Isaiah 49:5 - 51:16
In this remarkable chapter we have something in the nature of a dialogue. Jehovah's word to the Messiah, whom He addressed as the true "Prince of God," we found in verse 3. The lament of the Messiah, having wooed Israel in vain, is found in verse 4, and it was historically verified, as we are told in Luke 13: 34. From verse 5 onwards we get the response of Jehovah to this lament. The latter part of verse 5 is really a parenthesis, giving us Messiah's confidence, based upon what Jehovah is about to say. Israel may refuse and be obdurate, but in the eyes of Jehovah He will be GLORIOUS- and that being so, nothing of God's purpose will fail.
The answer of Jehovah begins in verse 6. We are prophetically advised that in the coming of the Lord Jesus wider and weightier purposes were involved than the gathering and blessing of Israel and Jacob. Light was to shine for all the nations, and salvation was to be made possible and available to the ends of the earth. Here is a prediction that-praise be to God! -is being verified today. He is the salvation. It cannot be disconnected from Him, as the Apostle Peter made so plain before the Jewish council - see Acts 4: 12.
But if we can see the fulfilment of verse 6 today, we wait to see verse 7 fulfilled in a future day, which, we trust, is approaching. Jehovah is truly the Redeemer of Israel, though the One whom He sent is despised and abhorred in the servant's place. The hour draws near when, in the presence of this Servant, kings shall rise from their seats and princes shall do homage before Him. Men refused Him but God has chosen Him.
Again in verse 8 we have the voice of Jehovah. The humbled Servant whom men would not hear has been heard by Him, helped and lifted up. And this has come to pass in "an acceptable time," and in "a day of salvation." The significance of this may have been lost on Old Testament readers, but the Apostle Paul seized upon it in 2 Corinthians 6: 2. The rejection of the Messiah, foretold in verse 7 would result in His death and He would be "heard" and "helped" by resurrection from the dead, and this was to inaugurate the "acceptable time" and the "day of salvation."
Almost exactly nineteen centuries ago Paul reminded the Corinthian saints that they were living in that wonderful epoch: it was NOW. The epoch of grace and salvation still persists. It is still NOW. May we all be stirred to evangelise, remembering that it may not last much longer.
But in the latter part of verse 8, and onwards to the end of verse 13 the prophecy carries us into the age to come. The once-rejected Messiah is to be "a covenant of the people," for they will not enter into blessing on the basis of the covenant of law. He, and He only, will bring to pass the blessing on earth so glowingly described in these verses, so that the very heavens as well as the earth will break forth into jubilant song.
Verse 13 however, seems to indicate that an afflicted remnant of Israel is mainly, if not exclusively, in view here. Some will be prisoners, some hiding in dark places; coming over the mountains from distant spots in north and west, and even from "the land of Sinim," which some identify with China. At last the comfort, announced in the opening verse of Isaiah 40, will have reached "His people," and those who for so long had been "His afflicted," will find mercy. MERCY, notice; not merit, as is shown so conclusively at the end of Romans 11.
And it will be unexpected mercy, as the succeeding verses show. Zion, representing the godly seed who will receive the mercy, will be tempted to think in their extremity that they are forsaken and forgotten by their God: but they are not. Amongst mankind there is no stronger tie than maternal love. Yet under extreme pressure even that tie may break. The godly in Israel have a tie with Jehovah that will never break. While they are disowned nationally and set aside, God has wider purposes of blessing, reaching out to the remotest peoples. Yet He is marked by the utmost fidelity to all His promises, given to those who are the seed of Abraham in a spiritual as well as a material sense.
This will be the case in such abundant measure that in verse 18 Zion is told to lift up her eyes and see her children flocking to her side. In the days of her sinful desolation all her children were Lost; now they appear in such numbers that the land cannot contain them, and the Gentiles-even their kings and queens -will do them honour, and that because of the glory and power of their God.
But when this great mercy reaches Israel their plight will be very great, as we may infer from verse 24 and the opening verses of Zechariah 14 confirm the inference. Just when they appear to be the helpless captives of their foes there will be a tremendous intervention of Jehovah for their deliverance. The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that the Jehovah, who according to Zechariah 14: 3, will "go forth, and fight against those nations," is no other than our blessed Lord Jesus Christ; and by His hands, "the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered."
This will be a work of redemption by power but, as we know, it will find its righteous basis in the redemption by blood accomplished at His first coming. At the present time the poor Jew still rejects the righteous basis while hoping for national deliverance. It will be otherwise when their Redeemer does appear in power. He will then be manifested as the "Mighty One" of poor crooked "Jacob;" and not merely as the Mighty One of Israel.
