Isaiah Chapter 61

CHAPTER SIXTY-ONE

The Man of Nazareth. His ministry: its result in the
millennial day. He leads the praises of His people.


Our chapter is not a long one, but it will be found filled with interest and refreshment if we can trace in it the path of our Lord Jesus Christ from His early home in Nazareth, till in a day, yet future, He finds a dwelling with His beloved Israel in a land itself resting under His beams as the Sun of Righteousness.

Again the division is so clearly a threefold one that it could not be mistaken, thus:

1: Verses 1-3:The threefold ministry of the Lord; first in grace; this rejected, in judgment; then finally in healing.
2: Verses 4-9:Israel in millennial blessedness.
3: Verses 10, 11:Messiah rejoices with His rejoicing people.

We will seek to enjoy and profit by each in order:

1: Adohnai Jehovah—His Spirit's on Me,
For I am Jehovah's Anointed.
To preach the glad tidings to penitent poor,1
To heal the heart-broken He sent Me;
To cry to the captives: Ye are free! Ye are free!
Prison doors ope to the fettered!
2: To cry, 'Tis the year of Jehovah's good will,
The day of our God's just avenging,
And all who are mourning to comfort,
3: The mourners in Zion with raiment to clothe,
To give to them beauty for ashes;2
The oil of rejoicing in place of lament,
The garment of praise for sad spirit.
That strong trees of righteousness they might be called,
Oaks of Jehovah's own planting,
That ever should be for His glory!
This chapter should surely be of supreme interest to us, for 1900 years ago, a mechanic, about thirty years of age, might have been seen standing up amid a Jewish congregation in a simple place of worship, in a village of a despised district in a despised country, as though He were desirous of addressing those present. We are told nothing of His personal appearance, but evidently He is not of any exalted social standing. His clothing must have been that of an ordinary artisan, for He was but a carpenter, and the son of a carpenter, or at least so thought to be, and the villagers among whom He had grown up assumed that they were thoroughly acquainted with Him and all His relatives.

Esteemed and respected indeed He was, or they would not have handed Him the roll of Scriptures from which to read; and as He stands there, He unrolls the book, not carelessly, taking the first page that comes, or the first text that strikes His eye, as being providentially intended; but He "finds the place where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me," and having read a few words only, He resumes His seat. There is a pause while the eyes of all the congregation are expectantly fastened on Him, to hear His comment on the text He has selected.

Now mark the astonishment that comes over every face as He—the carpenter, the son of Joseph (as they think)—says, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears," and then quietly assumes the place of being Himself the very One who was the Speaker in the prophecy of Isaiah! Can we not picture the scene? And as He goes on taking every sentence and applying it to Himself, amazement sweeps over the congregation; and had we been there, should we not have shared that amazement? He, our neighbor who has gone about among us for over thirty years; He the One who now claims to have been divinely anointedTo preach the glad tidings to penitent poor,

To heal the heart-broken:
To cry to the slaves: Ye are free!
Prison door ope to the fettered:
To cry: 'Tis the year of Jehovah's good will.
Can you not see the agitated assembly? And yet they are most gracious words: they bear in them nothing but beneficence. Between two general proclamations of "preaching the gospel" on the one side, and "the acceptable year" on the other, are three specific forms of grace; first, the "heart-broken," those who no longer stout-heartedly insist that they have "done their best," but, finding tender love where they expected a curse, are filled with self-abhorrence—these must be healed. Next, and along the same line, men have but dark and false views of God—"I," says this speaker, "am going to give them light as to that, and proclaim Him by a Name that shall draw their heart's confidence to Him in joyous liberty and make them free indeed" (John 8:36). In a word it is the year of jubilee, when the sound of the silver trumpet sweeps over the hills and vales of Palestine, and as those notes reach the ear of every bondman, he springs up free, and hastens to resume the patrimonial inheritance that he had forfeited. Oh, 'tis a picture too beautiful to be spoiled by human comment! For it tells of poor man's place in the very Heart of God, forfeited indeed; but in, and by that Speaker regained, and more than regained, for it is with eternal acceptance never again to be lost.

