Israel's revival in The Branch. His divine qualifications.
In what we have just considered, we have seen the Imperial World-power, here termed the Assyrian, in its pride and doom (chap. 10:3-19). Then an assumed picture of the last attack of that World-power on Jerusalem (vers. 20-34), which brings us to the third step, the resurrection or revival of this nation in, and as identified with, their divine Messiah.
The chapter opens thus:
1: From Jesse's (live) stem there shall come forth a rod,Thus in contrast with the forest, to which the Assyrian in all his pride was likened in our last chapter, poor Israel's broken stump (and we must note the figure continued from chap. 6:13) now gives evidence of renewed vitality. Jesse's root is not dead. A living Sprout appears, a fruit-bearing Branch springs from it. But not from David, mark, but from Jesse, which tells us that "the royal family has sunk down to the insignificance from which it sprang." No royal throne does it enjoy, any more than when Jesse, not David, was its representative. How feeble at first this lovely Sprout appears to be, as Delitzsch again well says, "In the historical fulfilment even the ring of the words of the prophecy is noted: the nehtzer (Branch) at first so humble, was a poor Nazarene" (Matt. 2:23).
But we must still consider that living Branch, for upon Him the Spirit of Jehovah shall find His only fitting resting-place, which He, as Noah's dove, amid the waters of death, has sought in vain amid the sons of men. Like the Lampstand in the Tabernacle, with its one central shaft and three pairs of branches, so the Spirit upon Him, as the central shaft, shall give Him a dual threefold qualification for perfection of government, which may it be our joy, by that same Spirit, to note:
1: The Spirit of wisdom and discernment.
The first pair may correspond with the lowest branch in the Lampstand, and tell of His personal qualifications, what He had, and shall ever have in Himself, irrespective of anything to draw them out.
The second pair correspond to the intermediate branches, and speak of His perfections in relation to His people, amid whom He takes His place.
The third, or uppermost, pair speaks as we should expect, of His relation Godward. The three being Self-ward, Man-ward, God-ward, as we may say.
1: "Wisdom and Discernment." Latent these ever lay in Him, only awaiting the occasion to evidence themselves. He ever was, and ever shall be the very personification of Wisdom. All who come before Him are instantly "discerned"; every hidden thought understood afar off; no word of the tongue but that He knows it altogether (Ps. 139:1-4). He is the "Discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Let Him be the absolute Monarch, and who would not rejoice in the unlimited sway of One who could never err?
2: But we only learn of these qualities as they are called out, and so we next have "Counsel," that is the ability to advise, with unerring intelligence, in every situation, no matter how perplexing it may be. He is indeed, too, a very Boaz, for "in Him is strength." In His hands autocratic rule, so bitterly repudiated just now, would be perfection.
3: "Knowledge and fear of Jehovah." The connection of the two words shows what is meant by "knowledge." It is the capacity of the spirit for discerning God, and man's proper relation to Him. Thus it is linked here with that "fear of Jehovah" in which He, as perfect Man, abounded, never taking one step that was not ordered by God's Word. But this is very wonderful as coming as the topstone, the climax, the acme of the qualifications of "The Branch" for rule. Even on the throne of all the earth, the highest qualification will be "the fear of Jehovah"! One need hardly point out how directly this contravenes all the current thought of the day. The only "fear" that rulers have who owe all their authority to "the people," is of the people. Their fear is of those beneath them, on whose suffrages the continuance of their power depends; not of God above, who no longer exists for all these practical matters. The Holy Scriptures make it only too clear, that the world, rejoicing in the triumph of democracy, will shortly lament that triumph.
But these qualifications for rule of "The Branch" that we have looked at, do not answer the question as to His benevolence. He has all wisdom, all power, every quality of the Head and Hand; but how as to the Heart?—that is of all-importance. How will He use these powers?
The answer to this is included in the last, the topstone, of Spirit-qualifications—the fear of Jehovah—which is repeated, thus linking the verses together:
3: Fragrant1 to Him is the fear of Jehovah;This fear of Jehovah is very wonderful in its effect, it results in His looking at everything in the light of Jehovah's will. Not deceived will He ever be, in the future, as He never was in the past, by any mere external show (what His eyes see), however plausible it may appear to be, whether in the kiss of a false disciple, or (what His ears hear) in the superficially kindly words of a true one (Matt. 16:23); but with a justice that is absolute, earth's government will be administered. When He thus comes in great power, He finds His poor people, the Jewish remnant, at the point of extermination from "all the nations." He discerns the issues involved, delivers the poor, by smiting "the earth" in its ruler, whom we know as the "Beast from the sea," and, with one breath, destroying the other hostile chief, the "Wicked One."