This prophetic strain now ceases for in Isaiah 50: 1 we return to the existing state of the people, estranged from their God. This was not from God's side but from theirs. If He had issued a bill of divorcement against them, it would have been permanent and they would have been "cast away," (Rom. 11: 1), as to which Paul says, "God forbid." The fact was that they had sold themselves into disaster by their many transgressions.
And there was more than this, for the succeeding verses are a prophetic arraignment of the people as to their rejection of their Messiah at His first advent. When He came, there was, as verse 2 predicts, none among the leaders of the people to answer to His call. As the Gospels record He came announcing the kingdom is at hand Had He no power to bring it in? Did the establishment of the kingdom fail because He had not the redeeming energy? Why, He moved in the seas and the heavens with the power of the Creator! Yet He was to take a lowly and subject place.
The word "learned" in verse 4, really means a disciple or one who is instructed, and our Lord took that humble and subject place when He came as the Servant of the will of God. He had indeed the opened ear, as was also predicted in Psalm 40, and He took that place that He might be man's true neighbour, and speak the word in season to him that is weary. Morning by morning He heard the words He was to speak to others; hence His own statement to His disciples, "the words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself (John 14: 10).
And having taken this lowly place of Servant, He had to face the scornful rejection of men. Smiting, shame and spitting were to be His portion though He came in such grace with blessing for men. Nothing however moved Him from the path of devotion to the will of God. His face was set as a flint in that direction, and therefore the power of God was with Him.
Moreover, as verses 8 and 9 intimated, the day will come when He shall be vindicated and His adversaries confounded and brought under judgment. So here again, as is so often in these prophecies, the two advents are brought together though many centuries come between them. Verses 5-7 have been fulfilled, when He came in grace. Verses 8 and 9 will be fulfilled when He comes in judgment.
Then in the two verses that close the chapter we pass from prophetic utterances to words of counsel and warning. There were those that feared the Lord and yet they walked in comparative darkness. This was acknowledged by the Apostle Peter, when in his first epistle he reminded the converts from Judaism, to whom he wrote, that they had been called "out of darkness into His marvellous light." (1 Peter 2: 9). But while they still dwelt in darkness, waiting for the light, they were to trust in the name of Jehovah-for so He had revealed Himself to them, and stay themselves upon His faithfulness. This they did, as the opening chapters of Luke's Gospel show. Jesus was, "the Dayspring from on high . . . to give light to them that sit in darkness" (Luke 1: 78, 79); and in Luke 2, we are given a glimpse of the godly souls who were obeying the instruction given in verse 10 of our chapter.
But there were many in those days that did not fear the Lord nor obey the voice of His Servant when He came in grace, and there are today a multitude who are of the same mind. They kindle a fire of their own to illuminate the darkness, and in the light of it and of its sparks they pursue their way. This is figurative language; but how graphic and striking it is!
In this twentieth century men have created a huge bonfire which is throwing sparks in all directions, and it appears that "science" is adding fuel to its flames at a rate that is becoming alarming. The sparks that are generated by human cleverness are flying everywhere. So let us not miss the application of these two verses to ourselves. If saints of old were to trust in their God, while they waited for the light, should not we, who walk in the marvellous light of the Gospel, be filled with faith in the God so perfectly revealed in the Lord Jesus? Yet all around us are the multitudes charmed and intoxicated with the myriad bright sparks that spring from the fire of human inventions and cleverness, though some among them - those who know most and think more clearly -have many a twinge of fear as to the end of it all. Verse 11 indicates the end. Mankind will lie down in sorrow under God's heavy judgment hand.
Isaiah 51 opens with a call to the godly; for such are those that, "follow after righteousness." The figure of a quarry is used to direct their thoughts to their origin as descended from Abraham, who had originally been called out, and in whom the promises had been deposited. When Isaiah wrote, the people had for centuries been under the law of Moses and they might easily assume that they would ultimately attain to blessing on a legal basis. But they will not. The blessing will only be theirs on the basis of the covenant with Abraham. It will be theirs not on the ground of their merit but of God's MERCY, as the end of Romans 11, so clearly states.
Therefore, remembering His covenant with Abraham, God will yet "comfort Zion," and bring about rich earthly blessing. At the present time the diligent work of returned Jews is producing in the land fertility where barrenness has prevailed for many centuries, but there are forbodings and distress and a voice of anxiety rather than of melody. At present it is but a national and purely human movement.
