Isaiah 1:1 - 4:6
Of all the prophets Isaiah is the richest in the number of his references to the Christ who was to come, and in the variety of the figures under which He is presented to us. It is evident that it divides into three main sections (1) Isaiah 1-35, chiefly occupied with pronouncing judgment upon Israel and the nations, but with repeated references to Christ, in whom alone is hope of blessing found. Then (2) Isaiah 36-39, an historical section, recording God's deliverance, both national and personal, granted to one of the best kings of David's line; recording also how failure marked him. Then lastly (3) Isaiah 40-66, mainly occupied with predictions concerning the coming Messiah both in His humiliation and in His glory, but presenting it against the dark background of the idolatry of Israel in Isaiah's day, and their rejection of Christ at His first advent.
The break that appears, as we reach Isaiah 40, is very evident, as also the change in the main themes. So much so that critical and unbelieving theologians have asserted that there must have been several writers or compilers of the book. They speak of two or more Isaiahs. When we turn to New Testament quotations from the book, we find no trace of any such idea. Here is one fact which strongly negatives it.
In the Old Testament God is spoken of as, "The Holy One of Israel" only about 37 times. Just 30 of these occur in Isaiah, so it is the characteristic title of God in his book. These 30 are almost equally divided between chapters 1-39, and 40-66, occurring 14 times in the first part, and 16 times in the second. This strongly supports unity rather than plurality of authorship.
The first verse shows that Isaiah's ministry was in the southern kingdom and extended into four reigns. Three of the kings mentioned did mainly what was right, one especially so, and only one-Ahaz- turned aside and did evil. Yet the prophet's opening words reveal a sad state of departure and rebellion among the people. There was not only this, but, as verse 3 states, complete insensibility and indifference. They did not display the instinctive knowledge found in an ox or a donkey. Hence the terrible indictment of verse 4. They were sinful and marked by iniquity, evil-doing, corruption, alienation; and all this was while God-fearing kings were on the throne. It illumines what is said in 2 Chronicles 27 the end of verse 2.
All this had brought upon them the heavy hand of God in discipline and disaster, yet without any reforming effect, as verses 5-9 show. Graphic figures are used to bring home to the people their deplorable state, and verse 9 reveals that only a small remnant existed, that God could recognize: Had not that remnant been there a judgment like to that of Sodom and Gomorrah would have fallen on them. This is ever God's way. Again and again in the past He had maintained a small remnant for Himself in the midst of general departure. He has done so through the church's history. He is doing so today.
Verse 10 has a solemn voice to us. The prophet likens the religious leaders of his day to the rulers and people of those cities of wickedness, that centuries before had been destroyed. We say, religious leaders because of the verses that "follow, where they and the people are shown to have been zealous and punctilious observers of the ritual of Judaism. What were they doing? They were offering sacrifices and burnt-offerings, bringing oblations and incense, observing new moons, sabbaths, appointed feasts and assemblies, spreading forth their hands with many prayers. Were not these things right, as ordered through Moses ? Yes, they were. Yet all this was declared to be a weariness to God and an abomination in His sight, because, as verses 16 and 17 reveal, their ceremonial exactness was only a decent exterior covering a mass of moral evil and uncleanness. The state of things here exposed blossomed forth into the Phariseeism, so trenchantly denounced by our Lord in Matthew 13.
What needed instruction for us! How easy for the present-day Christian to lapse into a similar condition! There are all too many professing Christians who do forsake "the assembling of ourselves together" (Heb. 10: 25), for like Demas they love this present age. But what about those of us who are present? - even at the prayer-meeting, which many seem to regard as the least interesting of such assemblies. Are we marked by godly and separate living?-by what the apostle James calls, "Pure religion and undefiled" (James 1: 27)? - for there is a strong resemblance between his words and verses 16 and 17 of our chapter. Let us never forget that with God right moral condition is far more important than ceremonial exactness in Judaism, or even correct church procedure in Christianity. If scrupulous ecclesiastical exactitude fosters moral negligence it becomes an abomination to God.
The stern denunciation we have read is followed by a word of grace and forgiveness, a foreshadowing of what we have in the Gospel today. The, "all have sinned" of Romans 3, is followed by justification, freely offered through "His grace." Only, the cleansing, offered in verse 18, was in its nature a "passing over" of sins "through the forbearance of God," as stated in Romans 3: 25, since the only basis for a cleansing full and eternal lay in the sacrifice of Christ, centuries ahead.
Notice too how "if" occurs in verses 19 and 20. The cleansing and blessing offered hinge upon obedience. To refuse and rebel brings judgment. Both blessing and judgment are concerned with matters of this life, since what is involved in the life to come appears but little in the Old Testament. When the Gospel preacher of today happily and appropriately uses these verses, he of course refers to the eternal consequences of receiving or rejecting the offer, basing what he says on New Testament scripture.
