The antiphonal character of the opening verses links them
The first six verses of this chapter are clearly to be taken by themselves, and form the third and closing section of this minor division of our book. The structure is antiphonal, at once reminding us of Psalm 24, the closing verses of which give question and answer in the same way. This unique correspondence of structure leads us to question if there are not other links between our verses and that psalm. Let us see!
Both Psalm 24 and these verses occupy a third place, and even by that position both speak of the revelation of the same majestic Divine Personage. The first of this trilogy of psalms (Ps. 22) speaks also of a winepress, in which He on whom we are looking in Isaiah, was Himself not the Treader but the Trodden, so that the Blood that there flowed was indeed His own, and of unspeakable preciousness to us, for it was that of atonement—it is the Blood of the Cross. This is followed by Ps. 23, the few verses of which tell of a wilderness journey, through which every need is supplied by the same One who is here the Shepherd; and the psalm ends (and this we need to mark carefully) not with an introduction to our Father's House, but to the House of Jehovah. That Name fixes the primary application of the psalm to Israel, yet quite as evidently it makes that ending to be a type or shadow of the end of our wilderness journey in our unending dwelling in our Father's House. But we must not put aside Israel as the prime object, for the following psalm (Ps. 24) closes with the triumphant entry of her Messiah into the city whose gates are commanded to admit the Sufferer of Ps. 22 and the Shepherd of Ps. 23, but in a third character as the King of Glory. Here He is assumed to be unknown, in order that He may be introduced in the most graphic way. Let us listen then to the question, "Who is this King of Glory?" to which this answer comes: "The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle." This awakens a universal shout: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in." But the question is repeated, as if the announcement were too stupendous to be taken in quickly: "Who is this King of Glory?" to which we hear the final word: "The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory."
We must recur to this later, but it is surely intensely dramatic; nor is this less so:
1: Who is this who cometh from Edom,The scene opens with One advancing from Edom, and more specifically from Bozrah. We shall not reach the mind of the Spirit if we take these as merely geographical localities. This in itself is not free from difficulty, for whilst this glorious Personage is evidently marching from some victory, the context makes it clear that the reference is to the last judgment upon apostates, both Jew and Gentile, at that crisis of all crises in human affairs—the Day in which our Lord comes in glory to assume His Throne over the earth. Joel (chap. 3:12) tells us that that last judgment takes place in the "valley of Jehoshaphat" (a name that itself means "The judgment of Jehovah"), which lay to the east of Jerusalem, separating the city from the Mount of Olives. "Thither cause Thy mighty ones to come down," is the way the Spirit invokes the Lord in that prophet. In accord with this Zechariah (chap. 14) tells us that His Feet shall stand at that day on the Mount of Olives, which is also on the eastern side of the valley of Jehoshaphat.
This seems clearly enough to determine the site of that last battlefield (although in the light of Rev. 6:15, 16 it is too one-sided to be called a battle) to be in the vicinity of Jerusalem; but here we learn that it is in the land of Edom and near the city of Bozrah. But that does not necessarily involve any discord; for such a revelation of divine Majesty would at once cause a flight, and the pursuit may be carried on from Olivet, till the confused rout crosses the Jordan, the last stand being made in Edom, whence the divine-human Conqueror is seen returning with the evidences of His victory upon His apparel!3 But even admitting this as a possible interpretation, the whole character of our book would lead us to discern a deeper than a mere geographical significance in these names. "Edom" is but another form of Adam, and may thus well stand for Adam's race, governed by that carnal mind that is enmity against God, just as Edom was ever in hostility to Israel.
In perfect harmony with this, too, is Bozrah, from bazar "to cut off," and applied to the gathering of grapes in the vintage (See Lev. 25:5). Thus, in these very names we get a key to what follows; a double infliction—Edom standing for "man" as such, in a broad sense, or the Gentiles; and Bozrah for the vine of the earth, or Jew.4 Nor is it without interest to note the differences between the picture here and that which closely corresponds with it in Revelation 19, for it is the same moment. Here in Isaiah, the Conqueror is seen marching with infinite dignity; "swinging his body from the hips,"5 as Delitzsch says; and coming from the infliction of judgment. In Revelation, however, while coming to that judgment (there called the "Supper of the great God"), yet even there His vesture is already seen as "dipped in blood." This forbids a literal interpretation, for His raiment could not have been dipped in what we know as blood in heaven whence He then comes; but it is a perfect symbolic picture of a judgment that has already been inflicted in the heavenlies upon rebellious principalities and powers as in Rev. 12:7-9. This is clearly confirmed in our book, for punishment has to fall on "the host of the high ones on high," as well as "on the kings of the earth upon the earth" (chap. 24).
