My soul is thus laid bare. If I do not believe God, all my life and death will be just the proof of my folly and sin. But if I submit to the humbling yet gracious testimony of God, while proving its truth in what I am, I enter into the comfort and strength of His own word, and I too am made to stand through that same word. “The word of our God shall stand for ever.” Our experience follows, and confirms of course the truth of the word in breaking one down. Thus God’s word is the only standing-ground. Yet outwardly the word of God is just like the cross of Christ. There may well be difficulties to such as we are; and the word seems a weak thing to confide in for eternity; but, in truth, it is more stable than heaven and earth. So in 2 Tim. 3:16, 17 the apostle, anticipating the ruin of Christendom, casts the man of God on this unfailing resource.
But we turn in the next verse to the special earthly object of God’s affection — Zion. It is the symbol of the grace of God working in Israel, also the centre of the royal glory that is about to be revealed here below. “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into a high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold, your God! Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come with might, and his arm shall rule for him; behold, his reward [is] with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs with his arm, and carry [them] in his bosom; he will gently lead those that give suck” (vv. 9-11). As there can be no doubt, the person Who came of old and will come by-and-by is Christ; in a word, the same Jesus is not only Christ but Jehovah. He is here spoken of as the God of Israel, Jehovah, Whose reward is with Him and His work before Him. First of all is His coming in power; next, with all tenderness of heart, as One taking compassion on them because of their defenceless and exposed condition.
But the verses from 12 let us know, when we come to inquire who is the great and loving Deliverer, that He turns out to be no such petty conqueror as Rabbis conceived and as the carnal desires of Israel craved so long and ardently; He is the Creator. How strange that such a height of glory should be unwelcome! Even then it was God’s warning of His judgement on idolatry which is the first great question in this part of Isaiah’s prophecy with Israel even more than the nations. His people would apostatise more and more from Jehovah and follow the Gentiles in their worship of idols. But before the Spirit of God deals with this iniquity, He first of all identifies the Messiah with God, and expatiates on what He is as the eternal, Almighty, and only wise, the Creator and Governor of all things, the Holy One, Jehovah of Israel.
This accordingly gives an occasion for a glorious description of the true God. “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out the heavens with [his] span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance, and the hills in scales? Who hath directed the Spirit of Jehovah, and [as] his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and [who] made him understand, and instructed him in the path of judgement, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are counted as a drop from a bucket, and as the fine dust on the balance, behold, he taketh up the isles as an atom. And Lebanon [is] not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All the nations [are] as nothing before him; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity” (vv. 12-17).
Then He challenges the folly of those that set up graven images as entitled to resemble or to represent Him. “To whom then will ye liken God? and what likeness will ye compare unto him? The workman casteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains. He that [is] impoverished so that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree [that] doth not rot; he seeketh unto him a skilled workman to prepare a graven image [that] shall not be moved. Do ye not know? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood the foundations of the earth? [It is] he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof [are] as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a veil (or curtain), and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: that bringeth the princes to nothing; that maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely are they sown, scarcely hath their stock taken root in the earth, but he also bloweth upon them, and they wither, and the whirlwind taketh them away as stubble. To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold. Who hath created these [things], bringing out their host by number? He calleth them all by name; by the greatness of his might, and strength of power, not one faileth” (vv. 18-26).
Lastly, Jehovah falls back on what He has been to His own from the beginning. “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from Jehovah, and my judgement is passed over from my God? Dost thou not know, hast thou not heard, [that] the everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? [There is] no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to [them that have] no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall stumble and fall; but they that wait upon Jehovah shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint” (vv. 27-31). He cannot deny Himself, nor fail to strengthen the weakest that wait on Him. But the great public demonstration of His ways will be when His people at the consummation of the age are delivered from that evil heart of unbelief, which has been fatal to them hitherto in all their varied history, and has postponed the era of righteous happiness which yet awaits not Israel only but all the nations. Then shall the blessings prevail above the blessings of Jacob’s progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of Him that was separate from His brethren: Jehovah, how long! Then will Judah own in deepest penitence his sin of blood-guiltiness, “the great transgression,” against Him Who deigned to be his brother, and against a greater Father than his father. Benjamin will be joined to Joseph in a mightier sense, and the true Joseph make Himself known to His brethren by grace made true, and Israel be at length the Israel of God. The fame thereof will be heard throughout all the earth, and the long alienated and unworthy nations that knew not God will seek and rest in Him Who alone makes Himself known in deed and truth, Whose resting-place shall be glory.
Though a little out of its place, it seems but fair to say that while in the above translation the text of v. 9 has been rendered with the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, Grotius, both the Lowths, Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Leeser, and many otherwise differing scholars, that of the A.V. is supported by the Peschito, the Greek v.v. of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, as well as by Calvin, Vitringa, Ewald, Alexander, Stier, and many more of no small weight. According to these, Zion and Jerusalem are addressed as messengers of good tidings to the cities of Judah, instead of being the object of the message which is to be spread to others also.
It will be a blessed exchange, proved now in the soul of every one that believes the gospel, when Israel shall abandon confidence in self under law for the word of God which reveals His grace in Christ. They thus discover that flesh is but grass, and its goodliness no better than the flower of the field. He Who created the world is the same Jehovah, Israel’s Saviour God, Who will make good in power and glory for His people what He once presented personally in humiliation and obedience, when alas! they in their pride and incredulity refused Him. None but the Framer and Governor of the universe could be adequate to such a result; and the nations that envied while they despised the Jews will judge all their folly in the day when their graven images shall be spurned for ever.
