THE MINISTRY OF THE PROPHETS - ISAIAH
Robert Roberts & C.C. Walker
"YE shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God." So said the Lord Jesus Christ to many who rejected him, and who should in that day be "thrust out" of the Kingdom. But of others he at the same time said, "They shall come from the East and from the West, and from the North and from the South, and shall sit down in the Kingdom of God."
The prophets will then resume their "ministry" upon earth, but on a higher plane, and in the divine nature. To the apostle John, who was also a prophet, the angel said, "Thou must prophesy again, before many peoples and nations and tongues and kings," a thing that remains to be done. The object of this book is to state, illustrate and prove the true nature of the "ministry" past and future; and to help and encourage some of the "many" whom the Lord says shall presently be exalted to a place in the Kingdom of God.
This book is really supplementary to one dealing with the ministry of the greatest of the prophets save the Lord Jesus Christ, that is Moses. "The Law of Moses" is the title of the last work of Robert Roberts. It deals with the Law as "a rule of National and Individual life, and as the enigmatical enunciation of Divine Principles and Purposes."
Moses' work was the building of the house of God in Israel, as it were by a faithful servant. The work of the later prophets was the carrying on of the affairs of the household. " The Law and the Prophets " is a natural sequence, and on the completion of the aforesaid book the present (one) was suggested to the author (then in Australia) by his fellow-labourer in England. The reply was the first chapter in print, the idea having naturally occurred, and having borne fruit.
The first portion of this book was thus written by Robert Roberts in the course of journeyings in the Australian Colonies, New Zealand, and at sea on the Pacific Ocean. He laid down his pen at the end of Isaiah, Chapter V., to resume his "ministry" no more till the time comes to " prophesy again," when we trust he will be honoured with that divine commission. He died suddenly in the United States in 1898 ; and the rest of the book—Isaiah VI. and onwards—has been written by its other joint-author, C. C. WALKER. BIRMINGHAM, September 27th, 1907
(Note: Page Numbers for each Chapter are from the 1957 Edition)
ISAIAH CHAPTER 1 PAGES 45-57
"THE LORD HATH SPOKEN"
WE now look at the writings of the prophets as they have been preserved and compiled in our common Bible. There might be some advantage in taking them in chronological order ; that is, in the order in which they were produced from reign to reign. But the greater advantage on the whole will lie in taking them just in the order in which they occur—beginning with Isaiah and ending with Malachi.
" ISAIAH, son of Amos," emerges frequently upon the scene as a personal actor in the life of the nation. We have no account of how he was called, or where or when his ministry commenced. Any glimpses we get of him are always in Jerusalem; and the beginning of his prophecy informs us that his prophetic work covered the reigns of "Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." We are probably correct in assuming that he was an inhabitant of Jerusalem, and that he belonged to a priestly family.
We find him dealing with the king on more than one occasion—in the days of: Ahaz on an occasion of great political agitation (Isaiah vii. 3-7); and in the days of Hezekiah, on the occasion of great national peril (2 Kings xviii., xix.; Isaiah xxxvi.,xxxvii.). On the other hand, his duty sometimes involved great personal humiliation, as when he was commanded (Is. xx. 2) " Loose the sackcloth from off thy loins and put off thy shoe from thy feet. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot, and the Lord said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and Ethiopia, so shall the King of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners and the Ethiopians captives young and old, naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered to the shame of Egypt."
His personal participations in the events of his time might be interesting, but the spirit of God has not seen fit to favour us with particulars of these. It is the messages that came through him from God to which prominence is given, and it is to these we now propose to give some attention. It is characteristic of the scriptures—(and one of the many marks of their divinity)—that little is made of the men, except where they are notable as examples of obedience ; and everything made of the divine words of which they were the vehicle. As Paul expresses it, " We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God, and not of us " (2 Cor. iv. 7).
The written prophecies of Isaiah open grandly. There is an appeal to heaven and earth to listen. "Hear, 0 heavens, and give ear, 0 earth." Why this supreme attention?
" FOR THE LORD HATH SPOKEN."
All-sufficient reason for such a challenge certainly. What greater occurrence could there be in human experience than a message from God ? This is the event of which the whole Bible is the literary incorporation. This is the fact which gives it its value, and apart from which, it would be but a piece of literary lumber. It is the fact constantly insisted on, in the Bible itself, as instanced in the impressive formulation by Paul in the words, " God at sundry times and divers manners, spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets". It is the one fact which above all others the most systematically, and insidiously, and resolutely assailed in our day—in every way and by every class of enemy—the vulgar, shallow, brawling blasphemer, of course, but besides him, the polished professor of science, the elegant and speculative critic of ancient documents, and the well-bred occupants of high-salaried pulpits originally erected in its defence. The adverse current is strong, but successful resistance is not impossible. The Bible is its own witness against the theories of all kinds that would quench its light. No man of discernment can make himself thoroughly acquainted with it without feeling that its testimony that God speaks by it is true.