Let us then endeavor to recast the scene. We are standing in Palestine, and looking eastward from Jerusalem. From afar we discern One advancing. Nearer He comes till we note that His apparel, splendid as it is, is deeply blood-stained. To question One who here comes in such splendor, such awe-inspiring Majesty, as when transfigured on the Holy Mount, would be too familiar, and so we ask—not addressing anyone directly, but looking about as if to find anyone who can tell us—who this can be. He Himself must reply, for His Name no one knows but Himself (Rev. 19:12). That reply is stern and terse, again uniting those two apparently opposing terms, "righteousness" and "salvation," for He speaks in righteousness and yet is "mighty to save." His very righteousness makes Him mighty to save those who are oppressed. Emboldened by His condescension in thus answering, we ask Him directly: "How is it that Thine apparel is thus stained as one that treads the winepress?" He takes up that word and says: "It is indeed the winepress that I have trodden, and that alone, for of the peoples, the Gentiles, there was none with Me. In this winepress guilty men have taken the place of the grapes; and it is their blood that has thus stained My raiment."
Here we must tread carefully, for in no passage in our book has the error that has come down to us from the so-called "fathers," of forcing Christian truth into Jewish Scriptures, been more evidenced than here. They taught that the blood that stained His garments was His own. But the mere superficial reading of the verses should be enough to dispel such a distorted application in a moment. Some of the "fathers" taught it, "Rome" adopted it, and what she calls "the Church" accepted it through the centuries. This certainly provides a loud call to accept nothing that has only tradition to justify its existence. Well may we test, by the Word of God, everything that we have accepted.
This blood is that of Israel's oppressors, and yet, if I mistake not, it is not the Gentiles who are, at least primarily, in view in this terrible picture of the trodden winepress. For we must ever remember that in that last day of the revelation of the Lord in righteous judgment—the heavenly redeemed having been taken Home—there will be four distinct parties left upon the stage. First, the Gentiles, confederated under one federal head, forming that clearly foretold event, a revival of the fourth empire of Daniel's second chapter. In close alliance with these, both politically and in Satanic apostasy, will be the mass of the Jews, back in their land, to which our own eyes see them now going. Then in the third place there will be a large number of penitent Gentiles whom we see in the latter part of chapter 7 of Revelation. Finally, a fourth company will be composed of the penitent remnant of Jews, who will repeat the opposition to the future Antichrist, as the Maccabees made to the past Antiochus, and these will seize the citadel of Jerusalem, stand siege there by the combined forces of apostasy, both Jew and Gentile, suffer defeat (Zech. 14), and, when at their last gasp, will be relieved by the revelation of that glorious Person of whom our chapter speaks, and who will inflict judgment on both Jew and Gentile apostates.
But even in this there is some discrimination between them. The Lord here says, "Of the peoples (and in that plural form it always means the Gentiles) there was none with Me"; but if the Gentiles were themselves the object of the infliction, it would be incongruous to expect their assistance or association in inflicting it. So I conclude that the "winepress" refers to judgment on the apostate mass of the Jews (as also in Rev. 14:18), who are fully as hostile to the pious remnant of their brethren as the Gentiles, and who are here seen in the winepress.
The emphasis on "Of the peoples (or Gentiles) there was none with Me," seems rather to imply that the Lord places Himself at the head of those Jewish youths who, as the psalmist says, shine like morning dew in the rays of the Sun of Righteousness. They are at this time His "willing people" (Ps. 110), and, when we turn the light of other Scriptures on the scene, have the honor of sharing in that dreadful day of avenging, as speaks Ps. 58:10: "The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance, he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked." And again: "To execute upon them the judgment written: this honor have all His saints" (Ps 149:9).
Returning now to the scene in Isaiah, let us draw nearer but without joining in the "vengeance," for which we have little desire. The most one-sided of all battles is over. The Victorious Commander (chap. 55:4) is returning, heading His little band of "willing people." We will join it and accompany it, as it re-crosses Jordan, and goes on its way to Jerusalem. Would that, think you, be a silent journey? How far from it! Every possible ascription of praise would fill the air, and all might be focused in the term, "King of Glory." As we approach the city, we are met by another company from it, and they take up the word asking: "Who is this King of Glory?" Can we not hear the shout, as all hands point to the Leader: "Jehovah Tzebaoth! He is the King of glory!" Then comes the command of the Zionists: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in!" So Salem welcomes the King she crucified. It is with joy and sorrow mingling; the joy we see here, the sorrow in Zech. 12. Thus would the two antiphones meet, and the psalm take its place of sequence after Isaiah.
