The commission carried out. The intense significance of the spot at which
the prophet is directed to stand. Meaning and significance of the name of his son.
Strange double meaning of the words, the one suited to unbelief, the other to faith.
The words "Virgin" and "Son" also considered: both admit a twofold fulfilment.
The feeding that ever results in divine intelligence. The chapter closes in judgment.
Of measureless importance to the universe, to this world, to every individual of the human family, is the prophecy to which we have now come; nor must we permit the intrusion of the chapter to sever its vital relation with its predecessor. The commission has been given, in chapter 6, we shall see it carried out in chapter 7: but in such a way as is possible only to God, for it could never have been conceived by any mortal man that ever lived.
For we shall see the divinely-led prophet, in one breath "making the heart of this people heavy and blinding their eyes," and yet giving the sweetest of consolations and comfort to lowly faith. For here is the echo of that promise that was first heard in darkened Eden, "The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head," since here we shall find that very "Seed of the woman" in the promise of a virgin's Son. Nor is it too much to say that on the fulfilment of this prophecy all Christianity rests as a building on its foundation; destroy that, and the whole structure falls in ruin. No marvel is it that to this very day it is the object of the most venomous attacks of unbelief. Can we consider it too carefully?
The vision of the last chapter was given in the year that King Uzziah died, and therefore the year in which his son Jotham ascended the throne of Judah. This opens with Jotham's son, Ahaz, on that throne. Thus Jotham's reign of sixteen years is passed over in absolute silence, for it was a time of comparative calm. But with Ahaz, a young man of twenty, storms again begin to lower, for he "did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord as David his father" (2 Kings 16:2), but whom he now represents.
When our chapter opens two enemies, who have hitherto been acting independently against Judah, and with much success (2 Kings 16:6; 2 Chron. 28), unite their forces, and are advancing against Jerusalem. Tidings of this confederacy have been brought, not exactly to Ahaz personally, but to "the house of David" which he represents. Nor is this distinction valueless in the subsequent interpretation, for when "the house of David" is touched, Messiah (by whom "the sure mercies of David" are secured) is touched; and this always necessitates divine intervention, as we find here.
This is not an intervention induced by the piety or faith of the present representative of "the house of David," for Ahaz bears little likeness to the founder of that house, who sang in a day of threatening trouble, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Ps. 46:1). Here, "like prince, like people." All hearts are terror-stricken, tremble, flutter, and sway "as the trees of the forest are moved by the wind," "looking after those things that were coming on the land."
That was surely a sad condition, but it has its benefit for us too, since it sets forth the more prominently the rich sovereign grace that could intervene in such a faithless state; for the history in 2 Kings 16, as well as the context here, makes it abundantly clear that Ahaz has his mind set on another deliverance altogether. In heart he is even now crying to Assyria for help. He believes an Assyrian army would be of far more practical value than any pious but theoretical dependence on Providence, which is always apparently "on the side of the strongest battalions."
Isaiah is now told to go forth to meet Ahaz, taking with him Shear-Jashub, his son: and, with such detailed precision does Jehovah tell him where to take his stand, that no thoughtful person can doubt the deep significance there must be in that place, as well as in his being accompanied there by his son, who, we are distinctly told in chapter 8:18, was a "sign."
As the lad neither did nor said anything, the whole significance of his presence must lie in his name. Shear-Jashub means "a remnant shall return," and is clearly a link with the last words of the previous chapter, "Yet in it shall be a tenth" (there is the remnant: "Shear"), "and it shall return" (which is the meaning of "Jashub"). So this son of the prophet is a sign of the fulfilment of Jehovah's word to the prophet sixteen years before!
By what "divers manners" did "God speak in times past unto the fathers through the prophets!" Not only "plainly," but by names that should at one and the same time make the ears of the careless heavy that they should not hear, and yet speak most clearly to the penitent, and those longing to hear. Thus many an Old Testament saint may have had clearer glimpses of the Lamb of God in some (to us) unintelligible names, than we have any idea of. Here let the pious Hebrew—let the impious king, Ahaz—ponder and consider why this lad is standing here. His name cries aloud, "A remnant only out of all Israel shall be saved."
This encourages us to look carefully at the exact spot to which Isaiah was to go, and to examine each word. Let those refuse to accompany us who are willing to hear without really hearing. Some of us simply dare not turn away, but gladly venture in dependence on a love of which we know something, to learn why this spot is defined so accurately by Jehovah to His servant, the prophet.