It is not uncommon to meet this contention by saying, " True, God speaks by the Bible, but He speaks in many other ways as well. He speaks everywhere : He speaks in everything." Distressed inexperience is liable to be silenced by this manoeuvre (for it is only a manoeuvre where it is not honest muddle or flat falsehood). Distressed inexperience feels there is something wrong in a speech apparently so sweet, and yet it cannot put its finger on the flaw. The flaw lies in the changed sense of the word " speaks." When the Bible says that God has spoken, it means a speaking as direct as when one man speaks to another. "Thou testifiedst against them by thy Spirit in thy prophets" "not by the will of man, but as moved by the Holy Spirit " (Neh. ix. 30; 2 Pet. i. 21)—a speaking, therefore, by inspiration; or, as men say, by miracle. Thus only can the purpose of God be declared, for how are we to know His purpose and His will if He did not tell us. The stars are silent; the sea is silent; the woods are silent; our hearts are silent, concerning these. How can we know if He speak not ?
Now, when the modern enemies of the Bible say that God speaks everywhere, they do not mean this kind of speaking, concerning which they really mean that God speaks nowhere. They mean that, as God has made everything, everything is the expression of His mind, and therefore a speaking of His mind. There is a certain kind of truth in this way of putting matters, but in the way and with the purpose for which it is put, it is practically a false statement. All nature is truly an expression of divine idea, for the divine idea was the antecedent out of which, by power it all sprang. But this is not the kind of idea that is in question when we say that God has spoken by the prophets. The kind of idea in question is not the abstract conception that preceded the formation of natural objects as an architect's plan precedes a house, but the current present conscious idea of the divine mind in relation to human affairs. If we look at a tree, we look at the expression of a divine idea, but it is only the idea of a tree, which is of no use to us in answer to the question, " What does God purpose with us ? What would He have us to do ? " So with everything else : flowers, lakes, valleys, mountains, seas, golden sunsets, our own frames and feelings : they tell us of the wisdom in which they have their origin. But they tell us nothing of what we want to know as to what that wisdom designs concerning ourselves. That wisdom alone can tell us—not by trees and mountains and feelings, but by message—the express message of instruction which we desire. This message, the Bible tells us, God has given us at the " sundry times " and in " the divers manners " recorded therein.
When the philosophers in question say, God has done this everywhere in everything, they mock our understanding and utter a lie. What can a stone, a lichen, a mouse, fresh air, a storm, tell us of the purpose of God ? If a stone is the expression of a divine idea, it is only a stone idea, and we want something higher than a stone. If a flower express a divine idea, it is only an idea that goes no further than a flower, and what we want is the divine thoughts concerning Himself and ourselves. These we cannot gather from the works of nature or our own dark minds. We have to have them communicated direct from the presence of the Great Divine Thinker. This has been done in the events and sayings recorded in the Bible. The men who send us to nature deny this. They send us where all is darkness and would prevent our access to where all is light. They act like the man who would refer us to the house built by an architect for an answer to a question which we wish to put to the architect himself.
The book of Isaiah, we perceive, opens with the grand announcement, "The Lord hath spoken." The announcement is made as a prelude to a particular thing that is to be said : " I have nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against me." Whom does he mean ? We are not long left in doubt. We might have supposed he meant the race of Adam in general. It comes closer home than that. " The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master's crib, but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." It is the people concerning whom He said by another prophet: " You only have I known of all the families of the earth," and by Moses, " The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself above all the nations of the earth."
" The Lord hath spoken " by Isaiah, and this is the subject of His speech: the chosen people, delivered from Egypt; and the message, their condemnation: " Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, the seed of evil doers: children that are corrupters:they have forsaken the Lord : they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger : they are gone away backward."
In these two features, we touch governing elements of the Bible which have much to do both with determining its meaning and demonstrating its divinity. The Bible is pre-eminently a book of the Jews, not only in its being instrumentally written by Jews about Jews, but in its being concerned with the future of the Jews and the destiny of mankind through and in connection with them. The feature comes out in the primordial promise to their ancestor Abraham: " In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." It shines in the description of Christ as " the seed " of Abraham (Gal. iii. 16); and as the son of Abraham, the son of David (Matt. i. 1) ; and as the King of the Jews (Matt, xxvii. 37).It comes out strongly in the description of the hope of the Gospel as the hope of Israel (Acts xxviii. 20), and in the statement of Paul before Agrippa, that the twelve tribes served God day and night in hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers (Acts xxvi. 6-7).