This chapter, if it be not a second part the preceding one being the first, is a most appropriate sequel. For Jehovah, having opened His counsels as to Jerusalem and its comfort (after, many vicissitudes and troubles) at His coming in power and glory, turns now to the Gentiles, challenging them to meet Him in judgement. He had there been displayed in His shepherd care over Israel, in His might and wisdom over all, needing no counsellor, and the nations counted less than a cipher and vanity, so that comparison or image was futile, and Israel’s unbelief was the more deplorable because of His special goodness to all amongst them who waited on Him. Now He says (v. 1), “Keep silence before me, islands, and let the peoples renew [their] strength: let them come near, then let them speak; let us draw near together to judgement.”
Cyrus is meant though not yet named. It is no question of a past name of renown, but of a future deliverer, of whom God knew all: man and his idols could say nothing. Before the prescient eye of the prophet stands the mighty conqueror of Babylon. None but the true God, Who made him the instrument of His designs in providence, had anticipated his rise. Jehovah here describes him, but typically (in the manner of the prophetic Spirit) as the shadow of a greater than Cyrus, Who should for ever overturn the idols of the nations, judge their pride, and deliver the people of Israel from all their dispersions, as well as from the sins which brought them under wrath in the righteous ways of Jehovah. “Who raised up from the east him whom righteousness calleth to its foot? He gave the nations before him, and made [him] rule over kings; he gave [them] as dust to his sword, as driven stubble to his bow. He pursued them, he passed on safely, by a way he had not come with his feet. Who hath wrought and done [it], calling the generations from the beginning? I Jehovah, the first, and with the last; I [am] He” (vv. 2-4).
It is as vain to drag in the gospel of Christ here as in Isa. 40 to interpret Jacob and Israel of Christendom. Nor is the plea at all valid that the Jews will never more meddle with idols. Matt. 12:43; Matt. 24:15, not to speak of the Revelation, are clear evidence confirmatory of Isa. 65-66, and of other passages in the Old Testament, which prove that the end of the age will see a fatal revival of idolatry, the return of the unclean spirit (Matt. 12:43-45) with the full antichristian power of Satan, which will bring down the Assyrian scourge on the Jews and thereon also the Lord’s coming in vengeance, when the indignation shall be accomplished, and Jehovah’s anger, in the destruction of the foe. The last state of that generation which rejected Christ will then be characterized both by idol worship and the Antichrist; so that, on this score, there is no pretence for turning aside the expostulation, here addressed to the peoples, to the Gentiles that are now baptized, or for interpreting Jacob and Israel of Christendom as some have done who ought to have known better.
Again, it is absurd to say that the gospel could be foreshown by the first one raised up from the east; for, among the Jews, the east was always reckoned from Palestine, never Palestine itself. The Rabbinical idea (strange to say, espoused by Calvin, Hausschein, Piscator, Lowth the younger, Bengel, and stranger still, by the late Mr. Birks) was not so unreasonable: the allusion, they thought, was to Abraham, who was a righteous man called out of Mesopotamia. But this idea fails. For who could think that the patriarch’s exceptional sally against the kings of the east who were returning after their successful raid into the valley of the Jordan, or the incidents of Pharaoh and Abimelech, duly answer to the discomfiture of nations and subjugation of kings, making his sword as a column of dust and as the driven stubble his bow in resistless progress? Still less does verse 2 suit the testimony of Christ in the gospel.
The comparison of Isa. 45:1, 13, ought to convince any unbiased thoughtful mind that Cyrus is really in view, but of course ultimately the foreshadowed triumph when Christ comes in His kingdom, putting all enemies under His feet instead of gathering souls out of the world in one body for heaven, as He is now doing by the Holy Ghost’s power through the gospel. (Compare also Ezra 1:1-3) If the Babylonish captivity of Judah was the divine chastening of their idolatry by means of the chief patron of idols on earth, the fall of Babylon was a tremendous blow on its own idolatry, predicted as this was by the Jewish prophet long before either event. These were among the reasons which made the first success and the final ruin of Babylon so important in scripture. They were bound up with God’s ways in His people. And hence the answer to the infidel sneer touching the silence of prophecy respecting America. What has the discovery or growth of the New World in the far west to do with Israel? From the New Testament again all such matters are excluded, because the rejected Messiah involves not only the disappearance of Israel and the kingdoms of the earth from the foreground, but the calling of the church for glory in the heavenly places as the body and bride of Christ, at least until the corruption of Christendom becomes morally unbearable. For the age ends in the judgement of apostate Jews and Gentiles under the Beast and the false prophet, when Christ and His glorified saints appear from heaven, and the godly remnant of Jews here below will become a strong nation, the earthly centre of His kingdom under the whole heaven.
