Continuation of Jehovah's pleading with Israel for the rejection of Christ.
Three divisions are again very clearly marked in this little chapter, which, although short, is of entrancing interest. Even before considering the details, we may again discern three different Speakers; and in these are suggestions—by no means obscure—of the Persons of the Divine Trinity, although in different relations with men, and so under names differing from Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In these hidden ways has divine wisdom interwoven these vital truths in the very warp and woof of Scripture, whence they cannot be torn without destroying its texture altogether. My readers will discern the divisions without any difficulty, thus:
1: Verses 1-3: Jehovah speaks, recognizing the breach in His relationship with His people, represented by Israel, and accounting for it.
2: Verses 4-9: The Servant speaks. He has learned the path He must take to redeem His people.
3: Verses 10, 11: The Spirit's counsel to those who are of the day: the doom of those who are of the night.
1: Thus saith Jehovah:Here Jehovah Himself speaks to Israel. Has He put them away with that too easy method that evidenced the hardness of their hearts (Matt. 19:8) by giving a bill of divorcement? If so, let them show that bill. They cannot do it. Very lightly were such "bills" given by heartless men. Little was enough to justify severing the sacred bond. Has Jehovah so acted to that nation to which He stands in the relation of a husband? Is His heart equally hard? Will trifles account for its miserable condition?
Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement,
With which I did put her away?
Or 'mid My creditors, to which of them is it
To whom I have sold you?
For your iniquities, lo, ye've been sold.
For your transgressions your mother is cast off.
2: Why when I came was there no man to welcome?
Why when I called was there none to respond?
Is My hand shortened it cannot redeem?
Or have I no power My own to deliver?
Behold, at My word I dry up the sea!
The rivers I turn into desert;
Putrid their fish, without water,
Of thirst do they perish!
3: 'Tis I clothe the heavens with mourning!
'Tis I do make sackcloth their cov'ring!
Or again, He says: "Have I sold you as, at times, a man's children had to be sold to meet his legal obligations?" (Matt. 18:25). Pitiless was the law, but how hard pressed any father, worthy of that name, before he would allow his children to be sold. Only utter inability to prevent it could account for such an unnatural separation. Is that the case here? Has Jehovah become so impoverished, and has some creditor pressed a legal claim which He cannot meet, so that He has to sell His people to satisfy it? Let that creditor step forth. There is none!
What then can account for Israel's misery? Never let them attribute it to Jehovah's will, but to their own iniquities. But was there any specific evil that can be told? Yes, when He—Jehovah—came to them, there was no welcome for Him! That lies at the base of all their sorrows!
But when did Jehovah thus come directly, not by prophets but Himself, to Israel and look for such a welcome? Once and only once—for Isaiah looks far forward. It was not when He descended on Sinai to give them the law. He looked for no welcome then, but bade them keep at a distance, nor dare even to touch the mount on which He stood. But He came again in other guise, filled with grace and truth, but none welcomed Him then: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:11). In that rejection lies the cause of all their sorrows. It is this, and this alone that accounts for their being forsaken—it is the climax of their iniquities! Lowly He came, and in utter gentleness, yet mighty to save. For it was His word by which Egypt's sea had been made dry, and the rivers (as Jordan) turned into dry land. It was He who had visited them, in a gentleness that would have made them great, as a poor and lowly man, but who could put the heavens into mourning, clothing them with sackcloth—and they would have none of Him!
Not only did He thus come, but He called to them, announcing the kingdom that He came to set up, but their heart being turned away, they heard not that Voice, nor responded to that call.
For the ear has a strange faculty; sounds may be quite audible, but with the attention elsewhere, they are not really heard at all. Our very hearing, although all the delicate mechanism of the ear is in perfect order, depends still upon our will. In a room full of people, many of whom may be speaking at the same time, we have the power of directing our ear to one particular speaker, and be practically deaf to all the rest. Thus today, a hundred voices in this world are crying, but amid them all is One who says: "If any man hear My voice I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with Me." Alas, how few are hearing that Voice! The call of business with its gain is heard. The cry of worldliness and its pleasures is listened to, but His is unheard, for it speaks an unwelcome truth, telling the present witness on the earth, the Church, that it is, with all its boasting, "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked"—no one wills to hear that! Indeed, Israel's sad history is repeating itself this very day.
Jehovah closes by recalling the past evidences of His power, and asks them to remember that although He does not now make seas dry or turn rivers to desert as once, yet still it is He who clothes the heavens with mournful clouds and covers the earth with depression. Do they then suppose that He is not equal to dispelling those clouds and bringing the cheer of sunlight in their place? Has Time shortened the reach of His arm, or enfeebled its power?