From this element of divine truth, there has been a great departure. It is imagined that God has done with Israel and has taken on the Gentiles. There is the merest ingredient of truth in this view. Though the Jews have been driven into dispersion, it is only as a temporary hiding of God's face : they are not finally cast off. They have been sent into affliction among the Gentiles, only in punishment of centuries of disobedience, and they will in the end return to restoration and favour, as Paul in Rom. xi. 11-15,25-29 declares in harmony with all the prophets (Deut. xxx. 3-5 ;Isaiah xi. 11-12 ; lx. 1-14 ; Jer. xxiii. 5-8 ; xxx. 18-22 ; Ezek. xxxvii.21; Dan. xii. 1; Hosea iii. 4-5 ; Joel iii.1-3; Amos ix. 11-15 ; Obad. i. 17; Micah vii. 15-20; Nahum i. 15; Hab. iii. 13-19 ; Zeph. iii. 18-20; Hag. ii. 21-23; Zech. ii. 10-13; Mai. iii. 4-6).
It is expressly declared in Ezek. xxxix., that this will be a matter of understanding among the nations of the earth when the finality is reached : " The heathen (i.e. the nations) shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity. Because they trespassed against me, therefore hid I my face from them and gave them into the hands of their enemies, so fell they all by the sword. But now will I bring again the captivity of Jacob and have mercy upon the whole house of Israel" (verses 23-25).
That they are not cast off in the final sense God solemnly avers, thus: " Like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them all the good that I have spoken. Considerest thou not what this people have spoken. The two families which the Lord hath chosen (Israel and Judah), he hath even cast them off. . . . Thus saith the Lord, If those ordinances (of heaven and earth) depart from before me, then shall the seed of Israel also cease from being a nation before me for ever. If heaven above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done "(Jer. xxxii. 42 ; xxxiii. 24; xxxi. 36-37).
As for the position of the Gentiles, that has indeed been one of favour since Christ sent Paul 1,800 years ago: but the extent of the favour has been misunderstood. It is not that they have been placed in Israel's position, but that they have been invited to become heirs of their good things on condition of compliance with the terms which Israel rejected. This is to be discerned in Christ's words to Paul in sending him : " To the Gentiles now I send thee to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God that they may receive remission of sins and inheritance among all them that are sanctified through the faith that is in me" (Acts xxvi. 17-18) ; also in Paul's definition of the matter in his letter to the Ephesians: "That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs of the same body and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. iii. 6)—not all Gentiles, but those Gentiles who should come within the conditions in the belief and obedience of the Gospel. To such in Ephesus he says : " Ye were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, ye who were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ" (ii. 12-13). As regards other Gentiles, who had not submitted to the Gospel, he says : " Walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened and being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of their heart " (Eph. iv. 18).
It is evident that it is only a selected class among the Gentiles that are called to Israel's privilege.
It is further evident that this selected class change their position in the process of their selection, and ceasing to be Gentiles, become adopted Israelites : " Ye are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints of the household of God " (ii. 19), so that " he is a Jew who is one inwardly," though he be not a Jew by natural descent (Rom. ii. 29). Though a wild olive by nature, such a transformed Gentile has been grafted upon the good olive tree (Rom. xi. 24), and remembers in modesty that he bears not the root but the root him, and that he stands in this favoured position by faith, and is in danger of losing it if he fall from his steadfastness (verses 18-20).
So that the position of the Gentiles under the Gospel is very different from what loose popular theology supposes. What God has done in making advances to the Gentiles by apostolic hands has not been to adopt them en masse in place of Israel. What He has done cannot be better defined than in the words of Peter: " God hath visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name" (Acts xv. 14). Gentiles are still Gentiles and Jews are still Jews: but Gentiles may become adopted heirs of Israel's promises by conformity to the requirements of the Gospel, while as for the Jews, as a body, they are subject to blindness " till the fulness of the Gentiles is gathered in," after which, as a body, the Jews will be restored to favour (Rom. xi. 25-26).
While the Bible is a book of the Jews, it condemns the Jews in a manner that would be inexplicable apart from the divine origination at the root of its authorship. Those who regard the Bible as a piece of human literature, and the national movement behind it as a human movement, must find it difficult to suggest even a plausible explanation of a circumstance so foreign to human nature in all its developments, in all countries, and races, and ages. All literature speaks well of the people among whom it originates, but here, it is literally from beginning to end that this book of the Jews condemns the Jews. At the very start, it exhibits them as mutinous and discontented under Moses—actually before they left Egypt: " Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians" (Ex. xiv. 12). When they had just left, and before they crossed the Red Sea, they are represented as saying to Moses, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt ? " When they got across the Red Sea and found themselves in the barren desert between Elim and Sinai," the whole congregation murmured against Moses and said unto him, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt. . . . Ye have brought us forth into this wilderness to kill the whole assembly with hunger."