Hence the suitability here of confronting in this very connection “Jehovah, the first, and with the last,” the One Who had wrought and spoken. Why were the gods of the nations silent and powerless? why were the boasted oracles dumb? If the fall of Judah, moral necessity as it was (unless Jehovah must sanction His own dishonour in the midst of His people, and sustain them to give His glory to a graven image), made His power questionable in a Gentile’s eyes, let them learn in the downfall of Babylon, which the Jews alone knew generations beforehand, even to the name and race of him who was its instrument, that His righteousness and wisdom were no less than His power, and that the chastised Jews were the people of His choice. “The isles saw [it] and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came. They helped every one his neighbour, and [each] said to his brother, Be of good courage. So the carpenter encouraged the founder, he that smootheth [with] the hammer him that smiteth on the anvil, saying of the soldering, [it is] good: and he fasteneth it with nails, [that] it be not moved. But thou, Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend, whom I have grasped from the ends of the earth, and called from its corners (or, nobles), and said unto thee, Thou [art] my servant; I have chosen thee, and not rejected thee. Fear not, for I [am] with thee; be not dismayed, for I [am] thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (vv. 5-10).
The honour to which Cyrus was called by the way was no change in His purposes or affections respecting Israel. Not Cyrus but Israel was His servant. “Behold, all they that are incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they that strive with thee shall be as nothing, and shall perish. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, — them that contend with thee. They that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of naught. For I Jehovah thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not, I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, ye few men of Israel; I will help thee, saith Jehovah, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Behold, I have made thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh and beat small the mountains, and shalt make the hills as chaff. Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in Jehovah, thou shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel” (vv. 11-16).
These last words, however, render it beyond just doubt that the prophet carries his eye far beyond the immediate occasion, and presents, not the condition of the Jews under their Persian or other Gentile lords, but days still future when Israel shall take them captive whose captives they were, and shall rule over their oppressors. It is impossible to apply to the same period the prophetic description here and Nehemiah’s language: “Behold, we [are] servants this day, and [for] the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we [are] servants in it; and it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we [are] in great distress” (Neh. 9:36, 37). Here the word is in manifest contrast, and in figurative language, no doubt; but it prefigures neither servitude, nor the grace of the gospel, but triumph when the true Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings, and Israel shall flourish and tread down the wicked in the day that shall burn all the proud and lawless as an oven.
The Maccabean or the apostolic triumphs of Vitringa and others are a burlesque on a sound interpretation. Not only must we leave room for the future, but for a total change from the character of God’s actual working in and by the church. Now it is grace building living stones on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone; then it will be the awful descent of the Stone cut without hands on the statue of Gentile empire in its last phase, which leads to, as it corresponds with, the judicial functions of Israel here described in “that great day” of the future.
Not that refreshment will fail from Jehovah for Israel. “The afflicted and the needy seek water, and [there is] none; their tongue faileth for thirst: I Jehovah will hear them, [I] the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness into a pool of water, and the dry lands into water-springs. I will give in the wilderness the cedar, acacia, and myrtle, and oleaster; I will set in the desert the cypress, pine (or, plane), and box-tree together; that they may see and know and consider and understand together, that the hand of Jehovah hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it” (vv. 17-20).
Jehovah then recurs to a renewal of His challenge to the Gentiles and their idols, but in terms of justly increased contempt for their trust in a thing of naught, again grounding His appeal on their ignorance of the scourge of idolatry who should come from the north and east. “Produce your cause, saith Jehovah; bring forth your strong [reasons] saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring [them] forth and show us what shall happen: show the former things, what they [be], that we may pay heed to them, and know their issue; or declare us things to come. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye [are] gods; yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold [it] together. Behold, ye [are] of nothing, and your work of naught: an abomination [is he that] chooseth you. I have raised up [one] from the north, and he shall come; from the rising of the sun will he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as [upon] mortar, and as the potter treadeth clay. Who hath declared [it] from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, Right? Indeed there is none that declareth, indeed there is none that showeth, indeed there is none that heareth your words. The first [I say] to Zion, Behold, behold them; and to Jerusalem I will give one that bringeth good tidings. For I look, and there is no man; even among them, and there is no counsellor, that, when I ask of them, can answer a word” (vv. 21-28). The oracles are dumb, even reason abashed — nothing but insensate folly is in men owning as gods things which could neither speak nor hear. “Behold, they [are] all vanity: their works [are] naught: their molten images [are] wind and confusion” (v. 29). Human helps to devotion are the death-bed of faith. Man by his devices, now as of old, only succeeds in shutting himself out from the living God; and the mercy He reveals in His word, as well as His judgements, are sealed up in the darkness of unbelief. Prophecy is the truest and most permanent witness of the true God, till His power overwhelm those that dispute it and dishonour Him. Hence the gravity of the present scepticism in Christendom which will issue in “the falling away” or apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3).
Distinguished though the place of Cyrus might be as the righteous man from the east,” whom God employed to break the pride of Babylon and set the captives free to return to the land of Israel, a greater is here. “Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect [in whom my soul delighteth! I have put my Spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgement to the nations. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A crushed reed shall he not break, and dim flax shall he not quench; he shall bring forth judgement in (or, for) truth. He shall not faint nor be crushed till he have set judgement in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law” (vv. 14). We know that Christ is intended (the typical one, it seems, giving occasion to the introduction of the Antitype). It is the more remarkable as being lost after this brief moment when the prophetic strain resumes its previous course, and the servant of Jehovah elsewhere in this chapter and to the end of Isa. 48 is unequivocally not Christ, but Israel.
