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An Exposition of Isaiah.
Part I: Inspired Prophecy
1. Its Nature
“The prophetic word” means the communication of things to come which God has been pleased to make in scripture. The apostle Peter, in so using the expression, compares it to “a lamp that shineth in a squalid place.” It makes manifest man’s evil, which God declares He will judge and supersede by His kingdom in Christ (2 Peter 1:19). Those addressed did well to heed it, though he desired for them still better light, and this for the heart — “till day dawn and the day-star arise in your hearts.” He had of course this heavenly hope bright in his own heart, and he desired it for all of them. But the saints of the circumcision were slow in apprehending what was new and heavenly: so we see over a larger area in the Epistle to the Hebrews. They were content with the elements of the doctrine of Christ, and had to be exhorted to go on to perfection, or that full age in Christ which is proper to the Christian, based on accomplished redemption and the gift of the Holy Spirit, as well as occupied with Christ’s glory on high. Here they were dull, as 2 Peter shows them, about the Christian hope.
But the apostle encouraged them to heed the lamp of prophecy till they seized the brighter light that the gospel brings of the hope of which Christ Himself is the one personal object — Christ about to receive us and present us in the Father’s house, that where He is, there we also may be. Useful as a lamp is for guiding us in darkness or guarding us from the defilements around, far better is the light of Christ fully revealed, and the accompanying hope for our hearts even now, before He gives us the Morning Star, that is, association with Himself at His coming. It is the coming again of Him Whose love we know, Who suffered once for all for our sins, Who will then consummate in heaven the love He proved for us on earth. When the day of Jehovah comes for the world, according to prophecy, it will burn as a furnace for the proud and wicked, but to those that fear His name, as Israel thus will here below, shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings. Our hope is much higher, whether for our hearts now, or when it is fulfilled at His coming. It is not associated with judgement on adversaries, but founded on His own bearing our judgement on the cross, and taking us to heaven to be with Himself, apart from all thought of the earth or of man upon it.
Meanwhile, and from the earliest days, God has given prophecy in this sin-darkened world; and He took care, when human life was shortened to its present span (Ps. 90:10), to embody it in scripture as “the prophetic word.” In it lay, when Adam transgressed, the warrant of faith. Man fell and paradise was lost through sin. All hope turned on the woman’s Seed, Who would with bitten heel bruise the Serpent’s head. Whatever else might be intimated and learnt from God’s sayings and doings in those sad circumstances of ruin, a Deliverer was revealed in the future, Himself deeply to suffer, but to crush the enemy who had so soon and completely misled man. This Deliverer somehow must be man, the woman’s Seed, itself a fact absolutely unique, and a phrase of mysterious moment and ineffable grace; yet must He also be immeasurably above man, not only to resist and beat off the old Serpent, the devil, but to deal him destruction beyond remedy.
The word translated “prophet” in the O.T. is derived from “bubbling or pouring forth,” alluding to God’s action in inspiring him; “Seer” points to the vision which distinguished such. Its scriptural meaning transcends the classical usage as the living and true God rises above the demons, who acted behind the idols that were adored by the heathen and interpreted by their prophets.
In the New Testament, as well as in the Old, the term prophet or prophecy is applied when God’s mind was communicated, as in Gen. 20:7, Ps. 105:15, John 4:19, 1 Cor. 14:24, 25; but its strict and appropriated sense of unveiling the future, which belongs to God only, is unquestionable. When idolatry prevailed, and God separated Abraham and the line of promise, He made known clearly and severally His design to bless the chosen family, and in a specified land assured to them. He disclosed also a still larger and more wondrous purpose, bound up with their Seed to bless all the families in the earth (Gen. 12:3, Gen. 22:18, Gen. 26:4, Gen. 28:14). While prophecy thus embraced the laying bare of facts or persons at any time (1 Sam. 9:20, 2 Kings 5:26), so as to put conscience in God’s presence, none the less did the revelation of the future characterise the prophet, as we see throughout the range of scripture.
Nay, more, while the five books of Moses are distinctly called the Law, as in a vague way are the Psalms and the Prophets, yet every part of the Pentateuch is brimful of prophecy. Adam is authoritatively declared to be figure of the Coming One; this in righteousness and life, as that in sin and death. Cain presages the way of woe in walk and worship, as righteous Abel’s blood witnesses that which speaketh better. And if we omit not a few, Noah foreshadows Him Who will unfailingly govern the world after it is again judged as a whole for its iniquities. The Messiah underlies every promise and every office of special dignity, Godward and manward; covenant; sacrifice, and offering, point to His work. Holy and suffering witnesses give glimpses of Him, as the wicked manifest their awful antagonism. The past public dealings of God typify greater things to come. The first battle in Genesis is vividly impressed with signs of the last; especially when we read at its close Abram’s meeting the royal priest, who blessed the conqueror on the part of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, and blessed God Most High, Who had delivered the enemies into his hand: the clear prefiguration of Jehovah’s day, with its issue of blessedness, above and below, in righteousness and peace.
One might dwell ever so long on broad outlines and minute details alike, each and all telling the same tale of the bright future that gilds to the instructed eye the humbling lessons of the history, pointing to Christ’s day, which made Abraham glad, when the whole earth shall be filled with His glory. But one must forbear even as to Genesis, rich as it is in furnishing the germs of what is developed now, or what is to be in another and more blessed way during days to come. A similar character pervades in some form every one of the other books of Moses, nay, of every book of the Old Testament. Thus Exodus points to a better redemption of God’s people, and by power as well as blood; and to His subsequent deigning to dwell in the midst of the redeemed, as He will for ever. Leviticus again, and Numbers, are no less predictive; and Deuteronomy, besides its more veiled intimations in its course and close, has more open prophecies of Christ and His coming triumphs than its predecessors. As the historical books that follow are said by the Jews to be written by “the earlier prophets,” so all are stamped inwardly to the intelligent Christian with shadows of good things to come, which centre in Him Whom in their blindness they rejected. So more evidently are the Psalms full of Christ, and of the Spirit of Christ in His people. It ought to be needless to say this of the “later” avowed prophets. But we live in days of rebuke and blasphemy, when in Christendom even professing servants of His are eagerly encouraging one another to obliterate from the Old Testament Him Who, if seen therein, shakes of itself the new critical system to atoms, and convicts its adherents of shameless incredulity.
The New Testament is the manifestation of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ come in flesh; and it declares redemption accomplished in Him, rejected by men, notably by the Jews, but risen from the dead and glorified Head over all things to the church His body. Consequently the kingdom, pledged in the Old Testament, assumes, while Christ is on high, a character of “mystery” (Matt. 13:11; Mark 4:11), or the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens; till He, having caught up the risen saints to the Father’s house, returns in displayed power to enforce the rights of God, and bring in the long expected times of refreshing for Israel, the nations, and all creation. The cross of Christ, being as it was the rejection of God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, gave occasion to Christian blessing in the gospel, and in the church united to its exalted Head; which is wholly distinct from the things to come. Yet the apostle, in Romans 16:26, designates the divine word which reveals this new and heavenly secret, “prophetic scriptures.” From everlasting, silence had been kept about that mystery; a statement inapplicable to “the prophets,” and yet more evidently to their scriptures in the Old Testament. But now it was manifested, and by prophetic scriptures, according to the eternal God’s commandment, made known for obedience of faith unto all the nations. In thus making it known, the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians, with those to the Corinthians and others, have a primary place. And thus the saints are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone. The instruments of this special teaching are hence shown to be exclusively the New Testament apostles and prophets, as a joint class for this inspired work. But the New Testament in no way lacks the richest testimony on things to come, as the Lord promised (John 16:13). Witness Matt. 24; 25; Mark 13; Luke 21; to speak only of the fuller predictions in the Synoptic Gospels, and in 2 Peter and Jude, but especially 2 Thess. 2; 1 Tim. 4; 2 Tim. 3; with the Revelation, the most abundant, systematic, and profound of all prophecies.
In the Old Testament, as in the New, the greatest variety of moral appeal accompanies prediction almost everywhere, and in volume commonly exceeds it, as being of the utmost importance. But specific predictions are given throughout to be fulfilled in due time. Apply this test to Christ’s first advent, incomparably the most momentous of all facts here below, so declared to be by both the Old and the New Testaments; and what can be more decisive? From Moses to Malachi the grand testimony was to the coming Messiah. Even Genesis narrowed the limits down from the first woman to Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, successively; as the Psalms did to One Who should be David’s son, yet David’s Lord, sitting at Jehovah’s right hand before He strike through kings in His wrath (Ps. 110) Who is set on the holy hill of Zion, and sways the universal sceptre as Son of man over all nations (Ps. 8; Dan. 7). The time was fixed by Daniel, the place by Micah, the birth from a virgin by Isaiah, even the strange land (where Israel was a bondman) to the Messiah a shelter from the Edomite king of Judæa, as the Spirit showed by Hosea. (Hosea 11:1-3). So we have in Isaiah and Malachi His herald, “A voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah”; for indeed He was Immanuel and Jehovah. By the same prophet His servant-character, so hateful to man’s pride and rebelliousness, was fully made known. It told the tale of the world’s state, His utter rejection by man, though Jehovah’s chosen, in Whom His soul delighted, Whom man despised, Whom the nation abhorred. There, too, the ministry of His life, the atonement of His death, are with equal clearness revealed. So long before, David wrote in Psalm 22. what was immeasurably beyond his own sufferings, and any kingly power of his — indeed, what He alone of all men knew. He is on the one hand the Holy One of God, abandoned by His God, as He must be to make expiation of sins, and on the other raised and glorified in virtue of it, so as to praise “in the midst of the congregation” or church (v. 22) now, as He will ere long “in the great congregation,” i.e. “all Israel” then saved (v. 25); when all the ends of the earth shall remember, and all the kingdoms of the nations worship. So it is to be, when the kingdom becomes de facto, as it is de jure, Jehovah’s, and He is the ruler over the nations.
When the dread scene of the cross drew near, was the prophetic word in vain? or did it utter generalities, or easy guesses, or dubious oracles? Was it only within the space of man’s life or observation that one predicted the treachery of a disciple (Ps. 41:9), as another did the goodly price He was prized at by them — the thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12, 13)? Was it within the compass of man’s mind to say centuries before that He, over Whom Jehovah watched with delight and loving care without parallel, should, in His obedience, be surrendered to the basest smiting and the cruellest contumely (Isa. 1), because His vindication was to be by resurrection (Ps. 16) and heavenly glory (Ps. 8, 110) that grace might reign through righteousness unto life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord? Was it the prognostic of a mortal to say of Messiah (for of Him only Psalm 22 treats), “They pierced My hands and My feet,” and again, “They part My garments among them, and upon My venture they do cast lots”? anticipatively to provide the very words the Lord Jesus appropriated when suffering once for all for sins, Just for unjust? Was it a mere conjecture to lay down that not a bone of Him should be broken (Ex. 12:46; Ps. 34:20) when the legs of the others were? or that only He should be pierced (Zech. 12:10), whereas they were not? Was it fortuitous that even in such circumstances He should be with the rich in His death, whilst His grave would naturally be made with the wicked? (Isa. 53:9).
No good man’s fancy more unreliable than Dr. T. Arnold’s (Sermons, 1. on the Interpretation of Prophecy, 377) that history deals with particular facts, prophecy with general principles, so as to make it conditional because of evil in the creature. It was blindness to both history and prophecy, as God has given them in the scriptures; and outside His word we need not concern ourselves. In all the Old Testament, avowedly historical, or ostensibly prophetic, there are deep moral principles as surely as the facts which embody them or draw out the word that conveyed them. In all too one still grander Object of faith arose before such as believed.
This hope of a Deliverer acted with such power that the mass of Jews were found as a whole pervaded by it everywhere; so were the Samaritans down to the woman at Sychar. Never was it more general than at the time the Lord was in their midst, though their unbelief was really at its lowest, as they proved, when to their eyes He had no beauty that they should desire Him. Indeed their soul loathed Him, because He did not then take His world-kingdom, exalt the Jew, and destroy the Roman. Even His own followers had to bear His reproof, “O foolish and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to suffer these things [their stumbling block], and enter into his glory? And beginning from Moses he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).
It may be urged that the minute circumstances, of which we have had but a selection as they occurred to one’s memory, are peculiar to Christ, but that outside His person prophecy takes into account broad maxims, which can only apply in a measure, because of the mixed condition of man, and are not adequately fulfilled save in Him. But the fact is that the theory is true nowhere; and its effect is to destroy the truth, as far as men strive to carry it out. Prophecy often launches out, even at an early day, into the magnificent and solemn display of the Lord coming in judgement of the quick, the habitable world, as we read in the Epistle of Jude, who was enabled by the inspiring Spirit (whatever the means) to give us the testimony of Enoch; not as in the spurious Ethiopic book, which betrayed its source by its inability even to make a correct use of scripture. Enoch “prophesied, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with myriads of his saints to execute judgement upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodlily wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (vv. 14, 15). At a later epoch Moses spoke all the words of his wondrous song, as given in Deut. 32, which testify to the same consummation, when Jehovah shall judge His people, and repent Himself for His servants; and the nations shall rejoice with His people, and He will make expiation for His land, for His people (vv. 36-43).
Take another instance, which in a brief compass illustrates the nature of prophecy in symbol as well as in simple language; as elsewhere figures are employed to give vividness. In Hosea 3 (where we are spared the usual insinuations against the alleged early date) under the prophet’s purchase of a woman beloved yet an adulteress, Jehovah set forth the relation of guilty Israel, no longer to be idolatrous, yet not properly wife. The words that follow are plain and terse. “For the sons of Israel shall abide many days without king and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without pillar, and without ephod and teraphim. Afterward shall the sons of Israel return, and seek Jehovah their God and David their king, and shall come with fear unto Jehovah and unto his goodness at the end of the days.” Here we have a description of the most surprising facts which no human mind could have divined beforehand, and conveyed in the most precise terms: verse 4 in course of fulfilment to this day, verse 5 awaiting it in that auspicious day which all the prophets hailed, and all saints of Old Testament or New ought surely to expect.
Who before Hosea distinctly conceived for Israel’s history a state of things “without a king, without a prince”? One, if godly, might well have thought of national disaster and humiliation; but what of the pledges to David and his posterity? But even if he had discerned in Psalm 89:30-32 the probability and danger of royal eclipse, what more opposed to his feelings and stranger to his mind than a religious anomaly without parallel among his brethren, and so hard for the few to conciliate with a divine ritual from the ever living and true God? Alas! he knew already how prone the chosen people were to lapse into idolatry, and how grace had as often intervened to recall from false gods. But here is announced a condition altogether unique, a religion neither divine nor idolatrous, but a wretched negation, “without sacrifice, and without pillar, and without ephod and teraphim.” Even D. Kimchi interprets this justly enough if not fully, saying, “Without sacrifice refers to God, without pillar refers to idols, without ephod refers to God Who declares the future by Urim and Thummim, without teraphim refers to idols who declare the future according to the opinions of those who believe in them.”
Beyond controversy sacrifice is and has ever been the foundation of all true worship since sin came in. It had an authoritatively spiritual place in Judaism. Christianity has it perfectly and for ever in Christ. And as the ephod points to the ministry of the high priest in Israel, so we have now Christ High Priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek, the Son of God passed through the heavens (Heb. 5-7) But the Jew has nothing! neither sacrifice to purge sins, nor high priest to intercede for them: the astonishing spectacle before all eyes and for long centuries of a people that hate the idols they once loved, yet without the divine worship and service which their law demands imperatively. Never did such a state enter the imagination of Israel before Hosea, nor did it come to pass till long after him. Yet here it is predicted beyond a doubt as a lasting state; and so it has been and is. But the last verse (Hosea 3:5) is equally clear and conclusive to faith that they shall as a people return, not to their land merely (though this is certain from all scripture), but to Jehovah their God and to David their king, Who can be none other as the context demonstrates than the Messiah. “And so,” says the great apostle, “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:26). None can deny the national and unparalleled religious ruin of Israel according to prophecy: why should any stop there and entirely disbelieve their restoration, not only as a nation, but to be the earthly centre of all the nations for the word of Jehovah in Zion? But how, we may ask, were either of these stupendous changes, in ruin or in blessing, within man’s horizon when Hosea wrote with such startling plainness of speech?
Ps. 22 is just as striking as Isa. 53 for its first half sets out prophetically, as if a fact before us, the Messiah rejected, suffering, crucified, starting with that most wondrous of truths from His own lips to which atonement alone gives meaning — His God abandoning Him when in the deepest abyss of need and shame. But so it must be when God for us, as for the Jew, made to be sin, Him Who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21). For if sinners are to be forgiven righteously, or justified, it must be on the righteous basis of sin judged as it deserves, and of God then glorified about it in an adequate sacrifice; so that He can be righteous in blotting every sin of the believer from before Him. And as the sufferings were unfathomable, so is the glory in divine answer to them; as our Lord said in a still deeper way looking on to both, “If God be glorified in Him (the Son of man), God will glorify Him in Himself, and will straightway glorify Him” (John 12:32). Righteousness set the risen Christ, the Second man, at God’s right hand on high, as He declared His Father’s name to His brethren. Blessing unbounded flows through His atoning death. In the midst of the congregation He praises, as in John 20:19-22, Heb. 2:12. By-and-by the “great congregation,” when all Israel is saved, will re-echo His praise. Nor this only, but all the ends of the earth follow. For the day will then have come, not for gospel testimony as the church is now, but when the kingdom is Jehovah’s, and He is the ruler of the nations as an actual fact. All mortals shall bow before Him, from those most at ease to the utterly destitute hitherto, and that not of the then generation but of those to be born, to whom it shall be declared that Jehovah hath done this — His infinite work transcending all before and after.