When they reached the border of the land of promise and had received the report of the spies, they wept for vexation, and proposed to stone Moses and appoint a captain in his place and return to Egypt (Num. xiv. 1-4). About forty years afterwards, when they were just about to enter the land, Moses addressed these words to them, " Understand that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this land to possess it for thy righteousness. Remember and forget not how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt until ye came unto this place, ye have been rebellious against the Lord" (Deut. ix. 6-7 : xxxi. 27). David testifies of them that they were " a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that set not their hearts aright and whose spirit was not steadfast with God " (Psa. lxxviii. 8). The testimony of the prophets, as contained in their writings, is one unbroken denunciation of them throughout. It may be taken as summed up in a single verse in Isaiah xxx.: " Go write it before them on a table and note it in a book, that it may be (a testimony) for the time to come for ever and ever, that this is a rebellious people,lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord" (verses 8-9).
So with the New Testament : Christ told them they were of their father the devil (Jno. viii. 44), and that their leaders were hypocrites and blind guides, and he apostrophised them in these terrible words: " Fill ye up, then, the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers,how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore behold I send unto you prophets and wise men and scribes, and some of them ye shall kill and crucify, and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues and persecute them from city to city, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zecharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar" (Matt, xxiii. 32-35). Stephen speaks in the same strain (Acts vii. 52-53); and also Paul (Acts xiii. 45-46 : xxviii. 25, 28).
This fact, thoroughly thought out, does more than anything else to prove the divine character of the Bible. As water can rise no higher than the level of its source, so no human book can rise higher than a human authorship. Deference to man is the characteristic of all literature ; but here is a book that not only defers not to man but condemns man in every relation except that of submission to God. The explanation is supplied in the phrase that occurs about two thousand times in the Bible : "Thus saith the Lord God."
The whole of the first chapter of Isaiah is in this vein of reproof: " From the sole of the foot unto the crown of the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrifying sores " (verse 6). The result: " Your country is desolate ; your cities are burnt with fire ; your land, strangers devour it in your presence . . Except the Lord of Hosts had left us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom : and we should have been like unto Gomorrah " (verses 7-9). That is, but for the presence of a small minority of faithful men, whom God, as in the days of Elijah, had " reserved for himself " as His purpose required, the state of the land would have been as bad as Sodom. Apart from these, Israel had become as Sodom. The rest of the people were to God as the inhabitants of Gomorrah. Catching up this idea, the Spirit of God proceeds to address them as Sodom and Gomorrah : " Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah " (verse 10).
What He has to say to them is remarkable in more ways than one. God had enjoined sacrifices by the law of Moses. He is to chide them now—not for withholding these sacrifices, but for bringing them : " To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me ? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts ; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks or of lambs or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts ? Bring no more vain oblations : incense is an abomination to me: the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with. It is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts, my soul hateth : they are a trouble unto me. I am weary to bear them."
What is the explanation of this apparent repudiation of the ordinances delivered at the beginning by the hand of Moses ? The glosses of modern interpretation would lead the reader off the track here. " Commentators" speak of Isaiah as "the evangelical prophet," and point to this chapter as a proof that he endeavoured to draw the nation away from the Mosaic ritual, and to lead them to what they call a higher form of divine service. That this is an entire misconception is evident before we get far into Isaiah—not to speak of the entire body of the prophets whose aim was to bring Israel back to the obedience of the law. In Isaiah v., Israel's crime is specified in these words: "They have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel." It is not likely that while making such an accusation, Isaiah should be trying to encourage them in such a line of action by deprecating the offering of sacrifice and the observance of the sabbath per se. Isaiah meant no such thing. Further on in his prophecy, he speaks of the sabbath in a very different sense, thus : "If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, holy of the Lord, honourable, and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words. Then thou shalt delight thyself in the Lord, and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth " (lviii. 13-14).
Whence then the deprecation of things that God Himself had enjoined ? The explanation is perfectly simple. It is contained in the words of Solomon: " The prayer of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord." Solomon does not mean that the prayer of the righteous is therefore to be suspended. Why did God hate the new moons, the sabbaths, the burnt offerings of bullocks and rams and Iambs that were in vogue in Isaiah's day? He tells us in the same chapter: " Your hands are full of blood . . .every one loveth gifts and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them " (verses 15, 23).