It is surely a place of good omen for faith, for it was exactly at the same spot, thirty years later, that the Ayssrian stood when he defied Jehovah and threatened Jerusalem, and was answered by 185,000 of his men being slain in one night!
If we turn to our commentaries we find long dissertations on the geographical situation of this "conduit." But, we ask, will that fulfil its divine intent? Will that "satisfy the longing soul, and fill the hungry soul with goodness?" This scripture is a part of all Scripture that is profitable, but what profit, either in "reproof, or correction, or instruction in righteousness,"shall we receive by learning that the conduit was on the west of Jerusalem? No, indeed, we are quite sure, whether we are able to discern it or not, that spot so accurately described by Jehovah, and that exact description repeated three times in the inspired volume, has the deepest spiritual significance for us, "on whom the ends of the ages have come." Further, we shall discover such links between this place and the prophecy that we may say this very spot suggests, in a veiled way quite consistent with the commission, the key to the prophecy.
The description of the trysting-place divides into two parts: Isaiah is to go
First—to the end of the conduit of the upper pool;What at once strikes us as most remarkable is that many words are capable of a double meaning, a phenomenon that changes a geographical location into a Messianic prophecy! Let us then consider these two pregnant phrases.
Second—to the highway of the fuller's field.
"To the end of the conduit of the upper pool." Isaiah is to go to the very end of the aqueduct, to where it pours its life-giving waters into Jerusalem, bringing them down from the upper pool to quench the thirst of the needy. We shall get the significance of this "end" when we consider the conduit.
The word for "pool" is "berekah," and is familiar to many Christian ears as having also the meaning of "blessing." This is really the first meaning of the root, but as water has ever been recognized as of the first necessity, its abundance, when it be comes a "pool," was termed "berekah" or a "blessing." The very word rendered "pools" in Psalm 84:6, "The rain also filleth the pools,"* is exactly the same as is everywhere else rendered "blessing," so that we are not straining at all in hearing the alternative meaning of "blessing" in the word "pool."
[* "The early rain covereth it with blessings."—Numerical Bible.]
But it is the "upper" pool, and the word "upper" too has a significant alternative meaning. It is the exact word rendered over thirty times in the Scriptures by "Most High," as, for in stance, its first occurrence, "He was the priest of the Most High God" (Genesis 14:18). Surely, then, any pious Hebrew, hearing the two words, would discern a double meaning in them, the popular one that required no hearing ear, no faith in the goodness of Jehovah, "the upper pool," and the hidden one for faith to discern, "the blessing of the Most High!"
There remain the words rendered "end" and "conduit"; this last is simply the aqueduct that conducted the water from the pool to Jerusalem, or the channel whereby "the blessing of the Most High" comes in a stream of life to those who know their deep need of it.
We know well, that through all dispensations, Christ the Lord is alone the Conduit or Channel whereby the blessing of God can come to poor, sinful man. He was the "Conduit" at Sychar's well, and the waters of life flowed freely to that thirsting one, who, after drinking of this living water, thirsted, as once she did, nevermore.
Nor may we overlook that little word "end," for no one can drink of a pipe or conduit itself; there is but one spot where the waters that fill it can be communicated, and that is at the "end," and to that end all must go. So as to Him who is the antitype to this "conduit": not in His incarnation as being born of the virgin; not whilst as the "corn of wheat, abiding alone" (John 12:24), could He communicate the water of Eternal Life: not until raised from the dead, did He symbolically breathe that Life into His disciples (John 20:22): so, to this day, it is only as having died and being raised that He is "the End of the Conduit of the Upper Pool"; for those sufferings have put away every obstacle to the free flow of these waters of Life that come from the blessing of the Most High—the true "Upper Pool." Blessed indeed are all they who take their stand expectant, at "the end of the conduit of the upper pool," hearing the meanings to faith (nothing for proud unbelief) there are in the very words, for floods of Life in Love and Light are ever flowing there.
If the divine intent were simply to let the prophet know exactly the literal spot where he was to take his stand, not another word would be necessary, for nothing could be more precise than the end of a particular aqueduct—it would appear impossible to misunderstand that. But as this was not all, it confirms our conviction that the merely literal interpretation does not exhaust the divine intent, for there is added, "to the highway of the fuller's field," and this we must also consider.