Neither David is here, nor any that ever lived or died, but only the Messiah Who once for all suffered for sins, Just for unjust, that He might bring us to God; Who is glorified on high while the church is being gathered, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ; and Who, after receiving them to Himself changed into His glory, will come to make good the kingdom according to the prophets, to the joy of heaven and earth. Who but God could have conveyed these anticipations, wondrous beyond all comparison? It is an eminently feeble effort to ascribe such a psalm to the exile or later, in the desire of taking it from the greatest of the psalmists; but put it where you will, you cannot silence the voice of God in His word, sounding across the ages, and still witnessing of glories to come in Christ the Lord. Fully owning the true and sound application of the principle to the gospel (as in Rom. 15:10), one is bound to look for the fulfilment at the end of the age, when Jehovah will no longer hide His face from Israel, and they are not only reduced to the utmost extremity, but turn in repentance to Messiah Whom they slew, saying, “Blessed be He that cometh in the name of Jehovah.”
Indeed, it is upon this coming age that the prophetic word converges; so much so that 2 Peter 1:20 pronounces, as a thing we ought to know, that no prophecy of scripture is of its own interpretation. Far from being thus isolated, as it must have been if it emanated from the human mind or will, it forms part of the great scheme which, as the Father counselled it for the glory of His beloved Son, so the Spirit reveals in the prophetic word which centres in His coming kingdom. So, in contrast with His action in the Christian, and in the church, the Holy Spirit in Rev. 19:10 is designated “the spirit of prophecy,” and said to be the “testimony of Jesus.” In the Acts and the Epistles He acts as the power of communion on the ground of known redemption.
The truth is that the earliest book of scripture completely refutes the assumption of such contemporary interests as blind to the future of God, and illustrates what the last book of scripture proves as matter of fact, that prophecy exhibits the greatest variety of form according to God’s wisdom. The first intimation (Gen. 3:15) is worthy alike of Him Who spoke, and of Him Who was spoken of, as it disclosed the end from the beginning, the judgement of the subtle foe, the suffering grace and overwhelming power of Him Who would deign to be the woman’s Seed. It was sovereign grace, Satan’s irremediable overthrow and punishment; while it was conveyed in terms adapted to an earthly people, and in view of divine government with present results, like the law as a whole. On the other hand, Noah (Gen. 6:7, 13) is divinely warned of things not seen as yet, both on the ground of special relationship and on that of His nature; while Gen. 7:4 follows up the general intimation with precise details, and as it was predicted, so was it punctually fulfilled, as scripture expressly affirms. No history could be more precise or circumstantial in few words. Gen. 9:25-27 is a luminous prophetic sketch of the world, with both divine names, and each in its requisite place as ever: no sketch more opposed to appearances for centuries; none more verified as time rolled on; yet to be proved absolutely true in the day of Jehovah, as later prophets declared to the ear of faith. This, however, may be said to be only a vast outline.
But to take only one instance more, what of Gen. 15 when “the word of Jehovah came unto Abram in a vision”? Can any prediction be conceived plainer or surer? Yet it stretched over more than four centuries, and defined the relative position of the chosen race and of the nation they were to serve in affliction, but at length to triumph over by a judgement unequivocally divine. Nay more, it maps out the limits of another land — the land wherein the father of the faithful was a pilgrim, which was by Jehovah’s covenant to be given long after, when the usurpers of the inheritance (enumerated in full detail) should be judged, as the old oppressor of the heirs had been. Who can say that these predictions have been answered only in Christ’s person? Who can deny that they are particular facts, yet accomplished to the letter in the Egyptians, in the Amorites, in the Jewish people, and in their land?
But a more advanced and unscrupulous school of unbelief have now the popular ear, who to get rid of God’s inspiration plead that the prophets were shrewd politicians that observed closely the movements of history, and saw in the rise and fall of nations the exhibition of a divine purpose (Canon Driver’s Lit Old Testament, 200). Is any man bold enough to think thus of Abram, or of Gen. 15? Is the situation, presupposed by this prophecy, that of the patriarch’s age? Is it the fraud of a human book or the revealed truth of God? The circumstances foreshown are wholly different from Abram’s then, and they change from a quasi-exile in sorrowful bondage to a coming out therefrom with great substance, and to a subsequent conquest, not one of which conditions were yet existent. Yet beyond dispute here in this brief and clear prophecy all is of its essence and substance, instead of being alien to its spirit. How did any one of these vast changes arise out of the circumstances of the time? The system, calmly stated at home, and violently abroad, is nothing but a distressing libel on scripture, and rank rebellion against God, under the show of a critical investigation of the record that leaves untouched the divine inspiration and authority of scripture. But he is a simpleton who trusts these smiling augurs, who, in their own imagined processes of literary composition, lure one another and their followers on to the deadly sin of undermining God’s history and denying prophecy in any genuine sense.
How strong the contrast of His word by Isaiah in his great continuous discourse! All flesh is grass. The word of our God stands for ever. And He it is Who is coming, Who is a tender Shepherd to His people, though the Maker and the Master of all the universe. Who will teach Him? What are the nations, or the idols they have made? To Israel speaks He Who knows the end from the beginning, and He it is Who acts above the powers He employs to chasten or deliver.
“Produce your cause, saith Jehovah; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. Let them bring them forth, and declare unto us what shall happen let them show the former things what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare unto 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” (Isa. 41:21-24).
“Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them” (Isa. 42:9). True prophecy is His claim; and it is an abiding one.
“Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, and He that formed thee from the womb, I am Jehovah that maketh all things; that alone stretcheth forth the heavens, that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself (or, who is with me?); that frustrateth the tokens of the liars (or boasters), and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backwards, 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” (Isa. 44:24-28).
“Declare ye, and bring it forth, yea, let them take counsel together: who hath showed this from ancient time? Who hath declared it of old? Have not I, Jehovah? And there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour, there is none beside me” (Isa. 45:21). “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; 1 am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure; calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. Yea, I have spoken, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed, I will also do it” (Isa. 46:9-11). “I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass. Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass, I have even from the beginning declared it to thee, before it came to pass, I showed it thee; lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image hath commanded them. Thou hast heard, see all this and will ye not declare it? I have showed thee new things from this time, even hidden things; and thou didst not know them. They are created now, and not from the beginning; and before this day thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them” (Isa. 48:3-7)
These citations from a single prophet suffice to prove what stress God lays on that communication of the future which modern criticism seeks to belittle or deny; and Christians beguiled by its assurance are willing, yea, anxious to throw it into the background, so as to render prophecy indistinct and powerless. No believer need shrink from the demand of a notable sceptic in his Creed of Christendom: — to mark (1) What the event was to which the alleged prediction was intended to refer; (2) That the prediction was uttered in specific, not vague, language before the event; (3) That the event took place specifically, not loosely, as predicted; (4) That it could not have been foreseen by human sagacity. Take the following predictions of Christ as they are given in the Revised Version:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). “Bind thou up the testimony seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait for the LORD that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in Mount Zion” (Isa. 8:16 18). “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time hath he made it glorious by the way of the sea beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (Isa. 9:1, 2). “And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit; and the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; and his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD,” etc. (Isa. 11:1-3). “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone of sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste” (Isa. 28:16).
Let us turn now to the later testimonies briefly.
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgement to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgement in truth. He shall not fail nor be discouraged till he have set judgement in the earth and the isles shall wait for his law” (Isa. 42:1-4). “And he said unto me Thou art my servant; Israel, in whom I will be glorified. But I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for naught and vanity: yet surely my judgement is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God. And now, saith the LORD, that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob to him, and that Israel be gathered with him: (for I am honourable in the eyes of the LORD, and my God is become my strength:) yea, He saith, It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth. Thus saith the LORD the Redeemer of Israel, [and] his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, whom the nation abhorreth,” etc. (Isa. 49:3-7).
“The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I should know how to sustain with words him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught. The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore have I not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed. He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me? Let us stand up together: who is mine adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD will help me: who is he that shall condemn me?” (Isa. 50:4-9).
“Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. Like as many were astonied at thee, (his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men,) so shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider” (Isa. 52:13-15).
“Who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, yet he humbled himself and opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb, yea, he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgement he was taken away; and as for his generation, who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living? for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And they made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many: and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death: and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:1-12).
“Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and a nation that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee” (Isa. 55:3-5).
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,” etc. (Isa. 61:1, 2). “I am inquired of by them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people,” etc. (Isa. 65:1, 2).
Comment is almost needless. The passages speak for themselves, and can apply to none but the Lord Jesus: to His birth as unique as His ministry in the least likely sphere; to His followers associated with Him during Israel’s non-recognition by Jehovah; to the lineage of which He was born no less than the power of the Holy Spirit that rested on Him beyond any of the sons of men; to His person, peculiarly put to the proof, and a foundation for the believer as none other was or could be to the delight of Jehovah, the meekest in Israel, yet righteously blessing the Gentiles in the face of all opposition; nor this only, but when owning His apparent failure through Jewish unbelief and rejection, to His having the promise from Jehovah to be a light of the nations. And what can incredulity do, but gnash its teeth at Isaiah 50; Isaiah 52:13- Isaiah 53? The suffering Messiah alone answers to the prophetic picture. Here there can be no possible pretence for imagining, as in the case of Cyrus, a sign on the horizon. For as the prophet wrote indisputably many centuries before His advent, so the events intended are unmistakably, specifically, and exclusively verified in the Lord Jesus, and this from His birth to the grave, yea, beyond it, to His resurrection and the work that occupies Him now in heaven, His intercession, as well as that which He carries on by His servants on earth, even to the call of the Gentiles and the rebellion of the Jews. Hence the notion of human sagacity foreseeing all, or most, or any from first to last, is unreasonable in the highest degree. Even the blindness of Israel that withstood the light in Him Who has blessed, Who is blessing, once besotted heathen, is a distinct trait of the prophecy; as it has its counterpart now in Christendom where men receive not the love of the truth that they may be saved. Nay, more, part remains to be fulfilled in His earthly exaltation, which is incompatible with His present work, both in executing judgement, and in establishing His glory in power over all the earth.
It is allowed that there is One Who is the true object of prophecy, being man in His sufferings and temptations, God in His holiness no less than His strength and power. We see says one, how His resurrection and ascension into heaven are its entire fulfilment. All the promises of God in Him are yea, and through Him, Amen. But as to all others the language could not be literally accomplished: firstly, because it was not properly applicable to any earthly nation from the imperfection of all human things; and secondly, because even that character of imperfect good or evil, which made certain nations the representatives of the principles of good or evil themselves, was not and could not be perpetual. As every people changes for better or worse in time, the prophecy could not be fulfilled at all, as in the case of Jonah’s prophecy of Nineveh’s destruction. In all cases the fulfilment will fall short of the full strength of the language, because in its proper scope and force it was aimed at a more unmixed good and evil than have ever been exhibited in the character of any earthly people. Hence is deduced as the general principle of interpretation, a uniform historical or lower sense, and also a spiritual or higher, almost involved necessarily in the very idea of prophecy.
It is striking to find how such a false start exposes souls to perilous delusion. In this case the effect is to discard openly the latter part of Daniel. And no wonder. Prophecy, as was assumed, has to do with general principle, history with particular facts. Now it is plain that Daniel 11, on the face of it, is as minute as a history, so far as it speaks. There are evident gaps, not by error but by design, in its course; one brief after verse 3, the other very great after the Maccabean era till “the time of the end,” as verse 33 itself points out. This scripture should have arrested Dr. A.’s steps. Instead of judging himself and his fallacious principle, he fell into the sin of rejecting God’s word the root of infidelity. Inspired history is as suggestive of general principle as prophecy; and prophecy is occupied alike in the Hebrew and the Greek scriptures with distinct places, fixed times, definite persons, and particular facts. Even in the symbolic forms of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and the Revelation this holds good: how much more from Genesis throughout the entire range of discursive prophecy! The general difference is one of degree only. Prophecy is anticipated history, though it is much more; and its language is occasionally no less explicit, though we can understand that in divine wisdom it is often veiled, so as to exclude human intention from its fulfilment. Thus it becomes all the more impressive when surprisingly accomplished. Scripture whether historical or prophetic, is full of anticipations of Christ in contrast with the first man led of Satan. It abounds in particular facts and precise dates, which no wit of man could have anticipated. God divulged the future to act on souls there and then according to spiritual zeal and intelligence, whilst not a little might remain only to be cleared up later. No maxim, however, is more erroneous than the assumption that it is only the event which explains. This is to deny the proper value of prophecy, till, becoming history in effect, it ceases to be prophecy. Not so did Noah, Abraham, Daniel, Simeon, Anna, or those that looked for the redemption of Jerusalem. Doubtless it yields evidence when accomplished to convince unbelievers; but its proper function is to cheer, guide, and edify believers beforehand. “Shall I hide from Abraham that which I do?”
The exceptional cases of Jonah with Nineveh, and of Isaiah with Hezekiah’s sickness, were indeed admonitory; but they are perverted to overthrow the rule: when prophecy is made conditional, its true character is annulled. In an exceptional instance, conditions may be either expressed or understood; but to take advantage of this fact, which no one disputes, in order to deny the general current of absolute prediction, is deplorably evil. Is God to be shut out of prophecy? Can He not, does He not, know the end from the beginning? Man changes, no doubt; but God in prophecy reveals the future with absolute certainty and precision, and this is a mark of favour to His own. Nor is it merely as to their own circumstances; for God disclosed to Abraham the destruction which, concerning Lot far more than himself, fell with unmitigated severity on the guilty cities of the plain. Earlier still God had revealed the long affliction of the chosen race in a land not theirs, but their coming out with great substance, and the divine judgement of their oppressors, and their entrance into Canaan in the fourth generation. There was ample evil in Israel; but it did not hinder the punctual fulfilment of the prophecy. Ishmael too had his lot foretold both to Hagar generally, and to Abraham with yet more particularity, and independently of moral conduct. And what shall we say of the flood predicted with its defined space of warning for 120 years, to say nothing of the seven days that preceded the actual deluge (Gen. 7:4, 10)? And Noah’s curse on Canaan, as distinguished from the blessing of Shem and the enlargement of Japheth, what has conditionality to do with it? The word of the Lord endureth for ever. One might dwell on Joseph’s dreams and interpretations, as well as on Jacob’s blessings on his sons; but enough is said to demonstrate the error, its grave character, and its consequences.
The fact is that scripture everywhere rises up to break the theory that prophecy is uniformly conditional. The assumption would really annul the largest part, if not the whole, of proper prophecy. Its author felt surer of its harmlessness than of its truth; but he lived to point the moral for others, if not for himself, that an error in principle about God’s word is an unmitigated evil, which may injure ordinary men yet more, because in his own case the poison found an antidote in the ardent homage his soul paid to Christ and in unfeigned faith in His atoning work. But in itself falsehood defiles and severs from God’s mind, as the truth gives communion and sanctification. Evil communications corrupt good manners.
2. Its Object
Scripture itself lays down, in a text already referred to, the criterion of its object so clearly as to preclude argument when it is understood. “And we have the prophetic word more sure whereunto ye do well to take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a squalid place, until the day dawn and the day star arise in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of its own interpretation. For not by man’s will was ever prophecy brought, but men spoke from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21).
Here we learn that the prophetic word was confirmed by the vision on the holy mount, where the King was seen transfigured, the Old Testament saints represented, the chosen witnesses of Israel in their natural bodies; and the Father’s voice was heard from the excellent glory pronouncing His complacency in His Son, the centre of the whole scene. The apostle, in his making known the transcendent blessings of the gospel, admits the value of taking heed to prophecy. It is like a lamp for those that need one where all is dark wretchedness, till the heart appreciates evangelic daylight, and, further, the heavenly hope of Christ coming to receive us to Himself, a light higher than the luminaries of heaven exceed a candle. How slow the Christian is to make good practically (and this the apostle urged) his own peculiar privileges! If it is so with us now, it was perhaps more so with those who then laboured under Jewish prejudice and were unwilling to admit aught superior to that which Daniel or David, Moses or Abraham, enjoyed. Vain thought! which none would have reproved more sternly than those saints of old. Did not the prophets (and such they were) seek and search diligently, who prophesied of the grace toward us, searching to what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ that was in them did point, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ (literally Christward), and the glories after them? To whom it was revealed that not unto themselves, but unto us they ministered those things which were now announced to us by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven; which things angels desire to look into ( 1 Peter 1:10-12). Can any words more explicitly assert the peculiar blessing attached to this day of, not promise only, but accomplishment enjoyed in the power of a present Spirit? Among other results is the heavenly light so far surpassing the lamp of prophecy, good as this is. The hope is as much enhanced as the faith; and love proved, tasted, and shed forth as it could not be before, whatever be the reasoning or traditions of men.
But further, we have it laid down as a known first principle, that no prophecy is of its own (i.e. isolated) solution (2 Peter 1:19). Local and temporal circumstances give occasion; but it forms part of a great whole, of which Christ the King is the centre. Taking it by itself is like severing a bough from a majestic tree, of which it is an integral part. All points to Him in that day. Hence the way in which both advents are connected habitually in the Old Testament, whilst the second is set forth prominently in the New. Hence the habit of the Spirit, when predicting the fall of Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, etc., of ever linking them with the day of Jehovah, when the Lord will in personal presence inflict vengeance on ungodly Jews and Gentiles. Making these prophecies of their own solution is when men stop short with present fact, and even misuse this to the deeper unbelief of effacing the great unravelling of that day when Jehovah alone shall be exalted, and every word verified indisputably by divine judgement.
