Isaiah 5:1 - 9:7
Isaiah 5 begins with what we may call, The Song of Isaiah. If we turn back to Deuteronomy 32, we may read the song of Moses, which is partly retrospective and partly prophetic. Moses uttered his song at the start of Israel's national history; Isaiah uttered his towards its close. The testimony of both is the same. The failure of the people was complete.
Israel had been Jehovah's vineyard, and He had ordered everything in their favour. A very fruitful spot had been their location with all necessary equipment. The law, given through Moses, had fenced them about, so as to protect them from contamination from outside, if they had observed it. Moreover they were a "choicest vine," for they had descended from Abraham, one of God's choicest saints. Thus everything had been in their favour. What had been the result?
Result there was, but of a wholly worthless and evil sort. Where judgment should have been oppression was found: where righteousness, only a cry of distress. Once again we have to notice that the charge against them concerns moral depravity rather than lack of ceremonial observances.
When the Lord Jesus spoke of Himself as "the true Vine," (John 15: 1), the minds of His disciples may well have turned back to this scripture, as ours also may do. Israel was the picked sample of humanity in which the trial of the whole race took place. The condemnation of Israel is the condemnation of all of us; but it was in the cross of Christ that the condemnation was formally and finally pronounced. The first man and his race condemned and rejected. The Second Man, and those who are of Him and in Him, accepted and established for ever.
The song of Isaiah ended, the prophet dropped figurative language for the hard, plain facts of Israel's sin. Six times over does he utter a "Woe" upon them in verses 8-25, and again we notice that it was their moral evils that stirred the Divine wrath. The first woe is flung at the men of grasping covetousness, who aimed at monopolizing houses and lands for themselves. Judgment in the form of desolation for both houses and lands would fall upon them.
The second woe is against the drunkard and pleasure-seeker. The judgment awaiting them is described down to verse 17. We may observe that similar catastrophe ever follows a people given over to pleasure and debauchery. The great Roman Empire did it in her later years, and then crashed. If Britain and other nations of today do it-what then?
The third woe (verse 18) is uttered against those who sin openly, violently, in defiance of God. The fourth is against men of a subtler type, who overturn all the foundations of right and wrong. Accepting their ideas and teachings the multitude become confused and perverted, condemning what is good and applauding what is evil; truly a terrible state of things.
This leads, no doubt, to what is denounced in the fifth woe. The men who do thus pervert the mental outlook of their fellows, pose as being the wise and prudent leaders of others. At least they consider themselves to be such. And the effect of their teachings-new and progressive, as they would call them-upon those who imbibe them, leads to the denunciation of the sixth woe. They go back to their drink and debauchery, and pervert everything that is right in their dealings with others. If they accept the teaching, indicated in verse 20, that is what they will do.
After the second woe no details of what would be involved are given till we reach verse 24. Then the pent-up wrath, merited by the last four woes, is made plain. And in verses 26-30, there is revealed how all six woes would bring upon them chastisement from without. The nations that soon would descend upon them like a roaring lion, and were doubtless headed up in the mighty Assyrian of those days, whom the Lord called, "The rod of Mine anger" (Isaiah 10: 5).
Having been used to pronounce this six-fold woe, Isaiah was given a vision of the glory of Jehovah on His throne, attended by the angelic seraphim. Of their six wings only two were used for flight. First came the covering of the face in the presence of inscrutable glory; then the covering of their own way from their eyes; lastly their activity in the service of their God; a suitable lesson for ourselves. A Spirit of worship and self-forgetfulness precedes service. The very door of the temple was moved at the Divine presence and this was followed by a spiritual movement in Isaiah. It wrought deep conviction of sin and uncleanness, so that having just pronounced in the name of the Lord six woes upon others, he now called for a woe upon himself.
Here we see exemplified the statement, "Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity" (Ps. 39: 5). This happened to Isaiah in the year that King Uzziah died, who was one of the better kings, but ended his days a leper because he dared to push his way into the temple of God. Here Isaiah found himself before God in His temple, and he instinctively used the language of a leper (see, Leviticus 13: 45) realising that sin is leprosy of a spiritual sort. No sooner had his confession been made than the way of cleansing was revealed. Live coal, that had been in contact with the sacrifice was applied to his lips and the sin and uncleanness removed. Only sacrifice can cleanse sin; a foreshadowing of the death of Christ.
Then came the challenge as to service, and Isaiah's response; and as a result he was specially sent as the messenger to Israel. As often pointed out, the unvarying order is:- first, conviction; second, cleansing; third, commission in the service of God. Isaiah said, "Here am I; send me." When God was about to commission Moses, He had the response, in effect, "Here am I; send somebody else," as we see in Exodus 4: 13; though He overruled it and Moses was sent. Let us all-especially the young Christian-give Isaiah's response and not that of Moses, lest the Lord pass us by, to our loss at the judgment seat of Christ.
