Another song expressing Israel's joy. Her land corresponding, laughs
How refreshing to turn from the storm of judgment to the calm of blessing! But the very storm affords a foil that increases the sweetness of that calm. Little do they know of the delights of spring who have never felt the pinch of winter; little do they value the "time of the singing of birds" who have never lacked their melody; little should we care for the promise, "God shall wipe away all tears," had we never wept. So this lovely little chapter is doubly refreshing from its sharp contrast to its predecessor. It has a lilt of joy and is almost metrical in our A.V., without much change.
1: Then shall the desert-places and all the wastes rejoice;This is very clearly the first division of the chapter; and with some joy we note again upon it the divine Fingerprint that we have so frequently discerned in the clear mark of "three" (God fully manifest). In these verses we have the effect of God manifesting Himself, first, on the material world; then in verses 3 to 7 we have the effect of the same manifestation on redeemed Israel, or as we may say, the soul of man; and, lastly, its effect in bringing that wandering spirit of man, in Israel, back to Jehovah her God. Thus the very Earth's body, soul and spirit give witness to that "manifestation of God."
Nothing could be sharper than the contrast to the dark picture of the previous chapter. Death and darkness, gloom and mourning reigned there; but now the very desert "laughs with abundance," for fertility and beauty of the earth are poetically its laughter of joy; and the greater its fertility the greater the joy of which it speaks. Every word that can express delight is called on for its contribution; and when these may be exhausted, Lebanon must add its majestic glory, Carmel its beauty, and the flowery plain of Sharon its loveliness. But these are but attendants on Jehovah, whose glory and beauty outshine all. With such a prospect what more fitting than the word of cheerful encouragement that now follows:
3: Strengthen then the feeble hands, confirm the knees that totter;There is a very delightful truth in verse 3. God does not even strengthen His weak people directly; He seems in the depth of His grace to make Himself dependent, as it were, upon them. Let us suppose that we have a very weak Christian—it is not a difficult supposition—God could of course lift up those down hanging hands and strengthen those tottering knees by Himself alone; but no, He admits others to share that gracious ministry with Him, and thus He makes us "workers together" with Himself, spreading thus His blessing, not merely over the one direct object of it, but over the many others who seek to strengthen the feeble one; is not this a very much better way? There have always been, and never more than today, real, true Christians whose hands are hanging down, who are relatives of "Little-faith and Despondency, his daughter," as John Bunyan speaks. We have precisely the same cheering basis for encouraging each other as in our prophecy: "Say to the trembling heart, Be strong, for your God comes." The hope of that coming was to give strength to the fainting Israelite, and it is the hope of His coming that shall today strengthen the faint heart of the Christian. But note a striking difference: Isaiah gives the character in which Israel's God will come for her relief, as "Vengeance," for there is no word in the Hebrew between "God" and "Vengeance" in verse 4; nor in the following line, with its parallel thought; both tell the character in which He comes: "Vengeance" and "Retribution" characterize that coming.
But no threatening word like this do we find in the New Testament writer. How utterly inconsistent it would be! Our Lord is not coming in that character for us at all, but quite the reverse; we look for the Lord Jesus Christ, not as Vengeance but as Saviour, as Phil. 3:20 literally reads. We have no human foes on whom we would desire vengeance or retribution. But not so with Israel. The salvation of that remnant of faith, that shall then be the nucleus of the new nation, awaits, as we have so frequently seen, the strong Hand of her God coming down on her mighty human foes, under whose feet she is lying helpless.
Reader, do you feel that you are one of the "weak"? Then before leaving this subject of heartening one another, let a fellow-weak one take thy hand; and together let us learn this strange truth that only they who know their real helplessness are the strong! Peter thought that he was the strongest of all the twelve, for he said: "Though all shall be offended, yet will not I." Poor Peter had to learn by a terrible fall, by bitter tears and many a sigh, another lesson altogether; and then when that was learned, and he "converted" from a false to a true confidence, then, and not till then, might he "strengthen his brethren," by telling them of that only Source of any true strength that he had found at heavy cost. It was in that day, it has ever been, it is today, that Strength that is alone "made perfect in weakness."
