Jehovah repudiates the religion of the mass, tenderly appreciates
So portentous is our day, so evidently do we see another day approaching, that every glimmer of light that the Holy Scriptures may afford can only be welcomed with heartfelt gratitude to their Author. The present dispensation is about to come to a close, a close that is filled with judgment from God, a judgment terrible in proportion to the proud boasting of men and of privileges unavailed of. All prophetic Scripture gives one united testimony to the awful failure of the one responsible witness of God upon the earth, and black and threatening indeed is the cloud that overhangs the whole sphere of Christian profession. Can we neglect any light that our Father has given us? Has He not caused Israel's history to be recorded for the very purpose that we on whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Cor. 10:11) may have that light? With these thoughts to increase our interest let us turn to the first seven verses of this chapter, noting that its three divisions may each be sufficiently characterized by one word, thus:
1: Verses 1-7: Denunciation.
1: By those who asked not for Me I'm sought,Here Isaiah is indeed, as the apostle speaks, "very bold" (Rom. 10:20), for like those kine that, leaving their calves behind, went lowing to Bethshemesh (1 Sam. 6:12), so he goes in a way contrary to all his natural and national inclinations, for what Jew would of his own will speak of his nation being set aside in favor of the uncircumcised Gentile? The tender grace of God to poor man is like a mighty river. Let human pride, let lukewarm indifference, let self-complacent religion, bar its course, it sweeps away in another direction. Let Judea make Him weary, Samaria shall give Him refreshment (John 4). Let the Pharisee exclude, the Publican shall welcome. Let New York and London turn from Him, then China and Africa shall turn to Him: if barred in one course it sweeps on in another. But what of those who have turned away from those appealing Hands? What of those who have rejected that tender grace? There can be nothing but judgment! And, inflicting that, Jehovah would strike where their affections were most sensitive, their "bosom."
In these seven verses, then, we have three cryptic indictments brought against the Christ-rejecting Jews and against Christ-rejecting Christians.
1: They sacrifice in gardens and burn incense on altars of brick.Further in these three we again discern that all three parts of man's tripartite being are in view:
1: God-ward in their sacrifices; in the sphere of the spirit.In such minute details as these we discern the inimitable Fingerprints of our God, binding the whole volume together into one, of which He alone can be the Author, and we have to do with Him.
As these first verses speak of the Lord turning from Israel to the Gentiles, the standpoint of the time of the prophecy must be those earlier chapters of Acts in which we see God still lingering over Israel, for even after the Lord Jesus was taken up to heaven, for a time His Hands were still stretched out appealingly to Israel, as Peter speaks: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Christ, who hath been appointed for you, even Jesus" (Acts 3:19, 20, R.V.).
That clearly speaks of the possibility of the Lord's return even at that time for Israel's blessing, and He would have so returned had the representative heads of the nation repented, as they will do when He does come (Zech. 12:12, 13). But at last, after the stoning of Stephen, Paul and Barnabas pronounce the fateful sentence: "Lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46). Then Israel's history as a nation, is ended for a time, although only for a time (Hos. 3:4,5).
But that being the time of the prophecy it is sure that the Jews did not, at that time, sacrifice in gardens or on altars of brick. Very far from that. They were most punctilious in the observance of every external detail of their religion. That religious man whom we see praying in the temple (Luke 18:10) was an excellent representative of them all; would he—with his fasting twice in the week, and giving tithes of all he possessed—would he have eaten swine's flesh, or done anything that is here charged? It is unthinkable.
But that puts into our hands the needed key. These charges cannot be taken literally; but Jehovah looks at the sacrifices, and tells the worshipers what is His estimate of what they were bringing to Him with such self-complacent assurance.
In that light it is not the temple, but their "gardens" in which they are really. They may be externally and corporeally in the temple, it is true, but their spirit is entirely occupied—not with His glory of which "every whit" in that temple ever speaks (Ps. 29:9)—but with their own religious goodness; and so it is in the "gardens" that their own hands have made, that they are really sacrificing. Was not that Pharisee, again I say, who tells God of all his own excellent doings, was he not, while in the temple literally, really sacrificing in his garden? Indeed he was, He was following closely in the way of his father Cain, who "brought of the fruit of the ground"—that is, of his garden—although in that early day we have only the seed, the full-grown plant of which we have developed later. There was no lamb, no confession of sin, no offering of blood, the need for them is ignored.