"The highway" is a path clearly defined by being raised up above the surrounding land, in order that passengers may walk without soiling their feet, as this same prophet speaks: "Lift up, lift up the highway"* (ch. 62:10). Not only was it raised up, but characteristically it led upward, for in 1Chron. 26:16 it is called "the highway of the ascent." Thus, if the conduit is the way by which the waters of blessing came down, the highway is the clean, the holy path leading up to the Source of the blessing.
[*Hebrew: "Sollu, sollu ha-mesillah."]
Proverbs 16:17 gives us still more clearly the moral truth in the word, and the bearing of the whole sentence: "The highway of the righteous is to depart from evil," that is, this highway is the way of holiness. So equally specifically speaks our prophet:
"A highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness" (ch. 35:8).
Thus to the open ear of faith, the very word "highway" would have spoken then, and should speak now, of that one single path in which God can meet with His people in blessing, and well may we take up the words of the Psalmist and say, "Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee, in whose heart are the highways."* Nor is the plural form of the word, used here, without its value, for it suggests that although there is but one such holy highway, it leads through such diverse scenes as greatly to multiply the aspects it presents. At times it leads over highlands of peaceful joy; at times it passes through "the valley of Baca" (weeping), but it always leads to the one end, for everyone that walks it, "appeareth before God."
[*Same word, Ps. 84:5.]
Further, this is the highway "of the fuller's field," i.e., the field of him who washes garments,* who makes soiled garments white and clean. Let there be the slightest touch of defilement, there could be no restoration to communion apart from washing the garments: "If he wash them not, he shall bear his iniquity" (Lev. 17:16).
[*This is strictly justified by the Hebrew word used. Out of four which are rendered "wash," that which is here selected for "fuller," always refers to the cleansing of garments from ceremonial defilement, as Lev. 13:6, etc.]
We need only ask: What are the garments? We have one word that gives both the figure and the thing figured: "habits." Just as we take these up day by day, so day by day we are making those garments that shall manifest us before God (see 2 Cor. 5:10). Oh, woe to those who, like their father Adam, have only their own doings in which to stand there; for they, too, will find that they are really naked, or at best clothed only in filthy rags, for so this Spirit-taught prophet spoke of his very best (chap. 64:6). Even that which God works in us by His Spirit—the holiest deeds, the most unselfish acts, our "righteousnesses"—while they are indeed the fine linen, pure and white (Rev. 19:8), are only so because they have been cleansed from all the defilement inevitably contracted in coming through the human vessel, by being washed in "the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14), and it is this washing that gives a right to any to "eat of the Tree of Life" (Rev. 22:14, R. V.).
These "garments" then bear close relationship to the "feet" which, in their walk through this defiling scene, need the work of Him who took the place of "the fuller" of the Old Testament, and in a love that could go no further—for He loved "to the end"—washed the feet of His dear people, saying to Peter, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me" (John 13:8).
No one washed His feet in that upper room; nothing could defile them. No one washed His garment, His "habits" in the double sense; for they were ever as they were seen for a brief moment on the holy mount, "white and glittering" "as the light," "so as no fuller on earth could white them" (Mark 9:3). He Himself is the true Fuller, and His "field" is the world, in which defiling scene His beloved still are. How precious even thus to need Him, for we only know Him by our need!
Thus, in this most significant spot, we have once more, in the two parts, the linking of sovereign grace with human responsibility, and the responsibility casting us back on grace. The blessing of Life comes down in sovereign grace—it is the "Conduit." That Life received leads upward by the path of practical holiness. It is the highway, and our Lord is both Conduit and Highway as well as Fuller.
The spot, then, on which the "Sign-prophet" was to stand, told in that symbolic way of One who is the only medium or channel of blessing from the Most High, Himself bringing the water of life, Himself "the way" up to God. That is a clear reason for the thrice-repeated mention of that Spot in the only Book in the universe of which He claims to be the Author. These "wondrous things" justify that claim.
We must throw the light of this significant spot where the sign was given on to the sign itself; and as that was marked by the double meaning of words, so is there a correspondence with this in the sign. There is a meaning that Ahaz might get, but which does not finish till he is seen distressed at the feet of that Assyrian in whom his heart is at that very time trusting. But there is also a sign to "The House of David," that is, to all who are of the faith of David, and that sign is pure blessing.