Such is the genuine unforced meaning of this scriptural canon. It is not “our,” viz. the readers’, any more than “of one’s own,” viz. the prophet’s, solution; for neither is here in question. Not the prophet but the prophecy had as yet been before us. Nor again does
γένεσις production, but “interpretation.” The verb
γίνεται, here translated “is,” does not warrant any such thought. Even if we plead for its primitive force of becoming or coming, the meaning is that no prophecy of scripture becomes a matter of its own solution. It is by its nature such as to exclude isolated interpretation. It belongs to a vast system which has Christ and His kingdom for its object. For though the prophets were men, they “spoke from God” under the power of the Holy Spirit. He Who used them to write is the only source of sound interpretation; and this views each prophecy of scripture as a component part of God’s testimony to Christ, in and by Whom only His glory is secured and yet to be displayed.
This, it ought to be evident, excludes the notion that history interprets prophecy. Of course, man’s history, as far as it is true, must coincide with prophecy, as far as it is accomplished; but what of the great mass of prophecy which bears on the day of Jehovah? Will it not be too late to get its interpretation then? The very text itself disproves the thought: prophecy was given as a lamp for the dark place all through; and now that Christ is come, a better light — the True Light — shines, at last for the sons of light and day, indeed for all who truly bow to Him. Plainly one must understand or interpret aright the prophecy, before it can be applied save by guess-work to any event of history; but even so, if this be made all, prophecy is made of private solution. In fact it would be truer to say the converse — that prophecy interprets history; for God’s mind is given in prophecy, which ever looks to Christ s glory, anything short of which is at best partial and misleading. The only effectual interpreter of prophecy, as of all scripture, is His Spirit, Who deigns to work in the believer.
It is only then, as we seize the association of Christ with each subject coming before us in the prophetic word, that we really understand it as a whole or in detail. For the divine purpose is to display His glory on the earth, not only in a people called to the knowledge of Jehovah as His own, but with all nations yet to be blessed when His own people are blessed (Ps: 67; Isa. 60). It is Israel that have the earthly call and purpose of God, the nations then subordinately.
But there is blessing for none apart from Christ, the object, centre, and security of all the promises of God. And this, in varied form and fullness, the Old Testament demonstrates. Of old a curse came, not the blessing, as the law was violated, God’s witnesses were despised, and idolatry more and more prevailed, first in Ephraim, then in Judah, “till there was no remedy.” God’s people not only vanished from the land of promise, but were pronounced Lo-ammi (not-My-people). The return from Babylon, important as it may be, was but provisional, and in no way the restoration of God’s people according to patriarchal promises or early and later prophets. It was only a remnant of Judah and Benjamin, with individuals of other tribes especially of Levi, who were in time appointed to have their King, Messiah, presented to them, and, alas! rejected disdainfully to death but in that death glorifying God and atoning for sin, as He had already glorified the Father in a life that bespoke the Word made flesh,. full of grace and truth. When the Jew rejected the testimony of the Spirit to the Messiah exalted in heaven, Whom they had crucified on earth by the hand of lawless men, it was all over with the returned remnant, as before with the nation. The same evil heart of unbelief, which gave up Jehovah for idols, rejected Jehovah-Messiah in Jesus, as well as the gospel through His blood; and “wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” The King was wroth; and He sent His armies, and destroyed those murderers and burned their city, as the rejected Messiah forewarned (Matt. 22:7).
Then God began a new call above, believers from among Jews and Gentiles united to Christ on high, as the one body wherein is neither Jew nor Greek: all the old distinctions are blotted out; Christ is all and in all. They are not of the world, as Christ is not, they are heavenly, as He is heavenly, though they be on the earth for the little while that God is calling them out. This explains why the church of God is not properly an object of prophecy; for prophecy regards the earth and living man upon it. But the members of Christ have died with Him, and belong to Him for heaven, being warned against “all that is in the world,” and exhorted to set their minds on things above: a state not at all contemplated by the prophetic word, which is, we saw, as a lamp shining in a squalid place. This lamp we can use, and do well to heed; but we have by grace already a better light in our hearts, and are waiting for Him to take us where He is, the constant hope of the church, wholly independent of prophecy with its earthly times and seasons, its judgements and blessings under Messiah’s government here below.
But has God cast away His people? This the apostle has answered elaborately in the Epistle to the Romans (Rom. 11). To the saints in the metropolitan city of the world that then was, the Holy Spirit has declared on the contrary that the day is coming when “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:26), that is all Israel who survive the tremendous judgements of that day. He, Paul, was himself a pledge of it: as in Elijah’s time there was a remnant, so there was in the apostle’s day. No doubt, the mass now, yet more than then, are blinded, and salvation is for the Gentiles, not to cast off the Jews but to provoke them to jealousy, as Moses predicted (Deut. 32). Now, if their fall be the world’s wealth, what will be their future rise? Life from the dead. After all, the Gentile was but a wild olive grafted into the olive tree of promise, and is warned not to be high-minded but to fear, seeing how God spared not the natural branches. It is only Gentile pride and delusion that Israel are gone for ever to make themselves “the Israel of God,”1 and abide till time melts into eternity. Not so! Assuredly if the Gentile abide not in God’s goodness (and who will dare to affirm this?) he will be cut off, and the Jews will be grafted into their own olive tree. Then the apostle drops argument and figure, declaring in plain terms that a hardening in part (it has never been complete) has befallen Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in; “and so all Israel shall be saved,” according to the prophet (Isa. 49:20). This will be the true restoration of Israel in the day of Jehovah, when the Gentiles meet with condign judgement at His hand. It is only fleshly Israel that can be said to be “enemies for your sake as touching the gospel.” It is only they who are “beloved for the fathers’ sake, as touching the election.” What theologians call “the spiritual people,” “the Israel of God,” or believers, cannot answer to this language. It is the same people, enemies as regards the gospel yet beloved as regards election, who shall be saved. For, adds the apostle, the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance — they are subject to no change of mind on His part. God will assuredly restore His people yet.
Thus does the great prophet join the great apostle. “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In overflowing wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith Jehovah thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall my covenant of peace be removed, saith Jehovah that hath mercy on thee” (Isa. 54:7-10). So perfectly coincides the teaching of Paul with the prophecy of Isaiah; as both are set aside by the figment that it is henceforth only a question of the church, in which merge all that believe, whether Jew or Gentile: as if God had cast away His people according to Gentile conceit!
Without full credit to God’s purpose in this respect, the prophets are unintelligible. Given the restoration of Israel not only to their land, but to Jehovah their God, Whom they will own and see in their manifested Messiah; the field of prophecy begins to be truly discerned. Jerusalem is the city of the great King. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced.” More than carnage may open “that day,” when the garments, rolled in blood, shall even be for burning, for fuel of fire. But how blessed when they say, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given! And the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace, there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon the kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with judgement and with righteousness henceforth even for ever. The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this” (Isa. 9:6, 7).
Nor is this all. As grace called Gentiles when the Jews rejected the Messiah, so prophecy shows us Him in glory the Head of Israel and the Gentiles here below. “And it shall come to pass in that day [not in this], that the root of Jesse which standeth for an ensign of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek, and his resting-place shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:10). “And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him [the Son of man]; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). And Jehovah shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall Jehovah be one, and his name one” (Zech. 14:9).
The key of all is Christ seen in His various glory: not alone Only-begotten Son of God in personal right, but Christ Jesus a Man, dead, risen, and glorified in virtue of His work as well as person; Son of David, Son of man, and, withal Head over all things to His church, the body of Him Who filleth all in all. It is this fact which emerges with heavenly brightness in Ephesians and Colossians, as well as partially elsewhere. It is the omission of it (the mystery, hid in God from the ages, now revealed), which enfeebles alike Fathers, Greeks, Orientals, Copts, Abyssinians, Romanists, Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed, Moravians, Methodists, etc. Yet the proper character even of Christianity cannot be intelligently apprehended without it. Thus it is a far larger question than prophecy; for it affects all things spiritual, individual and corporate, inasmuch as we ought to be now on earth, as by-and-by in heaven, the answer and witness to Christ at God’s right hand.
Hence also we need not disparage in the least the Old Testament saints, but can allow ungrudgingly their future and heavenly glory in reigning with Christ. Hence we can leave adequate room and time for the displayed kingdom of Christ over the habitable world to come, which is therefore neither the present age nor yet eternity, but between the two. Then the Jews and the Gentiles shall be blessed under Christ’s reign — Jehovah King over all the earth, the peoples all suitably and sovereignly blessed, none confounded one with another, still less with the bride, the Lamb’s wife, the new Jerusalem, the metropolis not of earth only but of the universe in heavenly glory, yet specially connected with the earth. Even now on earth is neither Jew nor Gentile in that body of Christ, but He is all and in all.
Now there ought to be not the smallest hesitation about this great truth; for it is no question of prophecy as to its full revelation, but of the weightiest and plainest dogmatic scripture, as in Eph. 1:9, 10: “Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself for the administration of the fullness of the times, to sum (or head) up all things in the Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth — in him, in whom also we were allotted (or obtained) inheritance, being fore-ordained according to the purpose of him that worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will.” Thus it is sure that God’s purpose in the coming economy is to put all the universe, heavenly and earthly, under Christ as head, we who believe (whether Jews or Gentiles) being His joint-heirs in this unbounded and glorious inheritance; of which, as the apostle proceeds to explain, the Holy Spirit, Who has sealed us unto that day of redemption, is meanwhile the earnest in our hearts. The latter part of Colossians 1 may be compared in proof of the general purpose, grounded on the work of the cross, and of the church’s special relationship with Christ as the head of His body. Hence we shall reign in that day with Christ, not certainly giving up our characteristic blessings in heavenly places, and therefore, as Rev. 5:10 says, “over” rather than “on” the earth, where the Jews shall have the central place and first dominion (Micah 4:8), and the Gentiles willingly bow, even their kings and queens, to Jehovah’s disposal and ordering (Isa. 11; Isa. 49; Isa. 60; Isa. 66).
It is thus the special relationship with Christ that makes all clear in scripture, and assigns the just place to each, whether to Israel, or to the Gentiles. As the church was part of “the mystery,” which is expressly declared to be hid from ages and generations and hid in God, it is never as such the subject-matter of the prophets, though principles of the glorious future are already verified in and applied to the gospel now. We may regard it as bound up with, and eclipsed in, Christ (comp. Isa. 1:8, 9, with Rom. 8:33, 34). But when the day is come for the display of His glory before the universe, Rev. 21 shows the bride, the Lamb’s wife, as the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, the witness of grace, even then with healing for the nations (Rev. 22:2); as the earthly Jerusalem will be the witness still of earthly righteousness. “For that nation and kingdom that will not serve thee, shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted” (Isa. 60:12). She, in the heavenly places, will reign with Christ over the earth; Israel will be reigned over, but the inner circle on earth, as the Gentiles also more distantly but blessed indeed.
What throws all prophecy into confusion, darkness, and error, is making ourselves, the church, its object. This the church is not. Give Christ, the true centre, His place; then everything falls into order, and shines in the light of God before our souls. Such is the effect of God’s word intelligently enjoyed by His spiritual power. Without it all vision becomes “as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee, and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed. And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee; and he saith, I am not learned” (Isa. 29:11, 12). “By faith we understand.” There is no other way, nor ought there to be.
3. Its Occasion
The occasion, or moral ground, of prophecy is departure from God, Who sends thereon His word, which convicts of the sin, and holds out His intervention in power to deliver by the judgement of His and their adversaries those who believe. This we see verified in Eden from the fall of man. God at once appears on the scene, brings home to conscience the sin of each, and, in pronouncing judgement on the Serpent, points to the blessing that hangs on the triumph of the bruised Seed of woman, the bruiser of the Serpent’s head. A state of innocence before, or of fidelity afterwards, drew out no prophecy; which, on the contrary, laid the evil of the creature bare, and held out God’s sure resource in bringing in not only judgement of the evil but a better hope: the first man superseded by the Second.
So it is always as a general principle. If Enoch prophesied, it was, Behold, the Lord came with His holy myriads to execute judgement against all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly works, and of all their hard speech against Him (Jude 14, 15). If Noah so opened his mouth, it was the wickedness of Canaan that drew out the curse, whatever the blessing to Shem and Japheth. It was the foreseen oppression of Egypt and iniquity of the Amorites that formed the background for the predicted gift of the promised land to the seed of Abraham; and it was the too plain failure of his sons which led the way for dying Jacob to tell beforehand what should befall them in the latter days, culminating in the advent of Shiloh, to Whom the obedience (or gathering) of the peoples shall be, however long the interval between the first part and the second.
Man’s theory is that the people of Israel, their kings, and their prophets, stand forth in the history and in the prophecy of scripture as the representatives of God’s cause and of goodness; and that as the history shows them imperfect representatives, so they can only be imperfectly the subjects of predicted blessings, which did or did not belong to them in the measure of their faithfulness. Thus Moab was not all evil, Israel was not all good. Prophecy spoke without reserve of God’s triumphs and of His servants: if Israel belongs to God only imperfectly, her share in God’s triumphs must in that proportion be imperfect also. But the theory does not hold: for it is alleged on the one hand that Moab, Ammon, Amalek, are vanished out of history; it is allowed on the other that Israel exists still unchanged. Yet what were the sins of those nations compared with Israel’s, if at least we bow to the Lord’s estimate (Matt. 11:21-24)? Jonah’s case, too, is misused to prove that it all depends on circumstances whether prophecy could be fulfilled or not. In all cases the fulfilment is supposed to fall short of the strength of the prediction, because it was aimed at a more unmixed good and evil than ever was in any people. Christ, therefore, remains the real subject of all prophecy for good; the Son of David has reigned for more than eighteen hundred years, owned over all the earth as King and Lord, and of His kingdom there shall be no end!
Scripture in no way sanctions this sliding scale and the uncertain or partial fulfilment it involves. The only thing true is that Christ is the object and security, not only of all God’s promises to faith, but of executing His wrath and threats. He is the Son of God, in Whom there is life eternal for those that believe; He is the Son of man, the executor of judgement on those that believe not. That God used Jonah’s preaching to awaken the Ninevites to repentance for a season did not hinder Nineveh’s utter ruin ere long, as Nahum predicted, nor Nahum’s going on to the last Assyrian, when Jehovah will make a full end, and affliction shall not rise up a second time. He may go forth in the pride of power, imagining evil against Jehovah; but, behold, upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! Keep thy feasts, O Judah, perform thy vows; for the worthless shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off (Nahum 1:15). The Ruler out of Bethlehem shall be thy peace, when the Assyrian shall come into the land (Micah 5:2, 5). Prophecy, whatever it may take in of partial accomplishment, stays not short of the consummation at the end of the age, when He, Whose right it is, takes the kingdom. Thus what is partially accomplished amply encourages that faith which ever waits and longs for His appearing, whilst it furnishes material, because it is necessarily partial till then, for the unbelief which doubts the past and disregards the future, because its pleasure and its confidence are in man, not in the true God Whom it knows not.
But the thoughts even of good men are far from God’s mind and counsel; and deeply interesting it is to trace how true it is that moral ruin in man’s past brings out more and more God’s voice in prophecy. Never were the Israelites in the wilderness lower than when Balaam was hired of Balak to curse them, after their manifold unfaithfulness in the day of temptation. His false prophet went forth to meet! But Jehovah met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth. In His moral government He passes over no fault in His people, but blames and chastises. Before the enemy He brings out His thoughts and grace and purposes of glory. Every effort of Balak draws forth a fresh blessing from Balaam, compelled to be the mouthpiece in Jehovah’s hand. Israel dwell alone, are justified, and beautiful in God’s eyes; they have Messiah coming to be their crown of glory and power. But even so it is Israel, and not some other people, and carrying all expressly on to “the latter days.” For no prophecy of scripture is of its own or isolated interpretation. It is part of God’s revelation in view of Christ’s glory on earth in that day.
So Moses’ song (Deut. 32) flows from Jehovah’s unchangeable purpose, whatever the undisguised failure of Israel, the centre of His government of the world (v. 8). The very call of the Gentiles is but to provoke them to jealousy (v. 21), as the apostle drew from this long after, when it came to pass (Rom. 10:19). No doubt, the Gentiles proved utterly unworthy, and God will take vengeance on them (vv. 40-42); but even when He restores Israel as He will (v. 36), He calls the Gentiles to rejoice with His people (v. 43): a principle already, as we know, accomplished in the gospel, but to be fulfilled in the kingdom of Messiah.
When the priests failed as fully as the people, we hear of Samuel raised up on God’s part; as Peter says (Acts 3:24), “beginning with Samuel and all the prophets.” And as the prophet was raised up in sovereign grace to speak for God, so a King is held out even before this as the hope of Israel. “And I will raise me up a faithful priest that shall be according to that which is in my heart and in my mind; and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever”. The Messiah is the key, the King in God’s counsel, the new and only true Anointed (1 Sam. 2:35), before Whom the priest should walk (soon to have an earnest in David and Solomon who rejected the house of Ithamar, and brought forward Zadok of the line of Phinehas), as will be seen fully in the kingdom.
Then, when the kings even of David’s line fail more and more palpably, the prophets proper, who were inspired to write their imperishable books whether on a great or on a lesser scale, were raised up of God. Here, if we take Isaiah as a sample of the greater, and Hosea of the less, we may see the same principle as clearly at least as ever. For the introductory chapters (1-5) of Isaiah self-evidently lay the ruin of Israel as the basis of his announcing divine intervention in judgement of evil, and mercy to the repentant remnant, as chapter 6. reveals his formal inauguration on that very ground. Nor is Hosea 1 less explicit, called during the same kings of Judah, but adding Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, with children given as signs of the kingdom ceasing from the house of Israel; of no mercy thereon and, what was still more serious, of Lo-ammi pronounced, yet withal of the gathering of both another day under one head; “for great shall be the day of Jezreel,” thus carrying us on to the glorious scenes of the latter day. In both the ruin was imminent and irretrievable, save provisionally, till Messiah reign over the earth.