Here however it is the Servant, the object of Jehovah’s delight as of His choice, the vessel of the power of the Spirit, and the manifester of judgement to the nations, compared with whom the Gentile avenger of God’s honour on the source and patron of all idols was little indeed. Yet He, Whose glory was thus beyond all competition, displayed it first in perfect unobtrusive lowliness. Might of far-reaching testimony even was not what characterized Him thus, meek retirement rather, not only in presence of murderous hatred, but away from the multitudes that followed Him and the admiration of the healed who would have spread His fame. He “charged them that they should not make him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Behold my servant . . .” (Isa. 42:1-3; Matt. 12:14-21). This state of things is seen here terminated by the victory of His second advent, when He shall set judgement in the earth and the isles shall wait for His law. The intervening action of the Holy Ghost here below, while Christ is exalted on high, does not enter into account in this prophecy.
This leads Jehovah in magnificent terms to speak of what He will accomplish through His own name and glory, in contrast with graven images. “Thus saith God Jehovah, he that created the heavens, and stretched them forth; he that spread abroad the earth and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein. I Jehovah have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thy hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles, to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, [and] them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house. I [am] Jehovah; that [is] my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise unto graven images. Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them” (vv. 5-9). Is this, or anything else, too hard for Jehovah?
“Sing unto Jehovah a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein, the isles and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up [their voice], the villages Kedar doth inhabit; let the inhabitants of Sela (or, the rock) sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto Jehovah, and declare his praise in the islands. Jehovah will go forth as a mighty man; he will stir up jealousy like a man of war: he will cry, yea, he will shout aloud; he will do mightily against his enemies. I have long time holden my peace, I have been still, I have restrained myself: [now] will I cry out like a travailing woman, I will gasp and pant together. I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and will dry up the pools. And I will bring the blind by a way they know not, in paths they know not will I lead them; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do to them, and I will not forsake them. They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, [Ye are] our gods” (vv. 10-17).
From verse 18 onward we have the utter shame of such as trust in these lying vanities insisted on, so as to touch the conscience of the guilty Jew. “Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see” (v. 18). Could Israel as they are testify for Jehovah? How could they look the Gentiles in the face, and reprove their idolatries? What were they themselves after all the favours of the true God? “Who [is] blind but my servant? and deaf as my messenger [that] I sent? who his] blind as [he that is] made perfect, and blind as Jehovah’s servant? Seeing many things, but thou observest not; opening the ears, he heareth not” (vv. 19, 20). It is Israel who are in view, “perfect,” yet “blind.” Such was their perfection in privilege and therefore in solemn responsibility, but such their woeful failure. Jehovah contrariwise is right in all His ways. “Jehovah was well pleased for his righteousness’ sake to magnify the law, and make [it] honourable. But this [is] a people robbed and spoiled; [they are] all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison-houses: they are for a prey, and none delivereth; for a spoil, and none saith, Restore. Who among you will give ear to this? [who] will hearken and hear what is to come? Who gave Jacob for a spoil and Israel to the robbers? did not Jehovah? — he against whom we have sinned; and they would not walk in his ways, nor be obedient unto his law. Therefore he hath poured upon him the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle: and it set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid [it] not to heart” (vv. 21-25).
Such has been the way of Jehovah in chastening His rebellious people. Nor does He disguise the severity of His discipline. The day is coming when it will prove not in vain, as the next chapter declares His faithful affection when they knew it not. But they will yet and soon learn it in His grace.
After all their faithlessness to His name, which entailed on Israel the fury of Jehovah (yet misunderstood and unfelt through the blinding influence of idolatry), in this chapter He proclaims His faithfulness Who had called Israel by their name and made them His own. “But now thus saith Jehovah that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called [thee] by thy name, thou [art] mine. When thou passest through the waters, I [will be] with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I [am] Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour; I have given Egypt as thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou has; been honourable, and I have loved thee; and I will give men for thee, and peoples for thy life. Fear not, for I [am] with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; r will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the end of the earth every one that is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory; I have formed him, yea, I have made him. Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the peoples be assembled: who among them declareth this, and showeth us former things? let them bring their witnesses, that they may be justified; or let them hear, and say, [It is] truth. Ye [are] my witnesses, saith Jehovah, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I [am] He; before me there was no god formed, neither shall there be after me” (vv. 1-10).
This renders the subject (namely, Israel as God’s servant) as plain as His own mercy in the last days. The Jews by their idol-loving were the blind people that had eyes and the deaf that had ears. Yet were they alone of all nations Jehovah’s witness and His servant. They will yet know, believe, and understand. It was because of Him Whom they rebelled against that they have been so spoiled; it is because of Him that they will be delivered, pardoned, and blessed; for as He, Jehovah, is the only God, so is He equally the sole Saviour. It was for Israel’s sake that He had sent them to Babylon and brought down their pride; and new things should cause the old wonders to be forgotten when God gives water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert for His chosen people, formed for Himself to show forth His praise. It was God Who once, for their sins, “profaned the princes” and people of Israel; it is He Who for His own sake will blot out their transgressions and justify themselves. Before that day dawn, we know (what is to them still a secret) the great salvation by His grace, whereby alone He can thus righteously deal with the guilty: Christ, the cross, is the only key.