It was not the sacrifices as such, nor the sabbaths and monthly feasts as such, that God hated, but the observance of these things by men of wicked mind—men full of religious performance, but of merciless heart and dishonest principle. Therefore he proceeds to say (verse 15), " When ye spread forth your hand (as in unctuous entreaty), I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear you." The lesson for us moderns is strong. God has appointed the Gospel and the holding forth thereof, even if in much controversy, and submission to its ordinances in baptism and the breaking of bread, as the ground of our acceptance; but these very things may be an intolerable nuisance to him in hands that are not pure, and hearts that are not humble and kind.
Were Isaiah's condemnations uttered because Israel's case was hopeless ? On the contrary, they are associated with advice and entreaty in the opposite direction : "Wash you: make you clean : put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes. Cease to do evil: learn to do well. Seek judgment: relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow : though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land. But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it " (verses 16-19).
Repentance, repentance — amendment, amendment — reform, reform—is the constant aim of divine expostulation. " Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thought, and let him return unto the Lord God, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon " (Isa. lv. 7). This also we are justified in applying in our own day with much force as it was intended to have in the days of Isaiah. A man should never despair, and never abandon the effort to conform to the law of God, in Christ.
The Spirit of God foresaw that the appeal to Israel would be unavailing, except as regards the " very small remnant" before referred to. We have, therefore, a picture of Jerusalem's unworthy state, a prediction of her overthrow, and a prophecy of her final restoration when the " very small remnants" of all generations are to be gathered together in one, immortalized, and established in possession of the land and of the whole earth. "How is the faithful city become an harlot ? It was full of judgment: righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers. Thy silver is become dross : thy wine mixed with water. Thy princes are rebellious and companions of thieves. Every one loveth gifts and followeth after rewards." This would be considered unpatriotic and uncharitable language by modern standards, but it is the language of truth. If it is stern and unpleasing, the cause lies with the facts and not with the inspiration that delineates them. In such a state of things, what could we expect but the woe-message that follows :—
" Therefore saith the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, the mighty one of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries and avenge me of mine enemies. And I will turn my hand upon thee and purely purge away thy dross and take away all thy tin"—that is, remove by judgment the vile element of Israel's population, which was nearly the whole of it. When this should be accomplished — a process involving centuries of affliction — restoration would take place : "I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward, thou shalt be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City. Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness."
The four verses (28-31) that follow this statement may be taken, either as a continuation of verse 25 which describes the destruction of Israel, or as a description of the punishment that awaits the responsible wicked at the resurrection era that witnesses the redemption of Zion with judgment. They probably refer to the former, though their position would indicate the latter. It is no uncommon thing for a subject to be resumed after having been left for a moment to introduce something by way of contrast or antithesis. The verses would suit either application, because both applications are the same in moral essence. The verses are as follows :—
" And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed. For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired—(that is, trees for the conduct of idolatrous worship underneath)—and ye shall be confounded for the gardens which ye have chosen—(for similar purposes)—for ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water. And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them."
JERUSALEM IN THE LAST DAYS—EXALTED AFTER LONG HUMILIATION
CHAPTER II - PAGES 58-63
THE prophecy that is commenced in the second chapter of Isaiah extends to the end of chapter iv. It must be considered as a whole, and in the relation of all its parts, before it becomes perfectly intelligible. The usual method of treating it obscures this intelligibility. The usual way is to regard the first five verses of chapter ii. as a detached idyll in the midst of commonplaces of a bygone application—a sort of island of glorious brightness in a gloomy sea. In reality, it is the prologue of a complete discourse which hangs together in logical coherence in all its parts. We shall see this.
The general topic is fixed and settled for us by the opening sentence, which is in the nature of a chapter heading prefixed by inspiration: " The word that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem." Realising that Isaiah was an inhabitant of Jerusalem, and that Jerusalem was the capital of the kingdom of Judah, there can be no difficulty in having clearly before the mind what it is that Isaiah is going to talk about. He is going to discourse about a word or vision shown to him concerning the future of the Jerusalem in which he dwelt, and the Judah in which he lived his life.
The idea that it was any other Jerusalem or any other Judah never entered into men's minds until the nullifying traditions of Origenism obtained currency in the fourth century. The idea that it is any other is inconsistent with every inspired application of the prophetic word: for there are inspired interpretations which give us a perfect key which we can use with all the more confidence and readiness because they harmonise with what people understand by common-sense. Let three illustrations out of a multitude suffice :—
It was foretold (Micah v. 2; Matt. ii. 6) that the Lord should be born in the land of Judah. Let the birth of Christ in Bethlehem determine the meaning.
