Verses 1 to 12
A further call for Zion to awake. Feet speed that are well
It is scarcely necessary to say that the introduction of a new chapter here is an intrusion that mars the beauty of the divine arrangement. This portion is clearly unified by the cry, "Awake, Awake!" three times repeated; nor is there much difficulty in discerning the same number again imprinted on this final section, thus:
1: Awake, awake, O Zion,
Once again Jehovah's voice rings out in Zion's ears, returning to her cry that she has uttered. It is true that she lies captive, prostrate in the dust, all her strength gone, all her glory fled; but let her listen: "Awake, awake; it is thou who art sleeping, unconscious of My tender affection for, or of My deep interest in thee, and of the strength that is really thine in this. Awake, O awake, put on that strength; shake off that humiliating dust; array thee in those garments of royal beauty that I have provided for thee: for among all the cities of the earth thou, and thou only, art indeed the holy one, since I have separated thee to Myself. Away then with those tatters, they ill befit the bride of the King. Away with that band of slavery that is about thy neck; it tells a very false story now; for thou art Mine, and Mine must ever be free! Exchange that seat in the dust for the throne for which I have destined thee; for never again shall they tread thy streets, whose very footfall defiles. Further, since I received nothing to compensate Me for my loss of thee, so shall they, who have gratuitously made thee their slave, receive nothing. The Egyptians invited Jacob to come as a guest, and then how were his children treated? The Assyrian then took a hand, with no more ground for cruelty than had Egypt, so neither the one nor the other shall be the richer for losing thee. What then am I waiting for? Where is My glory in such a condition of things? How does My people's captivity, how do their sorrows, how do their wailings, how does the insolent cruelty of their captors speak of Me? What is My portion in it all? I used to hear the joyful songs of praise that ever awaited Me in Zion (Ps.65:1); and now groans, sighs and wails alone meet Mine ears. That is not music in which I take any pleasure; that is no true witness to Me! Nay, My Name, that in itself tells of My power to save, is brought into contempt by such a testimony. Unclean, rebellious spirits ridicule My apparent impotence to save such sinners. I will endure this no longer. My people shall have no question as to the deep significance of My name: they shall learn that I am indeed Jehovah; the eternal, ever-present, unchanging, faithful God, who hath promised to appear for their relief; and, as My Name is Jehovah, so I am here in accord with that promise and that Name!"
Precious beyond thought must such gracious words be; but to whom then are they addressed? Who may without presumption appropriate them? Who can "Zion" stand for save that remnant of Israel that are preserved by the grace of which Zion speaks, to form the nucleus of the new nation that shall fill the earth with fruit? Surely it was the literal Jacob who went down into a literal Egypt to sojourn. It was a literal Israel that was oppressed by a literal Assyria. It was a literal Israel, although then seen in the two tribes, that was taken captive to a literal Babylon; although in the verses we are considering only Egypt and Assyria are named, and Babylon, not at all. But Assyria, as the World-power of the time in which the prophecy was written, represents, as we have seen, all the four empires that succeeded it. It will surely be a literal Israel that, in a time of unparalleled distress will be the direct heir to these promises: their covenant-keeping Jehovah hath not cast them forever away.
Yet we are by no means debarred from listening to the message these ancient prophecies would speak even to us. If we are still servants of sin, that is a very false witness to the name of Jesus.
Look at the condition of things in the professing Church today. What glory does that give to our God? What part has He in such an appalling condition? Is not the Name of our Lord Jesus blasphemed by it? Does not that condition cry aloud for His intervention? Can it go on everlastingly?
But of all the expressions of human wickedness that have brought that Name, which by divine decree is above every name, into the lowest contempt, let that word expressive of extreme subtlety have the preeminence. What must God the Father think of the name "Jesus" being the basis of "Jesuit," a word that has become a synonym for subtlety whereby the very principles of morality have been subverted, evil declared good, and good, evil! Not only have the Jesuits been again and again expelled from every State in Europe, but even Pope Clement XIV, by his "Bull" of July 21, 1773, "extinguished and suppressed them" (he died in 1774 of poison5). Yet today they are more numerous, more active, more influential than ever! It is of the spirit behind them of which this speaks.
So to go still deeper, leave man, and apply the words to that "last enemy" of our race, that takes the place of Israel's last enemy, the Assyrian, "Death." What has God in such a state? Does disseminated dust speak His praise? That, the serpent could effect. Is it to the glory of the redeeming work of His Son that His redeemed should be in that marred condition, neither angels nor men? Surely God and the Lamb have no part in such a condition: every unclothed spirit must, by its very state, cry aloud, like those "souls under the altar" (Rev. 6:9), "How long?" before the inevitable intervention of God in power shall clothe them with their eternal "house which is out of heaven?" (2 Cor. 5:2).