Further, look at the altars on which they are burning their incense; they are made of bricks. That sends our thoughts back to Babel and its tower, for there too "they had brick for stone and slime for mortar." Those bricks, like the gardens, then also clearly speak of the work of their own hands; and based on these, as the offering is on the altar, they expected their approach to God to be acceptable. It is the "altar that sanctifies the gift," and can such an altar as defiled and defiling human works sanctify anything?
Are these "gardens" as beautiful in God's sight as in their own? Very far from it. Since they have not come to Him for life, who alone can give it, they are not "gardens" that speak of life on all sides, but "tombs" in which they are really dwelling with all the dead for their companions, and in a darkness that is intense, since the very light they claim is itself darkness (Matt. 6:23).
This brings us to the third and strictly personal mark: they "eat swine's flesh, and the broth of abominable things is in their vessels." This will no more bear a literal interpretation than the others. No Jew of that day, "tithing mint, anise, and cummin," would even think of touching swine's flesh. But while he thus avoided the shadow, he embraced the substance. To get what that substance is, we must throw on it the light of Lev. 11, where Jehovah specifies what His people may eat and what they must avoid among the creatures of earth, air and water. It was not simply because these might be indigestible foods that they were forbidden. We have not arrived at the truth at all, if we thus stay on the surface of such scriptures. If we do, then the profane criticism of our "modernists" is largely justified, and "no person of education or refinement can read Leviticus with either pleasure or profit."2
When our Lord said: "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man" (Matt. 15:11), He surely showed that the real source of defilement was not the external eating, but something within, and these injunctions were given for the very purpose of showing that, in a figure. This demands a few words more. "Feeding" in the prophetic scriptures evidences what people are; for they hunger for, and eat what is in accord with their own nature. Place hay before a man, and meat before a horse, and both would turn away with disgust. Reverse the offerings, and both would be received with pleasure. So people show what they are spiritually by what they feed upon spiritually. The Germans have a saying, "Man ist was er isst," "Man is what he eats," and that is true both in the lower and higher sense, for what he eats becomes in both senses a part of himself. If one feeds on any food, that becomes part of one's body. Thus if one feeds on what "swine's flesh" spiritually symbolizes, it evidences that spiritually he is of the same nature. He has selected his food to accord with his own nature. He assimilates it; it suits him, for by nature he is a swine! Let us then seek to discern why this swine's flesh was forbidden. Lev. 11:7 reads: "The swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven-hoofed, yet he cheweth not the cud." Both these marks, dividing the hoof and chewing the cud, were needed for the animal to be fit food for the people of God. I venture again to say, that if this has no meaning below the surface, it is unworthy of a child's primer, and nothing more puerile can be found in the religious systems of Maories or Hotten tots. But reason revolts at such an unreasonable conclusion, and rather says though we may be unable to interpret, that by no means proves that no interpretation is possible.
But is interpretation difficult? Of what would the "hoof" be the simplest symbol? Surely of the walk; and that again is but the common word for external conduct. We understand perfectly that what is meant by, "That ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk" (Eph. 4:17), is that our conduct should be very different from those who have not Christ.
Of what then does a divided hoof speak? The root idea of a division would of course be "separation." Every step that the animal took told of separation. But is that always good? Does it always tell the same story?
Just as some creatures that divided the hoof were clean and others unclean—the ox being an example of the former, and the swine of the latter—so may separation be either most excellent or most repulsive. There is a separation to the Lord Jesus, won by discerning His attractions, that has the fullest approval, for it is always marked by low thoughts of self, or no thoughts of it at all. There is a separation from our fellows, due to our self-appreciation, that meets with the sternest reprobation. The Nazarite, by the meaning of the very word, spoke of one separated to the Lord; the Pharisee by the same meaning was one also separated, but it was from those whom he esteemed less holy than himself. The one found, and still finds all his boast in the Lord, in utter self-distrust; the other in his own assumed superior piety. This is what is here sternly condemned.