But here the Reader stops. Not that the next sentence "the day of vengeance" does not in itself mean "the acceptable year" for Israel; it most surely does. The only way of deliverance for the Jew on this earth will be by retributive justice on the oppressing nations. That vengeance was by the Spirit in the mind of the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, who made no pause whatever, for to him the two things, "acceptable year" and "day of vengeance," were indissolubly linked together, they were one and the same thing. The farther-seeing Prophet of Luke 4, foreseeing and foretelling that He would be rejected by "His own" (and the hill of Nazareth soon witnessed that rejection, foreshadowing Calvary), also foresaw and foretold that these eternal spiritual blessings should go forth to "every creature under heaven," and His stopping in the middle of the verse leaves room for the heavenly calling of the Church.

Have you not been struck with God's appreciation of mourners? The very beatitudes seem to affix blessing to what the worldly Christianity of our day ridicules as "pessimism." "Blessed are the poor," "Blessed are they that mourn," "Blessed are ye that weep now!" Is that the language of the present day? "Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone," is this world's way. "But," you say, "that was altogether Jewish, and we are told to rejoice in the Lord alway," which seems rather to forbid, than to approve of mourning.

True, but there are strange paradoxes in the life of a Christian. One of them wrote, and he not the least of the apostles, that he himself was "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10); and today, as long as the Holy Spirit is with us to take of the things of Christ and show them to us, we can but rejoice in all we have in Him. But yet that same Spirit would undoubtedly lead to sincere mourning at the appalling condition of Christendom, and the wave of apostasy that is sweeping over it. Bochim ("the place of weepers") is not at all an inappropriate spot for us to frequent, for the "Angel of the Lord" is still there (Judges 2). Let us not shrink from the taunt of "pessimism," but confess ourselves to be pessimists indeed as to all that depends on the "first man," but optimists without limit as to all that depends on "The Second Man," for He ever doeth all things well.

But in our prophet we have to do with the Jew, who is today going back to his land, an undistinguishable mass of unbelief in the true Messiah, Jesus. Soon a sharp dividing line will be drawn, and on one side of that line will be some who mourn, "as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddo" (Zech. 12:11); and on the other, a mass of impenitent, who are morally gathered at Har Mageddon which is in the English tongue, "The gathering-place of the lofty."

4: The wastes of the ages they shall rebuild,
Old ruins restore to new beauty;
Cities all wasted they shall repair,
Desolations from long-past abandoned.
5: Strangers shall stand and shepherd your flocks,
Your ploughmen and vinemen be foreign.
6: But ye shall be called the priests of the Lord,
The servants of God shall be named.
The wealth of the Gentiles shall then be your food,
And ye shall make boast in their glory.
7: Ye shall have double in place of your shame,
For insults they joy in their portion;3
Double shall be their lot in their land,
Their joy shall be everlasting.
8: For I—e'en Jehovah—take pleasure in right,
Hate theft with iniquity added,
Them will I recompense in very truth,
A covenant will I make with them,
That shall indeed be unending.
9: Amid all the Gentiles their seed shall be known,
And their offspring among all the peoples;
All who shall see them shall own them to be
The seed that Jehovah hath blessed!
It has become increasingly clear that the prophecies of this book have a double application. First, they were addressed through a Jew to the nation of the Jews, and therefore their scope is earth and not heaven: the penalty threatened is reprobation on, and from the earth. But it is equally clear that the first words of this chapter must have a wider and more spiritual application to the present day—a day that was unknown to the Old Testament prophet.

