Jehovah's intervention irresistible. Jehovah's
discrimination in judgment. Confession and appeal.
This chapter is in such close relation with the preceding one that in the Hebrew Bible the first verse of this is placed in the earlier chapter; and since the second verse, as we have it, speaks of the consequences of Jehovah coming down, we see that there cannot be any real separation between them. The "three" parts may again be discerned thus:
1: Verses 1-3: Jehovah's intervention irresistible.The first of these continues an ardent appeal for Jehovah's intervention and is again clearly divided by the threefold "from before Thee."
1: Oh, that Thou wouldst the heavens rend,Look at the scene! Here is a man, representative of Israel, with streaming eyes and bent knees crying for Jehovah to tear the very heavens apart, come to earth, cause mountains to flow down, and shaking in terror pass away; then, as sure as fire makes brushwood to kindle and water to boil, so would these enemies of Jehovah (for our foes are His too) learn what the Name of "Jehovah" really means, and would call, but call in vain, for the fleeing mountains to hide them from that burning wrath that once before caused that "mountain" of Egypt to pass away from before His face with trembling terror.
Now if Israel still provides types for us—and who that reads 1 Cor. 10:11 can admit that to be even a question?—so shall we too, out of the depths of our distress, cease lukewarmly to "hold the doctrine of the Lord's coming," and cry like them, "Oh, tear the heavens apart and come!" Only such aspirations can justly express the heart's longing for the coming of our Lord Jesus.
With that self-centred spirit that remains in us all, we are but too prone to attribute to our prayers themselves, the gifts of divine grace. "Prayer changes things," we say, and true as that is, we must still be careful that in the words we do not transfer our praise from our prayer-hearing God to our own prayers. How frequently God hears the Intercessor who is nearest to Him (His Son) and acts without any prayer at all from His people, for His grace surpasses all that we ask or think. Did the disciples beseech Him to wash their feet? Did the two on the way to Emmaus beg for His company? Were the disciples gathered together on the first day of the week praying that He would come to them, when He appeared in their midst? Not at all; He is ever active in grace. Of this we have a sample in verse 3, as the prophet identifying himself with his people cries: "What Thou didst once, when we did not wait on Thee expectant, Thou wilt surely do now that we do." There is no setting aside or belittling the value of prayer in this, for the speaker goes on: "With terrifying deeds Thou didst come to our relief in Egypt, when our pain-extorted groan alone appealed to Thee, but now, not those groans alone, but our hearts, cry, Oh, tear open the heavens, and come down, for groans surely cannot end Thy ways with Thy people." Then the speaker goes on:
4: For from everlasting none has ever heard,The apostle quotes verse 4 very freely in 1 Cor. 2, and adds, "Neither hath it entered into the heart of man." No one has ever discerned a God who interposes so marvelously for those who trust Him, and with a confidence that tells of a heart won, just quietly wait His time for their relief. But in the New Testament Epistle it has quite a different connection, for there is added the significant sentence: "But God hath revealed them to us by His Spirit." There the reference is not to the manifested acts in the past, but to the deep things of God which are even now revealed to those who are themselves spiritual. None but the Spirit of God can communicate these precious things, for the very capability of a man is limited to "the things of a man " (1 Cor. 2:11), and these are far beyond that. But the Spirit of God has not now left the future of eternity in the dark, to be the subject of imagination, speculation, or poetic sentimentality, but to the Christian with whom that divine Teacher is not grieved, these unsearchable wonders are revealed. The basic idea common to both the Old Testament writer and the New is that none can wait upon God in vain, for His delight is to give and bless.
This is emphasized in the fifth verse. Never hast Thou turned Thy back on any one who rejoiced in Thy holy ways; but then look at the sad history of our nation; it seems summed up in "wrath and sin: sin and wrath." Thou changest never in Thy attitude to sin—it is always wrath; but neither dost Thou change in Thine attitude to confession and penitence—it is always salvation. Thy ways are ever consistent and unchanging; we can say, "In them is everlastingness," so on our part we will continue in the way of penitence and confession, and so shall be saved. We will therefore confess the simple truth:
6: For we are become as a vile filthy thing,Is it not pathetic and affecting? What can we plead before Thee? We look at ourselves, there is not one of us but is polluted. We consider our doings, the very best of them; our righteousnesses, far from being an honor, are as a filthy rag that defiles all it touches. While Godward, our sins have provoked Thy wrath, and this has swept us away, as the faded leaves of autumn are scattered by the blasts.