But what of the other mark that was needed to show that the creature was clean, "chewing the cud"? Let us go into that pasture. See that ox; it has been moving about, cropping the herbage as it walked; but now it retires to the cool shade of a tree; and, first lying down, it ruminates. The grass that it has cropped has not done it an atom of good yet, it has only been stored in the rumen, or the first stomach, to be regurgitated, chewed betwen the teeth, and finally swallowed and digested. For that it quietly reposes.
How lovely the very picture! How far more lovely its clear significance! Here is one whose time is fully occupied all day; but in the early morning he "crops" a little from the Word of God, then throughout the day his spirit, in repose amid the activities of life, recalls, if even but for a few moments, what he has read, and he ruminates, or chews the cud, between the teeth of his faith, so that it becomes a part of himself. We may well say that Paul counselled Timothy to "chew the cud" when he said: "Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things" (2 Tim. 2:7).
Now see that swine. It is moving about with divided hoof; but little does it care for the sweet living herb, it is seeking for unclean things on which to feed, nor in that feeding does it chew the cud at all. So much for the symbol, and now again for what it symbolizes. Here is one who is externally moral and religious. He is not at all like "this publican"; he severs himself from such, and thus divides the hoof. Every footstep, everything he does, leaves marks of that self-satisfied separation, but he does not ruminate; he does not chew the cud; has no self-obliterating communion with God over His Word. His own unclean works are his delight. Christ is not his joy and boast; he is, in spite of that separation—nay, even by it—a leper, utterly unclean.
This gives divine light on the few remaining words: "Broth of abominations is in their vessels." Jehovah is still looking on what gives these religious ones such satisfaction that it is their food, they feed upon it, and here He tells them what is His estimate of it—it is abominable! This "broth" then symbolizes something "highly esteemed among men, but is an abomination in the sight of God." But while this is what Jehovah through Isaiah tells us, we have quoted the very words of the Lord Jesus Himself as recorded in Luke 16:15. To whom was He referring? Was it to the publican, the profane, the debased and the harlot? Not at all, for, say what you will, neither these, nor their doings, are highly esteemed among men, nor even by themselves. It was the most religious men of that day that were then before Him, precisely as in the Old Testament prophet!
It is "religion," without penitence and confession, against which the sternest words that ever fell from those gracious Lips were levelled: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites . . . serpents, generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (Matt. 23:33). Was He not saying to them exactly what He had said in our prophet: "The broth of abominable things is in your vessels"?
That "generation" is by no means extinct. It has its representatives in every age. We see that same abhorrence in those deeds and doctrines of the Nicolaitanes, which specifically too He hates (Rev. 2:6). Then He finds in the self-satisfied condition of the last Church to which He writes, Laodicea, so clearly representing our own day, the same "abominable broth" that brings the same utter reprobation. Consider it, reader, and you will surely conclude that there is nothing—literally nothing—so loathsome to God, as the assumption of religious superiority over others. O Christless Religion! O impenitent, tearless Religion! O self-complacent Religion! What myriads in everlasting perdition will have thee to thank for their damnation, for thou art the broad way that "seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12).
The second division of the chapter, verses 8 to 16, is in accord with the natural significance of the number "two," and speaks of more than one object being in view. Here it is discrimination between two different companies, the remnant of faith and the apostate mass. First, then, we have the divine tenderness for the penitent:
8: Thus doth Jehovah speak:What a valuable ray of light this throws on Matt. 24:22: "Unless those days had been shortened, there would no flesh have been saved, but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." The figure is of a bunch of grapes, so repulsive that it is about to be thrown away and destroyed altogether. But one intervenes, pointing out that it is not all hopelessly bad; a small part of the cluster is sound and sweet, and this may become a blessing, in making that new wine that "cheereth God and man" (Judges 9:13).
