Isaiah Chapter 45

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

Continuation of the prophecy as to Cyrus.
How can God be the Author of evil?


The introduction of a new chapter again mars the unity of this part of our prophecy, which begins with verse 24 of the preceding chapter, and consists of five strophes, each being introduced by the words, "Thus saith Jehovah." Thus verses 1 to 10 form the second strophe, and speak directly to, as the preceding one spoke of, Cyrus.

1: Thus saith Jehovah to His anointed,
To Cyrus whose right hand I've strengthened,
To bring down the nations before him,
And ungird the loins of kings,
To open before him the two-leaved doors,
And the gates that shall not be shut.
2: Before thee I'll go, rough places make plain,
Will break into pieces the portals of brass,
The bars of strong iron cut asunder.
3: And to thee have I given
The treasures of darkness,
The wealth that is hidden in secret,
That thou should'st know that I am Jehovah
And He who hath called thee by name,
The God of Israel.
4: 'Tis for the sake of Jacob My servant,
Israel, whom I have chosen,
That I have called thee by name,
Given thee titles of honor,
E'en when thou knewest Me not.
5: I am Jehovah—there is none other!
For beside Me there is not a God.
'Tis I who've equipped thee,
Though thou hast not known Me:
6: That they may know from rising of sun
E'en to its going a-down,
That besides Me, there is not a God.
I am Jehovah—there is none else!
7: Former of light! Creator of darkness!
Founder of peace! Creator of evil!
I am Jehovah who worketh all this!
8: Distil, O ye heavens, distil from above!
Ye skies, pour righteousness down!
Open, thou earth, and bloom with salvation,
And righteousness blossom therewith,
I, even I, Jehovah created it!
9: O woe be to him who strives with his Maker—
A potsherd 'mid potsherds of earth—
Shall the clay say to him who doth fashion it,
Why hast thou formed me thus?
And shall thy work say: He hath no hands?
10: Woe unto him that doth say to his father,
What is it that thou hast begotten?
And to the woman, What bringest thou forth?
Cyrus is here given a title of transcendent dignity and significance, for he is called "Messiah" or "Anointed"; doubtless because in the deliverance of Israel from Babylon he was to be a shadow of the true Messiah, and of His eternal salvation. All obstacles are to give way. Babel's hundred brazen gates with their bars of iron shall prove no hindrance to him, and the immense wealth that has been placed in secret places for safety shall all be his. And we too know of One who, having spoiled principalities and powers, has both distributed gifts to men, and even to His God has given that which is more precious than "gold that perisheth," the love and confidence of the heart of man, restored to its true and only rest.

But here we have a contrast: Cyrus is chosen long before he knew the Lord, but our Cyrus ever knew that He "came from and went to God," who had loved Him from "before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24).

Did we say that Israel was the centre of God's purposes as to the earth? True; but they do not stop with Israel; for, far as the sun can shine, and as there is "nothing hid from the heat thereof," so the warmth and light of God's love in Christ shall compass the whole earth. O happy earth when in such case!

As God, and He only, is "God over all, blessed forever," so both light and darkness are within His control, so that He is here said not only to "form light," but to "create darkness." Not that darkness comes from Him who is Light, any more than night is due to the presence of the sun; but that even the darkness would not be, save that He had a worthy purpose in permitting it. A prisoner ordered into a dark cell for a punishment knows that the cell has been made by the Government for that very purpose. So here, the contrasted word to "evil" is not "good," but "peace." The origin of moral evil is by no means affirmed as being of God, which would be the worst form of blasphemy.

There is no sorrow of bereavement, no distress due to losses, no pain or sickness, that is not by His permissive will, who, overruling all, works by it good for penitent faith. The wisest of all men with no light but that afforded by his natural intelligence found himself quite unable to solve the contradictory mysteries of what is termed Providence. He saw the race not to the swift, the battle not going in favor of the strong, neither bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happening to them all (Eccl. 9:11). Verse 7 refutes this entirely, and we have a still further revelation, for all such contradictions are in His Hand by whom they work in perfect accord for the truest good to all who respond to His Love by the confidence of responsive love through all the maze of life. Was not Job right in attributing both the giving and the taking away of his all to the Lord, even though Satan was the active intermediary?

