Isaiah Chapter 48

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

Final pleading with Israel as to idolatry. The
mass not refined as silver, whilst the remnant is.


Let me remind my readers that the whole of this third main division of our book, from chapter 40 to chapter 66, is remarkable as being a threefold three, God in this way calling our attention to the complete display of Himself that is to be found in it. The present chapter brings the first of these trilogies to its well-defined close in the words which, like a divine sigh—as indeed they really are—tell of "no peace to the wicked." Similarly, at the close of all God's ways with mankind at large, we not only hear the hallelujahs of the penitent, but also, alas, the sorrowful note of restlessness of proud rejecters of grace, for "they have no rest day nor night who worship the Beast and his image" (Rev. 14:11).

The chapter opens with a call to Israel as a whole; but before the close there is a very distinct severance between the apostate mass and the penitent remnant of faith, and in verse 12 these latter alone are addressed. These too must first be stripped of all claim to deliverance from Babylon on account of their own righteousness; but, when thus stripped, there is poured out to them, without check or hindrance, all the fulness of love in the Heart of their God. How like to His blessed ways with us individually that surely is!

I again attempt a paraphrastic rendering, first noting the divisions as they seem to me, in a double "three" thus:

1: Verses 1-11: Pleading with the mass and the remnant manifested.
2: Verses 12-22: Pleading with the remnant and the mass manifested.

1: Verses 1, 2: The call to the mass to hear.
2: Verses 3-8: Reproach for the neglect of prophecy.
3: Verses 9-11: Remnant manifested in chastening.

1: Verses 12-16: The call to the remnant to hear.
2: Verses 17-21: Tender reproach of the remnant.
3: Verse 22: The apostate mass manifested in penal suffering.

1: Hearken to this, ye household of Jacob,
Ye who are called by the name, Israel,
Who from the waters of Judah have flowed,
And by the Name of Jehovah do swear,
By lip e'er confessing1 the God of Israel,
But that not in truth, nor in righteous sincerity.
2: They claim to belong to the city all-holy,
And on the God of Israel stay—
Jehovah Tzebaoth His Name!
The divine address here turns from Babylon to those who are called Jews, and are that outwardly. They are of the house of Jacob, even called by that name of honor conferred on their father in the night of his wrestling, Israel. Nay, more; as a river is not severed from its source, so these are linked, in an external formal way, with the royal tribe of Judah. But coming still closer, they claim citizenship in the holy city, Jerusalem. And all this is quite true—these are the undoubted privileges of those addressed. But there is no privilege that does not cover corresponding responsibility, and how have they answered that? They have truth beyond that of all other peoples; how have they used it? Alas, they have held it in unrighteousness.

In all this they form but too clear a picture of Christendom. Amid those called "Israel," only a very few were entitled to that name in its full significance. So does the apostle Paul speak, "For they are not all Israel which are of Israel" (Rom. 9:6), which he himself explains, not as de-nationalizing any Jew, but by showing the sovereignty of God in electing Isaac in the place of Ishmael, and Jacob in the place of Esau; so that the line of promise was not dependent on the accident of primogeniture, but on the sovereignty of God's electing grace. It does not mean that anyone who is by natural birth a Jew, is not a Jew. Ishmael could only be Abraham's son, though not in the line of promise, and so not in the profound sense attached to the word "Abraham's seed." Esau was quite as much the son of Isaac as was Jacob, nor could he be anything else, but he was not in that line of life. It is the sovereignty of God on which the apostle is here insisting, and is sweeping away the pretensions of the leaders of his nation, who depended on mere fortuitous privileges due to natural birth. The very word, "not in righteousness," says that there was no confession of sin, and like the "way of Cain" maintained the false claims of the flesh.

The passage in Rev. 3:9, "Who say they are Jews, and are not," does not mean that one who is born a Jew is not of that people; but the Lord is not considering at all anything outside of the professing Church, and within that sphere there were and still are those called Christian, who by the place they take that belongs exclusively to the Jew, do thus say they are Jews. For example, all who put themselves under that law which was given to no people but the Jews at Sinai, do in the most emphatic way insist that they are themselves Jews and are not. The Christian is indeed enlawed to Christ to whom he gives the willing obedience of a responsive love (1 Cor. 9:21). But it is a serious error to distort such texts into the denial of the national recovery of Israel, as our chapter is enough to prove.