Evidently the moment is most critical, for there is but one little link between God and the whole world of men; and if that be broken, or to use the prophetic symbol, if the cluster be destroyed, nothing can save the whole race! That link is here the remnant of Israel; and when Jerusalem is captured (Zech. 14) and this little remnant is about to be exterminated, it looks as if all were over. Then the days of sorrow and affliction are suddenly cut short by the appearing of their long-expected Messiah, and His Feet standing upon the Mount of Olives whence they had ascended two millenniums before! Just as ten righteous would have saved Sodom, and have been the new wine in that cluster, so these few afflicted captive Jews will save the whole race of men of that day from destruction. From the west, where the fertile plain of Sharon stretches along, to the east where lies that valley that saw the infliction on Achan, all shall speak of peace and prosperity. But now the prophecy returns to the apostate mass.
11: Ye who your God, Jehovah, forsake,Note the parallelism of the first lines: Person and place are identified. They who forsake Jehovah are those who forget His holy mountain. But surely there is little danger, or indeed possibility of our being charged with forgetting a mountain that we have never seen and know nothing about. Exactly seven times in this prophet do we find the term "holy mountain," and this "seven" itself serves to show the importance of the term. What then is the name of this mountain? But one all through the book is named, nor can we err in assuming that must be the mountain meant; and Zion then becomes Jehovah's holy mountain. But why is this mountain selected out of all the many hills of Israel to have attached to it that title of "holy"? The answer is suggested by Heb. 12:18, 22, for Zion is the mount that represents the whole Heart of God told out in grace, in contrast with that principle of Law with which He ever found fault, for in His dealing with sinful, but ever-beloved men, law shuts up both Heart and Hand. Further, we deduce from the word "holy" that this way of grace is the true way of holiness, and is as far removed from license as it is from law.
Thus to "forget God's holy mountain" today, is to forget the abundant grace of Christ that alone can, and does meet all our poverty, need and helplessness. In short, it is to "fall from grace" (Gal. 5:5).
Little should we profit in the search for Gad and Meni of old. The names are lost to us, but what they signify remains. They stand for the dual form that evil takes, called Violence and Corruption. These become deified, and their devotees seek to propitiate them by their varying forms of "religious duties," or, in the language of prophecy, in "preparing a table for them." After the manner of Isaiah there is a play on the word Meni, in the first line of the next verse, for the word means, "number," and so Jehovah says, "I will meni, or number, you to the sword." It is again the principle of God turning sin into penalty, as He does both with men and the devil, as we shall see in verse 25.
Verses 13 to 16 repeat the strong contrasts that the day of revelation shall show between the proud impenitents and those poor and contrite ones whom He owns as His servants. Satiated shall these be, famished shall those be. In this present sphere there is inextricable confusion; or, if there be discrimination, it is rather the proud who are the favored and the lowly are despised. Generation follows generation in telling the same story, for we see it when the perplexed psalmist goes into the sanctuary, and lo, he sees the ungodly wealthy of earth, as soon as they pass out of this scene, to be in desolation in a moment, while the poor penitents are ever with God (Ps. 73). A little later it is seen in a rich [man] in torment, and a poor Lazarus in bliss; and still later it shall be seen in those two contrasted companies, the proud gathered at Har Mageddon (Rev. 16), and the penitent in the Valley of Megiddo (Zech. 12).
The proud shall leave a name to provide an oath for the true, as "Jehovah slay thee as He slew them" (Delitzsch). But far sweeter than that to our hearts are the thoughts we attach to that Name Elohi Amen; for in it we see our Lord, who amid the disgrace that we have made of our witnessing, is Himself not only The Faithful and True Witness, but so brings all God's purposes into being, so fulfils all His counsels, that He does not, as we, say "Amen" to them, but is that, not only says, "May it so be," but makes it to be.
Now we pass to the scene of those fulfilled counsels.