For this double purpose, at least two words used in the sign, must also have the same double meaning as was so clear in "the conduit of the upper pool, the highway of the fuller's field." The words for the mother and her child, the "virgin" and the "son," must each cover both the sign of unmingled love to faith, and the threatening one to unbelief!
The word then for "virgin" here is "almah," and this, as well as the only other word capable of being so rendered, "bethulah," could, to quote Delitzsch, "both be applied to persons who were betrothed, and even to such as were married." The truth of this as to "bethulah" is evidenced in Joel 1:8: "Lament like a virgin (bethulah) girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth," although the fact that simple betrothal was in the Scriptures quite equivalent to marriage, since it gave to the Virgin Mary the title of "wife" in Matt. 1:20, opens the way for that possibility in this verse in Joel. Still it is enough to justify a double bearing of the word "almah,"* "virgin," in verse 14: first, to faith it refers to the maiden who shall while still literally unmarried bring forth a son, Immanuel, and who must therefore be without human father; but also, to the unbelief of Ahaz, the reference must cover another young woman who may turn out to be the mother of a threatening sign-child, the offspring of natural generation.
[*The Hebrew word for "virgin" here used, "almah," is from "ahlam," "to be hidden," suggestive of delicate modesty.]
As to the other word, "son," that, too, to the ear of faith speaks with absolute certainty of Immanuel, the virgin's Child.
But as Immanuel was born seven centuries after this, He could be no sign to Ahaz personally, and therefore this must apply to that "lad" of whom we are told in verse 16, and in whose early childhood, disaster should fall on the two threatening enemies of Judah. But that "lad," by his name of Maher-shalal-hash-baz, shall tell Ahaz that the sign will only find its full termination in his own utter humiliation at the hand of the very man that was his secret confidence, even then: the king of Assyria. This anticipates a little, but it seemed necessary, and we now return to the earlier verses.
The prophet, with his son, both of whom are signs, are standing before the king at this significant spot, and "moved by the Holy Ghost," he thus speaks, and again in rhythm:
4: Take heed and be calm, yea, fear not;This short portion begins with a warning against fear, and ends with a warning against unbelief. The fear, then, is that which is also seen in Rev. 21:8, as having the same bad relation, and as coming to a still worse end: "But the fearful and unbelieving, and abominable and murderers . . . shall be cast into the lake of fire." Danger threatens, the terror it inspires is in exact proportion to the lack of fear of God (Matt. 10:28), and of confidence in His beloved Son. Is there One to whom all power is given? Has He loved me and given Himself for me? All power! All love! All for me! Is that indeed true? Look at the menace—my heart sinks. Look at the Cross where He hung for me, the Throne where He sits high, with "all power"—my spirit revives.
Nor let thine heart be faint;
For these two smoking torch-ends:
For the wrath of Rezin and Aram,
For the wrath of Ben-Remaliah.
5: Since Aram hath counselled against thee
With Ephraim: Ben-Remaliah:
6: We will march against Judah—
Shake it with terror; smash through it:
Break it and take it ourselves:
Set a King over it: the son of Tabeal.
7: Thus saith Adonai Jehovah: NO!
It shall not be done—it shall not be!
8: For the head of Aram: Damascus,
And the head of Damascus: Rezin—
Years threescore-and-five shall pass, and then
'Tis Ephraim that shall be broken
From (even) being a people.
9: Ephraim's head: Samaria:
If ye (too) do not confide,
Ye (too) then shall not abide.**The Hebrew shows the play on these words"im lo taaminu,Delitzsch paraphrases: "If Judah did not hold fast to God, it would lose its fast hold of the land."
ki lo teamenu."
It was this test that confronted Ahaz that possibly may this very day confront us, and show where our hearts really are. Even false profession may pass as genuine faith in the sunshine of prosperity, but let everything seem to be against us, where are we then? The calm, or the fear, that fills us, gives the answer, and, if one may speak for others, well do we know in what sad revelations of our feeble state do these tests but too often result.
Ahaz sees two victorious armies advancing. Jehovah says, "No; they are really only two tails of torches that are on the point of being extinguished altogether; they are only smoking, no flame left." Will his eyes be opened by these words, or be the more fast-closed in unbelief? Will he see with Jehovah's far-sightedness? If so, he will need only to look forward sixty-five years, and one of his enemies will cease to be a people at all. "I know," says Jehovah, "I know their devices, they would put on the throne of David their own king. Who is he? The son of Tabeal."