“I, I [am] Jehovah; and beside me there is no Saviour. I have declared, and I have saved, and I have shown, and there was no strange [god] among you: therefore ye [are] my witnesses, saith Jehovah, that I [am] God. Yea, since the day [was], I [am] He; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall hinder it? Thus saith Jehovah, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, For your sake I have sent to Babylon, and I will bring down all of them as fugitives, even the Chaldeans, in the ships of their rejoicing. I [am] Jehovah, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus saith Jehovah, who maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters; who bringeth forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power — they lie down together, they shall not rise; they are extinct, they are quenched as flax — Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now shall it spring forth: shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, [and] rivers in the desert. The beast of the field shall honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; because I give waters in the wilderness, [and] rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen: the people have I formed for myself, that they might set forth my praise Yet thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; for thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt-offerings; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not made thee to toil with oblation, nor wearied thee with frankincense. Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices; but thou hast made me to toil with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities. I, I [am] he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake; and I will not remember thy sins. Put me in remembrance; let us plead together: set thou forth [thy cause], that thou mayest be justified. Thy first father sinned, and thine interpreters have transgressed against me. Therefore I profaned (or, will profane) the princes of the sanctuary, and made (or, will make) Jacob a curse, and Israel a reviling” (vv. 11-28).
Kimchi remarks that the construction indicates the future or the universal present rather than past time, Jehovah always “profaning” the responsibly holy chiefs who betrayed His name (cp. Ps. 84:39). In the day that is coming grace will work not only for but in them. Jehovah will work for His own sake man having failed in every way. The “interpreters” or mediators of v. 27 that rebelled seem included in the “princes of the sanctuary.”
It has been objected to the natural sense of “thy first father” (ver. 27) that Adam was not peculiarly father of Israel, being the parent of all mankind. But there seems to be no force in the argument. Israel alone had sure knowledge from God about him who was the first man and head of the race; and he alone, who was created innocent, gave the due emphasis to the description — “sinned.”
The opening verses (1-5) seem to be the proper conclusion of the foregoing chapter. The salvation of God is worthy of Himself, even as it springs from His own grace, and can have no end short of His own glory. Hence it is that not only God blots out His people’s transgressions for His Son’s sake, and will not remember their sins, but that He would banish their fear and fill them to overflowing with His blessing. “And now hear, O Jacob my servant, and Israel whom I have chosen. Thus saith Jehovah that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, [who] helpeth thee, Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; r will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up among the grass, as willows by the water-courses. One shall say, I [am] Jehovah’s; and another shall call [himself] by the name of Jacob; and another shall inscribe [with] his hand, [I am] Jehovah’s, and surname [himself] by the name of Israel” (vv. 1-5). There is not the slightest need, nay, nor even room, for diverting these exceeding precious promises from Israel to the Gentile. It is quite true of course that the wild olive graft enjoys now all this too; but the word of Jehovah is pledged and sure to Jacob His servant. The express object is to banish the dread of the conscience-stricken Jews after their long departure from the true God. Elsewhere express allusions to the call of the Gentiles during that interval appear, as notably in Isa. 65:1; Rom. 10:20, but the point here is the consolation of the ancient people when grace is at work on their behalf.
Some, like Fry, from whose general teaching better might have been expected, were led into this misconception by not understanding how the next sections could have any just bearing on the future ways or dangers of the Jew. But this is to overlook a large part of scripture, and a solemn portion of that people’s wonderful destiny. For two thousand years idolatry has not been their snare, but other characters of evil, leading to and consequent on the rejection of their Messiah. This, as we shall find, has its place in our prophecy from Isa. 49 to Isa. 57; as the general picture of their moral condition is portrayed with signal precision in Hosea 3:4. But it is certain, both from the Old Testament and the New, that in the latter day they will fall once more into their old love of idols, along with the acceptance of the Antichrist, thus finally reproducing together the two sins of the past which had, each of them, brought on them such stern judgement providentially from God’s vengeance. And “there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Cp. Matt. 24:15 with ver. 21) There is thus no ground for turning aside these plain predictions of Isaiah from the literal Israel, of whom he speaks so often and emphatically, to the apostate churches of Christendom. Idol-worship is here too, no doubt, and will surely not go unpunished; but the mass of the Jews in future days will fall for the last time into that besetment and worse. Hence, while the remonstrance of the prophet bore on the evil of his own days, there need be no question of its being requisite for the Jew up to the end.
And who can assert the glory of the true God, who expose the folly of false gods, like the Holy Ghost? “Thus saith Jehovah, the King of Israel and his Redeemer Jehovah of hosts; I [am] the first, and I [am] the last; and besides me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? And the things that are coming, and shall come, let them show unto them. Fear not, neither be afraid: have not I caused thee to hear long ago, and showed [it]? And ye [are] my witnesses. Is there a God besides me? yea, there is no Rock: I know not [any]” (vv. 6-8).