It was foretold (Micah iii. 12) that Jerusalem should be destroyed and become heaps. Let the Lord's prophecy of the same (Luke xxi. 24) and the fulfilment thereof as recorded by Josephus and known to all the world, settle the question of what Jerusalem means in prophecy.
It was foretold that the children of Israel should be scattered in all lands in affliction and disgrace: let the presence of the Jewish people in every country to the present day decide what the prophecy meant.
The future that Isaiah saw " concerning Judah and Jerusalem " was a very extended one, and one drawn out from his own day forward, and embracing the prolonged era of trouble that was waiting for them, as well as the age of glory in which that era should culminate. But the last is placed first: "It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it."
There are two points here : 1, " The last days," and 2, The exaltation of a certain "mountain" above all mountains. As for the first, the meaning is not to be found in the phrase itself, but in its associations. Everything terminable has its last days. You have the last days of Pompeii: the last days of the Venetian Republic. So there are in Scripture the " last days " of the Mosaic order of things, styled " these last days " (Heb. i. 1); and yet other " last days " that were future to the Mosaic last days—days when, says Paul, perilous times should come (2 Tim. iii. 1). It is impossible to fix an invariable meaning to a phrase of this kind. The association determines the meaning. Last days of what ? The context will usually answer. It is evident in the case in question that it is the last days of Judah and Jerusalem as a mortal institution upon the earth—days that merge into an immortal constitution of everlasting day.
The things to happen show this to be the meaning. Mount Zion is to be exalted above all hills, and nations are to rally there for worship and instruction : "Many people shall go and say, Come ye and
let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob: and he will teach us of his ways, and we shall walk in his paths." This has never happened yet. The currents have been in
the opposite direction altogether. Nations have not wanted to come to Zion. Repulsion, not attraction, has been the law. Zion has been broken up, and the nations have gone their own evil ways. The Jews have been hated of all nations, and they have " eaten their denied bread" in dispersion "among the Gentiles." But at the time in contemplation, Zechariah informs us that " ten men out of all the nations shall lay hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew and shall say, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you " (Zech. viii. 23), and by Zephaniah God says, " I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame " (Zeph. iii. 19).
Some have put a literal meaning on the statement: " the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains and exalted above the hills". They have imagined that the hill on which the temple will stand will have such an elevation above the surrounding country as to be visible hundreds of miles off in all directions. There are several objections to this. That there will be physical changes in the Holy Land when the Kingdom of God is set up, is unquestionable : but that the exaltation of Zion spoken of in this prophecy is exaltation in a figurative sense, is determined both by the evident sense and fitness of things, and by the prevalent usage of Scripture.
First, as to the fitness of things: when nations say " Let us go up," they do not mean climbing a hill, but going up as men propose to go up to London, which is a very flat city topographically. That which exalts a hill in this sense is political, legal, social, and religious importance. It would not add to this importance to have it twenty times higher than the Peak of Teneriffe—rather otherwise : for visibility and familiarity rather detract from the influence of a seat of power. Concealment adds to influence and power where the real elements of power exist. The exaltation of Zion will consist of its becoming the seat and source of universal law : " The law shall go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."
Next as to the usage of Scripture: it is a common figure to speak of up and down with regard to power and position. In the matter of Zion's overthrow for example, " Thou shalt be brought down and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust" (Is. xxix. 4). "The Lord hath cast down from heaven to earth the beauty of Israel" (Lam. ii. 1). In the matter of the removal of obstacles to the work of Christ at his first coming : " Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low " (Is. xl. 4). The effectual publicity of the Gospel : " Get thee up into the high mountains" (Is. xl. 9), and so forth. The prophecy before us contemplates the time when, not the Vatican hill nor the hill of the Quirinal, nor the capitol of Washington, but Mount Zion shall be exalted above all hills, overshadowing and eclipsing all human importances, and drawing to itself the universal attention and allegiance of the emancipated nations.
