Isaiah 28:1 - 35:10
Having recorded this prediction of the gathering from lands of affliction to Jerusalem of a remnant, who shall worship the Lord there, the prophet again reverted to the denunciation of the existing state of the people. And first Ephraim, that is, the ten tribes, came before him-verses 1-13. They were debased as drunkards and yet wore pride as a crown. Against them the Lord would bring "a mighty and strong one," like a devastating storm or flood- doubtless the Assyrian army.
Yet, even so, there should be found a "residue of His people," who should have not a crown of pride but a crown of glory, in the Lord Himself. Though the mass of the people had "erred through wine" and they "stumble in judgment," these should be like little children, who learn a little at a time, step by step.
The prophet goes on to show that, though God might condescend to deal in this simple way with the mass of the people, even using "stammering lips and another tongue," yet they refuse to hear and are broken. The Apostle Paul refers to this passage in 1 Corinthians 14: 21, 22, to show that tongues are a sign to unbelievers rather than believers.
Then at verse 14 the prophetic message turns from Ephraim to the scornful men, who were ruling the two tribes from Jerusalem. They had made covenants and formed alliances and thus felt independent of God. Their alliance with some worldly power or powers-Egypt probably-was really an agreement with death and hell. It was all falsehood and would not stand. What would stand would be God's own work to be accomplished in the coming Messiah.
Verse 16 is quoted by the Apostle Peter in his first epistle (1 Peter 2: 6) and Paul alludes to it in Romans 10: 11. Old Jacob, when dying, alluded to Christ as "the Stone of Israel" (Gen. 49: 24) and here also He is viewed in connection with Israel. In Peter we discover that what will be true for them in the day to come has an application to us today. The Christ was indeed tried at His first advent, and revealed as the sure foundation, and though He is not yet manifested as the corner stone, His preciousness is the portion of those who believe, as Peter tells us. Hence we shall not "make haste," in alarm or confusion-the New Testament rendering of this word is "ashamed," and, "confounded." Note too that this wonderful Stone is laid in Zion which is symbolic of God acting in His mercy.
But while mercy brings a solid foundation in blessing for the believer, it involves judgment for the unbeliever, as the subsequent verses show. "I will appoint judgment for a line, and righteousness for a plummet;" (New Trans.), and this results in the hail of God's judgment sweeping away the refuges of lies and the covenants with death that men make. This came to pass for Israel shortly after Isaiah's day, and it will come to pass on a world-wide scale at the end of this age, though judgment is declared to be God's "strange work" (verse 21).
The latter verses of our chapter speak thus of the unsparing judgments of God, described as "a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth," so they are not to be confined to Israel. This shows indeed that the end of the age is mainly in view, and the figure used in verses 23-29, indicates that the harvest of judgment to be reaped is the result of the ploughing and sowing that has preceded it on man's part.
Isaiah 29 continues this solemn strain. The city where David dwelt was once Ariel, meaning "The lion of God," but it was to be brought low. Though Hezekiah, a godly king was either on the throne, or shortly to ascend it, the state of the people was as described in verses 9-13. Their eyes were closed to God and to His word. Neither the learned nor the unlearned had any reference to His word, and any fear Godward that possessed them was taught "by the precept of men." Consequently their religion was mere lip-profession without heart-reality, and therefore offensive to God. No wonder that judgment came from the hand of God.
And thus it always must be. We find the Apostle Paul alluding to this scripture in Acts 13: 41, for he spoke of prophets-in the plural-and so he did not only have Habakkuk 1: 5 in his mind. If men close their eyes against the light and turn things upside down, they have to reap the fruit of their ways. How much of today's religion is just a matter of drawing near to God with the mouth while the heart is far away from Him? Let each of us judge ourselves as to this matter.
Though judgment against Ariel was executed soon after Isaiah's day, yet the terms of the prophecy go far beyond that, for the destruction of her foes is plainly announced in verse 7, and again at the end of the chapter. The adversary will be judged, and those amongst themselves who were watching for iniquity and making a man an offender for a word, will be cut off. This will only come to pass at the end of the age, and then the name of the God of Israel will be feared and sanctified, and those that erred shall be rightly taught.
But at the moment the people had to be called "rebellious children" (Isa. 30: 1), and the prophet recurs to what they were doing at that time. He said of them, "who take counsel, but not of Me, and who make leagues, but not by My Spirit" (New Trans.). They were relying on Egypt, instead of turning to the Lord, and they are plainly told that Egypt would be a shame and a reproach instead of any profit to them. In the New Translation the latter part of verse 7 runs, "therefore have I named her, Arrogance, that doeth nothing;" with a note that the word used is "Rahab" which has that meaning.