A change now comes over the spirit of the prophecy—a striking change from the vision of the Victor triumphantly marching from Edom. Gently and meditatively it begins, but the retrospect warms the heart, the words increase in strength, till they close in a perfect storm of confession and longing desire, which is carried into the next chapter.
This is the first of the last sub-section, and again has marked upon it the significant "three."
1:Verses 7-14: Retrospective and meditative.As Israel always provides patterns for us (1 Cor. 10), her condition just prior to the intervention of her Lord will be of peculiar value, as telling us what shall be our condition as the responsible witness for God on the earth, just prior to our Lord's intervention on our behalf, and gives us the one sure mark that shall evidence those who are true amid a mass of dead and luke-warm profession—that surely must command our interest.
7: The mercies of Jehovah will I now remember,When Isaiah wrote this chapter, Israel certainly had not reached the low condition it describes. Not yet was the sanctuary in Jerusalem trodden down; not yet had Jehovah fought against them; not yet was the House of David set aside. On the contrary the most gracious promise that the Word contains is in a communication to the worst of the kings, Ahaz (chapter 7), while, as we have seen, the message that the "sun-dial" brought to Hezekiah was full of grace. But in these verses the Spirit of Christ transports the spirit of the prophet far into the future; and then he speaks from that standpoint, telling what he sees there. This foresight is, and must be, the very essence of divine prophecy, and the clearest proof that, in the Book that records these prophecies, we have to do with God. This was the very ground of Jehovah's challenge to the false deities, and it will still serve today as a test of what is called "spiritualism"; for we too can take up that challenge and say, "Let them show us what shall happen." Wicked spirits may, through their human mediums, tell where a lost article may be found, or the physical condition of another who is far away, and a hundred other wonders, but not one of them can foretell with any certainty the future. But with Jehovah, so certain is the accomplishment of what He foretells that He speaks of it as already accomplished and past.
In our book of Christian prophecy with its significant title "Revelation," it is revealed to us how the human spirit is thrown forward into future scenes; for there the human writer, John, is transported by the Spirit of God into what is termed "The Lord's Day" as being in direct contrast with man's day (1 Cor. 4:3, where the marginal reading is the correct one). John's body was in man's day, suffering from the injustice of man's judgment. John's spirit became in the Lord's day, and so he sees the Lord Jesus standing in judgment, not of the world but in the midst of the churches (Rev. 1:10).
Thus in the first six verses of this chapter of Isaiah, the prophet becomes in Spirit in the day of the Lord (not the Lord's Day), and sees His triumphant intervention for His afflicted earthly people. But in what follows we are led back to those exercises in the remnant of His people that justified that intervention.
Keeping in mind that in Israel we have a pattern for ourselves, and that what led to Jehovah's intervention for her will lead to our Lord Jesus intervening for us, we note that the first step is in remembering the past. Strange paradox in the ways of God with His people, for is it not written: "Forgetting the things that are behind" (Phil. 3:13)? Yes, but it also written: "Remember what ye were in times past" (Eph. 2:11). We have both to forget and to remember; to forget, that is, not to dwell on, any past attainment that would hinder our race to our goal, Christ in glory; but still to remember what we were in the bondage of sin, and the love that delivered us from that bondage, for that too shall quicken our steps on our homeward way.
In verse 8 is a sentence that demands some comment: "For He said, Surely they are My people, children that will never turn to falsehood." The prophet appears to attribute to Jehovah an expectation that proves baseless, as if He did not know what was in man, and here sighs His disappointment. This has led some to translate, "Children must not lie"; that is, it is a prohibition. But apart altogether from any deeper consideration, this is such a very tame, weak, and flat rendering, so entirely inconsistent with the lively force and beauty of the prophet's style, that we reject it. We must remember too that this is not a direct word from Jehovah Himself, but a retrospect by one speaking for the people, and thus he makes his thoughts vividly clear by this human way of speaking. Jehovah has done everything that a human father could do for his children, and had every reason for expecting the filial affection and full confidence of their hearts. For this is, I believe, the force of the word "lie" here, as in chap. 28:15, "Under falsehood (the same word) have we hid ourselves." In neither case is it merely a mis-statement of facts, but the heart turning away from God to idols, from Christ to other confidences, as in I John 2:22, "Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?"
Is there nothing in this for us? Can we read coldly and unmoved of His dealings with Israel and not see the correspondences there are to His dealings with each of us? We were in bondage; were we not? He redeemed us by His own sufferings; did He not? He has borne with us to this hour; has He not? Is He not entitled to our heart's full confidence? Every rival to Him then is a lie.