(Added Comment: while not denying the above scriptural application of the prophets' words, we should take note that in the Bible the figurative use of language does not necessarily do away with a future application of the literal. For example there is a spiritual Israel, but also the nation of Israel will be literally restored to their land - an essential truth, which Robert Roberts believed and taught. He also fully endorsed a book by Henry Sulley titled 'The Temple of Ezekiel's Prophecy' (1887). In this book it clearly sets out the scriptural prophecies which predict the future changes in the Holy Land, including the literal elevation of Zion - see sixth edition 'COMING PHYSICAL CHANGES' pages 299-308 - also link to 'the Lord's day' - Visions 5 & 6)
There is a disposition on the part of some to recognise the fulfilment of the prophecy in the emanation of the Gospel from Jerusalem 1,800 years ago. There is a sort of first-sight fitness in this suggestion that runs away with the judgment of those who do not care to look closer. The suggestion disappears altogether when we consider what is involved in the next statement: " He (the Lord) shall judge among the nations and shall rebuke many people, and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Here is cause and effect which find no illustration in the circumstances connected with the preaching of the Gospel: a "judging" and a "rebuking," resulting in the world of mankind abandoning war. The nations (needless to say) have not abandoned wars, and there has been no "judging" or rebuking of nations connected with the preaching of the Gospel. The object of that preaching was not national but individual : to " take out of them a people for the name of the Lord " (Acts xv. 14), and the means was not judicial or compulsory, but constraining by the influence of an attractive invitation on the basis of voluntary compliance. To judge among and rebuke nations, is to employ political and military measures of compulsion, and that this is what is contemplated here is evident from parallel Scriptures referring to the matter. The words of Micah are, "He shall rebuke strong nations afar off " (Mic. iv. 3), and of Isaiah (xvii. 13) : " The nations shall rush like the rushing of mighty waters, but God shall rebuke them and they shall flee afar off."
Every image employed in Scripture to illustrate the matter has the same import, " The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion, rule thou in the midst of thine enemies" (Psa. ex. 2). "Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel " (Psa. ii. 9 ; Rev. ii. 27). " The stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold" (Dan. ii. 45). " Out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations : and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God " (Rev. xix. 15).
This " word," then, that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, exhibits them in the last days of mortal history as the glorified centre of human life upon the earth, to which men gravitate submissively after divine conquests, and radiant from which, they experience the blessedness after which they have striven in vain under every form of self-government—even the blessedness divinely promised from the beginning, and now at this time realised in all the earth.
It is natural, in view of these things, for the prophet to exclaim (verse 5) " Ο house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord."
But until the arrival of the last days of glory, Israel was to be forsaken : and here are the reasons (verses 6-9), " Therefore hast thou forsaken thy people the house of Jacob—because—(and now consider the reasons : they amount in brief to this, because Israel would lean upon men and not upon God : and because they would copy the ways of men instead of conforming to the law of God)— "Because they be replenished from the east and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers. Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures : their land also is full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots. Their land also is full of idols: they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made. And the mean man boweth down and the great man humbleth himself : therefore, forgive them not."
Here is the picture of a busy, active, energetic population, finding pleasure in the things that please natural men, and greatly interested in strangers who had no interest in God, and conforming great and small to the religion that was fashionable in the surrounding countries. That the population so exhibited should have been a nation that God brought out of Egypt and organised for Himself, made it specially criminal. No wonder the retribution would be terrible (verses 10-21) : " Enter into the rock and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord and for the glory of his majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down. And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the Lord of Hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up, and he shall be brought low. . . . And they shall go into the holes of the rocks and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord and for the glory of his majesty when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. In that day shall a man cast his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats to go into the clefts of the rocks and into the tops of the ragged rocks for fear of the Lord and for the glory of his majesty when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth."
In view of this terrible prospect, there is overwhelming force in the command immediately following (verse 22):"Cease ye from man whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of? " Israel were not ceasing from man but leaning on man, building up on man, "delighting themselves in the children of strangers." The reminder is that trust in man is vain : he is only a creature of very fragile constitution—holding his life by the breath of his nostrils, which can easily be stopped, and which, stopped or not stopped, will soon stop of itself. But God lives for ever —lives in Himself and by Himself—and has everything at His command. Then, as the prophet exhorts a little further on, " Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Yahweh is everlasting strength."
CHAPTER III - PAGES 63-67
IN this, there is no new subject introduced, but only the further statement of the subject spoken of in the finish of chapter ii. The " for " with which it commences connects it thus : chapter ii. finishes with the statement that all men would fear in a coming day of trouble, and that wise men should therefore cease taking them into account. Here details are supplied : "For behold the Lord, the Lord of Hosts doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff—the whole stay of bread and the whole stay of water—the mighty man and the man of war, the judge and the prophet and the ancient, the captain of fifty and the honourable man and the counsellor and the cunning artificer and the eloquent orator." This is a cutting off of all supplies and a clean sweep of all orders of society—which took place in due course through the long series of calamities—political, military, and physical—to which Israel was subjected—by which, the Jewish nation, the most effective and illustrious of peoples in all that makes a nation great, was brought down to its present barren state.
"And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them." Just so : instead of the noble and capable men that have distinguished their annals in times past, Jewish history in their dispersion shows a long series of childish Rabbinical triflers. To the present day, their head men are glad to imitate Gentile leaders. " The people shall be oppressed every one by another, and every one by his neighbour." Generally, in other particulars stated, " Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen : because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory." It is a thing not hidden, a thing glaringly apparent. " The show of their countenance doth witness against them (a statement most foolishly applied by Hine-ish Anglo-Israelism to a Jewish cast of countenance instead of to a brazen-faced stubbornness that was not ashamed to show wickedness in their faces), they declare their sin as Sodom : they hide it not " (verse 9).