At that most happy epoch of the coming of their God, all those sad consequences of sin suffered by man's body, will be removed. So at the proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven as having drawn near (as it surely had in the Person of its King), samples, as we may term them, of this blessed condition were given, and wherever He came this prophecy (vers. 5-7) was illustrated, for did not the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame leap as the hart? Surely they did. These are now the "powers of the age to come" (Heb. 6:5), and it is in that age that our prophet's feet are standing, for God the Holy Spirit can carry His servants forward any length of time, as He does our prophet John in the book that he has given us.
It is a delightful scene. Everything that sin has turned up side down shall be turned back to normal, but yet not even precisely as it was; it shall over-abound in blessings. God never merely mends what Satan and sin have marred. The Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7) is not a mere Paradise recovered as it was in Eden.. Only the Tree of Life will be there; for its dwellers will be under no trial of that kind. No longer in that day shall the mirage deceive the traveler, and mock his parched lips by disappearing as he approaches, but it shall be found a springing fountain—"water, water everywhere and every drop" life-filled! Beautiful, external figure of the internal flood of blessing, in the Spirit springing up in every heart.
Our chapter is a very "song of degrees," for the following verses, 8 to 10, lead us another step higher. Here we are drawing very near to God Himself, and it is well for us to look at the path to that one goal for true joy:
8: A highway shall be there, a way that's called of all, The Holy,We justly blame those who take all the promises of the Old Testament, and leave only the threatenings for the poor Jew, for in this they do greatly err; yet there is an element of truth in their contention, since "all the promises of God are Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus." Their error is in saying that since God has no further use for Israel, these comforting forecasts apply, and only apply, to Christians, not to Israel as a nation at all! God be thanked that whatever is of a spiritual character does so apply: the material blessings that Israel shall enter into on the basis of the new covenant of grace are, in a spiritual sense, ours by that same grace. But that does not fulfil these promises that were given directly to Israel as identified with her Messiah, Jesus, and given her long before the Church of God was revealed at all.
How lovely the road to Zion! But even for Israel such terms must also have a moral bearing. It is a high way: a path raised above the surrounding land on either side, and keeping the feet of its wayfarers from mud and defilement, as we have already seen it in our seventh chapter. Along that road none unclean can walk; it has no attraction for them; it is for those who have been themselves sanctified (which is the very reverse of meaning those who are conscious of being better than others), and for them alone. They may be very ignorant and simple; but the road is so clearly defined: it is such a high way, so far above low self-seeking paths, that even these simple ones shall have no need to stray from it. Nor can any beast of prey invade it and terrify its travelers; absolute security characterizes it. Why is that? Because those passengers Zionward have all been bought at a great price, and are well-guarded by Him who has thus purchased them.
Surely nothing could exceed the beauty of the picture drawn in the last verses. What sorrows have ever been sweeping across what is called "The Christian world" during the centuries! What rivers of tears and blood have drenched its soil, and what sighs have burdened its air!
For Israel this is the end of their long journey. Like Jacob their father, they have wandered far, and few and evil have been their days, as were his, for no time is worth anything at all that is spent out of communion with God. But here they are at last back again at "Bethel," the very House of God, and in that House they shall dwell forever, as Ps. 23 foresees.
For us too there is a Highway of holiness. High? Yes, big above the ambitions, the lusts, the Christless, bloodless religion of the world. Nor is it less secure than Israel's, for "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor things present, nor things to come, nor any other creature, shall be able to sever us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord," for He Himself is that High-way!
This brings us to the ending of the first main division of our book. Blessed, oh, how blessed, for us that the end of all ways with His people is, as here, always one of blessing. To Him—three Persons, one God—be glory now and forever.
* "Glowing-sand," literally, "desert-shine," probably what is termed "mirage."