Then look at those last lines: "I am the unchanging One who promised, and lo, here I am." Has He, that same unchanging One, only now under the name of Jesus, promised to be with two or three gathered to that Name, which in itself means that they are attracted by what that Name speaks of power and will to meet their deepest felt needs, and will He not, does He not, fulfil that promise? Has He promised, and shall we not, in His gathering shout, hear Him saying: "Here I am." To this the next words may be applied.
7: How beautiful upon the mountainsIn these musical verses we can, without a great stretch of imagination, see a company dancing joyously before, and heralding that salvation that is now approaching. The very feet of those who thus foretell it, springing over the intervening mountains (Song 2:17) with the energy of unselfish joy, are beautiful to those awaiting the good news.
It is the shoe that beautifies the foot. "How beautiful are thy feet with shoes," sings Solomon (Song 7:1); and very beautiful are these messengers, shod with the very message that they bring, the message that adorns the messenger. In the cry that these watchmen unitedly lift up, we note again that significant and comprehensive number "three." In itself, it is "good"; towards His people on earth, it is "salvation"; and rising ever higher "Godward" it announces that He is reigning. Oh, the joy that the very thought brings! What must the reality afford?
We cannot leave this refreshing theme without a reference, at least, to our own beautiful shoes. In exhorting us to put on the whole armor of God, the Spirit tells us that divine love has provided what shall cover us from head to foot; and our feet are to be shod with "the preparation of the gospel of peace." Strange armor! Peace itself a defensive part of it! But the armor must be adapted to resist the foe, and since our great enemy and all the wicked spirits in the heavenlies are opposed to our peace, this becomes a very suitable piece of our panoply to resist them (Eph. 6:15).
Nor does the "preparation" mean a kind of composition of which the shoes are made, but the preparedness, the being always "ready" at any time, under any circumstances, our "peace" witnessing to our gospel, and not overthrown by whatever may befall. We must have the peace that comes from knowing that God loves us with an unbroken tenderness, irrespective of the providences that our great foe is permitted so largely to control, and which so often, by terrifying and bewildering storms seem to deny that love. The cross alone, unchanged amid all life's storms, provides a "footing" that changes not.
How strikingly beautiful is verse 9! Look at those ruins which witness to the Lord's words of the complete devastation of Jerusalem. For the centuries of Gentile rule those huge stones have only echoed the wails of that poor nation whose condition they so aptly symbolize. But now those wails must cease, and as their God approaches, these "very stones cry out" His praise with a joy that is inimitable.
Let us ever bear in mind that God's dealings with Israel form types of His dealing with each of His people personally, but not with the professing "Historic Church" as a unit; that unfaithful witness is to be utterly reprobated and "spewed out of His mouth" (Rev. 3:16).
11: Depart ye! Depart ye! Go ye out from thence,The whole context points to this being a final deliverance, never to be repeated, and therefore cannot have been fulfilled in the return of a few captives from Babylon in the day of Ezra, although that was a foreshadowing of what still lies in the future. To what place can the words "from thence" (verse 11), apply but to Babylon? From Egypt they certainly did go out "with haste" (Deut. 16:3), and laden with gold and silver which they are here warned not to touch as being unclean. In calm dignity are they to march, with van and rear protected by the power of Jehovah.
For as Assyria in these later prophecies of Isaiah stands for whatever political power may dominate the earth at any time, so Babylon would stand for whatever religious power may share that dominance. This at least gives clear direction to the urgent call: "Come out of her, My people" (Rev. 18:4); nor can that call be limited to one dispensation. In the day of literalness, it was the literal city on the Euphrates that was to be left in obedience to the cry: "Depart ye! Depart ye!" Today it must be discerned in whatever bears the mark of that woman, Jezebel; that is, any Christ-dishonoring system such as is headed up in the Papacy on the one hand or Unitarianism on the other. In the day to come the call will apply to all the "religion" of the earth, in open apostasy from God. So that the cry: "Come out of her, My people, and touch not the unclean thing," is always applicable, yesterday, today, and as long as there is a Christ-dishonoring religion upon earth.
This life is in itself so valuable and yet so brief, that we cannot close this section without a word on, "Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord"; because the corresponding New Testament scripture is not only so little understood, but I believe seriously, however innocently, distorted from its purpose, and the consequences of that distortion have been literally tragic.
"In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and earth, and some to honor and some to dishonor. If any one therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel to honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work."