Today by far the numerical majority of mankind is enveloped in utter heathen darkness. A bright light of truth has shone on about a third; but in that third, how few are genuinely penitent believers in the Lord Jesus! All take that Name which is above every name, and whether of the Roman, Greek or various Protestant Denominations—all are "Christian." Yes, there is truth, Christian truth, everywhere in this sphere, truth that this poor world lacked for over 4,000 years; yet now who values it, save a few poor simple souls who make no noise, and have little place in the tumult of the world? The correspondence is only too strikingly clear.

Now the prophet is thrown forward in spirit to a point where he looks upon the fulfilment of what he has foretold.

3: The former events I've declared long ago,
Yea, from My mouth have they gone forth.
These have I caused to be heard;
Suddenly carried them out;
Thus have they been brought to pass.
4: Well did I know that thy heart was so hardened,
That thy neck was as stiff as a sinew of iron,
Thy brow was as brass!
5: Therefore I told it thee long, long ago,
Made thee to hear it before it took place,
Lest thou should'st say, 'Tis my idol hath done them,
My images-graven have ordered them all.
6: Thou surely hast heard! Then consider it all,
And wilt thou not make thy confession?
From this time I'll make thee to hear what's still new,
Things that are secret, thou never hast known.
7: Now they're created, and not long ago,
Nor till this day hast thou heard them;
Lest thou should'st say, Lo, I knew them!
8: Yea, thou hast heard not!
Yea, thou hast known not!
Yea, in the past thine ear was not ope'd;
For well did I know thy treach'rous heart,
And that from the womb thou'st been called a transgressor!
Here, if I err not, as with John in Patmos, the Spirit of God raptures the spirit of the Seer, and places him at a point not yet actually reached. The "former things" must include all the dealings of Jehovah with Israel down to the very time of Cyrus (who had not yet been born); but as events come to pass, so must the conviction that He who could, and had foretold them, had them all under His control, and events yet to come which are now to be foretold must be under the same control, and surely will come to pass in due time. This is not uncommon in prophetic discourse. The eye is so divinely enlightened that time ceases to obscure the sight, or indeed to intervene at all. Thus our Lord anticipating what had not, and has not even yet, actually taken place, said: "I saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (cf. Rev. 12). So in that infinitely clear and pure atmosphere of the book of Revelation we have statements that apart from this would have exceedingly perplexed us, such as, "Behold, I come quickly," spoken nearly 2,000 years ago, and our Lord has not come even yet. The prophetic eye, cleared of all the films of earth, sees the far off as being close at hand, and so the prophet speaks. It is surely neither incredible nor unworthy that God should so speak, who sees the very end of all our checkered history from its beginning. Here, then, He anticipates and announces the deliverance of Israel by Cyrus, so that they may not attribute that deliverance to any such false agency as their idol-deities.

But in verse 6 Jehovah ceases to look back at events that have already occurred (from His present standpoint), and looks forward to something of which He had never spoken at all, something absolutely new; and still it is that the treacherous heart of poor sinful man may not attribute the event when it comes to pass to some false deity.

What a strong confidence the fulfilment of prophecies in the past gives for the fulfilment of those that, even for us, still lie in the future. Our Lord's coming, rejection, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God, are all clearly foretold, and have already taken place. But the same word speaks of His coming for all His redeemed people, and with them returning in great glory to reign over the earth. Does not the past in itself justify our cleaving to that hope?—and the more strongly as we see the avalanche of apostasy that is sweeping the great mass of professing Christians away, of which we have also been forewarned (1 Tim. 4:1).

9: 'Tis for My name's sake My wrath I defer,
And for My own praise, from thee refrain,
Lest I destroy thee.
10: Lo, I've refined thee, but 'tis not as silver,
In the furnace of suffering have I elected thee.
11: 'Tis for My own sake—yea, for My own sake—
That I will do it:
(For how hath My name been polluted!)
And My glory I give not another.
In these verses Jehovah strongly emphasizes the motive that leads to His intervention on behalf of His people. It is not because of their goodness that He defers His anger, and in its place brings salvation to them. So in that day of old when Israel made the golden calf, and the anger of Jehovah waxed hot against them, Moses' plea was: "Wherefore should the Egyptians say: For mischief did He bring them out to slay them in the mountains?" (Exod. 32:12). And again when the spies returned and discouraged the people so that unbelieving Israel desired to return again to Egypt, Jehovah's wrath waxed very hot, but was deferred by Moses' plea: "Then the Egyptians shall hear it" (Num. 14:13).

