THE MINISTRY OF THE PROPHETS - ISAIAH
Robert Roberts & C.C. Walker - page 3
CHAPTER VI-PAGES 84-94
THE GLORY OF THE KING, THE LORD OF HOSTS, IN THE TEMPLE
WE need have no doubt as to the subject matter of this sixth chapter, since it is fixed for us by the Spirit of God in an apostle. John, speaking of Jesus, and quoting some of the words of the chapter, says (Jno. xii. 41) " These things said Esaias when he saw His glory and spake of Him." We are therefore in the presence of a vision of the glory of the Lord Jesus enthroned as king of the whole earth; and as heirs of the kingdom, " if we suffer with him," are interested in tracing out the upbuilding matters therein presented.
The time of the vision is stated to be " the year that King Uzziah died." There is doubtless a good reason for the introduction of this information. A consideration of the salient facts in the history of that king, in comparison with the matter of the vision, seems to reveal the fitness of time and circumstance. The death of Uzziah was a matter of peculiar sadness, for the king was a leper, and not only so, but a leper because of transgression. We are told in the history of Kings and Chronicles that he came to the throne at the early age of sixteen years, and reigned fifty-two years ; and that "he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord." It is further said of him that "He sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper."
No doubt the ministry of Zechariah would have to do with the young king's upright walk, as was the case with Joash before him under the faithful guidance of the High Priest Jehoiada. How long Uzziah's Uzziah's prosperity continued does not appear; " But," continues the unsparing record, "when he was strong his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense."
In this rash enterprise he was withstood by Azariah the priest with eighty subordinate priests. " Thou hast trespassed," said he, " neither shall it be for thine honour from the Lord God." And the wrathful king, censer in hand, resisting God's High Priest, was smitten with leprosy ; and fled from the temple in disgrace. And he was " a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a separate house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord ; and Jotham his son was over the king's house judging the people of the land."
Under these circumstances then, " in the year that King Uzziah died," Isaiah saw this vision, the central feature of which is the sanctifieation of the Lord of Hosts, in the glorious reign of a future Son of David, who on his temple-throne should, without " trespass," combine the dual offices of king and priest. For, as another prophet says, " He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne ; and he shall be a priest upon his throne ; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both " (Zech. vi. 13).
" I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple." Isaiah was not the only prophet who had visions of this divine throne to be set up on earth. Ezekiel and Daniel both had similar revelations, which in their imagery correspond with that of Isaiah, and are made further intelligible to the " servants of God" by "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" himself. Ezekiel in his opening chapter describes " visions of God " in which figure " the likeness of a throne " and of a man enthroned, and also the other elements of Isaiah's vision of the glory of God, as for instance the Cherubim. Daniel beheld in vision the enthronement of " one like the Son of Man" and the casting down of all human power before him.
The fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation make the meaning of such visions clear beyond mistake. Who is " the Lamb," " the Lion of the Tribe of Judah," " the Root of David " ? Who but the Lord Jesus? And those four living creatures who, with the four-and twenty elders, in songs of rejoicing ascribe their salvation to the Lamb, and exult in the prospect of reigning with him as kings and priests on the earth—who could miss the signification of their words, " Thou hast REDEEMED US ? " So turning back to Isaiah, we recognise in the elements of his vision those " heavenly things "—namely, Christ and his brethren—which under the Law of Moses were foreshadowed in the wonderful symbolic ritual of God's own appointment, and which were subsequently exhibited to and by the prophets upon the basis of what had previously been laid down.
The throne in the vision, and "his train" or "the skirts thereof " (margin) are related to " the temple." "The thrones of the kingdoms of men that are to be " cast down" before the Son of Man sustain no such relation, notwithstanding their pretensions, especially that of the so-called " Eternal City," whose occupant " opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." By the side of this, the transgression of Uzziah sinks into insignificance ; and if the penalty of that was leprosy unto death, the judgment of this is destruction with the brightness of the Lord's coming.
"The temple," whether considered literally or "spiritually," is the place chosen of God for His dwelling and manifestation. Its material, design, location, and service are altogether of Divine appointment. Thus " Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle. . . . See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the Mount" (Heb. viii. 5).
David also gave to Solomon, in preparation for the building of Solomon's temple, "the pattern of all that he had by the Spirit." " All this," said David, " the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern." So Ezekiel is controlled by " the hand of the Lord " in the exhibition of all the forms, ordinances, and laws of the future temple (Ezek. xl. 4 ; xliii. 10-11).