This was bad enough, but in the succeeding verses we get something worse. The people would not hear the word of the Lord. True prophecy they would not tolerate. They wanted, and would only listen to, "smooth" things, even if they were "deceits." Words that were "right," they refused. So when the Lord said that they would be saved in returning to Him and resting in Him, and that their strength would consequently be found in quietness and confidence in Him, they said, No. They preferred to flee upon horses-for which Egypt was famous. As a result, judgment should fall.
This reliance upon Egypt was specially offensive to God, since from that very people He had delivered them by His judgments at the start of their national history. It is equally offensive to God if the Christian, who has been delivered from the world-system and its coming judgment, goes back to it, relying on its power or its wisdom, instead of finding his resource in God as emergencies arise. Egypt had its pleasures and its treasures, from which Moses turned, and they typify the things which are not for the believer.
In verse 18 of our chapter a different note is sounded, which continues to the end. The Lord speaks of mercy that shall yet be shown to them, since He delights in it. Just when everything seems lost, and they are left as a lonely "beacon upon the top of a mountain," mercy will be shown, and as we read these verses (18-33), we see that though the Lord will afflict them in His holy government, yet He will ultimately guide them, so that when they might turn aside to the right hand or the left, He will say, "This is the way, walk ye in it." Then they will cast away the idols that once they loved.
Prosperity will then set in, but the details of verses 25 and 26 go far beyond anything yet realized, and therefore look on to the last days. So also the tremendous judgments upon the nations, of verses 28 and 30, which will make the song to rise and the holy solemnity to be kept in the mountain of the Lord, who will be known as "the Mighty one [Rock] of Israel.
The closing verses are remarkable. Tophet was a valley close to Jerusalem, defiled by horrible heathen practices (see, 2 Kings 23: 10; Jeremiah 7: 31, 32), so that it becomes a symbol of fiery judgment. Not only will the Assyrian be cast there but also "for the king it is prepared." Who this "king" may be is not specified, but doubtless he is that wilful king of whom Daniel 11: 36 speaks, and whom we identify with the second "beast" of Revelation 13; that one who will come in his own name, as the Lord Jesus predicted in John 5: 43, and who will be received by apostate Jews as their king. He will be the foe within, as the Assyrian the foe without. The doom of both is fixed.
In Isaiah 31 the prophet returns to the denunciation of his own people who were turning to Egypt. From a political standpoint it doubtless seemed a prudent thing to do. But it involved turning away from God - leaning upon the material and ignoring the spiritual. This is a very easy thing to do, and it is far less excusable in us than it was in them. Alas, how often have we done something similar! But, in spite of this defection on their part, the Lord was not going utterly to forsake them, as verses 4 and 5 show. Hence the invitation to turn to the Lord and cast away their idols, which lay at the root of all the trouble. If they did this, the Lord would intervene on their behalf and the Assyrian be destroyed.
But how should all this be accomplished? Isaiah 32 furnishes the answer, God's King would appear, reigning in righteousness, and a new order of things be established. We are carried back in thought to Isaiah 11, where Christ was presented as the "Shoot" out of Jesse in His Manhood, and as the "Root" out of which Jesse sprang, as to His Deity. He is to be King, and in verse 2 His Manhood is specially emphasised, befitting the fact that as King He is characterized by the seven-fold Spirit of Jehovah, of whom He is the visible Representative.
This world has indeed been swept by tempests of Satanic power, since he is "the prince of the power of the air." In spite of all man's cleverness it has proved itself to be "a dry place," devoid of real refreshment, and also "a weary land," where men spend their lives chasing what proves to be emptiness. The futility of Man's efforts is being manifested daily, and the cry from many may be summarized as "Wanted a man!" Satan's man will first appear, bringing evil to a climax, but to be destroyed by the Man of God's purpose, who will fulfil this word. He will introduce the three things indicated-salvation, satisfaction, and reinvigoration in a land no longer weary but rather restful.
If verse 2 gives a lovely picture of what Christ in kingly power will be, verses 3 and 4 reveal that there will be a work wrought in the souls of those who will enter these millennial scenes and enjoy the blessedness of the reign of Christ. They will have become a people of clear vision, of opened ears, of understanding hearts, and of plain and forceful speech. Observe the order. It is just the same today. First apprehension; then heart understanding; and lastly the plain expression of what is believed, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
But the fact that grace will so work in the hearts of some must make more manifest the evil that will still control many others, and of this the succeeding verses speak. Other scriptures show us that such will come under judgment and not enter the kingdom.
In view of these predictions the prophet now makes an appeal to the people of his own day, addressing it to those on whom the lesser responsibility rests. The men of the nation were mainly responsible, but the women too were careless and ease-loving, and upon them also the sorrows would fall until God intervened, not only by Christ, the King reigning in righteousness, but also by the outpouring of the Spirit from on high, of which Joel in his prophecy speaks more specifically.