Next follows a withering exposure of idolatry. If Israel were witnesses of the true God, Jehovah, the idols themselves bore witness by their powerlessness against their foolish devotees. “They that make a graven image [are] all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they [are] their own witnesses: they see not, nor know, that they may be ashamed. Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image [that] is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed; and the workmen [are] but men. Let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; they shall fear, they shall be ashamed together. The smith [hath] tongs (or axe), and worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with his strong arm; but he is hungry and his strength faileth he drinketh no water, and is faint. The carpenter stretcheth out a line; he marketh it out with chalk; he fitteth it with adzes, and he marketh it out with the compass (or, chisel), and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of man, to remain in the house. When he heweth him down cedars, he also taketh a holm-oak and a terebinth, and he maketh one strong for himself among the trees of the forest; he planteth a mountain-ash, and the rain nourisheth [it]. And it shall be for a man to burn; and he taketh thereof, and warmeth himself; he kindleth [it] also, and baketh bread; he maketh also a god, and worshippeth [it]; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh, he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth Himself], and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the light. And with the residue thereof he maketh a god, his graven image; he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth [it], and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou [art] my god. They have no knowledge and understand not: for he hath plaistered their eyes, that they see not; [and] their hearts that they understand not. And none taketh it to his heart, neither [is there] knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire, and also have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten [it]: and with the residue thereof shall I make an abomination? shall I bow down to a block of wood? He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, [Is there] not a lie in my right hand?” (vv. 9-20). The sarcastic shafts of classic poets are poor in comparison for beauty or power, not to speak of their worthlessness morally; for mere ridicule, which ends in leaving the satirist at the shrine of his despised divinities, is the mirth of a fool which ends in sorrow and shame without end.
Not so Isaiah:
“Remember these things, O Jacob and Israel; for thou [art] my servant: I have formed thee; thou [art] my servant; O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me, for I have redeemed thee. Sing, O ye heavens, for Jehovah hath done [it]; shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye mountains, the forest, and every tree therein. For Jehovah hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel. Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I [am] Jehovah the maker of all [things]; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself; that frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise [men] backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish: that confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited, and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof; that saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers; that saith of Cyrus [He is] my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built, and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (vv. 21-28).
And how comes it to pass after so lofty and striking an assertion of Jehovah’s glory and wisdom and power that men wonder He by His interpreter discloses to His people the conqueror of Babylon, and the restorer of the remnant? What more pertinent than to proclaim the name of Cyrus at this point? So did the man of God out of Judah name Josiah at Jeroboam’s altar in Bethel (1 Kings 13:2) three centuries and more before the event. When will they be ashamed thus to belittle either God and His word, or His care for His people? Alas! if the night be far spent, the darkness is not less but more. And we know that the darkest hour is not yet come, though the day is at hand. But it will not be, except the falling away, the apostasy, come first, and “the man of sin” be revealed. Truly coming events cast their shadows before; which may sadly and satisfactorily account for the wave of incredulity, and against prophecy in particular, that now overspreads Christendom. But God does not leave Himself without witness; and He has wrought by His Spirit in many a land and tongue that there should be faithful men who have a Spirit-given confidence in the living oracles. These, not content with having learnt by grace what the church of God is in union with its glorified Head, are awaiting Him from the heavens and proclaim the coming of His universal kingdom over the earth. Hence they look with unwavering faith for a deep and gracious work in a remnant of the Jews first and of Israel afterwards, to be united at length as one people of Jehovah under the true Beloved, their Messiah once despised and crucified, their one Shepherd and Prince, yea withal the Lord Jehovah of Israel. All the earth in that day shall be filled with His glory, and with the knowledge of it and of Himself, when the heavens shall show it forth still more wondrously in the glorified saints, especially in the bride, the Lamb’s wife.
Here Jehovah deigns to explain why He called the Eastern deliverer of His people by name. “Thus saith Jehovah to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held fast, to subdue nations before him; and r will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two-leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee, and make the elevated places plain, I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron; and I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that r Jehovah who call [thee] by thy name, [am] the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name; I surnamed thee, though thou didst not know me” (vv. 1-4).
The challenge of Jehovah which begins with ver. 5 does not appear to be a mere repetition of what begins in Isa. 44:6, but in a very interesting way it meets the special evil into which those fell who under Cyrus overthrew Babylon and its idolatrous vanities. For the Persians were famous for their dualistic scheme of good and evil, light and darkness, Ormusd and Ahriman. What can be more pointed in view of the utter confusion of this scheme than the words that follow? “I [am] Jehovah, and there is none else, there is no God besides me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I [am] Jehovah, and there is none else, forming the light, and creating darkness; making peace, and creating evil: I Jehovah do all these [things]. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I Jehovah have created it. Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! [Let] the potsherd [strive] with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? Woe unto him that saith unto a father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?” (vv. 5-10).
If Jehovah reprove with woe upon woe all striving with Himself and fault-finding with His ways, how graciously He calls on His people in the very next verse to ask Him of things to come about His sons, and to command Him concerning His sons, and the work of His hands! “Thus saith Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of the things that are to come; concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands, command ye me. I have made the earth, and created man upon it; I, [even] my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded. I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will make straight all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let my exiles go, not for price nor reward, saith Jehovah of hosts” (vv. 11-13). He Who made heaven and its host, earth and man upon it, was the raiser up of Cyrus to build His city and liberate His captives, “not for price nor reward, saith Jehovah of hosts.” The haughtiest of the Gentiles should yet own God to be in Israel, as enemies of Christ once owned the power of the Spirit in the church.