Now in this name we again have an alternative as given in Ezra 4:7. "Tabeel" means "the good God," but the very slight alteration, not even of a letter, but only of one vowel-point, turns it into "Tabeal," which means "the good-for-nothing!" So He speaks of any who would rival the Son of David. Oh, what good names religious pretension always assumes! It is always the same, for so spoke the same spirit long after this, "One is our father, even God," that is, we are the "sons of the good God." "No," is again the answer; "ye are of your father the devil, ye are sons of the good-for-nothing" (John 8:44). Will Jehovah allow the House of David, the true Tabeel, the Son of God, to be set aside for the "son of a good-for-nothing?" The answer is, with thundering emphasis, a mighty "NO!"
The next verses to "open ears" might speak something like this, "You fear the confederacy; you consider it the source of strength; you are meditating in heart a counter-confederacy; well, then, look and learn its end. See the confederates in their heads, for the head sums up all that they are. Thus Syria is headed up in its capital city, Damascus; and that may be seen in its head, Rezin. When, then, you see Rezin, you really see all Syria. He is in league with Ephraim, shall he, can he, save his ally? Nay, for in sixty-five years Ephraim shall be smashed to pieces. So much for the value of this confederacy."
But exactly so, when you see this base man, unworthy even of a name, for he is only Remaliah's son, you see all Ephraim. And since Ephraim has accepted this man for his "head," nothing can save him from being carried away by Assyria (2 Kings 17). That is the end of the path he is walking. If ye, too, walk that same path, leaning on an arm of flesh, then ye, too, will come to the same end and be scattered.
10: Moreover Jehovah spake again to Ahaz, saying:This is the answer: "I will not ask, and I will not tempt Jehovah." Now that is exactly how Satan and his subordinate spirits ever speak in men even to this day. He never shows plainly the evil that he is pressing, but hides it under pious words, so that one would think that it was a very angel of light that was speaking. Who so pious as Ahaz? Ask a sign! Far be it; for that would be to tempt Jehovah, even the Jehovah who had directed him to ask! Nor does he say anything as to his heart's confidence fixed all the time on Assyria. Ahaz has gone to his account long ago, but the spirit that governed Ahaz at that moment has lived on, and may often be heard today, saying, in effect: "I am far too humble to take God at His word, and to confess that He hath given us His beloved Son, whose atoning blood fully avails for all my sins. No, no; that would be too presumptuous altogether." So exactly spoke the Council of Trent, terming confidence in the blood of Christ the vain confidence of the heretics.
Ask thee a sign of Jehovah thy God;
Ask it in the lowest deep,
Or ask it in the height above thee.
It is the same "religious" Satanic modesty of Ahaz, and it shows that these speakers, too, have some other confidence, their "Assyrian," that shall fail them in the final hour of their need.
But the Spirit of Christ in the prophet answers:
13: Hearken then, ye house of David,There, in that weary God, we may see the same One, who, seven centuries later, was seated one noontide on the well-side at Sychar, "weary with His journey" (John 4:6). Not merely was He weary with the distance travelled. He entered, I doubt not, in His grace, into that sinless infirmity, and His holy Body knew literal weariness; but in John's Gospel, where He is the divine One who "fainteth not, neither is weary," we must look deeper to get the truth. It was the same spurious religion, the same false Ahaz-like piety of Judaism, that at that time refused the love He longed to give it. It was His "journey" through such a scene that wearied Him; as it was the confidence of a poor outcast sinner (like some of us, my readers) that refreshed Him, giving Him meat that His disciples knew nothing of. One may be quite sure that He has very much of the same "weariness," and surely a little of the same refreshment too (God be praised), even today.
'Tis a trifle, men to weary—
Mortal men as frail as ye are—
Dare ye weary my God too?
This brings us to Jehovah's answer, which is of incalculable importance. I attempt a paraphase, keeping as close to the literal as possible, while endeavoring to retain something of the rhythm.
14: Therefore Adonai* shall give you a sign:We must still bear in mind that, in accord with the commission the prophet is carrying out, it was intended to give light and comfort alone to faith, leaving hard hearts the more hardened, closed eyes the closer shut. Thus it is not, nor was intended to be, understood by the careless, nor to be without difficulties. Nor does the Holy Spirit, when referring to this sign in the Gospel of Matthew, solve these difficulties at all, or unravel the knot, as we may say, but cuts it with one stroke in the word, "Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
Lo, the pure virgin shall mother a son,
Whose is the name—'tis His name alone— Immanuel!