And the care thus bestowed upon the literal is, of course, not absent from that " house of God, which is the ecclesia of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth " (1 Tim. iii. 15).Its "lively stones" (2 Pet. 1, 5) have to be conformed to the pattern of Jesus Christ, the "chief corner stone, elect and precious," "in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. ii. 21). The manifestation on earth of this " holy temple," when the Lord Jesus shall be enthroned upon Mount Zion (Rev. xiv.) " before his ancients gloriously " (Is. xxiv. 23), is the subject of this sixth chapter.
"His train" or "skirts" connects with the drapery of the tabernacle and the garments of the High Priest. It is in connection with these garments that most of the other occurrences of the original word are found. The High Priest of Israel in his ministrations before the throne of God, clothed with garments of God's appointment, represented Christ personal and multitudinous. Whether we consider the " fine linen," the girdle of needlework, the Ephod, the Breastplate, or other details, the substance is all of Christ and " his celestial train," some of whose characteristics and excellencies are by these things prefigured. If it should seem strange that clothing should stand for a multitude of individuals of any sort, it has only to be remembered that it is God's own figure, as clearly expressed in a prophecy of Zion's marriage after long widowhood. " As I live, saith the Lord, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all as with an ornament, and bind them on thee as a bride doeth" (Is. xlix. 18). That is, Zion's children shall be gathered to her in glory. There is also the fact that in belief of the Gospel and baptism we " put on Christ," and if faithful unto death are to be associated with him in glory, when " clothed upon with our house which is from heaven."
The Seraphim of Isaiah's vision correspond to the Cherubim of Ezekiel and the Living Creatures of the Apocalyptic visions, and are representative of the saints when made equal unto the angels and commissioned to execute the judgments written. The meaning of the verb whence the term is derived is " to burn or consume," and that is said to be the mission of Christ and the saints in the preliminary stages of subduing the world to God. " The judgment shall sit," says Daniel, "and they (the saints) shall take away his dominion (that of the Fourth Beast), to consume and to destroy it unto the end" (ch. vii. 26). " The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the Gospel" (2 Thess. i. 8). Like the living creatures of Rev. iv., they ascribe Holiness to the Lord, and in almost the same terms : " Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory."
There is no support in this for the doctrine of "Trinitarianism" for which it is adduced. There is a plurality certainly, clearly visible both in the term " hosts " and in the " us " of verse 8, but it is not a plurality consisting of three co-equal co-eternal gods, one of whom is incomprehensibly enough termed " the Father," another " the Son," and another " the Holy Ghost." The very first principle of divine teaching both by Moses and the Prophets, Jesus and the Apostles, is that there is ONE GOD (Deut. vi. 4 ; Isa. xlii. 8: xliii. 10-13 ; Mark xii. 29 ; 1 Cor. viii. 6). He reveals Himself as the " Most High God : the Possessor of Heaven and Earth," " the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," and as being pleased in the fulness of time to manifest Himself upon earth in a multitude redeemed from among men upon principles of His own appointment, and finally exalted to the glory, honour, and incorruptibility of the divine nature. In the exhibition of these principles, it pleased Him to reveal Himself in Israel in the person of "a Son " who was also " Son of David," and the nature of whose relationship to the Father is defined by angels and prophets and by himself, in a manner that altogether excludes the mystifying co-eternity and co-equality of "Trinitarian" speculations.
The vision of " his glory " that is here before us is in harmony with all this. The title " Lord of Hosts "—Yahweh Tzvaoth, literally means He who will be Hosts, and memorialises the purpose of the Eternal concerning Christ and his body the Saints. In harmony with this purpose we hear the Lord, before he suffered, pray for his people " that they all may be one, as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one " (Jno. xvii. 21). This saying illustrates the unity and plurality in question.
The adoration of the Seraphim introduces a principle that has almost been lost sight of on earth, although written deep and strong in the history of Israel. It is that God is " great and dreadful," that He " will be sanctified in them that come nigh Him," and that there must not be any obscuring of His majesty or tampering with His will by the creatures of His hands. This is repugnant to the natural man, whose " high thoughts" insist upon liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. The word of God is mighty in the casting down of such reasoning. Look at Cain's rejected offering; look at the fate of Korah, Da than, and Abiram. See Nadab and Abihu fall dead before the fiery indignation that avenged their offering of strange fire. See this King Uzziah driven leprous from the temple for presuming to intermeddle with the service of God's appointment.