But that does not affect this truth, that Thou art the Source of our existence as a nation. We are as fully Thy work as is the vessel that the potter makes from the clay. Canst Thou, then, leave Thy work so defaced? Canst Thou leave us in such wretchedness as shall make all creation judge that Thy love, wisdom, and power are helpless?—that Thy love is so limited that Thou canst leave us in our shame, Thy wisdom so limited that Thou canst find no way of restoring us, and Thy power so limited that Thou canst not carry out that way?
"O Jehovah, look at Thy cities, once so populous! They are as silent as the desert now! Consider Zion itself; it is desert now. Jerusalem lies at the mercy of the desolator, and shows it in her miserable condition. That very Sanctuary, holy and beautiful as it was, in which our fathers raised their songs of adoration, is worse than silent now—it is in ashes! While those precious things, layer, lampstand, table, are now all laid waste!
"But Thou dost love; how hard it must be for Thee then to restrain those tender affections! Is it possible that Thou canst have such self-control as to see the miserable conditions of those Thou hast loved, without interposing? Wilt Thou by keeping limitless silence—for that is all that is needed—leave us to a suffering limitless?"
So wrote the prophet with eyes so anointed that he saw afar to a time that even now, to this day, lies in the future, when a God-fearing remnant of Jews will thus be mourning as they who mourn for their first-born (Zech. 12:12). The interposition of Jehovah on behalf of the penitent remnant of His people of which Isaiah speaks, is to be final, and cannot possibly be fully exhausted by the return under Nehemiah, for that was only to eventuate in fresh sorrow, whilst in the prophet's eye Jerusalem is to be a new creation, and the voice of weeping is to be heard nevermore in her (chap. 65:18). That justifies our saying that this prophecy awaits still its fulfilment; for do not Zion's stones still only echo her wailings?
Again we may ask, Is there no correspondence between their condition and ours? Is Israel alone the "clay"? Scripture gives a clear negative, for Rom. 9:21-24 permits no such limitation. The whole race of men is but "clay" and of this the Jewish people is only a sample. In the picture our prophet gives us we can see our own condition as the present responsible witness of God upon the earth. It is then "we who have sinned." We may have relegated too much to the evangelist the confession, "All our righteousnesses are as filthy garments,"5 leaving him to convict by it the careless and profane. Such disposal of it is scarcely permissible, unless we esteem the prophet himself to be an ungodly sinner and not a forgiven saint, for he must be included in the "us." The truth is that to the very end, our very best deeds, even those that have been wrought in us by the Spirit of Christ are ever—let that infinitely searching ray of the Light of God fall on them—so stained by the defiling medium by which they have been done, that they are filthy. The very basis of our title to eat of the Tree of Life is that those "garments" have been washed (Rev. 22:14), the Blood of the Lamb alone makes them white (Rev. 7:14), and makes them form those white robes that are the righteousnesses of the saints. This is not what Scripture terms "the best robe"—that is Christ in all the virtue of His atoning work, and that needs no washing at all; let us be very careful not to lack that garment, or the result can be foreseen in Matt. 22:12, 13. There is that danger, or the Lord would not warn us (Rev. 16:15).
I beg any fellow-believer who reads these lines to note this mark of the Spirit of God in the last hours of any dispensation: the speaker is ever saying, "Every one of us." No Pharisee is this petitioner, thanking God that he is not as other men. He identifies himself with all the rest, confesses his own full share in all that has brought dishonor on the Name. It is by this humble confession, amid a mass of boasting, that the true Israel was, is, and ever shall be manifested.
we have, "every one of us," to use the words of our prophet, a part in
that responsible witness, and so we will not say "they," but "we have
sinned," and thus confess to our place and part in the present Witness
upon earth, a Witness that has failed as much beyond all who have gone
before as its privileges have exceeded. But our boast and hope shall be
in One sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high, with whom
failure is unknown, and with whom interest and love for His redeemed
never chills nor varies!
1 Amid many various renderings I have kept as close as the text will permit to the apostle's free quotation in 1 Cor. 2:9.
2 This line is obscure, and even the R.V. suggests that the text is corrupt. "Few texts have caused interpreters more perplexity than this, and twenty or thirty renderings have been proposed" (Birks). Under such conditions, any translation must be more or less a paraphrase to be intelligible at all; nor is the latent idea as obscure as the words that clothe it.
3 "Given up" is literally "melted," that is, Jehovah had given them over (as one pours melted metal) to the power (hand) of their sins, just as in Rom. 1:24, 26, 28.
4 Note the doubled "three" pressed upon these verses: the "all" in the A.V., "every one of us" here.
5 The unjustified word "rags" is apt to divert the mind from the correct meaning of beged, "garment."