15: Milk** and sweet honey shall the child eat,
So shall he learn the evil to shun,
So shall he learn the good to select.
16: But ere the lad shall this knowledge attain,
The land of two kings—thine abhorrence and dread*^—
Desolate shall be.
17: Then shall Jehovah on thee too bring down,
On thee and thy people, the house of thy sires,
Days of such sorrow as never have been
Since the day that Ephraim shattered the tie
That bound him to Judah.
(Wouldest thou learn the invader's name?
Who is the hope of thine heart? 'Tis the same:)
[*That is, "The supreme Lord of all."]
[**Most literally, "curdled milk," but it is used in poetry for any milk.]
[*^The one word rendered in A. V. "abhorrest" has in it both ideas of "fear" and "hatred."]
Behold, a Virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel; which being interpreted is, God with us.
This is absolutely final for faith, as regards the prophecy of the virgin's Son. No room is left for question, or the slightest uncertainty. For faith, the sign is Jesus, and Jesus alone. But when we consider the context, that there was a sign offered to, and in spite of his refusal even forced upon, Ahaz himself; when we consider the apparent close connection between verses 14 and 16; then the prophecy reads on the surface, that before the very son of the "virgin" shall know how to refuse the evil and choose the good, that is, apparently, before Immanuel has arrived at years of discretion, both Syria and Ephraim would be devastated; and it is of this devastation that the supernatural birth of the child would be a sign. I say, this is the way a superficial reader would understand the scripture.
We are thus compelled to recognize once more what is frequently, if not invariably, the case in prophecy, a near-by shadowy, and a far-off final and definitive fulfilment. Thus in this case, there must have been a near-by historic fulfilment for Ahaz himself, which was yet by no means a strict fulfilment of the deeper divine intent (nor would it be taken for such by the "opened ear"), in which some child should be born who should indeed be a sign to Ahaz, and before this child of near-fulfilment should attain to years of discretion, the two countries, now in alliance against Judah, of whose two kings Ahaz stood in guilty terror, would be desolated. This leaves the true Sign of Immanuel, the definite fulfilment, for some future day, as we know.
For it is absolutely certain that both such events have actually occurred. In the next chapter, Isaiah becomes the father of a child, who is also a sign (as we are divinely told in chap. 8:18, and the fact that God tells us that the child is a sign justifies this interpretation), the mother being an unmarried young woman, the prophetess. She conceives and bears a son, but he is not, nor is he called, Immanuel. Thus this near-by fulfilment by no means satisfies the requirements of verses 14, 15. The threatening name given to Isaiah's son of Maher-shalal hash-baz ("speed to spoil; haste to booty") can not possibly be made into the comforting Immanuel; nor as far as we know has any child that was ever born been called by divine direction, Immanuel, so that there has never yet been, even to this day, apparently a literal fulfilment of this word, "And shall call His name Immanuel," unless indeed Jesus and Immanuel are precisely the same.
That is exactly what they are; and that little Child in Bethlehem's manger, being divinely called Jesus, did fulfil, in the most clear, simple, unstrained way, the prophecy, "His name shall be Immanuel."
While it is quite true that there were many children called Jesus—it was not and is not to this day an uncommon name: Joshua is but a form of it—no child had ever been so called of God, as was this, for it means Saviour; and of no child ever born did, or could God say, "Call Him Jesus, for He is Saviour." All were sinners by their very birth, from their descent from the one father, Adam, not saviours. But here is One of whom God Himself says He must be called Jesus, for He is not a sinner, but a Saviour!
Saviour is in itself a divine title, never to be taken by any less than God Himself, as it is written: "I am Jehovah, that is My Name, and My glory will I not give to another" (Isa. 43:8). But in what does Jehovah's peculiar glory consist? Again it is written, "I, even I, am Jehovah, and beside Me there is no Saviour" (chap. 43:11), that is, beside Jehovah there is no "Jesus," or there is no Jesus but Jehovah. So that little Child, since He is owned of God as "Jesus"-Saviour, is Himself none other than God, for to "save" is the glory that He will never give to another. But He gives this divine name to a human Child, for He is
"hushed to rest,The virgin's breast, the swaddling-clothes, the manger, do they not all witness clearly that He is "with us"? Most surely they do. Then it follows that the Name Jesus is in itself precisely and literally "God with us," or "Immanuel"!