It is a grave mistake to suppose that there is less restriction in access to the divine favour in Christ. We hear Christ:—" He that entereth not by the door into the sheep-fold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door " (Jno. x.). The apostolic ministry exhibits the mode of entering—believe the Gospel and be baptised. How does Christendom stand measured by this rule ? Christ's own answer is on record in Rev. xi. in the symbol of the unmeasured outer court of the temple, cast out and given to the Gentiles. The lesson so often and terribly enforced upon Israel has been forgotten by the Gentiles, and the time draws on for their chastisement and enlightenment in the terrible " day of the Lord" that will level all human pride in the dust. Then, Hallowed will be God's name, when in His Kingdom His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
The fourth verse of this sixth chapter finds illustration in the later vision of Rev. xv. 8, which exhibits the " seven last plagues " by which all nations are made to come and worship before God, because His judgments are made manifest. In this chapter of Revelation it is said, " The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled." As the peaceful reign of Solomon and the dedication of the temple succeeded the wars and victories of David, so will the peaceful glory of the Kingdom of the " greater than Solomon" follow his manifestation as the second David. He is first manifested as " the Name of the Lord coming from far, burning with his anger" against the nations, and afterwards, when the smoking wrath of God is finished, he stands forth as "the Prince of Peace."
Isaiah was overcome with consternation at the vision: "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King the Lord of Hosts." An overpowering sense of uncleanness and helpless incompetence in the presence of the divine Majesty has been the visible characteristic of many of God's servants. Moses, when directed by God to bring Israel out of Egypt, hung back even to the point of provoking God's anger. " Behold," said he, " I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me " ?
Manoah feared death because he saw the angel of the Lord. Jeremiah lamented his incapacity, saying, " Ah, Lord God ! Behold I cannot speak, ior I am a child." The feature is a beautiful one in many ways, assuring us of the genuineness of the Scriptures, for human writings do not thus belittle their prominent men ; making us also feel that the prophets were men of like passions with ourselves, with whom we shall be at home in the Kingdom of God if it please Him to grant us a place therein. Then again it is an illustration of the altogether satisfactory philosophy of the case that Paul gives us in 2 Cor. iv. 7, " We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." Or, as he elsewhere expresses it : " God hath chosen the weak things. . . that no flesh should glory in his presence " (1 Cor. i. 27).
" Then flew one of the seraphim unto me having a live coal in his hand which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar. And he laid it upon my mouth and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips and thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged." Jeremiah and Daniel in similar conditions were similarly equipped for their missions. Jeremiah says, " The Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold I have put my words in thy mouth " (Jer. i. 9.). Daniel in his reception of a vision of the King in his glory (chap, x.), being overcome, was strengthened by an angel touching his lips (x. 16), and then received further divine communications respecting the future of Israel till the uprising for judgment in the time of the end of Michael the Great Prince.
Comparing the cases of Isaiah and Jeremiah we see that the touch of the Lord, and the putting of God's words in the prophet's mouth, is equivalent to the touch of the live coal from the altar, and the purging of iniquity in preparation for his mission. The appointment of God in Israel for the purging of sin at the altar, and the subsequent exhibition of the substance in Christ, gives us understanding of the matter. The qualification of those who spoke for God was the cleansing from iniquity. In the case of the prophets this is illustrated in the manner before us, and constitutes the great difference between the false and the true. The false were uncleansed and spoke visions of their own evil hearts which God repudiated. The true spoke His word faithfully through all the suffering and dishonour it brought upon them.
The relation of Christ to the apostles of his choice further illustrates this feature of Isaiah's vision. Christ is himself the antitypical altar, in touching whom in the way divinely appointed we are purged from our iniquity. As " the Word made flesh " who dwelt in the midst of Israel speaking " God's words," his cleansing power is visible in his last addresses to " his own " before he suffered.
" Now are ye clean," said he, " through the word which I have spoken unto you." There was an exception truly in the person of " the son of perdition : " " Ye are clean, but not all." But his necessary evil presence did not obscure the principle. The word did not cleanse him because it did not find a lodgment in his heart; and as the lips are but the organs of the expression of the fulness of the heart (" for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh "), we have no utterances of Judas, save the betrayal of the Lord and a hypocritical grumble at an accepted offering. But the others "cleansed by the word" and endowed with power from on high, go forward as Christ's witnesses " conquering and to conquer."
Though the days of inspiration are past (or rather suspended) according to the pre-deterrnination of God, these things are not without their application even now. The rule of acceptable utterance is still similar, as the apostolic writings testify : "If any man speak, let him speak as the Oracles of God." "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." The audible voice of Christ is for a little while longer unknown to earth, but " the word of Christ " in the fulness of all the Holy Scriptures, which focalise in Him, is accessible to all; and the extent of its cleansing and transforming power will not be known till the day of the manifestation of the Sons of God, when Isaiah among all the prophets will " prophesy again."
