Isaiah Chapter 58

CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT

Jehovah's salvation again fully manifested. A renewed insistence
on the observance of the Sabbath, as it shall be by Israel in the future.


We now come to the third and last subdivision of the third and last part of Isaiah, and both name and number again remind us that we have "The salvation of Jehovah fully manifested." Here the book begins again, as it were, since we have in these closing addresses a reiteration of the exposure of sins, the pleadings of love, the warnings of danger, the divine discrimination between pride and penitence as at first, and in all we may discern graphic pictures of what affects us today. The Word of God, like its Author, never becomes aged, but bears the vitality of youth through centuries and millennia. Yes; thousands of years may intervene, generations, as we count them, may come and go, yet these are all linked vitally together, and so unified by a common nature that they are morally one generation—a truth that throws its light on Matt. 23:36 and 24:30. That generation repeats its sad history constantly; Christendom is only heathendom veneered with a form of godliness. So our chapter begins with the wrestling of the Spirit of God with us, poor foolish Jacob-like men, who ever seek to maintain our "standing" in the flesh before Him, and in verse after verse of convicting power He touches the hollow of the thigh, till we again hang helpless, dependent and therefore happy, upon Him who thus overcomes that He may bless, without any sorrow accompanying the blessing.

1: Cry aloud! Spare not! Lift up thy voice!
Yea, lift it up as a bugle!1
Show to the house of Jacob its sins,
Their rebellion unto My people.
2: Day after day do they seek after Me,
Take delight in My ways to be learning,
As though 'twere a nation that always did right,
Nor the judgment of God had forsaken;
They call upon Me for the judgment of right,
In approaching to God they take pleasure.2
The prophet must not whisper, but cry aloud so unpalatable a truth, bringing home to them as constituting God's witness on earth, what is its true condition. It is in rebellion! They would never have recognized it, nor owned to it, apart from this Voice thus lifted up. If a reasonable degree of "religion" be maintained, a sleepy conscience readily acquits of so heinous a crime as rebellion. Is it then to be wondered at that the gift of prophecy is by no means popular? People do not love unpalatable truths, and when they have the alternative of listening to soothing assurances, moving eloquence, pleasing illustrations, and entertaining anecdotes, they not unnaturally avoid and withdraw as far as they can from the scathing rebukes of the prophet, and so prophecy is despised (1 Thess. 5:20). They rebellious! What steady attendants they are in the Temple, or Synagogue, or as we should say, "How consistently we 'go to Church,' or attend some 'Meeting'! What more can we do?" So confident are those here addressed, that they call on God to intervene in the most thorough judicial investigation, which they are assured can but issue in their justification. Do they not take pleasure in Temple ritual? Do we not enjoy the Church-services? There is a Prophet who is lifting up His Voice aloud this very day. Have you heard It, reader? (Rev. 3:14-23). There is great blessing attached to hearing that Voice, incalculable loss in being deaf to it. Here they actually indict Jehovah for lack of response to their religious fidelity:
3: Why do we fast? Thou dost not see!
Why humble our souls?
Naught Thou carest!
and He answers:
Lo, in your fasts, 'tis your pleasure ye find,
Exact a full tale from your labor.
4: Lo, ye do fast with wrangling and strife,
And smite with the fist closed in anger.
Your fasting today doth not avail
To make your voice heard in the heavens.
5: Is it such fast as this that I choose?
A day for a man's soul's affliction?
Is it to bow his head as a rush?
To spread sackcloth and ashes beneath him?
Wilt thou indeed call this a true fast,
A day of delight to Jehovah?
6: Is not this rather the fast that I choose,
T'unfasten the fetters of falsehood?
That ye loosen the bands of the yoke
And let the oppressed go in freedom,
Break every yoke into pieces?
7: That thou divide with the hungry thy food,
And bring to thy home the poor outcasts?
When seeing the naked, thou provide him with clothes,
And from thine own flesh never hide thee?
8: Then shall thy light break forth as the dawn,
And thy health shall speedily spring up;
Then shall thy righteousness march in thy van,
Jehovah's full glory thy rear-guard.
9: Then shalt thou call, and Jehovah respond;
Thou shalt cry. Here I am, shall He answer.
If thou dost banish the yoke from thy midst,
Cease pointing the finger; stop slander;
10: If to the hungry thou draw out thy soul;
Comfort the soul of the mourner;
Then shall thy light stream out of the gloom,
Thy darkness be as the noonday!
11: Then shall Jehovah constantly guide,
Thy soul in dry seasons replenish,
Infuse with new vigor thy wearying bones,
Thou shalt be as a well-watered garden:
As a fountain whose waters fail never.
12: The ruins of ages thy children shall build,
Thou shalt raise up again the foundations.
So shalt thou be called, Repairer of breach,
Restorer of streets for man's dwelling.
13: If thou shalt turn from the sabbath thy foot,
My holy day using for pleasure,
But shalt call the sabbath a day of delight,
The holy day of Jehovah;
Owning that He hath honored that day,
For thus shalt thou give Him full honor;
Walking no longer in thine own ways,
Nor seeking to do thine own pleasure,
Nor speaking the words that are idle;
14: Then shalt thou have thy joy in the Lord,
Shalt ride upon earth's highest places;
I'll feed thee the lot of Jacob, thy sire:
For the mouth of Jehovah hath said it.
Here we have Jehovah's probe going deep into the wound that sin has made. Here we see the contrast between religious man's idea of fasting and Jehovah's. As to man, self and self-interest being the center of all his thoughts, even while he himself religiously fasts, he seeks his own profit by making others work for him. Further, the very fasting, the very abstinence from food, results in an increased irritability that leads to wrangling, and even smiting with clenched fist.3 Is that, says Jehovah, the conception you have of your God? Does that show that you have any true knowledge of Him? What pleasure can He take in seeing a man merely put on sackcloth, sit on ashes, and bow down his head as a bulrush! Prayers from such self-centering can never rise higher than the petitioner's own head. The very fasting fills you up full with pride! The very humbling is a source of boasting!