Upon a lowly virgin's breast."
Evidently this "sign," so filled with truest comfort, was never intended for that unbelieving Ahaz at all: the threatening Maher-shalal-hash-baz was alone suited to his condition. But to the open ear of penitent faith it would revive hope in the long-awaited fulfilment of that first promise that sounded in the opened ears of our first parents: that the woman's Seed should bruise the serpent's head; a promise on which the hope of the race had really depended, whether intelligently or not, for ages, a hope held by a few amid all discouragements. Now at last it is so far made clear how this is to be the Seed of the woman, not of the man; of Eve, not of Adam, by His being the Son of a virgin-mother, and so Immanuel.
Next we are told—strangely told, I think we may say—that the virgin's son shall feed on milk and honey. Let the closed ear hear only the superficial natural meaning of the words: this demands no exercise, no confession of dependence, no drawing near to Him whose joy it is to teach; but at once there is a necessity for finding some other reading than that the feeding on this food should give Him intelligence. So, many commentators turn it into, "Curdled milk and honey shall He eat, at the time that He knows." But turn it as you will, no literal fulfilment can be found of this prophecy in Him who "came eating and drinking," so that they said, "Behold a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber." That is not "curdled milk and honey" surely!
But let the ear of the inner man of the spirit be opened, and a deeper spiritual meaning than that on the surface is discerned. We see the Child Jesus ever feeding, in the truest sense, on that truest food, the "milk" of the Word, sweeter to Him than "honey" or the honeycomb; and, by that word learning, "morning by morning" with wakened ear, "to refuse the evil and to choose the good" (ch. 50:4-6). Where else, save in the volume of the Book (Ps. 40:7, 8), could it be learned that for Him the "good" would consist in giving "His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked out the hair, to hide not His face from shame and spitting," and thus go on to the cross? (ch. 50). Peter judged this by no means "good" (Matt. 16:23), for Peter had not as yet fed on that "milk and honey"; but He, Immanuel, was not disobedient, nor turned away back (Isa. 50:4-6); to Him it was the "good."
Thus how perfectly appropriate is the most simple and exact reading of the text, "Milk and honey shall He eat in order that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good." By what He thus fed upon did this perfect human Child learn of the path laid out for Him—a path that indeed led to life, but only by the way of death and the cross (Ps. 16:11), for so only could we, poor sinful men, share that life with Him.
Was then that path, so "uncheered by earthly smiles" that "led only to the cross," really good? Let the Voice that was heard whenever its earthly end was in view, answer. Twice the very heavens opened under the weight of God's delight. First, when He joined His poor sheep in the river of death, Jordan; and being baptized therein in figure fulfilled all righteousness (Matt. 3:15-17). Then, on the holy mount, when they spoke of His decease that He should accomplish at Jerusalem, then God said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 17:5)—surely He had chosen the "good" in the very path of the Cross.
And how shall you and I acquire the same intelligence as to what is really good, and what is really evil, amid all the confusion of this day? Will it not be in the same way, by the same feeding, morning by morning, on the same "sincere milk of the Word?" Shall our "good" then be found in quite a different path, or will it be the same as His, in measure? Will it be merely in some religious profession—some Church association of the day, respectable, decent, religious—the Church in which less and less is ever made of that "beloved Son," the Church in which Christ is by no means "all," which is really indistinguishable from the world, and has become altogether "the camp," the Church where no shame shall meet us, no reproach be ours, but rather honor and praise of men? Has the Cross then at last become popular, and its offence ceased? Is it quite possible in these days to live godly in Christ Jesus and yet escape altogether the persecution so surely promised to all who even desire to do so? (2 Tim. 3:12). Feeding on that same food, we, too, shall learn the same lesson. In going forth to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach, we too shall find the "good" in seeing the "evil" of conformity to this "present evil world," even though it has put on a religious apparel.
Before leaving this part of the prophecy, there are two points that tend strongly to confirm the interpretation that verses 14, 15 alone refer to Immanuel; and then the reference in verse 16 is to some other child who is also yet to be born at the time the prophecy was uttered.