What could there be but woe to such a people ? " Woe unto their soul ? " Yet the woe was self-inflicted in so far as it was their own ways that brought it. " They have rewarded evil unto themselves." But, as always, there was a remnant: " Say ye to the righteous that it shall be well with him : for they shall eat the fruit of their doings "—not that they would be exempted from the national calamities impending, but that they would be saved out of them all at the resurrection, when " Many of them that sleep in the dust should awake to everlasting life " (Dan. xii. 2).
There is a touch of commiseration of the people in view of the fact that their departures from divine law were greatly due to the misleading of blind guides : " 0 my people, they who lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths . . . The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people and the princes thereof." The ground of impeachment is this: "Ye have eaten up the vineyard: the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces and grind the faces of the poor ? saith the Lord God of Hosts" (verses 12-15). Here we have a glimpse of affairs in Israel corresponding in their main features with the modern state of things : a ruling class misleading the community for their own advantage, and a people perishing under such guidance and the divine displeasure hovering over all.
In our day, it is clergy, lawyers, doctors, publicists of all kinds who fatten on the public by their several artificial crafts, and whom the public follow and trust with a blindness of faith amounting to superstition. In Israel, it was priests and princes and pretended prophets who manipulated a gullible people for their own enrichment. There was a little excuse for the gullibility in Israel's case, because in the beginning of things, the priests and princes were divinely appointed to the leadership. In our day, the leaders are of purely human manufacture. The Lord entered into judgment with Israel's leaders and brought calamity on them that swept them away. He will do the same with the public Scribes and Pharisees in the modern era when He summons the fowls of heaven on the eve of Armageddon to " eat the flesh of kings and captains, and the flesh of mighty men, . . . and the flesh of all men, free and bond, small and great."
Then the word of prophetic rebuke turns on the women of Israel who took a leading part in the ways that brought God's displeasure on the nation. The part they performed was different from that condemned in the priests and rulers. It was a part in their own line of things. They were not unprincipled traders and oppressors of the poor: but they made a vain and wanton use of the wealth unrighteously acquired by their husbands. They made an ostentatious show ; they walked in pride instead of finding pleasure in the love of God and the service of the poor and needy. There is no touch of weakness in the divine condemnation : " Moreover the Lord saith, because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet—therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts. In that day, the Lord will take away the bravery of "—female attire.
This differed in ancient times from what it is now, but only as one year's " fashion " differs from another in modern times. There was difference in the names and shapes and materials of the different articles of dress, but there was no difference in the main point : display. Here (verses 18-23) we have an actual list of the articles which would not be recognised by a modern milliner: "tinkling ornaments about their feet, their cauls, their round tires like the moon, the chains and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, the rings and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails."
With these are associated comeliness and perfume. All are now mentioned as objects of the indignation that would kindle on Israel's glory and extinguish it from the land: "It shall come to pass that instead of sweet smell, there shall be stink : instead of a girdle, a rent : instead of well-set hair, baldness : instead of a stomacher, a girding of sackcloth, and burning instead of beauty."
If these things had not been used as causes and instruments of pride, they would not have been so objectionable in the divine eyes. God had promised them (" if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God and walk in his ways,") " to make thee plenteous in goods," and bless them in everything they set their hand to. Doubtless, they would have been more modest in dress if they had been addicted to the commandments of the Lord. Still, their " dressiness" would not have been so offensive. It was only when they were in a rebellious mood that the Lord, in the wilderness, said "Put off thy ornaments from thee" (Ex. xxxiii. 5). Aaron's garments were " for glory and beauty" (Ex. xxviii. 2). The Lord recognises that a maid cannot be expected to forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire (Jer. ii. 32). And as there is force in the question : " Who gave goodly wings to the peacock? " (Job xxxix. 13) so is there force in the consideration that female susceptibility to personal adornment is not a susceptibility of woman's creating. It is of God, like everything else, and has a place. It is wholly a question of the right circumstances. When God rules in the heart, everything is in place ; when He is dethroned, nothing is right. Life itself is unlawful.
In Israel, God was dethroned. They had "cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them and hath smitten them " (chapter v. verse 24-25). This is the explanation of the gruesome tirade against all things pleasant to men and women. (Resuming at
iii. 25), "Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her (Jerusalem's) gates shall lament and mourn, and she being desolate, shall sit upon the ground."