But who is this individual here called the "Wicked One"? Can there be amid all the revolted race, not one of which has not sinned, one whom that title can distinguish as pre-eminently "the Wicked One"?
The apostle Paul quotes this very scripture in 2 Thess. 2:8: "And then shall that Wicked One be revealed"; and this is enough to identify this "Wicked One" with him who, in that same epistle, is called "the Man of Sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or is worshiped"; and by these words, we discern him as "the king who does according to his will, and who shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god . . . neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women"—Christ (Dan. 11:36, 37). But these last marks assure us that he, the Antichrist, will be a Jew, who thus denies the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22), for never would they be so used of a Gentile. From this, it equally clearly follows that (turning to Rev. 13) we must discern him in the "Beast from the land," rather than the more powerful politically "Beast from the sea."
We may not, without loss, pass by verse 5, ignoring our own apostle's word to "consider Him" being thus faithful in judging on behalf of the meek of the earth, or that garment that fits Him for that dignity.
5: Girdled is He with strict righteousness,There is no part of the clothing of greater significance in Scripture than the girdle. The loose flowing robes, as worn by both sexes in the East, so interfered with movement, that whilst they gave dignity in repose they greatly impeded any form of activity, and for that needed to be gathered up, and firmly held by a girdle about the loins. Thus not only was the clothing kept in its place, but the girdle communicated its support to the person. In every case, when we are told of our Lord Jesus being girt both the material of which that girdle was made, and the exact place that it had on the body, are filled with truth for our profit.
Three scenes will be sufficient for us to consider. First, look at Him on the same night in which He was betrayed, and see how "He takes a towel and girds Himself" (John 13:4). By the lowliest of ministries He tells us there of a love that has no cessation in its activity as long as its objects have need of it. Thus does He make us know His present infinitely gracious service; and I suppose that only in eternity shall we fully learn how much we owe to it.
What a different picture Rev. 1:13 gives us, and necessarily what a vast corresponding difference there is in the truth we are to derive from it. No longer are the robes gathered up, but flow to the feet! No longer are loins girt, but the breasts! No longer is there a linen towel, but a girdle of gold! It is no longer the activity of service, but the dignity of judging in the midst of the churches that is in view. But what might possibly impede that judgment? One sentiment—the depth of His love! So those affections which are symbolized by the breasts must be kept strictly within the limits of the glory of God, figured by the golden girdle.
Turning back to our prophet, we see that the Lord's loins are girt, for He is entering upon His government of the earth, and, "He that ruleth must rule with diligence" (Rom. 12:8); the "girdle" that here communicates its strength is that vertebrate quality of government, "righteousness," as dealing with the remnant's oppressors, and "faithfulness," as fulfilling the promises made to that faithful remnant itself.
The long-hoped-for return of the Lord has at that time been fulfilled, and one of its blessed consequences is the restoration of the harmony that was in Eden, in that kingdom of which our father Adam was monarch. The Last Adam comes, and naturally the results of the sin of the first are nullified; the chain now being closely attached, by an irrefragable link, to God, all the other inferior links are re-established and,
6: Wolf with the lamb is now dwelling,Verily a lovely picture! It is the creature now delivered from that bondage of corruption into which its ruler's sin brought it (Rom. 8:21). But we are plainly told that this can only be when "the sons of God" are manifested; so that our prophet is telling us of the conditions on the earth, as our New Testament tells us of "the glory that shall be revealed in us." Thus we have our part in this lovely scene, and shall have our unselfish joy in seeing the peaceful happiness of the regenerated earth. No bloodshed shall then be needed by those creatures that are no longer carnivorous, but have returned to their original food (Gen. 1:30), the green herb. As our poet Cowper sings,
It may possibly be questioned whether this perfect unbroken and everlasting joy, based on the knowledge of the Lord covering it, as the waters the sea, shall then obtain over all the earth. I have hesitated as to the rendering of the word that stands for both "land" and "earth," for if we let the light of Rev. 20:8, 9 fall on our scripture, it would appear quite sure that there wilt, even at the end of the millennial reign, be an innumerable multitude in the four quarters of the earth who can have no true knowledge of the Lord at all; whilst, at its beginning, we gather that some shall yield only "feigned obedience," not consistent with knowing Him truly (Ps. 18:44), so that a more correct rendering of the word "eratz" in verse 9, would be "land," confining this everlasting perfection to that one "pleasant land" of Israel, and the people that shall there and then be "all righteous."