Then when the last idol-makers perish to confusion, Israel shall be saved in Jehovah with an everlasting salvation. “Thus saith Jehovah, the labour of Egypt, and the merchandise of Ethiopia, and the Sebaim (Sabeans), men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine, they shall go after thee; in chains they shall come over; and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, [saying], Surely God [is] in thee; and there is none else, no [other] God. Verily thou [art] a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour. They shall be ashamed, yea, confounded, all of them they shall go into confusion together [that are] makers of idols. [But] Israel shall be saved by Jehovah with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded unto the ages of ages.” Jehovah, the Creator, had not spoken in secret nor bid the seed of Jacob seek Him in vain; He speaks righteousness. “For thus saith Jehovah that created the heavens God himself that formed the earth and made it; he that established it, not a waste he created it; he formed it to be inhabited I [am] Jehovah; and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret, in a place of the land of darkness; I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I [am] Jehovah speaking righteousness, declaring things that are right” (vv. 14-19).
The closing appeal is exceedingly direct, urgent, and triumphant. “Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together ye [that are] escaped of the nations. They have no knowledge that carry the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god [that] cannot save. Declare, and bring [them] near, yea, let them take counsel together. Who hath declared this from ancient time? [who] hath told it long ago? [Have] not I Jehovah? and there is no God else besides me; a just God and a Saviour, there is none besides me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I [am] God, and there is none else. J have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth [in] righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Only in Jehovah, shall [one] say, have I righteousness and strength: to him shall [men] come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In Jehovah shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory” (vv. 20-25).
The commentators clash as to the “escaped of the nations” (ver. 20). But the conjecture of Mede is far from the mark, for he puts the expression along with Rev. 21:24. He ought to have known that “the nations of them that are saved” would be the inverse of Isaiah’s phrase, rather than a parallel. But it is a bad reading, probably from a scholium of Andreas, and contrary to every authority of value, all of which have simply “the nations.”
Our prophet widens the salvation in these concluding verses: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” So in the next verse, “unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” This extends beyond “all the seed of Israel who shall be justified and glory in Jehovah.” It is clearly applied to the Lord Jesus by the apostle Paul in the largest extent, and with the utmost depth of its meaning (Rom. 14:1; Phil. 2:9-11).
It is indeed a triumphant result for Israel. An everlasting salvation is assured them when they recognize in the Christ Jehovah, to Whom every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear in that day. No glorying shall be in the creature thenceforth. The idols are no gods, but wood or stone, or other material of man’s device, with demons behind all, as the apostle teaches. God is a just God and a Saviour: how true now in the gospel! how manifest when the vanities of man are demolished by the shining forth of the glory of the Lord!
The chapters 46 - 48. close this section of the prophecy, the discussion of Israel’s guilty love of idols in presence of the doom of Babylon, the patron of idolatry and the instrument of the punishment of the Jews for that sin.
Chapter 46 in the most spirited way contrasts the fall of the helpless objects of Babylonish worship with God’s gracious care over Israel. “Bel [their chief god, answering to the Zeus of the Greeks] boweth down, Nebo [answering to the Greek Hermes] bendeth: their idols are upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your loads are lifted up, a burden to the weary [beast]. They bend, they bow down together, they could not deliver the burden, and themselves are gone into captivity” (vv. 1, 2). Thus, chief or subordinate these false deities could do nothing for their votaries, and could not deliver themselves. The victorious foe carries them off as part of the spoil. The Persians detested idols.
On the other hand, Jehovah had carried Israel from their national birth to their old age: “Hearken unto me, house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne [by me] from the belly, who have been carried from the womb: even to old age I [am] He, and to hoary hairs will I carry [you]: I have made and I will bear; and I will carry and will deliver” (vv. 3, 4).
Next follows the challenge to whom they would liken the God of Israel. As for the Chaldean gods, it was but a question of gold and silver, which the goldsmith made up, and the people fell down and worshipped. “To whom will ye liken me, and make [me] equal, and compare me, that we may be like? Such as lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, hey hire a goldsmith, and he maketh it a god; they fall down, yea, they worship. They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, [one] shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble. Remember this, and show yourselves men: bring [it] again to mind, ye transgressors” (vv. 5-8).
Nor is this the only appeal. It was well to bethink them that the gods of the nations were beneath those that adored them: but the prophet adds, “Remember the former things of old: for I [am] God, and there is none else; I [am] God, and there is none like me. declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times [the things] that are not done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure, calling a bird of prey from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country. Yea, I have spoken, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed [it], I will also do it” (vv. 9-11). Cyrus is here again cited as a striking proof of the reality of God’s dealings with His people, and this both in foreknowledge, in declared purpose, and in providential ways. This leads to the concluding call: “Hearken unto me, ye stout-hearted, that [are] far from righteousness: J bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry; and I will give salvation in Zion unto Israel my glory” (vv. 12, 13). Such is the end of Jehovah, and He is very pitiful and of tender mercy. He Who carried His people as a nurse through the wilderness at the beginning will manifest unfailing grace at the end. In the face of their long and manifold wanderings from Him Who did them nothing but good, He will deliver. Yet will His salvation be no more sure than His righteousness. This we know now in the gospel, as Israel also will when the kingdom comes in display.
This chapter shows us the degradation of Babylon itself, as in the preceding chapter we had judgement executed against its gods.