It is instructive to note New Testament references to this scene. In John 12: 4, the blind rejection of Jesus is the theme, and we discover that Isaiah "saw His glory, and spake of Him." Then in Acts 28: 26, Paul refers to our chapter and says, "Well spake the Holy Ghost . . ." So here is one of those allusions to the Trinity, which are embedded in the Old Testament. In verse 3 we have "Holy," repeated, not twice nor four times but three; and Jehovah of hosts is before us. In verse 5, "the King, the Lord of hosts," whom we find to be the Lord Jesus. In verse 8, "the voice of the Lord," which is claimed as the voice of the Holy Ghost. God is One and yet Three: Three and yet One. Hence, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for US?"
Verses 9-15, give us the message that Isaiah was commissioned to give. It was indeed of great solemnity. Things had reached such a state that hardening and blindness was to fall on the people, so that conversion and healing would not be theirs, and they would be driven out of their land. The only gleam of hope as to themselves would be found in the fact that God would have His tenth in a holy seed: in other words, He would preserve for Himself a godly remnant. The position was the same among the Jews in Paul's day, as Romans 11 shows, and it is exactly the same today. The national blindness still persists and there is still a believing remnant, but now incorporated in the church.
With Isaiah 7 we pass into some historical details of the reign of Ahaz, which are recorded in 2 Kings 15 and 16. He wrought much evil and was now threatened by an alliance against him of Pekah, the usurper on the throne of the ten tribes, and Rezin of Syria. If they had slain or removed Ahaz, they would have broken the line of descent, by which, according to the flesh, Christ came, as indicated in Matthew 1: 9. This God was not going to allow, so Isaiah was instructed to take his young son, Shear-Jashub, which means, "The remnant shall return," and intercept Ahaz, telling him their scheme should not succeed, and that within 65 years the northern kingdom should be destroyed.
Invited to ask for a sign that should confirm this prophecy, Ahaz declined, not because he had implicit faith in the word of the Lord but because swayed by his idols he was indifferent. Nevertheless the great sign was given - Immanuel, born of a virgin - which was indeed valid, both "in the depth," and "in the height above." Notice the order of these two expressions, and then read Ephesians 4: 9, where it is emphasized that the descent comes before the ascent on high.
After this prophecy had been fulfilled in the coming of Christ the Jews made great efforts to avoid giving the Hebrew word the force of virgin, treating it as meaning merely a young woman; and to this day unbelievers have followed in their train. The Septuagint version, made by Jews long before the prejudice arose, translated the word by the Greek word which without any question means virgin. This one fact effectively destroys the effort to destroy the prophecy.
Verse 15 is admittedly obscure, but we believe it signifies that the coming One, though "GOD with us," is yet, as born of the virgin, to grow up both physically and mentally according to the laws governing human life. This we see to be the case in Luke 2: 40-52.
Verse 16 appears to allude to Shear-jashub, who was with Isaiah, for the word translated "child" is not the one so translated in chapter 9: 6, but one meaning "lad" or "youth." The prediction of that verse came to pass through the power and rapacity of the Assyrian kings, as the closing verses of this chapter state. The desolations that would follow are then described.
In all this there is only one hope for Israel, or indeed for any of us, and that is, God himself stepping into the scene by way of the virgin birth. Thus was fulfilled the earliest prophecy of all, that "the Seed of the woman" should be He, who would bruise the head of the serpent, the originator of all the sin and sorrow. The virgin birth of Christ is not just a mere detail, an insignificant side issue in the Divine plan. It is fundamental and essential. By it the entail of sin and death, inherent in the race of Adam, was broken. Christ was not "of the earth, earthy," but "the Second Man . . . the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor. 15: 47). In Him, risen from the dead, a new race of man is begun.
A second child of Isaiah is mentioned in chapter 8. His long name was significant of the approaching conquest by Assyria of the two powers that were at that moment threatening Judah. Like a flood from the river the king of Assyria would overflow even through Judah, though he was not allowed to take Jerusalem in Hezekiah's time. Assyria did not know then, and the nations have not known since, that the land belongs primarily to Immanuel and only secondarily to the Jew.
Verses 9 and 10 doubtless had an application to the day when Isaiah wrote, but their force abides. Palestine holds a very central position and it is becoming more and more evident that its potential riches are great. The peoples may associate themselves in contending leagues in order to lay hands on it but they will be broken in pieces, "for God is with us;" literally "for Immanuel." Christ is God and when He is manifested in His glory, the nations will be as nothing before Him - only "as a drop of a bucket," as presently Isaiah tells us. Among the nations today the idea of a confederacy is strong but this will be the end of it.
Isaiah, however, was warned against the idea of a confederacy for himself and his people. It would be doubly wrong in their case, inasmuch as they had been given the knowledge of God, and He was to be their trust. This we see in verses 11-18. Ahaz in his day was keen on a confederacy, and in the last days there will be strong confederacy between the man, who will become the wilful king and false prophet in Jerusalem, and the predicted head of the revived Roman empire; and this instead of the fear of the Lord.