But Christ was wholly rejected in that capacity, as the New Testament clearly shows, in fulfilment of Psalm 2 and a crowd of Old Testament prophecies. He has never reigned for one day as Son of David. Undoubtedly the cross brought in higher things, and He sits on the Father’s throne, where David never did, never will sit; as by-and-by He will sit on His own throne. Then not only will the holy hill of Zion be the seat of His power, but He will ask and receive the nations for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession, to break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel — a statement of His rule clearly future, and incompatible with His grace as now under the gospel. And though we Christians gladly own Him Lord, “King” does not express His relation to us, but Head, for we are members of His body; and the difference is as momentous in practice as in doctrine. In that day, when Israel is restored, and spiritually as well as literally in their land under Messiah and the new covenant, the nations shall be blessed, and bow before the Son of man. In that day the races that have vanished out of history will once more reappear, according to prophecy, as Isaiah distinctly declares (Isa. 11. 14), and others also. The mouth of Jehovah has spoken it. Infidels cry, Impossible. Good men as credulously listen to their vanity, as they fear to trust the word that lives and abides for ever. But God will justify it in its time, and all the more, because not a trace appears now. Scripture cannot be broken. Races remain, whatever the shiftings of time, place, or circumstances, as Jehovah will prove in honour of His King.
John 13:31, 32 puts the case from His own lips in the light of God. The moral glory of the cross is the basis of the Son of man’s heavenly glory, and this straightway, i.e. without waiting for the kingdom which He is to receive, when He returns in visible power and splendour. Then only will the inhabitants of the world learn the righteousness which they dislike and disdain, while favour is shown as now in the gospel of grace to the wicked (Isa. 26:9, 10). Meanwhile Jesus is a world rejected Lord, but on the throne of His Father — a seat which none ever had or can share; and He will only take His own throne (Rev. 3:21) at His coming. And hence the only true place of the Christian now, according to the uniform strain of New Testament teaching and sanctioned practice, where fellowship with Christ’s sufferings and conformity to His death are the highest privileges. We who are His are called in the measure of our faith and love to share loyally His reproach in separation from the world till He comes, Who is Lord of all. Then shall we be with Him where He is and for ever; then too shall we reign with Him, instead of being blessed and reigned over here below: a prospect bright beyond all thought, so that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the coming glory.
4. Its Sphere
Prophecy is occupied, not with heaven, but with the earth, and consequently with Israel and the nations. This is evident to any familiar with its general scope or its details. Principles which apply in the highest degree to the Christian, the gospel, or the church, may and do appear therein. But the more closely the prophets are scrutinised, the more evident it becomes that Christianity and the church as such lie outside its purview, and that a wholly different condition is contemplated: the government of the world, or divine dealings there to introduce it, not the action of heavenly grace by the power and presence of the Spirit, uniting those who believe, freed or justified from sin, to Christ their Head on high.
Hence it is, as the attentive reader of scripture will not fail to discern, that times and seasons and external signs, as they are not for heaven, so belong not to heavenly men while on earth, save as they may read and understand them concerning others. They are given in profusion about God’s earthly people, whether for their own help directly, or to signify God’s hand on their enemies. Where the Jew is concerned, alike in the New Testament as in the Old, there do we find those suited landmarks. The hope of the Christian and of the church stands wholly on the Lord’s sure promise of love. “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you; I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] ye may be also” John 14:2, 3). It is His word, expressly and wholly independent of earthly events.
As their faith, so is their hope. Pharaoh was not in question, nor Balak, nor Sihon, nor Og, nor the many hostile kings of Canaan. Satan did resist to blood by human instruments; but an infinitely greater must be met in death and judgement of sin. And so it was in the life of Christ, if we read it, as we ought, in the light of heaven and eternity. There sin is seen levelling all distinctions, and no difference before God between Jew and Gentile is proclaimed; for all are lost. But grace through faith saves all equally and for ever, and constitutes a “new” man of which Christ is head above, wherein is neither Jew nor Gentile, but all are one in Him. This is the church, the fruit of sovereign favour, the heavenly Eve of the last Adam. It has nothing to do now with the government of the world, or with the execution of earthly judgements. God in love gave His Only-begotten Son, not only to become man for us men, but even to be made sin for us sinners, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him, yea, and be raised up together with Him and seated together in Him in heavenly places indeed, in the glory of His grace: for His own counsels in Christ alone account for it all. We are accordingly called to a walk quite different from that which was imposed by the law on the ancient people of God; created, as the apostle says, “for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them,” the details of which fill the New Testament in general. Our worship too is confessedly distinctive, as is our service or ministry. Christ is the centre and object and expression of all, as the Holy Ghost is the power acting by the word of God. And the heavenly hope is the crown: His own coming, we are sure of soon, we know not when, to receive us to Himself and present us with Himself in the Father’s house on high.
Prophecy, strictly so called, is quite distinct, and bears directly on the future tribulation, whether that which is called “the great one,” out of which God-fearing Gentiles come from every nation and tribe and people and tongue (Rev. 7), or the unparalleled hour of Jacob’s trouble, out of which he will be saved (Jer. 30:7). In either we never hear of the church; and no wonder. For the Lord, apart from those predicted sorrows, will have called us to meet Him in the air; so that we follow Him from heaven when He appears to deliver the Jews and Israel who are ready to be swallowed up by their adversaries. On all this the lamp of prophecy sheds its light, deeply needed for the squalid place of the world. But we can say believingly, and without presumption, that we are not of the world, for Himself has told us so. We therefore find a better hope spread before us in His word, though many lose it by confounding it with the just expectation of the Jewish remnant, who look for deliverance by His appearing to take vengeance on their foes. Our hope has no such connection, as it is by our being caught up to meet Him. It is the translation of heavenly grace. For “that day” we come along with Him from heaven. Hence when Christ, our life, shall be manifested, then shall we also be manifested with Him in glory. “The day” is a time of displayed divine power, when “every eye” shall see, and Jehovah be exalted in that day. On this all prophecy converges.
“The land,” and the earth too as a whole, will then become a direct object of divine blessing; and the reader of Old Testament scripture is inexcusable, who overlooks the many obvious places in which God pledges Himself to this end. Doubtless His people and the nations are nearer to His heart; but the long groaning earth, the creation travailing in pain together until now, shall be set free from the bondage of corruption into the liberty (not of grace, which is for souls by the Spirit now, but) of the glory of the children of God at Christ’s appearing. Does this surprise or offend any? It was here the Son of God, Who created all, became man, and lived, and died, by the grace of God. It was here was manifested the wonder of a divine person humbling Himself in obedience unto death — yea, death of the cross. It was here God was glorified in the Holy One made sin and here that Satan was vanquished for ever by Him Who had accomplished redemption by His blood, and was raised in power according to the Spirit of holiness. If heaven and God’s throne be the worthy reward, this earth shall be delivered and reconciled. It may be a little spot compared with the universe, but it is the little spot where Christ wrought in divine love a work matchless in value, to which not man only is indebted for blessing, but God for His retrieved moral glory, and in virtue of which blessing the man who believes is made God’s righteousness. If sin of the first Adam subjected all to vanity, how meet it is that the second Man should more than restore all things! How blessed that Satan should be banished, not only grace as now reigning to eternal life in Christ, and that Christ, no longer hidden, should establish the rejoicing earth with His power and blessing, yet still to the glory of God the Father!
Undoubtedly our best portion is in Christ and with Christ where He is, to share His love and see His glory: better even than being manifested in the glory which the Father has given Him and He has given us, when we shall be perfected in one, that the world may know that the Father sent Christ and loved them as He loved Him. For they appear together in the same heavenly glory, as we see in Rev. 17:14; Rev. 19:14; Rev. 21:9, etc. But every spiritual mind will feel that it is far better to have Christ’s desire fulfilled, for which He asks the Father as to that which He has given Him — that where He is they also may be with Him, that they may behold His glory which the Father has given Him, for He loved the Son before the world’s foundation. There shall we be in the richest grace; nothing else could explain it, as it all depends on the Father and the Son, and is outside all prophecy, save so far as the very exceptional glimpses in Rev. 21 and 22 may suppose, if not reveal it. We can readily account for this exception; because at that time those who are heavenly enter with Christ on the reign over the earth; and it is exactly the province of prophecy to speak of God’s government of the world, which cannot be in the full sense till Christ has taken His great power and reigns, and we shall reign with Him.
There is thus a two-fold error to avoid. Many, if not all, the post-apostolic fathers of early date were chiliasts (without noticing other heterodox men); and their tendency doubtless was to see little, if at all, more than the earth glorious and the glorified saints with Christ: an unworthy view which not only gave up heaven, but shut out Israel from the Messiah and the new covenant, to say nothing of the Gentiles, blessed distinctively on the earth. Revolting from the thought of nothing higher than the millennial earth, Origen, Jerome, Augustine, etc., thought only of heaven for those that are Christ’s, and saw no prospect for Israel and the nations, beyond coming into Christianity by the gospel as now preached, which they conceived to constitute Christ’s everlasting dominion, where all nations should serve Him in perpetuity. Moderns etherealized yet more, so that the soul practically became all for heaven at death, and resurrection faded away save in name. Revival of prophetic study and testimony recovered many from views so vague. But rarely have the children of God taken in the full truth of placing all things, both those in heaven and those on earth, under Christ as Head and the heavenly saints, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, thus comprehending the universe as His, both heavenly and earthly, to the glory of God the Father. This alone maintains the promised earthly blessings of the Old Testament, not set aside but sealed in the New Testament, leaves room for all that divine mercy has in store for Israel and the nations and creation generally, and without confusion conciliates with the accomplishment of the prophets the resurrection glory of the departed saints from the beginning, and above an, one incomparable results of the mystery of Christ and the church, now revealed in the New Testament, then to be displayed in the heavens and over the earth.
Thus also is the progressive character of the divine dealings made evident. For under Christ’s reign in this fullness of glory, Israel will advance from the old to the new covenant and to their Messiah glorified, as the church from her present anomalous ruin to be the glorious bride of Christ; and all nations be delivered from their infidelity, superstitions, and other abominations, to flourish in righteousness and peace; the whole earth be filled with His glory, and the heavens no longer severed from it through the first man’s sin, but maintained in the power of the Second Man from heaven. Not only is there nothing retrograde in any sphere, but there is blessed progress everywhere for heaven and earth. It is only from looking at part of the coming glory that Christians have failed to seize the truth of an advance so marked and universal.
Prophecy then treats of the earthly people, or rather the righteous remnant (Isa. 1; Isa. 4; Isa. 6; Isa. 10, etc.), saved by the Lord’s appearing for the destruction of their enemies, not by translation to heaven, as the heavenly saints will know like Christ Himself, without any dealing in vengeance on the world. The difference is simple and complete. Hence it connects itself with day-light dawning and the day-star arising in the heart, as compared with the prophetic lamp. Our hope rests on the assurance of His love that He will come and take us to heaven prophecy tells of blessing and glory for Israel and the nations too on earth by the judgement He will execute on its evil. Hence a Christian might and ought to be waiting for Christ with all his heart, who knew little of prophecy, however good to be known in its place; as on the other hand, souls might be familiar with prophecy, on whose heart that heavenly hope has scanty power, if it have dawned there at all. The apostle Peter was solicitous that the believers he addressed, besides heeding prophecy, should enjoy a brighter light and the hope that belongs to it.
Thus, to say nothing of prophetic “burdens” on the various nations that assailed or oppressed Israel, it is striking to observe that the blessed result of prophecy is, in every case where it is predicted, associated not with the energy of divine grace as now in the gospel, but with the unmistakable execution of God’s judgements at the close of the age. Who does not hail with joy the assurance that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9). It is certain, however, that the prophet declares that the Lord shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth and with the breath of His lips (cf. Isa. 30:27, 33) slay the wicked (Isa. 11:4), as introducing this blessedness here below. The apostle cites this in 2 Thess. 2:8, and binds it up with the manifestation of the Lord Jesus. Moses had referred to the same thing in Num. 14:21. Judgement there too, not preaching the gospel, is connected with filling all the earth with the glory of Jehovah. Hab. 2:12-14 is yet more explicit; for after pronouncing woe on violence and iniquity, the prophet asks if it is not of Jehovah that the peoples labour for the fire, and the nations weary themselves for vanity: “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea.” What the peoples toil at is but for the fire to consume; their weariness for vanity (cf. Jer. 51:58) the judgements of the Lord will demonstrate, but will do more and better. They will cause the earth to be filled with the knowledge of His glory. Then only will the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness, whatever be the vain hopes of Gentile conceit. Not the gospel in man’s mouth, but judgement in the Lord’s hand, will inaugurate the earth’s deliverance, blessing, and glory (compare Dan. 2:35, 44, 45; Dan. 7:11-14). The gospel is now calling and forming souls, apart from the world, for heaven.
5. Its Language
As much is often essayed to mystify prophecy on the score of its language, it may be well here to notice the subject a little.
The fact is that all language is more or less figurative, more especially where it is poetic or impassioned. History, if it be not a dead chronicle, abounds with figures; but none the less does it aim, or at least profess, to give nothing but the truth. Simple language is distinguished from figurative, though both styles are freely used and understood readily in all compositions, as well as in oral address and ordinary conversation. Carnal and spiritual are the true correlatives, as also literal and mystical; but these respectively apply to the sense of what is said or written, rather than to the diction. Allegory, parable (or its abbreviation in proverb), and symbol, again, are varieties of form in which truth may be conveyed, but they ought not to be confounded with figurative language. A symbol may be a material object, actually existing, and applied morally; or it may be made up by combining in one a variety of existing objects, so as to give God’ s moral view of what is thus revealed, as the four beasts or Gentile imperial powers of Dan. 7, the fourth of which reappears in Rev. 11-19. But symbolic language is exceptional, and seems limited to prophecy during the times of the Gentiles. It is in no way characteristic of prophecy in general. In every case what was conveyed was real, not artificial: when accomplished, it is history from the divine side.
It must never be forgotten, however, that, whatever the form or figure employed, the subject-matter referred to in prophecy is not ideal but real, any more than in the rest of scripture. It may be a fact or a place, a person or a people, a time or a state of things. Simple language may be used alone, or with figures to impart vividness, as in all speech; or symbol may be the method, as sometimes in Ezekiel and Zechariah, and yet more in Daniel and the Revelation; but what is conveyed is a reality, and not a figure. Poetical elevation is not uncommon, any more than figurative representation; and only in an exceptional way, as in Daniel 11, have we the revelation of events successive in relation to each other, though with gaps first and last, for which room is carefully made in the terms of the prophecy itself, before the grand terminus of all, the conflict of the close, in which figures for the first time “the king” in “the land,” as distinct from him of the north and him of the south. “The king” it is as idle to confound with Antiochus Epiphanes as with the Pope or Buonaparte. It is the final catastrophe, ending where all the visions of Daniel, and we may say generally of the prophets, do end, in the coming kingdom of the Messiah. As they have one divine authority, so have they one glorious consummation, when He takes His great power and reigns. Thus, as all prophecy looks to that end, none is of private or isolated interpretation. It is the Spirit glorifying Christ, when He shows the things that are to come.
The Revelation, as it is the latest, so it is by far the most elaborate, of all prophetic books, consisting throughout of visions, in which symbolic objects fill a larger place than anywhere else in scripture. Still, it is to be observed that the prophet conveys literally what he saw in the plainest language. The objects and acts in the scenes which he in the Spirit saw, and the words announced to his ears, are given with precision. The symbols we have to study and comprehend in the light of general usage and of the particular context; for symbolic forms, though less pliant than the ordinary expressions of thought, are, like the rest, modified by their associations; and the Holy Spirit alone can guide rightly in this and in all else of scripture; as common sense does in the affairs and intercourse of natural life. Save in the symbolism which forms a comparatively small part of prophecy, its language differs only in degree from that of scripture generally, and must be interpreted on exactly the same principle. Indeed even the symbolic portion finds its counterpart in the types not only of the Pentateuch, but of scriptural history as a whole. The form may vary according to divine wisdom, but one mind and purpose will be found to pervade all. Every scripture is inspired of God; and as Christ is the image of the invisible God, and He alone declared the Father, so is He the object of all revelation, and others only appear as related to Him.
The late Dr. P. Fairbairn (Prophecy, 86), who sought to allegorise the prophetic word, contends that, if Gen. 3:15 is to be read literally, “it speaks merely of the injuries to be received from serpents on the one side, and of the killing of serpents on the other: and any member of Eve’s future family, who might have the fortune to kill a serpent, should, by so doing, verify the prophecy.” But no spiritual mind could tolerate such an interpretation, no fair mind allow the relevancy of the argument. Jehovah Elohim addressed the tempter, and winds up His sentence by the words (so pitiably travestied for controversial purposes) which, understood in simple faith, have comforted believers from that day to this. It is burlesque, not argument, and utterly vain to maintain that Israel means the church, or that Jerusalem means the New Jerusalem, which is the desired conclusion. Nor is there the slightest force in explaining away the bearing of Isaiah 40:3, which was accomplished in the Baptist’s ministry preparing the way of Jehovah; as Isaiah 53 was in Messiah’s humiliation and atonement. But all that these scriptures say is not yet fulfilled, and cannot be till His second advent in power and glory, which will make good every word which the allegorical school dissipate into thin air. The rejection of the herald and of his Lord has suspended very important parts of both predictions as of prophecy in general, which await “that day,” when Jerusalem’s heart shall hear what is spoken, and rejoice that her warfare is accomplished and her iniquity is pardoned: then the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. Even the first prophecy, like the great mass, awaits that day for its full effect in the execution of judgement on the Serpent. For prophecy, as the rule, lets us see the glorious end of God when Christ takes His great power and reigns. We may and ought to see what faith alone can see now; but the future King of glory will be the public display to every eye.