17: For behold, I create new heavens, new earth;For Israel, the new heavens and earth commence with her perfect blessing. She is henceforth as secure and as blessed nationally as the heavenly saints will be at their rapture to their heavenly and eternal home. Not, however, that at this moment, all the earth and its heaven is in itself altogether and everywhere altered; but as today it can be written, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new, and all things are of God" (2 Cor. 5:17), when indeed nothing is new except as "in Christ," so Israel now being "in Christ" by a new-creation life, for her too all things in heaven and earth are new,and all things of God; while still outside of Israel and her land, there is very much (as subsequent events, when the Devil is loosed from his prison, evidence) that is not new. We need no other illustration for this than our own experience. Do you remember the morning after Christ was first seen as your own Lord and Saviour—no longer a mere name but a real living Person—was not everything new to you then? The skies had another tint; you thought the whole world of people were different, and perhaps wondered that all were not converted. The joy in your heart sent its music through the whole earth. Nor earth alone. How new the heavens were when you could look up and for the first time say, "My Father!" That was your regeneration; this, the earth's.
There is no need to write much of the beauteous scene. It is better to meditate and thus get the refreshment such lovely and well-based anticipations must give. We visit in spirit that "holy mountain" where alone naught defiles, where alone naught doth hurt. We see the harmony of Eden renewed once more, and the wild fierce creatures of the jungle graze in the company of the fearless flocks of the farm. Still we have a hint that the scene is not one of absolute perfection, for even here we listen to an echo of that primal sentence on the serpent, for the dust shall still be his food.
We cannot look upon this as merely telling us literally on what the serpent family feeds.6 Utterly unsatisfactory are all such explanations as Delitzsch and others give us, when he says: "The serpent will no longer watch for human life, but content itself with the food assigned it in Gen. 3:14. It still continues to wriggle in the dust—the words affirm nothing more than this!" He must permit us to differ. If all we get from this word is that dust being the serpent's food means that he "wriggles in the dust," it would be altogether unworthy of a divine revelation to a race ruined by that "old serpent." Let all Scripture throw its light on this, and at once there are profound verities—not "put in," as some say, but seen to lie imbedded in these few words: "Dust shall be the serpent's meat," or food.
Who can help thoughts turning to that scene of sorrow and of judgment in Eden? There stand our weeping first parents, and there too is their destroyer, still in the form that he assumed in order to carry out his work. What has that work been? The answer to that question is as important as it is simple and clear.
The work of the Lord God had been to "form man (Heb., adam) of the dust of the ground" (adamah, Gen. 2:7), and having thus formed, to give him a life suitable to that earthly or dust body and to his dwelling upon the earth, the man and his abode thus corresponding, for both are dust, The work of the serpent had been to bring death to the man, and consequently the return of the body to the dust whence it came. It was "dust," the Lord God made it a body; it thus was a body, the serpent made it dust—a complete reversal!
We need to bear in mind these two basic principles of divine judgment: first, where people are forever, depends not on what they have done, but on what they are. We all know that heaven is not attained by "doing," nor is banishment to hell for the same reason. All go "to their own place," a place that is determined by whether "in Christ" by a new creation life, or only in Adam by the old one. The man only in Adam would be as much out of his own place in heaven as the man in Christ would be out of his in hell. But retribution in either place is determined strictly by what each has done. Thus Isaiah speaks in chap. 3:10: "The righteous shall eat of the fruit of their doings." Again, Wisdom cries: "They shall eat of the fruit of their own way" (Prov. 1:31). The same principle is in the New Testament: "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7), and many other scriptures might be given. Thus every responsible creature goes to his own place, but himself works out the retribution that he receives there.
Can any then impugn divine justice, since all go to the place to which they are suited, and each "eats of the fruit of his own doings"?
This being the sure teachings of Holy Writ, then the sentence passed upon that responsible creature, that "serpent," must be in accord with that truth; so that the "dust" upon which he is sentenced to feed cannot be simply that in the making of which he had no part, but that to which his "doings" have brought man (as identified with his body), and on that he must feed, for that, and that alone, is here "the fruit of his doings."
That must be all his satisfaction, for the feeding can no more be literal than that the serpent was nothing more than a merely literal snake. All through Scripture "feeding" figures absolute satisfaction, as in Deut. 14:19, "The Levite . . . shall eat and be satisfied." Again, in Ps. 103:5, "Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things," and any number of Scriptures might be added to the same effect. Satan's food, or satisfaction, must be found in that dust to which his "doings" have brought man's body. But, and I pray you mark it well, on not one single human "body" shall he ever feed. Never! For hear what the wisest of men tells us, when speaking of a man's death, "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was" (Eccl. 12:7), just as it was before it was formed, so it becomes again. It is no longer a body, but dust.