I will not question that you, whose eyes are scanning these lines, are not a mere worldly professor, but a true child of God. Then let me press on you that God has by that very fact, made you "a vessel unto honor"; and, continuing the pictorial character of the illustration, you are "of gold and silver." For gold, when thus used, invariably speaks of what is purely divine, and thus here is a symbol of that divine life and nature communicated in new birth. Silver, the medium of all barter in the East, speaks of the cost of redemption (Ex. 30:15), the precious Blood of the Lamb; the divine work both in and for being thus pictorially expressed. So let us seek to grasp this as a certainty that you and I are, as in Christ, vessels to honor! God be thanked!
Does it follow necessarily that we are meet for the Master's use? Not at all. Does a good housewife use vessels covered with dirt, irrespective of the material that composes them? She would be ashamed to be herself so unclean. Nor does the infinitely holy Lord use vessels that are so covered. Hence the promise of being useful to the Lord depends on our purging ourselves from "these." But, mark carefully, the "purging" does not make a vessel—that is nonsense. God alone can, or does, make "vessels to honor" (cf. Rom. 9:21-23); that is effected by the internal work of regeneration (gold) and the external of redemption (silver), and our acceptance of that redemption by faith. But then comes human responsibility in the "purging"; and this is followed, as surely as effect follows cause, by being "sanctified," "set apart," and that equally surely by being fit for the Master's use, and ready for any good work in which He may wish to use these vessels.
Can then anything be of greater importance than to know what is meant by the "these," since the usefulness of our lives depends on it? According to our English idiom, the simple and direct antecedent of the pronoun must be "vessels to dishonor," made of wood and earth, which must in that case represent not only unregenerate and unredeemed people, but those who evidence that condition by their wicked conduct, and so who are termed elsewhere, wicked (1 Cor. 5:12). Any wilful association with such in the Church of God, necessarily defiles, and although the usual plea for remaining in such association is for the sake of usefulness, that end is far more likely to be attained by obedience to the Word of God.
But it may at least be questioned if separation from any other persons is here in view at all. I believe not. This so easily, so quickly, degenerates into the most hateful of all evils, Phariseeism (a separation from other fellow-believers, which, far from resulting in usefulness, destroys it) that we are compelled to look for an antecedent, the purging ourselves from which, shall inevitably, assuredly, result in our divine Master being able to make use of us. Consider again that homely illustration. Does a housewife cleanse her soiled vessels by simply placing them at some distance from other soiled vessels? Of what use would that be? No; she first cleanses each one from all the dirt on the vessel itself that defiles, and then sets it aside, apart from those still soiled,6 for that use to which it is now fitted.
Now, whilst as born of God and redeemed by blood, we are "gold and silver," yet as born of Adam there is still that old nature in us all; that is pictured by wood and earth, and it is from "these"—whatever is of wood or earth, whatever is the product of that old nature, proud, self-confident and opposed to the cross—it is from "these" that we must purge ourselves. This, then, is not a call to discern evil in others, but to judge ourselves, to put aside as worthless all that is of the flesh, to have no confidence in it!
Does not this commend itself to your conscience in the sight of God? It is the one essential for happy and profitable service that shall save our brief lives from being wasted. Did you ever know of anyone, anywhere, at any time, who had "no confidence in the flesh"—that is, in himself as born of Adam (wood and earth), but trusted alone in all that there is in Christ, who was not used of the Master? Most surely he who "purges" himself from these (the wood and earth of the old man), who has no confidence in the flesh, can never lead a useless life: and here in Isaiah all in the Lord's service must be clean.
The scene closes. The dancing measure stops. We see the returning ones marching in calm dignity, expressive in itself of that security and honor that attends them. There is not one tremor in all their ranks, not a shade of anxiety on any face, for Jehovah, the Irresistible, is their Vanguard, and He too secures their rear. Compassed thus with love that has no limitation of power, directed by boundless wisdom, the feeblest may pass on to their rest with a peace that passes all understanding. Oh, that we (if one may speak for others) knew more of it! Oh, that it were not simply as a very pleasant song, but a joyous experience, that our hearts were thus unbrokenly garrisoned! For we ought not come behind Israel in our testimony to Him who is the Spring of all our greater privileges.
1 This is quite the force of the word goor.
2 Delitzsch renders: "Their oppressors shriek," adding, in comment, "proud and haughty bluster," but this I am unable to adopt. The word ever speaks of distress, not triumph.
3 "Derided" is the root-meaning of the word.
4 This is Lowth's rendering, conforming so perfectly with the subject that I have adopted it, admitting that it is a free rendering.
5 From "Schaff-Herzog Encycl."
6 But a soiled vessel is not necessarily "a vessel to dishonor"—that is determined by the material of which it is made, wood and earth, Such are not fitted for the same honorable uses as gold and silver.