Those whose theory it is that all prophecy is ideal, have to face the fact that a vast deal given out by the prophets has been fulfilled literally. Ignorant self-will denies in vain what is patent. Its accomplishment is plain in Nineveh and Babylon, in Tyre and Sidon, in Edom and Egypt, as well as in the Medo-Persian and the Macedonian powers, to say nothing of Rome; above all, in Israel before the Assyrian and Chaldean captivities, and in the subsequent partial return of the Jews to be dispersed again, as they were by the Romans, still more terribly after the cross of Christ and the rejected gospel. In the predictions simple language, figures, and symbols were employed as God saw fit; but the cities, the nations, and the lands were known historically, as the changes were punctually accomplished; and many an unbeliever has been arrested by this evidence, to learn still better and deeper things from God’s word, even Christ and His redemption.
Take an example of symbol in Ezek. 17. The parable of the eagles is as determinate as if the prediction had been couched in literal terms. The scripture itself interprets the first great eagle as the king of Babylon, the second as Pharaoh. By the breaking off the topmost twig of the cedar of Lebanon, and placing it in a city of traffic, was meant the king of Babylon putting down Jehoiachin, and carrying him captive to Babylon. By the taking of the seed of the land to become a vine of low stature, we are to understand his setting Zedekiah (for so Mattaniah was new named by the conqueror) to be his vassal king in the land. The king of Egypt, though typified by a great eagle with great wings and much plumage, is not said to be of long pinions, nor with feathers of various colours like the king of Babylon. Yet Zedekiah breaks his oath, and turns for aid to Egypt against Babylon, to the destruction of his kingdom by Jehovah’s decree. The manner of conveyance differs from that of history; but the parties in view, and the results of the action, are no less certain, fixed and exclusive. If there are general lessons in divine prophecy, so there are in inspired history. Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh-Hophra (the Apries of the Greeks, and perhaps Psamatik 3. of the Egyptian monuments) are here intended, and none else. So it is with the two deposed Jewish kings.
But it has been contended with no small assurance that Ezekiel, referring in Ezek. 17 to Isa. 2, connects it with circumstances which oblige us to understand the elevation of the sacred mount spiritually, and as verified in what has already been, and not in what is to be. the reference is dim to moderate eyes, without disputing that the elevation of Moriah is of a moral kind. But the evidence is certain that the glorious promise is future in both chapters. In the tender young twig from the highest branch of the lofty cedar is undoubtedly meant the Son of David, and not Zerubbabel. Yet it is not the first advent, but the second, which is in the perspective of the prophecy. It is the kingdom, and in no way the church. Never will the “little stone” expand into the great mountain that fills all the earth till the blow is struck on the toes of the image of the Gentile powers and breaks them all into pieces, like chaff to be swept away by the wind. The lowly condition of Messiah is no doubt pointed out here, but yet more the power and glory of His kingdom, when He is set, as He will be set, on His holy hill of Zion. The church on the contrary, is unfaithful to her calling if she be not a despised pilgrim and stranger here below, as He was, till she joins her coming Bridegroom in the air, before she appears with Him, when He appears to fulfil His glory over all the earth, as He will in that day. Symbolic language therefore is no more vague than any other.
Again, the attempt to turn the prophetic style and diction into an engine for setting one prophecy in opposition to another is unworthy of a Christian. Isa. 56:7, 8; Isa. 60: Isa. 66:21-23, are in no conflict with Isa. 56:3-5; Isa. 65:17; Isa. 66:1-3; any more than Jer. 3:16 with Jer. 30:18-22; Jer. 31:31; Jer. 33:15-22. Such objections spring from ignorance; for evidently the statements arrayed, one against another are quite consistent, and teach distinct truths. So Ezekiel’s last vision, where the temple is so important on earth, in no way contradicts John’s last vision of the New Jerusalem on high, wherein is no temple. These cavils are a fair sample of the follies of spiritualizing, which confounds heaven with earth, and sets prophet against prophet, and even the same inspired men against themselves. It is too sad to find such teaching in a believer, set forth and accepted with no small blowing of trumpets, though worthy only of an infidel. But it may be for that very reason the more instructive a warning against false principles of interpretation. Nor is it prophecy only that is misunderstood. The error substitutes Jewish for Christian relationship to our Lord, destroys that bridal separateness which is enjoined on the church (2 Cor. 11:2, etc.), and consecrates desires and ways of undisguised worldliness to the dishonour of God and His word about us.
Granted that prophecy in each case exceeds what history can tell. this is an essential constituent of its character. It is a vast system of divine prediction, the centre of which circle is Christ, and Christ assuming by God’s gift the government of the world with Israel nearest to Him at the end of this age. If the prophecies, even about races supposed to have vanished, were exhausted, every one might be made of its own interpretation. But it is not so. They look onward to “that day.” Their partial accomplishment is the pledge of all that remains to be fulfilled. Faith, accepting the part, assuredly awaits the whole.
Unbelief, over-looking the divine mind, works evilly in two forms. Some are too instructed to deny the tallying of facts with the words of the prophets. Starting with the assumption that prediction is impossible, they essay to prove that the alleged predictions must have been written after the event. Hence the importance of knowing when the prophet wrote; for, this once clear, their inspiration by God flows from the correspondence of word and fact, which is confessed. There is another class, however, who, if they could, would pare down or eliminate all exactitude, and reduce the word of prophecy as much as possible to general principles and ideal forms, without definite line or historical issue. Vagueness of interpretation is so complete that even in the Apocalypse distinct prediction is nowhere, unless there remain enough Protestantism to discern Romanism in Babylon.
It is vain to reason from the curse on “the Serpent,” or the raising up of “David” in the future (Ezek. 34:23, 24), against a strict and full accomplishment of prophecy. All who are worthy of consideration agree that the context demands the great enemy in the one case, and the great King of Israel in the other; all repudiate a lowering literality, with which the surrounding words are incompatible. There is a genuine as well as a spurious literalism, with figures interspersed, as in Isa. 2 or 40, which none but adversaries urge in their efforts after allegory. As vain is it to argue the discrepancy of Isaiah in his later chapters, which await the days of the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; as do the passages cited from Jeremiah, and yet more obviously those from Ezekiel. That Revelation 21 is symbolical is true, as it treats of a heavenly object; whereas all the others speak of Israel and the Gentiles on the earth in plain terms, with figures here and there. Scripture is perfectly consistent. The fault is in the confusion of its misinterpreters. Israel and Judah mean expressly the two houses or families of Jacob’s posterity, and none other; Zion and the mountain of Jehovah’s house mean the seats of the throne and the temple respectively in the land, and the Gentiles are the nations of the earth, distinct from Israel here below, and from the church and risen saints generally on high. The attempt to spiritualize these objects is a mere dream, which no idealist among Christians at least has ventured to act on consistently. For the theory is that all these objects distinguished in prophecy are the Christian church now, or in the future, under the gospel. What? Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, and the New Jerusalem, Zion, Moriah, and the blessed Gentiles too! Can any scheme to interpret be more despairing or grotesque? It is really the aim of the enemy to discredit and destroy the true force of the prophecy, and thus of God’s word altogether. The result is little but cloudland, as it would be wholly, if it were applied logically throughout.
If it had been drawn from an induction of scripture that prophecy is not mere history anticipated, but admits of a perspective, and that an accomplishment may be true and not complete, that only the manifested kingdom of our Lord in a day yet to come will exhaust it in its opening, its establishment, and its results, no sober Christian could rightly deny this. But the principle is false; for as the rule, prophecy sets forth divine intervention, not in grace, as in the gospel, but in judgement and power, as in the world-kingdom of our Lord and His Christ. There are common grounds of mercy and exceptional hints, which were fulfilled in part, and justify the gospel meanwhile, as the New Testament shows. But prophecy cannot be fulfilled as a whole till Christ be glorified in Israel and their land, the centre of earth’s promised blessing, of which it speaks abundantly. Incredulity avails itself, not only of extravagant spiritualizing on the part of erring Christians, but of fulfilment not yet complete, to deny what has been really accomplished. Let us search and see how that part was accomplished, and thus learn what to expect for the future. That there were great moral principles, that there was a manifestation of God’s ways and glory, is most true; but these are actual facts before all eyes. All this we shall find in the light of the New Testament; not less, but far more, we may surely expect for the day when every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him, whatever the peace, joy, and blessing, and glory that follow.
But it is pleaded by the allegorists of the Old Testament, that the apostle Paul in particular sanctions their principle of interpretation; and they cite in proof Rom. 2:28, 29; Gal. 4:26; Gal. 6:16; and Heb. 12:22. these scriptures, however, do not touch the question, and are therefore invalid for their purpose. Let us review them in their order.
In the first, the apostle is expressly arguing with the Jew from ver. 17, and charging home his guilt notwithstanding his privileges; as he had dealt with the Gentile in the latter half of Rom. 1, and in the first half of Rom. 2 with the speculative moralist, who might pique himself on being no longer an idolater. In order to afford any show of reason, the text in question should have been an address to Gentiles treating them now as Jews; whereas it is to the Jew strictly and exclusively, to show that his privileges can in no way screen him if ungodly, and that he only is an accepted Jew who is so inwardly. There is not a thought accordingly of calling believing Gentiles, Jews.
Nor is there any satisfactory ground in Gal.4:26; and this is the more in point because the apostle does say that Abraham’s two sons, and their mothers, contain an allegory; not the language of the prophets, but the persons and facts in Genesis. “Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to the Jerusalem that now is; for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother,” the critical text rejecting the word “all.” The truth is that this scripture disproves the hypothesis, instead of giving the least warrant to construe Jerusalem of the church. Our mother, says the apostle, is “the Jerusalem that is above.” The note to p. 32 <search for Gal. 6:16> has shown “the Israel of God” to mean those Israelites who now believe the gospel, and so to give no licence to call Christians, Israel, or to read Israel in the Old Testament into Christians. The general body of believers are distinguished from this special class, “the Israel of God,” in the verse itself.
In the last passage, Heb. 12:22, the apostle contrasts with Sinai (the mountain of the nation’s responsibility under law, with its associations of judicial terror and gloom) Mount Zion to which the Christians had come, no less conspicuous as the seat of royal grace, which was won for the true king of God’s choice in the past, after man’s choice had fallen by Philistine hands instead of working deliverance; Jehovah’s resting place for ever, for there He will surely set His King, upon His holy hill of Zion. But the Epistle proceeds in the next clause to distinguish it from the city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem, as well as from myriads of angels, a general assembly, and from the church of firstborn ones, with which last the hypothesis identifies Zion. Any intelligent Christian has only to weigh the passage in order to be satisfied that those addressed are here said to have come (of course by faith) to the entire circle of what is to be blessed in the coming day, rising up from Zion to God, Judge of all, and thence coming again to the blood-sprinkling, that speaketh better than Abel for the earth, when curse shall yield to peace and glory. No disproof of the traditionary confusion can be conceived more complete or decided.
There is another consideration which must strike every unbiased mind. The restoration of Israel is so plainly intimated in the very scriptures which declare their ruin and scattering that some of the allegorizing school admit cordially, not their conversion only, but their return nationally, though truly renewed and for such peace and glory in their land as they never had of old. Now this is to give up their false principle. For were it to stand logically, it is hard to conceive how on that principle God could predict His gracious purpose of restoring, in the latter day, Israel for blessing in their land under the Messiah and the new covenant. Taken in their plain and uniform meaning, the prophets are full of that blessed expectation for Israel in divine mercy, but not without hints here and there of grace toward the Gentile, sometimes during their eclipse, as in Isa. 65:1, 2, and Hosea 1:10. Yet these texts afford no pretence for the identification, but the contrary.
It is full of interest to observe the spiritual skill which was given to the apostles Paul and Peter in quoting from Hosea. The former, in writing (Rom. 9:25, 26) to the saints in Rome — chiefly Gentiles — applies, not only Hosea 2:23, which predicts the future recall of Israel, but also Hosea 1:10, which reveals the actual call of Gentiles, not to be His people as Israel shall be by-and-by, but to have the blessed title of Christians now, “sons of the living God.” Mark the singularity of the phrase “in the place where it was said unto them Lo-ammi, there it shall be said unto them, ‘sons’”. It was among the nations while the Jews are not recognised as such. The latter, in writing (1 Peter 2:10) to the Christian Jews scattered in Asia Minor, applies only Hosea 2:23. The mass of their unbelieving brethren forfeits any such privilege now, however surely to be made good to those that repent at the last, as God declares it will when the prophets are to be fully accomplished. Those who now believe anticipate that blessing (with much more peculiar to Christianity), “who were once not a people, but now God’s people; who were not objects of mercy, but now obtained mercy.” Only in the verses following it is carefully shown that, instead of being sown in the earth, never more to be rooted up, but to flourish for ever in the bright kingdom of Messiah here below, they are called to follow Him in present rejection and reproach and long-suffering, “as pilgrims and strangers” till His appearing in glory. This is the present calling of the Christian.
6. Some Old Testament Prophecies Referred To In The New Testament
In Matt. 1:23 we have Isa. 7:14 cited, and applied to the birth of the Messiah. The facts stated prove its literal fulfilment. Now there are symbols and figures, as well as simple language, in Isa. 7 — Isa. 9:7; but this does not hinder the Holy Spirit stamping the prophecy of the Incarnation, not as an “idea” or general principle, but as an objective fact. There were other children for signs and for wonders in Israel — Shear-jashub already born, and Maher-shalal-hash-baz about to be, sons of the prophet; but they are as distinct from the virgin’s Son Immanuel, as Hezekiah, already a dozen years old at least and born before Ahaz came to the throne. Neither he, nor Isaiah’s children, were born of the virgin; nor could even Hezekiah, still less a future unknown son of Ahaz, call it his land, as Immanuel can, Whose name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, the Destroyer of the last Assyrian, and the Deliverer and King on David’s throne for ever. Alas! there is the secret root of unbelief. He is the Great Unknown, not the writer of Isa. 40-66, though Isaiah’s was indeed the pen that indited them, but Isaiah’s theme, the virgin’s Son, in the striking parenthesis of his introductory chapters. Had men but seen as God reveals Him at the beginning, they had not doubted the voice of God through Isaiah at the end.
Even the chief priests and scribes (Matt. 2:4-6) could answer unhesitatingly as to the place where Messiah should be born. It was none other than Bethlehem of Judæa according to Micah 5:2. The Holy Spirit in no way discountenances, but accepts the light they saw from the lamp of prophecy. Luke 2 adds the providential ordering by which Joseph went from the north of the land to this particular spot in the south. God was taking care, we may boldly say, that the word should be fulfilled to the letter. And the true-hearted believer may see how full of instruction is the context; for the words immediately preceding declare that the Judge of Israel should be smitten upon the cheek. Then comes in the parenthetical ver. 2, which reveals not only His birth as David’s Son, but an everlasting kinship (for indeed He is Immanuel, God with us). And because of the Jews thus contemning their Ruler in Israel, they are themselves given up (says verse 3) till she which travaileth hath brought-forth — till the birth of the divine purpose for the restitution of all things. “Then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel,” or, in the figure of the apostle, the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree. Then will the glorious hopes that follow be punctually fulfilled. Neither Satan nor the Lord will have any difficulty in finding the Assyrian who in that day, is to perish in the land. There the Assyrian stands on the page of prophecy, as he will on the stage of the future to perish for ever. So false is it that neither the restoration itself of Israel, nor the events growing out of it, can be understood according to the letter. So true is it that those who reason thus maintain that, in this sense, considerable portions of the prophetic scriptures can have no proper fulfilment. “And why, then,” they boldly ask, “should any be supposed to have?” It is systematic dishonour of God’s mind through ignorance of the scriptures and of His power.
The next quotation (Matt. 2:15 from Hosea 11:1) is full of interest. The prophet was inspired to blend, as it were, Israel of old and Christ called out of Egypt. He, before God, was the true Israel, and their history recommenced in that blessed Person for Whose sake God had led out the ancient people at their beginning. Theirs is a sad tale of self-will, rebellion, idolatry, yet to be repented and forgiven, when the generation to come shall say, Blessed be He that cometh in the name of Jehovah. The observant reader may see in Isa. 49 a similar transfer and identification of Israel and Christ. This is not merely literal, but spiritual in the true sense, not the vague spiritualising which fritters all away, forgets the glory and relationship of Christ, blots out Israel as such from God’s mercy in the future, and lowers the church from heaven to earth.
Matt. 2:17 exhibits a difference in the form of citing: “Then was fulfilled” Jer. 31:15. What can more strikingly testify how Christ is ever before the Holy Spirit than the application here by our inspired evangelist? A heathen, or certainly a Jew, might admire the beauty, and boldness, and elevation of the impersonation; who but God would have thought now of the mourning prophet’s words, which brought His Son before Him in the Edomite’s slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem? Matthew does not say that it was the object of the prophecy, as in other cases. If the evil one prompted the savage jealousy of Herod, God felt for Rachel’s children afresh when shielding the Messiah, Who will yet reward her work, give hope for her latter end, and bring the children again to their own border.
The last verse of Matt. 2. gives another variety, that differs not only in the form, but in the general reference: so that (
ἵνα) it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets. It was their scope. He was to be despised of men. So His residence accorded. “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). There Joseph took Mary and the Heir of all the promises of God. Such was the scope of the prophets.
“Isaiah the prophet” is said, in Matthew 3, to have predicted John as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Isa. 40:3). This would be decisive if higher criticism consisted with the fear of God — if it trembled at His word. How came men to set themselves above apostolic authority? Because they must otherwise, accepting prophecy, give up their scepticism and bow to God’s revelation. If Isaiah wrote this wondrous moral pleading to the end, he clearly predicts Cyrus by name and character, by mission and work, and graphically foretells Babylon’s fall, and the return to Jerusalem; nor this only, but the rejection of the Messiah, and His atoning death, by the faith of Whom the people, no longer impenitent, become God’s servants through Jehovah’s Righteous Servant, Who appears at length for their final deliverance and everlasting joy, and the destruction of enemies within and without. As to the bearing of the words quoted by the Baptist, they must be childish indeed who fail to see that they describe the service of John as Messiah’s herald, a moral work set out in material figures, as is common in the New Testament. Never have I heard a whisper of future “engineering” intended, save by believers in human progress, and in a millennium brought about by man’s instrumentality rather than by Christ’s advent. But there may be souls no less simple and rash on the other side.
