We approach the heart of the book: the holiest of all. The Gentiles
This brings us to the very heart of this book of Isaiah, to the very heart of "the Salvation of God," nor surely do we need to be told whom we may expect to find there! For the very "heart of the heart" is the 53rd chapter with which we are all familiar, and yet of which we never weary. Hitherto, we may say, we have trodden the "court," now we shall enter the "Holy Place," and soon we shall be conducted into the "Holy of Holies!" If seraphs veil their faces in that Presence, well may we—poor, sinful creatures as we are—seek to be hidden altogether. That, thank God, is perfectly effected by the Cross, for by it we are not only hidden, but exist no longer before God— we have died with Christ. In dependence then may the Spirit of God exalt Him before us as we walk these holy paths with their varied scenery of sunshine and cloud, till we eventually see the darkest of all storm-clouds bursting, with divinely concentrated force, on the Head of One standing in our place to receive it!
The chapter marks clearly its own threefold division by its three speakers, thus:
1: The ideal Servant speaks in verses 1-6.
Just as Peter, James and John listened to Him as they walked the roads of Palestine, or sat together with Him on the hill-side, so in these verses do we hear the very Voice that then spoke to them. Can we listen too reverently or intently?
1: Listen, O isles, unto Me;Here we may boldly say that this Speaker is none other than our Lord Jesus calling on the nations outside of Israel to give ear, for Jehovah hath called Him, the virgin's Son, and made His Name to sound forth even from the first moment of His incarnation in those songs of that little company of Israelites that we hear in the opening chapters of Luke's Gospel. His mouth—that is, of course, the words that come from it—has been made so sharp a sword that none, Pharisee or Sadducee, Ritualist or Rationalist, could ever stand against it. Yet for a time, as a spear may be laid up in an armory, or an arrow be left in the quiver ready for service when needed, so was He hidden in His lowly home at Nazareth for thirty years.
As the "Salvation of God" is now to be announced, and as that is equally needed by Gentile as well as Jew, so must it go far afield to the "isles," which we have already learned to be a term applied to those Gentiles.
What harmony, what unity binds together in one volume the whole Word of God! Not one single discordant note is heard to this foundation truth, that the blessing of every individual of Adam's race, Jew or Gentile, rests alone on Him we know as our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament He is the very lifegerm of the nation of Israel itself, and still maintains that buried people in being, as He does all men, living or dead, by their spirit, and by a still stronger tie in His redeemed, by that same spirit being quickened by the Spirit of God; so that it is as impossible for death to hold them permanently, as it is for the Jew to be forever entombed amid the nations of the earth, for He stands as the Representative of Israel in verse 3. Can Israel then be lost forever? But now this Speaker mourns:
4: And I—I have said I have labored in vain,The beloved Servant is saddened by the failure of His work. He has wearied Himself, but apparently fruitlessly; yet His confidence in Jehovah is unshaken, for He well knows that He is destined to be glorious in His eyes, and that God will ever be His strength. If we would listen to the Heart of the Lord Jesus we should surely hear it uttering these words in Matt. 11:20-30; although rejected by Israel, still He says, "I thank Thee, O Father." To this confidence the next verse is the answer. Let Him be rejected in one sphere, He shall be exalted in a far wider! Let Him be compelled to mourn over the failure of one mission; another, far more glorious, shall be given Him. Let one door be closed, a far wider one is opened at once. Let Israel for a time refuse, and Jacob long turn away; then for that long interval a world-wide call is heard: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." He, the rejected of one people, becomes Jehovah's salvation—the veritable "Isaiah" unto earth's furthest bounds!
Do you not join with me, believing reader, in joyful praise as we listen to that invitation? Like the bells on the High Priest's garment every letter rings with joyous music. When it comes to a weary spirit there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. A burdened conscience is as heavy a weight for one as the other. Wherever there is sin with its handmaids, suffering and sorrow, there is He to be proclaimed as Jehovah's salvation. Will you not aid my feeble note of praise with your stronger one, dear fellow-believer?
But now we continue to listen, for Jehovah is about to speak:
7: Thus saith Jehovah,Now the Servant is silent, and Jehovah addresses Him. He is despised of man from his very soul to this very hour; the nation, as such, abhors Him, and its rulers oppress Him; but kings shall rise from their thrones in reverence, and princes prostrate themselves in adoration.
