Isaiah 64:4 - 65:12
It is striking how verse 4 follows what we have dwelt upon in the first three verses. Isaiah desired a mighty display of the power of God such as had been manifested at the outset of Israel's history: yet he was conscious that God had in reserve things beyond all human knowledge, and prepared for those who waited for Him to act.
To this verse the Apostle Paul referred in 1 Corinthians 2: 9, showing that though in ordinary matters men arrive at knowledge by the hearing of the ear-tradition-or by the eye-observation-or by what we may call intuition, these things can only reach us by revelation from God by His Spirit. Isaiah knew that there were things to be revealed. Paul tells us that they have been revealed, so that we may know them.
In keeping with this, the Apostle Peter has told us in his first Epistle that when the Spirit of Christ testified through the prophets, they "inquired and searched diligently," concerning what they had written, and they discovered that they were predicting things, only to be made known to such as ourselves who are brought into the light of what Christ has accomplished. So again we have to remind ourselves how great are the privileges that are ours. God has indeed "come down," but in grace and not, for the time being, in judgment.
The prophet foresaw that when the prepared things were made known they would only be received if a certain moral state were found. There must be not only the waiting for Him but also a rejoicing in righteousness and working the same, as well as a remembrance of God in all His ways. Thus the godly remnant of Israel are described here. It will be so in a future day, and so it is today, since it is only by the Spirit that we perceive and receive the wonderful things now revealed. When, having been received, the Spirit of God is in control, we enter into the enjoyment of the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.
Now at that moment the necessary state did not exist amongst the people, hence we have the words, "Behold, Thou art wroth; for we have sinned." This confession is placed in brackets, in Darby's New Translation, so that the following words spring out of the beginning of the verse. In righteousness and remembrance is to be "continuance, and we shall be saved." Isaiah had previously presented to us, "a just God and a Saviour" (Isa. 45: 21); thus the people whom He saves must be brought into conformity with Himself.
Verses 6 and 7, continue the confession of sin that was interjected in verse 5. Notice the four figures that are used to express their sorrowful state. First, unclean, as a leper is unclean, in the sight of the law. Second, their "righteousnesses," that is, their many doings which they considered to be acts of righteousness, were but "filthy rags" in the sight of God. Third, as a consequence of this they were all fading, dying things, like autumn leaves. Fourth, their sins were like a wind that blew them all away.
Are things different today? Has the spread of a civilisation based upon Christian ideals altered things? It has not, and things are just the same. The leprosy of sin is just as virulent; the outward righteousnesses of mankind are just as spurious; death is just as busy; the wind of God's judgment on sin will soon sweep all away.
Further the prophet had to complain that no one was rightly moved by this state of things, so as to call upon the name of God; no one was found to take hold of God in supplication and prayer. The fact was that God had hid His face from them in His holy government. It was a sad state of affairs when no one was stirred to take the place of an intercessor.
And without a doubt we may say the same as we look on the state of Christendom today. Bright spots there are, thank God!-spots where the Spirit of God is manifestly at work. But in spite of this, the picture over-all is a dark one. Evil abounds under the profession of Christ's name, and even where the Spirit of God is working, wholehearted servants of God are all too few. Who stirs himself up to take hold on God as to it? Who prays to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest?-as the Lord Himself directed in Matthew 9: 38. May God Himself stir us up, instead of hiding His face from us, if we fail to stir ourselves up in this matter.
Now, in our chapter, comes the touching appeal to Jehovah. The very first words of Isaiah's prophecy were, "The Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me." Very well then Jehovah had taken the place of Father to Israel, and upon that the faith of the prophet counted, and on it he based his appeal. Moreover Jehovah was not only Father to them but He was as a Potter also. Israel was but the clay in His hand.
That this was so, and that God acknowledged it to be so, was made manifest a little later in the days of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 18 we read how he was instructed to go down to the potter's house and receive a lesson there. He saw the clay vessel "marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it." The Lord proceeded to tell Israel that they were in His hand as clay is in the hand of the potter, so He could do with them as seemed good in His sight. Confining our thoughts to Israel, we know that God will make another vessel, which is what the Lord Jesus was showing Nicodemus, as narrated in John 3. That which is born of the flesh-even Abrahamic flesh-is flesh. Only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Only a born-again Israel will enter the Kingdom.