The message which the prophet was to bear to Israel was a heavy one, as had been that of Moses centuries before. He said, Go and tell this people, "Hear ye indeed but understand not; and see ye indeed but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes ; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert and be healed."
" Why," says an objector, " if God did that to them how could they be blamed for unbelief ? " " Why doth he yet find fault ? " "For who hath resisted his will?" "Nay, but Ο man," says the apostle, "Who art thou that repliest against God ? " And he puts it that God " endures with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy." The bulk of the people whom God rebuked by Isaiah were "vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." Not that God gave them no chance of mercy. Very far from it. He challenges them on this point: " 0 inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge I pray you between me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it " (ch. v. 3). The blinding of Israel came only after "much longsuffering " on God's part, and steadfast persistence in evil on the part of the misguided people.
Christ's own application of these words of Isaiah illustrates the matter further. " I speak unto them in parables, because seeing theysee not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. Arid in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith "By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive. For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest at any time, they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them " (Matt. xiii. 13). Men who closed their eyes to Christ, in the unmistakable divinity of his words and works, were in hopeless case, as he says (Jno. xv. 24). In their rejection and crucifixion of him, they filled up the measure of their iniquity, and " wrath to the uttermost" was thenceforth their portion.
But " how long ? " In common with the other prophets, Isaiah was greatly exercised by this question. " Then, said I, Lord how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate. And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land." From Isaiah's day, we stand now about two thousand six hundred years down the stream of time. Looking back we can only say, " The former things have come to pass." In the days of the last King with whom Isaiah was contemporary—Hezekiah—the ten-tribed kingdom of Ephraim went into captivity, and in about a century afterwards Judah shared a like fate at the hands of the Babylonians. Then under the Persian kings there came^the partial restoration, but at length in their rejection of Messiah, the nation encountered the divine indignation, and the end came with the overwhelming flood of the Roman invasion, the effects of which still challenge the attention of almost the least thoughtful o£ mankind in the spectacle of scattered Israel and the forsaken land.
God did not give Isaiah any other answer to his enquiry than the verses quoted ; but subsequently to other prophets he revealed times and seasons, in the understanding of which, we have the happiness of knowing that the desolation of Israel is nearly at an end. That it was terminable was plainly revealed to Isaiah both in this and other visions. In this case the concluding words of God run thus : "But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return and shall be eaten, as a teil tree and as an oak, whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof." Though the sinners of Israel were to be "as an oak whose leaf fadeth " (ch. i. 30), the Israelitish tree itself was not to be wholly destroyed. There would be a remnant exhibiting the characteristics of the "blessed " spoken of in Psalm i.—and who, delighting in the law of the Lord, would at last be in the estate symbolised by its beautiful figure of a fruitful evergreen by rivers of water.
All the dealings of God with Israel illustrate this principle, to which Christ also alludes in speaking of the judgment coming: " For the elect's sake, those days shall be shortened." " The elect" are "the holy seed," to which all ages and generations have contributed their humanly undiscerned and unvalued number. The fathers of Israel themselves were " few men and strangers " in the land of their future everlasting inheritance. The Prophets were often outcast fugitives. The Lord Jesus himself was despised and rejected, cast out of the vineyard and slain, by the apparently honourable husbandmen of Israel. His people have shared his experience as he said they would. Though in truth " the holy seed " and " the salt of the earth," they have been esteemed " the offscouring of all things." But divine verities are not affected by human estimations, and when the fulness of the Gentiles shall have "come in" to the elect " remnant " of Israel, as Paul calls it in his teaching concerning these things in Romans xi., the "consensus of opinion" of mere human philosophy will weigh nothing with God by the side of the " jewels " of His own development against the day of earth-filling glory which Isaiah beheld in vision so long ago, and which is now so much nearer its actual manifestation.
CHAPTER VII-PAGES 95-106
IN the seventh chapter, we commence a section of the prophecy which runs in a connected manner to the end of the twelfth chapter, and has been called "THE BOOK OF IMMANUEL." It deals in a wonderful and comprehensive manner with the fortunes of Israel from the days of Ahaz, King of Judah, to the enthronement of the Holy One in the midst of Zion (xii. 6). The Holy One there enthroned amidst shoutings of rejoicing and salvation is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle Peter, speaking of this time, exhorts the brethren to endure the fiery trial of their faith with the glorious end in view : the salvation of their lives (1 Pet. i. 9); and adds, " Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." Again, in his second epistle, exhorting " those of like precious faith" to " be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets," he says : " Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Bearing these exhortations in mind, and having " senses exercised by reason of use," we are enabled in great measure to understand the words of the prophet.