10: Then shall there be of Jesse a Root,If so, this would naturally lead to the question: Shall the Gentiles then have no share in that joy? The 10th verse answers this, for He who is "Jesse's Root," as well as Jesse's Branch, shall be manifested in such resplendent majesty as to be a "banner" that shall rally about itself all the saved Gentiles, as our own prophetic book clearly testifies. "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof, and the saved nations (i.e., Gentiles) shall walk in the light of it, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it" (Rev. 21:23, 24). The whole earth then shares in the joy of Him who is there both Root and Offspring of David.
This scripture speaks, it is true, of the "heavenly Jerusalem," but since it is lighted by the "glory" of God, that, too, is a city wherein He finds His rest, and it is His being there that makes it so infinitely attractive to the nations that have been saved through the time of great tribulation, and are still upon the millennial earth in that day. Nor should we fail to admire the harmony between the two prophets of the two Testaments: "God and the Lamb" are in the heavenly, while of that Jerusalem that shall then be on earth, it is said: "His rest shall be glory," that is He, Messiah of Israel, shall rest and only rest when and where God in all the infinite excellencies of His wisdom, power, love and grace—all included in the one word "glory"—are fully displayed. But thus, if I err not, the two Jerusalems shall be unified by this identity of "Glory," or by His presence, and be really one. We do not see the heavenly city at all in the Old Testament, for this has to do only with the earth, but in the New, the one city, with its "wall," includes both. "Jerusalem above" being the "City" itself, "having the glory of God," while Jerusalem on the earth forms, in the intensely symbolic language of the Apocalypse, the "Wall" of this heavenly city, so-called since separating it from, yet connecting it, by its twelve gates (representing the twelve tribes of Israel) with the saved nations of that millennial earth (Rev. 21:12-14). Here then in that "glory" shall He find His resting-place, as indeed Ps. 132 teaches us.
11: Once again shall Jehovah recover His remnant,Verse 11 tells us, "in that day," after (mark carefully) the Lord is thus revealed in glory, shall Jehovah be active "a second time"2 in gathering His people from every country to which they have been scattered. But this suggests two questions: (1) When did He gather them the first time? (2) Is this second gathering final, or will there be a third?
There can be but one answer to the first question. It was Jehovah's hand alone that recovered His people from Egypt the first time. With "a high hand" He brought them out, and this first deliverance is made a kind of pattern for the second future one when His hand shall again be active, only this second time it shall not be only from Egypt but from every country of the earth.
But then it follows that this second recovery of Israel will be as much the direct work of Jehovah as the first from Egypt. He alone, actively, will or can truly restore that "second time."
Suppose, then, that the Zionist movement results in the return of a large number of Jews to Palestine, eventually forming there an autonomous State. [Ed. note: first edition 1935.] Would that fulfil, as seems to be the general idea, this scripture: "I will restore a second time"? Most assuredly not, for in the first place, in our prophecy Jehovah is gathering them to everlasting blessing; in the next, the second and true restoration takes place after the revelation of the Lord and not before. These two considerations taken together forbid absolutely the Zionist movement being a fulfilment of this, or any similar prophecies.
It is indeed true that all prophecy unites in telling us that the same nation must be in the same land as was there at the rejection and crucifixion of the Lord; its people, then, must return to that land, in order that prophetic Scriptures may then begin to be fulfilled, nor till they are there can any direct fulfilment begin. But Jehovah is not now active in gathering, although permitting it in a providential way, and they are now returning in the same unbelief in which they left it; and far from going back to never-ending blessedness, it will be, alas, to that time of unparalleled suffering called "the great tribulation."
The events that take place subsequent to that return, as told in Daniel 9:27, 28, the present heavenly witness, the Church, will not see; for before the work of God with His earthly people is thus renewed, the gathering out a people of a "heavenly calling" will have ceased (Acts 15:14-17).
So, in accord with all this, we conclude that verses 11 and 12 speak of the final gathering of both the two tribes (here called Judah), and of the ten (called Israel), and is not to be followed by a third. Here the rallying Center, the Ensign to which all shall joyfully flock, is God's beloved Son, Israel's true Messiah, our Saviour, Jesus Christ the Lord. Nor need we forget that the same blessed One is, this very day, the one rallying Center—the Ensign—for His scattered flock.
But further as to Israel's internal condition: the antagonism begun in the day of Rehoboam and continued ever since, between the ten and the two tribes, shall be annulled forever. Whether the lost ten tribes shall be restored at the same time as the two, may be a matter of question. They were not, as separate tribes, in the land at the time of the great tragedy of Calvary; they were not then, as distinct tribes, involved in that awful guilt directly, and therefore it is possible they will not be involved in the retribution of the great tribulation, and will be gathered separately and later than the remnant of the two. But it must also be remembered that we are now listening to a prophecy that tells us, not of the Zionist movement, but of something that shall occur long after that. It is the sweeping of all the earth by Jehovah Himself, so that every one of His earthly people shall be restored.