“Isaiah the prophet” is cited again (Isa. 9:1, 2) in Matt. 4:14-16, and with marked propriety. Just so much of the prophecy is used as bears on the first advent of Christ, the great light that shone on her that was distressed, “the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,” etc. The figurative language of the former quotation in no way forbade its literal accomplishment in John the Baptist, without a vague series of heralds to bring in the Lord. So equally bold figures here only render vivid testimony to that True Light which Christ was, not to His forerunner who bore Him witness. They are both definite and accomplished prophecies. Only the very next words in Isaiah 9 open the unfulfilled coming glory of Messiah here below: “Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased their joy. They joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil”: words alien from gospel blessing and from heavenly glory, but perfectly expressive of the world kingdom of our Lord at the end of the age. Hence the flash which shines next, lighting up the judgement which brings it in. “For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken, as in the day of Midian. For all the armour of the armed man in the tumult, and the garments rolled in blood shall even be for burning, for fuel of fire. For unto us a child is born,” etc. (R.V) This ought surely to be unmistakable. It is the Second Advent, not the first. In the perspective of the prophet the one is followed by the other. Christ’s death separated them; the New Testament, and its special work and heavenly relationships with the exalted Head of the body, come between. But the one is as literal and distinct as the other though figures cluster round both to enlighten faith, not to wrap in mist and cloud as men wish.
The next quotation of prophecy is from “Isaiah the prophet” (Isa. 53:4): “Himself took our infirmities and bare our diseases” (Matt. 8:17). The evangelist applies it to Messiah’s removal of disease. Atoning work is distinguished, and even contrasted, with the latter half of verse 4, in verses 5, 6, 8 (last clause), 10, 11, 12, though there is more than atonement. And so the New Testament cites these, not verse 4, for atonement. Thus all is precise and definite in the prophecy, as well as in apostolic citation. It is scientific theology which produces darkness, of which it is equally unconscious and vain, with which it would, if it could, envelope the divine word. It really deceives itself. The prophecy is luminous throughout, opening and closing with Messiah’s exaltation in His kingdom to come; but almost all between is the inimitable portrait of His humiliation and death in man’s rejection and God’s atonement. It is not surprising that those who love to regard the prophets as dwelling in their own fog are shy of a chapter which is not more sharply defined than it is momentous and humbling. Nor is it that figures are lacking, but that simple language pervades it from first to last. Symbol is wholly absent, and all excuse for allegorizing; and the rather, as there is most needed yet spiritual food already prepared of God for the spiritual.
The Lord, in Matt. 11:10, warrants our personal application of Mal. 3:1 to the Baptist, stopping short of the verses that follow, which await His coming again. And though Luke 1:17 clearly refers to Mal. 4:5, 6, it is even there only applied morally, or to faith, not historically; as our Lord Himself puts the case in Matt. 11:14, and Mark 9:13: “And if ye are willing to receive it, this is Elijah which is to come.” Nothing is farther from His mind than to set aside a future action of Elijah (compare Mark 9:12; John 1:21) before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come, a description in no way suiting His first advent in grace, even though moral judgement accompany that grace.
The only other quotation that need be noticed here is in Matt. 12:17-21, from Isa. 42:14. The folly of a great unknown prophet is cut off here also by anticipation. “Isaiah the prophet” spoke it: a distinct prediction applicable at that time to the Messiah’s presence in lowly meekness, and with tender care for the crushed or the dim, waiting for ultimate triumph. Never can it apply again as then, though it looks to the end from that beginning. The poor of the flock would, and did, appreciate His unpretending grace, whatever the disappointment of His brethren after the flesh, and however the wise and prudent find excuse for unbelief and a plea for stumbling. But divine wisdom is justified by all her children.
7. General Remarks
Summarily then it may be said that the New Testament affords proof, ample and clear, that the prophecies of the Old Testament are so much the more strikingly accomplished, because they are selected from all its three parts — Law, Psalms, and Prophets — written by many hands, scattered over many centuries, yet all meeting as in a common centre in Christ. His lineage in general and in particular, culminating in His unique birth, with its time and place; His despised position, His meek and lowly life, the gracious character of His ministry, and His miracles distinct from all others before Him; His disciples with the law sealed among them, while Jehovah hides His face from the house of Jacob, yet the mass not neglected, but instructed in righteousness by His knowledge. And what can surpass the minute care with which the Holy Spirit treasures up incidents of no value in the eyes of small or great who despise? but how momentous and precious for such as love Him, even where His infinite work of dying in atonement for our sins might seem calculated to overshadow all else! If God embalmed all in prophecy, His children do not explain away the literal fulfilment of His riding into Jerusalem, the predicted King on an ass, and a colt, the foal of an ass, or the Hosannas of the multitude, the cleansing of the temple, the children’s cry in the temple; or, again, His sale by Judas, or the traitor’s dreadful death and end, or the purchase of the field of blood, any more than the buffeting and scourging and spitting that befell Himself, or the piercing of His hands and feet, the insults and scorn of His enemies, the vinegar and gall, the parting of His garments, and the lots cast for His venture.
It is not only that every sacrifice before and since the law pointed to His death; but Isa. 53. is the matchless clue, the prophetic comment, and is so applied by the apostles. Even the manner of His death was predicted in His singular exemption from a broken bone, and the peculiarity of a pierced side, both in contrast with the two crucified along with Him. His burial, so different from His life, was not omitted; and His resurrection as the path to heaven, and to the right hand of God’s throne, all are as positively foretold as they were punctually fulfilled. Assuredly we have the fulfilment of these scenes so expressly set out in scripture, that God’s children need not hesitate who do, or who do not, teach according to God — those who regard the words as hyperbole and essentially unhistorical, or those who take them all in the simplicity and fullness and precision of their meaning, without presuming to think that our faith has exhausted all that God wrote in the scriptures.
How wrong, then, for any man to say that the passage about “the virgin conceiving,” etc., has a manifest historical meaning as applied to Isaiah’s wife! though in unexaggerated strictness to our Lord only. What can one think of the judgement that Isaiah 53 seems to refer to events more closely connected with the return of the Jews from captivity! Everyone at all versed in Isaiah’s prophecy must know that this has not the least justification in the contents, and supposes ignorance of the very structure, of the book. Isa. 49 begins the prophetic dealing, not with idols judged in Babylon, and the deliverance wrought by Cyrus (for this closes at the end of Isa. 48), but with the deeper question of the more remote future, the rejection of Messiah and His atoning death and the glorious consequences for Israel, the nations, and kings, to which only Isaiah 53 refers, and not in the remotest way to the Jews’ return from the captivity. This is here said in Christian plainness of speech for the truth’s sake, and in no disparagement, but with all respect and love. The sentiments show how deadly is unbelief, even as to prophecy, and in a most estimable man.
Another remark may close this section. Christ has been made an exception, and prophecy allowed in His case to be not hyperbolical, though assumed to be everywhere else. We have just seen how grudgingly its application even to Him is allowed. But where is the warrant for considering prophecy in His case valid; in every other, precarious and exaggerated? Scripture draws no such line; and man’s unauthorised rule to this effect is as capricious as absurd and irreverent. It is forgotten in effect, as always, that every scripture is inspired of God, and that the prophetic word is His, no less than the Law or the Psalms, the Gospels or the Epistles. Even in human testimony, if we could not receive the witness of men about the least things, how trust it about the highest? Truthfulness we want, and have, nor this only, but divine character and purpose everywhere. If we believe it all to be God’s word, such questions are decided. Impossible that God could lie anywhere, or as to anything. If we can trust Him when promising life eternal in His Son, assuredly no less if He speaks of Edom or Egypt, of Jerusalem or Judah.
The current interpretations of Christendom are here altogether at fault; and the consequence is the scanty interest in the prophets, of which people are conscious that they understand little and enjoy less. Men of learning owe much directly, and more indirectly, to Origen and Eusebius among the Greeks, and to Jerome and Augustine, for that perverse ingenuity which has darkened this large department of holy scripture. The earlier Christian writers, such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus with Lactantius, were at least simpler, and avoided that allegorizing to which those already named gave so large an impulse. But they were utterly wrong in confounding the Christian hope with the expectations of Israel. By this error was provoked the vague reaction which followed, in which Jerusalem or Zion, Judah or Israel, were regarded as no longer applicable as of old, but to be henceforth realized exclusively in the church. Thus by a different route the same evil result ensued: on the one hand, denying the faithfulness of God to His promises, and hence casting off Israel from that mercy which awaits the people in the day that is rapidly approaching, and on the other, levelling down the church to the plane of Israel, in ignorance of her proper and heavenly relationship to Christ as His body and bride.
Error, as it injures and darkens the good, lends ready and effective aid to the evil and corrupt. Hence the Romish harlot greedily adopted and perpetuated a system of interpretation exactly suited to earthly aggrandisement and intolerant pride and unrelenting persecution of all that stood aloof from its unscriptural aims. The commentary of Cornelius à Lapide may be seen as by one of its ablest exponents. Take as an instance his observations on Isa. 60:12-14, though any other of less renown might suffice. Rome’s faith and kingdom, he says, stand from Christ’s coming through 1600 years, and will stand till His return at the end of the world. For it is needless to say that, like theologians generally, this learned man wholly confounded “the age” with the world, and did not know of “the age to come,” introduced by the unsparing judgement of Rome, as well as of the quick everywhere, long before the world passes away. He adds that the bending unto Zion of their sons that afflicted her, and the bowing down of all that despised her at the soles of her feet, is plainly fulfilled in the Roman Pontiff, who is the church’s head. What a contrast with Christ’s beatitudes for His own (Matt. 5:3-12)! and especially for His chief servants (Luke 22:24-30)! The vain Corinthians began what Popery consummated (compare 1 Cor. 4:8-13), but God is not mocked. “Ye have reigned without us,” said the blessed apostle, content in present suffering to await the coming and reign of Christ.
Let us now hear Calvin, who is no less a representative man among the Reformed. He says (Calvin, Tr. Series, in loco) that Zion denotes here, as in other passages, captives and exiles; for however far they had been banished from their country, still they must have carried the temple in their hearts. Can anything be more vague and vapid? He adds that Paul justly concludes from Isa. 49:20 (the passage cited in Rom. 11), “that it is impossible that there shall not be some remnant that come to Christ.” This is quite a misconception, for the apostle had already shown that this is true now, but contrasts with the remnant at present the day when “a nation” shall be brought in at once, and all Israel shall be saved. Calvin, like others, ignores this through his mistaken principle. So on Isa. 60:10-12, though heartily denouncing the Papists for their torturing the passage to uphold the tyranny of the Pope, he only modifies the same untenable ground, and deduces the submission of kings to the authority of God and of the church. He has not even a glimpse of Israel under Messiah’s glorious sceptre, but swamps it all, saying that Isaiah “intends to speak of that obedience which kings and nobles and the common people render to the church when they promote, as far as they are able, sound doctrine.” Vitringa, in his elaborate folios, sees in verse 15 the change brought to the Waldenses and the Bohemian brethren by the Reformation from affliction to an eternal excellency. The Papist and the Protestant are equally mistaken in principle: which of the two is the more abjectly poor, and distant from the mind of the Spirit, it may be hard to decide; but Rome is more consistently proud and oppressive.
There is another popular variety during the last century, which is, if possible, more ruinous; for it appropriates the earthly glory that restored Israel is to have under the Messiah as the portion of the church universal when it advances more and more on its race after perfection here below. The hoped-for conversion of Israel and of all nations, or at least their profession of the gospel, it claims to be the fulfilment of the prophecy.
These absurdities disappear when we believe the word as the Spirit wrote it; and, while holding fast the hope of Christ for the heavens, we can all the better rejoice in the ancient people blessed under the new covenant in Immanuel’s land, and made a blessing to all nations of the earth: the grand, constant, and universal prospect, which is found in all the prophets. The special Christian relationship, our calling, inheritance, and hope, are unfolded only in the New Testament. It is “the mystery concerning Christ and concerning the church,” founded on redemption, and formed by the Spirit sent from heaven to baptise us into the one body of the ascended Head. The effect of ignorance on this score is as disastrous for practice. For Christians have slipped from their rejected lot and the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, as they await heavenly glory, and thus become earthly like Israel in desires and walk and worship. Whereas we are not of the world as He is not, and are not to think it strange if fiery trouble come for our trial, but, as we share in Christ’s sufferings, to rejoice that when His glory shall be revealed we may rejoice also with exceeding joy. It is a settled thing for the believer that the present age is an evil one, instead of the vain hope of man to make it a good age by education, science, moral suasion, or religious influence. The gospel, as God sends it, essays no such aim, but is the testimony of God to separate us from its evil in order to be with Christ on high. Him, therefore, we are continually to await, knowing that He will judge the habitable earth in that day, and thus bring in the new age of righteousness and peace.
In Rom. 11 the apostle lays down the true and only sound principle: the ultimate blessing of all Israel nationally. It is the more remarkable because in the first half of the Epistle he treats of the gospel which effaces the distinction between Jew and Greek, alike guilty, alike justified by faith in the indiscriminate grace of God. There is no distinction on the one hand, for all sinned and come short of the glory of God; as, on the other there is no distinction between either, for the same Lord of all is rich toward all that call upon Him. The rejection and death of the Messiah left the Jews justly rejected, and gave the occasion for God to proclaim His grace to every creature under heaven, that all who believe in Christ should be saved. When this work of the gospel is done according to God’s purpose, He will take up that government of the world of which Israel has the foremost place according to promise and prophecy, but on the ground of sovereign mercy in which He will also bless all the nations, and this by His Son returning in power and glory to reign in Zion, and possess the uttermost parts of the earth — indeed to be the Head of the universe in that day, as the New Testament clearly proves.
For the apostle in that chapter furnishes the most conclusive evidence that God has not cut off His people, as it might have appeared from the freeness of the gospel. First, there is a remnant of Israel (vv. 1-6) at this present time also, of which the apostle himself was an instance, the remnant according to the election of grace. Of no other people is this true. Its attaching to Jews only is the witness that God has not absolutely cast them off. Next, though the Jews have as a people stumbled at the stumbling-stone of Messiah’s humiliation, it is not in order that they might fall, but by their trespass, salvation is to the Gentiles (or nations) to provoke Israel to jealousy, and not therefore to cast them off. Again, the figure of the olive-tree teaches the same lesson. For theirs is that line of promise and testimony; and the Gentile, only a wild olive, was but grafted in, on the breaking off some of the branches; and he is called not to be high-minded but fear, lest, failing to abide in God’s goodness, he be also cut off (vv. 7-12). As it is certain that the Gentile has not so abode but dishonoured the grace and truth of God in the gospel, at least as much as the Jew failed in his previous responsibility, the natural branches shall no less certainly be grafted in, when the Gentile is cut off (vv. 13-24). Lastly, direct and absolute proof is adduced from Isa. 49. to expose the fond delusion of conceited philosophy that the Gentiles have a lease of favoured place for ever. For when that complement or fullness of the Gentiles is come in, which God is taking, “All Israel shall be saved; even as it is written, the Deliverer shall come out of Zion; he shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is the covenant from me to them when I shall take away their sins” (vv. 26, 27).
Not a word of this could apply to the so-called spiritual Israel, but only to the ancient people of Jehovah; nor could the language consist with Gentiles either. Taken in their ordinary import of the terms the reasoning is as sound as the meaning is important. For we are thereby taught to read Israel in its literal force throughout the prophets as the apostle did; and so Zion, Jerusalem, Judah, Ephraim, and all other names. Figurative language there is abundantly in both the Old Testament and the New. It is so in every-day life, and yet more on occasions when we are more than ordinarily concerned. But the names designate facts, even the well-known objects as they occur, and are never themselves figures. Symbols also are employed, which differ from figures as being a composite of ideas which the prophet saw and describes for the more graphic delineation of the object. There is no uncertainty in the employment of either symbol or figurative expression, but rather to give objects all the more force. The objects are real, not ideal, in every case. As plain language is constantly intermingled with figures, there need never be any great difficulty. So when symbols are employed, there is often an interpretation added: only we have to bear in mind that divine interpretations may and do frequently give more than the statement under explanation. The Holy Spirit gives all requisite guidance in comparing scripture with scripture; and He is needed for profitable understanding of Genesis and John as truly as He is for using Ezekiel and the Revelation aright. The true difficulty is quite independent of figures or symbols, and lies in employing the same object now and then as the vehicle of a lesser primary application, while it also looks onward to a larger and more complete fulfilment in due time; the right apprehension of which is at least occasionally a matter of delicacy.
The Jews therefore did not stumble because they understood the scriptures in their plain literal import. On the contrary they shut their eyes and ears against all the prophecies which dwelt on Messiah’s sufferings, and warned them of unbelief and every other sin. They were wholly insensible to His moral perfection and His testimony of God as light and love, which should have led them to repentance. They clutched at the gorgeous visions of power and glory, and overlooked that they are as full of holiness and righteousness and peace. They ignored the plainest predictions, as much as if they never were written, of their own hatred and loathing of the Messiah, as well as of His being wounded for their transgressions, and being bruised for their iniquities. They never pondered the words that Jehovah laid on Him the iniquity of us all; that the chastisement of our peace was on Him; that by His stripes we are healed.