In enquiring " what manner of time," the Spirit of Christ signifies we must, of coarse, enquire concerning the time and circumstances under which the word was given. Apart from a study of the history of the case, we might conclude from this section of Isaiah that Ahaz was a good king, and be disconcerted somewhat at the judgments denounced upon him. Isaiah vii. opens thus: "And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, King of Judah, that Rezin, the King of Syria, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, King of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind." We read in 2 Kings xv. 30 that " Hoshea, the son of Elah, made a conspiracy against Pekah, the son of Remaliah, and smote him and slew him, and reigned in his stead,in the twentieth year of Jotham, the son of Uzziah "—that is, twenty years after he began to reign, for in verse 33 it is said (as also in 2 Ohron. xxvii. 1) that "he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem." This would make the death of Pekah happen in the fourth year of the reign of Ahaz.
There were more incursions than one of Syria and Ephraim in the days of Ahaz. The troublous times spoken of in Isa. vii. 1-2 had to do with his early years, and the " evil counsel " of the confederate kings of Syria and Israel was, " Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal." These circumstances and this time were deemed fitting by God for a further exhibition to " the house of David," to Ephraim, Syria, and those of the Gentiles to whom the word of His grace should afterwards come, of His eternal purpose concerning Judah and Jerusalem, and the throne of David in the hands of Immanuel, the Holy One and KING of His appointment.
The phrase " the house of David " of verses 2 and 13 is peculiar, and not accidental—not a poetic flourish put in by " the will of man." It imports that the matter before us was not merely personal to Ahaz (who was not the type of man God honours with revelations), but was national and far-reaching in its bearing and developments.
Ahaz, the son of Jotham, we learn from the parallel accounts in 2 Kings and 2 Chron., came to the throne at the early age of twenty years, reigned sixteen years, died leaving behind him a bad record, and was buried in Jerusalem but not in the sepulchres of the Kings. A glance at his history makes the understanding of this section of Isaiah clear.
"He walked in the way of the Kings of Israel, yea and made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast oat from before the children of Israel. And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree. Then Rezin, King of Syria, and Pekah, son of Remaliah, King of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him " (2 Kings xvi. 3-5).
Later, however, Judah was smitten with great slaughter before Rezin and Pekah, and Zichri a mighty man of Ephraim (2 Chron. xxviii.), and '; Israel carried away captive of their brethren 200,000, women, sons and daughters, and took also away much spoil from them and brought the spoil to Samaria." It was on this occasion that the prophet Oded rebuked Israel on behalf of the captives, telling them of their own sins, and so influenced the princes of Ephraim that " they rose up and took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them and shod them, and gave them to eat and to drink, and anointed them, and carried all the feeble of them upon asses, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brethren," and then returned to Samaria.
Untouched by this beautiful and striking interposition of God on behalf of Judah, and being further harassed by the Edomites and Philistines, Ahaz hired help of Tiglath-Pileser, King of Assyria, spoiling the temple to provide the means. Tiglath-Pileser accordingly took Damascus, and slew Rezin. Ahaz went to Damascus to meet his victorious ally. While there he was struck with the pattern of a certain altar, and sent the design to Jerusalem to Urijah the priest, who had a facsimile ready against the king's return. On his return, Ahaz displaced the brazen altar, and set up the idolatrous creation in its place, reserving the brazen altar to "enquire by." He was undeterred by the example of his ancestor Uzziah, and " trespassing yet more," " sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus which smote him: and he said, Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel" (2 Chron. xxviii. 23). His further desecration of the holy things, destruction of the vessels, closing the doors of the temple, and multiplying altars in every corner of Jerusalem, are described in the histories of Kings and Chronicles.
Such was the character of the king in whose days Isaiah, Oded, Micah, and Hosea ministered " the word of the Lord " in messages of indignation and judgment, blended with promise of mercy for "the latter days."
In the time of trouble pertaining to the invasion of Judah by Syria and Ephraim, Isaiah is commissioned by God to meet King Ahaz at a certain spot and calm his fears. A writer of repute has inferred from this that Isaiah must have been of the seed royal. But the conclusion is not justifiable: Amos penetrated into the King's Court at Bethel, though originally but a herdman and gatherer of sycamore fruit, and he excused his presence and message by direct reference to the command of God (Amos vii. 13-15). The fact is, that of Isaiah's extraction and personal history we know little or nothing beyond the word or two of chapter i. 1, which describes him as " the son of Amoz." It is evidently not designed that we should know in these days. If it please God to let us take place with "all the prophets " in His glorious kingdom we may hereafter know much. Meanwhile, personal curiosity is baffled, and attention directed to the message rather than the messenger.