The prophet returns to his denunciation of the existing state of things in verse 21. In verse 24 he announces that the Lord is going to act in judgment, treating them as adversaries; but in the next verse declaring that He will turn His hand upon the remnant, refining them as silver, and purging away their dross. The expression, "turn My hand," is also found in Zechariah 13: 7, where also, as here, it denotes an action of blessing and not judgment. This is quite plain in the next verses of our chapter. But the redemption of Zion and her converts will be through judgment.
The testimony of Scripture is consistent that the earthly blessing of the coming age will be reached, not by the preaching of the Gospel, but by judgment. This is again declared most plainly when we reach Isaiah 26: 9, 10. A clear New Testament corroboration of this is found in Revelation 15: 4. This judgment will mean the destruction of the transgressors. They may have forsaken the Lord and turned to false gods with their oaks and gardens, but these evil powers will avail them nothing. All will be consumed together.
Isaiah 1 is introduced as a "vision;" Isaiah 2 is "the word;" but again concerning Judah and Jerusalem. The opening verses enlarge further upon the good things that will come to pass when redemption by judgment takes place. The first thing is that the house of Jehovah shall be established and exalted. Thus it ever is, and must be. God must have His rightful place, and from that blessing will flow out to men.
But the house of the Lord is here called very significantly, "the house of the God of Jacob," for then God will manifestly have triumphed over the self-centred crookedness that marked Jacob, and has been perpetuated in his descendants. This will be so clear that all nations will flow to the house to learn of God, so that they may walk in His law. Judgment having been accomplished, men will be marked by obedience Godward, and consequently peace among themselves.
How significant is the word "neither shall they learn war any more." Of recent years men have certainly been learning war, and all too efficiently have they learned it, so that mortal fear grips their minds. It is beyond the power of mankind to achieve what is predicted in verse 4, though one day they will imagine they have reached it by their own schemes and say, "Peace and safety," only to meet "sudden destruction," as foretold in 1 Thessalonians 5: 3. The succeeding verses of that New Testament chapter are in keeping with verse 5 of our chapter. The house of Jacob is entreated to leave the false lights of their idolatries and walk in "the light of the Lord." That they will do, when the coming age arrives. It is what we are privileged to do today, since we are brought into the light as children of light, and of the day that is to dawn when Christ shall appear.
The prophet returns to the existing state of the people in verses 6-9. From other peoples they had imported various forms of spiritist practices. They were prosperous in material things; plenty of silver and gold and treasures, and also horses, which were a luxury forbidden to Israel's kings, according to Deuteronomy 17: 16. All this led to the land being full of idols, before which both poor and great abased themselves. Truly a deplorable state of things.
What then was to be expected? Just that which the prophet now had to announce. He looked beyond the more immediate, disciplinary judgments, that were impending through the Assyrians or Chaldeans, to Jehovah being manifested in His majesty, when His "day" will be introduced. Revelation 6: 15-17, gives us an amplification of verses 10, 19 and 21, for men were filled with haughtiness and lofty looks, though they bowed down before their idols.
The list of things, upon which the day of the Lord will fall in judgment, is very impressive. It will evidently make a clean sweep of all the things in which fallen man boasts, even things pleasant and artistic. Instead of accepting and even enlarging the products of man's inventive skill, as an introduction to the millennial age, as some have imagined, it will remove them, as well as the idols and the idolatrous notions that gave them birth. Today men are being humbled as they receive the grace and truth of the Gospel. Then men will be abased and their false glory depart, as the glory of the Lord shines forth.
What then is the spiritual instruction to be derived from this prophetic declaration? The last verse of the chapter supplies it. As it was with Israel in Isaiah's day so in the world today, man is catered for, man is magnified; but if we "Walk in the light of the Lord" (verse 5), his littleness is seen, and we "cease from man." He is but a dying creature because of his sin. Before God he counts for nothing in himself. We know, in the light of the cross of Christ, that he is worse than nothing. How amazing then is the grace that has stooped to bless such as ourselves.
Having spoken of the day of the Lord and its effects in Isaiah 2, Isaiah deals again with the existing state of the people in Isaiah 3; making plain also how God was chastising them, and would continue to do so. The famine and confusion and oppression, with its accompanying miseries, so that Jerusalem should be ruined, might not come on them immediately, but they would ultimately, though God would favour the righteous as verse 10 indicates. The ancients and princes of the people were the leaders in the evil of that day.
But the evil of the day was not confined to the leaders, or to the men of the nation, such as are described in verses 2 and 3. The women also were deeply implicated. Their state is denounced from verse 16 to the end of the chapter. They adopted all the devices, well practised in the heathen world, in order to increase the seductiveness of their attractions; and, as the closing verses state, the very men they tried to attract should fall by the sword, and so fail them.