What do we (you and I) not owe to that Name of "Jesus!" Could He rightly be called that, if He did not "save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him"? If only one poor erring believer in Him were finally lost, then, may we plead, would not Satan hear of it? And what shouts of derision would ring through the ranks of the fallen principalities and powers: "He could not bring that one to God! He failed to bring that one home! He could not save that one—that was beyond His power; was too great a strain on His love; He is falsely called Jesus, for He could not save that erring one that trusts in Him."

The glory of that Name is at stake in the eternal salvation of the feeblest of His poor people who puts his heart-confidence in Him.

"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
He will not, He cannot, forsake to its foes."

Verse 10 apparently contradicts such scriptures as Zech. 12:9, which reads, "He will refine them as silver is refined," whilst here it is the very opposite, "I have refined thee, but not as silver." Only one must carefully note that in Zechariah and other similar scriptures, it is "the third part" of which the prophet spoke, whilst here it is Israel as a nation, or mass, led back to their land without any such remnant yet manifested. The people are refined, not as being silver yet, but the "furnace of affliction" the "great tribulation" does this service. It manifests those who are faithful, and then those thus manifested are refined as silver, and the dross that still clings to them is purged away by that same affliction.

Now we turn to that beloved "remnant" whose history is a foreshadowing of our own.

12: List to Me, Jacob, and Isr'el, My called:
I am the One! The First and The Last!
13: 'Tis My hand hath laid the earth's strong foundations,
My right hand hath spanned the heavens above;
When I do summon they stand up together.
14: Gather together, and listen (then) all of you;
Who, midst them all, hath this thing proclaimed:
That he whom Jehovah loveth will do
His will upon Babel,
And on the Chaldeans his arm shall alight?
15: I—none but I—have spoken and called him,
Caused him to come, and will prosper his way.
16: Come near (then) and hearken, for 'tis not in secret
That from the beginning I have foretold it—
Before its existence, I have decreed it,
And now hath Jehovah Adohnai forth sent Me,
And with Me His Spirit.
The Creator of all that is visible here speaks. "Look," He says, "at earth and heavens." Mark the stability of the rock-foundations of the former; then look up at the latter, and reckon if you can the number, weight and distances of those worlds above, and know that one word of Mine brought them into being, and, obedient to My summons, they stand up. By that same word they still exist and tread unwaveringly their prescribed orbits.

If the Spirit of God does not make exactly the same claim for our Lord Jesus Christ in Col. 1:16,17, then words have ceased to have meaning: "All things were created by Him, and for Him; and He is before all things, and by Him all things subsist." Jesus is Jehovah!

Now in the last words of verse 16, another voice is heard. It comes from One who is sent forth by Jehovah, the Spirit with Him.2 Who can that be but Jesus our Lord, and Israel's Messiah? Nor can I do better than again quote Delitzsch:

Since the prophet has not spoken in his own person before; whereas, on the other hand, these words are followed in the next chapter by an address concerning Himself from that servant of Jehovah who announces Himself as the restorer of Israel and light of the Gentiles, and who cannot be therefore either Israel, as a nation, or the author of these prophecies; nothing is more natural than that the words, 'And now hath the Lord,' etc., form a prelude to the words of the one unequalled Servant of Jehovah concerning Himself, which occur in chapter 49. The surprisingly mysterious way in which the words of Jehovah suddenly pass into those of His messenger, can only be explained in this manner.
Nor do I see any possibility of questioning this. Of the Lord Jesus has it been written: "For God giveth not the Spirit by measure" (John 3:34); that is, it was not with the Lord Jesus as it was with the prophets of old, a partial communication of the Mind of God, a fleeting glimpse of His Heart; or, as to Moses, His "back-parts"; but with Christ, there was no such limit. The Spirit who came with Him revealed in and by Him, the very wisdom, the very Heart, of God to man with all its infinitude of Love. The two scriptures thus have a very precious correspondence.
17: Thus saith Jehovah, He who redeems thee,
The Holy One of Israel,
I am Jehovah thy God,
Teaching thee ever to profit,
Guiding thee too in the way
In which thou should'st go.
18: Oh, that thou hadst hearkened unto My commandments,
Then had thy peace been as a river,
Thy righteousness been as the waves of the sea.
19: Then too thy seed had been as the sand,
The Sons of thy body had been as its grains,
Nor cut off, nor perished, its name from before Me.
20: Go out of Babylon! Flee from the Casidim!
With the voice of sweet singing declare this report;
Let it go forth to the earth's furthest bounds:
Jehovah (frail) Jacob, His servant, hath saved!
21: Tell how they thirsted not,
Though He led them through droughts.
Streams from the rock He caused to flow for them;
The rock He did cleave, and the waters gushed forth!
22: Peace, never peace to the wicked shall be,
So saith Jehovah!
Jehovah speaks to Israel. He has only desired the submission of their will, the confidence of their heart, and He would have still borne them, as He did from Egypt, on eagles' wings. Had they continued in trustful dependence, unbroken as the flow of a river had been their peace; and the righteous requirements of the law would have been fulfilled, not by legal effort, but by spontaneous response to His grace. That grace will still preserve the nation, in a remnant that shall not be destroyed. Their self-chosen path has led to captivity and shame. But the Lord will never leave His poor people in such case, and so the next words (verses 20, 21) call to the captives to leave Babylon with the speed, but not with the terror, of the flight from Egypt, for no songs were heard all through that dark night, but now they leave their place of captivity with songs of joy.