The apostle Paul quotes verse 8 in 2 Cor. 6, and directly applies it to this present time, as he speaks of himself standing in the place of an ambassador for Christ. Here, the address is directly to the Servant. It is for Him the acceptable time, for Him the day of salvation. The apostle uses the words as a warning to those to whom that salvation may be announced, not to presume on its being without limit—that day, as all others, shall come to its close. So "we beseech that ye receive not the grace of God in vain." Thus all these gracious promises, although given directly to Christ, yet are ours as having life in Him, for our blessing is alone on that same ground of grace. But they do greatly err who, because this is true, would deprive the elect nation of that covenant which is ever made primarily with it. Thus in this journey homeward of Israel's banished, every foot fall, marked by divine solicitude, has its correspondence in spiritual journeying mercies on our way homeward to our Father's House. By refreshing springs He leads; mountains become easy paths, and through defiling marsh and moorland, exalted causeways give clean and solid footing; it is not difficult to discover the spiritual correspondences with these terms. From every quarter the happy pilgrims flock to the one centre, and as they approach we hear such an irrepressible burst of joy, as demands that all nature, both heavens and earth, must be in accord with, and aid them in uttering His praise to whom that joy is due.4 And in those heavens that are thus invoked, we may have our part, for at that time the sons of God shall be manifested, and all creation awaits that for its perfect restoration (Rom. 8:19). But let us listen to Zion before her song begins:
14: But Zion hath said, Jehovah forsakes me,The answer to the plaint is inimitable. God has made one earthly relationship more irrefragable than any; for it is quite independent of any responsive affection. The mother holds to her breast her new-born babe, so dependent on her as it is for everything that shall sustain life, this affects every maternal emotion. With a tenderness no words can depict she yearns over that frail little creature, unconscious as it is of all her tendernesses. Can she actually forget it? Is it not a law of nature, for her at least, though none other care for her infant? It is hers, and she can think of little else.
Nor does Jehovah here compare His thoughtful love to that of some callous debased woman of earth, who may forget, and indeed has all too frequently forgotten and forsaken her infant. No; that we altogether refuse. It would be little for His love to exceed such callousness. It is mother-love at its purest, its strongest, and its best. It is far more possible for even that irrefragable tie to be broken, and the most tender mother that the earth has ever seen to abandon her infant, than for Jehovah to forget Zion, or for our God in Christ to forget, leave, or forsake the feeblest of those who have derived their true life from His love.
For see that mighty Hand is fast closed over something, as if it held a treasure too precious to be exposed; but here He opens it for us, that we may see what that treasure is. As it unclasps, no fragment of paper with our names written flutters to the ground; no parchment similarly inscribed drops; nor do we see our names cut into wood or even stone, but they are actually cut into His own Hands! Oh, consider it, who can pluck us thence? Who can erase that engraving?
It is true that in our prophet He is directly speaking to "Zion," nor will we deprive the Jew of the primary and direct application of this word to His own holy city, but as surely as that Zion speaks of grace in contrast with Sinai that thunders out the law, so have we come to that lovely mount by faith, and partake most assuredly of the grace of which it speaks (Heb. 12:19-22). Have we not too even clearer basis for this assurance? Do we not remember Him who said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish and none can pluck them out of My hand. My Father who gave them Me is greater than all, and none can pluck them out of My Father's hand; I and My Father are one" (John 10:27-29). Oh, strengthen our shamefully feeble faith in Thy love, our Father-God!
17: Thy children are hast'ning to thee,By the light of these verses we can see a vast host of Jews returning to the land of their patrimony; but not as they are going back now, in unbelief of the Lord Jesus being their true Messiah, and consequently to sorrow and suffering, but with assured faith and joy. The city of Zion standing for the whole country, and so for its people, is personified as a widow who has long been desolate and forlorn. With astonishment she sees returning to her those whom, at the first surprise, she dare hardly recognize as really her own children. For she cries: Who has begotten them? I am a widow! Who has brought them up? And in the long years of my banishment where were they?