Is that what Satan craved? Is that what he hungered for? Does that give him absolute satisfaction? Was that his final object in tempting man? Let me answer these by asking a few similar questions regarding a scene where the devil's own children are doing the very works of their father (John 8:1-11, 44). Did those Pharisees care a snap of the finger as to the fate of the poor adulteress? Did they aim at her? Would it have satisfied their hungering longing to have her stoned? It is absurd even to ask such questions. They could have effected that without any appeal to Him. It was our divine Lord Himself that they attacked, and it was with the final purpose of himself securing the Throne of God that their father, the devil, the serpent, brought back to the dust the dearly-loved man.
That this idea—not of literal feeding, but of the same satisfaction to the inner, as that feeding gives to the outer man—is intended by the use of the word "meat" here, is confirmed by the Lord's words when His disciples would have Him eat of the food they had gone to the village to get for Him. "I have meat to eat that ye know not of" (John 4:32), and that meat was, even in His case, we may reverently say, the "fruit of His own blessed doings," for it consisted in bringing a poor sinning wanderer back to everlasting rest in a love of which till then she had known nothing. What an absolute contrast there is in the two "meats," that of the "old serpent" and that of the Lord! The one consisted in bringing man to the dust of death, the other in not merely restoring the lost life but giving a life eternal. The one set poor man to the hopeless task of covering himself: the other by His own death provided the covering. The one severed man's heart from God, the other restored man's heart to find a Father's love in that same God. We can surely well afford to let the devil have the sin-infected and so penalized dust for his food, whilst we in Christ shall be clothed with a New Creation body of glory; for so God ever works, He never merely offsets the work of the devil, as if in His poverty, He must repeat, since His powers are so limited that He can produce nothing beyond that has been thus marred. By the universal truth of all Scripture, His works never witness to limitation, but He ever does "much more" (Rom. 5:15), and always makes "better things," as the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us—always!7 Never one shade of disappointment shall we have; the future will be far beyond all that we can conceive.
But when the body has returned to what it was and to where it belongs, is the unclothed spirit to remain thus naked? Far from it! Such a clothing shall be given it as will tell to the universe that these are "the sons of God" (Rom. 8:19). So that we can invite the "serpent" to look again, and see how God even makes use of his malevolence and pride to express His own attributes of benevolence and humble him to feeding on dust!
One word more of balancing truth is necessary. We can never ignore—far less condemn—the use of phenomenal, ordinary, inevitable expressions of human thought. It ever has its place. As surely as "it doth not yet appear what we shall be" (1 John 3:2), as surely as it is impossible even to picture to ourselves that body of glory, or, to use the divinely given illustration of 1 Cor. 15:37, as it is impossible to deduce the beauty of the flower by merely looking at the bare seed, so we are compelled, by the very conditions of our being, to expect the return of all who have "fallen asleep," precisely as they were last known to us, and from the tomb to which we saw them consigned. As that is inevitable, so is it inevitable to use the ordinary language whereby we speak of things as we see or know them. But again, when God is the Worker the reality for His people is always "much more" and "better," and expressing His "immensely varied wisdom."
1 The precise hearing of the word is rather doubtful. It means either, "the first thing that Jehovah will do," or He will recompense all the former sins, the sins of their fathers, upon them, since they have walked in the same path. I have adopted this latter in accord with Matt. 23:30-35.
2 This was actually said in my hearing by one of the leading teachers of that school.
3 The first meaning of the word is to "sing with joy"—its contrast with "ashamed" permits the rendering "boast" and "blush."
4 "The God of Truth," but the written word "Amen," in view of Rev. 3:14, cannot be dropped without loss.
5 This is but a paraphrase, but it gives the meaning of the original: "And the sinner, son of a hundred years, is accursed."
6 Moffatt disposes of this by simply omitting the sentence entirely.
7 See Eph. 3:10, "the manifold (Gr. immensely varied) wisdom of God."