But this is what delights Him—to see unloosened the bonds of sin wherewith all men are shackled, those works of the devil; that the burdened conscience be relieved; the hungry fed; that thou take to thine own house the homeless, and clothe the naked, finding thy "neighbor" wherever there is need among men. Remember that thou sharest their flesh; withdraw not thyself then from any in suffering, sorrow or need.

Long had He to wait before He saw that which perfectly answered these desires in any on earth. At length One comes, who goes about doing good, healing all oppressed by the devil, feeding the hungry in thousands, clothing the naked, till they sit in their right mind at His feet. On Him, the Spirit of God as a dove that had long sought a resting-place as He hovered over this sea of humanity, at last found a congenial home. So He went on, never hiding Himself from His own flesh—that is, from any man. Let the publican, Matthew, make Him a feast, He despises not the company of publicans and sinners. Let the Pharisee invite Him to dine, and He refuses not the cold invitation. Till at length that "path uncheered by earthly smiles," led Him to the Cross, and there, the very spear that pierced His side—the spear at the point of which all man's hate may be said to have been focused, became the point at which all God's love was also focused, for it drew forth the Blood to save.

Yes; One, and One only, ever thus gave to God perfect delight; but here is a very precious secret: as we abide in conscious helplessness in Him even we too please God, and in no other way. He, Christ, is the Fountain whence flows perennial floods of all goodness. We are but leaky vessels, yet abiding under the flow of that Fountain, we, even we, may be channels of those living waters (John 7:37). In the few days that may be left to us may their flow be not hindered by our own self-sufficiency or unbelief!

Note the lovely circle of blessing that verses 6 to 12 puts before us. Grace leads to self-forgetful holiness, and this receives such tokens of approving love as He told of in John 14:21-23. Does one speak for any beside oneself in mourning the rare enjoyment of these tokens? Then let us not indict His truth, but draw nearer to Him in assured confidence that it is not due to any change in His love, for He longs to make us each a channel of that goodness that actually needs human channels for its out-flow.

The address is indeed to Israel on earth, but we are dull indeed if we cannot hear under it a word for ourselves. The gloom of Israel's sorrows shall all pass away; the gracious light of His love shall shine upon her in her remnant, not at first with that noonday brilliancy that would blind under present conditions (for we need to be ourselves like Him to endure that, 1 John 3), but in the lovely rose of dawn. Then, by a second figure, sickness shall give place to perfect health, and Israel (and we) shall be led in triumph, as He here speaks: "Then shall thy righteousness march in the van, and the glory of Jehovah be thy rear-guard"—a triumphant procession of safety, certainty, and enjoyment; for Jehovah here puts Himself as listening for the very first appeal or cry, and at once answering, "Here am I." Think of that, my fellow-believers, think of the "high and exalted One who inhabits eternity" waiting on such poor creatures as we, and instantly responding to our cry with "Here am I!"

But there may still be some obscurity as to the precise force of "Thy righteousness shall go before thee." Might we not say, "My righteousness, Lord! Why, what righteousness have I, when it is, at its best, only filthy rags, and does not all Scripture confirm this verdict? Both Old and New Testament concur in crying: 'There is none righteous; no, not one.' What righteousness then have I?"

But both Old and New Testament also concur in this, that there is another righteousness that is still ours: "Not having my own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, even the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Phil. 3:9). And with this our prophet is in perfect harmony: "And their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord" (chap. 54:17) and again, another prophet writes (Jer. 23:6): "The Lord our righteousness," Jehovah Tzidkehnu.

The promise cannot refer to our own works, of whatever character they are; it is Christ our Lord who of God is made unto us "righteousness" (1 Cor. 1:30), and who, thus preceding, is indeed our Guide and Protector. We are on our way to God: Apollyon bestrides the way and by constant accusation opposes our advance. Let our Righteousness answer him, and this what we hear: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again" (Rom. 8:33, 34). Can he answer that? No, indeed; he flees from "our Righteousness," and our van is secure.