No rock was cleft to provide those humble fugitives, who returned with Ezra, with water; surely then this prophecy must refer to some other deliverance than that. That is so undeniable that most of our commentators apply all this in a spiritual way to the Church, and such application is perfectly justified when confined to the individual believer in Christ, for none would deny that we are passing through a "dry and thirsty land where no water is"; and for our refreshing, life-giving waters do flow from the stricken Rock, Christ—there is surely a correspondence.

Does this then finally and perfectly fulfil this prophecy? If it did, then Israel's deliverances are forever passed, and God hath "cast away His people whom He foreknew" (Rom. 11:1,2). No promises are theirs, for all such are appropriated by the Church. But that is absolutely opposed to the whole tenor of Scripture. Israel, the literal Israel, the Jew, as we speak, is yet to blossom and fill the whole earth with fruit, for the blessing of the earth itself awaits the recovery of Israel from her national death. Still another captivity awaits that devoted people to another Babylon. The day approaches when those Jews that we see now returning to Palestine shall, having founded an independent State, make a treaty with the revived fourth empire of Daniel's prophecies—the "Beast"; and this means, for the true Jewish saints, a captivity to that "Babylon the Great" who sits upon that Beast, or interpreting the prophetic form of speech, the universal apostate "Christian" Church that shall then be entirely supported by the civil power. Then again shall that call to separation be heard, that is really ever sounding in this mixed scene: "Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins" (Rev. 17:4). But Babylon is the first of the evil triumvirate of those last days to be destroyed, not by the direct Hand of God but by those on whom she has depended (Rev. 18:16). This synchronizes precisely with the fulfilment of Dan. 9:27: "And in the midst of the week he shall cause sacrifice and oblation to cease"; the destruction of the falsely professing Church, excluding God from Christendom; the stopping of sacrifices, ending the recognition of God among the Jews. But this manifests the Remnant, who shall be tried "as silver," and those who escape the persecution in Jerusalem (Rev. 12 and 13) go forth and preach the gospel of the coming Kingdom to the nations of the earth (Matt. 24:14). Even that is not the final deliverance, for still the devil rules over our poor devoted earth, and this demands the return of Israel's long-rejected Messiah, and earth's rightful King. When that comes to pass, "to Pul and Lud, and to the nations afar off" (Isa. 66) do joyous and willing missionaries go, with feet beautiful, to tell of what God hath done for the final deliverance of His people, the children of Jacob.

The prophecy does not end without that last word in which sternness and sadness, justice and sorrow, are strangely blended; "No peace, saith Jehovah, to the wicked!" The very word used for "the wicked" denies the possibility of their peace. Its first meaning is "to make a tumult," "to be disturbed," and is thus applied to those whose inward moral nature is in that state of chaotic confusion that is due to being "without God." Most careful must we be not to confine it to the debased or profane; it may cover the most moral and indeed religious—all who have not come to Christ for the rest He only gives. There can never be true rest or peace apart from Him.

Footnotes:

1 Lit., "Make mention," or "remember," but this is equivalent to a profession of faith in the one true God. Delitzsch renders it: "Extol the God of Israel"; Lowth, "publicly acknowledge."

2 Thus in the last clause of verse 16 we have a clear forecast of the truth fully told out in Matt. 28:19—the three Persons of the Godhead.