The divine command was : " Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou and Shear-jashub (Remnant-shall-return), thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fullers field"—(that is, to the point where the besiegers were against the city, and where afterwards Sennacherib's blasphemous captain challenged the God of Israel to deliver Jerusalem—chap, xxxvi. 2). " Go forth . . . and say unto him, Take heed and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah "—and the message recounts their policy of overthrowing the Kingdom of David and founding a new dynasty, and resumes, verse 7—" Thus saith the Lord God, it shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin, and within three score and five years shall Ephraim be broken that it be not a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established."
There are heads and heads: the apostle Paul, speaking of a certain matter, says: " I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ . . . and the head of Christ is God." Here were certain powers in the Lord's land—Immanuel's land—besieging " the city of the Great King." Their relation to the HEAD of all, was that of His briefly tolerated instruments of chastisement. Of Ephraim's follies the Spirit of God in the prophet Hosea speaks expressly : " They have set up kings but not by me : they have made princes and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols that they may be cut off " (Hos. viii. 4). The divine estimation of and sentence against these self-appointed " heads " in threatening array against the Kingdom of David is thus presented to Ahaz by Isaiah. They were simply " two tails "—" the two tails of these smoking firebrands." They would not, like Immanuel, be " plucked from the burning" (Zech. iii. 2), but would pass away in the consumption decreed of God for all the seed of the serpent. Less than sixty-five years saw the fall of both Syria and Ephraim, Rezin having been slain by Tiglath-Pileser, and Pekah by Hoshea. Syria became a province of Assyria ; and Samaria, in the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth of Hoshea, fell before Shalmaneser, and thus the ten-tribed kingdom of Ephraim passed away for ever.
" Moreover the Lord spake again to Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God, ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. Bat Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord. And he said, Hear ye now, 0 house of David: Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also ? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign :—
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
And shall call his name IMMANUEL.
Butter and honey shall he eat,
That he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.
For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings."
This was to be a sign to the house of David, not to Ahaz personally. He had expressly refused the invitation of God to ask a sign. He would be dead and gone seven hundred years and more before Immanuel's days. Hostile criticism, rejecting Jesus, fixes on Ahaz and his time, and asks with an air of triumph, How much of a sign was the birth of Jesus to him? But such criticism has to wrest the Scripture even to appear to snatch a victory. The words of the prophet altogether exclude such rigid personal construction. Jewish rejecters of Jesus (in their very rejection and " abhorring " fulfilling the later words of the prophet), have exhausted their ingenuity in unsuccessful endeavour to expound the sign apart from him. Emphasising the fact that the definite article appears in the Hebrew (" the virgin," not " a virgin," see R.V.), and altering " virgin " to " young woman," they have even striven to prove that " Hezekiah King of Judah " was the man of sign in question ! But it is " hard to kick against the pricks." Hezekiah, though a worthy king, and a pleasant contrast with idolatrous Ahaz, was no such sign to the house of David. He was not a virgin's son. He was not "God with " Israel, neither did Syria and Ephraim fall before he knew " to refuse the evil and choose the good."
But in the face of the New Testament Scriptures it were vain to follow too closely such desperately ingenious struggles to get rid of the authority of God's Anointed. Matt. i. 22, 23, concerning " the birth of Jesus Christ," is all sufficient: " Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which, being interpreted is, God with us."
As to the definite article, the reason and propriety of its appearance may be gathered from Mary's answer to the salutation of the angel Gabriel (Luke i. 38): " Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word." This was a recognition of her honoured position as " the virgin " of Isaiah's prophecy —" the handmaid of the Lord " (Ps. lxxxvi. 16 : cxvi. 16) as much present to the mind of God from the beginning of His purpose, as was her illustrious Son.
As to the proposition to alter the rendering of the word almah, it is entirely unwarrantable. The matter was to be " a sign," a " wonder," and the usage of the term in indisputable and expressly condenned cases of virginity as in Gen. xxiv. 43 (Rebecca), and Ex. ii. 8 (the sister of Moses), justifies the received translation. Further, the necessities of the case from the very· earliest promise of God (Gen. iii. 15), that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head, effectually exclude any other idea, as also does the wonderful name the Son was to bear.