In Isaiah's day the point as to "another vessel," made known to Jeremiah, had hardly been reached; hence here we have further pleadings with God on behalf of the marred vessel as we see in the four verses that close the chapter. "We are all Thy people," says the prophet, though about that time, or very soon after, Hosea's son had to be called "Lo-ammi: for ye are not My people, and I will not be your God" (Hosea 1: 9). These closing verses of appeal seem like a last cry to God, before the sentence of repudiation was given to Hosea.
The iniquity marking the people is confessed, but mercy is sought. The desolations mentioned in verses 10 and 11 strike us as being stated prophetically, for though the king of Assyria ravaged the cities of Judah in the days of Hezekiah, he was not allowed to take Jerusalem nor burn the temple. Jeremiah it was, who actually saw these things fulfilled. Even in Hezekiah's day however, it was certain that these terrible desolations would come to pass, as we saw when reading the end of chapter 39 of this book. When they were accomplished Israel was set aside for the time being, and the times of the Gentiles began.
The two verses that commence Isaiah 65, are in exact harmony with this. They are quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 10: 20, 21 after he had shown that even Moses had upbraided the people and predicted that God would turn from them to others. Then he prefaced his quotation from our chapter by Saying that, "Esaias is very bold. . ."
Yes, Isaiah does speak with great boldness for he speaks as the very voice of Jehovah rather than speaking about Him. He does not say, "He is sought. . . He is found. . . He said. . ." but rather, "I am sought. . .I am found. . .I said. . ." How comes it, we may enquire, that people who never asked after God should be seeking Him? The answer seems obvious. It must take place as the result of God seeking after them. This is exactly what has taken place in this Gospel age. Israel being set aside, God goes out in sovereign mercy to Gentiles, as Paul goes on to explain in Romans 11. Has the wonder of this mercy penetrated our hearts in any substantial measure?
God's dealings with Israel, in setting them aside for this long period, is justified by what we read in verse 2. The people had been rebellious, following "their own thoughts," instead of God's thoughts, as expressed in His holy law, and these thoughts of theirs led their feet into a way that was not good. God had condescended to entreat them "all the day," and that "day" had been a long one, extending over centuries of time. To these entreaties they had not responded.
The following verses lay specific evils to their charge, but before we consider them let us pause a moment to consider whether we have been guilty of pursuing our own thoughts instead of God's in that which has been revealed to us. His mind for us as individual Christians, and also as members of the body of Christ-the church-is plainly stated in the Epistles of the New Testament. Now it is sadly easy to slip away from these and walk after our own thoughts; and more particularly so in regard to church matters; easy to say, "That was doubtless right enough for the first-century Christians, but hardly practicable for us today." But it is God's thoughts and ways that are perfect, whilst our own thoughts lead us into "a way that was not good."
The evil ways of Israel were largely connected with idolatrous practices, as verses 3-7 show. The opening words of Deuteronomy 12 are, "These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land," and there follow prohibitions against the high places and groves, or gardens, and altars which the heathen nations had made. So God's way for them was that they should bring all their offerings to His place in Jerusalem; offering as He had commanded. But they preferred to worship according to their own thoughts with the result that is described in these verses. Their sacrifices were wrong; their altars were wrong; the food they ate was wrong; and to crown all this they affected a sanctimonious piety, which led them to say to others, "Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou."
This plainly indicates that the evil of Phariseeism began early in Israel's history. The spirit of it is plainly visible when we read the prophecy of Malachi. It reached its fullest and worst expression in the time of our Lord, furnishing the main element which led to His crucifixion. We may remember how He charged them with, "Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15: 9). So this quite agrees with what we have just seen stated by Isaiah. They preferred to walk after their own thoughts, rather than by the word of God. The same evil principle has persisted through the years, and it is all too evident today within the circle of Christian profession. Though their positions, both doctrinally and ecclesiastically, may widely differ, there are found those who demand separation-"Stand by thyself, come not near to me," -based on a claim of superior sanctity or spirituality as the case may be. Such separatists are as offensive to God as, "smoke in My nose, a fire that burneth all the day."