Thus in this chapter we have brought together both what will be established externally by Christ as King and Saviour, and what will be wrought internally by the poured out Spirit. Then indeed peace, quietness and assurance for ever will be reached as the work and effect of righteousness. These things men are seeking today, but they have not got the secure basis on which they can be established. They will come in the future age, but while we wait for that, we who believe enjoy them in a spiritual and individual way, through the faith of the work of Christ and in the power of the indwelling Spirit of God.
Israel will know these things even when judgment falls on others, as verse 19 indicates; and with that assurance the seeds of truth may be sown and cultivated "beside all waters" with confidence in the ultimate result.
Isaiah 33, 34 and 35 all have the same general themes: God's judgments on Israel's foes; His disciplinary dealings with His people, leading them ultimately to look to Him; then their blessing under His hand. Let us observe in brief detail how these things are presented.
First, a woe is pronounced against some people who treacherously aim at spoiling the people; and this leads in verse 2 to a touching prayer for the intervention of the Lord, when He will be exalted, and salvation and stability will come to pass. Yet the desolations of verse 8 will precede this, and when a wilderness has been created, Jehovah will rise up and be exalted in judging the foe. There may have been some fulfilment of all this soon after Isaiah's day, but the complete fulfilment waits for the end of the age, when there will arise a man of whom it can be said, "he hath broken the covenant . . . he regardeth no man" (verse 8). There will be great antagonistic powers in the last days.
Then in verse 13 and onwards, we learn what will be the effect of these judgments upon Israel themselves. They will have a winnowing effect, separating the ungodly from the righteous. Sinners will be found, even in Zion as the result of their hypocrisy, but they will be exposed and be fearful of the fiery judgment; while the really godly, who walk in righteousness will dwell on high in security with necessities supplied; and moreover ''the King in His beauty" will be before their eyes. The fierce people will have disappeared and they will meditate upon the terror that once held sway, when their resources had to be counted and weighed.
The chapter closes with a call to view Zion and Jerusalem as at last a city of unruffled peace, of unshaken stability. Jehovah will be to them as a broad, placid river, undisturbed by men's ships of war, which are all dispersed, according to verse 23. The lame take the prey; the inhabitants are saved from their iniquities and their sicknesses, since Jehovah is Judge, King and Saviour. We hardly need add that all this has never come to pass yet.
Isaiah 34 opens with a call to all the world to hearken, since all nations have to face the judgments of God, which will reach even to "the host of heaven," since there is to be that conflict in the heavens of which we read in Revelation 12: 7, 8; and as a result Satan will lose his foothold there and be confined in his fury to earth. But in a very special manner the sword of the Lord will come down upon Idumea; that is, upon Esau in his descendants, who are specially under the curse.
In the last Old Testament book we find God saying that He hated Esau, and one of the Minor Prophets, Obadiah, is entirely occupied with predictions against him. Here we find the same thing, and we are told in verse 8 that vengeance falls upon them in recompence for "the controversy of Zion." In Zion God elected to have mercy upon Jacob, whereas Edom pursued them with undying hatred, as we see in Psalm 83: 3-6. In result judgments of special severity will fall on the land of Idumea, and the rest of chapter 34 gives us the solemn details of it.
Preliminary movements which will lead to all this, are taking place today. Israel now has a footing in their own land, yet among the thousands are but few "just and devout," as was Simeon of old. There are all too many "sinners in Zion" who would be afraid. The sons of Esau and Ishmael surround them in very antagonistic and aggressive mood. Who can tell what may soon happen? But we can tell from this scripture what will ultimately come to pass, and how God will intervene in judgment.
The Divine intervention having taken place, the blessing for Israel and the land, predicted in Isaiah 35, will be brought to pass. The picture is a lovely one-a delightful scene of earthly blessing. The curse of Genesis 3: 17, 18, will be lifted, so that the very deserts will be abundantly fruitful. The vengeance of God will mean deliverance for Israel, and safety. But not only that, since they themselves will be transformed. They will see spiritually, they will hear, they will sing with gladness, and all their hopes be realized.
The figure in verse 7 is a striking one, for the word translated, "parched ground," really means a "mirage;" the strange appearance of what looks like a lake in some dry region, but which is only an illusion. The illusion that poor Israel has pursued, while away from God, will cease, and a real lake of refreshment take its place. We may well use the same figure in the Gospel today, since men are chasing after an illusory satisfaction and joy in a variety of ways, while abiding satisfaction is only found in Christ.
Verse 8 emphasises holiness, which must ever mark the presence of God, and the way of holiness may be trodden by the humblest of men, who would be accounted a fool by worldly standards. We may thank God that it is so.
The description of blessedness ends with the alluring picture presented in verse 10. Those who enter into the everlasting joy and gladness will be the ransomed of the Lord. We can rejoice today in this forecast of the blessedness of the earthly Zion, while we remember with gladness that we are blessed " with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1: 3). And "the heavens are higher than the earth," as Isaiah himself presently reminds us.
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