In verse 8 we have a foreshadowing of the very heart of the Gospel. Cyrus, Israel, Babylon, may be at first in the foreground, but soon they all fade, and their place is taken by our Lord Christ and His eternal salvation. How lovely it is to see here Righteousness and Salvation—two plants that, although both very beautiful, appear to our afflicted consciences impossible to bring into harmony—both springing up from, and blossoming from one root! It is inexpressibly precious to us poor guilty sons of earth, to see that not one whit of the demands of strict righteousness is diminished and yet that very Righteousness results in salvation! Before that "Root" is found that can bear such contrasted glories seven hundred years must pass, then shall Law and Prophets look on with complacence while "the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ is unto all and upon all them that believe," protecting instead of condemning, for that Righteousness has seen the unmitigated penalty paid in full by the Holy One of God. The Plant that can bear on one stalk both Righteousness and Salvation must surely be the true "heart's ease" for us poor weary men.

Verses 9 and 10 are parenthetical, and a very different tune is played upon them. It reminds us of the epistle to the Romans. After the oft-read chapter 8 we come to the neglected chapter 9. After sweet words of grace, we listen to the protest, "Why then doth He yet find fault, for who hath resisted His will?" (Rom. 9:19). And there too we read a similar rejoinder: "Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it: Why hast thou made me thus?"

How the proud spirit of man rises up in resentment and says, "If I were nothing but earth nothing could I say; but my very speech puts me in another class altogether to a 'potsherd,' and that destroys the parallel."

Not as regards the one point that it was intended to figure. Who gave thee that faculty of speech or reason? Canst thou reason? Then use that reason, and own that thou hast not an ability for which thou dost not owe as much to thy Maker as the vessel its existence to the potter. As well might a lovely vase use its very beauties to insult its maker with, "Thou hast no hands of power," as for thee to use thy natural endowments in rebellion. Surely, the reasonable way to use reason is to say that my very being speaks of His precious thoughts that are ever to usward. My very body is fearfully and wonderfully made, and its marvelous adaptations to its environment speak of a Maker as beneficent as He is wise. Ah, it is the lowest rung of a ladder that leads us to that Cross where the thoughts, the wondrous thoughts, of God to usward are told out in full. This brings us to the third strophe.

11: Thus saith Jehovah, Israel's Most Holy,
And He who hath formed him,
Ask what I purpose far in the future
Concerning My sons, and the work of My hands,
12: I, and I only, have formed the earth,
And man have created that he may dwell on it;
My hands alone have stretched out the heavens,
Commanded their hosts to come forth.
13: 'Tis I who have raised him up in My justice,
And all of his way will I straighten before him;
My city he'll build, releasing My captives,
Not for a price, and not for reward,
Saith Jehovah Tzebaoth!
With what gracious condescension Jehovah actually commands His people to enquire of Him what His purposes are in the future, that they may know that He is ever leading to the one end of manifesting Himself in all His Love and Light for their everlasting blessing. Are we to be deaf to this encouragement? Have we no need of cheer—after nearly two thousand years of unfulfilled hope for the return of our Lord—to sustain that hope? May we not then ask Him of things to come? Nay, did He not send to His people the Comforter for that very purpose? (John 16:13.)

This absolute control of all the events of earth, irrespective of their character, has its witness in the physical creation. See the perfect order of the worlds in space, ever telling of one unrivaled Arm of limitless power maintaining that order. Consider the earth and note the beautiful inter-adaptations on all sides, ever telling of one Mind of infinite wisdom, filled with thoughts of interest and affection for man. Shall He, who called into being and maintains all things visible, not have a worthy purpose in this well-ordered creation and ability also to carry out that purpose to finality? It is true that there are both in nature and providence contradictory testimonies that lead us to ask, Can His righteousness permit the present condition of the earth to be permanent? It is man's earth. Formed in all its intricacies for him, the very atmosphere is composed of such a balancing of gases exactly demanded by the human lungs, and so carefully proportioned that if one single constituent element be increased or diminished, discomfort, unconsciousness and death follow. Both earth and heaven witness that it is man's earth, would it be then simply righteous to leave it as it is today in Satan's sway, for him to use these contradictory providences for our perplexity for ever? No! And as the deliverance of the earth shall be through the one people Israel it follows that the same righteousness demands that One be raised up for the deliverance of that people.

The one directly referred to is, of course, Cyrus, but Cyrus only as foreshadowing a greater Deliverer who shall build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen down, and bring back all the banished of Israel (Acts 15:16).

Here is foretold directly, not what our Lord has done, or will do, but what Cyrus will do, and (must we not assume?) has done. It is plainly foretold that it is he who will say to Jerusalem, "Thou shalt be built," as well as to the temple, "Thy foundation shall be laid."