" Butter and honey shall he eat,that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good." What kind of a diet was this to be ? Not literal butter and honey, of course, for thousands of Israelites ate that, who were distinguished more by the opposite characteristics of refusing the good and choosing the evil. On the occasion of his conversation with the Samaritan woman, when Jesus, " being wearied with his journey," sat at Jacob's well, he had something to say about his " meat." In answer to the importunities of his disciples, he said : " I have meat to eat that ye know not of." And after their wondering enquiry of each other as to the source and nature of the supply, he added : " My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work " (John iv. 32, 34). The doing of that will involved the indwelling of the word of God in which, by the Spirit of God, he was of " quick understanding."
The Scriptures frequently speak of the word as food to be eaten. " The Lord thy God humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live." So said Moses to Israel (Deut.viii. 3). "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food," said Job (ch. xxiii. 12). " Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart" (Jer. xv. 16). Words that in their " reading marking, learning, and inwardly digesting" thus establish and delight the new man, are " butter and honey." The words of the covenant-breaking enemy, said the Psalmist, " were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart ; his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords" (Ps. lv. 21). The sham illustrates the true. Another Psalm, the 119th (a long panegyric of the word of God), says: " How sweet are thy words unto my taste—yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth. Through thy precepts I get understanding, therefore I hate every false way" (verse 103). Solomon uses the same metaphor as Isaiah vii. His exhortation runs thus: "My son, eat thou honey, because it is good ; and the honeycomb which is sweet to thy taste. So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul, when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward and thine expectation shall not be cut off " (Prov. xxiv. 13-14).
All this finds pre-eminent illustration in Immanuel, who refused the evil and chose the good, who "loved righteousness and hated iniquity," and is therefore " anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows" (Heb. i. 9). He is himself the bread of life, antitypical of the manna with which God fed Israel in the wilderness. " Labour not for the meat which perisheth," said He to the people that followed Him because He had miraculously multiplied bread, " but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you : for him hath God the Father sealed" (John vi. 27). " Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you " (verse 53). And pacifying his disciples, who complained of the " hard saying," he added in explanation: "It is the Spirit that maketh alive, the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit and they are life" (verse 63). All Immanuel's "seed" eat of the same "spiritual meat", and esteem it exceedingly ; and by it alone in its daily assimilation, " know " and are encouraged to "refuse the evil and choose the good" in hope of the day of recompense that lies ahead.
Long before Immanuel's childhood, the land abhorred by Ahaz was " forsaken of both her kings." In the days of Jesus, the Romans had incorporated it in their "iron" dominion, and still long ages of desolation awaited " the glorious land." But these are now nearly expired, and the signs of deliverance are many and bright.
But judgment was to come upon Ahaz, verse 17: "The Lord shall bring upon thee and upon thy people and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the days that Ephraim departed from Judah ; even the King of Assyria." The history of the Kings tells us that " the Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz, King of Israel; for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against the Lord. And Tiglath-Pileser, King of Assyria, came unto him, and distressed him, but strengthened him not" (2 Chron. xxviii. 20). The Assyrian whom Ahaz hired with the spoil of the temple, to deliver him from Syria and Israel his enemies, became the Lord's hired razor (verse 20) to make Judah bare. Jeremiah and Ezekiel illustrate the same figure of judgment.
To Jeremiah God said : "Cut off thine hair and cast it away . for the Lord hath rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath" (ch. vii. 29). Ezekiel, symbolically representing the destruction upon destruction that was before Jerusalem in his days, was commanded by God, saying, " Son of Man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber's razor, and cause it to pass upon thine head and upon thy beard; then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair. Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled ; and thou shalt take a third part and smite it about with a knife; and a third part shalt thou scatter in the wind ; and I will draw out a sword after them. Thou shalt also take thereof a few in number and bind them in thy skirts. Then take of them again, and cast them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire, for thereof shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel " (Ezek. v. 1-3).
Thus the shaved, burnt, and scattered hair of the prophet represented Israel in the successive visitations of fire and sword that came upon their evil generations. One of the features of the representation of Christ in glory is " the hair of his head like the pure wool" (Dan. vii. 9). " His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow" (Rev. i. 14). In those days the shaving, smiting, burning, and scattering of Israel for their iniquity will be a thing of the past, and Immanuel surrounded by the multitude of the immortal redeemed, will have gathered purified and repentant Israel unto himself ; yea, even the " razor" itself shall have been transformed, for " in that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land ; whom the Lord of Hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance " (Isa. xix. 24). Egypt and Assyria, upon whom Israel leant when they forsook God, and whom God therefore used as instruments of chastisement, will then have borne their measure of chastening and humiliation and figure among the " many nations joined unto the Lord " in the day when he shall " inherit Judah, his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again " (Zech. ii. 12).