Verses 4 and 5 show what will come to pass when the movement proceeds from God and they are obedient to His law and ordering. Then His salvation based on righteousness will be manifested. There will be blessing, not only for those whom He acknowledges as "My people" and "My nation," but also for "the peoples;" -for the word at the end of verse 4 and the middle of verse 5 is in the plural. The distant isles will be brought under Divine rule in that day. The secret of it all is this:- "on Mine ARM shall they trust." That ARM was introduced to us in Isaiah 40: 10, and is a designation of our Lord Jesus in the power and glory of His second advent.
Earlier in the verse "Mine arms" are mentioned; these we believe to be glorified saints, enjoying a heavenly portion, such as those to whom the Lord spoke the words recorded in Matthew 19: 28. In that day the trust of men, who are blessed, will be centred in Jehovah's mighty ARM, but saints will act as His "arms," deputed by Him to "judge the peoples."
What a wonderful day that will be; for nothing either in heaven or on earth, is stable, as verse 6 declares. Things physical and men themselves pass away but the salvation which God will bring to pass in righteousness will abide. We are called upon to hearken to God's word in verses 7 and 8; and we who "know righteousness" cannot but rejoice that only what is established in righteousness will remain and all else will be worm-eaten and destroyed. In the assurance of this no saint need fear the reproach and revilings of men.
These verses have unfolded before our minds a glorious and desirable prospect, only to be realized when the Lord Jesus comes again. Hence the call of verse 9: "Awake, awake, put on strength, O Arm of the Lord." In prophetic vision John saw Him so doing, in Revelation 19: 11-16, when He will be displayed as King of kings and Lord of lords. The Lord Jesus has ever been the Executor of the purposes of God. He acted in the mighty scenes of creation. It was He who cut in pieces Rahab-a name meaning "Arrogance," given to Egypt in contempt-and dried up the sea, when God brought the people under Moses out of the land of their bondage. When He puts on strength and acts in the future day, there will be a far greater deliverance, and the ransomed of the Lord shall return to Zion with singing, and their joy will be everlasting and not transient and fleeting as all joyful deliverances have been hitherto in this sinful world. We today may call upon the Arm of the Lord to awake, only the language we use is, "Even so, Come, Lord Jesus."
In verse 12 and onwards another call to the godly is before us. Their tendency was, as our tendency today is, to have their eyes on man, and fear, as all his evil tendencies and activities are observed. But men die and the One who comforts His people is the Maker of heavens and earth. When God acts, where will the fury of the oppressor be? These striking verses are intended to put heart into the saints of God in all ages. They have done so in the past and doubtless they are doing so today, especially where saints are confronted with "the fury of the oppressor," whether he be Communist or Romish.
God is far above the actions and agitations of men. The nations are like the sea with its roaring waves but He divides them at His pleasure. In verse 16 the One who is the Arm of the Lord is addressed for He is the One who speaks on God's behalf, the Divine word being in His mouth; just as He is the One who acts beneath the Divine hand, and the result of the speaking and the acting is given.
The result is going to be threefold, as this remarkable verse states. The first is that the heavens are going to be planted. The reference here is not to creation, for that was mentioned in verse 13, but, as we believe, to what God is doing today. The Lord Jesus Himself said, "Every plant, which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Matt. 15: 13) ; thus showing that to plant is a figurative expression for establishing in a place of blessing. By the Gospel today men are being called out from the nations for His name, and theirs is a "heavenly calling" (Heb. 3: 1). The coming age will display that the heavens have been planted by the grace of God in this age.
Secondly, the foundations of the earth will be well and truly laid. Again, this not the material creation, but laying the moral foundations in righteousness, for at present, " all the foundations of the earth are out of course" (Ps. 82: 5). Through the centuries men have striven in vain to establish a righteous order of things and the best of them have utterly failed. They could no more accomplish it than they could reach up to plant the heavens.
But there is a third thing that is to be brought to pass: Zion is to be formally acknowledged as God's special people. The prophet Hosea lived about the time of Isaiah, and it was through him that God said "Ye are not My people and I will not be your God" (1: 9). So up to this present moment they are disowned, though not set aside for ever. The day will come when they will be owned and blessed.
And these wonderful results will come to pass through the One who is presented to us in Isaiah as not only the lowly Servant but also the mighty Arm of Jehovah-our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder that the next words of the prophecy are the call, "Awake, awake." Jerusalem will awake presently: let us, who are called that we may be planted in the heavens. see to it that we are very much awake today- awake to our God; awake to His service. We are exhorted to this in Ephesians 5: 14.
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