“Come down, and sit in the dust, virgin daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground: [there is] no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate Take the millstones, and grind meal; remove thy veil, strip the train, uncover the leg, pass over rivers. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will meet no man. [As for] our Redeemer Jehovah of hosts [is] his name, the Holy One of Israel. Sit silent, and get thee into darkness, daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called Mistress of kingdoms. I was wroth with my people, I profaned mine inheritance, and gave them into thy hand: thou didst show them no mercy; upon the aged hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke. And thou saidst, I shall be a mistress for ever; [so] that thou didst not lay these [things] to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end thereof” (vv. 1-7).
The anger of God at His guilty people was no justification for the merciless behaviour of Babylon; and her confidence in the stability of her resources would be the precursor of ruin. “Now therefore hear this, [thou that art] given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thy heart, I [am], and all besides me [is] nothing; I shall not sit [as] a widow, neither shall I know loss of children. But these two [things] shall come to thee in a moment in one day, loss of children, and widowhood: in full measure shall they come upon thee, in spite of the multitude of thy sorceries, of the great abundance of thine enchantments. For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness; thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thy heart, I [am], and all besides me [is] nothing. And there cometh upon thee evil; thou shalt not know the dawning thereof: and mischief falleth upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it away; and desolation thou knowest not shall come upon thee suddenly” (vv. 8-11).
We must remember too that what made the taunt the more cutting was Babylon’s boast in their sorceries and enchantments; but even so, they could not profit nor prevail. “Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest terrify. Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels: let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from [the things] that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as stubble, the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: [it shall] not [be] a coal to warm at, a fire to sit before. Thus shall they be unto thee wherein thou hast laboured; they that have trafficked with thee from thy youth shall wander every one to his quarter none shall save thee” (vv. 12-15). As they could not really predict, still less could they save; so He predicts, Who is the Saviour God. And it is to be feared that such as believe not His prophetic word are strangers to His saving grace. For without faith it is impossible to please God. To predict, divine as it is, must be regarded as a small thing compared with the grace that saves righteously. Comparatively few in Christendom accept that man here as elsewhere is wholly lost in himself, or that in Christ the believer is truly saved. Those who trust in ordinances and in such as administer them never rise above the uncertainties of probation. Human contingency is not the true grace of God in which we are called to stand.
Our chapter is a more direct and exclusive appeal to Israel to those that come forth “out of the waters of Judah.” It is a beautiful homily to His people. “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah; who swear by the name of Jehovah, and make mention of the God of Israel, not in truth nor in righteousness. For they call themselves of the holy city, and stay themselves upon the God of Israel; Jehovah of hosts [is] his name” (vv. 1, 2). It explains why God had long foretold, and then suddenly acted. They could not thus defraud Him of His praise. “I have declared the former things from of old; yea, they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them: suddenly I wrought, and they came to pass. Because I knew that thou [art] obstinate, and thy neck [is] an iron sinew, and thy brow brass; therefore I have declared [them] to thee from of old, before they came to pass I showed thee, lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image hath commanded them. Thou hast heard; behold all this; and ye, will ye not declare [it]? I have shown thee new things from this time, and hidden things, which thou hast not known. They are created now, and not from of old; and before this day thou heardest them not, lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them. Yea, thou heardest not, yea, thou knewest not; yea, from of old thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou didst deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb” (vv. 3-8).
In verse 9 Jehovah tells them why He had not cut them off. “For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and [for] my praise will I refrain as to thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not as silver, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. For mine own sake, for mine own sake, will I do [it]: for how should [my name] be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another” (vv. 9-11).
Then (in vv. 12-21) comes a tender expostulation, accomplished in measure at the return from captivity, but to be fulfilled by-and by in all its extent. “Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called: I [am] HE, I the first, I also the last. Yea, my hand hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spread out the heavens: I call unto them, they stand up together. Assemble yourselves, all ye, and hear; which among them hath declared these [things]? He whom Jehovah hath loved shall perform his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm [shall be] on the Chaldeans. I, I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and his way shall be prosperous. Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time that it was, there [am] I and now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me, and his Spirit. Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, I [am] Jehovah thy God, who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee in the way thou shouldest go. Oh that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea; thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof: his name should not be cut off nor destroyed from before me. Go ye forth from Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans; with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it to the end of the earth; say ye, Jehovah hath redeemed his servant Jacob. And they thirsted not [when] he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them; he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out.” Cyrus had not acted without the God Who had called him by name. Nor was it (save judicially) he who had ordered things for Israel. The word is, “Jehovah hath redeemed his servant Jacob.” The moral is, “[There is] no peace, saith Jehovah, unto the wicked.” It is a misconception of Israel’s future to imagine that no future question arises between God and them as to graven images. The Lord Jesus has ruled the contrary, if we understand His intimation in Matt. 12:43-45, with other scriptures of like purport, and even from the prophet before us. We all know how confident the Jews seem that they are proof against idols They were not in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, long after the return from Babylon; and they are destined to fall into the same pit again ere the age closes, as Dan. 9:27; Dan. 11:38, 39 plainly prove. For when has self-righteousness effectually resisted Satan’s wiles? “Even so shall it be unto this wicked generation.” The generation of unbelief has not yet passed away. And as it will be guilty once more of its old love of such abominations, it will also see greater than these, as the next part of our prophet notifies.