In verse 10 the Redeemer, kind and pitiful, is changed in His governmental dealings with them to be their enemy. But bear in mind this is not Jehovah speaking, but an inspired record of Israel's experience. It does not mean that Jehovah really was their foe, but His providences had that appearance, for He gives them up to foe after foe as in the Book of Judges, since they have grieved His holy Spirit. The word "Spirit" is not used here exactly as it is in the New Testament, of the third Person of the Holy Trinity, for that truth was not yet revealed. To a pious Jew the term "Spirit" seems to have referred, when thus used, to the realized presence of God, as in the parallelism of Ps. 39:7: "Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy Presence?" It is the felt, realized presence of God who is Spirit, and in our chapter is a parallel idea to "the angel of His Presence."
How blessed is adversity to the true people of God! In itself, it does not distinguish them from the world, but in its effects it does. They are not marked today by freedom from bereavement, loss, or sickness, or death; all these come indifferently to all. It is man, as man, who "is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7). Let verses 11 to 14 show where the distinction begins. On the one hand there is hopeless despairing grief, or an endeavor to drown all memory in worldly excitement, or a bitter arraignment of God's ways; but on the other, there is a remembrance of, and a turning to, Him whose love has been so clearly shown in His ways with them from the beginning. Our memories turn not to the shadows of Moses and the Red Sea, not to the strong east wind and the black night, but to the substance of these in the "storm that bowed His blessed head"—to the sorrows of Gethsemane, and the unseen but deeper sorrows of the Cross. No; neither sorrow nor sickness, pain nor death, are in the least discriminative; but penitent self-judgment, due to memories of the past, and finding our way to His Feet, do mark the child of God, and turn the suffering that is common to all into chastening which distinguishes the true-born child from the bastard (Heb. 12:8).
Here Israel remembers the sea and its depths through which their fathers were led with such a sure foot that it was like a horse galloping over a pasture, or as cattle quietly leaving the mountains for the valleys to feed and rest, and after first asking, "Where is He who led them?" answers it by, "It was Thou who didst this, to make Thy Name attractive, as Saviour and Lover, to be remembered forever." This awakens the cry:
15: From heaven look down and regard,What pathos there is in this affecting appeal! Our printed page reads coldly, and the living Spirit of God can alone communicate to us the real feeling with which the words were written. It is not here a little company of Jews who are weeping at the stones of their ancient city, but these are looking heavenward, with tears streaming down their cheeks, and they cry: "Look down once more from that heaven so uncontaminated by human foe, and regard the conditions on this earth. In heaven Thy holiness and Thy glory still find unrivaled dwelling; but what a contrast is here! Thy Temple is closed and downtrodden (Dan. 9:27). Oh, where is Thy zeal, and where Thy strength? Alas, those yearnings of Thy love are now restrained.
"We sprang from Abraham—he is our father. Israel is our mother. But both have forsaken us, and will own no relationship. But is it not written that, 'When my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up' (Ps. 27:10). We confess that we have turned from every expression of Thy love, till now Thou hast hardened our hearts, and we have lost all that we enjoyed for such a brief space, and are become as those who have never had Thy rule, or borne Thy name. Could anything exceed our misery?"
In this pathetic picture of Israel in those last days we may see our own state today, as our Lord speaks to us in the letter to the Church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14). The boastings that we hear on all sides are but history repeating itself, as it ever will, while the comparatively few who are confessing, with many a secret sigh, the true condition of the Church, take the place of that "Remnant" of Israel to whose cries we have been listening. Many a heart is joining with that beloved earthly people in the cry of the next chapter: "Oh, that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down!" It is indeed our hope, as well as theirs, although ours is to join Him in the air, before He reaches the earth in judgment.
1 "Life-sap," literally, the juice of the grapes; it is not the usual word for "blood."
2 "Spurt," the same word we have rendered "start" in Chap. 52:15.
3 This does away absolutely with any possibility of Megiddo in the north being the Har Mageddon of Rev. 16:16. Edom is not there.
4 This spiritual significance of the words Edom and Bozrah is confirmed by the twofold reaping in Rev. 14. The time is the same, and there we can see "Edom" in the widespread harvest of the earth (verses 14-16), and "Bozrah" in the localized harvest of the vine; the Gentile in the former, the Jew in the latter.
5 This is the meaning given to the word rendered in A.V. "traveling" (ver. 1), or as in text, "marching so proudly."
6 There is much question as to the subject of the verb "called to mind." The A.V. and Revised in the text, with many others, make it read as Jehovah asking, "Where is he?" but I have eventually adopted the marginal reading of the Revised that the word "people" is the subject, for it brings the whole passage into direct accord with all Scripture that tells of the result of chastening. When it leads to exercise it awakens memories of a better time, and thus a longing for the recovery of it.
7 That is, in Moses.
8 "As a horse gallops over the plain" (Delitzsch).