Well may "the glory of Jehovah," the perfect outshining of His highest divine excellencies, bring up the rear, for there are always some weak stragglers, who cannot, for one cause or another, keep up with the main body. Shall these be cut off by the flying squadrons of the foe? How much the "glory of God" would suffer! It is secured by gathering up4 those poor, feeble, halting ones with whom some of us have much sympathy. God be thanked for both vanguard and rearguard.

In verse 9 we have three present evils that prevent the expressions of the Lord's love; first oppression (or the yoke) of those over whom some social or financial advantage may give that power. Then scoffing (pointing the finger) at those on the same social level; and, lastly, feigning friendliness publicly, yet speaking evil (or vanity) of those in some superior position to ourselves. These are the muddy waters from the cesspool of the first Adam, and not the clear crystal spring that flows from Christ who "is the Fountain, the clear sweet spring of love"; and apart from whom all human love is but a shadow of what flows from His gracious heart.

Self-forgetful solicitude for others in distress will never lack tokens of our Father's approval (see John 14:23). Nor does this good Shepherd leave His poor sheep to find their way by themselves. He so leads them by the waters of quietness, that, let the drought be ever so prolonged, they shall not be affected. Nay, more; they themselves shall not be as a mirage that deceives the thirsting traveler, but their ministry shall be refreshing to all. And those old foundations, that have been covered up with earth for many generations, shall be again built upon, till far and wide shall Israel's fame spread, and the very name of "Breach-repairer" shall be given her (ver. 12).

This reference to the dirt-covered foundations being again used, has its first application to the cities of Palestine; but who can fail to see the striking spiritual correspondence in the history of the Church of God? We know well that at the Reformation there was a marvelous uncovering of the "foundation" of justification by faith; and that uncovering has gone on ever since, till within comparatively recent years the Lord's return as a present hope has been "uncovered," and given great joy to myriads.

The chapter closes with another strong reference to the sabbath, which shall be in the millennial day the "sign" of Israel's complete restoration. Man by nature loves his own way, and ever looks after his own interests. The legal sabbath, calling him from this, is, and ever will be anything but a delight, for it severs him from what is that; so that if his pursuit for gain be prevented by long-established custom, he will turn what is thought to be the sabbath to an opportunity for his pleasure, as the crowds of pleasure-seekers do on Sunday. If then he can genuinely and sincerely find his truest joy in cessation from everything that is for his own profit or fleshly pleasure, it evidences a new birth, and then indeed restored Jacob's portion shall be his.

Does this mark out our path as to the sabbath? Must the Christian if he would please God (and there can be no true Christian to whom this is not the first desire) observe, by absolute rest, the seventh day of the week? For let tradition say what it will, Scripture at least knows no substitution of the first day for the seventh. Nay, he lives in a sphere where, as far as true rest goes, of conscience and of heart, his sabbath is perpetual; and he neither knows nor looks for a sabbath beyond this, save that future rest of God—that sabbath-keeping that remains still for the people of God (Heb. 4:9) and to enter into which he now "labors." Rest and labor are antithetical, and can never synchronize.

As to any day being observed as a religious obligation, that is, from a scriptural point of view, impossible. The Christian does indeed delight in the law of God after the "inward man"; and what Scripture calls "the righteous requirements of the law"5 are indeed fulfilled in him as he walks after the Spirit. But the sabbath, as given to the Jew, and, in the decalogue never to any but the Jew, although its primary institution was for man as man, he soon lost all claim to it, which became lodged alone in the "Son of Man" (Matt. 12:8). The observance of the sabbath is never pressed in the New Testament as one of those "righteous requirements," but rather is the believer warned against any who would judge him "in respect of a sabbath," for to him even that is but a shadow, the substance of which he has in Christ (Col. 2:16).

Here the addressed are the children of Jacob; a word that with peculiar force attaches the mind to that people whose path nationally has reduplicated that of their father Jacob in its wandering from their home, in its long toiling service, in its sure restoration to its land, in its there passing through that time called "Jacob's trouble" (the night of the wrestling), and finally in its complete restoration to Bethel.

The sabbath must be considered in the light of the present place of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in the heavenlies, above the sun, and therefore above all those divisions of time that result from the earth's revolutions around it. He now is not resting only on the seventh day; nor do angelic Principalities and Powers observe the sabbath. In the world we have tribulation, whether on the seventh or any other day; but in Christ, and in Christ alone, have we rest and peace. The very observance of days, months, times and years (apart from that love which would not stumble any) is in itself a practical denial of the Christian's position (Gal. 4:10).


Footnotes:


1 The word involves a sharp, clear awakening sound.

2 Delitzsch renders: "They desire the drawing near of God." I have hesitated long before adopting the alternative as in the text, but Matt. 15:8 seems decisive.

3 Possibly this may have been the reason the Papacy permits a full meal on fish and calls it fasting!

4 The very word rendered "rearward" is asaph, which means "to gather," and so, "bring up the rear."

5 A strictly literal rendering of the Greek dikaioma in Rom. 8:4 (See Revised Version, margin).