Jehovah answers the questions, and tells her that He will signal to the Gentiles, and they shall place every facility within their power at the service of the Jews who are still scattered, and with such solicitude as can only be likened to a woman carrying her infant in her bosom. The ensign that is thus lifted up may well be the Lord Jesus Himself, who has returned for the relief of His earthly people, as we have already read: "In that day there shall be a root of Jesse which shall stand for an ensign to the peoples; to it shall the Gentiles seek, and his rest shall be glorious" (Isaiah 11:10).
Kings shall foster the new-born State. Their princes shall count it an honor to nourish it; and all the nations, lately so hostile, shall bow down to lick the very dust whereon the one recently so desolate, now walks.
But mark, reader, the connection between earth and Heaven, between Israel and the Church of God, for by turning to Rev. 3:9 we listen to almost identical words, only now applied to the Church living in Philadelphia, or "brotherly love," and there it is not the Gentiles who worship, but "them of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie." That refers to nominal Christians who, wilfully ignorant of all that the Cross of Christ means, still assume the place given to the Jew, as if that Cross had not done away with the legal trial of man, and thus, not by words, but by acts say they are Jews. There is a vast difference between the "synagogue of Satan" and the Gentiles, who are specifically referred to here, and yet Israel on earth ever foreshadows in her history, the Church in the heavenlies; and the earthly enemies of the former symbolize the spiritual foes of the latter.
But some may say, By your putting the fulfilment of all these prophecies in the future, do you not rob the present portentous events of all their significance for us? By no means. For we are seeing this very day, with our own eyes, a shadowy fulfilment of Rev. 16:12-16, in the drying up of the Euphrates—that symbolic river that ever stands for the people who issue from it, as shown us in Isaiah 8:7. But now that people is the Turk; and in his enforced recession from Palestine, where his place is taken by the Jew, we can see a very striking foreshadowing of the final and future complete fulfilment—but it is only a "shadow."
We must not pass over without pondering those last few words: "Those waiting on Me shall ne'er be ashamed." It is not easy to "wait"; the pressure is often so intense that we feel we must have immediate relief, and yet it comes not, we cry in vain, and have still to wait! Thus is our knowledge of God in Christ tested, and, alas, how many of us fail under that test! A king once lost his entire realm because he did not wait a few minutes more. Saul waited up to the beginning of the appointed seven days, but not to their close. Philistines were pressing him, his army was being constantly lessened by desertions, and he failed! Aye, it is by no means easy to wait. But no one who has waited has ever been disappointed or brought to shame by His failing them, never!
Now let us listen to the closing words:
24: Shall the prey from the mighty be wrested?Jehovah, stronger than the strongest, espouses the cause of His earthly people. Their foes, He counts to be His; their friends are His. Who can deliver that feeble little remnant who have the whole military power of the world against them? One, and only One.
Who can deliver from the power of Satan's yoke?—stronger he than Babylon or Rome. One, and only One.
Who can deliver from that last dread foe, Death? One, and only One.
In all these conditions we are powerless, yet in all we can sing: "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
In Him Satan's power is broken. In Him sin's yoke is off our necks. In Him that mighty foe Death shall hold His saints not one moment longer than shall accord with His purposes: His promise of return is sure—wait!
1 The "keri" (i.e., what Jewish commentators thought should be read, altering the "kethib," or written text) reads as R.V. in text, "And that Israel be gathered"; but I fear the motive that may have led to the alteration and retain the original.
2 The word "sharab" is "to be hot," and in the shimmering heat the dry sand at times appears like water and is termed "mirage."
3 The Heb. word "Sinim" is now almost universally accepted as referring to the Chinese.
4 If the reader delights in these appeals to all nature for aid to praise, let him turn to "Paradise Lost," Book 5, lines 192-205.
5 There is such difficulty in this line that I have felt it impossible to determine with any strong assurance whether it speaks of the captives being righteous, and so to be delivered on that ground, or that notwithstanding that they are rightfully captive, they shall be delivered. This has seemed more in line with the context, and so I have adopted it.
Since writing the above an incident recorded of Miss Henrietta Soltau has strikingly confirmed this decision, as to the correctness of our A.V. On her way to an interview with a poor prodigal, a "down and out," in that simplicity of faith that characterized her, she asked for a promise to take hold of by faith. As she went, the word was given. It was this verse 24, as in the A.V. I might add that that "captive" was fully delivered. If the Lord thus used the verse we cannot make a great mistake in accepting it.