But now the Servant speaks:
4: Jehovah Adohnai hath given to MeHere we note the constant repetition of the divine appellation, Jehovah Adohnai; nor is this without its appropriateness in the mouth of the perfect Servant. Jehovah is to Him indeed Adohn, a word that carries with it the idea of the most supreme authority and ownership. It is only used when the utmost reverence is desired to be expressed, and here the very Lord of glory, taking the place of the perfect Servant, calls Jehovah, "Adohnai"—"My Lord and Master."
The tongue of those who are taught,
That I might know how a word of good cheer
To speak to him who is weary.
Morning by morning He wakeneth,
Mine ear He awakens to list,
As those who are truly disciples.
5: Adohnai Jehovah hath opened Mine ear,
Nor was I rebellious, nor turned away backward;
6: Nay, to the smiters I gave up My back,
My cheeks unto them that plucked off the hair;
I hid not My face from shame nor from spitting.
7: For Jehovah Adohnai will help Me,
So shall I not be confounded:
Therefore I set My face like a flint,
For I know I shall not be ashamed.
8: Near to me—near—is He that doth justify,
Who then is he that contendeth?
Let us stand up face to face.
Who's My opponent? Let him draw near.
9: Behold, Jehovah Adohnai defends Me,
Who can he be that condemns?
Lo, as a garment they all shall wax olden,
Eaten up by the moth shall they be.
See then that perfect Servant reading, pondering, meditating upon the Word of God. Morning by morning from the slumbers of the night He awakes, and as a disciple, as all who are really taught of God, He listens to the living Voice that may be heard in those inspired pages.
"God manifest in the flesh" is He; "The Lord of Glory" is He; "Lord of all" is He; yet see Him, bending over those very Scriptures that are in our hands today, and by them growing in wisdom (Luke 2:52), as perfect as a dear human Child, as He is as a mature Man; just as a rosebud is as perfect in its place as the beauteous flower in its prime!
For as He reads He learns the path that that Word pledges Him to take. The "evil" that lies before Him, and which He refuses, is the smile and favor of a world at enmity with His Adohn-Lord. The "good" that awaits Him and which He chooses is rejection and persecution, yet He willingly addresses Himself to that path, surrendering His back to smiters, His face to spitting.1
He shrinks not from suffering, rejection and shame, for no adverse will has ever closed that ear. Long, long ago, in the past, when His happy abode was in the Father's bosom, as the ineffective sacrifices smoked on Israel's altars, and He saw that they gave no pleasure to the God who longed to embrace penitent men, even then were His ears opened, and He cried with the spontaneous willingness of love: "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God."
And that will He has done! That lonely path, "uncheered by earthly smiles, led only to the cross," where our sins (oh, let us join in acknowledging this) were upon Him, and because of that, God Himself was the Smiter! No blows does that almighty Arm strike as feeble as those of the Roman soldiery! They indeed ploughed deep into His holy flesh, quivering and sensitive as that was, but these pierce and cut into His very soul. They could awaken no cry; these, the exceeding bitter, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" (verse 7). Mark, too, that through all He maintains His confidence in the final intervention of His God—Adohnai Jehovah. He knows well that His soul shall not be left in hades nor His body see corruption. In one dark hour indeed, when the Powers of darkness clustered thick around Him in Gethsemane and pressed Him sore, He did cry, with tears, that, were it possible, the cup might pass from Him. It might well have done so, if God had cared less for us poor sinful men, and left us to perish forever. How He must have loved us that He, even for our sake, put that cup of suffering into the hand of Him He loved infinitely!
And, although He drank the cup, still He was "heard," and that because of the very fear that evidenced His perfect holiness.
For it was not the fear of physical death, the fear that Satan would take away His life before He reached the cross, as some so wrongly teach; but of being made sin, and so of God's forsaking Him, and that forsaking being endless! He was about to be made judicially in the sight of God what you and I really are; that is, sin—to Him the most awful of horrors! Is that to be endless? Is there to be no relief from that? Nay, He was heard, and His salvation "out of death," in resurrection, is the answer to that cry, for thus is He justified, as our verse 8 speaks. He was not saved from death, but was saved "out of" it.
In resurrection-acceptance He challenges some opponent to condemn Him, and who can that be save that keen-eyed "serpent" who is ever the great accuser of mankind. Let him find, if he can, one film of injustice upon the throne of God by that justification! But still clearer light is thrown upon this word in our New Testament, for there we find that it is we who are fully identified with Him in that cloudless atmosphere of perfect acceptance, so that the weakest, feeblest, youngest—aye, the very chief of sinners—may, as being one with Him, take up that challenge, and looking at our adversary, cry: "It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ who died, nay, rather, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Rom. 8:31-39).
In very truth He is rightly named "Wonderful," for in the first part of this little chapter He is identified as one with Jehovah; and here, in the last, He is identified with His people whom He has redeemed. He thus lays His hand on both, and is the "Daysman" that Job, and not he alone, sorely needed and longed for!