Now this state of things in Israel demanded a recompence of judgment from the hand of God. It would seem that this spurious sanctity on top of their rebellious disobedience was their crowning sin. It brought upon them the seventy years of captivity in Babylon; and, when those years had passed and a remnant came back to the land, the same hypocrisy sprang up in their midst again, rendered worse, if anything, by the very mercy that had been shown to them. They crucified their Messiah saying "His blood be on us, and on our children." Thus it has been through their long centuries of trouble, and will yet be in the far worse sorrows of the great tribulation.
The lesson for us is that God desires obedience to His thoughts, expressed in His word, If that be our aim, we shall soon realize how little we apprehend them, and even more feebly carry them out, and this will produce in us a spirit of humility- the complete opposite to that of a spurious sanctity such as is revealed here.
Another note is struck when we reach verse 8. Under the figure of sparing a cluster of grapes, because it is of value for wine producing, God declares that He will spare a remnant of the people, though judgment must fall on the mass. This He will do, "that I may not destroy them all." This remnant is spoken of as, "My servants," and in the next verse as, "a seed out of Jacob," and also as, "Mine elect," who will inherit the land.
We may remember how our Lord Himself was predicted as "Seed" of the woman, in Genesis 3, and again as the "Seed" of Abraham, concerning which the Apostle wrote "He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is Christ" (Gal. 3: 16). When considering Isaiah 53, we also saw that the risen Christ is to "see His seed," as the fruit of the travail of His soul; and the same thought meets us at the close of the other great prediction of the sufferings of Christ in atonement -"A seed shall serve Him" (Ps. 22: 30). He, who is pre-eminently the "Seed," is to have a seed of His own order in His risen life. This thought underlies the verses we are considering.
Two further things may be pointed out before we leave these verses. First, it was to this godly seed that the Lord Jesus referred at the beginning of His well-known, "Sermon on the Mount." The prophet speaks of, "an inheritor of My mountains," and says, "Mine elect shall inherit it." The third beatitude is, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt 5: 5). Now this enlarges the promise, so that it applies beyond the confines of Jacob and Judah. It is the meek of all peoples who will inherit the earth, when Heaven's kingdom is at last universally established.
The second thing we have to remember is that this remnant according to the election of grace, called out from the mass of the Jews, exists today, though by the very fact of its calling it is severed from Judaism and its earthly hopes. That it exists is made plain by the Apostle Paul in the opening verses of Romans 11, and he cites his own case as the proof of it. We have to read Ephesians 2, particularly the latter part of it, to learn the new position of heavenly favour and blessing into which they are brought in association with those called from among the Gentiles by the Gospel that is being preached today.
In our chapter earthly blessing is before us, as verse 10 makes very plain. The valley of Achor, was a place of judgment, as narrated in Joshua 7: 24-26. That place of judgment is to become, "a door of hope," according to Hosea 2: 15. Our verse reveals it as a place of rest for flocks and for men. Is there not a parable in this? Where judgment has been executed, there hope is to be found, and rest is the final result.
We leave this beautiful picture when we read verses 11 and 12. God cannot forget the existing state of departure and sin that marked the people in Isaiah's day They had forsaken Jehovah; they had forsaken His holy mountain, whereon stood His temple. And to what had they turned? The rest of the verse reveals it, though the translation is rather obscure. In Darby's New Translation we find "Gad" substituted for "that troop," and "Meni" for "that number," with footnotes giving an explanation to the effect that the former word indicates, "Fortune, or the planet Jupiter," and the latter word, "Number, or Fate, or the planet Venus."
The people had turned aside to worship the heavenly bodies, and connected their false worship with the gambling instincts, which are so strong in fallen humanity. If things went well it was Fortune. If badly, it was Fate. In the minds of the people these were deities to whom they made offerings of food and drink. As so often "table" is a figure indicating solid food, as on the table of shewbread, and wine furnished the drink. This throws some light on the Apostle's words in 1 Corinthians 10: 21, where he mentions, "the cup of devils," and "the table of devils." The devils of this verse were of course demons; and demon power lay behind the "Gad" and the "Meni," mentioned here.
When in verse 12, God says He will "number" them to the sword, there is an allusion to the name "Meni," which means number. The people are plainly told that judgment and death lay before them. They were rejecting the law of God. We are living in an age when men are rejecting the grace of God; and to do this is more serious than to reject law, as we are told in Hebrews 10: 20. When the Gospel is preached, let this be made very plain.
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