The reason of this is revealed in verse 15. Immanuel is truly the sanctuary of His people but He would become "a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence," by the fact of His rejection. This is made quite plain in 1 Peter 2: 8. This He is to "both the houses of Israel," though He was rejected mainly at the hands of the house of Judah.
In these striking verses the godly are owned as Immanuel's "disciples." Though the mass of the people fall and are broken, as the Lord said in Matthew 21: 44, the testimony and the law will not fail, but will be bound up among those who really fear the Lord. Such will wait upon the Lord instead of turning to confederacies with men, and they will look for the appearing of Immanuel. When He appears in His glory those given to Him, and carried through the time of tribulation, will be for a sign and a wonder. This applies also today, as we see by the quotation in Hebrews 2: 13. The saints given to Him today will be manifested with Him in glory. And what a sign and wonder it will be when He thus displays the "exceeding riches of His grace," (Eph. 2: 7).
Verse 19 returns to what was then taking place in Israel. They were turning to the spiritist practices of the heathen with necromancers and soothsayers, trying to get guidance for the living from those who were dead, when the law and testimony was available for them, in which light from God was shining. If they did not speak according to that, there would be "no light in them;" or, "for them there is no daybreak." The principle of all this is more abundantly true for us today, inasmuch as the coming of Christ has so greatly amplified the word and testimony of God, enshrined in the New Testament Scriptures. If men turn from that to the illusive sparks, generated by man's wisdom and achievements, there will be no light in them, and no daybreak for them when Christ returns.
Instead of daybreak there will be darkness and gloom, so graphically described in the two verses that close this chapter and the opening verse of Isaiah 9. There was this darkness in the days of Ahaz. It existed in the day when Christ came, and it will doubtless be very pronounced at the end of the age. The way in which this prophecy is applied to the Lord Jesus and His early ministry, when we turn to Matthew 4: 13-16, is very striking. What wonderful spiritual light streamed forth from Him, both in His words and His miracles, for the blessing of those who had been sitting in darkness, whether they had eyes to see it or not.
The opening verses of Isaiah 9 follow one another in a very instructive and delightful sequence. Verse 1 continues the picture of great darkness and affliction that closed chapter 8. Verse 2 tells of the great light that burst in upon the darkness. Verse 3, of the great joy that follows; for translation authorities tell us that the word, "not," should be deleted. Verse 4 speaks of the great deliverance that will be granted: verse 5, of the removal by burning of all that speaks of warfare, so that great peace is established.
Referring this to the first advent of the Lord Jesus, as Matthew does, we recognize that these great things have been the result in a spiritual way. They are just what the Gospel brings, whether to Jew or Gentile. They will be achieved for Israel, and indeed for the saved nations, in the coming day when the Lord appears in His glory. Then every oppressor will be completely destroyed and peace will descend upon the earth.
Verse 6 begins with, "For;" that is, it supplies the basic reason or ground on which the prophecy rests. The meaning and implications of the great name, Immanuel, are unfolded to us. He is truly the "Child" born to the virgin but He is also the "Son" given. In the fuller light of the New Testament we can see how fitting is the word "given" here rather than "born." He who was "Son" became "seed of David according to the flesh" (Rom. 1: 3); that is, by His birth of the virgin. Hence His Sonship preceded His birth, and, as the fruit of inspiration, the prophecy was so worded as to be in harmony with the truth later to be revealed.
The government is to rest on the shoulder of Immanuel, and the full import of the name is now given to us under five headings. The first is "Wonderful;" that is, Singular and beyond all powers of human scrutiny. Then He is "Counsellor;" One involved in the counselling which precedes Divine acts, as for instance, "Let Us make man . . ." (Gen. 1: 26). This must be so inasmuch as He is "Mighty God." Again, being so, when He takes flesh and blood, His name of course must be, "God with us." Moreover, He is "Father of eternity," as more literally the words read. Eternity has its origin in Him. The ascription of Deity to the Child born could not be more distinct.
Lastly, being all this, He is "Prince of peace," the only One who, in this rebellious world, can establish it upon a permanent basis. This He will do by the warrior judgments, predicted in verses 4 and 5. Becoming "Seed of David," as we have seen, He will sit upon the throne of David, and having crushed man's rebellion and evil, He will govern with judgment and justice to the glory of God and the blessing of men. The Second Advent of our Lord will see these great predictions fulfilled to the letter.
The epoch in which we live is not the day of God's government upon the earth but the day of His grace, when government is still in the hands of the Gentiles and God is gathering out of the nations a people for His name. The time of grace may soon end, and then God will arise to deal with the world problems created by the sin of man. To bring the whole earth into subjection will indeed be a colossal task, but as our scripture says, "The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this." We may well rejoice that so it will be.
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