How altogether incomprehensible to finite minds is His infinite Person! The one single Personality, having all the unlimited attributes of God, yet all the dependencies of man; omnipotence and weakness, infinities and limitations, thus combined in One! What folly to think of comprehending Him! What wickedness to attempt to analyze Him! He loves us and we worship Him, and there we rest!
But what of those who venture to come into conflict with Him? The last clause of verse 9 tells us. They are like a tattered garment ruined by being moth-eaten, a "terrible figure" of slow but certain destruction, as another has said.
Well might we linger here, nor can I leave it without one practical word, which I address to myself first: must I not, too, follow my Lord in that morning-by-morning meditation over the Word? And if I do, surely, it will point out the same path to me as to Him, a path made sunny with the approval of God, but dark indeed as far as the smile and favor of this world goes. The "good" is for us, as for Him, in rejection, reproach, and it must be in some degree of actual persecution; whilst the "evil" too is for us, as for Him, in the friendship of the world with all its wealth, honor, and even its religion.
This introduction of the Servant leads to the sharpest severance among those who are professedly the Lord's people, and this third part gives us the revelation of the righteous judgment of God in the consolation the Spirit gives to the persecuted Remnant, and the doom announced to the persecuting mass.
10: Who is among you who feareth Jehovah,
Obeying the voice of His Servant,
Walking in darkness, having no light?
Let him still trust in the name of Jehovah,
Let him still stay himself on his God!
11: Behold, then, all ye who do kindle a fire,
Who compass yourselves with its sparks,
Walk ye along in the light of your fire,
Let the sparks ye have kindled enlighten.
This shall ye have of My hand:
In sorrow shall ye lie down.2
The two verses speak of companies so different that we may well adopt the very language of Scripture, and speak of them as two "generations." Verse 10 is the "generation of His children" (as Psalm 73), whilst in verse 11 we discern that evil generation of whom the Lord said: "Ye are of your father the devil" (John 8:66). Strange, yet alas, but too evident a truth! From the same parents have ever come most divergent offspring, as represented by the two brothers, Cain and Abel. Nor does what men call "religion" give us the dividing line, for Cain equally went to "a place of worship," as did Abel. Man cannot live without some form of religion; but Christ, and the relation they bear to Him, marks the distinction. It is the penitent confession of sin, with heart-confidence and delight in Christ on the one hand; and complacency, whether it be in the fruit and flowers of Cain in the past, the Christless church-membership of the present, or the man-made "sparks" of the future, on the other.
To review the chapter in a few words: the first three verses are the goal to which what follows leads. For Jehovah has visited His people in the person of the Servant, but found none to welcome Him; nay, the path of that Servant is one of suffering and shame, yet He walks in it firmly, for He knows that Jehovah will finally justify Him in resurrection; and He utters a cry challenging any to condemn Him who has even been made sin under the cloud of the cross! It is this that leads to the sharpest severance, distinguishing a remnant from an apostate mass, till He comes with retribution for each.
The terms "darkness" and "light" are evidently used metaphorically, the one for adversity, the other for prosperity. Thus, in verse 10, we see the beloved remnant of faith passing through the "darkness" of the great tribulation, and in verse 11, the apostates are told to go on walking in the light that they themselves have kindled—that is, in whatever prosperity they may have thought to have gained in their treaty with the Prince of the revived world-empire. As far as my present light goes this is the whole of what is now called Christendom, including the two Americas, North and South, the boundaries being religious or spiritual, and not geographical.
When Jehovah does intervene, the company of the persecuted shall have rest, while the persecutors shall lie down, in torment; as seen in 2 Thess. 1:6, 7: "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven."It would never do to shut out the believer of the present day from the encouragement of verse 10, or the merely "religious" from the warning of verse 11. While our peace really rests on "God's thoughts of His own Son"; yet, alas, we know practically, as to our condition, that there are seasons of spiritual darkness, to which some temperaments are much more liable than others. We remember Rutherford's lines:
"But flowers need night's cool darkness,
The moonlight and the dew,
So Christ from one who loved it,
His shining oft withdrew."
In such times the counsel of the same blessed Spirit is surely quite applicable. Let us still trust in the Name of our Lord Jesus, and stay ourselves on our God, so graciously, so righteously revealed in His beloved Son. But let us never think for a moment that there are really clouds between God and that beloved One; nor is the position, or standing, of all who are in Christ altered at all by the darkness of the condition. We are ever in the light of that love from which nothing can really sever us. In Him, the very least of us whose confidence is alone in Christ, is in everlasting light and unbroken acceptance.
1 Note carefully the holy light this throws back on Isaiah 7:15
2 The last word in the chapter is tishkahboon, with a strong emphasis on the last syllable. One can easily detect how this would make it sound as a knell; announcing the sorrow foretold in the tolling sound of "boon" forcefully and solemnly uttered.