Part 2: Isaiah And His Prophecies
1. Isaiah As A Prophet
As Isaiah stands out from all the other prophets by the sublimity of his conception, the elevation of his sentiments, and the grandeur of his style, so is he also by fullness and variety of subject matter. He was the suited vessel for the gift of inspiration which set him in the front rank, but in the highest place of those eminent servants of God.
Even a rationalist (Ewald) says — it is true, a man of profound scholarship, and of the most cultivated taste — that “in Isaiah we see prophetic authorship reaching its culminating point. Everything conspired to raise him to an elevation to which no prophet, either before or after, could attain as a writer. Among the other prophets, each of the more important ones is distinguished by some one particular excellence, and by some peculiar ability. In Isaiah all kinds of ability and all beauties of prophetic discourse meet together so as mutually to temper and qualify each other; it is not so much any single feature that distinguishes him as the symmetry and perfection of the whole.
“We cannot fail to assume, as the first condition of Isaiah’s peculiar historical greatness, a native power and a vivacity of spirit, which even among prophets is seldom to be met with. It is but rarely that we see combined, in one and the same spirit, the three several characteristics of — first, the most profound prophetic excitement, and the purest sentiment; next, the most indefatigable and successful practical activity amidst all perplexities and changes of outward life; and, thirdly, that facility and beauty in representing thought which is the prerogative of the genuine poet. But this threefold combination we find realized in Isaiah as in no other prophet; and from the traces which we can perceive of the unceasing joint-working of these three powers we must draw our conclusions as to the original greatness of his genius. Both as prophet and as author Isaiah stands upon that calm sunny height, which in each several branch of ancient literature one eminently favoured spirit at the right time takes possession of; which seems, as it were, to have been waiting for him; and which, when he has come and mounted the ascent, seems to keep and guard him to the last as its own right man In the sentiments which he expresses, in the topics of his discourses, and in the manner of expression, Isaiah uniformly reveals himself as the kingly prophet.
“In reference to the last-named point, it cannot be said that his manner of representing thought is elaborate and artificial. It rather shows a lofty simplicity and an unconcern about external attractiveness, abandoning itself freely to the leading and requirement of each several thought; but nevertheless it always rolls itself along in a full stream which overpowers all resistance, and never fails at the right place to accomplish at every turn its object without toil or effort.
“The progress and development of the discourse is always majestic, achieving much with few words, which though short are yet clear and transparent; an overflowing swelling fullness of thought, which might readily lose itself in the vast and indefinite, but which always at the right time with tight rein collects and tempers its exuberance; to the bottom exhausting the thought and completing the utterance, and yet never too diffuse. This severe self-control is most admirably seen in those shorter utterances, which, by briefly sketched images and thoughts, give us the vague apprehension of something infinite, whilst nevertheless they stand before us complete in themselves and clearly delineated, e.g., Isa. 8:6; Isa. 9:6; Isa. 14:29-32; Isa. 18:1-7; Isa. 21:11, 12; while in the long piece, 28, 32, if the composition here and there for a moment languishes, it is only to lift itself up again afresh with all the greater might. In this rich and thickly crowded fullness of thought and word, it is but seldom that the simile which is employed appears apart to set forth and complete itself (Isa. 31:4, 6); in general, it crowds into the delineation of the object which it is meant to illustrate, and is swallowed up in it, — by, and frequently simile after simile. And yet the many threads of the discourse which for a moment appeared ravelled together, soon disentangle themselves into perfect clearness — a characteristic which belongs to this prophet alone, a freedom of language in which no one else so easily succeeds.
“The verification, in like manner, is always full, and yet strongly marked; while, however, this prophet is little concerned about anxiously weighing out to each verse its proper number of words. Not infrequently he repeats the same word in two numbers (Isa. 31:8; Isa. 32:17; Isa. 11:5; Isa. 19:13), as if with so much power and beauty in the matter within, he did not so much require a painstaking finish on the outside. The structure of the strophe is always easy and beautifully rounded.
“Still the main point lies here — that we cannot in the case of Isaiah as in that of other prophets, specify any particular peculiarity, or any favourite colour, as attaching to his general style. He is not the especially lyrical prophet, or the especially elegiacal prophet, or the especially oratorical and hortatory prophet, as we should describe a Joel, a Hosea a Micah, with whom there is a greater prevalence of some particular colour. But just as the subject requires, he has readily at command every several kind of style, and every several change of delineation and it is precisely this, that in point of language establishes his greatness as well as in general forms one of his most towering points of excellence. His only fundamental peculiarity is the lofty majestic calmness of his style, proceeding out of the perfect command which he feels he possesses over his subject-matter. This calmness, however, in no way demands that the strain shall not, when occasion requires, be more vehemently excited and assail the hearer with mightier blows. But even the extremest excitement, which does here and there intervene, is in the main bridled still by the same spirit of calmness, and, not overstepping the limits which that spirit assigns, it soon with lofty self-control returns back to its wonted tone of equability (Isa. 2:10; Isa. 3:1; Isa. 28:11-23; Isa. 29:9-14). Neither does this calmness in discourse require that the subject shall always be treated only in a plain level way, without any variation of form. Rather Isaiah shows himself master in just that variety of manner which suits the relation in which his hearers stand to the matter now in hand. If he wishes to bring home to their minds a distant truth which they like not to hear, and to judge them by a sentence pronounced by their own mouth, he retreats back into a popular statement of a case drawn from ordinary life (Isa. 5:1-6; Isa. 28:23-29). If he will draw the attention of the overwise to some new truth, or to some future prospect, he surprises them by a brief oracle in an enigmatical dress, leaving it to their penetration to discover its solution (Isa. 7:14-16; Isa. 29:1-8). When the unhappy temper of people’s minds, which nothing can amend, leads to loud lamentation, his speech becomes for a while the strain of elegy and lament (Isa. 1:21-23; Isa. 22:4, 5). Do the frivolous leaders of the people mock? He outdoes them at their own weapons, and crushes them under the fearful earnest of divine mockery (Isa. 28:10-13). Even a single ironical word in passing will drop from the lofty prophet (Isa. 17:3, glory). Thus his discourse varies into every complexion; it is tender and stern, didactic and threatening, mourning and again exulting in divine joy, mocking and earnest; but ever at the right time it returns back to its original elevation and repose, and never loses the clear ground-colour of its divine seriousness.”
This estimate of Isaiah is rather of his style of treatment as an author, and hence is almost entirely occupied with the man. But it is cited as an able sketch of Isaiah from without, being written by an adversary of inspiration in any real sense. Hence it will be observed that Isa. 13. and most of 14, as well as 21. for the most part, are not referred to, and above all Isa. 40 - 66, though among the noblest and most characteristic strains of Isaiah; because if his, the predictions are self-evident, prophecy is a fact, and rationalism must be abandoned for faith in the unmistakable voice of God through His servant. It is cited as the homage of a mind far too free, yet a witness true here as far as form goes. Even while manifesting his incredulity as to the authorship of the twenty-seven chapters that close the prophecy, he cannot avoid acknowledging the surpassing powers of him who uttered them.
“Creative as this prophet is in his views and thoughts, he is not less peculiar and new in his language, which at times is highly inspired and carries away the reader with a wonderful power. Although, after the manner of the later prophets, the discourse is apt to be too diffuse in delineation; yet on the other side it often moves confusedly and heavily, owing to the over-gushing fullness of fresh thoughts continually streaming in. But whenever it rises to a higher strain, as e.g., Isa. 40 — Isa. 42:14, it then attains to such a pure luminous sublimity, and carries the hearer away with such a wonderful charm of diction, that one might be ready to fancy he was listening to another prophet altogether, if other grounds did not convince us that it is one and the same prophet speaking, only in different moods of feeling. In no prophet does the mood in the composition of particular passages so much vary as throughout the three several Sections into which this part of the book is divided, while under vehement excitement the prophet pursues the most diverse object. It is his business at different times to comfort, to exhort, to shame, to chasten; to show, as out of heaven, the heavenly image of the servant of the Lord, and in contrast to scourge the folly and base grovelling of idol worship; to teach what conduct the times require, and to rebuke those who linger behind the occasion, and then also to draw them along by his own example — his prayers, confessions, and thanksgivings, thus smoothing for them the approach to the exalted object of the New Time. Thus the complexion of the style, although hardly anywhere passing into the representation of visions properly so-called, varies in a constant interchange; and rightly to recognise these changes is the great problem of interpretation.” [SMITH’S Dictionary, i.188-9 Is the source of these extracts from EWALD’S Propheten i.166-79, ii.407-9.]
The Christian will feel that, whatever the critical taste thus displayed, it only plays on the surface. The key for entering in was unknown: only Christ opens Isaiah, as every other scripture. And the latter part of our prophet deals after a deeper sort than the former with Israel’s sins, which gives it a more marked unity and a sustained moral pleading, as we shall see in its place, beyond the limits of any aesthetic plummet to sound. The truth is that the rejection of the Messiah is laid at the door of the Jews no less than their idolatry, both fully set out and at nearly equal length, and the former with yet more pathos and clearness withal; so that the writer, by the law of the higher criticism, must have lived after, not the captivity only, but the crucifixion! Nay more, the second advent is as distinctly predicted in the latest chapters, as the fall of Babylon and the Messiah a propitiation for sins. Therefore the only true result is the folly of unbelief and the sureness of the inspired prophecy, the partial accomplishment of which claims our assurance that all that remains will be not less literally fulfilled in “that day.”
As to the scope of Isaiah’s prophecy, it has a rich comprehensiveness and grandeur in keeping with his style. Beyond all others he takes in the vast range of divine plans for the glory of Christ, and a minute as well as a most extensive view of the necessary judgement of the nations. Jeremiah and Ezekiel, though speaking of the Gentile judgements, are not occupied as Isaiah was, with the crisis of Jerusalem when God gave up His people, even the portion who still clung to the house of David and the sanctuary in Jerusalem, now alas! rebellious and idolatrous beyond remedy. Daniel, starting from the same crisis, fills up the gap they leave, and reveals the Gentile powers entrusted with the government of the world outwardly, whilst Jehovah no longer governs directly within His people on earth, before Israel is restored to more than pristine righteousness, peace, blessing, and glory. Hosea, Amos, and Micah variously traverse part of the ground occupied by Isaiah, as they also were more or less contemporary. Obadiah, Jonah, and Nahum testify judgement to the world in one form or another. Joel and Habakkuk concentrate their witness on the last days, one starting from the great northern army that ravaged Israel, the other with the faith that if the Chaldean is the needful chastiser of the guilty people, God will assuredly deal with his oppressive wickedness, and glorify Himself in His people whatever appearances may say. Zephaniah, in predicting this judgement of guilty Jerusalem and of the nations, proclaims their blessing when God converts and delights in the restored remnant of Judah. The three prophets of the return, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, only speak of the Jews as God’s prophetically. Haggai encourages them to build Jehovah’s house in view of His coming glory, when He will shake all nations. Zechariah, in noticing the Gentile powers, returns in a measure to symbol like Daniel, and does not abandon this mystic style even in depicting the Jews throughout the first prophecy (Zech. 1-6) In the next, to the end of the book (Zech. 7-14) Christ is brought in, both in His humiliation, and in the glory of His second advent, when the nations are judged, Jerusalem sanctified, and Jehovah reigns. Malachi testifies to the hypocrisy and corruption of the returned Jews, but distinguishes a godly remnant, and recalls to the law in view of the speedy coming day of the Lord.
Connected with this, and most important in its bearing, is the difference between the prophets before the Babylonish captivity, and after that event, which expressed the solemn fact that God gave up that direct government which He had exercised while the people were owned as His. Lo-ruhamah marked Israel’s removal from the land. Lo-ammi was incomparably more serious, and only pronounced when Nebuchadnezzar carried off Judah, and became the golden head of the world-powers which intervene till God again interferes and recognises the ancient people as His own, as He will when Christ returns. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah prophesied while God had not yet disowned His people. Daniel traces the times of the Gentiles. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi prophesy after the return of a remnant still in subjection to the Gentiles, in view of Christ’s advent, whether first or second. In all, blessing and glory are predicted for Israel; but it is at the end of the age when the Lord appears in judgement of the quick. The church is completely passed over, as the great mystery which it was for the New Testament (the apostle Paul especially) to reveal after Christ’s rejection and ascension. The church is the body of the heavenly Head. The prophets deal with the earth, Israel, and the nations, when Christ was then as Jehovah.
2. The Structure Of His Book
It seems desirable here to consider briefly the general plan, or, at any rate, the chief divisions of the great book of Isaiah. There is an appearance of disorder in the arrangement of the book as it now stands; and many of those who have commented on it have complained and suggested their rectifications. But there is no sufficient reason to doubt that, under the semblance of confusion here as elsewhere in scripture, we have a deeper system than one of time or circumstance. Thus, in the Book of Exodus, the ritual for the consecration of the priests comes in abruptly in Ex. 28. and 29, after the Spirit of God has given part of the account of the sanctuary and its vessels, and before He supplies the rest. And yet this seeming interruption subserves, as nothing else could, the moral object of the Spirit, which would have been frustrated by a merely obvious and mechanical arrangement, to which most minds are so prone. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.”
So in the earliest division or section of our prophet, which embraces the first twelve chapters, we have the exordium of Isa. 1, followed by Isa. 2-4, which dwell on “the day of Jehovah.” Here we have what appears to be the earliest of the revelations given to the prophet: “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz said concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” No date is attached; but not sufficient appears to make us doubt that it is in its just place, after the preface, the inscription of which well suits its composition ever so late. The three chapters open and close with the glory of the day of Jehovah. Then comes Isa. 5, “the song of my beloved touching his vineyard.” Now it is evident that the strain is followed by a cluster of woes showing that, for all yet done, Jehovah’s anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still; and is interrupted by Isa. 6-9:7. After this episode it is resumed till we have the close of man’s day in the destruction of the Assyrian, the reign of Messiah, and Israel’s joy and praise (Isa. 10-12) “in that day” once more, when Jah Jehovah is Israel’s strength and song. We have no date to the “song of Isa. 5,” but we have one both to Isa. 6 and also to Isa. 7-8. Many suppose Isa. 6 to have been revealed before the song, and, indeed, the first vision the prophet ever had. But there does not appear to be any sufficient evidence to warrant the inference. It is opposed to the natural force of the opening of the book. The apostle was called to his special work from his conversion, preached immediately beyond others (Acts 9:20), and was fetched by Barnabas from Tarsus to Antioch to teach, before he was formally separated for the work among the nations (Acts 15). So it may have been with the prophet.
But it seems plain that there is a moral order of divine beauty in the collocation as the chapters now stand. Isa. 5 is the case stated between Jehovah and His vineyard, and shows Israel tested by the painstaking care God had all through bestowed upon them. “What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?” He can only thenceforward lay it waste, though His vineyard be the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant. Worse woe follows woe; and God summons the nations from far to chasten His people, over whose land hung darkness and sorrow. Then, before the conclusion of these judgements on stricken Israel given in Isa. 10, we have Israel tested in a wholly different way in Isa. 6. For we have there the glory of Jehovah-Messiah manifested (compare John 12:38-41), the people blinded judicially for their unbelief, and an elect remnant withal which did not appear in the preceding chapter. Thus, if Isa. 5 convicts Israel on the score of their ill-return to all God’s past good and faithful care, Isa. 6 condemns them yet more, whatever grace may do, spite of all, by the manifestation of Jehovah’s glory in the person of Christ. This accordingly leads to a lengthening out of the interruption, which shows us Immanuel, the virgin’s Son, on the judgement of the Assyrian, spite of desolation inflicted by him for a time, and the complete deliverance of Israel and their establishment under the Messiah after the day when He was a stone of stumbling to them and the law was sealed among His disciples.
Then, as we have seen, the broken links of Isa. 5 are taken up again from Isa. 9:8, and the general history of the nation renews its course, after we have had from first to last the special account of the Messiah, His rejection by the Jews, and the final blessing under His reign. The resumption, after so complete and weighty an episode, is made most evident, because the Spirit of God goes back to the very struggles of the prophet’s day and the judgement of Israel. In Isa. 10 the indignation of Jehovah against Israel ceases in the destruction of their last foe, the Assyrian. Lastly, in Isa. 11 we have the Messiah again shown, first in His moral ways, and then in His kingdom, followed by Israel’s song of praise, in the millennial day (Isa. 12).
The second great division comprehends Isa. 13-27; but, like the first, it admits of various sub-divisions or separate subjects within itself. Thus in 13, 14 we have the fall of Babylon and the overthrow of the Assyrian, with Philistia dissolved, terminating in mercy to Israel and the establishment of Zion. This clearly indicates that the last days are in question both for judgement and for deliverance, whatever preliminary accomplishment in the past may have borne witness to the truth of the prophecy. But that which has been falls so short of all that is involved, as to evince itself but the shadow which the coming events cast before them. Next follows “the burden of Moab,” in Isa. 15, 16. Then in Isa. 17 comes “the burden of Damascus”; but just as proud Moab must stoop before Him Who sits on the throne in the tabernacle of David, so the mighty rushing waters of the nations shall avail as little to sustain Damascus as to overwhelm Israel, though at the lowest ebb, when they look to their Jehovah God, and He rebukes the oppressor. Isa. 18. may be viewed in contrast with Isa. 17. Nevertheless it has its own special place, as showing us Israel restored, not by Jehovah at first, but by the influence and intervention of a maritime power. But this policy and its promising fruit come all to nothing, and the nations plunder and oppress as before, and Jehovah takes up Israel, working in His own grace and might. We have “burdens” after this, but they are not quite similarly presented after this great gathering of nations seen at the end of Isa. 17. But first in Isa. 19 and Isa. 20 Egypt is judged (the Assyrian being the instrument) before its final blessing. Again in Isa. 21, we have the “burden of the desert of the sea,” by which is set forth the capture of Babylon; “the burden of Dumah,” and that upon Arabia. Then in Isa. 22, “the burden of the valley of vision,” Jerusalem itself is taken; and Shebna is set aside for Eliakim, the type of Antichrist overthrown and the government of David’s house being transferred to the true Christ. In Isa. 23 Tyre’s burden comes before us. Then in Isa. 24 Jehovah is seen dealing with the earth, and the world languishes before His mighty hand. There is more than this, for it is the hour of His visitation for the host of the high ones on high, as well as for the kings of the earth on the earth: indeed the day is come for His reign in Zion and Jerusalem. Can one wonder then that Isa. 25-27 are the sequel for Israel’s songs of victory, celebrating God and His character, and their deliverance and its character also? A song of praise closed the first division, song upon song closes the second; and as we had in the first part the sorrowful song of the beloved to His vineyard, fruitful only in sin and shame, now all is changed; and “in that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine: I Jehovah do keep it; I will water it every moment, lest any hurt it; I will keep it night and day.”