Notwithstanding the iniquity and desolation there was to be good food for the elect remnant: " It shall come to pass in that day that a man shall nourish a young cow and two sheep; and it shall come to pass for the abundance of milk that they shall give, he shall eat butter, for hutter and honey shall everyone eat that is left in the land " (verses 21-22). That is the same food that was to nourish Immanuel (verse 15), and he himself is enigmatically before us in verse 21.
" A young cow : " that is literally " a heifer of the herd." When God was about to confirm to Abram the " covenant concerning Christ " (Gen. xv.), He told him to take among other animals for sacrifice, " an heifer of three years old." About five hundred years afterwards, when Israel had gone through much of the experience of which God spoke to Abram, He appointed in their midst, as an ordinance for purification, the water of separation made with the ashes of " a red heifer without spot, wherein was no blemish, and upon which never came yoke " (Num. xix.). The substance of this, Paul identifies with Christ (Heb. ix. 13-14).
As to the " two sheep : " Christ is at once " the Lamb of God," and the " Great Shepherd of the sheep." The two ideas are blended as it were in Isa. liii.: " All we like sheep have gone astray . . .the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all . . . he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so opened he not his mouth." He taught the Jews that he was at once the door of the sheepfold and the shepherd that entered by the door, an involution of ideas that is unintelligible apart from the understanding of the truth concerning " the blood of the everlasting covenant" (Heb. xiii. 20). He said that not only of Israel were his sheep : " Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd " (Jno. x. 16).
Christ: the " Word made flesh," in the days of his flesh, by his ministering of the word in Israel, "nourished" a remnant, which, being thus begotten by the Father with the word of His truth (Jas. i. 18), became in turn the ministers of the same word, and shepherds of the sheep. " Feed my sheep," said the Lord to Peter; and in doing it, Peter thus addressed the " scattered strangers, elect according to the foreknowledge of God," " Laying aside all malice, and all guile and hypocrisies and envies, and all evil speakings, as new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." Growth apart from the milk and honey of the word is impossible. It is the characteristic of the latter - day revival of the hope of Israel, that its possessors are " begotten" by the Word, " desire" it, and "grow thereby."
If many do not exhibit such characteristics, it is because they do not really belong to it. " Everyone left in the land," whether the phrase be taken to refer to the remnants which have in the past escaped from the judgments that have come, or to the elect remnant that shall at last enter into the " eternal inheritance"," conformed and must conform to the pattern of Immanuel in the assimilation of the food and nourishment of the Father's own appointment and providing.
Because of the neglect of this has been all the evil of the past. The desolate land is but the monument of Divine indignation upon the most favoured people of His choice, " because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel" (ch. v. 24). "With arrows and with bows shall men come thither; hecause all the land shall become briars and thorns" (ch. vii. 24). Apostolic exhortation to " go on unto perfection," uses this warning: " The earth which drinketh in the rain which cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God. But that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected, whose end is to be burned " (Heb. vi. 7). The briar-and-thorn-choked land of Israel was consumed by the invader, but some " good ground " escaped. " And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briars and thorns; but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of sheep " (verse 25).
The meaning of the concluding words of this seventh chapter is illustrated in the work of Christ and the apostles. . He was " the sower " in the land, who, in the " sending forth " of the twelve upon the mountains of Israel, figuratively " sent forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass" (ch. xxxii. 20). Paul does not hesitate to appropriate the figure of the patiently labouring ox. " It is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen ? Or saith He it altogether for our sahes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he that ploweth should plow in hope, and that he that thrasheth in hope should be partaker of his hope" (1 Cor. ix. 9). Nevertheless, the apostle was extremely careful in the exercise of his undoubted privileges lest he should hinder the Gospel of Christ.
His day of labour in " treading out the corn " has long ceased. The monument of it is preserved in the many records of his works and sufferings. Many generations since have contributed their number of " oxen and sheep." Far less directly " sent forth," and in the times of darkness succeeding the Apostolic era so few as to be scarcely discernible, they have nevertheless patiently fulfilled their appointed day. Briars and thorns have multiplied and do multiply exceedingly, not only in the Lord's land, but in all lands where His name is nominally in the ascendant. The desolate mountains of Israel still wait His return, one of whose functions it is to burn up the sons of Belial " as thorns thrust away," a work the true magnitude and terror of which, can never be adequately estimated this side of its accomplishment.
(chapter 7 is now completed)
(more from this book to be posted)