First, the address in the earlier verses is not to Ahaz personally, but to him only as a representative, unworthy indeed, of the "House of David" (ver. 13). Thus the mystic promise of the Virgin's Son is to "you," not to "thee," and will be fulfilled, not to Ahaz, but to the "House of David" at some indefinite time in the future. But verse 16 recurs unequivocally to Ahaz personally: "The land will be desolate, whose two kings thou abhorrest" (R. V.), and must be intended for him and no one else. It follows that the "child" of that verse must be some other than the Immanuel of the previous ones.
Next, a word is used for "child" in verse 16 that is never, as far as I am aware, applied to Immanuel. It lacks the dignity of "son," and is variously rendered in our Authorized Version "boy," "lad," "young man," "servant." It is the word, too, that we next meet in ch. 8:4, where the reference is clearly to the son of the prophet, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, not to Immanuel. It refers equally to that same child of the prophet here, and who was also a sign.
After verse 16 the voice of comfort is heard no more; threat follows and altogether displaces it.
Let us stand for a moment with Ahaz, and remember that his secret heart-confidence is in the help of the Assyrian king; he hears with complacency that his enemies' lands will be laid waste, and he says in his heart that he knows how that devastation shall come about; it shall be by the Assyrian. Then suddenly the tone changes, and he is listening to a threat against his own country of such extreme distress that it has had no precedent. Do you not hear the unspoken question in the king's heart? Who shall be the agent of that distress? Like a thunder clap from a clear sky comes the answer: Melek Asshur, "the king of Assyria," the very man Ahaz was, at that minute, hiring for his help! Then the prophet continues:
18: Jehovah shall hiss for the fly that is swarmingJehovah has but to hiss toward Egypt, and the flies that swarm in her lowlands by the Nile-arms (these flies—the accompaniment of filth—are expressions of that internal "corruption" of which Egypt speaks) would respond. Then, turning eastward, He gives the same signal, and the bees, those persistent pursuers that ever "compass about" the object of their animosity (Ps. 118:12), expressions of that cruelty and violence for which Assyria stands, these shall come and cover the land of Judah.
At the end of the Nile-arms of Egypt's low vales:
For the bee in the hills of Assyria hiving
19: Till they settle on Judah's desolate dales.
The rock-cleft, the thorn-hedge, the beautiful tree,
All shall resound with the hum of the bee.
Naked shall Judah be in that day (ver. 20), for, as Ahaz is hiring the king of Assyria, Adonai shall hire him, too; for he lies at the Euphrates, only waiting to be hired, and shall use him as a razor to shave away everything that speaks of dignity and self-respect, from head to foot, even including the beard, till Judah is as naked and exposed as Samson after Delilah had done her work.
Poor indeed shall Judah be in that day, for the sum-total of a man's wealth shall consist in a calf and two sheep, or goats, yet so abundant shall be the pasture afforded by the uncultivated lands, that even these three creatures shall give him all the food he needs, or indeed can get.
Wretched shall Judah be in that day, for in the place of the vineyards having a thousand vines each worth a "silverling" (or about twenty-five cents), nature, unchecked, covers all with the tokens of the curse; briers and thorns taking the place of grapes. These briers and thorns afford a jungle for the wild beast, so that none dare enter them unarmed; and the hills, once so smiling with crops, are clothed with briers and thorns, through which cattle may tramp, but no plough nor spade shall cultivate them. The jungle of briers and thorns defeats the husbandman.
Thus again, like the toll of a funeral bell, or the refrain of a dirge, sounds out the repeated "in that day," and the prophecy concludes with a threefold reminder of the primal curse in the words, "thorns and briers." Closely too does the condition of the land correspond in its nakedness, its poverty, its misery, its wretchedness, with the church in Laodicea of today.[The description is tautological and pleonastic, heavy and slow in movement to produce the impression of a waste heath, or tedious monotony" (Delitzsch). Thus the very construction pictures the meaning.]I cannot refrain from noting the correspondence between the physical and moral spheres. Simply leave the soil alone, give it up to itself; nothing more is necessary; it will quickly witness to the curse resting still upon it. So let parents simply leave their children alone, let them refrain from bringing them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, it is all that is necessary—a wilderness of moral "thorn and briers" will all too quickly bear their witness to the fall of our first parents. So let God simply leave man alone, give him up, as He did the Gentiles (Rom. 1:24-32), and we see the correspondence to the thorns and briers in the abominations that covered them, and, alas, covers the vast professing body of Christendom today (2 Tim. 3:1-5). May we each learn our absolute dependence on Him for true fruit, and cry, "Leave, oh, leave me not alone," for that were the worst of fates.