Yet both human chronology (which might easily be dismissed as lacking all authority to the believer, were it unsupported by Scripture) and Scripture itself tells us that it was not Cyrus who gave commandment for the rebuilding of the city, but of the "house" only, for so reads Ezra 1: "Now in the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it in writing: Thus saith Cyrus, king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him an house at Jerusalem."

And so all through the book, without one single clear exception, it is the house, and not the city that is the subject of Cyrus' proclamation.

The special interest that attaches to this for students of prophecy is that on the strength of this one word in Isaiah, the starting-point of the "70 weeks" of Dan. 9 has been taken to be, by some, the proclamation of Cyrus in 536 B.C. Yet this date would not accord with the full limit of the 490 years that should bring Daniel's prophecy to its completion, or the 483 to Messiah the Prince (Dan. 9:9). Further, Ezra says nothing of the prophecy given by Isaiah but distinctly tells us it was that "the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah" should be fulfilled, and this simply spoke of the restoration of the people back to their land in 70 years from the date of their servitude and deportation. That in itself perfectly accords with the uninspired chronology. Jerusalem was captured by Nebuchadnezzar 606 B.C., and 70 years would bring the decree of Cyrus to the very date given, 536 B.C. But on their arrival at Jerusalem the first care of the return refugees was the building of the house. This was interrupted by a letter to Artaxerxes sent by "the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin" (Ezra 4), in which they make the false charge that the Jews were "building the rebellious and bad city." This falsehood sufficed to make "the work of the house of God to cease till the second year of Darius." Just at that precise date Haggai comes in with his divinely-sent expostulation, referring exclusively to the house; and under this incentive the work is again begun and carried to its conclusion in five years. But when we come to the civil writer, Nehemiah, we find, appropriately enough, that the city with its walls and gates is his care, and no longer the house which had been completed long before—"A gorgeous shrine in the midst of a ruined city" (Anderson). It follows that it was Artaxerxes, and not directly Cyrus, who gave "the commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem"; and it is his decree, in the 20th year of his reign (445 B.C.), that is the starting-point of that prophecy of "70 weeks." This is confirmed beyond question by the Lord presenting Himself in lowly majesty, as "Prince," on the very day of the completion of the 69th week1 (Luke 19:37-42). What then of this distinct prophecy? Does it fail in this particular? We must not say that. But the fulfilment of a prophecy is often progressive, and the first step in that fulfilment, although in itself it does not go to completion, is recognized as fulfilling what it only initiates.2 May not this apparent failure on the part of Cyrus, have been permitted to loosen our thoughts from him, and fix them on Christ who indeed builds the City that hath foundations, as well as the House, and of whom Cyrus was but a figure?

Verses 14 to 17 may be thus illustrated: A wealthy nobleman has invited a large number of guests to partake of a feast. The chair of state, in which he himself will sit, is placed at one end of a long table covered with every evidence of wealth and refinement. Each guest, as he enters, takes the place to which, he assumes, he is entitled, some pressing to the seats of greatest honor, nearest that of the host, whilst others, who have a more lowly estimate of their claims, are satisfied to occupy a lower position at the table. Then, when all are thus seated in the places which show their own estimation of themselves the host enters, and has his chair moved to the other end of the table! At once the highest become the lowest, and the lowest are the highest! So here in the fourth strophe of the chapter, the proudest are bending to the humblest:

14: Thus saith Jehovah:
The labor of Egypt,
The traffic of Cush,
And the Sabeans,
Men of tall stature,
To thee shall all come,
And they shall be thine:
After thee shall they walk,
In chains shall they come;
To thee shall they bow
And supplicate thus to thee:
Indeed, God is in thee;
Than Him there's no other,
Nay, no other God.
15: (But verily, (verily,)
Thou art a God
Who hidest Thyself,
O Elohim, Israel's Saviour!)
16: They are ashamed, they are confounded;
Together they go to confusion,
Those who are makers of idols.
17: But by Jehovah is Israel saved,
With an eternal salvation;
Ye shall neither be shamed nor confounded;
No, not forever—forever and aye.3
The oppressing enemies of Israel shall in the end confess their dependence upon her, and own that with her is their deepest need, God.