It is evident that, as compared with the first division (Isa. 1-12), the second (Isa. 13-27) embraces a sphere incomparably larger. The first is occupied mainly with Israel, assailed, however, more and more by hostile nations up to their last great enemy, the Assyrian. The second begins with the great power that ravaged and enslaved Judah, goes on with each of the kingdoms that had relations with Israel, and ends with the judgement of all nations, when the world is dealt with and the very powers of the heavens are shaken too, but when Israel, sifted and chastened, shall be gathered in at the great trumpet’s summons to worship Jehovah of hosts in Jerusalem.
The third division is occupied with the details of that which happens to Israel at the end of the age. Isa. 28. and Isa. 29 give us the two final assaults on Jerusalem: the first of these, coming from the north and overwhelming Ephraim in its course, is successful against the guilty city, spite (or rather because) of its covenant with death; the second, when all seems lost, suddenly brings Jehovah of hosts to their rescue, and the multitude of the hostile strangers of all nations pass away as a dream. In Isa. 30 and Isa. 31 the unbelief that sought unto Egypt is judged, and the Assyrian, its scourge, the mighty leader of the coalition against Israel, falls under God’s hand. Then in Isa. 32. Messiah is seen reigning in righteousness, and the last pre-millennial effort of the enemy (Isa. 33) is turned to his own destruction, and divine vengeance takes its course in Edom on all the other haters of Israel (Isa. 34). Thereon the blessing is now so rich and all-pervading, that the wilderness itself rejoices for Israel, and blossoms as the rose: sorrow and sighing flee away. God is present with a recompense, and His ransomed ones are come to Zion with songs, everlasting joy upon their heads. Such is the fitting conclusion in Isa. 35.
The fourth division consists of the historical matter intercalated between what may be called the first and second volumes of our prophecy. These are their main facts: the historical Assyrian rebuked of God before Jerusalem (Isa. 36-37); the raising up again of the then son of David, who was sick unto death (Isa. 38); and the solemn intimation of the Babylonish captivity (Isa. 39).
After this transitional series of events, and founded on their weighty moral import, we have the remainder of the book (Isa. 40-66) parting into the fifth, sixth, and seventh divisions, but with more of a consecutive bond than in the earlier half of the prophecy. The two great controversies of God with His people are here brought to issue with a conclusion to the entire book.
The first is idolatry (Isa. 40-48), which Cyprus avenged in the overthrow of Babylon, whither the guilty Jews had been carried, alas! because of their desertion of Jehovah for idols of the Gentiles. But, providentially raised up as Cyrus might be and was, God points to His Servant Who shall bring forth judgement to the Gentiles (Isa. 42:14). After this. however, the promised Messiah is dropped for the present. Israel meanwhile had the responsibility of being Jehovah’s servant, but Israel was blind who gave Jehovah’s praise to graven images. Therefore had He given them up for a prey; but now they are delivered, the fall of Babylon being the pledge of a still mightier deliverance yet to come. This closes with Isa. 48.
In Isaiah 49 the second and still graver controversy opens — the rejection of the true Servant, even the Messiah, Who supersedes Israel as servant of Jehovah. This makes way for blessing to the Gentiles in the wisdom and grace of God, the raising up of Jacob being now counted a light thing: “I will also give thee for light to the Gentiles.” Zion however shall never be forgotten, but be restored. It comes out with increasing evidence in ch. 1, with the added truth that the Creator is none other than the humbled Man Who hid not His face from shame and spitting. After striking calls to “hearken” and “awake,” the fullest witness to Christ’s suffering in atonement follows in Isa. 52:13-53. Then the results appear in Isa. 54-55, with solemn appeals afterwards. This again closes with Isa. 57. (Compare its last verse with the last verse of the preceding part, namely Isa. 48:22)
Isaiah 58-66 are the conclusion. This, and indeed the whole of what we have called the second volume, are inferior, to say the least, to no other part in magnificence, interest, and practical profit. The contents of the last portion may be thus summed up. The Holy Spirit directs Himself (in Isa. 58-59) to the conscience of Israel, reasoning, if one may so say, of righteousness, temperance, and judgement to come. Their hypocrisy was the hindrance to their blessing, and their sins would bring on their punishment. Yet when all hope of salvation might justly be taken away, the Redeemer would come to Zion in His own sovereign mercy, and His Spirit and His word abide with Israel and their seed for ever. Isa. 60 most appropriately reveals their consequent glory and righteous condition. Next, Isa. 61 - Isa. 63:1-6 form a section in which the character of Jehovah Messiah is traced from His first advent in grace (with the blessing and glory He was ready and able to bestow on the people and their land), till He returns from the scene of the judgement executed in Edom, “the day of vengeance of our God.” Then from Isa. 63:7 to the end of Isa. 64 the prophet goes out to Jehovah in earnest intercession for His people, finding the only hope in His mercy and faithfulness. The last two chapters (Isa. 65-66) are the answer of Jehovah, Who explains His dealings throughout: His grace to the Gentiles, His long-suffering toward Israel (rebellious and yet to return to their old idolatry and worse) His sure rejection and judgement of the mass, but with an elect remnant spared; the introduction of His glory in the new creation, of which Jerusalem is the destined earthly centre; a reiteration of His sympathy with the elect and of the vengeance He must take on the abominations of the latter day, when, if He suddenly bless Zion, He will as suddenly come and plead by fire and sword with all flesh. After this judgement of the quick, the spared shall go forth and declare (not His grace but) His glory, and all the dispersed of Israel shall be brought back; and all flesh too shall worship before Jehovah, with the solemn permanent witness before their eyes of the doom of apostates. Such is the general scope, such the special divisional structure, of Isaiah’s prophecy.
As some may wish, and even claim it as fair, to know what one of the ablest of the neo-critics has proposed for the arrangement of the book, the reader is here given Ewald’s view, who was second to none of his fellows in learning and in aesthetic insight, if we can say nothing of reverential faith, or of the Spirit-taught intelligence of the word, which is its fruit: Isa. 6; Isa. 2.-4; Isa. 5:1-25; Isa. 9:8-21; Isa. 10:1-4; Isa. 5:26-30; Isa. 17:1-11; Isa. 7.-8; Isa. 9:1-7; Isa. 14:28-32; Isa. 15-16; Isa. 21:11-17; Isa. 23; Isa. 1; Isa. 22; Isa. 28-32; Isa. 20; Isa. 10:5-34; Isa. 11; Isa. 17:12-14; Isa. 18; Isa. 14:24-27; Isa. 33; Isa. 37:21-35; Isa. 19; Isa. 21:1-10; Isa. 13; Isa. 14:1-23; Isa. 40-66; Isa. 34-35; Isa. 24; Isa. 25:6-11; Isa. 25:1-5; Isa. 25:12; Isa. 26-27. Isaiah 12. he says cannot be Isaiah’s, but is of later origin. As for Isaiah 40-66. they are handed over to the Grosse Ungenanete (Great Unnamed). Yet Ewald differed from Rosenmüller and Gesenius, to say nothing of others more audacious still, in attributing to Isaiah inspiration, though we must bear in mind that this is, in German lips, far short of unerring certainty in scripture, or of distinct and divinely given foresight of the future, however distant. This topsy-turvy shuffle of our prophet’s book comes from one as eminent for taste as for philology (oriental especially) and for chronological tact, who laid down as his judgement that “the learned follies of Tubingen have justly aroused in all foreign countries a dislike of German-knowledge!” (query, dreams?) Havernick and Drechsler are among the honourable exceptions. Of the new school of critics generally, we may say without exaggeration, what was said of others more openly profane in science, that their principle consists in believing everything but the truth, and exactly in proportion to want of evidence; or, to use the words of a poet, “In making windows that shut out the light, and passages that lead to nothing.”
3. Neo-Criticism Of Isaiah Briefly Weighed
“Let us then for the time forget” (says the Camb. R. Prof. of Hebrew, Divine Library of the O.T., 26), “that this writing — or rather, whether it is the work of one writer, or of several, this group of writings — is attached to the book of Isaiah. Let us simply interrogate the document itself, and collect the evidence which it offers concerning its author, and the time and place and circumstances of its writing. Direct statement there is none. Very rarely does the author let his own personality appear at all. But of indirect evidence, indicating the circumstances under which he wrote, there is no lack.” This would be reasonable if a merely human book were in debate; it is an absurd and unbelieving begging of the question in an avowed prophecy. “The circumstances” predicted are assumed to be evidence of the time when it was written. Rationalism takes for granted that of real prophecy there is none. The picture, on the one hand, of Jerusalem in ruins, the temple in ashes, the cities of Judah deserted, the land desolate; and, on the other, of Babylon the scene of captivity, and the tyrant that holds Zion’s sons in thrall, is proof “entirely convincing”! of the time when the book was composed. For “the prophecy does not profess to predict the destruction of Jerusalem, the Babylonian exile, and the mission of Cyrus. These things are described, or assumed, as existing facts. What is foretold is the speedy deliverance of the exiles from their captivity. All these data point unmistakably to the last ten years of the Babylonian exile as the time at which the prophecy was delivered.”
Such is Prof. Kirkpatrick’s argument. But it is the weakest of fallacies; for it starts with assuming what ought to be proved, what never has been even approached, and what, we may safely aver, can be disproved. It overlooks one of the most beautiful and striking modes of conveying prediction, the scenes presented to our eyes and ears; so the Holy Spirit brought them before the prophet as if already realized, but with such an intermingling of the future with the past or present, as to dispel the transparent deception of the critics, and convict them of spiritual ignorance. Take the very early witness of scriptural style resuscitated late in the New Testament. “And to them also Enoch the seventh from Adam prophesied, saying, Behold, the Lord came with His holy myriads to execute judgement upon all.” What is this but a transfer of his position into the remote future, but taking account of present evil to testify? More boldly even than Isaiah did Enoch speak of the great event for all the world, the Lord’s judicial advent, as if accomplished; and so it is frequently in the prophets. Take a disproof which no believer can dispute from Isaiah. 52:13-53. It is not to be supposed that Prof. K. rejects the inspired interpretation of this prophecy. He will not deny the predicted basis of his own salvation. It is no question to him if the prophet wrote of himself or of another such man. He believes that the prophet wrote of One only, the Righteous Servant, the rejected but exalted Messiah, and of the great atonement wrought in His humiliation and suffering for sins. These things are described, or assumed, as existing facts, no less than the ruins of Jerusalem, the Babylonian captivity, and the mission of Cyrus. All such representations of the future, as though present or fulfilled, are as easy to the Spirit of prophecy as they are frequent in both Old Testament and New. How applicable the Lord’s word to similar sceptics of old, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God! The grand and touching strain in Isaiah 52, 53. is filled with Christ crucified, and looks onward till His portion shall be with the great, and His spoil with the strong at His second coming, when He shall sprinkle many nations, and kings shall shut their mouths at Him, Lord of lords and King of kings.
Not before the revelation of the glorified Jesus Christ will be fully achieved that deliverance which God announced from of old. So utterly untrue is it that prophecy only bears on the horizon of the prophet’s day, and never rises above contemporary interests. The apostle had told the Jews in Solomon’s porch that Christ must be sent again from heaven to bring in times of restoring all things whereof God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets since time began (Acts 3). Such is the universal prophetic testimony. They all converge on the kingdom; whereas the gospel meanwhile is saving those who believe to reign with Christ when that day comes.
The spirit of neo-criticism betrays its hostility to God, and its blindness to His goodness, in assailing all the more bitterly whatever is most bright and blessed. So in the first division the episode of the virgin’s Son (Isa. 7) must be got rid of at all costs, though foreshadowed from Gen. 3:15; Gen. 22:18! To reduce so glorious a Person to the child of the king or of the prophet is worthy of man’s pride and Satan’s guile. The word here only casts somewhat more light on the constant expectation of faith. In its accession of another nature and a higher dignity it was the complement of the woman’s Seed, and Abraham’s; and it already went far to explain how He could crush the serpent’s head. Was it not within the compass of Immanuel, before Whom should be broken all the peoples and far countries, whatever be their counsel or conspiracy (Isa. 8)? And how fail to see that, after His service with the children given Him during Israel’s eclipse, shall the light which once shone in Galilee burst upon the multiplied nation in the joy of the true harvest, and the spoil they are yet to divide! Then Messiah, with His titles as true as they are lofty, shall take the throne of David (quite distinct from sitting as now on the throne of God), to establish and uphold it with judgement and with righteousness from henceforth and for ever (Isa. 9).
Again, “the burden of Babylon” (Isa. 13, 14) must be denied to Isaiah, because it exposes men’s incredulity, and proves him a true prophet, speaking of the things to come as present to his vision, and of the destruction of the power that was to enslave them. How vain is their petty lowering of the time to anyone capable of estimating the scripture! For, though Cyrus captured Babylon, many centuries elapsed before the ruin here foreshown was verified. Alexander the Great proposed to make it the metropolis of his world-wide empire, but was cut off before he could essay to carry out what God had ruled otherwise. Then rival cities built near, sometimes from its material, kept dwindling it, till it fell gradually into utter desolation — here set out at its worst. With similar ill-will Isa. 21 has been attacked. It must not be Isaiah’s: else he is a true prophet; and they are false teachers!
They will have the “burden of Moab” older than Isaiah for the flimsiest reasons. But Isa. 21:1-10 must be much later, and from the same author as Isa. 13; Isa. 14:1-23. They are alike and evidently predictive long beforehand; and this is intolerable. Their doubts of Isa. 24-27. we may leave to be noticed in their place. According to 1 Cor. 15:54, the strain of Isa. 25:8 awaits its accomplishment still, but will be verified when the first resurrection comes to pass, and divine indignation against Israel ceases, when all peoples have the veil destroyed that overspreads all nations, and Satan is punished, and Jehovah of hosts reigns in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His ancients in glory.
The “woes” (Isa. 28-34. ending with the joyous Isa. 35) will also come before us duly, when the sceptical objections can be noticed, as well as the historical chapters (Isa. 36-39) expounded.
Over no portion is neologian criticism more jubilant than the closing series (Isa. 40-66) in its three sections, nor with less reason. It is infatuation to object to Isaiah’s writings from the mention of Cyrus, when the prediction of Messiah’s humiliation, atonement, and ultimate glory in the kingdom subverts their groundwork completely. Who can say that the sufferings of Christ, and the glories after these, belonged to the historical horizon of “the great unknown” any more than to the friend of Hezekiah? The Babylonish exile was the portion of Judah judged by Jehovah for idolatry; but it is left behind in the second and deeper arraignment, which begins with Isa. 49, the rejection of their own Messiah. Vainly do men deny the distinct prediction of the distant future. It is thoroughly within the analogy and scope of prophecy to predict the far-distant and personal Messiah. Far from being unknown, scripture shows such visions of the future to be frequent and certain. Both advents of Christ are clearly revealed, and their glorious consequences for time and eternity.
In prophetic vision Isaiah predicts the dispersion of the people, the desolation of the land, city, and temple, and their return, in such terms as wholly transcend the days of Zerubbabel and Joshua, or of Ezra and Nehemiah. Then the redeemed of Jehovah shall come to Zion with singing, and everlasting joy shall be on their head; then they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. The prophet had, in the most distinct terms, predicted the exile just before to the king (Isa. 39). Therefore it was highly congruous to make known the comfort that God desires for His people, after (not the captivity alone but) their dispersion and national ruin, because of sin still more profound, and the solemn dealings of grace as well as of judgement at the end of the age, when they shall bow before their long-rejected King, Who shall come as Redeemer to Zion, and to those that turn from transgression in Jacob. Thereby their blessing shall be from henceforth and for ever, and the glory of Jehovah arise as never before even in David’s days or Solomon’s, and through saved Israel to all the nations and kings of the earth. Is this the ideal of a poet, or the real of a prophet? Do these critics fancy that their speculations outweigh the authoritative comment and application of the apostle in Rom. 11:26, 27? The future is contrasted with the gospel as now in the verses (Isa. 28-32) that follow, and refers to the kingdom in which Christ will surely come and reign over all the earth. The prophet Isaiah, like the rest, spoke of that kingdom, as Moses in the law (Gen. 49; Num. 23-24) had done; so do the Psalms. It is Christ suffering our judgement on the cross, which introduces Christianity and the church for heaven; it is Christ coming again to execute judgement on the ungodly quick which introduces His kingdom in manifested power and glory for the earth. Both are revealed, and one therefore is as true as the other; but they are wholly distinct ways of God for His glory, each centring in Christ.
1 The reader In weighing Gal. 6:16 may satisfy himself how little the phrase sanctions the use commonly made of it. For the apostle distinguishes “as many as walk by this rule” i.e., of the new creation, from “the Israel of God,” Instead of confounding them as tie popular error does. He means by the phrase such Jews as were so in deed and in truth. This indicates the propriety of his language. The error assumes that the apostle wrote incorrectly.