The first verse of Isaiah 4 completes this grievous theme, and here we believe we do travel on to the last days. The destruction of male life will be so great that women themselves will be found advocating some kind of polygamy to cover the reproach of spinsterhood, prepared to be no real expense to the man whose name they take. This may read strangely to us, but when we consider the predictions of Scripture as to the strife and warfare which will mark the end of the age, we are not surprised. Read, for instance, the prediction as to the warfare, "at the time of the end," given in Daniel 11: 40-45
The words, "in that day," occur at the beginning of verse 2 as well as in verse 1, and here we see clearly that the "day" in question is the period that introduces the age to come, the time of the second Advent. The word translated, "Branch" is used of our Lord five times in the Old Testament, and has the sense of a sprout- "a Sprout of Jehovah for glory and beauty" (New Trans). Here we see, though somewhat veiled, an allusion to the Deity of the promised Messiah. The figure used is that of a living tree putting forth a sprout which displays its own nature and character. And the living tree here is Jehovah Himself; while the words, "for glory and beauty," carry our thoughts to the robes made for Aaron, and to their typical significance as stated in Hebrews 2: 7.
Twice in Jeremiah do we get the Lord Jesus alluded to as the Branch, or Sprout (Jer. 23: 5; Jer. 33: 15); but there what is emphasised is righteousness. It is the character He displays rather than the Source from whence He springs. Again in Zechariah the expression occurs twice (Zech. 3: 8; Zech. 6: 12). There the emphasis lies on the fact that though He springs forth from Jehovah, He is to take the place of the Servant, and enter into Manhood to serve. Reading the five occurrences in the fuller light of the New Testament, we see how full were these early predictions as to our blessed Lord. The one in our chapter is the first and deepest of them all.
We may remark that Isaiah 11: 1, presents the Lord Jesus as a "Rod [or, Shoot - a different word from Sprout] out of the stem of Jesse," and lower down in that chapter He is "a Root of Jesse;" two expressions which remind us of, "the Root and the Offspring of David," (Rev. 22: 16). "Sprout" of Jehovah is what He was essentially. "Shoot" of Jesse and David is what He became in His holy Manhood.
Not only will Christ be thus revealed in that day but also a godly remnant will be found, spoken of as, "them that are escaped of Israel." This indicates how fierce and destructive of life will be the great tribulation that is elsewhere foretold. Verse 3 enforces the same fact, and from our Lord's prophetic discourse, recorded in three of the Gospels, we learn that Judah and Jerusalem will be the very centre of that time of trial and persecution, which will only be ended when the Lord intervenes in power at His second advent. Those that remain will be alive spiritually and holy, and enjoy the excellent fruits which will be produced by His presence.
But before this happy state of things can be produced there must be that work of cleansing of which verse 4 speaks, described as "a spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning;" that is, by fire. We may remember that John the Baptist said of our Lord, "He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire" (Matt. 3: 11). He indicated also that it was the chaff that should be burned, while the wheat was gathered into His garner. In our chapter the wheat is described in verses 2 and 3. The burning of the chaff will purge and wash away the filth. The cleansing of Jerusalem, indeed of the whole earth, will be by a work of judgment and not by the preaching of grace.
Once judgment has accomplished its cleansing work the presence of God can be restored to Jerusalem, dwelling not merely upon a special building, like the temple in Solomon's day, but rather upon every dwelling-place and convocation. His presence will be signalised as of old by a cloud in the daytime and a flame by night. When that takes place, who shall be able to strike a blow at Jerusalem? The presence of God and the glory accompanying it will be protection. Who can strike through a defence like that?
The word translated "tabernacle" in verse 6, is not the one used for the tabernacle in the wilderness but for the feast of tabernacles or booths. Any extreme, either of heat or of rain, will be so slight that no more than a booth will be needed. Everything necessary will be found in connection with the presence of God in the midst of His people, redeemed by judgment.
The first of the minor sections of the book ends with chapter 4. Consequently we observe that though we have had before us from the outset a very dark picture of the sinful and corrupt state of the people, which would bring upon them the judgment of God, we are conducted at its close to Christ as the Sprout of Jehovah, in whom all hope is found. We shall find this feature repeated. The next section, Isaiah 5: 1-Isaiah 9: 7, ends with Immanuel. The third section ends, in Isaiah 12, with the Shoot and Root of Jesse, and the joy that He will bring to pass.
As we further consider Isaiah, we shall note some of those things, "concerning Himself," which, when He expounded them on the day of His resurrection to the two disciples going to Emmaus, caused their hearts to burn within them. Considering them rightly, they will have the same effect upon us.
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