In our New Testament prophecy our Lord takes up and applies precisely the same figure to the Church, only the "synagogue of Satan" takes the place of the lofty Sabeans, Cushites and Egyptians: "Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee" (Rev. 3:9). So the apostle Paul surely had this word of Isaiah in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians that the unbeliever would, on seeing their order, "report that God was in them of a truth" (1 Cor. 14:25). True confidence in our Lord brings the forced respect even of the unbelieving world.

Verse 15 is the adoring cry of the prophet at the marvelous way in which God works out His purposes amid the nations of the earth, just as Cowper has beautifully written:

"Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will."

And to a far higher burst of adoring praise was the apostle led when, considering the same profound theme, he cried: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33).

The last lines of verse 17 again forbid our looking in past history for any true fulfilment, for no one can say that up to this time Israel has been saved with an everlasting salvation. Even the return from Babylon in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah was but a very partial deliverance, if it can be so called at all, for still they confessed themselves to be servants. That poor nation has but exchanged one Master for another; still to this day Jerusalem is in a sense "trodden down of the Gentiles"; but who can question that those "times" are rapidly drawing to a close? This brings us to a deeply interesting subject:

18: For thus saith Jehovah, Creator of heaven,
The God who Himself formed the earth,
Finished and founded it firmly,
Not as a chaos did He create it,
But fashioned it so that it might be indwelt:
I am Jehovah, and there is none other!
19: Nor have I whispered in secret
In some darkened spot of the earth;
Nor have I cried to the children of Jacob,
Seek ye My face, without purpose.
I am Jehovah, righteousness speaking,
Proclaiming the things that are right.
We must consider verse 18 a little carefully, for not only does it awaken the deepest interest, but forces a series of questions as to the beginning of the earth and indeed much more than that, that only the inspired volume as a whole can answer. In reading Genesis 1:1, 2 for the first time who would not inevitably conclude that God created the earth a chaos, "without form (tohu) and void"—waste and desolate, and out of that chaos fashioned it in six "days" (irrespective of the length of those days) to be a fitting dwelling-place for man? So apparently speaks Genesis, but verse 18 absolutely denies it! Moses seems to say that it was created "without form," or (to use the same Hebrew word) tohu, while Isaiah tells us that it was not created tohu. Is there not then a glaring contradiction between them here? But anyone in the least thoughtful would say, "God surely does not create ruins." Would chaos express His creative power and wisdom? Is there not perfection attached to all His creative acts? Does even a human mechanic—such as a watchmaker—express his skill by a confused jumble of wheels? Surely not! Apart from other Scripture, a thoughtful Jew reading those two verses would say that some stupendous and tragic cataclysm must have occurred to bring the primal perfect creation of the first verse to the ruined or tohu condition of the second.

But centuries pass, and again we see the earth a ruin. Again the restless waters of the great deep cover it. Again there is tohu everywhere, save where a little ark floats, bearing within it a family on which all earth's hopes depend. But in this case we know that it was the creature's wickedness, the violence and corruption which filled the earth, that caused the ruin. Inevitably we are led to ask if a similar cause had not intervened between the two first verses of the Bible? But what creature could it be whose wickedness wrought the ruin? Again must centuries pass, generations come and go whilst a divine revelation is gradually unfolding, and when that is completed all uncertainties as to Genesis 1:1, 2 are removed, and we find that indefinite hiatus between these verses to have been filled with a tragedy indeed—a mighty revolt of a pre-Adamite race, headed by one sinister figure now called Satan or Devil, whose mighty crime was his claim to be equal with God his Creator (Rom. 8:20)—which we may justly call the tohu condition of this creation—so in that mighty creature's rebellion we find the reason for the condition of our earth in Genesis 1:2. Not alone did Lucifer (his first name) then fall, but he brought down with him the whole creation of which he was the head in one cataclysmic crash and ruin! From that we learn this basic truth: the work of the head brings its consequence on all whom, as head, he represents before God. That in its turn leads us to our Lord as the Last Adam who, by His work of righteousness on the cross, brings the infinite benefits of that work on all vitally linked with Him. And as God made this earth a fitting dwelling-place for man as our verse tells us, so has He prepared a dwelling-place for all His people that shall never become tohu v'bohu, waste and desolate, but is incorruptible, undefiled, and its beauties fade never.