Shall they renew then, in that resurrection of the nation, the antipathies of the past? Shall Ephraim envy Judah its surpassing privileges of temple and priesthood? Shall Judah again vex and distress the less-privileged Ephraim? Nay, for at that time Ps. 133 shall be fulfilled, in that brotherly love so indicative of the Lord's gracious work of gathering together His people; as their scattering into sects, denominations, parties, and exclusive circles of various kinds is equally indicative of the activity of their common enemy, Satan, quite irrespective of the dispensation in which that scattering may occur. I fear we may but too safely, if sadly, say that it will not be till the literal personal resurrection—as here of the national—that the whole universe shall be able to see in the divinely formed unity of the Church, that work of God. At present, it is in fragments, as far as sight goes, and its testimony to the unity of all believers—ah, where is it?
Verse 14 returns to what, to our Christian ears, sounds like an intrusion, since it introduces a warlike element, so foreign to the spirit that should govern Christians today; but we must remember that the writer speaks not of our day, but the day of the Lord, and the government of the earth is in view. So these prophecies as to Israel and the earth always close with the same martial note as here. They deal with a time in which political dominance shall speak of Jehovah's favor, nor will the time of peace come until it is preceded by the time of triumph. So we may paraphrase the verse thus:
14: They fly on the shoulders3 of Philistines westward;Thus after striking victoriously east and west, three peoples are given as examples of willing submission: Edom, Moab, and the children of Ammon. Here I come to where all my readers may not follow. In the almost universal cry for the most elementary truths, the deeper things of God find little acceptance, and are apt to be slurred as being the result of "straining," or as fantastic. But there are still some who believe that the Bible, being the Word of God, must have depths of truth, not on the surface, but which are the portion given to patient industry and searching. These three peoples are illustrative of that. For note how strangely under divine protection Edom, Moab and the children of Ammon always appear to be. Why is that? When Israel, with pilgrimage nearly ended, approached their land, most strictly are they charged not to make any attack on Edom, Moab, or the children of Ammon (Deut. 2:5, 9, 19). Then again, in the last prophecy in Daniel we read: "But these shall escape out of his hand, Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon" (Dan. 11:41); nor is it necessary to discuss whose "hand" is here referred to, the one point is the Shield over this trio of peoples.
A few years more pass, and this 14th verse of our prophet finds its accomplishment, and again Edom, Moab and the children of Ammon are seen as submitting to restored Israel. Can any reasonable person who believes that the Spirit of God is the real Author of the book, put these repetitions on one side as meaningless?
One of the basic principles of interpretation of prophecy is this: What shall be true in Israel as a nation, identified with Christ, is true of every individual Christian in this day. That same principle of grace under which Israel can alone come into blessing is equally the principle under which any individual in this day can come into blessing. As an illustration of my meaning, take the apostle's use in Gal. 4:27 of the 54th chapter of our prophet. Isaiah is clearly addressing Jerusalem on earth, for it cannot possibly be the Church, either as seen in its external profession, or as the true living Body of Christ, for the former is never restored, but "spewed out of His mouth," and the latter is never forsaken. But both the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem are unified in this: they are both brought into divine favor on the same principle of grace, Israel as a nation in the millennial day, and every individual child of God today. The work of God will be with nations then as with individuals now.
Let us look then on Edom, Moab, and the children of Ammon in the light this has given us: the divine care over this trinity of peoples with their final submission to Christ, must speak of a corresponding care and the submission of a corresponding trinity now. If so, it can only be one of those inimitable finger-prints of God by which the Bible is distinguished from any other book in the world. The very composition of man's being will give us that correspondence, for that, too, is as Edom, Moab and Beni-Ammon, a trinity in body, soul and spirit.
But that is not sufficiently proved unless we can get details that shall show correspondences in the respective parts. Let us see.
Take the first, "Edom": it is a word that, both in its derivation and significance, is identical with "Adam," both meaning "red" from the "adamah," or ground, whence Adam and all his race have been taken. But that source can only apply to the one part of man's being that was "of the earth, made of dust" (1 Cor. 15:47), that is, the body. In that trinity of nations then, Edom represents the "body" in the trinity of man's being, nor can there be any strain charged in this.
But how inevitable is the next question: Is the body of the child of God today to be brought into the same subjection to Christ as the nation of Edom will be in the day approaching? That very question finds its definite answer in the words of our apostle, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection" (1 Cor. 9:27). Further, it is our "bodies" that, belonging to our Lord, it is our intelligent service to offer as a living sacrifice, so placed submissively at His service (Rom. 12:1). Of that submission Edom is the divinely given type.