But as we come to verses 4-9 it becomes increasingly difficult to apply such words to the Church. I do not say that the professing Church, as left to man's responsibility, is not in a ruin that corresponds with Israel. It is, and there are indeed many "waste places"; but the end of that faithless witness is not for those waste places to be restored, or the ruins rebuilt, but (the true having been caught up to be forever with the Lord) absolute reprobation as a vile thing to be "spewed out of the Lord's mouth"—no longer owned as His witness at all. That is not a rebuilding as is promised here, nor any form of restoration.

Apply the prophecy to the literal nation of Israel, and how simple it all is. Its cities shall be rebuilt; its wastes covered with fertile beauty, and its desolations throbbing with life. Foreigners shall do the rough servile work, while Israel's own people shall be known as having peculiar access to God, and so a nation of priests. The very wealth of the nations shall be the glory of Israel (how could such a word apply to the Church?—although the harlot of Rome does carry it out consistently enough, and in so doing becomes the synagogue of Satan) and their joy shall flow perennially in unbroken song.

Jehovah's own character is ever the basis of His dealings with men. He loves righteousness. Every act of His, then, must be in strict accord with it; but robbery, the assumption of that to which the pretender has no right, is in view here as when the Devil would be as the Most High, or man, his dupe, would claim to be God (2 Thess. 2), that is robbery of such a transcendent character that it is called "robbery with iniquity" and it is hateful indeed to Him.

There was One to whom even such a claim was no robbery. It was He whose mind was to go to the lowest place on earth, and that is the Mind His Spirit works in His people (Phil. 2).

In that day, no longer shall the word "Jew" cover a reproach, but as in chapter 25:8, every Israelite shall be honored as one of a people peculiarly blessed.

10: Greatly will I rejoice in the Lord:
In My God shall My soul sing, exultant!
'Tis He who hath clothed Me in salvation's robe,
In the garment of Justice enwrapped Me,
As bride decks herself with her jewels.
11: For just as the earth her sproutings sends forth,
And a garden makes sowings to spring up,
So shall Adohnai Jehovah effect:
Righteousness causing to spring forth,
And praise before all of the nations.
Here we listen to the song of Messiah as He identifies Himself with His beloved Israel: He leads their joyful singing; His joy is one with theirs; nor surely less so with ours. Here we see the fulfilment of the word: "In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee" (Ps. 22:22). On the feeblest of us, too, are the garments of salvation, and the very righteousness of God covers us, for it is "on all those who believe" (Rom. 3:22). Let us be very careful that we go into the presence of God with no other! It is to the nations of the earth that Israel is the vehicle of the display of this glory, while it is "unto principalities and powers in heavenly places that is made known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph. 3).

Again, what a beautiful figure, not as a lightning-flash, gone as soon as seen, but as a garden sprouts with what is to be long enjoyed; and in this case forever. Righteousness is used here in the most comprehensive way: First, God's righteousness, His very character, as on a throne of inflexible justice, has become actually (Blessed be His Name!) the safeguard, protection and clothing of His redeemed, and then the knowledge of this consumes legality, exterminates rebellion, wins the heart, changes the bent of the will, and so practical righteousness springs up, and thus the Jew is no longer despised, but is the object of praise of all nations, as flowers cover a garden.

So is it ever, through all dispensations; it is the knowledge of love to us poor, wrath-deserving sinners, that results in practical holiness. Not legal endeavor, but finding that love has provided for all our helplessness in the beloved Son; and now the Spirit's law is that our true life, with all its powers, is alone in Christ Jesus, and the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us "who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4). So may it be with us all!

Footnotes:

1 The one word in Hebrew covers this double idea of lowliness and penitence.

2 In the words, "beauty for ashes," we have a peculiarly interesting Isaiahan play on words. The roots of the Hebrew words rendered "beauty" and "ashes" are composed of the same letters, but transposed, and thus telling in itself of the exchange of beauty (par) for ash (apr). Moffatt transfers this into English thus, "To give them coronals for coronachs," as the mournful dirges of the Celts are called.

3 Here there is a change in the construction—it becomes declaration.