After the ruin of that creation God did not abandon it, but formed it for another race to inhabit. He who did not create this earth aimlessly has not spoken aimlessly, we learn from verse 19, when He invites the sons of Jacob to seek His Face. He does not whisper the glad tidings of His love, nor retire to some dark spot where few can find Him; but all abroad with a shout of longing tenderness He cries in Old Testament language, "Ho, everyone that thirsteth," and in the New, "Come unto Me," and in both cases the gracious call is to the sons of erring, wandering Jacob of whom we too are true sons. There is not the slightest taint of unrighteousness in these calls, for the Cross itself makes such invitations to be righteous. In perfect harmony with this Old Testament music is the string that the apostle touches in the New; for in the Gospel, God proclaims things that are not simply merciful (though infinite mercy is the basis of all) but right; for the righteousness of God is shown plainly to the universe, not in condemning but in justifying the poor sinner who has already suffered for his sins in Him who loved and gave Himself for him. Could any man invent that plan of salvation?

Now the call sounds out afar in wider sweep and louder note, for the Gentiles are addressed:

20: Gather together, and come;
Draw near, ye escaped of the nations:
No knowledge have they who carry the wood
Of their images graven,
And pray to a god helpless to save!
21: Sound it abroad and let them draw near;
Let them take counsel together.
Who hath caused this to be heard
E'en from a time that is long past?—
Declared it from the beginning?
Who but I, Jehovah, hath done it?
For there is no God beside Me,
A God, both just yet a Saviour—
There is no other beside Me!
22: Look unto Me and be saved,
All ye ends of the earth!
I am the Mighty One—there is no other!
23: By Myself have I sworn,
Gone has the word from My mouth,
And, since righteous, shall ne'er be recalled:
To Me shall ev'ry knee bow!
To Me shall ev'ry tongue swear!
24: In Jehovah alone, shall it be said,
Righteousness have I and strength.
To Him shall men come; and they shall be shamed
Who've burned in their anger against Him.
25: 'Tis in Jehovah that Israel's seed
Shall be righteous, and so in Him glory.
With stately march, step by step, the prophecy advances to its goal, the blessing of all, both Jew and Gentile. The standpoint of time from which the prophet speaks is after Israel's deliverance, the salvation of Israel has come out of Zion; and the nations are bid to look at those who have placed their hopes and confidence in the gods that they themselves had to carry after fashioning them from wood; where are they now? Again Jehovah appeals (if that word may be used consistently with His divine dignity) to His foretelling from very far back, even from the beginning of the Purpose that lay close to His Heart, "that He might have mercy upon all" (Rom. 11:32). From that earliest dawn of history, when poor man lay prostrate, the victim of the great foe, even then our God had told of the reversal of that conflict by another Man (Gen. 3:15); and every inferior deliverance, as that of Israel from Egypt or from Babylon, was only a foreshadowing of the final and decisive victory in which God has power to save the worst, without a shade of stain that even the keenest eye in the universe can detect upon His righteousness. Well then may He cry, Turn thy face to Me, and look, all ye ends of the earth! Wherever there is a human dwelling, wherever there is a weary heart, wherever there is a burdened conscience, oh, look! It is all that is needed; ye need not cross a sea, ye need do no toilsome labor, ye have but to look; and as sure as the serpent-bitten dying Israelite sprang to new life at a look at that serpent hanging upon the pole, so one glance of simple confidence at Him who was made sin shall meet with a better salvation, for it is everlasting!

Now we listen to the strongest oath ever uttered in all the universe. God actually swears by Himself, for there is no greater by whom He can swear, and the oath comes from Lips that never speak in vain, and what He thus speaks is in itself nothing but strictly Right! That is a threefold cord not soon broken—indeed, it is not. But what is it that is thus so surely certain? That every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess—what? That "Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father," for so the Spirit of God makes use of this prophecy in Phil. 2:11. O blessed certainty! Is it not surpassingly wonderful that of this very One we each can say in the words provided for us by the loved Bride in the Song: "My Beloved is mine, and I am His." Perhaps the idea of the glory does not so much attract some of us, but the Love that is not satisfied save in giving that glory is precious indeed, for have we not a divinely just claim?—poor erring ones as we are at the best. By faith we too are "Abraham's seed," or as here (ver. 25), the seed of Israel; and as such we have learned in some measure to make our boast alone in Him who is Preeminent Lord of all!


Footnotes:

1 See "The Coming Prince," Sir Robert Anderson.

2 Readers familiar with Sir Robt. Anderson's "The Coming Prince" will remember how this principle of progressive fulfilment is shown in the "servitude," "captivity" and "desolations" of Israel.

3 A difficult idea to put into English. It is a threefold expression of perpetuity.