But this leaves Moab and Ammon to be paralleled by soul and spirit: and no one can deny that there is at least this correspondence, that as Moab and Ammon were very closely related by the same fatherhood, so the human soul and the human spirit are in the same way both the offspring of the one "breath" of God (Gen. 2:7). Moab and Ammon were half-brothers, having the same father, and so have the spirit and soul of man, for so only was the apostle justified in quoting the heathen poet in the words: "For we also are His offspring" (Acts 17:28). So closely is spirit related to soul that many confuse and confound them. The dividing Word alone can distinguish them, apportioning to each (Heb. 4:12), as He did to Moab and Ammon, the allotted sphere and possession, so that we who have that Word know the discriminated qualities of these two immaterial parts of our being.
Thus, everything that we read of Moab leads us to conclude that, in her ease-filled plains, and the sensuous and sensual attractions whereby the pilgrims were induced to cease their pilgrimage, we get a clear correspondence with the sensuous (which has become in fallen man sensual) part of man's being. For by Scripture we are taught that the "soul" is the seat of human emotions and affections. In us naturally these are not subject to Christ, but in the new creation, they are. Thus Moab stands for the soul of man.
This leaves "the children of Ammon" to correspond with the higher reasoning faculty, having its seat in the human spirit, nor is there lacking much to make this correspondence perfectly assured, for the chief city of Heshbon, which was within the borders of the Ammonites (although they had no real title to it) has the clear, sure meaning of "Reason," that divinely communicated faculty which in the strictest sense is confined to the spirit of man. In one word, "the children of Ammon," opponents of faith as they were, faithfully represented that debased and fallen "reason" that we term today Modernism, or that is self-termed, Rationalism.
From all this, we gather this practical truth that, as God intends His beloved Son, Jesus, to reign during the millennial day over a submissive Edom, Moab and children of Ammon so, this day, every part of our tripartite being, body, soul and spirit, is to be brought into willing captivity to that same Lord. The correspondence is too perfect to be slurred as strained.
Verses 15 and 16 are to give their light and comfort to Israel, and they read:
15: Jehovah pronounces His ban on the sea-tongue,The Israel that shall read this, will understand the figure of both sea and river again drying up as in the past. It would convey absolute truth to their minds, altogether apart from a literal repetition of those miracles. There shall be obstacles to the return, corresponding to the Red "sea" (as between Egypt and Arabia, called the"sea-tongue") and the "river" Jordan. His ban shall be on the one, the "sea"—that is, on what shall represent the sea of Egypt in that final deliverance, possibly the nations that otherwise would have retained His people. They shall interpose no obstacle, but, so thoroughly shall their opposition be destroyed, that they shall rather further that return. Over that other obstacle, the river—Euphrates, which is always meant when nothing is added—He swings His hand as if to smite it, at the same time a puff of His glowing breath, so graphically speaking of His wrath, divides it into seven easily fordable brooklets—in a word, there shall be nothing to impede their return.
It is impossible that the mind should not turn to Revelation 16, where again we have the Euphrates "dried up, that the way of the kings of the rising of the sun might be prepared"; and this drying up is by the pouring out of the last of those vials, in which is filled up the wrath of God. In the Old Testament, the hot breath of His wrath dries up the river; in the New, the vial of His wrath. Surely there is a strong similarity, even though the two scriptures may not refer to the same moment; for in Revelation the Lord's manifestation in glory follows—in Isaiah precedes this drying up. In neither would there appear to be any necessity for a literal accomplishment of these prophecies to be looked for, certainly not in that book of symbols, Revelation.
There can be no controversy, at least whether we esteem it merely a coincidence, or as evidencing a clear and divinely intended application of the prophecy, that the Turk has been the great obstacle to the Jews possessing their land. It is the foot of the Turk that has trodden down Jerusalem; it is he who has claimed ownership of the soil of Immanuel's land, and is figured by the river from which he came, just as the other conqueror, Assyria, was so figured of old (chap. 8:7).
This surely testifies in harmony with the many portents that are passing before us, that the Lord's coming is near, although no one can say how near. Can we greatly err if we accept it as a solemn call to us, individually, to be practically ready by putting away everything inconsistent with seeing His face?
1 While there is doubt as to the exact bearing of the word, it undoubtedly has in it the sense of smelling with delight. See its use in Gen. 8:21, etc.
2 This is the more literal.
3 "Catheph: 'Shoulder,' was the peculiar name of the coast-land of Philistia which sloped off towards the sea" (Delitzsch).